Friday, March 29, 2013

Libertarians and "Freedom"

They keep using that word.  I do not think it means what they think it means.  (Apologies and respect to Inigo Montoya.)

Libertarians love them some legal marijuana and prostitution (and low taxes, natch), but equality for minorities and immigrants and liberties for women?  That shit don't matter at all.

Rich Moochers

I think this point needs to be made more often and forcefully: a large swath of the wealthy in this country (particularly the anti-tax assholes) are, in reality, our Moocher Class.  Working poor who pay lots of taxes in the form of sales, payroll, state and local contribute a larger share of their income to government than do people like Mitt Romney.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weird Question

I should certainly watch/listen to what Sarah and Suzie have to say here first, but the very question is weird to put it nicely. Even with the very dramatic change in public opinion on gay marriage, abortion is still more popular (and depending on how the question is phrased, it is much more popular).  On top of that, there are some pretty good reasons why opinion on abortion wouldn't change much over time: while there really isn't any coherent reason to be opposed to gay marriage, there is to abortion (I may disagree with it, but the reasoning is sound).

The better question is that why, with abortion being more popular with the public, are politicians so hesitant to get behind it?  And why, in particular, do nominally pro-choice Democrats keep giving in to the Neanderthal position on the issue? (That is probably not fair, I would guess that Neanderthals would be far more sympathetic to women's authority over their own bodies than are most Republicans.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Buffett Repeating Himself

The only issue I want to raise with this is where Warren says: "However, I prefer a cutoff point somewhat above $250,000 — maybe $500,000 or so."  There was something in the Fiscal Times furthering this by pointing out that $250k in 1993 is about the same as $400k today. 

Here's the thing: $250k is a crap-load of money.  It is infuriating each and every time anyone (though particularly very rich people) try and argue that it isn't.  The median income in this country is one fifth of that, and well over 90% of families must make do on less than half.  Even very wealthy Manhattan's median income is less than $100k.  People (individuals and families) just don't make nearly as much money as [rich] people think we make, and it makes a huge difference in terms of how we discuss things, like, say retirement.

If we think that lots of families are pulling in $200k/year then it's pretty easy to say that people are irresponsible who don't save enough for retirement, and it's therefore easy to argue that making SS less generous is not that bad: people just need to save a little more.  But families are not pulling in that kind of money.  Most families are living on $66k/year, and after taxes and necessities there isn't a whole lot left over.  If they are forced to save more, then it means a real drop in their standard of living.

Any family getting $250k/year is very well off, at the very least.

Friday, March 22, 2013

This is Going to be Bad

As much as it may be really bad for the large majority of people, some people will be fine and they don't give a shit about the rest of the planet.  If we lived in a decent country, anyone who espoused views that boiled down to: poor elderly should suffer if they weren't as smart/lucky/capable as me would be forced to be poor.

Also, the "10 steps to getting your retirement back on track" slideshow that was on the bottom of that page was full of mostly banal statements/advice that you see everywhere, but I was more than a touch surprised by one: that people should be putting away 30% of gross income each month.  30% is a huge chunk of income...and from gross not net (30% of gross is 38-50% of net).  Most people having trouble saving don't have anywhere near that leftover after regular bills are paid.  Maybe if that figure is meant to include the principle on a mortgage and payments on other debt (paying off credit cards and student loans) people would have some shot at it, but I would have a hell of a hard time doing that, and I've got decent income and am not exactly a spendthrift.

Still about the only people who have a real shot at putting away that much are DINK's with a total income in the near $200k+ range.  Kids and life costs money, and whatever you save has to come out of your excess.  It takes a pretty large income before 30% or more of gross is excess.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Retirement Savings Accounts

I'm not linking to it, but in a discussion regarding whether to pay into a 401k or an IRA one of the comments includes the line:
I have considered investing in both the 401(k) and IRA… but I fear that splitting my money amongst the two retirement accounts will hamper the compounding effect I would realize. Any thoughts?
I am constantly surprised by people who think they know what they are talking about making such obvious mistakes.  Maybe the person is a novice, and trying to figure things out, but why would anyone think that splitting funds would hamper the compounding effects?  The commenter isn't saying that one returns better than another (which does make a difference, but then it would be a return vs. safety question).

If you take 1000 dollars a month and invest it all into an account that pays out 5% you will end up in exactly the same place as if you split it into two different accounts that each pay out 5%. There may be some differences in the accounts due to fees/taxes/other, but if an all inclusive ROI for each account is the same then splitting the money makes exactly 0 difference.  The reason to pick one over another, or to split has to do with limits, company matches and investment opportunities.

Also, as Atrois keeps saying: our current retirement scheme is very broken.  We need to make SS more generous so that our citizens don't have to rely on things like 401k's to survive retirement. That sentence above is evidence that even people who do try, and who think they understand this, are often quite lost.

To add to his reasons, though: if we made SS more generous, then that would provide a huge boost to the economy.  I'm saving far more than I would because a) currently SS doesn't provide much, and b) all the political discussion is around how to make it worse.  Make SS more generous and there are things I would be looking at buying, also I wouldn't be wasting my evenings trying to figure out how much and where to invest for retirement.

Banks are for Suckers

Credit Unions vs. Banks is a lot like Exchange Traded vs. Mutual Funds.  All the advantages/benefits are on one side, yet most of the money is on the other. 

Related: I looked at Vanguard's compare/contrast between ETFs and seems that the "difference" is mostly the name (and which one your plan lets you get).

Finance is weird.  There is no reason for most fees/costs other than scamming/siphoning and other fraud, yet the vast majority of people (really, money) who participate do so via the worse options.  I don't get it.  Why would any sane person keep their paycheck at Chase when some local credit union is going to give them better rates and service?

Monday, March 11, 2013


Voices in the Family (which I generally don't listen to) on NPR was talking about money and our relationship to it.  I only heard a bit but it was is an interesting topic.  I'm a bit of a geek and one of my personal infatuations relating to money has to do with numbers and math. 

I tend to assume there are three basic personality types: spenders, savers, and planners.  The type doesn't relate to whether someone is responsible.  Spenders can stay within their means, while savers can fail to take care of necessary expenses, and planners...well, they plan, which in and of itself is a dangerous activity.

A spender is someone who sees the value of money as being the things they can get for it, often right away.  Maybe they like clothing, maybe it's going out, maybe it is motorcycles or outdoor activities.  Whatever it is, money in the bank doesn't provide it, only money spent does.

A saver sees the value of money in more security terms: something they can keep for a rainy day, but needn't spend much of otherwise.  Savers may or may not be overly frugal.

Planners look a lot like savers at first blush, but they can blow through their entire account and then some once the time is right. 

Most people have a little of everything in them.  We have fun.  We save for a rainy day.  And we plan for large expenses like houses/vacations/cars.  Most people are also, however a bit more drawn to one of these things over the other.  People who fear using their savings account for anything.  People who spend hours or days deliberating a purchase, but then make it very quickly, surprising others.  People who will buy something spur of the moment, and then later scramble to get money in an account or pay a larger than expected credit card bill.

Again, it is possible to be either responsible or irresponsible and to also be any of these three, but it is good to know which of the three someone is before trying to set goals, or plan for them.  A spender will always have a harder time saving than a saver.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

True That

I do blame Obama for the sequester, but for the reasons Dean Baker runs through here.  The short of it is that the Obama administration has been an utter failure at understanding and dealing with Republicans. He has given in and given up so much that we are now living in a bizarro US where a president who is about as liberal as Ronald Regan is considered by most to be a liberal, and by many (on the right) to be the most liberal president evah!  

Guns are Irrational

I've been shooting (range, skeet, backyard...that last not a good idea) and it is fun.  I can see why people would want to own a gun, whether for hobby shooting or for hunting.  I can even understand the desire to own several including the mostly ridiculous assault rifle. 

On one level guns are not that different from any item.  Compare to a cookie jar.  No one needs a cookie jar, but having one gives you a place to keep cookies that is a little nicer than the original package or a random piece of tupperware.  So one can be functional, even if not necessary.  But some people may have several cookie jars.  This isn't because people need 2 dozen containers for cookies, but because they are collecting them.  Perhaps he/she appreciates the different styles, or because they have some special meaning (or perhaps the person is a little crazy, but that's ok too). 

At this level guns are not much different.  One can actually be useful: if your hobby is shooting at a range or hunting, then owning one-three guns--rifle, shotgun, maybe 1 range gun (typically handgun)--makes some sense.  Owning more than 1-3 guns is the same as owning more than 1 cookie jar: either you are a collector or insane (if you want to know the difference: collectors have no reason to get angry about things like waiting periods or background checks or magazine size...they could be angry about assault weapons bans, but only if it is a ban on appearance and not function). 

The difference between guns and cookie jars is that one can easily kill a person, accidentally or deliberately.  That is a meaningful difference, and that is why guns become irrational.  Even the most insane cookie jar hoarder is mostly harmless.  A crazy person with lots of killing machines is a threat. 

People who own lots of guns are not people you want to live next door to.  They aren't people you want your children to visit.  If you own a lot of guns: your neighbors don't feel safe, they feel threatened.

If you own even one gun, you have dramatically increased the odds that you or someone in your family will be shot.  This is true even if it is that one useful gun.  Owning a gun makes your household less safe.  Owning guns is irrational.

I Hate Being Sick

Vague flu-like/cold-like symptoms that could be sinus infection or allergy or... and is probably viral, but maybe not (definitely not bacterial).  I get antsy sitting around doing nothing, but if I do/try to do something I feel like crap afterward and for a day or two beyond. 

I have had the flu in the past and have been sick, but it seems like this year has been really bad for reasons I unknown.  Grr...