"How fortunate for governments
that the people they administer don't think."
"Only two things are
infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the
with the budget there seem
to be two ways an argument can go..."why are we spending $1 million studying
the reproductive habits of pigs (or whatever)?" or "why are we spending
$10 million on trump's security at mar-a-lago?" and the other way it can
go is "all the shit that we usually complain about is only a fraction of
20% of our budget so why are we fighting about it? that's the camp that
i fall into more often than the first camp. i've definitely been upset
about the handouts and the bullshit programs and government waste, but
the 4 items i listed above are 80% of our budget...shouldn't that be where
we have the most discussion? social security, medicare/medicaid, the military.
and mostly because of those programs we're 19 Trillion in debt so we have
to pay 5-6% of our government revenue on servicing that debt. $229
billion disappears because of debt. and we're arguing about $600 million
going to planned parenthood or $445 million on NPR. if the previous generations
didn't pile up any debt then we could fund planned parenthood for the next
380 years with the money we lose on debt payments in 1 year. 514 years
worth of govt. assistance to NPR if our ancestors hadn't run up the debt.
i'm not a math person so i can't crunch these numbers, but the interest
rates are currently extremely low. what happens if the interest rates double
in the next 10 years? if we're paying 12%+ of our budget on debt interest
and the baby boomers retire and the millennials still can't get jobs then
who's paying taxes? at that point we're fucked economically. if we lose
reserve currency status then we're ultra fucked.
i wrote years ago that
i wasn't as worried about the debt time bomb as some because we have the
biggest military in the world. it also helps that we are the world's reserve
currency, but those aren't written in stone and they only protect us from
economic realities so much. here's
the review for I.O.U.S.A. i'm talking about. wrote it in 2009 and i
stand by it.
zoe has been trying our
patience lately. that's all i'll say about that.
paper on medicare's impact on the overall cost of healthcare. basically
Amy Finkelstein, MIT Department of Economics says that medicare has contributed
to 40% of the overall per capita cost increase in healthcare. "A back of
the envelope calculation based on my estimates of the impact of Medicare
suggest that the overall spread of health insurance between 1950 and 1990
may be able to explain at least 40 percent of the five-fold increase in
real per capita health spending over this time period, and potentially
much more. Public policy played an important role in the spread of health
insurance over this period, through public health insurance programs such
as Medicare and Medicaid as well as the tax subsidy to employer provided
health insurance. The results therefore indirectly suggest that U.S. policy
figured prominently in the substantial growth in the health care sector
over the last half century."
not a linkin park fan,
but another tortured musician killing himself just makes you think about
all the ones before him. fucked up to think about how much talent was lost
just in my lifetime.
being on the computer for
more than 30 minutes usually makes my wrist hurt, but working all day doesn't
do a thing. working does bother my shoulder which has been giving me trouble
for over a year now. seen the doctor twice and finally got referred to
a physical therapist so we'll see what comes of that. one doctor said he
thought it could be a minor rotator cuff tear. seems like that would have
given me more problems over the last year, though, so i doubt it. then
again, something more minor probably wouldn't last a year so who knows.
one of the things they
found out after obamacare is...well, let me rewind. one thing they thought
is that people were going to the ER as a last resort because they didn't
have real healthcare. the thought was that normal people had problems that
they let get too big and then would to to the ER for normal care instead
of taking care of it preemptively due to the fact that they didn't have
health insurance to cover regular doctors' visits. so, they expected that
ER visits would decrease once people had healthcare and regular visits
would be part of that. turns out they were wrong. ER visits increased among
these people. when you think about it this isn't much of a surprise. it's
a pretty well established rule that when you get something for free or
have already paid for it, you're more likely to use it.
so, we pay about $1000/month
for health CARE. as a result i think very little about going to the doctor.
it only costs me another $20 for most visits (my shoulder visit cost another
$70) so i may as well go to the doctor for $20 since i've already paid
so much just to have access. it's a membership fee, in essence. the larger
effect is that people don't think much about visiting the doctor or going
to the ER because the majority of the cost is already sunk. demand increases
and so do prices.
now think about another
kind of plan where i pay $100/month for health INSURANCE. if i get hit
by a car or come down with some disease then i'm covered and won't go bankrupt.
but if my shoulder hurts then i need to decide whether or not it's worth,
say, $225 to visit the doctor. the larger effect of this is that i'm more
likely to simply email my doctor or help or do a low cost phone appointment
or do some research online. as a result the doctor has more time to deal
with real problems. we don't need as many doctors. demand goes down and
so do prices.
in one of the more recent
episodes of the
weeds podcast they talk about the opioid epidemic. they talk a bit
about the idea that maybe some of the answer is learning to live with some
level of pain. i think we have an unrealistic expectation created, in part,
by the success of western medicine when it comes to dealing with pain management.
it's something western medicine is very good at treating and so we expect
that we should never have any pain. here's some news: life is pain, time
to toughen up a bit.
another part of that is
the fee for service model which basically just incentivizes performing
more procedures to get more money.
the fact that payment is
so spread out is a big problem as well. your employer might pay part of
the cost. your insurance company will pay part. and you will pay part,
but it's probably taken out of your paycheck so you don't think of it as
much. the whole concept of your employer paying for health insurance has
never made sense to me. why should it be that way? it shouldn't. in part
because it disincentivizes people from changing jobs or going to work for
themselves (this was a major barrier when i was thinking of going out on
my own). why do employers pay for your healthcare?
when there's a big question
like that the answer is almost always one of 3 things: money. government.
corporations. in this case it's government. the
government made a law restricting wages during WW2. so, in order for
companies to compete they started adding healthcare benefits to the compensation
the deeper you get into
these topics the more you see distortions in the market created by either
the government or special interests/corporations. these distortions almost
always have negative long-term consequences for the majority of us. the
government put wage controls in place and companies needed to attract better
employees so they got creative. this law and the creative solution companies
necessarily came up with has had enormous effects on our healthcare system.
it's limited the individual mobility of everyday people who may lose a
job and then lose their healthcare as a result. this kind of shit leads
to stopgap bullshit measures like COBRA (basically a failure). this law
also spread out the cost of healthcare from the individual and insurance
company to a third party (the employer). all of a sudden the employer is
now in the health insurance game. so they hire more HR managers and go
away from their core competency just because of this one dumb law. how
much lost productivity is created and how much extra cost is passed onto
the consumer because companies everywhere are hiring HR managers and paying
for part (or all) of their employees' health insurance? it's impossible
to grasp just how much of an impact the government has in the way it distorts
the economy. one stopgap measurement they could enact would be to tax these
health benefits as income, but they don't do that.
these kinds of things are
so annoying because we can't just reform our way out of them. often it's
a very painful process. i think of it like the QWERTY keyboard that we
all use. because typewriters would bind when one would type too quickly,
they designed the layout of the keyboard to be purposely inefficient so
as to avoid the binding of the type hammers. of course we have computers
now so there's no such thing as typing too fast....but we (almost) all
still use the QWERTY keyboard. there are much faster keyboards out there
and programs you can use to change your keyboard to the more efficiently
laid out types, but we're stuck with what we have because of inertia. we're
stuck with QWERTY and we're still stuck with employers providing healthcare
for so many people. one dumb law is like a shitty course of bricks at the
bottom of a large building's foundation...even if the law is long gone.
can a theoretical government
make the right policies and get this stuff right? sure. can our government
do it? i don't believe it can. we haven't gotten much right in the last
50 years when it comes to policy making and big government projects. if
you're someone who believes in the power of the american government to
get these sorts of things right going forward, please tell me what, from
the recent past, makes you think that. i see some good movement when it
comes to eliminating stupid restrictions that the government had on things
like gay marriage or other equality movements, but that's the government
undoing something it's done wrong, not doing some good from square one.
why did corporate and personal
income taxes start to separate drastically in 1945? what did FDR/Truman
do to start this trend? what did Eisenhower do to seemingly enshrine it?
as good a time as any to
revisit the best of the 00s. i feel
pretty good about my picks still so that's a good sign. i said at the time
that i didn't love the arcade fire album, but that has changed. it's now
one of my favorites of the decade and would be on the top 10 list if i
were to do it today. think i was ahead of the curve on the black angels
tracks. vern was definitely right to add TV as a category. he was ahead
of the curve on the TV craze and i was a late adopter. he also picked some
good songs. he had the ruby suns album and if i had it to do over again
i'd have ruby suns' tane mahuna on my best songs list. i have all my songs
on itunes rated out of 5 stars, but i also made a playlist of 6 star songs
for the songs that truly rise above, and tane mahuna is on it. i wish more
people had done the songs portion of the poll because it's a lot easier
to check out than an entire album.
i don't think i'll be able
to do much more than a top 10 songs lists this decade. i pretty much don't
listen to albums anymore. podcasts take up all my at work listening time
and i usually hop around a lot from song to song while i'm on the computer
(which happens only about once a week now anyway).
seems like society is creating people who are more and more
specialized and less and less capable of taking care of themselves. seems
like the natural progression from that is some form of socialism or communism.
if i can't take care of myself then i can either blame myself and live
with the consequences (or seek improvement) or vote for the rest of society
to take care of me by voting in ever increasing social programs. "A democracy
cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until
the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury."
not sure who said it, but that's where we are right now. everyone wants
lower taxes. everyone wants their shit paid for by the government. everyone
thinks they have a good argument for why their shit should be paid for
and your shit shouldn't. everyone wants free stuff and no one wants responsibility.
lately i've been thinking about what government handouts
and welfare programs are morally justified. i think medicare is legit.
SNAP is legit. free education makes sense. some level of free healthcare
is pretty much fine with me. but the more i think about it, the less okay
i am with social security. it's about 25% of our total federal budget (military
is about 16%) and it goes primarily to the oldest people. in other words,
to the people who have had the longest time to build up a nest egg, get
their lives together, and build towards a retirement, if that's what they
choose to do. if it were, say, 10% of our federal spending i could probably
justify it in the following way: the social contract we agree to is that
if you work the vast majority of your life then you deserve to have society
give back to you for your contribution. so, even if you're a janitor your
whole life and you can't afford to build up a decent nest egg, you should
get some retirement thanks to the taxpayers because you did your part for
40-ish years. that's really the best moral argument i can see for allowing
social security to exist as it currently does.
my counter point to that would be that even a janitor needs
to plan for his/her future by putting some money aside so they can retire
if that's what they choose to do. should retirement be a right? should
it be your right to work 40 years out of an average life span of 80 years?
the average american
who lives to 65 will live another 20 years, so that means 20 years
of social security. does it make sense that 25% of your taxes should pay
for the old person who may or may not have had the ability to save for
obviously all the old people should get what they bargained
for and shouldn't have the rug pulled out from under them, but i think
that people under 50 need to figure out a different retirement plan. even
though i sound like a bitter old man, that means me too.
according to the CBO:
"In 2013, households in the top, middle, and bottom income quintiles received
53, 14, and 5 percent, respectively, of the nation's before-tax income
and paid 69, 9, and 1 percent, respectively, of federal taxes." this is
a good example of the kind of thing i never learned in school because it
was always about how the top 1% are screwing the rest of us. it was only
after i looked for an alternate opinion that i came across these sorts
of facts. to restate: the top 20% earn 53% of all the income, but pay 69%
of all the federal taxes. ask the average person about this and they wouldn't
have a clue. their perception is this: the top 20% (or whatever number
you want to pick) makes way more than everyone else and doesn't pay their
fair share of taxes. polls always show this to be true. americans think
that the rich generally don't pay their fair share of taxes. i guess you
have to define "fair share" first. but whatever your definition of "fair"
might be, the truth is that they pay the great majority of the federal
taxes. when you add in property taxes (which they are more likely to pay
as property owners) and sales taxes (which they most likely pay more of
as they buy more stuff) then the trend only increases: they pay more taxes
than the rest of us combined. so, maybe we should rethink this whole class
warfare stuff a little?
so there's a defense of the rich. the problem comes when
the ultra-wealthy .01% who earn their money in certain ways (hedge fund
managers, for example) are able to avoid taxes. tax avoidance at this level
is a real problem and i have no problem with anyone who gets upset about
that. i also don't have any problems with getting upset with tax avoiders
like GE and Apple who hire teams of tax lawyers to employ the dutch
sandwich or the double
irish to avoid anything close to their fair share. there needs to be
a minimum tax for high level earners and there needs to be a lot of reform
in the tax loopholes that exist because of crony capitalism.
speaking of which, charles
koch was on freakonomics the other day and they did a two part interview
with him. if you think you know him, you owe it to yourself to listen to
the interview. don't listen to it if you wan to keep your opinions, though.
the 3 things he cited as the biggest issues in the country: crony capitalism,
corporate welfare and special interests. i can't really disagree with him.
i wish they had more time to talk about those three in detail, but here
are some thoughts i have on those things, most of which wasn't covered
special interests i define as all the groups that have their
hands out looking for a special tax break or earmark or projectionist policy
(chicken tax, for
example). all those special interests have led to a death by a thousand
cuts, in my opinion. if you read enough and pay attention then it seems
that basically everyone is getting special treatment here and there. look
into the sugar lobby or the farm bill or everything that goes into tariff
policy...it's just absurd how much goes on behind the scenes and how many
special interests have their hands out.
crony capitalism and corporate welfare are kinda tied to
the special interests, but basically powerful corporate interests buying
access and legislation that is beneficial to them. these would be considered
progressive issues by most people, but here's a koch brother talking about
how insidious and detrimental they are to society. i basically agree that
government needs to stop being in bed with corporations and that corporations
have too much sway in governments at all levels. government shouldn't be
in the business of distorting the markets and fixing the game for certain
industries. but there's always some sad sack story about Carrier moving
their factory out of the country and there's always a politician willing
to give them the moon so he can say he saved X number of jobs. when it's
your job or your pet industry (solar industry, for example) you're more
than happy to give them tax breaks so they keep the jobs in the country
or whatever, but when it's coal or when it's Trump and Carrier then you
see the error in the logic. again, everyone wants free shit for themselves
and their friends, but not for others and certainly not if it's going to
mean less money in their paycheck.
this entire entry should just be labeled TINSTAAFL. there
is no such thing as a free lunch.
what is europe doing differently from us on terrorism? they
seem to be getting hit harder than we are lately.
there was a podcast i was listening to about the dewey decimal
system and the fights some progressive groups have to get different categories
recognized. for example there are like 8 christian subjects and then one
for "other religions" and the implication is that christianity is really
important and all the others are just lumped in one category. another debate
was about getting african americans their own category recently, which
seemed to make sense to me. but they also complained that indian art was
a separate category rather than being included in the same category as
van gogh and other great artists. sometimes i think you can't win with
Chanel is sponsoring the malcolm gladwell podcast and i guess
their motto is "Choose simplicity over excess, comfort over appearance
and intuition over principles." the first two make sense, but choosing
intuition over principles seems problematic to say the least.
freakonomics podcast brought up a study about unwed mothers giving
birth. in 1960 this number was 5% in 2010 it was 40%. the woman looked
into the numbers and there are a lot of people like meryl and i who are
committed, but not really in a rush to get married or don't care about
marriage or whatever. but there are a lot of people who aren't really committed.
and even the people like us who say they're committed end up breaking up
within 5 years if they don't end up getting married. turns out that marriage
has an important social role and creates another barrier of exit from the
relationship. kids growing up outside of marriage suffer as well, and that's
the real problem. i'm only scratching the surface here, so you should check
the older i get the more i see the wisdom of certain things
in society. old fashioned ideas like marriage and real commitment and manners
and integrity and all those conservative ideas that the old fogeys are
pitching to us which seem so trite or outmoded...they have a purpose. conservatives
want to keep these ideas and liberals want to overturn them and begin anew.
we need both. we need ben and elaine running away from their parents and
the nearly arranged marraige at the end of the Graduate. we need the next
generation to pave their own path. we also need the old fogeys telling
us about some of those things that have been passed down through the ages
for damn good reason. some of that stuff may come off as too conservative
or as regressive gender roles or whatever label you want to add, but so
many of them are there for good reason....the wisdom of the ages and the
wisdom of the masses passed along.