Sunday, October 23, 2005

Generations

A good friend of mine, a gentleman in his 80s, asked me to explain the motivations of the young people today. I answered that I don't believe there is a simple answer, but that each generation seems to have its own centerline -- something like this:

Your generation (my parents): Grew up in the Depression, fought and won WWII, built substantially the entire infrastructure of contemporary American society. Went to college on the GI Bill, built great communities in the suburbs, and made sure their kids made it to college. Sent my generation off to Vietnam, a badly run war, which I think played a role in causing the 'generation gap' -- where folks my age came to feel compelled and empowered to protest the policies of the government (and our parents).

My generation: The consumption generation. Our parents blessed us with all kinds of material things, and told us it was okay for both men and women to go to college and have careers. So we became dual career families with great houses and cars, but not much time with our kids. We let our kids engage in all kinds of extracurricular activities and wear ourselves out going to games and performances. We are around our kids more, but have less time to listen and build a deep relationship. Instead we gave them video games, MTV, computers and all that stuff. We Boomers consumed our way through the 80s and 90s, and our greed led eventually to Enron and Worldcom. We're gonna suffer when it comes our turn to retire because we've already spent our legacy.

My kids' generation: Are way less concerned about material stuff. The suburb may have seemed like a good thing to your generation and mine, but it is a lifeless, isolating, boring, blob of lawns to be mowed as far as our kids are concerned. As teenagers, they flocked to the malls to congregate, and we gave them cars when they were old enough so we didn't have to drive them around anymore (all those soccer games wore us out). As young adults, they seek amazing experiences, not material things (which they've had all their lives). They move into the urban centers (e.g. the Short North in Columbus) where there is much more variety than the suburbs. They go off to see the world, not as tourists but as explorers. They seek meaning in human encounters and in service, not in material things. If we keep sending them off to Iraq without any clear results, it will cause the same kind of disenfranchisement that our generation felt over Vietnam. If that happens, the kids will feel compelled to drive change at a pace none of us will find comfortable.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Monday, October 17, 2005

New Orleans: Two Birds - One Stone

Here's an idea:

Why don't we implement an emergency order which allows evacuees from New Orleans to be inducted into the US Army as reservists and be put to work (and on the payroll) in the effort to rebuild New Orleans? They would have a job, benefits, and would be contributing to the recovery effort instead of sitting in shelters waiting for aid.

This would be entirely voluntary, but to fund this program, we would end the dole-out of money going to able people who are sitting on their asses waiting for others to take care of them. Those who enlist get first dibs on any housing which gets built as a result of the effort. Those who don't get to find their own jobs and housing at a time and place of their own choosing. That's freedom -- your risk/your reward.

If the people of New Orleans don't want to take this offer, then we should stop spending federal money there and let the private sector take over.

"Seeing the World" Ain't What it Used to Be

I've always had wanderlust. I think I got it from my Mom, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone. She talked about traveling on ships and airplanes as a kid, and I grew up hearing about exotic places from her, as well as my Dad, who fought in the Pacific during WWII.

So I love going to new places and experiencing new things. When I was given a position at CompuServe that required a lot of travel, I viewed the travel as a reward, not a burden. I've now been in 47 states and a dozen or so countries, on both business and pleasure.

But I'm no longer interested in going anywhere famous. I've found that whenever I go to a well-known and heavily visited location, the experience is less than I had hoped for one or both of these reasons:


There are so many tourists there that the time spent is more like a competition than a fulfilling experience. Americans are everywhere. I walked into a loo behind a cafe in the cathedral square in Salzburg and ended up standing next to a guy with an Ohio State sweatshirt on. He enjoyed my "Go Bucks" comment.

The authentic experience has evolved into boring, production line tedium for the hosts and guides. I was aghast that the soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery wear shoes with special "clickers" and carry rifles with plastic stocks. When I last went to a changing of the guard in 1960s, these guys wore regulation shoes and carried standard issue M-14 rifles. This new get-up they use cheapens the procedure in my opinion. The point isn't to put on a good show -- it's to honor the Unknowns and in doing so, honor all past, present, and future members of our armed forces. So what if the regulation shoes are hard to click together, and they scuff up? That's the kind of shoes the Unknowns wore. So what if the rifles get heavy during the watch? That's the kind of rifle they were carrying when they went down. And if you are an American visiting this site -- recognize it as amongst the most hallowed ground in our country. Stand in quiet response -- no cell phones, no horsing around, etc. The guys in those tombs deserve more respect and so does America.

When in Austria, we went to an "Alpine Evening" at some hotel. You could tell that these folks put on the same show night after night, and had probably been doing so for years. The food was institutional, but after all, we arrived in huge tourist buses. I've had the same experience in the German Hall at King's Island amusement park in Cincinnati.

This line of thinking really hit me when we visited Canterbury Cathedral. The shops and pubs around the cathedral had been tourist traps for the whole 500 years the cathedral has stood. This wasn't medieval England. It was a theme park dressed up to look like what the English thought Americans thought a medieval town should look like.

I thought Stonehenge would have a mystical feel to it. But it was hard to get that feeling with it sitting along a major motorway and in the flight path of a Royal Air Force fighter base. I took some pretty nice pictures there. I tell friends that the hardest part of taking the pictures was having the patience to wait until a tour bus full of Japanese tourists had left.

When we were visiting England, a friend of ours -- an English woman -- suggested that we get off the beaten path and visit some places the tourists bypass. One place she recommended was Fountains Abbey, in rural Yorkshire. Most tourists go to Bolton Abbey, which is more accessible. We took her advice and had a wonderful, solitary visit. It was our favorite site in England.

There's lots of famous places I would like to visit, but I feel that there is little chance of the experience meeting my expectation. I would very much like to see the Imperial City in Beijing, and the Hermitage in St Petersburg. The temples at Ajunta in India sound fascinating, as do the Pyramids. But I think I would rather live with what I imagine those places to be than see what they have become.

So my favorite thing these days is to jump in the Suburban with the wife, or on the bike with some friends, and take off down a US highway or state road I've never seen before. There's still lots of stuff to see and places to go that haven't "gone tourist."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Nuevo Orleans

I make it my business (literally) to observe the whole of a situation, make predictions of what the long term impact might be (megatrends), and make investments in enterprises that will benefit from the change. I guess my style is Ben Graham meets Alvin Toffler. Here's some of the observations I see with Katrina:

1. The population of New Orleans has largely sat back and asked the rest of the country what we're going to do to help. You don't hear this about the other areas devestated by Kartrina and Ivan because the residents of those areas rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt their own communities. Why did we simultaneously have thousands of volunteers from the rest of the country flock to New Orleans while lots of able bodied people from New Orleans sat in shelters and complained about not getting enough help? The answer is that the people of New Orleans see themselves as victims rather than stakeholders.

2. Mayor Nagin has been asking "how do I insure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?" The companies coming into New Orleans to start the for-profit reconstruction effort are hiring Mexican workers, not New Orleaners. I saw something like this first hand in St Croix after it was wiped out by Hurrican Hugo in the 90s. Contractors from Puerto Rico flocked to St Croix to harvest the reconstruction dollars, and just stayed. Today there is a large Puerto Rican population on St Croix, representing most of the middle class. Most of the merchants are Indians. The Cruxians remain the poverty class because they were unprepared or unwilling to fill the construction jobs needed after the hurricane. I think we'll see this in New Orleans as well. Many of the Latino workers who show up there to rebuild the city will stay. The middle class of New Orleans will be Hispanic.

3. Mayor Nagin also wants clearance to build on-shore casinos in the city limits to accelerate the regeneration of the local economy. The hotel/casino industry that builds around that will be staffed with experienced folks from Las Vegas, Atlantic City and all the other communities around the US that support gambling. Other service jobs will be filled by Hispanics. The small merchants will be Indians, Pakistanis, Turks, etc who are looking for a place to get into business. There won't be a lot of jobs for New Orleans folks who come back later. Many just won't come back. The demographics of New Orleans has permanently changed.

4. The real estate in what was low income housing is owned by landlords who are going to sell to big bucks developers. They aren't going to build new low income housing! So the neighborhoods where many evacuees once lived will never be rebuilt.

5. Mayor Nagin will be seduced to serve the desires of the developers, not the citizens who have left. Golden Rule: "He who has the gold makes the rules."

Add it all up, and New Orleans becomes Las Vegas with a Miami climate. Sort of a Disney World for adults. Good thing the French Quarter survived. It is, after all, the main theme park in "Mardi Gras Land."

So how will I be investing? I won't. Not the way I want to make money.

Delaware property boom no boon to schools

Why doesn't the Hilliard school board and administration say this? They need to engage in dialog with Mayor Don Schonhardt and the City Council and quit acting like victims.
pl


Delaware property boom no boon to schools
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Lee Stratton
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

How fast is growth in the fastest growing area in the fastest-growing county of the state?

Residential property values increased 669 percent in one area of Delaware County during the past three years, Auditor Tod Hanks said. Delaware City Schools officials, however, say that such appreciation can be a burden to school finances. The increase was the largest seen in the auditor’s 2005 reappraisal of real estate in Delaware County. The area — Tax District 50 — includes three neighborhoods along the eastern and southern boundaries of the city of Delaware. The total housing value in that area increased from $1.2 million in 2002 to $9.1 million this year.

‘‘At the same time, the value of agricultural land went from $4.2 million down to $589,000, so you can see what happened," Hanks said. ‘‘The housing just exploded."

Since 2002, farm fields have been filled with streets, utilities and houses. As a result, the value of land has increased along with the improvements, he said. Residential property values across Delaware County increased an average of 17.6 percent during the past three years, Hanks said. The higher values will result in property tax increases of about 2 percent to 4 percent on individual tax bills. Despite the rapid growth in home construction, Delaware County trailed Franklin County, where the average home value has increased more than 21 percent since 2002.

The growth is of little comfort to Delaware school officials.

‘‘People see all those new houses and think they generate a lot of new money for the schools. That’s not the case," said Christine Blue, finance director of Delaware City Schools. ‘‘Because of increasing property values, we lose state funding."

State law prohibits schools from collecting more money from a locally voted tax levy than the levy was designed to produce. As property values increase, the collections are reduced to protect property owners from large tax increases. At the same time, Blue said, the state’s school-funding formula reduces state subsidies to schools because the increased property values in a district are viewed as wealth that could be taxed locally. Those reductions are expected to total $800,000 this year. That will leave the district with an estimated $11.2 million in state funds — if the district gains 77 students as expected.

"If those students do not materialize, the state funds will be significantly less," she said. "From where I sit, the revenueflow picture is grim.’ A community task force told the Delaware Board of Education last year that residential development does not pay for the school services it requires, Blue said. "More than eight new houses with no students are needed to fund the local cost of just one new house with one new student," Blue said.
The calculation was based on the taxes generated by a house valued at $150,000 plus the state funding provided for each student. School budgets have suffered because commercial development in the city has not kept pace with home development, she said.

In 1992, for each $100,000 of residential tax value in the school district, there was $128,000 of commercial tax value, Blue said. In 2003, there was just $61,000 of commercial value for each $100,000 of housing value.
"We haven’t lost businesses," she said. Instead, the county has gained houses.

The task force concluded that the tax base isn’t well-balanced and that more should be done to attract new businesses, Blue said. "Businesses pay taxes," she said, "without increasing the school population."

lstratton@dispatch.com

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Social Change through Protest

I went to college in the early 70s when protests were daily happenings that disgusted our parents and frightened the "establishment." Some protests got pretty violent, including one I witnessed first hand here at Ohio State.

Interesting isn't it that in our country, the most radical social changes have always been initiated by protests and ultimately violence. Last fall, the wife and I visited the battlefields of Concord and Lexington, Mass. When you hear the story from the British perspective, the colonists were clearly seditionists and terrorists. We of course glorify them as freedom fighters and patriots.

Less than 100 years later, the country erupted into civil war because the gulf between the political positions of the North and South could not be resolved satisfactorily through the vehicle of the federal government.
Another 100 years later, and America appeared to come apart at the seams as the youth of the country rose up against our government's insistence on fighting a stupid war. Simultanously, the civil rights movement turned violent as citizens found no other way to achieve justice. The feminist movement took hold in the same period. Once the yelling began, many many joined in.

I think we may be in the simmering stage of similar outbreak. The war in Iraq, which has so many similarities to Vietnam, might be the fuse. Or it could be the issues of race that arise from the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Whatever the ignition source might be, I think that a tax revolt will be a part of the conflagration.

Do we have an opportunity to prevent the glowing embers from bursting into a full fledged forest fire?

Perhaps a more important question is whether we should try. Just as a forest fire clears out the underbrush and diseased trees and opens areas for the development of a new, more healthy forest, it could be that one of the strengths of the American system is that we have forest fires every once in a while too. We clear out some degree of the insanity that builds up and proceed on into the future a stronger nation.

Maybe it's time.