Thank you, readers, for the generous and enthusiastic response about the Monitor's Work & Money section. I asked for it (in my column Feb. 2), and we got it: Paper and electronic mail has poured in.
The constant theme was that many of you find the section relevant and practical to your lives. That's priority No. 1 for the team of writers, editors, artists, and photographers who assemble W&M each week.
You're also keeping us on our toes, with constructive criticism and great story ideas. And, of course, a special thanks to those who support some subtle references to the need to relocate the Work & Money office in Maui.
Now, over to you. A sampling of your comments follows.
- Lynde McCormick, business editor
Help with my budget
I have subscribed to the Monitor for eight years and look forward to reading your new Work & Money section on Mondays because I can apply [it] to my life.
I am very interested in articles that offer suggestions on how to save money on everything from groceries to furniture to travel to entertainment. For example, buying already-prepared food saves time, but costs three times as much.
My husband and I are just becoming "responsible" when it comes to retirement planning and trying not to spend every paycheck. (That's hard with Bay Area rents!) I am extremely interested in reading articles that will assist me in areas such as: life insurance, auto insurance, and how to avoid a "marriage penalty" when paying taxes.
Keep up the great writing.
- Christa Johnson-Seely, Alameda, Calif.
You should spend 30 days or longer on the beaches of Maui gathering data to compare the level of the ocean or the height of the waves - perhaps both - to learn if there is correlation with the Nikkei, the Dow Jones, or the S&P.
Finally, please express my thanks to all concerned for the W&M section. It's great.
- Henry L. Alsmeyer, Tyler, Texas
Instead [of Maui] you should transfer to Russell County, Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains.
I am a sociologist who teaches at Southwest Virginia Community College in this beautiful and underdeveloped region of America.
Our college serves parts of four counties which have unemployment rates of 10 to 18 percent. This region has excellent potential.
I am aware of the problems in Asia. I strongly support the concept of the global village, but I believe that Americans may be forgetting to invest in regions which are in desperate need of support.
- John Brenner, Richlands, Va.
The cost of benefits
Does a response from a reader on Maui fill the bill?
I'd be interested to read about the impact of offering domestic-partner benefits on companies that offer them. This is one of the issues that come up here in Hawaii in relation to the current court case regarding same-sex marriage.
- D. B., Makawao, Maui, Hawaii
Keep it practical
Regarding the article "Slithering Along at 177 m.p.h." Much too much space devoted to an article about an impractical car.
Stories on keeping older vehicles in top condition, advantages and disadvantages of leasing and purchasing, and auto insurance could be included if you want to use part of your space for vehicles.
We look forward to W&M, good idea, keep up the good work.
- B.B. (e-mail)
You referred to a standard that I subscribe to - the acid test of utility. Let me tell you what is useful to me. I want to read about (and learn) principled reasoning for investing in business. That's what I find following The Motley Fools [on the Internet]. What they offer me is articulate, but fun, plainspeak on investment research. I also admire their exposing the deceptive promises of gambling and debt. I'd find an interview with these guys or a book review to be space well spent.
- Judith M. Chapman, Manchester, Wash.
Points of praise
I love the W&M section. Let me count the ways:
* [Lynde McCormick's] column. I read you first - love your wit).
* The charming little drawings.
* The interesting statistics and news items in "A Week's Worth."
* The feature articles.
* Q&A column.
* Your Money.
- Eric A. Houghton, Dunedin, Fla.
Doing good, not just well
I have high hopes you folks will finally start beating the drum for "responsible investing."
Wall Street pressures increasingly force the short-sighted view on corporate leaders. That, in itself, may include the seeds of self-destruction of this form of capitalism.
And it certainly includes the self-destruction of our air, water, ground - our life-support system. Tell us about ethical, responsible companies we can invest in.
- Bob Gregson, Vashon Island, Wash.
Tip sheet on the Web
I'm enjoying this new section. Very readable, and nice to have parts that are short. Here's an idea:
A full page on the most useful sites on the Internet with topic headings such as travel, buying a car, taxes, investing, etc. The Internet is so vast, and it would be helpful to have a sheet that could be kept right by the computer.
- Nickii Campbell, Elsah, Ill.
Editor's note: Such a sheet exists electronically on our Web site. Bookmark it and you'll never worry about losing that piece of paper: www.csmonitor.com/work
Working from home
A hot topic among my peers in the Midwest seems to be working from home - its pitfalls and triumphs.
As a parent who has worked from home for more than six years, I find I am still grappling with issues such as ... which spouse should do the housework and handle child care, how to find real time off when your office is next to the living room, how to build your self-esteem when you have no boss and no grown-up "co-workers."
- Cynthia La Ferle (e-mail)
Who's ruling the world?
My Dad gave me your W&M insert today because my interest in the economy has taken an upswing lately. Why? Because I have been reading a very good (and very scary) book called "When Corporations Rule the World," by David Korten.
So here is your story idea: Write the truth about the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. The MAI is not being covered in the mainstream press.
- David Munsey-Kano, Cataumet, Mass.
Editor's note: See the Feb. 25 Monitor for an article by staffer Peter Ford on this subject. You can find it in our online archives: www.csmonitor.com
A larger morality
Lynde McCormick's column on Feb 2 asked for ideas for future stories in W&M, especially about companies that pursue an "ethical or moral path."
To this I have two responses. First, having taken part in a local group on ethics and economics, I'm discouraged when ethicists try to find morality in business firms, but end up looking mainly at the conduct of their employees.
All this decided me to distinguish between ethics as a guide to the behavior of individuals, governed by conscience, and morality as a socially sanctioned guide to policymaking, decisions made formally by institutions of power and affecting large number of people.... Focus on the former neglects the latter.
Attention to morality would shed light on my second concern. Behind [my questions] may be a contradiction: At least two decades have seen a growth worldwide of institutions of economic power, outside and beyond control of democratic institutions of popular power, equated with all that is moral. Yet they answer mainly, or only, to the claims of investors and exercise material coercion over the general populace.
What I would like to see is the emergence of a morality that redresses the imbalances of power and responsibility. Not by legislation alone, if at all, when government regulation is itself ruled by robber-baron morals, or even by "self-regulation" that tends to cartelize whole sectors. Morality will work in business only if our "titans" ponder how they are burdened ... by all the ends from the means they employ.
- Grant Hilliker, Columbus, Ohio
Take me to school
It's a bit unorthodox to address you by your first name, but after reading your Margin Notes in the Feb. 2 issue, you seem like a real person.
I suggest a weekly column called something like the The Weekly Economics Lesson. Every week you could tackle one small lesson in depth.
Example: Compound Interest. An alarming number of students graduate owing student loans but have no concept of compound interest. They figure they'll wait until they start to make good money before they pay off the debt, not realizing the hole they're digging. The other side of the coin is equally powerful - savings can multiply fast.
- Carol Hample, Bozeman, Mont.
Question the IMF
'Your Brakes Are Fine, but the Engine ...' [Feb. 2] was not up to Monitor standards of reporting. The world financial establishment is doing damage control, and choosing sources for this report like Alan Greenspan, Tim O'Neill of the Bank of Montreal, Georges Blum and Charles Dallara of the IMF does not give a true view of the Asian situation. [Other] highly credible sources [are] not beholden to banks. The Institute for Policy Studies, US Institute for Global Economic Justice, Economic Policy Institute, David Korten, Herman Daly come to mind. That the "rapid recovery" of Mexico from the peso crisis was "not enjoyed fully by many working Mexicans" is a glib dismissal of ... economic devastation.
Explaining that Korea's financial crisis is due to poor bookkeeping; giving credit on handshakes; pursuing "growth without regard to the usual profit, capital cost, and credit constraints faced by business in North America and Europe" invites the question why could such a poor financial system operate so long and produce such great prosperity! Perhaps we should have more "defective" accounting practices, not fewer.
The IMF has a very poor record of saving bankers by impoverishing the people. Perhaps that is because Korea is no Mexico and the reassurance we are getting is but whistling in the dark.
- Robert W. Zimmerer, Sun City, Ariz.
I think you need to have your Asian correspondents fill us in on how the IMF/US-induced austerity measures are being received throughout Asia. To what extent are these nation's feeling bullied? What are the long-term implications of these measures, which in many cases violate cultural norms. In Korea, for instance, isn't there a greater belief in sharing the burden of hard times? What kind of resentment is likely to result from the imposition of a Western standard? What is the IMF doing to give Korea, et al., a sense of ownership for the rescue?
- Peter K. (e-mail)
I sent in a question to Guy Halverson's column about the coming competition in the power industry. Not only did I receive a response to my question, but that issue featured an article on "Cheaper Power to the People," by David Francis, and a helpful sidebar on "Marching Toward Competition." I'm sure those two pieces were in place before my question arrived, but what a happy bit of synchronicity for me - and others looking for similar information.
W&M is both informational and educational, and with the amount of discretionary money available, we need constant reminders on how to make it work to the best of our advantage.
Glossaries of financial terms are always helpful.
- T. Jewell Collins; Fryeburg, Maine
Better than money
The W&M articles that I have found I like to read and find useful are articles like the home-buying series. Practical information for personal-finance use (especially when they detail common pitfalls.)
And I don't see any reason why these articles couldn't be written and edited from Maui, although I recommend the Cayman Islands. Stingrays are wonderful fun.
"Life's Little Instruction Book" says: "When starting out, don't worry about not having enough money. Limited funds are a blessing, not a curse. Nothing encourages creative thinking in quite the same way."
- Veronica Sevcik (e-mail)
You gave us plenty of good story ideas to keep the wheels turning here for quite a while. We'll get right to work. A few examples to look for in upcoming Work & Money sections:
* How to start your own business.
* How to do tax-free investing.
* Promising new stocks.
* The charitable impulse (personal giving, volunteerism).
* Affordable health insurance if you own a business or retire early.
* Foreign aid from the US: who gets how much and why.
* Community, work, and money - can we integrate our lives to have all three?
* Careers in government, especially at the local level.
* Issues for retirees managing money.
* How to price a home when you sell.
* What to know when buying a computer.
* What type of life insurance to buy.
* Ways that governments, businesses, and other groups can resolve differences through nonviolent and nonlitigious means.