Ideas from Abroad, II

In 2011, US congressmen took some 1600, privately-funded trips abroad at a cost to their sponsors of $5.8 million dollars—a 75% increase over the previous year’s travel.  I’ve no doubt that such fact-finding missions were worthwhile, that no ethic violations were involved, that the sponsoring foundations had no ulterior motives, and that the normally harried congressmen were entitled to a well-deserved respite from their heavy work load in Washington, DC.

 That said, the above news item reminded me of a post I wrote in September of 2010 [see “Ideas from Abroad” under “Commentary” ] and so I elected to resume my globetrotting in the unlikely case our industrious lawmakers may have overlooked some promising foreign innovations that, were they instituted here, could benefit us as well.  Despite the legitimacy of my project and my extensively documented entreaties, my excursions elicited not even one of sponsorships that were so freely awarded to congressmen and thus were reluctantly confined to my home computer.

CHILE’S PRIVATE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM

Chilean workers must contribute at least 10% (but no more than 20%) of their wages to their individual retirement account which, in turn, must be invested in their choice of  several, conservatively-managed, pension funds.  At any given time, a worker can query the value of his account and take pride in his financial progress.  Meanwhile his savings provide significant support for the Chilean economy.  Over the last thirty years during which the scheme has been in place, the funds have averaged 9.23% above inflation.  When compared to the U.S. Social Security tab of 12.4% of wages with a return between 1% and 2%, the Chilean model would strike most reasonable people as unquestionably superior.  Unfortunately, it seems that a majority of our elected representatives gag so violently on the word “private” that they can’t get past it to make what should be a self-evident determination.

GERMANY’S DEUTSCHE POST

Over a decade ago, Germany privatized the pickup and delivery of first class mail.  As a result, rates fell by 16%, service levels improved, and overall employment increased because of the companies’ penetration into foreign markets.

NEW ZEALANDERS EXERT FISCAL DISCIPLINE

Struggling with governmental expenditures of over 50% of GDP, in 1990 the country went on a five-year diet during which its budget held steady, actually falling from NZD39.3 billion to NZD38.8.  This clamp on public spending gave the private sector room to grow with the result that government spending fell from 53.5% to 43.1% GDP and the budget reversed from a 4.5% deficit to a 2.8% surplus—all this accompanied by a 3.1% drop in taxes.

IRAN SOLVES SHORTAGE OF TRANSPLANT ORGANS

In Iran, payment for organs is transparent and effective.  A kidney recipient pays the donor between $2,300 and $4,500 and the government chips in another $1,200 plus one-year of health insurance.  Charity is available for those who cannot afford their organs.  In the United States, our high-minded, moral scruples keep 108,000 agonizingly waiting for the organs that could save their lives.  And many, of course, wait in vain.  In the first nine months of 2009, over 3,000 Americans died waiting for a kidney transplant and another 1,000 waiting for a liver.

ISRAEL’S SUCCESSFUL ECONOMY

Since 2005, Israel’s GDP has expanded 34% compared with 6.4% in the U.S.  By focusing on exports, the Israeli economy has surpassed the 24 developed countries in terms of its risk-adjusted rate of return (7.6%) over the past decade.  Hong Kong (6.7%) and Norway (6.5%) placed second and third in this compilation.  Israel’s exports consisted primarily of high-tech equipment, generic drugs, and chemicals.  Several thousand Israeli companies are forging ahead in many technological fields including medical devices, imaging, chip design, wireless communications, and Internet applications.

BRAZIL DEFEATS POWER THIEVES

Thanks to new smart meters costing between $150 and $400 apiece, Brazilian utility companies can remotely detect illegal hookups, shut off power to free-loaders, and better manage their networks.  It is estimated the meters may save the utilities $4.7 billion a year.

JAPAN GAINS ON SEVERAL FRONTS

Between 1989 and 2009, Japan’s life expectancy at birth grew from 78.8 to 83 years, a gain of 4.2 years thanks to an improvement in health care.  Of the 50 cities in the world with the fastest Internet service, 38 were in Japan. ( 3 in the US)  Unemployment is 4.2%. (about half that in the US)  In the realm of world trade, in 2010 Japan enjoyed a current account surplus of $196 billion. ( US deficit was $471 billion)

BRAZIL NARROWS THE GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR

Between 1990 and 2008, the share of total income garnered by the top fifth of the population fell from 65% to 59% while the bottom fifth’s share grew from 8% to 10%.  Meanwhile, inequality in the U.S. continues to steadily increase.

PORTUGAL DECRIMINALIZES DRUGS

As noted on my September, 2010 posting, beginning in 2001, Portugal liberalized its laws regarding drug use adopting a more lenient attitude toward addicts.  Instead of being treated as criminals, users were encouraged to seek treatment at one of the centers set up throughout the country.  Emphasis is placed on prevention and health matters.  According to an objective study by the CA TO Institute, these reforms have achieved a number of positive results among which are: a reduction in HIV among drug users, a reduction in drug-related deaths, a decline in adolescent drug use, a reduction in the load on criminal justice system, and cheaper drugs on the street.

AL QAEDA POINTS THE WAY TO BETTER NETWORKING

In contrast with the U.S. military’s top-down hierarchical structure, our top-ranking officers have admitted that Al Qaeda’s loosely organized networks have proven to be more resilient, faster reacting, and, in some respects, more effective.

 

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