Datapoints #1

In the Wall Street Journal on Monday September 12, 2011 there was a fascinating article on the U.S. macro economy entitled, “As the Middle Class Shrinks, P&G Aims High and Low.” The article presents a kind of mini-case study of how America’s largest consumer products company (their sales were a staggering $82.6 B last year) is responding to the widening income gap brought on by the recession.

If you read and other left-leaning blogs, you would have heard about about the Gini Index which tracks income inequality. This was the first time I had seen it mentioned in the Journal. Until now, I was unsure whether the Gini was a propaganda tool. However, the article states that according to the Gini index, “We now have [an income gap] similar to the Philippines and Mexico.”

This is a startling datapoint and giant corporations like Proctor & Gamble and McDonald’s are already responding to it by changing-up their product offerings.

Another interesting datapoint mentioned in the article gives a definition to something that every American cares about, the middle class:

In the wake of the worst recession in 50 years, there’s little doubt that the American middle class–the 40% of households with annual incomes between $50,000 and $140,000 a year–is in distress.

The name that Citigroup execs have given to the shrinking middle is the “Consumer Hourglass Theory.”

A story on NPR this morning explicitly mentions something that has haunted me for quite some time: the notion that my standard of living might shrink from that of my parents and grandparents–that the American Dream is in decline. This is something every American needs to care about and should be the basis for our national conversation during this election season.

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The Engine Room

Dance more.

I am on page 189 of Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. She opens the chapter with three recommendations for daily life from positive psychology manuals:

Practice random acts of kindness twice a week.

Think about Death for five minutes every day.

Dance more.

I have heard the recommendation about practicing random acts of kindness and I have often longed for more dancing in my life. The notion that modern psychology would recommend the medieval practice of “the death’s head” is highly intriguing. I did it today, thinking for a few minutes about my dying friend and listening to the beating of my heart which will stop some day. It actually made me feel better. But how will it make me feel in two weeks? Maybe Jane has an answer to the problem of dryness. Random acts of kindness scare me. I have been taken advantage of too many times. Dancing more I think I can handle.

Praise the Lord with Timbrel and Harp and…









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Reading Book Reviews as Spiritual Practice

On July 20th the Wall Street Journal published a review of The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. The review was written by John Horgan who is the director of the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Mr. Horgan also reviewed The Shallows for the Journal, but more on that at another time.  What grabbed me in this review was a passage in the fifth paragraph:

[Deutsch] rejects end-points of all kinds, whether a “theory of everything” that answers every scientific riddle, a work of art so exquisite that it cannot be surpassed or even the Buddhist version of Enlightenment, a state of unsurpassable spiritual grace.

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I was in the midst of a love affair with Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now when I read those lines. Like so many Buddhist thinkers before him, Tolle believes that a state of unsurpassable spiritual grace is attainable. Reading those lines brought me back to the Beatitudes of Jesus and the Our Father which project a world where spiritual grace is a journey, not a destination.

I devour book reviews because I am a slow reader and do not have time to read everything that I would like to read. I have trouble finishing the books that I start because, in the words of the YA writer, Kristen Anderson, there is always one “shinier” just over there.

Still, apart from giving us summaries of some of the great books hitting store shelves, the reviews themselves can often enlighten. And I am constantly amazed by the erudition of the reviewers–especially those in the Journal. Reading the daily review in the Journal is part of my daily routine. Do you have a review site or page that you frequent?