Are Americans Stupid, Or Do We Just Not Care?

There was a strange story on CNN that analyzed President Obama’s speech to the nation on Tuesday night. However, this analysis was different than the norm. Instead of looking at the content or determining if it was effective or not, instead it concentrated on whether it was too “professorial” for most people to understand.

Once again, it’s the “dumbing down of America” conversation, and in truth there seems to be a lot of proof that it’s true in some fashion. Many of us have seen Jay Leno asking people on the street questions to things that should be obvious and heard the stupid answers that come from them. One time he interviewed recent college graduates and it was shocking to hear some of the answers they were giving.

You want to know how entrenched the idea is? Many of you know I’m a health care finance consultant. Well, one of the directives from Medicare is that any information we give to Medicare patients must be written at a 3rd grade level. That’s right, we have to try to find a way to write complicated stuff so an 8-year old can understand it. Trust me, that’s not easy to do, and hospitals get called on it all the time.

So, are we Americans dumb? Is our educational system failing us? The popular answer is “yes”. However, when you think about it, you’d have to say it’s not even close. What has happened is that people, including children, have locked onto what they believe is important to them, and on that specific thing they’re geniuses. Think back to your youth for a moment. How much do you remember from your history lessons? Then how many song lyrics do you remember from music you loved at the time?

Think about spelling. Man, do I see a lot of spelling mistakes everywhere. Even words people use all the time get spelled incorrectly. As a former employer, it used to amaze me that I’d get resumes where people would misspell the name of the school they went to; those immediately went into the trash.

Still, are we dumb? I’ll use myself as an example. I like to think I’m pretty smart. I know a lot about a lot of things. Yet, I have no concept of geography, which was highlighted again a couple of nights ago when our friend Ching Ya mentioned she lived in Malaysia, and I had absolutely no idea where it was. Then I looked it up on Google and I still wasn’t sure where it was; that’s a shame.

I also know nothing about cars except how to drive them and put gas in. I had a car years ago that I kept putting oil in, thinking it was leaking oil, only to learn that I’d been looking at something other than oil; I can’t even think of what it was at this juncture.

Why don’t I know these things? Because I don’t care. I can pay someone else to fix my car. I don’t see myself leaving the country any time soon (well, maybe a trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls again some day), so I have no interest in knowing where most countries are specifically, since I do have a general idea of where places are. Does this make me dumb or just uninterested? And if this is how I am, could most people be the same way?

I really don’t know; I’m just putting it out there. However, there’s a program called WebCEO that will analyze your website and give you a lot of information about it, and one time when I ran it against my main business website it said it was written at a high school level and that maybe I should change some of the language of the site. Frankly, I think telling someone that their content is too intelligent is an insult to others, and I’m not doing it.

Then again, I once wrote a song with the word “recalcitrant” in it, and my friend Scott said he wanted to hit me. I wonder if he remembers that. 🙂 Anyway, what are your thoughts on the intellect of either Americans, or the people in whatever country you live in? I’m betting we’re not alone in believing that our populations are less intelligent than in the past.

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Sunday Question – How Do You Feel About The Economy?

By the time most of you read this, I should be on my way to New Jersey for almost a week of consulting for a hospital system in the area. This is a big deal to me because it means that the chains are finally off the wallets of some hospitals, now that the health care bill has been passed, and that most of them have some kind of idea of what their monetary situations are as it pertains to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

As I look at health care, it makes me wonder whether the economy is finally starting to turn around for the better, after about 2 years of horrible financial distress around the world. Actually, that’s not quite a true statement. I don’t wonder about it at all because I think I know the answer, and I’d like us to discuss it to see if I’m alone in this thought.

What I think the answer turns out to be is “no”. Here are some reasons why I say that.

1. Unemployment in the United States is around 9.7%. It’s remained there for the last two months, which means it hasn’t gotten any better, but it hasn’t gotten any worse. I’m not one who believes if you’re not falling further behind that you’re actually making progress.

2. Housing is still in the tank. Real estate people are saying that things are getting better because foreclosures are starting to diminish. I’m sorry, but if foreclosure rates were around 40% a month for awhile, and now they’re down to 22%, to me that doesn’t mean things are getting better, just that there are fewer properties for banks to foreclose upon. Home sales in general aren’t getting all that much better, home prices are still way down, and banks are trying to inflate the prices of some homes by withholding how many foreclosed properties they’re putting on the market.

3. Banks are closing at a higher rate than last year at the same time. There were around 140 banks that were closed last year by the Federal Reserve, the highest number since 1990. As I wrote on my finance blog last week, we were at 37 bank closures before Friday (that’s usually when you hear about more banks being closed), which was 16 ahead March 28th of last year. Also, all the large banks that had received bailout money from the government have paid it back, but more than half of those banks are recording losses ever since they left. That doesn’t bode well for anyone.

4. And that’s only in the United States. British banks are in trouble because the American banks are in trouble. Most of you heard about the problems in Abu Dhabi as they thought they’d be able to build forever without having any extra cash, investors, or clean water, let alone building everything on slave labor (no, they don’t like talking about it). Foreign investments are having problems as well, and let’s face it, the Chinese market is killing all of us because they just won’t open up; Chinese leaders, communism is dead and dying!

5. Credit. I’m talking about all of it, or the loss of it. Remember when you used to get 3 to 4 credit card offers a week? For about 8 or 9 months I stopped getting any, and now I’m getting one a week, for my business, and that’s it. Banks have learned the wrong lesson. They were giving a lot of credit to people who didn’t deserve to have it, or as much as they gave out, and they got burned. They got burned because they generated a lot of revenue that’s not real money, and when people were suddenly out of work and couldn’t pay, even collection efforts couldn’t save banks because all that money, which they turned around and invested, wasn’t real.

Now they’ve decided they’re not giving almost any money out, even to people with high credit scores, which I’ve already deemed are worthless. There are people with high credit scores being turned down for loans; that’s a shame. And let’s not even talk about how people are being cheated as it comes to their credit cards, even with the new legislation. Once again, this isn’t just in the United States.

Those are only a couple of reasons why I don’t believe the economy has turned around. I could go into a litany of things, but this should be enough to get a discussion going. Yes, some things are finally starting to turn around for me, but I never use myself as a gauge for how things are going for everyone else. What say you?

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