Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is china’s One Child Policy (OCP) going to bow under social problems?

China’s One Child Policy (OCP) might have been influenced by Confucius and other Chinese writers who believed that “excessive growth may reduce output per worker, repress levels of living for the masses and engender strife.” The OCP requires every family to have only one child, and failing this, punishment with fines and sometimes, illegal forced abortions and forced sterilizations. The OCP was introduced in 1979 as a tool of population control, to check rapid population growth rates. Recently, there have been suggestions that the OCP might be outliving its intentions. Population growth has stagnated and an official report states that there is a dearth of 15-59 year olds in China. As of 2011, the number of births prevented by the OCP was cited at 400 million.

Many children under the OCP do not understand what siblings mean or trustworthiness. Flickr.com/blondie478
On the economic front, it is touted as being responsible for the high savings rate of the Chinese. What the economy really needs is a move towards consumption so as to keep its growth going. Increasing consumption patterns would also make her enviable for foreign investment. Not only that, the children born under OCP do not understand what a sibling means. If this is foreboding, only time will tell.

Children under OCP lack characteristic for entrepreneurial prowess.

Social scientists from Australia who studied Chinese citizens born under its One Child Policy (OCP) and just before have released a report that OCP has not only dramatically re-shaped the population, but it has produced individuals lacking characteristics important for economic and social attainment[sic]. Children born under OCP were found to be significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious individuals.

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According to one of the scientists, Professor Cameron: “Our data show that people born under the One Child Policy were less likely to be in more risky occupations like self-employment. Thus there may be implications for China in terms of a decline in entrepreneurial ability.”

If the OCP foretells social problems for China, many writers have also cited it as an impediment to China’s growth. Within some years, China might have to rely on other Asian countries for young people who will maintain its huge industrial resources, otherwise it might either have to relax its population control laws or abolish them. By about 2025, the Chinese population will be one of senior citizens. Children will have to save more to care for their elderly parents. According to an online Yahoo news report, if young men cannot find marriageable partners, if the gender ratio continues to be skewed in favor of sons and societal expectations makes it more so, social instability might be in the offing.

China’s foreign investments are increasing, especially in Africa, and one wonders what will happen if other countries finally catch up with her export surplus model?

There are signs that China might intend relaxing its strict OCP policy. Renmin University’s Gu and the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy published a study in 2008 on two-child policy programs in four regions. Conclusion: while freedom to decide on a second child would reduce the gender disparity in China, the high cost of having children is a scary prospect for the average Chinese. The next year, the National Population and Family Planning Commission decided, as a first step, to expand pilot programs to relax the policy in four to five other regions, although the proposal was dropped for lack of a leadership consensus. These are signs that a reform of the policy might be imminent.

Is China interested in leadership lessons from the West?

The question is: Is China interested in taking leadership lessons from Western countries, even renowned Western academics? There is no conclusive official data that China is going through economic strains, or that its citizens are ready to relinquish control of its massive export oriented industries to other countries. By the way, Chinese citizens who are more likely to face high fines or punishment due to the OCP cannot influence public opinion or policy.

Where reports suggest that the Government is ready to relax OCP, for how long will this last? Will those provinces return to old ways? According to Yahoo news online, in Jiuquan, though the one-child policy is relaxed, women are still subject to strict family planning rules. They are fitted with intra-uterine devices after their first child, sterilized after their second and whoever defies the two-child quota pays a 30,000 yuan fine.


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Sunday, January 27, 2013

How much does MethyMercury (MeHg) pollution cost in EuroZone? Ten billion euros!

No matter how poisonous it is to the brain, especially to infants, children and fetuses, mercury pollution seems unavoidable, especially if you live in a developing country where regulation and alternatives seem nonexistent or very expensive. Name it – either from plants manufacturing chlorine bleach, detergents or shoes, or firms where Polylvinyl Chloride (a.k.a PVC) is part of the production process, then mercury pollution is part of the problems we have to bear.

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According to the environmental protection agency (EPA), the waste that is left for many days in your kitchen, medical waste and incinerators that are used to burn these wastes also emit mercury into the atmosphere. In countries with coal mining industries, mercury is emitted into the atmosphere through coal-fired plants, or cement industries that fire kilns run by coal. The worst culprit, tralala!, is gold mining. Thousands of pounds of mercury are released when that wonderful metal is heated for separation and not only into the air, directly into underground water.

Pollution does not only contaminate the waters, air and land, it also makes us sick and sometimes, the costs in ill-health and lost working days run into the billions. So, is it with mercury pollution.

Mercury pollution works by bioaccumulation and bioconcentration.

If ecosystems and food chains were as simple as an artists imagination, there would be less problems from pollution and human negative impacts. Flickr.com/rubyblossom
Unlike greenhouses gases like carbon dioxide which directly pollutes your lungs and gives you cancer and ill-health, mercury pollution works indirectly. Mercury pollution works by bioaccumulation and bioconcentration.

Bioaccumulation is the process of taking in a pollutant such as mercury and then storing them in the body . After mercury is released into the air and water through the sources which I outlined above, the eventual media for mercury reaction to take place is water. Whether in soils containing water or in bodies of water, there are some organisms that methylate mercury or add methyl compound to mercury, thereby transforming it to methylmercury (MeHg). Methylmercury, not mercury on its own, is the devil to be afraid of. MeHg is a neurotoxin, damages the brain and impairs neuromotor development. Methylmercury accumulates in tiny plants and animals which are the start of the food chain. By a series, whether short or lengthy, of consumption patterns, MeHg accumulates in the food chain and into our meals.

First, tiny plants (or phytoplanktons) and animals (or zooplanktons) take up MeHg. These are then eaten up by other animals, accumulating it. Eventually big fishes and animals like Tilapia eat these other fishes and also accumulate MeHg. Finally, you and I take up these poisons into our system when we catch and make these big fishes part of our meals. The higher the organism is in the food chain, or the bigger the size of the organism, the higher the amount of MeHg poison you will find in it. This means that by eating big fishes like Tilapia contaminated with methylMercury, you stand a high chance of having it in your system. This process is called bioconcentration, the higher an organism is in the food chain, the higher its concentration of methylmercury.

The cost is extremely high

MeHg pollution attacks the nervous system, whether in adults or children, although children, fetuses and infants are more vulnerable. It damages the nervous system. It can stop your nerves from working well; can affect the workings of your memory such that you can no longer keep attention when needed; it can affect how your limbs work, and furthermore, it can affect how your eyes calculates space such that you could mistakenly fall down from a story building without realizing it. In health and human terms, the cost is enormous.

A team of researchers wanted to find out the effect of MeHg poisoning in 17 European countries by collecting hair samples from mothers and their children. They found that 1.8 million children are born exposed to toxic levels of MeHg, and of these, about 13% (i.e 232,000) are exposed to hazardous levels. By country analyses showed that children born in Portugal and Spain were most exposed, while Hungarian children were the least.

A member of the research team, Prof. Philippe Grandjean, explained that converting the effects of MeHg on developing brains into IQ points would mean that controlling MeHg pollution equates to 700,000 IQ points per year that would be salvaged; translated into monetary benefits, these is equal to between 8 billion to 9 billion euros per year for the whole of the European Union . Controlling exposure levels in European countries is certainly worth the effort.

The task of controlling MeHg is everyone’s responsibility.

Although MeHg seems unavoidable, the task of controlling it is everyone’s responsibility. Reducing exposure to safety limits should be the goal of every country. Many corporations are going green these days. You can encourage your local power supplier to do the same. When buying items like shoes, bags, and detergents, ask about the manufacturing process. Read the labels. Make sure PVC was not used in the production process. Ask experts in your local community about this if you are in doubt. Keep yourself informed concerning health, safety and environmental issues.

Doing the above, as well as other safety measures, will go a long way in either ensuring you are free from MeHg poisoning, or you chose a lifestyle that will ensure your exposure to MeHg is below the safe limit of 0.58µg/g recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).



As of writing this article, a yahoo online news article reports that [u.n clinches global deal on cutting mercury emissions more than 140 countries have agreed on the first global treaty to cut mercury pollution through a blacklist of household items and new controls on power plants and small-scale mines, the United Nations said on Saturday, January 19.The treaty will take between three to five years to come into effect. This is welcome news for world health. I pray the UN does achieve its goals.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Whether good or bad, subsidizing Wall Street's high-frequency traders is costing the market?

On May 6, 2010, the Dow Jones Industrial average plunged nearly 700 points in minutes before recovering. That event was tagged a “flash crash” and was blamed on high-speed trading on the floor of American stock exchanges. High-frequency trading (HFT) for the uninitiated, is the use of electronic trading platforms for entering trading orders using computer software.

Bears symbolize pessimism in the market. Flickr.com/dbarronoss
HFT is noted for its speed in initiating huge numbers of orders, sometimes even without human intervention. HFT also accounts for huge numbers of order cancellations which serves as a cause of concern in the market. Is this practice good or bad, no one can say for certain, but the perceived profits high-frequency traders make is a big burden to the market because the huge costs to other traders who are institutionalized is very high.

HFT – an arms race in speed

HFT firms used to operate in the shadows far from Wall Street. But more recently, they have been more vocal in seeking recognition, buffing their image with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), other institutionalized traders and the general public. As would any field where the perceived benefits are concentrated but the costs widespread, HFT traders have formed special-interest lobby groups that will champion their cause, hiring former SEC staff members and was reported by the New York Times to have spent nearly $2 million in the last few years on Washington lobbying and contributions to lawmakers.

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Yet, research points to the fact that total costs for the industry as a whole is beyond and above total benefits and that whatever benefits exists in the practice is favorable to HFT traders but deleterious to others. That is why regulators are desirous of curbing their activities.

On every trading day, total order involves both executed trades and cancelled orders. What would happen if 95% of total orders were reported to be cancellations? This practice is called quote stuffing, a tactic of quickly entering and withdrawing large orders in an attempt to flood the market with quotes that competitors have to process, thus causing them to lose their competitive edge in high frequency trading. Quote stuffing creates congestion in order processing, makes small time investors worse off and is skewed against investors who have invested in stock trading over the years and are ready to stick with the market in times of stress. According to Mao Ye, a professor of finance at University of Illinois, quote stuffing has made stock trading a “purely positional game,” where the only winners are those who have invested heavily in high speed computers.

HFT trading has been dubbed an opportunistic practice that banks on the weakness of the system. According to Andy Brooks, head of U.S equity trading at T. Rowe Price: “My sense is that a premise for high-frequency traders is as follows: They generate an action simply to watch our reaction. Then they position themselves to profit from that reaction.” When they are needed most, in times of stress, when the market really needs liquidity, only institutionalized investors would be around to clean up the mess. If the market were to depend on speed for trading, then the whole game would just end in high costs and economic losses for everyone.

Not only does HFT depend on computing speed, but also monopolizing resources. Where the quantity of orders in the system are beyond optimal levels, that about 95% of the orders are created just to bait other traders, you can understand the huge costs in terms of time, pricing and positioning HFT trading is placing on other investors.

On the other hand, HFT traders contend they provide high liquidity to the market and cut down transactions costs in trading by narrowing the spread in prices. Gus Sauter, chief investment officer at the Vanguard Group, says their activity serve as a “lubricant” for the stock market’s engine . But Mao Ye doubts the claims of liquidity, and Matt Schrecengost, a self-professed high frequency trader and the COO of Jump Trading, believes that SEC cannot incentivize HFT traders in a May 6-like environment because they do not ensure the workings of the market, even cannot ensure market liquidity, in such a situation.

How SEC might likely regulate HFT as a practice

Eventually, as many studies have suggested, one way or the other, high-frequency trading might be regulated, if for anything, to reduce the huge externality it is creating in the market. Either SEC might regulate it using a tax or could place timed limits on orders.

Amongst the suggestions that have been posited by SEC is to place a limit on the minimum lifetime of any quote. This is termed the minimum quote life (MQL). SEC has suggested a MQL of 50 milliseconds. Within that limit, any order placed cannot be cancelled until after the 51st millisecond. Although no one knows if this is the appropriate MQL but a limit is better than nothing in order to reduce the huge social costs of congestion on orders.

Also, a tax or fee for cancellations could also be put in place, or if not possible, a tax on investment in speed could be more appropriate. Any of these taxes would lower the total orders in the market and skew the ratio in favor of executed orders away from the present high percentage of cancellations.

Whichever of these measures is implemented, or any that might be proposed in the future, it is important that SEC creates a level playing field on Wall Street and stop other investors from gaming the system.


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Saturday, January 19, 2013

2 ways looking out for others’ interest and your interests will not make you feel guilty

Have you been accused of being individualistic, self-centered, even selfish? It didn’t bode well with you, not so? On the other end of the line, have you ever put yourself in line for others, making sacrifices for them, only to end up hurting yourself? You will not be willing to do so again. The two situations above can result in personal and inter-personal conflict. This is because as social creatures, sharing means caring, and we are expected and have been brought up to give priority to others over the self. Yet, you cannot eat your cake and have it. You cannot lose your self-interest and hope to pursue your personal goals at the same time.

Man feeling guilty, nun beside him. Credit: DG Jones/Flickr.com
In order to lead more fulfilling, happier lives, when can we, you and I, draw the line between placing the interest of others above our own self-interest?

Why is this important?

By the way, why is the above question important? If we do not satisfy our inherent prosocial desires, we are creating an environment for internal conflict. Internal conflict can result in unexplained or even excessive feelings of guilt for everyday actions. The father of economics, Adam Smith, acknowledged that while markets and commerce function because humans collectively work together, beneath the scene, the invisible hand of self-interest, or the desire to attain something for ourselves, to have a personal advantage, makes this prosocial market interaction beneficial.

Want self-interest without guilt – have it imposed

We often hear reports that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer; that the world’s resources are in the hands of a few rich, influential men while the rest suffer abject poverty. If you are very rich, should you feel guilty about this? No matter what the argument, which the author of this piece will rather put aside, most rich persons feel guilty when faced with this statistic. So they have resorted to philanthropy and immense acts of generosity. There are numerous foundations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, that would gladly turn the tables, as well as numerous economic forums that wish to address this problem.

This altruism even in the face of selfism and greed is due to the internal conflict we face when the above questions are broached; as mentioned earlier. Psychological scientists Jonathan Berman and Deborah Small of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in a recent work, “Self-Interest Without Selfishness: The Hedonic Benefit of Imposed Self-Interest”, believe that to feel accomplished and happy even when pursuing personal advantages, it is beneficial that the desire should be “imposed” on us as individuals, and should not come from our volition. That is, people should see it as a duty, an obligation, that you pursue such a course for the benefit of yourself because it will benefit the common good.



In other words, what Bernard and Small are arguing is that if you desire the perks and advantages of life, you should allow others to confer it on you, to make you want to go for it, and not your initiating the action so that you do not lose your happiness and make yourself guilt-ridden.

Phrases like “I want it now!” will only make you guilty.

You can also make sacrifices without getting hurt.

Self-sacrifice is a virtue. If you fall into this group, you are a rare gem. No amount of money or incentive can reward you enough. But, you will agree with me that no one wants to be self-sacrificing and end up losing out. The majority of persons are averse to losses.
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In order to maintain that excelling quality of self-sacrifice and still minimize your losses, if you foresee any in a venture, say, you intend negotiating with some kidnappers about some victims and if the negotiations go awry, whoever gets the blame might lose so much, or, you want to undertake business ventures for a friend who is sick and are willing to feed him information about how the business is run on a daily and transparent basis, in such cases, you have to “cover your back,” to avoid disappointments and disheartenment. You cannot read the human mind and no one can foretell what time and unforeseen circumstances can cough up in the area of the imagination.

It is expected that you should be clear about the expected values and goals. Be ready to communicate well your fears. Let every party know what the risks are, the losses you foresee. Then ask: Who is going to be responsible for such losses?

Psychologists call these the “sense of agency,” that is, who is going to be responsible, who is going to be at the helm of control? Because you are undertaking these sacrifice, a “sense of ownership” is conferred on you, because you desire to be prosocial than selfish; if you retain the sense of agency for those acts, or are at the helm of control, you have no reason to complain if you are hurt, or end up with unanticipated losses.

If nobody wants to take responsibility, then whatever self-sacrificing action you intend undertaking was not valued, is not needed and is better left alone. Nobody pays money for what is not valuable; nobody is interested in controlling a valueless venture.

It is important that you throw away the sense of agency, the control and responsibility, in situations of self-sacrifice if getting hurt might make you shrink back from your sacrificial character. The essence is for you and others to benefit from your actions while you still get to be able to have your morale, your spirit, the vigor to want to carry out such an action in the future. Only a fool undertakes hurting him- or herself.

Guilt is a terrible thing if you value happiness over material wealth. I faced a similar situation recently and had to take action on it after reading this sciencedaily article. I decided to share it with you because I believe it will greatly benefit you.

Summary: wait for others to impose it on you, or make it deserving of you, if you intend pursuing your personal advantages; transfer control and leadership positions to others if an action you are undertaking is self-sacrificial in nature. Life is all about being happy and satisfied.

Prosocial is virtuous but taking care of yourself is the engine behind it all.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Monitoring bee populations for food sustainability before decline and death.

It is no news that man is faced with a food crisis, especially in developing countries and Africa due to the effects of climate change. Millions go hungry and starve in countries like Sudan and Ethiopia because they do not have enough to eat. Why should it be news that a class of animals, the humble bees, are facing serious decline worldwide?

Bees. Valuable factors in food production. Credit:Alliect 27/Flickr.com
Bees, like bats, are pollinators. That means, they carry pollen from one crop to the other, thereby fertilizing plants. Plant fertilization is a factor for food production. So, the picture is that when bee population is on steep decline, plant fertilization will seriously drop and crop production will also decline. Eventually, if the matter is not tackled on time, we could be awaiting a food catastrophe the like that would drastically change world food sources and supply, and including who gets to eat and who goes hungry. Crops the bees pollinate are also needed as inputs in other industries like the clothing industry.

The mystery of the decline is solved.

The problem is manifold. First, bees are in serious decline. This situation has been referred to as “colony collapse disorder.” Male adult bees are rapidly dying off or deserting their queen, thereby weakening the chances of the survival of the colony. In addition to that, human manipulation has put the lives of these bees at risk. Pesticides have been found in wax samples, some like neonicotinoids, have been identified as posing a danger to the bees and their ability to carry out pollination. Furthermore, habitat destruction and fragmentation as a result of land development and the spread of monoculture agriculture makes the diverse natural food supply that pollinators need scarcer and more expensive. The planting of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops may also be responsible for poisoning bees and weakening their immune systems when these crops contain toxic insecticides within their genetic structure. A Nigerian agriculturist, Mr. Victor Obi, made a note that bee life cycles are being upset. How does this translate to your income and food supplies? In euro terms, about 153 billion euros would be lost worldwide if bees cannot carry out their pollination activities.

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This represents, at 2005 estimates, 9.5% of the value of world agricultural production that humans use as food. Food that are highly at risk are fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee and cocoa. The loss to you as a consumer, that is, what we all stand to lose if nothing is done to stem this rapid bee decline will, in euro terms, amount to between 190 and 310 billion euros in 2005 terms . Not only are widespread global agricultural catastrophe being awaited, but it would overturn and be a huge economic shock to so many economies in the world.

A laudable project you can partake in.

It is important then that this trend be well reported and monitored. It is as much of serious concern as climate change given the figures involved. That is why a lead organizer of an annual bee population counting program, “Great Sunflower Project”, Professor of Biology Gretchen LeBuhn, in a United Nations-sponsored study, is undertaking bee population counting projects in 200 locations worldwide. These projects are to serve as early warning signals that could help agriculturists and conservationists, understand the problem of declining bee populations. And the cost? Just a meager $2 million dollars. Designed to be simple, repeatable, inexpensive and quick to detect bee population declines, compared with the potential economic losses the world faces, the estimated costs for employing international sample sites scaled to fit regional monitoring needs is little change. You can join the Great Sunflower Project if you think you can help the world understand why bee populations are declining.

Solutions before the end comes

Counting and monitoring bee populations could be one solution to solving the problem. Another is also creating bee-friendly seed mixtures. You know, bees are specialized pollinators. That is, they are choosy about crops they pollinate. These seed mixtures aim to attract bees naturally to plants needing their assistance. Another approach would be for beekeepers to stay abreast of the news related to the industry, especially as it pertains to shipping bees to areas where they are needed for commercial pollination, staying clear of harmful pesticides and herbicides etcetera. The rapid decline in bee population is nature’s way of telling us that environmental conditions are seriously declining. Present human breeding practices and the use of deadly toxins should be rethought. Either we will eventually learn to live with less choices in food supply if this trend is not checked, or millions of persons will not find food reaching them for survival, or both. That is why we have to join the fight against bees decline now. You can show your support by visiting the Great Sunflower Project website now!
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Saturday, January 12, 2013

If happy adolescents make wealthy adults, how not to trade money and income for happiness.

Do you have to be rich to live a good life? Religion and philosophy say “No.” The jury though is out when it comes to income because it depends on what one defines the good life to be. On the other hand, will living the good life make you rich? The evidence says “Yes.” But then, what is a good life and why is it important to us?

Get Happy! Credit: Olivander/Flickr.com
A synonym for the good life is well-being or quality of life. Emerson defined this as “the satisfaction of an individual’s values, goals and needs through the actualization of their abilities and lifestyle.” In other words, living a life that moves smoothly; living a happy life. Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Professor Andrew Oswald believe that youths or adolescents who are happier in life, or who have higher life satisfaction, tend to have higher levels of income, are better educated, find work faster and get promoted quicker. Both researchers found that this relationship also exists in siblings of their subjects. It was also concluded that gloomy youngsters or youths with relationship problems perform less when it comes to earning money compared to their optimistic, outgoing peers.

On the other hand, while having a high quality of life or well-being is important and close to happiness, happiness and wealth work paradoxically.

Poor or rich country, Money has a limit when it comes to attaining happiness.

Citizens of the rich and developed countries are on average happier than their counterparts from poor countries. After accounting for education, political freedom and other democratic rights, the above statement has been found to be true. Yet, it does not mean that money can buy happiness. What the findings show is that money and happiness have a positive association, but only to a point.

Robert E. Lane, a political scientist at Yale, argues that happiness is derived from two sources – material comfort (a.k.a money) and social and familial intimacy (a.k.a love). These two sources, paradoxically, are incompatible. Having more money increases your material comfort and enables you to live a more satisfying life, but it systematically weakens social and familial ties by encouraging mobility, commercializing relationships and attenuating the bonds of both the extended and the nuclear family. Citizens of poor countries have strong social ties and live daily with scarcity of money and poverty. Hence, they tend to rate money highly and even little increases in their income can result in significant reported gains in happiness.
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As for those who live in economically developed and richer countries, it has been shown that there is a diminishing return in happiness when the level of wealth crosses a certain stage. This is because earning high income in these countries increases happiness but because of the strong democratic systems and social welfare programs these societies have developed over the years, at a certain point, the expected increase in happiness by earning more and more income becomes a negative – earning more income results in disillusion, social ties are threatened and more money becomes equal to less happiness and more stress.

No wonder people who value money more highly tend to be less happy than those who value love. It is not that love is not important to their lives, but when the urge and inclination for financial achievement becomes a passion and a conditioned reaction, knowing the tipping point, when to stop, becomes an elusive goal. Happiness becomes a commercialized commodity that could be attained only through the media and entertainment industry.

So, then, if Dr. Neve and Professor Oswald argue that living more satisfying lives during one’s adolescent leads to wealthier adulthood, should parents and policy makers take this notice with a pinch of salt since having much wealth will generally lead to lesser happiness for their teens come adulthood?

While money is good, happiness is more surpassing.

The desire to pursue adolescent happiness with the aim of acquiring wealth in later years depends on several factors. One is education. Another is family environment. Motivation for self-improvement and work, along with good health, are also at play. If these factors can be accounted for, it is worth pursuing because money is a good thing and material comfort makes life richer.

It should be noted too that for people with varying incomes, the impact of income on well-being is only an illusion. People with high income do not necessarily have quality time. Also, people with high income tend to be agnostic to religion where more religion is seen in happier people due to the strong social and communal bonds that religion promotes which may not relate necessarily to belief in religion itself.

People care about their “status”, or their relative financial standing with regard to others. Earning high income is a positive thing and should be encouraged. After an income shock, most persons have shown tremendous ability to adjust to the impact of that shock, which is remarkable because without this adaptive capability, there would be much unhappiness and social stress after an economic crisis.

So, income and happiness exhibit positive association. Every country wants its citizens to be happy, to live fulfilled lives, that is why they pursue policies that will enhance the quality of life and well-being of their citizens. This makes them happier. If income doesn’t buy happiness, it can buy a visit to the spa, a warm bath, achievable college degrees and many other material comforts. Our lives would be stressful and unfulfilled if we strive to attain these and are not able to.

The caveat is: at what point in your pursuit of wealth and high income are you trading your happiness for wealth? We should desire that our youths and teenagers pursue lifestyles that makes for materially comfortable adulthood, but while emphasizing moral values and societal virtues above financial pursuits, at what point in this education will we as parents and policy makers go too far? Without happiness, wealth is just a beautiful illusion.

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Hooray! SolvingIt blog is now listed on Alltop.

It’s time for some celebration. This week, I received a letter from Alltop.com that my blog, SolvingIt, has been listed on the lifestyle topic page. After visiting the page, use your browser’s find feature to search for “solvingit.” Then, add my blog to your MyAlltop page.

By the way, what is Alltop.com? This site is a blog search engine and blog/headline aggregator in one. Alltop makes it easy for you to discover reputable blogs and even new bloggers.
Featured in Alltop
It’s submission and blog discovery process is easy. I found Techcrunch and Lifehacker, two popular tech blogs I follow closely on Alltop and was eager to get listed. If you have a blog, you can submit your Feed URL. Due to its popularity and the faces behind the site, particularly the popular Internet Master, Guy Kawasaki, an Alltop acceptance opens a door to a large audience for any blog. I’d recommend that you do so. Also, you can create a MyAllTop Page and add my blog, SolvingIt, to your favorite feeds.

Receiving the acceptance email from Alltop on Tuesday made me very happy. I just have to share my joy with you, my faithful readers. Now, what next? Work, work and work! You would notice that recently I have been adding topics like consumer behavior to my blog subjects.
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This is because I believe that solving problems faced in the markets and in our pockets are as important as solving every other problem. I intend exploring other subjects, like creative problem solving skills, financial management skills and self-improvement and training acquisition. I love your readership and your readership spurs me on.

Every one of you, each time you visit my posts and articles, inspires me to share the knowledge, my happiness and the experiences I collate from virtual communities which are provided by persons like you. SolvingIt blog might right now be an underdog in the blogosphere, but together we will get there.

So, as I suggested, discover and share the fun of blogging by visiting Alltop today. Stop the costly searching for internet sites when you can do so on Alltop.com.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Price, quality etc – which criteria do you think can best be used to influence your customer?

Do you think that your customers patronize you because your price is right? Have you been made to believe that giving constant coupons and discounts is a sign that your products are top quality and better than other brands? Consumers have various theories about what the market and marketing is all about. Some would tell you that when the price of a product is low, then that product is of low quality. On the other hand, some would claim that they had a poor deal when the price of a product is high while others would also claim that a high price means that product has a high quality.

Advertising and marketing can influence customers for good or bad. Halcyon/Flickr.com
These are naïve theories, consumer research experts tell us, but they are the wont of the market. Because of these myriad of thoughts in the mind of your customer it is important that sellers, marketers and advertisers be careful when trying to influence the public.

If you try to influence your customers using price, your strategy would backfire based on labeling. If you tried using label and people influence, your strategy might backfire based on price or even the perception of that particular product in the market, which perception has been created by another company who must wield huge influence in the market.

Bias cues shape perception.

Hmm! That makes the work of marketers and consumers difficult, not so? It is difficult for marketers because they want you to buy the products they have on sale. It is difficult for consumers because they do not make decisions based on their thinking, but also on their budget and the perception of others.

These factors are what consumer researchers call “bias cues”, or attributes that help shape consumer perception and buying decisions. Bias cues could be price-, label- or quality-based. These cues could be correctly interpreted by the market, such as when consumers believe that low prices for a product is a signal of low quality. They could also be incorrectly interpreted by the market, such as when they believe that the high price of some orange juice with an attractive label is a signal of high quality. To make matters even more interesting, these bias cues could be meaningless at best. Have you ever wondered why companies decorate children’s shoes with shining lights? So, what theory do marketers and consumers work with? As for consumers, they have a variety of deceptive naïve theories about prices and products and can deceive any marketer who attempts to deliver a product message based on consumer perception.

Yet, some marketers have developed workable rules of practice.

Be careful when trying to influence their perception.

Some marketers have found that consumers might think a product is expensive when it is grouped with other expensive products. This is called the discrimination mentality and is evident when setting prices. Your customers might either discriminate on the price of a product when they make general inferences about that product because it is grouped amongst similar but expensive products.
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These set of customers are usually ill-informed about the product quality or reputation and depend on this sort of categorization. On the other hand, some customers will ignore this categorization and concentrate on the salient features of a product even when grouped with expensive and similar products because they have a little more knowledge about the product, especially where similar brands are well known. Marketers should be careful when setting prices based on categorizations else they end up being accused of deceptive practices by customers.

It has also been found that people perceive or think a product is expensive if a relative or friend buys it cheap. On the other hand, if a stranger or someone distant to them buys it cheap, they might believe the product is cheap and maybe a good deal than if they had bought it themselves. What this means to marketers is that influencing consumers perception of your product quality and price through relatives or friends might really backfire.

The market has also found that because you have a higher knowledge about the market than consumers, you can deceive them by tweaking their perception of a product. consumers cannot be deceived twice. If a marketing gimmick can successfully make consumers think that a low-priced product is of high quality when it is not, they can learn from their mistakes when making repeat purchases. Keep that in mind when trying to influence your consumers. Decorating children shoes with colorful lights or other meaningless cues that excite emotions can give you sales today, but if you fail to meet their expectations, your marketing might eventually backfire.

As a rule: do not depend on consumer perceptions or their naïve beliefs about market prices and product quality as a guide in marketing your products.

Stop press: The worst deception is giving your customers reward that they would not need, or that are useless to them. I received one recently. After buying a popular brand of toothpaste here in Nigeria, I discovered that I was rewarded with a toothbrush which use caused pain to my gums. What humanity!
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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Memorable points when designing reward programs for customer happiness and satisfaction.

Consumer research teaches us one lesson: to sell to the masses, create products that are uniform in character and design, but to sell to a customized clientele, to people in the know, create products that have unique experiential aspects. I breached this topic in another blog concerning the different ways novices and experts seek new knowledge and how much they are ready to cost those new knowledge.

iPhone Size. Hand of the beholder. Flickr.com/The Searcher
We can go one step further: to give your customers satisfaction when designing a reward program, design the reward program with the target in mind when you aim to create a satisfying experience.

If your target is the general public, deliver reward programs that can be easily counted, that can be easily measured. On the other hand, create reward programs that are not easily counted or measurable by your clientele if you are targeting a specific subset of your customers.

In a recent study, Jingjing Ma and Neal J. Roese, of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, found that customers are often less satisfied when they receive products that are easily counted. But when they receive products that are not easily counted, they are more satisfied. When gifts or rewards are easily counted, it spurs comparison. More especially is this evident when money or cash is at stake. A customer is more satisfied if he receives a gift which cash value is above that of others, and might feel denigrated when the monetary value of his gift is below that of his peers. On the other hand, if a gift cannot be easily monetarily estimated, the customer is equally satisfied but concentrates on the intrinsic qualities of the gift.

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Customers are humans. Humans always compare. It is a natural impulse. This is because we learn from watching others. According to social comparison theory, humans compare themselves to others in order to create uniformity, and to measure up to what is expected. Sometimes, comparing oneself to others can be a source of inspiration. When this is taken too far, it could be a self-denigrating tool, a tool for self-punishment. This is not fair but that is how we are built.

Humans compare themselves against their peers and competition.

When companies design reward programs that are easily countable, they could indirectly be asking their customers to compare their reward against that of others. Andrew was given $50 and I was given $40. Why? What if a customer thinks he was downgraded; that your reward was unfair when he has been a loyal customer? That would be bad for customer retention.

On the other hand whether customers are faced with a reward program or with the choice of picking between competing products on the store shelf, it has been found that humans as novices always compare when they are presented with different products. Only experts take a product apart; only experts have the unique ability of evaluating products on their intrinsic features, separate from comparison with other products. Experts make up a tiny fraction of the universe of customers. So, whether it be a reward program or doing shopping, humans will always compare, will make decisions slowly and carefully after every consideration has been given to their buying and will want to choose the product that is uniform to the accepted standard. Comparison creates a veneer of confidence.

What this means is that if your reward program is targeted at the general public, like say, a sweepstake, then you should not be worried about giving them rewards that can be easily monetarily estimated. You could even be using that as a competitive strategy. The options given in the program should also reflect the values you believe your customers would usually attach to the effort needed to receive such a gift. This is because the public are usually novices. They will compare notes whether you like it or note. They will compare between your present and past programs, between your programs or offerings and that of your competitors.


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On the other hand, if your reward program has as its target customer retention, customer satisfaction, or enhancing experience and increasing their happiness, it would be a mistake to present them with rewards that can be easily monetarily estimated or counted. Your customers are assumed to know a little more about your product than the average. That is why your brand is a favorite or preferred. They would be more satisfied if you present them with an experience rather than monetary value.
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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Start 2013 with building sustainable relationships

2012 was yesterday. So were lots of memory garbage, disappointing refuse and related artifacts. Make it a promise to yourself that 2013 will not invite the same garbage, refuse and artifacts. Promise yourself that 2013 will be better than previous years. One way you can do this is by examining your relationships. Relationships are what make humans social creatures. Have you realized that everyone is related to everyone and to everything?

I did some web research and decided to bring you links to sites that I believe will interest you when it comes to relationships.

  • Building long-term relationship key to client retention.
  • Because it is cheaper to retain existing clients and easier to keep them than investing in marketing for new clients, success in client retention involves building long-term relationships. Some tips that were offered include: treating customers like people, putting the goals of your clients first and going the extra mile for them. Resourcenation blog.

  • Police in LA records reduced crime rate due to community relationship building.
  • In 1992, after the police had beaten a black motorist, Rodney King, the city of Los Angeles broke out in rioting. The police decided to invest in community-building relationship with lots of good stories to tell. Better relationship between the police and LA community is now making the neighborhoods safer. Some community programs run by the police that is facilitating this enhanced safety are: reading to kids in school and coaching youth football teams. VOANEWS

  • Join PACT. Join in reducing teen dating violene.
  • Stop the statistic from going viral. Right now, in the U.S, join PACT in Action to reduce the alarming rate of one in three teens who will experience violence or a teen dating situation. PACT in Action was formed to train teens to pursue healthy relationships, and avoid dangerous and abusive relationships. Its goal is to educate teens so they can reach out to their peers. They believe they can reduce the current alarming statistics of teen dating abuse and violence by 10% come 2020. Courier-journal.com

  • The social network with your neighbors as friends.
  • When it comes to hanging out with neighbors in our communities, we are lacking, compared to online interactions on Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network, saw this need and attempts to fill it. It’s a social network that attempts to webify the original social network: the neighborhood. To have the Nextdoor experience, you should define your neighborhood, i.e target your territory and recruit your neighbors to sign up. Slate.com

The list is small compared to earlier ones, but the information should give you an idea of keys to success in the new year. I wish you all the best in 2013.
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