When Bob Perry died, on April 13 at 80, the first persons to find out were the members in his church, where word spread throughout the congregation on Sunday morning. His pastor, David Fannin, said most members of Houston’s Nassau Bay Baptist Church only knew him as a “quiet, unassuming, Christian gentleman.”
It is a testimony to how unassuming he was that it took a couple of days for the mainstream media to figure out that one of the Republican Party’s most influential financial backers was dead. By the following week, journalists and political activists were connecting the dots: This was the man who between 2000 and 2010 donated $28 million to Texas candidates and causes and $38 million to candidates and groups elsewhere. A significant portion—$10 million—went to Mitt Romney’s superPAC Restore Our Future. Another $8.5 million went to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.
Perry made his money by becoming one of the largest homebuilders in Texas at a time when the state became the second most populous in the nation. The liberal Mother Jones magazine estimated his net worth at $650 million. Despite his wealth, Perry mostly avoided the limelight, rarely going to political fundraisers. But he was no outsider. Perry bankrolled George W. Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns, thereby providing the platform for his presidential runs. He backed Texas Gov. Rick Perry and newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz. When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faced a recall in 2012, Perry chipped in $500,000, making the Texan the largest donor in that Wisconsin race.
The closest he came to the national spotlight was in 2004, when his $4 million donation bankrolled Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which questioned Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s military service.
His pastor said he also backed Christian causes and was a strong supporter of his church’s missions efforts in Kenya. “He was a godly man who passed out Bibles wherever he went,” Fannin said. According to Fannin, Bob Perry had been reading his Bible just before he died. It was open to John 5, which includes this verse: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Last summer, when all eyes were on the crisis in Europe, we warned that China might be the “world’s next major trouble spot” (“China syndrome,” July 27, 2012).
On April 15, we got a new reminder when the Chinese government reported that China’s GDP grew at an annual rate of 7.7 percent during the first three months of 2013. It grew at an annual rate of 7.9 percent during the last three months of 2012. These numbers are stubbornly below the 8 percent growth rate on which the revenue projections of many global companies depend. The stock prices of Alcoa and Caterpillar, both Dow components with exposure in China, tanked within hours of the report’s release. They led the Dow down more than 250 points, its worst day of the year.
So after gaining more than 10 percent in the first quarter, are the markets ready for a major correction? Volatility is up sharply, but analysts see reasons not to panic. Some of the economic news has actually been good: Industrial production in the United States grew 0.4 percent in March, topping expectations, and housing data remain positive. Gold and silver prices trended downward in March and April, indicating the much advertised economic apocalypse is likely not coming anytime soon.
Nonetheless, a weather eye toward China has become de rigueur for analysts, because as Asia historian Karl Gerth said, “As China goes, so goes the world.” A continued slowdown there cannot help but have global consequences. —W.C.S.