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Impressions of India

India offers a constant, but wonderful, assault on your senses.  My family and I had the good fortune to traverse part of the country earlier this month.  We returned to America awed and slightly overwhelmed.  The following impressions are meant to provide you with an overview of our incredible experience.

Street Life – All of life in India seems to take place on the chaotic streets.  At any moment you can see swarms of people engaged in a myriad of activities: working, shopping, walking, sitting, spitting, sleeping, begging, driving, bicycling, getting a shave, getting a haircut, and although we did not see it directly, getting their ears cleaned.  And that’s just the people.  Cows really do roam around unattended, as well as goats, dogs, and the occasional monkey.  Crossing the street is an act of faith that you can navigate the onslaught of humanity and vehicles safely.  I am here to report that we did it successfully.

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A Contrarian View of Health Care Reform

Imagine an America in which more than 40 percent of a family's income goes to a vital necessity.  It is not health care today, it was food in the year 1900.  At that time, over half the American work-force was engaged in agriculture, which consisted of numerous inefficient farms with low crop yields.  The high cost of food kept us a basically poor country.

Today, food accounts for only a small portion of our budget and labor force.  How did the United States achieve such a dramatic turnaround?  In a brilliant article in the New Yorker, surgeon and author Atul Gawande describes how the federal government did not impose a grand solution by decree.  Instead, the government created a series of pilot programs that showed farmers -- who held a deep-seated fear of change -- better farming techniques from local representatives of the Department of Agriculture.

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It's a Small World After All

Quick quiz: Which famous brands are owned by U.S. companies and which ones are not?  [Answers below.]

  • Nokia
  • 7-Eleven
  • Canon
  • Clearisil
  • Dove
  • Sony
  • Nestle
  • Lysol
  • Heineken
  • Honda
  • Carnation
  • Lipton

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Where You Stand is Where You Sit

A 15 year old standing atop a challenging ski slope sees nothing but adventure ahead.  A 55 year old in the same position prays he can get to the bottom without any severe injuries.  Same situation; different perspectives.

In the case of investing, however, it is hard not to follow the perspective of the crowd.  Investor sentiment was on a giddy adrenaline rush during the tech and real estate bubbles that arose over the past decade. But as the market crashed at the end of last year and into this year, fear ruled the day.

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A Golden Bubble?

Warren Buffett has stated: "Gold gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace.  Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it.  It has no utility.  Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head."

Taking a cynical view of gold is challenging in a climate where gold -- now at over $1,000 per ounce -- has appreciated more than 300% since 1999 and 41% since just this past fall. 

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