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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How Big IS Africa?

We're having more and more contact with Africa these days. For instance, still another coworker of ours, Christine, has just been there – to Uganda – and Laura, a parishioner at my own church, left last week to spend her "junior year abroad" in Senegal. Christine went on a mission trip with a group from her church; they visited orphanages and she helped make a connection between one orphanage and a ministry for the blind run by Lions' Clubs. Laura is participating in a program on international development; all her coursework this semester will be in French. Laura's mom tells me the time difference between New York and Dakar is only five hours, the same as to London; that makes it seem less far away somehow. There are other close connections to Africa: we've written here recently about a coworker's visit in Ghana, you know that we met the Bishop of Botswana, and last March, Anglicans from around the world gathered for meetings in South Africa on the Millennium Development Goals.

Where are these places? All of this, plus all the recent, disturbing news about Kenya, prompted me to look at maps of Africa. Here are two. The first shows all the countries and gives you a good sense of its size and location relative to Europe. The second shows several large, familiar geographic regions superimposed on Africa. Now, can you get some sense of how really big it is and how widely varying? As seen in Map 2, Africa is about the same size as the US, China and Europe added together. It is the world's second largest continent, with 11,670,000 square miles constituting just over 20% of the earth's total landmass. The perimeter coastline is almost exactly 19,000 miles long. The "prime meridian", the base for all the clocks in the world, runs through several nations, especially Ghana, Mali and Algeria; Algeria itself uses the time zone that matches Continental Europe and is called WAT, West African Time, while the others use the familiar GMT.

We'll keep these maps close by; we'll surely want to refer to them from time to time. For the moment, here is a bit of information about the web sources where we found them. The first, very clear multicolor map showing all the countries is from the Books for Africa website: In conjunction with the online used book dealer Better World Books, Books for Africa distributes textbooks to schools in Africa; the organization will be 20 years old this year and has sent 18 million books to schools and libraries all over the Continent. The "double-image" map is from an elementary school curriculum guide, "How Big Is Africa?" designed and distributed by the African Studies Center at Boston University: Finally, some of our numerical information about size and time zones comes from

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This Just In . . .

The Federal Reserve cut its key short-term interest rate by 75 basis points, or 0.75%, today, January 22, from 4.25% to 3.50%. This action put the rate, the so-called "federal funds" rate, at its lowest since September 2005, nearly two-and-a-half years ago. Since the rate of inflation over the latest 12 months was higher than that, at 4.1% measured by the consumer price index, the Federal Reserve moved its "real", inflation-adjusted, interest rate into negative territory, so it is now virtually giving money away.

This negative interest rate is deliberate, to try to prevent the current housing, credit and stock market turmoil from spreading across the economy. Now, as we are learning, "spreading across the economy" means more than just the United States, but many countries around the world. My colleague at Haver Analytics, Louise Curley, showed this clearly today in her commentary about the rate move on Stock markets around the world fell substantially over the weekend and on Monday, when US markets were closed for the Martin Luther King holiday. This is evident in one of her charts of daily percentage changes in stock prices, shown here for Turkey, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These countries get involved because their economies have been growing with their expanding sales of products to the US and other industrial countries. But if the US economy declines or even just slows, so will those countries' sales. Stock markets in Germany, the UK and elsewhere also fell markedly in their Monday and early Tuesday trading, highlighting the worldwide scope of what started several months ago as a local disruption in home loan performance in communities around the United States.

Within US markets, Bank of America and Wachovia Bank reported early today that their profits fell 95% and 98%, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2007 from the year-ago quarter, as those banking institutions faced increasing volumes of loan losses that are largely related to this mortgage debacle.

The Federal Reserve's action was unexpected and came just a week ahead of a regularly scheduled meeting of its Open Market Committee, or FOMC, the group of policymakers charged with these monetary policy decisions. The move outside the regular order of business is thus seen as an emergency measure. The FOMC made only a brief summary statement announcing the rate change, but in its timing, it surely considered the major banks' earnings and those foreign stock market drops. To the extent the latter factor carried weight in the Fed's decision, this would add to the extraordinary nature of the action. The Fed has responsibility for the US and not for the well-being of other countries. But economic conditions abroad are closely intertwined with those in the US, making it impossible and even negligent for our central bank to ignore them.

Washington politicians are also trying to cobble together a fiscal stimulus plan to combat what they see as cumulating recessionary forces. Some tax relief may be enacted to support consumer spending. If and when those actions take more defined shape, we'll revisit them here. But in the meantime, this overall situation has most fundamentally to do with credit, and it seems to us that the credit-centered policy actions will be the most effective. We'll keep you informed. Meantime, just make sure your own credit is in the best possible condition!

Also in the meantime, we really do want to write to you about church growth and the impact of the "Millennial" generation on the churches. We have an article on this in process, but we had to stop today to bring you this "breaking news". We'll get back to that, though; over a longer perspective, it's important to our futures too.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

First-Person Accounts

"They Don't Go Outdoors in Nairobi"

Sometimes, the most casual comments can be the most profound. At the end of our "New Year" greeting on Monday, we wrote, "don't forget to pray for the folks in Kenya and Pakistan." An afterthought, almost a throw-away line (except that it deals with prayer).

My co-worker A. is from Ghana, and she returned to New York on the weekend from 2-1/2 weeks there on a holiday visit with all of her family. They were supposed to go to see friends in Kenya, she told me today when I welcomed her back, and the original plan would have put them there just a few days after the election. Fortuitously, they had decided not to make the trip after all, and when they talked to their friends, they learned that the people there didn't have much of a holiday. Hardly. They're staying indoors, out of the danger.

These events feel distant when you're only reading news headlines, and the headlines don't connect you with ordinary, real people. But here is a friend of a friend who's dealing with it first-hand.

So as we were saying: "Don't forget to pray for the folks in Kenya . . . ." You know some now, almost in person.

* * * * *

Debbie Hodgepodge Teaches Finance

Also, here's a first-hand follow-up to our comments concerning 5 things you can do in the New Year to shore up your family finances. Debbie of Hodgepodge wrote one of her great pieces, this on the unique way her family keeps their money under control. Her article and philosophy are really helpful. Click right here to go directly to it.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Happy New Year from Ways of the World!

We hope your 12 Days of Christmas were fun, warm, caring and spiritual times. The Geranium Farm had such a "fun, warm, caring and spiritual" occasion Saturday night, "Twelfth Night", at the Farm, where almost all of us gathered for dinner and great conversation around the Crafton/Quaintance fireplace. Then yesterday, we celebrated by email the word from Matt the Web Dude that was being honored with a World Wide Web Awards Humanitarian Award.

This last is a special thing. A group of web designers evaluate websites on criteria of design, content and ease of navigation. There are separate categories for Patriotic and Humanitarian sites, but to receive the award, even these must meet a minimum quality point requirement judged on the same basis as high-budget commercial sites. So it's a tribute to Matt and to the others for all the work each must do every single day to cultivate the Farm's Geraniums. However, if Barbara and Debbie and DJ and Buddy and Fr. Matthew feel as I do, this isn't really "work".

So let us proceed to the non-work at hand.

* * * * *

Coming back down to earth, it is January, and that means we're all sitting around with a boat-load of credit card bills and, this year, enormous heating expenses. How can we manage?

We're AOL users and some of their editorial content can be very helpful. Today, they feature material from on formulating a household budget we "can live with". Just reading through the topic headings is useful:

1. Make a list of regular expenses, such as mortgage payment, car payment and the like
2. Prepare for those high energy costs
3. Eliminate credit-card debt
4. Build an emergency fund
5. Estimate your total tax bill

I know, you're saying, "what did you mean, Carol, about 'non-work'? This is big work!" But it will save you work – and lots of money – later if you can take time to do these things now. [Ask me in two weeks if I've started on these myself!!]

See the AOL site,, for more color on exactly why these tasks are important and how to get going.

* * * * *

Meantime, it's the Epiphany Season, when Jesus as the Christ was made manifest to the world at large. On Ways of the World, we'll be commemorating this by writing more on the church and young people. You might recall from our "Advent Reading List" (December 2) that startling revelation from some Evangelical churches that young people seem not to be as church-going as before. We think our role as a social scientist is to talk about this and make sure you know about it, so we've been doing some reading on survey work among kids to see what they think. That and other information on factors in church growth are upcoming here during January.

Lent, as you're aware, follows quickly this year with Ash Wednesday on February 6; we plan some commentary then on stewardship. Yes, fund-raising, but really stewardship in the broader sense: how we take care of our resources and how we can translate that into ministry to business and business leaders. If that's an intriguing idea to you, stay tuned!

Best wishes to you all for a healthy and prosperous 2008! Don't forget to pray for the folks in Kenya and Pakistan . . . .

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