Pretty simple. When I read something I like, I try to write it down. In no particular order, here are 50 things I've read lately that, for one reason or another, caught my attention.
"Today, of Americans officially designated as 'poor,' 99 percent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 percent have a television, 88 percent a telephone, 71 percent a car and 70 percent air conditioning. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these."
"As late as the 1950s, New York's garment industry was the nation's largest manufacturing cluster. It employed 50 percent more workers than the auto industry in Detroit."
"If everyone worldwide had the same chance of becoming a billionaire, you'd expect the chance of a billionaire child having a billionaire parent to be one out of 9.3 million. In reality the odds are two out of five."
"Two married 66-year-olds with roughly average earnings over their lives will end up paying about $110,000 in dedicated Medicare taxes through the payroll tax, including the portion their employers pay. They can expect to receive about $340,000 in benefits. Two average-earning 56-year-olds will pay about $140,000 and get back about $430,000 in benefits."
"In 1941, the U.S. economy produced almost 40 percent more output than it had in 1929, with virtually no increase in labor hours or private-sector capital input. Almost all of the increase in output per hour is attributable to technological and organizational advance. ... The [Great Depression in the] 1930s were indeed the most technologically progressive decade of the century."
"The average Mexican lives longer now than the average Briton did in 1955. Infant mortality is lower today in Nepal than it was in Italy in 1951. The proportion of Vietnamese living on less than $2 a day has dropped from 90 per cent to 30 per cent in twenty years. The rich have got richer, but the poor have done even better."
"If fertility drops much below 2.1 babies per woman, the population will shrink unless it is offset by higher immigration. For this reason, a demographic cloud hangs over China. It may be 'the first country to grow old before it grows rich.' ... Its fertility rate is below two and its working-age population will start to decline around 2015."
"Over a 15-year stretch ending in 2006, General Motors (NYSE: GM ) poured $55 billion into its workers' pension plan, compared to only $13 billion that it paid out in dividends."
"New Jersey boasts the highest percentage of passport holders (68%); Delaware (67%), Alaska (65%), Massachusetts (63%), New York (62%), and California (60%) are close behind. At the opposite end of the spectrum, less than one in five residents of Mississippi are passport holders, and just one in four residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas."
"Worldwide, there are now as many people overweight as malnourished (1 billion)."
"In manufacturing, the market price is set by the smartest guy with the best, cheapest production process. In [stock] markets, the price is set by the dumbest guy with the most money to lose."
"The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That's how value is created."
--Dilbert creator Scott Adams
"A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed."
"The United States, with income per capita of $29,000 and annual health care expenditures per head of $5,711, sees a life expectancy of seventy-seven years. Compare this to Costa Rica, where annual income per head is $6,500, annual health expenditures per capita is $305, and life expectancy is seventy-nine years."
"Sudanese people live in unspeakable poverty, yet come to the U.S. and remark on how miserable Americans' lives are. All we do is work. No time for family, friends, or social gatherings."
--Adapted from the documentary God Grew Tired of Us
"In school they give you a question and ask you to find an answer. In the real world the answers are everywhere -- the Internet, calculators, history books, reference manuals. The trick is asking the right questions."
--Adapted from speech by Conrad Wolfram
"Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real."
"A recent study found that the iPod -- a nearly ubiquitous device -- has created 13,920 jobs in the United States, including engineering and retail. That's a pretty small number."
"Small government is better than big government, but size is less important than quality. For example, Sweden's government spends more than half of gross domestic product while Mexico's spends only a quarter of its GDP. But Swedish government is efficient and honest while Mexico's is inefficient and rife with corruption. That's one reason Sweden is rich and Mexico is poor."
"The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich."
"Groupon saw its revenue surge to $760 million last year from $33 million the previous year."
"Food prices declined by one-half in the second fifty years of the twentieth century alone."
"In 1945 the U.S. accounted for about 50% of total global output, twice what it does now. Why? Because most of the rest of the industrial world was in ruins. Had history taken another turn or two, the U.S. would not have had the monopoly of riches it enjoyed for the next three decades. Consider: At the beginning of the last century, Germany was an industrial and scientific powerhouse, but two world wars and Nazism ended that. Had it not succumbed to militarism in the 1920s and '30s, Japan would have had a modern, technology-based economy by the 1940s, not the 1970s."
"A Canadian polling company once asked people how many millions there are in a billion. Forty-five percent didn't know. So how will they react when they're told that the arsenic levels in their drinking water are three parts per billion? Those who don't know what a billion is can only ... hit the panic button."
"So [government] spending [in 2010] was $186 billion higher than if we'd stuck to the [2000-2007] trend, and revenue was $681 billion lower. In other words, the giant deficit is mainly the result of the collapse in tax receipts brought on by the recession, not the increase in spending. Nice to know, huh?"
"The wisdom of crowds only really applies when forecasts are genuinely independent, as when farmers are guessing the weight of a bull at a country fair. Once you know what others are thinking, their views lead you into error."
"That what is self-evident to one person can be seen as silly by another should give us pause about the reliability of common sense as a basis for understanding the world."
"We learn less from history than we think we do, and this misperception skews our perception of the future."
"The stock market is a giant distraction from the business of investing."
"Americans who live in metropolitan areas with more than a million residents are, on average, more than 50 percent more productive than Americans who live in smaller metropolitan areas."
"The long-term growth rate of earnings per share on the stock market has lagged behind that of American GDP because many of the fastest-growing companies are not quoted."
"Going from an income of a dollar a day to $150,000 a year is about the same distance as going from $150,000 a year to the type of income that might get you on the Forbes list of richest Americans."
"A recent survey found that of tested Indian students who had completed the lower primary cycle, 31 percent could not read a simple story and 29 percent could not do two-digit math problems."
"I grew up with the priceless advantage of having to work for what I got."
"[Alan Greenspan] told the New York Times Magazine in 1976 that he rationalized his decision to join the government thusly: 'I could have a real effect.'"
"The percentage of [home] buyers in Phoenix paying cash hit 42% in 2010."
"One classic paper compared the effects of right-to-work laws on factory jobs in neighboring counties, on either side of a right-to-work border. It found that manufacturing grew 23.1% faster between 1947 and 1992 on the anti-union side of the divide."
"Don't have $7.5 million? Most American millionaires wouldn't define you as rich. Of the 1000 respondents in a survey by Fidelity Investments, all with at least $1 million in investable assets, 42% said they do not feel rich. In 2009, when the economy was worse, 46% reported not feeling rich."
"By the age of 3, children from wealthier households hear, on average, about 500,000 encouragements and 80,000 discouragements. The ratio is reversed in households on welfare."
"The opposite of success isn't failure; it is name-dropping."
"Being poor is bad when you need access to expensive treatments or services. Luckily, however, many of the services and treatments most necessary to increase quality of life are very cheap."
"The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."
--John Kenneth Galbraith
"In 2009, economists Emmanuel Saez, Joel Slemrod and Seth Giertz concluded raising [tax] rates on the rich by 1 percent may cause them to report 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent less taxable income."
"Steinhardt founded Steinhardt Partners LP, one of the most successful hedge fund managers, in 1967. Back then 'you had to be a special money manager to run a hedge fund because you were expected to do well,' he said. 'It's a very different world today.'"
"Paying Kim Kardashian $10,000 to tweet about a product may well buy less buzz than paying 10,000 ordinary Twitter users $1 each."
"If you manage a team of 10 people, it's quite possible to do so with very few mistakes or bad behaviors. If you manage an organization of 1,000 people it is quite impossible. At a certain size, your company will do things that are so bad that you never imagined that you'd be associated with that kind of incompetence."
"Between 1980 and 2000, financial industry profits rose from $32.4 billion to $195.8 billion ... and the financial sector's share of all domestically produced profits went from 19 percent to 29 percent."
"Don't believe that 'customer is always right' stuff. ... ING Direct has built the fastest-growing bank in America by saying no. When customers ask for a credit card, the answer is no. When they ask for an online brokerage, the answer is no. When they ask if they can open an account with a million dollars, the answer is no."
"Blaming individuals is no substitute for acknowledging the failure of a [financial] system."
-- Mervyn King
"The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."
Check back every Tuesday and Friday for Morgan Housel's columns on finance and economics.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. General Motors is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.