Gangnam Style and YMCA
I remember back in the early 90’s travelling through countries where many people didn’t speak English. In spite of not speaking English, they listened to American music. Dance floors would be packed with people who knew the words to songs without knowing their meaning. I found it fascinating. Fortunately for me, YMCA remained a popular song since it was one of the few songs that I could dance to or at least spell the words with my hands.
But it always struck me as interesting that no foreign language song had ever really caught on in the U.S. There was 99 Neuf Balloons, but that mentioned Captain Kirk and had too many English words. There was some song that had the “voulez-vous coucher avec mois, ce soir” but that was just an attempt to be a little smutty.
So until now, I can’t really think of a song so popular where Americans don’t care if they understand the words or not (technically, I’m not sure if there is any meaning to the words in any language, but that’s another story).
So what is the point of this? I guess in part it is that I had no new topics to write about, I wanted to relive some travels from my youth on a beautiful Friday morning, but I also think it shows how things do change over time.
Many people I spoke to back then didn’t think the U.S. pop media would ever embrace a foreign song. Well, clearly, now we have. So things and perception do change over time, and things that seem obvious to one generation don’t seem obvious at all to the next one. Just assuming something won’t happen, doesn’t make it correct.
The U.S. Isn’t Japan
Yes, people still like to talk about how the U.S. isn’t Japan. Yes we don’t have Japan’s notoriously low rate. 10 year JGB’s yield 0.7%, tiny in comparison to our 1.68%. Japanese stocks have returned next to nothing for long periods and are still off their all time highs. Ours are very different since the S&P is almost back to 2007 highs which were just a bit better than highs from March 2000. The Nasdaq on the other hand is still almost 40% below the peak reached almost 13 years ago. Japan has been a serial QE’er and offers all sorts of strange stimulus packages that haven’t really worked. Yes, we are clearly different.
The U.S. Isn’t Spain
One country runs a current deficit of over 8% of GDP, lies about the desire to reduce it, while actually growing it. The other country is Spain. Debt to GDP is growing rapidly in spite of efforts to keep as much debt as possible off the balance sheets. In Spain it is regional debt that remained hidden, here we have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Spain is facing years of austerity. Here we have the fiscal cliff, and let’s be honest, Spain is more likely to address some long term issues than the U.S. The comparison of Spain and the U.S. is timely as Romney highlighted it. It is also timely because Spain hasn’t dealt with problems and is in serious trouble. Our smugness that we aren’t Spain is something that needs to be questioned.
The U.S. Isn’t the USSR
Russia had a state controlled economy where every decision was made at the top. The government was responsible for feeding the nation. Here it is only the treasury market that is completely controlled by the government in an attempt to influence the price of all assets in the economy. Actually it is the mortgage market as well that is controlled. It is only certain rules and laws that dictate what we produce – ethanol being one of my personal favorites. Only 1 in 6 people in the U.S. is received food stamps.
But at least our data isn’t manipulated. Unlike Russia where the data was viewed with skepticism ours is viewed as truthful. Or at least it was. Frankly I think the BLS is honest, but it is interesting to see how many people doubt something as simple and basic as that.
The most powerful man in both the U.S. and the USSR went by the title of Chairman.
Saying it Isn’t Enough
Saying that we aren’t something isn’t enough. We need to work every day to ensure that we don’t become what we don’t want to become. Clicking your ruby slippers three times might be enough to get Dorothy back to Kansas, but it isn’t going to get us back to a stable fiscal situation. We need to realize there are issues and deal with them. The choices won’t be easy, but they never have been. Why we think that have been great is enough to remain great, is beyond me. We need to strive to be great. We need to be serious about it. Smugly saying we aren’t so and so isn’t enough especially when every year we look more and more like some of the places we don’t want to be.