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Why U.S. Dams (and Society) Are Crumbling

By Shlomo Maital


      Two newspaper items (one in New York Times, the other, Financial Times) reveal why America is crumbling.

         California’s Oroville Dam, America’s tallest, has a crumbling spillway that forces evacuation of 200,000 nearby residents. (A dam collapse in California in 1928 killed 400, as a wave of water swept over them). As early as 2005, experts spotted a design flaw in the dam – never corrected. Heavy rains filled the reservoir to capacity, and severe weather because of global warming reveals that this dam, and many others, are not up to the changing weather patterns, for which they were not designed.

         There are 1,585 dams in California, notes the NYT, and 90,000 dams across the U.S. Many are in poor shape. Why? “Government is more inclined to invest money in building new projects, than in less visible and glamorous maintenance”.

         America is a consumption-driven society that under-saves. A $500 b. trade deficit (imports minus exports) for nearly 3 decades is a symptom. China is not to blame. The U.S. itself is. It is comfortable to borrow money from China to buy consumer goods. Some 23 years ago, my wife Dr. Sharona Maital and I published an article, in the Journal of Socioeconomics, in which we warned about a drastic fall in savings behavior in the US and    Western countries. *   Nothing has changed since.

           The Financial Times notes today:

     “China ended a six-month streak disposing of its US Treasury holdings in December, adding to its position for the first time since last May as the country’s central bank seeks to manage capital flight. The country, which ceded its status as the world’s largest owner of haven Treasuries in October to Japan, added $9.1bn of US sovereign debt to its reserves in the final month of 2016, new data from the Treasury and Federal Reserve showed on Wednesday.”

         So, in the post-Trump era, America has gone back to borrowing, to buy consumer goods rather than maintain its dams, its roads, schools and infrastructure.

       And President Trump? He is rapidly running down his checklist of promises, issuing so far 11 Executive orders.   But what about that trillion-dollar infrastructure plan? Dead silence. Why? Because it will take a vast plan to design and implement it. In the current chaos of the new Administration, it is unclear whether the Trump presidency is up to the challenge – or even whether it is aware of the problem.  

         So America – at least, its dams and roads – are crumbling. I don’t see a solution in the near term.


* Shlomo Maital and Sharone L. Maital. “Is the Future What It Used To Be? A Behavioral Theory of the Decline of Saving in the West”. Journal of Socio-Economics, vol. 23, 1,2.   1994.


Retirement Security: Not Just About Money

By Shlomo Maital


   Writing in the American Psychologist (2016, no. 4.),   Jacquelyn Boone James and Christina Matz-Costa, along with Michael A. Smyer, make a simple, key point. Retirement security is NOT just about having enough money.   It is also about “psychological security” — the desire to stay engaged, contribute to society, and feel a sense of belonging in later life.

     I am 74 and am keenly aware of this. At this age, it is a daily struggle to remain relevant for those around me. How to do it?

     Find new and better ways to “create value”, the mantra of entrepreneurs. Support grandchildren (and children), and provide them with the previous-generation computer, tablet, smartphone or automobile; encourage them, give gentle advice, and just be there to listen. Be a good colleague. I regularly bake bread for my officemates; small but for them, noticed and valued.  

     Bring your experience to the table. Do it gently, because the world changes rapidly – but often, noting what has gone before is of value to those who are unaware of it.

   Generate lots of ideas, and then give them away – let your colleagues grab them and run with them, and even own them.   Giving up a child for adoption is painful, but giving up ideas for adoption can be glorious.

     Give praise and encouragement generously. Often praise (when deserved) is a scarce commodity. Help even the score.

       Be a good listener. Offer your ear to your colleagues and your family, and simply listen attentively. Sometimes, that’s all they want. Not solutions, or suggestions, but simply, someone to listen.

       Invest time to keep up to date. A key part of relevance is knowing what is going on today. If your knowledge is dated, and it quickly becomes so, it will be less and less valuable, and you will be less and less relevant.

         Work at creating value for those around you daily, make it a part of your life, and you will ultimately achieve a large measure of psychological security, because you will be needed by those you love and care about – and nothing can be more important or meaningful, for seniors.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
February 2017
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