Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stuffed - America's obsession with junk

Stat of the day: US children represent just 3% of the world's total population of children the US accounts for 40% of all toys sold in the world.

I can't take credit for clever title.  That belongs to a friend who coined the phrase after watching every house in our small town explode with children's toys and piles of clothing during the recent village-wide yard sales.

I recently lugged a pile of clothing and miscellaneous cast-offs dutifully to the local charity in the hopes that someone nearby might be able to make use of our "stuff".  Silly, silly me thinking that things still worked that way.  After a little digging around the web it became clear that the days of handing in a donation of clothing that will be sold to someone as clothing are practically gone.

Here's how I understand the process as it happens in large donation areas - 1) Clothes are sorted and the best clothing may be held for resale or shipped to a regional distribution site for resale.  2) Most of the clothing does not fall into the "best of the best" category and their fate is less pleasant.  These clothes are baled in 1/2 ton blocks of used Gap, Old Navy and Target clothes.  One fairly busy collection center in NYC recently stated that they collect 18 tons of clothes in the average 3 day period.

These bales are then sent to textile "recyclers" that pull apart the 1,000 pound monuments to excess and sort them again.  They hope to find good (name brands or quality materials) products but almost 1/2 of the bales on average (roughly 500lbs) turns out to be unusable.  The unusable clothes end up being shipped off to rag vendors for their final act.

The remaining clothes (generally, the good, not great) are sorted at this point and if they are wearable they are then sold again to overseas vendors.  By some estimates used clothing is among the leading products that the US exports today.   I'd love to see someone do a Food, Inc., style documentary following the life of a t-shirt donated to one of the major charities.

I know this is the way the system has evolved as profit motive has invaded the world of charity, but I have two questions:

1) Shouldn't we be taking a hard look at the charitable deductions list at Salv****n A**y stores?  If I donate a shirt and take a $3 tax deduction for that contribution it's not fair to the US taxpayers if they sell it 2 days later for $0.02.  I'm taking what I believe to be the "fair market value" as my deduction but it is clear the true market value is some tiny fraction of that number.  The value of the tax deduction to me could be $1 or so, but the value to the charity was just a couple of pennies so something is off.

2) In the wake of the great recession we have record numbers of people on food stamps.  It seems like there are more and more local people hurting every day and yet our largest charities are still shipping the majority of their donations overseas?  That seems like misplaced priorities.

Sorry for the rant.  Anyone want to start a local charity serving local people?  I'd fully support that effort.

Monday, July 09, 2012

To ease or not to ease

The jobs data produced a weak headline number again this month but I agree with those that have pointed out that this might just be bad math.  We had artificially strong job numbers in the winter and we appear to be getting artificially bad jobs numbers now.  The problem is with the number of seasonal employees that are no longer being hired by companies.  Since the BLS has worked long and hard to try to smooth out the effects of these seasonal hires the fact that they are no longer occurring seems to be throwing off the data.  If this trend continues watch for the numbers to magically improve in October and November which will cause the conspiracy nut jobs to claim the President is controlling the number to improve his odds in the polls (which is not true, this is a matter of statistics not matching with the real world).

When I first saw this stat I had a hard time believing it was true, but after researching it a bit it appears to be accurate.

"High Tech stocks in Canada have gone from representing 41% of their stock market index to just 1.8% in the twelve years since 2000."  That is simply staggering.  Imagine if our tech heavy indexes collapsed to the same degree.  Thankfully, for Canada there has been a huge commodity boom around the globe and everyone wants Canadian oil, lumber and gold.  If not for those resource rich regions, Canada might look a lot more like Spain.

Ok, it's homework time.  I read this article over the weekend and I don't know what to make of it.  It really calls American parents out for being overindulgent and for doing WAY too much for our children.  I saw myself in many examples cited in this story and while it feels like we're doing the right thing for our kids at the time I wonder about the longer term damage we are doing if our entire culture is coddling our kids.

Check out this intro and see if it draws your interest.....

"In 2004, Carolina Izquierdo, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, spent several months with the Matsigenka, a tribe of about twelve thousand people who live in the Peruvian Amazon. The Matsigenka hunt for monkeys and parrots, grow yucca and bananas, and build houses that they roof with the leaves of a particular kind of palm tree, known as a kapashi. At one point, Izquierdo decided to accompany a local family on a leaf-gathering expedition down the Urubamba River.

A member of another family, Yanira, asked if she could come along. Izquierdo and the others spent five days on the river. Although Yanira had no clear role in the group, she quickly found ways to make herself useful. Twice a day, she swept the sand off the sleeping mats, and she helped stack the kapashi leaves for transport back to the village. In the evening, she fished for crustaceans, which she cleaned, boiled, and served to the others. Calm and self-possessed, Yanira “asked for nothing,” Izquierdo later recalled. The girl’s behavior made a strong impression on the anthropologist because at the time of the trip Yanira was just six years old."

The entire article is worth a read (here's the link) and I'd be interested in your feedback.  While I don't expect my children to collect and clean crawdads for dinner perhaps they could handle their own breakfasts and lunches during the summer?

Drop me a note in the comment section, shoot me an email at blantier2 at or share this article with your friends on Facebook like the kids used to do back in the good old days of 2009.