The Dollar Spent 'Round the World

When she heard that her bank had been robbed, a woman called and asked anxiously, "Did they take any of my money?" Reading Barbara Garson's book, Money Makes the World Go Round: One Investor Tracks Her Cash Through the Global Economy from Brooklyn to Bangkok and Back [Viking, 2001] made this reader feel about as naive about banking as that woman was.

Author Garson's project was as big as the global market itself. She says her goal was to find the meaning of living in a world "united by, or immersed in, the free flow of capital," and she hoped to find understanding beyond "the global bubble." She took almost $30,000, part of her publisher's advance for the finished book, and invested it in banks and then in mutual funds, starting with a small bank north of New York City, whose officials seemed to want to help local, small businesses with their assets of about $70 million.

Very soon she was thinking and talking in terms of bigger banks like Chase Manhattan, conversing with the man at the Federals Funds desk, for example, and learning banking facts. One is that it's illegal in the United States to pay interest on corporate checking accounts, so corporations make their deposits in Nassau. We learn though on the next page or two that what this amounts to is "a bookkeeping entry." We also find that Chase has 34,000 employees working in global banking.

But what about the effects of American money on the well-being of the rest of the world? Again that's such a big question and the path of the money one person invests is so tortuous that it's hard to answer. But to take an understandable little example from NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the author writes that its impact on the price of prescription drugs has been to raise prices in both Mexico and Canada. And she did attend a panel in New York City, sponsored by the Conference on the Americas, called, "The Social Consequences of Rapid Economic Development." Garson reports that it was so uninspiring that people almost fell asleep. The big conclusion of the meeting was that conditions may get worse for most people in the world before they get better.

Garson then tried following her money to Thailand to Malaysia, to Singapore and back and then invested in mutual funds with an interesting look, by the way, at the Sunbeam Corporation and "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap, who got his nickname because he cut through the fat of waste in bloated company expenses. Of course, that could mean part of the fat was excess workers, and he later had a reputation as just plain mean and greedy, as is indicated by the title of his book, Mean Business: How I Save Bad Companies and Make Good Companies Great.

Thinking over the countries the writer touches on, I wish she had spent more space on Sweden. That's because its economic history might hold some new ideas and some hope for the United States. Sweden comes to mind as that country where the taxes are really high. But the author thinks Swedish socialism is good for everyone because their controlling idea is that moderation in everything is good, even in the rate of profits that businesses get. Just think -- moderation is a virtue, a novel idea.

This book is worth a lot of study, but as I tried to read the copy from the public library, I often wanted to write in the margins on many of its pages the old Thoreau motto, "Simplify! Simplify!" I'd apply that to the book and to the international business system too.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

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