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Published January 11, 2011, 02:36 PM

New year guesses can entertain, guide us

FARGO, N.D. — My wife, Barb, and I have an annual New Year’s ritual — Our Predictions.

By: Mikkel Pates,

FARGO, N.D. — My wife, Barb, and I have an annual New Year’s ritual — Our Predictions.

Often, we’ll start by going out for dinner. Afterward, we typically order a fancy coffee and sit with one of my old news reporter’s notebooks and write down 100 predictions.

Each of the 100 predictions is a strong declarative statement of some kind — something that can be proved or disproved and counted. The predictions start with family, friends and the economy. They can help serve as an inspiration for the coming year. We might “predict” whether we’ll go somewhere or do something we should do.

We start the evening by going over the previous year’s notebook that we always hide in the same place. We laugh about what was going on back then, and the predictions we forgot. We figure out our success ratio, and then summarize the wins. (No need to dwell too long on the ones that weren’t correct, right?) Some years, we’ve predicted some pretty wild things that come true, such as, “So and so will get married.” Or, “So and so will get a new job.” Sometimes it’s a slam-dunk. “We’ll have to sandbag this spring.” Our success score is nothing to brag about — about a 50-50 deal. I think the best we’ve done is 60 percent correct. This year, we hit a low of 44 percent. It’s like a coin flip.

Jay Schuler is another guy who makes annual predictions. Schuler is a Breckenridge, Minn., entrepreneur in the sunflower and seed industry. Among other things, he established Giant Seeds, the confection seed company in Wahpeton, N.D. It’s tempting to seek outside prognosticators on national trends, but I’ve found that Jay’s brain works as well as any. Here are his major themes for 2011:

- Labor shortages in dominant agriculture and energy regions and states. Because of the 2010 tax bill, small businesses — including farmers — that have been profitable were able to write off $2 million on most assets purchased, which normally need to be depreciated.

- Technologies will improve efficiency in small businesses.

- Multinational companies will increase hiring of overseas employees and fewer in the U.S. China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc., will get more jobs because of cost advantages. Caterpillar and DuPont are among those making big investments in China, while cutting U.S. employment.

- Baby Boomers will save more and spend less, needing more for health care. After overspending, retirees “spend more money on life-prolonging drugs and need to save like crazy or be a Wal-Mart greeter until we die,” Schuler opines.

- Unemployment will stay stubbornly high, but will drop some.

Schuler, historically a Republican, notes that U.S. health insurance rates are up “over 20 percent in a non-inflation economy.” Meanwhile, China pays $6,000 per year for a salaried computer/electrical engineering graduate. Among others, he suggests investing in U.S. agriculture and fuel industries.

Schuler would like to see the U.S. cut federal corporate taxes in half, “take Social Security, health insurance and Medicare taxes out of the cost of corporations doing business in the U.S.” and go to a national sales tax only for those items. “So if you buy a product made in China, Mexico, the U.S. or anywhere, all pay for the essentials that today’s population feels they are entitled to,” he says.

Among Jay’s “unknowns” for 2011 are potential popping of the housing bubble in China, failure to address “structural debt” in the U.S.; and “irrational moves” by Congress. And then there’s that possible “Black Swan that comes out of the Blue.” A Black Swan? I wonder how Barb and I would count that one.

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