October 23, 2006

How the Internet is changing Money Lending

We all know that the Internet has changed the way that we get our news, the way that we buy things, and the way that we find information. But the Internet is starting to change the way that we invest and the way that we borrow money, as well.

Websites like geico.com and eloan.com brought capitalism to the industries of auto insurance and home loans in a new way.

Recently, I have stumbled on a few gems that are changing the way that we view and lend money. Read my summaries below, or take a guided tour of new money lending sites.

Kiva.org - I have always been fascinated by microfinance, and I have wanted to get involved, but Kiva finally encouraged me to make it happen. They allow you to lend as little as $25 to poor business owners to help them to grow their businesses. It is a great idea, and will hopefully bring more international focus to microlending.

BillMonk - Some friends make charitable lending inevitable - you know the people I'm talking about, that friend who is "sure they paid you back for that already." BillMonk is a great way to avoid awkward collections by keeping track of friendly debts in one place.

Prosper - Prosper.com is an eBay type marketplace for loans. Private lenders lend money to private borrowers. By cutting out the bank as a middleman lenders can make greater interest on their money, while borrowers lower their rates.

October 11, 2006

Official Google Docs & Spreadsheets Blog

Official Google Docs & Spreadsheets Blog

Google has just merged Writely with their spreadsheet program. After one day of testing things out, and kicking the tires, so to speak, here are my impressions:

There are exciting things afoot. For the first time, Google feels like a competitor to Microsoft Office. Little has changed, except for the look of Writely, and yet something feels different. The ability to share and edit in real time defines Web 2.0, and Google is writing the rules.

There are bugs, there are things that are difficult and non-intuitive (no easy button for double-spacing, no way to change print margins, no real print preview), but somehow it's still OK. It feels like life on the cutting edge.

Thank you, Google. Keep up the good work.

April 23, 2006

U.S Must Offer Iran Diplomatic Deal?

FoxNews, certainly the most hawkish of the major news network, published an interesting online editorial piece from the CATO Institute. Ted Galen Carpenter and Justin Logan suggest that

"The United States should offer Iran full normalization of relations, including a public promise not to attack it, restored diplomatic relations, and normalized economic relations. In return, Iran would need to give up any prospect of building a nuclear arsenal. Iran would be required to immediately open its existing nuclear program to unfettered international inspections."This sounds great. Unfortunately, it won't work. Iran is not about to stop what they are doing.However, this is a wonderful step toward gaining support for doing what has to be done in Iran (or elsewhere). If we honestly offer countries the right to be diplomatic and economic partners with the United States then we put the ball in their court, and their refusal (inevitable in many cases, like this one) will give legitimacy to the actions that must occur in the future.

Read more at www.foxnews.com/story/0...

April 21, 2006

Things Everyone Should Know About

In a bit of a departure from my previous posts (not that anyone reads them anyway), I decided to make a list of lesser-known things that make my life better, in no particular order except for the first:

- The gosepel of Jesus Christ and The Book of Mormon.

- Google Labs - The people at Google consistently do wonderful, creative things. This is a list of projects that are in the works. What a great idea to give all of their engineers "20 percent time", in which they can work on whatever they want.

- A Citi Dividend card. 5% cash back for groceries and gas, and 1% on everything else. It is fantastic.

- A high-interest online savings account. ING has recently been out-interest-rated by some other companies, but they are still a great bank.

- OpenOffice software. The document revolution is coming, and its name is Open Source. OpenOffice is leading the way, with a fantastic, free, Office Suite.

April 15, 2006

Get an A? Welcome to America!

Recent immigration protests have underscored a truth about America. Despite what Europeans (and others) may think about the United States, people still want in. And we let them in. The OECD estimates about 4 million immigrants per year, of which the highest proportion are Mexican.

The first question that we are tempted to ask is why we don't simply raise the number of legal immigrants to America, or stop quotas altogether. There are a few key reasons:

1. It is an issue too politically divisive. Like abortion, politicians are happy to support the status quo rather than alienate one half or the other of their constituency.
2. We simply don't know how many people want to come to America. Eliminating quotas may open the floodgates, and we don't know how many immigrants any economy can support.
3. Eliminating illegal immigration would also eliminate the primary benefit of immigrants. Right now illegal immigrants are not entitled to a minimum wage or any sort of employee benefits, and our economy benefits from their illegal, cheap labor.

Immigration reform has become a hot topic, but both sides have been fueled by emotion and rhetoric more than by practical solutions. Immigrants need to recognize the necessity, especially post 9/11, of protecting our borders. They need to recognize that the reason that America is worth coming to is because we take good care of our economy.

I am happy to present, only partially tongue-in-cheek, the solution:

When a medical school wants to decide whether someone can become a doctor, they must meet certain qualifications, receive certain marks and certain test scores. It is time that we start grading our immigrants.

I suggest that we set up a very liberal guest worker program. We let millions of people into America every year, and then weed them out into who gets to stay. Immigrants would have no voting rights, no minimum wage, and no right to welfare. But, they would have the right to be here, live here, and work here. We would have a testing period of 5 years or so, after which we would decide who could apply for citizenship and who could not.

A Students: Immigrants who remain employed throughout their time in the United States, who pay their taxes, learn English, eat their vegetables, etc. These immigrants would automatically be eligible for citizenship, on a fast-track.

B Students: Immigrants with an almost perfect record. They may have been unemployed for short periods of time, but have been actively seeking employment. These immigrants are next in line.

C Students: Immigrants who are only working sporadically, don't learn any English, etc.

F Students: Immigrants who commit crimes, choose not to work for extended periods of time, etc. We should deport them as soon as possible.

By being very generous in giving immigrants a chance to prove themselves, we have the right to be more strict with those who try to bend the rules, including illegal immigrants. By allowing people to enter legally we could keep much better track of them, and we could be much more aggressive in securing the borders, and prosecuting those who enter illegally.

In this way we would maintain the benefits of immigration: cheap labor, integration of new cultures, and the reinforcement of America as a country willing to take in "the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free". This plan also replies to the objections of the anti-immigrationists. By ensuring that only the economically stable are allowed to stay there is no need to worry about the economic disaster predicted by some. It also allows us to patrol the borders more effectively, and discover potential terrorists much easier.

Admit it, it's a good idea.

Comments? Post them or e-mail me at jdfoote1@gmail.com

April 9, 2006

We Need You Again, Adam Smith

Like many people in recent years, I have become fascinated by the idea of microcredit/microloans/microfinancing. For those who don't know, microcredit is the practice of giving very small loans (usually between $20-$100) to the very poor.

Surprisingly, the poor are a good credit risk. They succeed when they are given an opportunity. The American Dream, it turns out, can be exported. In fact, there may be no more important export for the Third World.

Alternatively, government aid is notoriously ineffective at delivering aid.

America was built on the principles of laissez-faire economics. We are being both naive and unneccesarily critical to believe that Third World countries need our help in order to succeed. What they really need is our capital, invested in ways that make sense to the investor. Although generally non-profit, many microloan organizations are financially sound, and it is possible to invest in some of them (Accion, for example).

It is time that we do more, but time that we do more in a way that is fiscally responsible, and supportable in the long-term. Like many others, I am more and more convinced that Microfinance really is the answer that we have been looking for.

Additional viewing:
Small Fortunes - a great documentary about the impact of microcredit.

March 27, 2006

Third-World Aid and Farm Subsidies

The technological, financial, and intellectual changes in the world all seem to be moving us toward a more global culture. The Internet, globalization, and the changing attitude toward the War on Terror are all pushing Western values onto the developing world.

These changes have some very negative effects, including the loss of indigenous culture and the all-too-often empowerment of dictators or religious zealots. However, there have been, and will be, some benefits to our changing global attitudes. We have begun to see ourselves as part of one global family, and to take the problems of other nations more and more seriously. International aid to the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia, for example, was unprecedented. The United States alone, according to one blog (http://blog.simmins.org/td.pdf) donated over $1 billion dollars from non-governmental organizations.

In addition, the plight of the world's poor has become in international concern, unlike ever before. There are non-profits and corporations doing much to try to alleviate the hunger and destitute poverty in third-world countries. Governments are donating hundreds of millions of dollars a year to this cause. There is, however, an avenue which we should be using in order to help the poor, and which political silliness is causing us to ignore.

Most of the industry in developing countries is agrarian. Many of the world's poor are sharecroppers or resident farmers. By maintaining farm subsidies and agricultural tarriffs in America we are not allowing the world's poor access into our produce market. We should let our free market work to enrich the world's poor in a way that will be economically beneficial to us and them.

Further reading:

March 2, 2006

On the Problem of Immediate Media and Democracy

The 2-party system that characterizes America seems to lead to a politic that agrees on little, and never agrees on anything substantive. Even good ideas are opposed first and examined second. When the opposing party proposes an idea it seems that politicians feel it their duty to find evidence against the proposal instead of trying to find the truth. A prime example is President Bush's Social Security privatization plan. His approach was very open and inclusive - identifying an acknowledged problem and asking for help from both sides of the aisle. Instead of help, he immediately dichotomized the hearers into camps, and he was immediately criticized by the left and praised by the right - and this before any details of the plan had been released or even decided.

The source of this problem is the interplay between our culture of immediacy and a first past the post electoral system. As the name implies, our system leads to a horse-race style of politics, and eliminates all but the top two parties. The unintended consequence of this system is to make every issue a part of the competition. Unless there is unanimous national support for a position, it can be almost assured that the parties will take opposing positions.

This dichotomy is furthered by the immediacy of the news media. For example, the media expects a response to presidential State of the Union addresses 5-10 minutes after the speech is over. This is not enough time to think about and digest what has been said, and the opposing party feels disposed to focus only on that which makes their party look better and the president's look worse.