In a country where entrance exams determine one’s placement at a university, many students relate similar rationale for choosing major subjects. On the advice of either schoolteacher or parent(s), they study the prescribed course after entrance ranking is determined, secure a degree, and hope to land a job.
Rude awakening happens on the third year as acquiring a degree involves more anxious nights than anticipated, nor is the availability of a position even remotely secured once a degree is gained. A government job is a preferred choice in China like elsewhere but last year’s civil service exam for some 1400 public administration positions had 600,000 qualified and certificated applicants.
Merit is not always operative in employment, the old practice of "who you know" is still in vogue. Paying off someone for a position in the workplace, in cash and/or fealty, happens more frequently than acknowledged.
Acquisition of wealth fuels education, most of which is tailored towards passing standardized tests. Bottom line is earning enough money to pay for a house so parents would not be in want, as well as to procure a car and, hopefully, to raise a family with, at least, one child.
Since most of the students are sole offspring, they are in turn grateful for the efforts of parents to get them educationally ahead. There is chaste resolve to earn enough, although finance majors have RMB-laced dreams in Shanghai and Shenzhen’s glitter of stocks and securities, funds and derivatives. Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Warren Buffet (Hathaway), are known among bright-eyed wealth chasers. A good turn at chance plays in the stock market, ma jong tables define Sino habits.
Mark Zuckerberg of social networking Facebook skipped university education to earn his bundle, and marrying his newly MD-graduated Chinese-descent girlfriend makes him a household name among the ambitious young ones, never mind that his company is barred by the censors (can be bypassed for $8/mo.) and its IPO suffered a botched initial offering with a bloated price that is still heading south.
While unequal distribution of wealth continues to be a global concern, determining what constitutes assets now merits close scrutiny. With the public sector debt in the industrialized nations having gone ballistic and expected never to be actually paid in real terms, the practice of keeping debts as assets in the books is illusory, at best. At worst, we assess and balance our books on phantom wealth.
Facebook is valued at $100 billion making Zuckerberg and his bride easily worth close to $20 billion. However, social networking’s revenue stream comes from advertising; earnings are more from hype than actual production of tangible value. Facebook’s 900 million members are considered potential buyers of goods and services, but not unlike treating my debt as part of my assets rather than my liabilities, the promise of possible future purchases on the click of a mouse is not exactly a genuine bankable commodity.
The startling statistics of 1 percent of the world’s population owning 40 percent of financial assets is staggering. Derek Bok, former President of Harvard, once used the 15/85 divide between the affluent and the desperate as the moral contradiction of the '70s. It seems that the gap has gotten worst. In current OWS rhetoric, the image used pits the 1 percent wealthy versus the lowly 99 in asset distribution, a figure, perhaps, rooted more on metaphor than statistics, but has, nevertheless, the existential appeal of authenticity.
The oil barons determined war and peace in the last century and a half. The richest woman in the world today is a lady who has access to Australia’s natural resource needed to fuel industry. The fear over China’s economic muscle, aside from cheap labor and a rapid learning curve, is its developed supply of rare earth minerals used to manufacture electronics. The United States meanwhile seems content to cook the books and provide financial services around the world.
The strength of the U.S. dollar as the global currency of exchange has waned. The paramount position of Western financial management is rapidly eroding. Tokyo and Beijing recently inked the first agreement on Yuan/Yen direct exchange, bypassing the once-upon-a-time sovereign oversight of the mighty dollar.
The reported salary paid to Wall Street CEOs a year after Uncle Sam bailed out American business is staggering, with the shocking surprise on the number of $200,000 income earners who found ways to evade taxes.
It is time for Main Street to reclaim what Wall Street avariciously mangled. To their credit, Gates, Buffett, and Zuckerberg are grand philanthropists, giving way beyond the 10 percent allowable tax deduction to charity. Buffett in fact ceded 99 percent of his wealth to the Gates’ Foundation. But philanthropy is not equity. Equitable distribution of wealth will happen when we value sweat equity on the asset side of ledger as much as what we pay the vested pencil pushers who keep the books.