No wimps in Chicago

Two Chicago neighbors - both with mortgage payments, to the same bank, of $1,500 a month.

One day, the president of the bank discovers that he is actually Michael Jordan's twin brother when he picks up a basketball and dunks from midcourt without even strapping on a pair of Nikes.

He receives a 20 billion franc endorsement contract from France, desperate to dispel an image as a sports wimp, and a frantic Chicago pays off all the bank's mortgages so the president can start dribbling, helping ensure the city will not be remembered for that other guy, the one in the 1920s who also mowed down the competition and generated a lot of (illegal) beer sales.

And you, Reader, are wondering, "Where's he going with this?" Work with me, here, because this column will eventually make important points on global economic integration, the modern workplace, the two neighbors in Chicago (zoned against sports weenies), and Russia, which is definitely not a nation of sports weenies, except for some chuckleheads in government.

The two neighbors in Chicago, freed of mortgage payments, handle their new financial freedom in different ways.

One, having learned as a child how to allocate her allowance to achieve financial goals, invests in mutual funds with dollar cost averaging: a large-cap growth fund, a Treasury fund, a junk-bond fund (she read Guy Halverson's story on page 13), and the rest in cash and Internet stocks. She eventually buys the bank president's old house. (Clearly, she is a regular reader of Work & Money.)

Her neighbor, however, never learned how to invest.

His family squabbles; he stores his money in a cookie jar; he isn't sure where it goes, but it's gone.

Harvard University, this month, hosted a symposium on Russia's outlook. The conclusion was bleak, the contrast with the US, startling.

Two countries - both freed from cold war defense budgets, both rich in resources and resourceful citizens.

One invests its new wealth to balance the budget and stimulate the economy. The other lacks the experience and financial infrastructure for such strategies. The defense savings are gone.

The contrast struck home as I read Shelley Coolidge's cover story on personal coaches.

The idea of hiring a personal coach to help find your hidden business talents seems both legitimate and a tad trendy.

But the US economy is becoming prosperous in ways that no economist ever imagined, and businesses have become so productive that many seek something extra to either fine tune operations or develop strategies that might not otherwise be obvious.

Turning to a coach is not a move of desperation.

It's like replacing your $200 stereo speakers with a pair that cost $1,000. Both deliver music, but the latter finds more potential from your CDs.

And it's part of a process where the US seems on the threshold of becoming the economic superpower - capable of exporting, if not prosperity, then at least stability, capable of keeping some of the world's worst basket cases, such as Russia, from unraveling completely.

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