The 8 Most Fascinating Things I Read This Week

Happy Friday! There are more good news articles, commentaries, and analyst reports on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are the eight most fascinating ones I read this week.

1. A detailed list on how to have a miserable life
Blogger Chris Guillebeau shares a list on "how to be unhappy." The whole thing is great, but a couple are especially meaningful to money and investing:

  • "Buy things you can't afford or don't want. Either choice is a sure fit for unhappiness. When you buy things you can't afford, you go into debt, which limits the other choices available to you. When you buy things you don't want, you lie to yourself about the real source of your unhappiness."
  • "Whine and complain to anyone who will listen. Explain how the world isn't fair and how you would do things differently if you were in charge. Bonus: this practice also allows you to contribute to other people's unhappiness."

2. The harder they fall...
Bakersfield, Calif., one of the nation's hardest-hit cities after the housing bust, is making a remarkable comeback as companies such as Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) expand on its cheap land. Writes the Los Angeles Times:

Bakersfield has been adding population and jobs at a brisk pace and is a few thousand jobs from matching its peak employment level of five years ago. A price-fueled energy bonanza, low corporate operating costs and an advantageous location are contributing to the area's good fortune.
Employment has grown across many sectors, including manufacturing. Even construction, which suffered mightily statewide during the housing bust, has strengthened. ... It leads the country in year-over-year construction employment growth, with payrolls swelling by almost 23% since July 2011. By comparison, state construction employment grew by 5%.

3. A BA in rip-offs
Megan McArdle writes a fantastic piece on college education in this week's Newsweek. This is a must-read. An excerpt:

Between 1992 and 2008, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded rose almost 50 percent, from around 1.1 million to more than 1.6 million. According to Vedder, 60 percent of those additional students ended up in jobs that have not historically required a degree -- waitress, electrician, secretary, mail carrier. That's one reason the past few decades have witnessed such an explosion in graduate and professional degrees, as kids who previously would have stopped at college look for ways to stand out in the job market.

4. Not as bad as it looks
Thousands of people are dropping out of the labor market. Usually, this is said to mean that people are giving up because the economy is so week. But as Catherine Rampell writes in The New York Times, there's more to it than that. A lot of the dropouts seem perfectly happy to be sitting out, likely because they're retired or in school:

In December 2007, when the recession officially started, 5.9 percent of people counted as "not in labor force" said they wished they were working. As of last month, that share was 7.8 percent.
Surprisingly, the share of people who weren't in the labor force but still wanted jobs was actually higher in the mid-1990s, when the Labor Department first started collecting these numbers. In January 1994, 10.3 percent of the people who were not actively looking for a job said they actually wished they were working.

5. How Amazon works
All Things Digital
has a great interview with Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) CEO Jeff Bezos. Here he is, describing the company's business model:

We do not like the razor and razor blade model, where you lose money up front and then somehow make it up on the backend. We also do not like the other model, where you make a lot of money on the device, because it doesn't follow our approach.
By the way, one thing I should tell you is that our approach is our approach, and we don't even claim it's the right approach. It's not something that's new, but it's something we've done since the founding of the company. In my view, you set up the business in a way that is aligned with the customer, or you can set it up in odds with the customer. When you have the option, you should figure out a way to be in alignment. Sometimes that requires you to be more patient, so it's part and parcel with long-term thinking.
But if you were a short-term-oriented share owner, you might say let's get the money up front. That's where I decline to say that approach is wrong. I won't say that. But it's not ours. I work with the teams to set up the business models.

6. The next boom
Josh Brown quotes an analyst who thinks demographics could set off the next bull market:

Demographics are about to shift in favor of stocks for the first time since the 1990s, according to Tobias Levkovich, Citigroup's chief U.S. equity strategist ... [those aged 35 to 39] are poised to increase for the next 17 years. ... The outlook reflects the aging of the echo boom generation, or children born in the 1980s and 1990s to post-World War II baby boomers. Americans in this category are entering their "savings years" at 35 through 39, Levkovich wrote in a Sept. 7 report.

7. Gloom and doom
Billionaire investor Howard Marks discusses our future. From Business Insider:

For me, the bottom line of all this is that we aren't looking at a period of prosperity. A recovery is under way and is likely to continue, but it is more likely to be lackluster than vigorous. Most Americans' financial memory consists of V-shaped recoveries and periods of good feeling like the 1990s, when they couldn't think of reasons not to borrow and spend. Five years from now, I think people will be asking, "When will the economy get going? When will we get back to good times?"

8. He talks, you listen
Another billionaire investor, Ray Dalio, gives an hour-long talk on business, investing, gold, and life.

Enjoy your weekend.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Follow him on Twitter @TMFHousel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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  • Report this Comment On September 17, 2012, at 9:52 AM, TMFTheDude wrote:

    Great finds Morgan. Looking forward to reading several of these.

  • Report this Comment On September 18, 2012, at 4:53 PM, slpmn wrote:

    # 5 - Um, can someone translate what the heck Bezos said?

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