Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 Resolution

I want to want less. 2009 will be my less is more year.

In the sermon I heard last Sunday in Houston, the preacher suggested using the phrase, "I want to want..." As in "I want to want to volunteer more" or "I want to want to be more forgiving." The idea is that eventually, you'll want what He wants. With all the multimedia that confronts us everyday with material and ephemeral wants, it's easy to lose focus. So my focus will be on less. Less money spent. Less alcohol drunk. Less gossip. Less worrying. Less waiting in airports. etc. It's also a realistic resolution. Instead of an outright abolition, I'm focusing on a theme.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Perks of Privelege

My first resolution for 2009: DCA airport or bust. Perhaps once Dulles finishes all of the construction, it might be a nice airport, but I've been burned too much in the past by delays, lost bags, and those darn people movers.

So what makes DCA so great? Privelege. Since D.C. air is a no-fly zone, planes must fly up and down the Potomac River. Wealthy individuals live along the Potomac in the condos at the Watergate, the townhouses of Georgetown, the apartments of Arlington, and the houses of Alexandria. These wealthy individuals years ago lobbied for a plane curfew and they got it. Flights cannot arrive or depart after 10pm EST - so as not to disturb the privileged people's slumber.

The second reason DCA excels is the dearth of lines. My theory on this is because so many congressmen fly in and out using DCA, the DCA administration doesn't want to displease the congressmen. See, despite the fact that the congresspeople can skip security lines, their constituents can't and those constituents fly on the same plane as their elected officials. So I think they overcompensate on security guards and staff so that everyone stays happy. And I certainly do!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'll have a job...

I'll have a job as long as Americans can grow up in this country and still spew the following nonsense:
If a politician announced he was running on a platform of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" he would be laughed off the stage. That is also the correct response to anyone who continues to make the case that markets do best when left alone.
It's time to drive the final nail into the coffin of laissez-faire capitalism by treating it like the discredited ideology it inarguably is. If not, the Dr. Frankensteins of the right will surely try to revive the monster and send it marauding through our economy once again.
First of all, Miss Huffington - what was the source of our nation's wealth if not capitalism? What enabled this country to succeed so quickly?

Secondly, laissez-faire capitalism died long ago. It died with the income tax of 1913 and the expansion of government spending which crowds out private innovation and charity. It died with the New Deal. It died when the Government Sponsored Enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were founded. It died with the increasing regulations placed on the market and the individual over the last century.

We live and work in a mixed market economy - not a laissez-faire one.

Finally, the government sets the rules. The rules that created the series of perverse incentives that created this debacle. And it will only get worse as the government bails out failing companies to the detriment of the few that are actually keeping their noses above water.

We cannot cede the free market ground. It hasn't had a fair chance to prove itself in our lifetimes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

OMG, this is so me.

I like to think that I've gotten better, but this rings eerily true:
Overachievers have high aspirations and like to dream big. There’s always a lot on their plate - their To-Do Lists are full and they have an abundance of ideas for future books, businesses, projects, and improvements. They see every moment as a valuable opportunity to invest in a worthwhile endeavor.

Overachievers also have an overwhelming sense of urgency. While this is part of their recipe for success, it can also backfire when they are unfocused or try to do everything at once. Anxiety strikes when they see their time slipping away and not accomplishing as much as they had hoped.

Despite doing 2-3 things at the same time and using tools/systems to be more effective, overachievers often feel guilty for not doing enough. They feel like they should always be doing more and this creates an ever-present pressure that can, oddly enough, get in the way of their path to achievement.

I mean it's part of the reason why I went to grad school and started this blog, but no matter how much I do I always feel like it's not enough.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

uno mas beef with It's a Wonderful Life...

Why does Mary have to be an "old maid"/spinster/librarian type if George doesn't exist? Is that really so awful? His brother was dead without him. The pharmacist went to jail. Mary being a spinster is really her hitting rock bottom?

It's a Wonderful Indebted Life

George Bailey. George Bailey the selfless hero. George Bailey the irrational enabler of irresponsible debt. Yes, this is the disturbing revelation I had as I watched "It's a Wonderful Life" this evening. Granted, this is an exaggeration, but part of me wonders how deeply entrenched frantic borrowing and desperate house buying is in our culture.

Bailey Brothers Building and Loan helps poor (but good) people finance their homes. When Black Tuesday strikes, George explains to his clients that everyone's money is wrapped up in the equity of other people's homes. That's standard, but George Bailey Sr. apparently lent at a charitable, practically nonexistent rate leaving little room for error let alone profit. The movie's message is that you have to be a martyr to be a good, respectable businessman. At another point Old Man Potter's rent collector says that Bailey only charges half of what it costs to build the home. All for the sake of getting everyone a home. At what price? To what end?

I've questioned the rationale for a state interest in home subsidization before but this gets me thinking even further. Some companies and charities help subsidize home ownership in the name of social equity, fairness, and economic empowerment. Granted much of this was financed by a home ownership push by the Clinton Administration and continued under Bush, but a lot of private organizations honestly believe in pushing home ownership. However, if a person is not capable of saving a reasonable down payment or can earn a decent, steady salary - can they be trusted with the equity in their home? Can they be trusted to meet their payments? When Ernie the taxi driver or Mrs. Welsh the school teacher or Violet the town tramp can't make their payments, it hurts George Bailey's ability to finance other people's homes or to pay back the bank. Altruism isn't all that it's cracked up to be. How's that for a Christmas sentiment?

Well, I still cherish this movie even if only for nostalgia's sake. I believe in civil society - just not using private company as a charity. I love the part when Mary offers their honeymoon nestegg up to help the Bailey Building and Loan clients during the Black Tuesday crisis. That's a responsible individual volunteering to help. I also love how Bedford Falls rallies around George and his family. I believe in the goodness of individuals and in the Christmas spirit.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Academic Namby Pamby

Let me preface this post by saying I'm not usually a grade grubber.

Ok, so I thought I rocked my U.S. Financial Policy final, and apparently I did. I got an A just like I did on the paper, the presentation, and the midterm. Needless to say I was surprised when I logged into our grade system to see I got an A minus. She practically admitted I earned an A:
Hi Whitney,No problem, you have a very legitimate question given your grades
in this class. You got an 8/10 for participation, which was better
than average (about 6). You did very well in the class. A's
are reserved for the 2 or 3 students that were doing A or A+ work
throughout the semester.

So she picks favorites? I was finally proud of growing out of my brown noser stage and then I find out it could have come in handy!

We exchanged another round of emails and apparently she only counts a 95 and up as an A, but this is not stated in the syllabus nor was it ever mentioned in class. The only reason I'm so particular is that I have to keep my GPA high in order to count another study abroad trip towards my degree and every little bit counts...especially when I'm anticipating my first dreaded B in statistics. Here's hoping...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh those feminists

So one feminist writes a piece complaining about Obama's gross negligence in not supporting women by favoring infrastructure/construction jobs over social work and education. So then another feminist responds irately that this is a myopic view of gender roles and that the country needs to instead invest in skill building, education, and vocational training so that women will enter the construction workforce in larger numbers (only 9% of construction workers are female now).

Though I disagree with her endgame, I agree with the second feminist's proposal to invest in skill building, education, and vocational training....just not solely for women. America needs a better trained and equipped workforce. We are woefully behind, but we shouldn't force a square peg in a round hole. If women don't want to be construction workers, so be it. Yes, there are social norms that make it difficult to do a "man's job," but there are laws on the books that can protect women from discrimination while on the job - no matter what that job is. Men and women gravitate towards different types of professions. There are - dare I say - differences amongst the sexes. Why do we have such a hard time celebrating this type of diversity? As long as men and women are free to apply for whatever job they choose and there are no legal obstacles to them doing these jobs, let the individuals decide what they want to do!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mentally and emotionally exhausted

I completed a marathon doubleheader at the library this weekend (with a respite to bake about a 12 dozen cookies and host a party) and successfully completed one final, but can't seem to get over the hump on my statistics final. It's not that I don't know what I'm doing - I kinda do - it's that I'm paralyzed by fear. The fear of incorrectly labelling my data, setting up the dummy variables, and getting rid of the outliers because if I mess the setup up the rest of it is screwed.

Then there's this odd tension at work that won't seem to go away. Management is stressed so everyone else is stressed and add unto that year-end reviews. ugh

All of the Christmas presents I have bought are stacked in a corner of my room. I can't necessarily remember who gets what, but I know I'm done shopping! I have yet to start wrapping or writing Christmas cards.

Then there's my erie and persistent maternal urge for a puppy. Yes, in part I'm trying to replace a boyfriend. My mother doesn't approve. She says that I should put my energy into finding a boyfriend not a puppy. It's not like I don't date. I do - the boys just don't seem to have the follow through lately...but that story is for a different type of blog.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fun recession quote of the day

From today's NYTimes:
The recession was actually not officially declared until last week, but the psychology that drives it had already been e-mailed, blogged and broadcast for months. I used to worry that my TiVo thought I was gay — doesn’t everyone enjoy a little “Project Runway” at the end of a long, hard week? Now I worry that my browser knows I am about to lose my job.

Obama unstimulating stimulus

Another one of the questions on my U.S. Financial Policy final was about the National Council of State Legislatures (NCLS) recommendations for the Obama stimulus plan. NCLS is the more liberal version of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in case you were wondering.

I'm still not a huge fan of bailouts and stimulus spending, but a couple of the NCLS recommendations are not too shabby. For instance, I do see a need for broad, discretionary grants to alleviate state shortfalls. Normally, I'd want the states to be held accountable, but given the falling property values and hard economic times it will be hard for the states to recover on their own. And while I applaud the fact that 49 of our states have balanced budget requirements, it's times like these that you worry about their ability to finance their deficit. Another recommendation was sales tax "fairness." Basically, states want the right to collect on remote sales that are purchased in their state. This is one recommendation that wouldn't actually cost the feds any money and could help with those pesky state shortfalls. But then the question is how much of a stimulus is it to balance state budgets? What's going to directly benefit individuals?

The problem is that the recommendations are very broad and in the hands of Obama who knows how it will turn out. But maybe it won't be so bad....from what we've seen of the Obama stimulus plan so far, it's pretty tame. I agree with Tyler Cowen:

When it comes to fiscal policy, many projects are not very good. Most
projects take a long time to come on-line. The fiscal stimulus should,
most of all, be directed at an effective marginal incentive scheme to keep up
state and local spending. I am still enthusiastic about Obama's economic
team, but I am starting to worry a little. How many of these expenditures
actually help needy people? How many actually will help the economy?
In fairness to Obama this was a radio address, and thus hardly the setting for
meaty analysis, but still I am a little underwhelmed.

#6 on my take home final for U.S. Financial Policy

#6. What should a state government do when one of its local governmental units faces a fiscal crisis of the type experienced in Richmond, CA? Are there fundamental responsibilities for the state to come to the aid of or to restrain troubled localities?

First of all, states need proper financial management and oversight of districts to prevent a crisis from occurring. California made positive changes in light of the Richmond crisis that improved governance in this manner. They became more explicit in what debt municipalities can and cannot issue (no more COPs); the state has set the precedent that they will take over financially troubled districts; and the state now requires more frequent and thorough reporting (13). In the event of a crisis, all of these measures help the state be better informed and equipped to manage the situation. The state does have a fundamental responsibility to its citizens but not necessarily the localities. The state is obligated to intervene if fiscal mismanagement leads to the potential interruption of service provision, but shouldn’t provide monetary aid until it reaches that point. Prior to that point, state supervision and oversight should be sufficient (I agree with Governor Wilson’s sentiment that localities shouldn’t be lead to believe that they can spend themselves into bankruptcy and be ensured of a state bailout). District constituencies should hold their local officials responsible for bad debt management via elections and lawsuits, but hopefully increased state supervision should prevent Richmond crises from reoccurring.

Doesn't it just make you wanna sign up for some public policy classes right now!?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Funny Nintendo reference for the day

I should be doing my two take home finals, but I gave myself a moment's reprieve to scan my Google Reader and came across this funny reference from Megan McArdle:

Okay, this is cool. Go to the new Google Reader and do the following:
Press the "up" arrow twice
Press the "down" arrow twice
Press the "left" arrow once Press the "right" arrow once
Press the "Left" arrow once
Press the "right" arrow once
Press the "b" key
Press the "a" key Blockquote

That sequence, again, is up up down down left right left right b a
Enjoy the weekend!

It reminded me of when I bought a tshirt with the code on it for a boyfriend a few years back.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fun excerpt from my grad school class tonight...

While discussing the information assymetry problem in the credit markets, someone asked:
"Well if the rating agencies are so important, why can't the government just take over that function?"
My professor's response:
"Food is very important, too, and the government doesn't take over that!"
I <3 my prof.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Why did the pilgrims starve at first?

They started off as communists - that's why! Ilya first told me this this weekend - how I got this far into my libertarian career without hearing this story certs me. I had this waiting for me in my inbox this morning.

Now I'm really ashamed that I was the only pilgrim at Thanksgiving dinner last week.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Irrational Obama Exuberance"

Three reasons that justify the crazy Obama paraphenalia-ed people that seem to follow me everywhere...
  1. The return of meritocracy and the American Dream - this does get me jazzed - son of an African immigrant, raised by grandparents in a middle class family, yadda, yadda.
  2. Transcending racial boundaries
  3. Breath of fresh air...

But I draw the line when people start blindly supporting all of the pied piper's policies. Yes, there are reasons for optimism, but it is irrational to have a blanket support of the man. I am a little jazzed about everyone's bubbles being inevitably burst.

Update: another example of irrational exuberance in favor of Obama

Teddy Rex

My token tourist activity during my trip to NYC this week was a visit to Teddy Roosevelt's birthplace. I read Theodore Rex a few years ago and admittedly fell in love with the dynamic character that was Teddy Roosevelt (despite qualms about his policies). That book is the second in a three part series by Edmund Morris - Rex only covers his presidency. 28 E. 20th Street in New York was his birthplace and monument to the first 14 years of his life. What a fascinating life!

Fun factoids about Teddy I picked up yesterday:
  • Second of five children
  • Severely asthmatic youth which he combatted with exercise and trips to the countryside
  • Mother was a hardcore Southern belle who had Teddy and his siblings packing and sending care packages to the South during the Civil War
  • Totally homeschooled, Teddy excelled at modern languages and natural sciences, but was very poor at Greek, Latin, and math
  • Started taxidermy at age 12
  • Went on a year long African Safari immediately after exiting the presidency

The museum also had a couple galleries dedicated to the rest of Teddy's life. You have to respect the man for being such a voracious reader, prolific writer, disciplined athlete, and dedicated student his entire life. He was truly a Renassiance man. I started to express my admiration and my museum companian grumbled in disgust that he was a terrible president that paved the way for many future government interventionist policies. True. My friend said his personal accomplishments make no difference.

I am a sucker for the libertarian view that unexperienced politicians make the best politicians. If they don't know what the heck they are doing, they are less likely to accomplish much of anything. But the last time I employed this argument with a professor of mine (I think we were arguing over the viability of Palin), he shook his head. "Whitney, wouldn't you rather the person derermining this country's policies be better educated than you?" Hmmm, instinctually yes, but that's such an elitist view! The professor retorted, "What's wrong with elitism?" Ah, an honest Democrat! If I trusted our political system to be one based on merit instead of corruption, then I would be fine with the elitism, but an elitism based more on cronyism turns my stomach (this goes for either party). Even if I disagree with Teddy Roosevelt's policies - at least he had a consistent rationale, historical justifications, and experience to back them up. That's something I have mad respect for.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A pessimistic thought from a usually optimistic person...

Could capitalism be doomed due to our inpatience with market failures?

Can we not accept failure?

Maybe some action was warranted for the sake of the credit market, but the bailouts of individual banks and companies is totally bogus. Some businesses fail. When the new Mexican resteraunt in your neighborhood goes out of business after a few months, we don't exactly pass the hat to take care of the unemployeed cooks, busboys, and waiters. The local government doesn't seek to subsidize them. But Whitney, you say, we're talking established firms with hundreds if not thousands of employees. Fine, suppose the Mexican resteraunt wasn't just a resteraunt but a chain of resteraunts in your hometown. They employ and feed a decent proportion of your town's population, but management has made some poor decisions and they are about to go under. We still don't pass the hat or lobby our localities to subsidize a failing business. And it's not the end of the world.

So why are we so hellbent on avoiding a recession? Whoops, we're already there. Why are we so hellbent on getting out of this recession so damn fast? It's called a business cycle for a reason.

Some meditative food for thought...
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun. A
time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that
which is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal ...a time to weep and a time
to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance ...a time to embrace and a time to
refrain from embracing;a time to lose and a time to seek; a time to rend and a
time to sew; a time to keep silent and a time to speak;a time to love and a time
to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

'Tis the season

Oh the brutal materialism of an American Christmas. Megan McArdle overheard Suze Orman responding to a question as to how to pay for toys at Christmas which prompted her to write the following:
I know that my parents expended a lot of precious money and time on my Christmas gifts. But with a few exceptions (a certain Raggedy Ann and Andy Pen and Pencil Set comes to mind, along with my very own Beach Boys "Endless Summer" casette"), what I remember about Christmases is not what I was given, but the non-material traditions: the food, the family, the snow angels and crackling fires. This is true of basically everyone I know. So why do we continue to think that the gifts are the most important part?
My parents also tended to go overboard. They continued to "sell the farm" each December even after my brother and I discovered Santa was a sham. Of course I'm not going to tell them to stop, but at an early age I did find it excessive. Now that my parents have competing Christmases I see the potential for an all out arms race of gifts. Hoping to cut this off at the pass, I've asked them each to get me one truly thoughtful gift. Honestly, that's all I want for Christmas from anyone I love - if they feel compelled to get me anything.

My favorite Christmas memories:
  • Decorating the tree with ornaments made throughout my childhood and collected on family vacations.
  • The sheer anticipation - waiting at the top of the stairs with my brother to go down and see what Santa brought.
  • The huge breakfast my dad made which we always ate while watching the Christmas Day parade.
  • Going over to Grandma and Grandpa's house later that day to celebrate all over again. The special prayer that my Grandpa always says before we eat. Each year, he surprises me with the most insightful blessings and always ends, "Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and us in thy service - in Jesus's name Amen."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pirate links

I had the pleasure of being driven home by a Somali taxi driver last night. He blames the piracy on the Italian half of Somalia - apparently he comes from the more civilized north which was colonized by the British. We laughed at how absurd it was to steal $100 Million worth of oil!? The taxi driver pointed out that it was crude oil so they couldn't even bring it back to Somalia for consumption!

Random pirate links:

How to protect your booty from pirates

Slate's Q and A on pirates

Why the Iranian Navy should help

An argument for a voluntary coalition to police the seas

Hat tip: Allison for the first two links

EHarmony rejected me too - should I sue?

Ok, so EHarmony didn't reject me technically, but I did fill out their profile once (back when I tried and I had ZERO matches. This is really sad in a city that is ranked fifth in the nation for online dating. Just because I felt slighted by EHarmony doesn't mean I'm going to sue though!

Wall Street Journal article here. More on the story from a conservative perspective at Dr Melissa's blog.

I was entertained by's ad campaign against EHarmony - "Rejected by EHarmony." It was an effective campaign that helped differentiate their product from their competitor. It was a great way of the market regulating itself through competition.

If EHarmony wants to limit their target market - that's their prerogative! They are limiting their own profit potential by doing so - who does that hurt? Only them! There are plenty of online dating sites open to gay couples. Straight people who are upset by EHarmony's discrimination can choose another dating site as well. What is the legal justification for interferring in a business model like this?! Should men sue Playtex because only women can use feminine products? Dr. Melissa uses the analogy that it's like suing a vegetarian restaruant for not serving steak. So true! Whether or not you agree with gay marriage and gay lifestyles, this is a scary government intervention.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Benjamin Franklin was right about candles, in other words, but he did not consider air-conditioners"

So apparently I was premature in giving props to W. for the shortening of daylight savings. This interesting study conducted by the guys who wrote this NYTimes op-ed tested the efficiency of daylight savings. The thought process was that we'll save more energy if we use sunlight as opposed to electrically powered lighting. But apparently the energy savings did not play out in Indiana. Indiana's recent adoption of daylight savings in 2007 provided the authors with a natural experiment to test the purported "savings" element of "daylight savings."
While daylight time reduces demand for household lighting, it increases demand for heating in the early spring and late fall (in the mornings) and, even more important, for cooling on summer evenings.
So much for my shout out to W.

Apparently my blog says I'm a "Doer"

Typealyze your favorite blogs!

Hat tip: Alexis via Annie

Policing the seas

Mark my words: It will come to pass that the world will ask the United States Navy to more closely patrol the regions where these pirates are operating.
Why is this our responsibility? Because we have the largest Navy? Oh hellz no. All of these oil companies and shipping companies just need to get smart and hire some private security guards.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tainted views of Africa

"if, as a westerner, you are going to visit Africa, the earlier in your life you
do it, the better. By the time you are in your twenties, your head is so stuffed
with preconceived opinions, mostly of the ethic ally self-flagellating variety,
you can barely see, let alone interpret, what is going on outside you."

Interesting notion about visiting Africa - more here.

When I went to South Africa this summer through my graduate school, we discussed the ethics of "disaster tourism." We were riding on the bus back to Pretoria after a daytrip to Soweto - the famous shanty town outside of Joburg. Someone living in a tin shack had organized a tour for us. Apparently, there is an informal community organization in Soweto that accommodates groups of tourists like ourselves to gawk at them in their squalid poverty. They assurred us that they wanted us to be there and they wanted us to ask questions, but you can't help but feel awkward doing so. I wish I had taken more pictures, but at the time I felt guilty. In economic terms, I was consuming their poverty. In a wierd way, being entertained/educated by it. But good comes of it. There was a brand new preschool that had apparently been built with funds from a church group who had visited from Atlanta, Georgia. The problem is that as Africans become less poor, we will be less interested in them. So in order to maintain the interest of disaster tourists, they have to stay poor. However, I don't see this as a problem. Once they are at the point that they are less interesting to us, they should have running water, solid shelters, and enough resources to hopefully lift themselves up out of poverty.

Hat tip: Tyler Cowen

Winning...the American Way

We tell our children "Winning isn't everything" yet we coddle them to death. The coddling (I think) increasing leads to a sense of entitlement. We are entitled to not be disappointed or we are entitled to get what we want or we are entitled to have the government take care of us. This theme runs through a lot of the popular headlines these days. Hillary Clinton lost because of a glass ceiling. Sarah Palin was ridiculed because she's a woman. If Obama hadn't won, there would be riots in the ghettos. I <3 Thomas Sowell. for explaining why this doesn't make sense:
Apparently, if you don't win, somebody has put up a barrier or a ceiling.
He continues:

Almost by definition, everybody thinks their cause is just. Does that mean that nobody has to obey the rules? That is called anarchy.

Nobody is in favor of anarchy. But some people want everybody else to obey the rules, while they don't have to.

Ahhh, American exceptionalism even applies on the micro level.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pirates hit the motherload!

$100 Million worth of oil!

Two men walk into a bar...

Two men walk into a bar and sit down at tables ten feet apart from one another. Both are white, tall, thin, brown haired professional men - one slightly better looking than the other. Five minutes later a cute twenty something girl walks into the bar. Although she walked in rather quickly, she now slowly walks around the bar. The two men shift in their seats. I see the girl retreat to the host stand in a panic and pull out her phone. Which man is her date!? You can see it all over her face. Thank God for internet on phones, she must have been able to pull up the guy's picture and she assuredly walks over to the proper gentleman (the less attractive one). Five minutes later a slightly less attractive girl walks in and tentatively looks around the bar before settling in at the table with the more attractive bachelor number two.

Note to self: do not arrange a first date at the Liberty Tavern.

Ahh, the joys of online dating. I'm not ashamed to say I tried it once. It was fun, but true to Whitney form stressed me out like crazy. After reading Tyler Cowen's Discover your Inner Economist earlier this year, I think I might overthink things even more than I did two years ago when I tried it. What am I signalling with my online profile? What does it mean if hundreds of men look at my profile but only a few "wink" ( equivalent of facebook poking - sooooo lame). Worse yet, what if I get a ton of winks but no emails?! Being able to have a quantifiable barometer on your attractiveness is not fun. That being said, I might try it again if I get bored with my current options. It is nice to be able to screen people, though facebook often does that for me anyways. ;)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mortgage Interest Deductions - more interesting than you think!

School and work has been crazy this week, I should get back to my one-ish a day posting now.

Currently, I'm totally absorbed in the absurdity of the home mortgage interest deduction. Being a renter, I was totally ignorant of this. It's actually an old stalwart from the initial introduction of our income tax in 1913. Back in the day people paid cash for everything including homes so the interest deduction was primarily envisioned for businesses. Over time, this tax policy - originally intended to encourage business investment - has evolved into one that is defended on the grounds that it promotes homeownership.

Putting aside for the moment whether the government should even be in the business of promoting homeownership, the mortgage interest deduction (MID) is an inefficient way to effect marginal homeownership rates, encourages suburban sprawl, and distorts savings and investment rates. Some also argue that the government is "spending" too much on the mortgage interest deduction, but that assumes that our paychecks are the government's property first and ours second. Since the mortgage interest deduction is primarily utilized by itemizers who are wealthy, the MID doesn't encourage people to buy homes that wouldn't have necessarily purchased otherwise. The MID really just inflates home prices and encourages people to purchase beyond their means which encourages bigger homes further out from city centers. I wouldn't make the environmental argument against it (people have to drive farther and use more energy in bigger homes), but I do have disdain for the inefficiency and sterility of surburbia and thus oppose the MID on those grounds. Lastly, the MID encourages investment in a highly illiquid asset - residential property - and we've seen the costly effects of this in the current crisis. Americans don't save. They rely on their home equity which can be a dangerous gamble.

So on Wednesday, I have to debate an alternative to the MID. The assumption being that it is politically infeasible for the state to totally get out of promoting home ownership and the "American Dream." So we're debating whether we should just nix the MID and not promote homeownership at all or an alternative policy that subsidizes first time home buyers. Somehow I ended up on the government subsidy side, I'm trying to look at it like a challenge. More later this week on how the debate turns out!

Hat tip: my PUBP 741 group members john, tyson, and ryan

More on puppies

Ok, my friend Rebecca Marie had to torture me with this picture this morning. Between the Shiba puppy cam and this picture, I hope my roomies respond to my puppy request favorably.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why I want 3 or 4 munchkins...

Growing up, I loved the tv show, The Waltons. I also enjoyed other big family shows like the Brady Bunch and 7th Heaven, but The Waltons was my fave. (And yes, my current fave is Jon & Kate plus 8 on TLC)

No, I don't actually want 8 children, but three or four would be nice. Here's my reasoning.

First and most importantly, I like kids. They find joy in life’s simplest pleasures and inspire me to be a better person if not for mine but their sake. Secondly, I’m playing the odds. Chances are one or more of my kids could be gay (love it!) or antisocial (knowing me unlikely) or handicapped (God forbid) or just not interested in procreating themselves (whatev). I’d like at least one of them to go on to give me grandbabies. Third, children are the best insurance policy. I’ve always thought that since I’m not banking on Social Security I should bank on babies (The Waltons got through the Depression just fine without government assistance). I was kind of embarrassed to admit this economic rationale for procreation until I read this lovely blogpost at the Economist:
Traditionally, people had more children because they provided free labour or another source of income. Things are not so dire that upper middle class families will send their children to work anytime soon, but grown children can take care of you in your old age. If you’re unable to provide adequate retirement income you might want to have children and invest in their human capital.
Of course, I need a good man first. ;)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tree hugging capitalist

This weekend, I climbed a tree, nestled in, and read a book. I only lasted about 40 minutes in said tree - could have stayed longer with a pillow - but it was quite the enjoyable experience. I found it even more fun because I'm sure people walking by thought I was such the granola. All the while my nose is buried in a book railing against communism.

I'm only halfway through Life and Death in Shanghai, but it's a fabulous autobiographical book about this amazing woman Nien Cheng, and I just have to share! She's a proud Chinese woman who made the mistake of working for a foreign company in Maoist China during the 1950s and 1960s and is persecuted for being such an "imperialist dog." The book begins on the eve of the Cultural Revolution and describes the country's descent into chaos. I'm learning so much about the culture, the history, the politics and from a trusted perspective. Her faith in God and capitalism is inspiring, and something I can really empathize with. Much of what happened in Maoist China seems so absurd - it's humbling to think some of these crimes against humanity could still be going on in China today.

The Puppy Question

I myself have been pondering a puppy purchase, so admittedly I was endeared by Obama's mention of a dog for his girls in his acceptance speech. However, it also stood out for its political suaveness. I mean, he successfully melted my heart just a tad despite my steel resolution to oppose what he stands for. For now, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not using the puppies for cold hard political gain, but I'll keep my eye on it!

One more silly note about the puppies - Bill Kristol writes:
Obama was, naturally, asked about the promised-but-not-yet-purchased puppy at his press conference Friday. (If one were being churlish, one might say that it was typical of a liberal to promise the dog before delivering it. A results-oriented conservative would simply have shown up with the puppy without the advance hype.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Opinionating yourself into a corner

Are the strongly opinionated necessarily close-minded? I personally don't think that an open mind and an opinion are mutually exclusive, but last night my mother chided me for having 'too much of an opinion.' Part of this is a product of my mother's selective hearing, but I do wonder if there is a grain of truth to what my mother said.

One of my professors says it's nigh impossible to change someone's mind about politics after the age of 15. If an individual's worldview metastasizes in adolescence, are all subsequent opinions merely a result of path dependency? Certainly, your parents, community, and environment help establish your core values. I can't think of too many people who have made a 180 degree political turn post-college. And look at the peer pressure to stay within your stated party and views - friends, family, coworkers help reinforce your beliefs. I pride myself on reading the NYTimes and liberal op-ed writers, but I approach these articles with a bias to criticize. Hopefully, I'm approaching even my favorite like-minded authors with a critical eye, but I'm sure there is a subconscious approval process that undermines my ability to be truly discerning. So I agree that at least my core principles were established early on. My fundamental beliefs in the nature of man, the importance of freedom, and proper role of the state have not changed much in the last decade.

So how to keep an "open mind"? I think what my mother's concern primarily boils down to is a matter of tolerance and humility. Do I approach oppossing viewpoints with patience and a sincere desire to listen? And I shouldn't forget the possibility that I could be wrong. That's the best lesson I've learned so far in my adult life. It's ok to be wrong; not only becuase I often am, but also because it's a learning process. How you deal with being wrong is a better guage of the person you are than most else. So, yeah, I'm working on it!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Eating the rich

If you're lucky enough like me to have tech-savvy grandparents, you're probably just as 'lucky' to receive those forwarded political anecdotes and jokes that have become common currency amongst the WWII generation. Putting aside my curiosity for why the elderly are so enamored with such e-chain letters, I actually liked this one about taxes that my late grandpa sent a couple years ago. I was amused to stumble upon it on another blog:

TAX System Explained In Simple Terms

Sometimes politicians, journalists and others exclaim; ‘It’s just a tax cut for the rich!’ and it is just accepted to be fact. But what does that really mean? Just in case you are not completely clear on this issue, I hope the following will help. Please read it carefully.

Let’s put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand.

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner and the bill for all ten comes to $100.If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:
a.. The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.b.. The fifth would pay $1.c.. The sixth would pay $3.d.. The seventh would pay $7.e.. The eighth would pay $12.f.. The ninth would pay $18.g.. The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that’s what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve.

‘Since you are all such good customers,’ he said,’I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20.’ Dinner for the ten now cost just $80. The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free, but what about the other six men, the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his ‘fairshare?’ They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to eat their meal. So, the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so:

a.. The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).b.. The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% savings).c.. The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% savings).d.. The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings)e.. The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).f.. The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

‘I only got a dollar out of the $20,’ declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, ‘but he got $10!’

‘Yeah, that’s right,’ exclaimed the fifth man. ‘I only saved a dollar, too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than me!’

‘That’s true!!’ shouted the seventh man. ‘Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!’

‘Wait a minute,’ yelled the first four men in unison. ‘We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!’

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start eating overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

Hat Tip: Dr. Melissa Clouthier

The silver lining to Obama

When (if) Obama wins, I will take consolation in the following:
  • Obama's mere appearance, ethnicity, and demeanor should get us mad street cred internationally (wouldn't it be nice if he could just be a pr rep for the U.S. with no power? I'd hire him!).
  • The Republicans will have to take a long, hard look at themselves. Hopefully, they'll come back in 2012 more put together and with a firmer grasp on the future direction of the party.
  • "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." The Dems are bound to screw up controlling 2/3 branches of government.
  • For all practical purposes, we're getting the same bag of tricks whether Obama or McCain wins.
But tonight, I will seek solace in the bottom of a bottle amongst friends.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fun Atlas Shrugged reference

Via Reason - "Atlas Mugged"
I want to appease the new administration and not be too productive. So, upon Obama's passing his new redistribution plan, I will slow my work schedule, lay off a few people (Obama's got their back) and let someone else bust his tail since I will now be able to get "redistributed wealth" from those poor fools who are ambitious, energetic, work hard and have made good decisions.
It goes on, so true and funny and yet depressing...

Liberal groupthink

Update on my prof's book Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities.
If there has been a conspiracy among liberal faculty members to influence students, “they’ve done a pretty bad job,” said A. Lee Fritschler, a professor of public policy at George Mason University...
tee hee hee...I wish they were doing a poor job, but these studies also show that students do shift to the left during college. If we can't blame the purposeful influence of the professors, who can we blame?

The real issue, said [Daniel Klein of GMU], who calls himself a libertarian, is that social democratic ideas dominate universities — ideas that play down the importance of the individual and promote government intervention.

Such “academic groupthink” means that the works of such thinkers are not offered enough, he argues. “A major tragedy is that they’re not getting exposed to the good stuff,” he said, citing the works of John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
And believe it or not, but the NYTimes article gets even better! It mentions the American Council Of Trustees and Alumni (who advocate for more vigorous and fair curriculum).

I'm still incredulous that profs don't directly influence students more - I obvi need to read the book - especially when their very book and topic selections are probably what influence students the most!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thank you W.

Whatever your feelings are for W., he got one thing right in my eyes. He shortened winter. By pushing "fall back" back and "spring forward" sooner, he effectively shortened winter. This is a more efficient usage of our daylight hours and thus saves oodles on energy. So thank you W.

Update on the Somali Pirates...

So I'm fascinated by this modern day piracy story out of Somalia. Here's a BBC article on the standoff over the Ukranian vessel these pirates seized A MONTH AGO. Obvi they decided not to blow it up. They shouldn't have cried wolf so early on, but I also think Russia hasn't caved because they realize what a posh existence these pirates are used to. I'm betting the pirates will lose this one though I'm secretly rooting for them.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who is mesmerized. Here's the NYTimes human interest piece and slideshow on this soap opera.
What is really interesting is that piracy has become so lucrative that some of
“the immutable clan lines that have pitted Somalis against one another for
decades” have broken down in the face of profits.

Ah, the almighty dollar.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

If you're happy and you know it...

After opting into a Race, Class, and Gender course last spring and suffering through an intolerable amount of Marxism and postmodernism and a whole lot of other -isms, I was happy to read this this morning:
One of the most annoying tropes of modern intellectual life is that the material abundance of liberal market societies has come at the cost of increasing unhappiness and unease — the "paradox of prosperity," I call it. Over the past half-decade, a raft of books has been devoted to our allegedly paradoxical ennui. Examples include The Progress Paradox, by Greg Easterbrook, The American Paradox by David Myers, and The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. But the paradox of prosperity is a myth. The multidisciplinary field called "happiness research," from which all these books draw, now shows that, other things equal, prosperity makes us happier. Wealthier individuals tend to be happier. Wealthier societies tend to be happier. Average happiness tends to rise in places where average wealth is rising.
One of the main arguments against capitalism that I've heard from my profs is that wealthier nations become unhappy - that there are diminishing returns to the free market. These studies thus give me comfort.

One postmodern bugaboo that I still need empirical evidence to refute is that inequality in a society is intolerable and inherently unjust. Last semester, I remember making the mistake of trying to speak up for the free market and my prof interrupted.

"Excuse me, there is no such thing as a free market."

[Was she going to clarify that we live in a mixed economy, I thought?]

"There is no such thing as a free market because capitalism inherently enslaves people. It requires inequality."

Since when were inequality and slavery the same thing? Sigh. A less extreme version of her argument is that inequality makes people unhappy because they see what they cannot have and it makes them feel inferior. So does anyone have any sources/books/references on people coping with inequality?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

To adjudicate or legislate THAT is the question

A discussion on how to redistribute legally (from Drudge yesterday). Note that this is not a discussion on whether redistribution is just or unjust - it's about which branch of government is best for establishing redistribution....brought to you by Barack Obama in 2001.

Have we really come to the point where we're past whether or not redistribution is good or bad? I hope that is still up for debate!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Because Leonardo says "Don't Vote"

Hilarious political ad parodies on Reason here.

The way to my heart... through Ayn Rand. She's a smart girl, that Emily. A smart girl who sent me the following in an email entitled, "I can't let up on my crusade!!!"

AR: I'd rather vote for Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers, or Jerry Lewis. I don't think they're as funny as Professor Hospers and the Libertarian Party. If, at a time like this, John Hospers takes ten votes away from Nixon (which I doubt he'll do), it would be a moral crime. I don't care about Nixon, and I care even less about Hospers. But this is no time to engage in publicity seeking, which all these crank political parties are doing. If you want to spread your ideas, do it through education. But don't run for President—or even dogcatcher—if you're going to help McGovern.
So the plan was to write in Ron Paul, but then darling Joe informed me that the commonwealth doesn't track write-in votes. Though I know my vote doesn't matter technically, philosophically and traditionally it means a great deal to me. So here I am, undecided. Yes, I'm one of those people. However, my decision isn't between Obama and McCain. It's between McCain and a third party candidate. Obama may tick me off just enough to vote McCain, but I don't feel comfortable with condoning McCain's policies. Philosophically, I'm most aligned with the Constitution Party candidate who Ron Paul has endorsed, but if I vote third party, I feel like I should vote Libertarian. Then, there's the problem of Barr's mustache and his sponsorship of DOMA amongst other things...I am truly undecided. Sigh

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Progressive arguments

Obama Wants Social Security to Be a Welfare Plan - His tax credit amounts to a radical change in the system.

"While Social Security has always been progressive, many would say this plan goes too far and risks turning Social Security into a "welfare program." Low earners receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes -- meaning their "net tax" is already negative -- and Mr. Obama's plan would increase net subsidies from the program."

Call me radical, but I can barely fathom the justification for a progressive tax system let alone a redistributive one. At least with Social Security one theoretically gets out what one puts in, but Obama would change even that! I don't know anyone my age who counts on receiving Social Security benefits, but we have yet to get mad about paying into a system we won't benefit from. Maybe Obama's perversion of the system would finally get us up at arms like we should be [and picketing the AARP as this article suggests we should be - lol].

Not only is a progressive tax system morally questionable, but it also encourages unwieldy amendments and regulations that inevitably lead to an even more unjust system.

Progressive taxation challenges the basic incentives behind wealth creation. Why should I work hard for that raise if it bumps me into the next tax bracket? Why should I start a new enterprise if a larger share of my income will be taxed? My liberal friends tell me, "Rich people should have to pay more." They still would if we were all taxed at a flat rate! 15% of a million dollars is a helluva lot more than 15% of $40,000. In fact, more would pay more under a flat tax system becuase compliance is so much higher. The point is that a progressive system disincentivizes people at the margin to invest in themselves and society like they should.

Because even liberals have to admit that not all rich people are selfish hoarders, progressive taxation has to allow for tax deductions for dependents, charitable activities, and activities that create new wealth and jobs. Once you start down this itemized road toward the complicated hell of tax returns, you welcome tax evasion, havens, special interest favoritism, and a system too complicated for lower and middle income people to navigate. But what is charitable? Who decides? What is a legitimate special interest? Who decides? Think of the voices neglected under this system and the potential for abuse. Most agree that our tax system has grown too complicated and biased, but what most ignore is the fundamental problem is the progressive nature of our tax system.

I can only hope that the Democrats don't get 60 senate seats so Obama's full economic plan can be avoided.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Making fun of VPs

Some great gaffes from Biden can be found here.

Fun interactive website spoofing Palin can be found here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Slightly more coherent cogitation than last night

I should be studying for my statistics midterm, but I will take a respite to try and make up for my admitedly shoddy post that Sherman enjoyed shooting bazooka size holes in this morning.

Most of the world and most Americans still admire the United States because it is a proven environment for creating wealth and prosperity. I would argue - as many have before me - that this is because of strong property rights, rule of law, generally free markets, and somewhat of a libertine air of rugged independence amongst its citizens.

Tonight, I would like to address the last two points.

"The market that failed was not exactly free" (subtitle of the editorial in today's Post). Increasingly, the U.S. government has intervened in what can best be described as a mixed economy. But we do live in a fundamentally capitalist society or a "market society" - even this liberal Lindblom I read in grad school admits it.

Markets beat government coordination both logistically and philosophically. No planner, politician, or bureaucrat can be all places at once, the market can. Markets are also much more vast in scope than any government could hope to be. They are self-adjusting and customizeable down to individual transactions and adapt instantaneously. Compare this with the unilateral, one-size-fits-all approach of government coordination which also takes ample time to adjust. Which approach honors individuality and most efficiently rewards hard work and innovation? We live in a market society because Americans have always held these values.

We are a country of individualists. We value innovation, hard work, and opportunity. Opportunity has been abused as of late. Opportunity in the traditional American sense does not convey a sense of entitlement or governmental obligation. Opportunity meant/means FREEDOM. But as our country has gotten wealthier, we have called for more and more to be given to us instead of earned. We've lost faith in our ability to make our own way in the world yet most would defiantly defend their right to do so (even with their hand outstretched for government money).

Americans are also optimists. My Bubblicious Optimism post was trying to address this. We are more positive about the private sector and the future than other developed countries and this shows in our acceptance of risk. And it turns out that tolerance for risk pays! Maybe it's hard to see now, but in the long-haul risk has paid America dividends. While some in society may gain more directly from growth than others, compare the lot of the bottom 10% of Americans others. Or maybe compare the basket of goods the bottom 10% can afford in the U.S. versus elsewhere. But that bottom 10% issue is a whole 'nother blogpost. American optimism puts stock in the individual over the government and in the long run over the short run.

Optimism is fundamental to the American psyche and I'd have it no other way.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bubblecious Optimism

Yes, yes - I'm tired of Joe the Plumber too, but you have to admire how downright American he is - hard workin' brute with an aversion to taxation. While this aversion to taxation may not win McCain this election (sorry my hardworking friends who fight taxation on a daily basis), it may ripen the broader debate about taxation:
“The core difference between the American working class and its European
equivalent is that Europeans are inclined to vote based on their current
conditions, while Americans base their decisions more on their goals and
objectives for the future. Americans assume upward mobility, while Europeans do

And why do Americans assume upward mobility? Um, maybe because our GDP/capita looks like this:

[(source: Bubble Meter - a pretty good blog on the housing bubble with a specific focus on the D.C. area. And these boys have been tracking inflated home prices since 2005.)
(And here is The Economist's jusification for using GDP/capita as a better measure of wealth and success than straight up GDP.)]

Ok, this post is getting sloppy, but I'm tired and stats is taking up all my brain power lately.

Eloquent inevitability

The coming of fall has added to the heavy air of inevitability that the impending recession has given me. I'm not entirely dejected by it, but I don't think it's going to be as bad as everyone says. It's simply a cycle - as Robert Samuelson eloquently stated this morning, "the genesis of the next recovery usually lies in the ruins of the last recession."

We'll get through this.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Role models or rebels?

How often do children adopt their parents political attitudes? How often should they?

There's a new ad that turns this concept on its head by challenging children to get parents to adopt their cool support of Obama. The ad plays upon "the talk" and basically encourages kids to parent their parents. My friend, Karin, derides the peer pressure approach of the ad and then argues here on Townhall that parents should still have a role in cultivating their children's political outlooks.

I used to work for a nonprofit that brought highschoolers from all over the country to D.C. to learn about American history and government. It was both sad and funny to see how much these kids live up to their stereotypes. Nebraskans were zealots about their right to bear arms; California kids were much more likely to be liberal, hippies; and South Dakotans hate speed limits almost as much as they hate abortions. And all of these highschoolers were depressingly apathetic and ignorant about American politics. Whether these kids liked to admit it or not, their political opinions (what few they had) were direct reflections or rebellions of their parents. Though it was my job to encourage them to become politically engaged, I wouldn't count on any of them being able to change their parents' minds nor would I really want them to.

Children will either adopt blindly or rebel willingly against parental politics until they move into the real world, start educating themselves, and feel the onus of taxation. Parents can influence their children's perspectives by discussing the issues, encouraging discussion, and keeping an open mind. How did your parents' politics influence you?

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Having completed a midterm last night and in desperate need of some libation, I headed over to a local establishment with some grad school friends. We were in a large group, and I heard someone had ordered pizzas for everyone. As I went in for a slice, "Excuse me, that's my pizza."

"My mistake," as I reluctantly turned away from the guy's claimed pie.

He must have seen the hunger in my eyes because he said, "Tell you what - Who are you voting for?"

"Eh, I'm probably writing in Ron Paul."

"As long as you don't vote for McCain you can share my pizza."

Over slices, we proceeded to discuss his rationale for supporting Obama. I asked if he was aware that about 40% of Americans don't even pay taxes. No, he wasn't. So how the heck is Obama going to give "95% of Americans a tax cut"?! Redistribution - that's how! That's the greatest injustice of this election season - that Obama can get away calling redistribution (i.e. a tax credit) a tax cut! How can so many be hoodwinked!

Then, this morning this WSJ article was in my inbox which addressed this very issue!

Hat tip: Ilya

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Optimistic consumption

Professor Ronald T. Wilcox from my undergraduate institution explained to me today (via my alumni magazine) why Americans suck at saving money. Turns out we're optimistic to a fault!
"Americans have saved less than most developed nations for a long time, even pre-World War II. It's not like we've ever been a nation of savers. There are famous examples of people who are prominent in American history—Thomas Jefferson being one—who were always in debt. We are a country of optimists. When you're optimistic you tend not to save because you think tomorrow is going to be better than today."

Maybe we're naive or maybe we're just brilliantly manipulating the rest of the world to underwrite our lavish lifestyles.

One tip I recently stumbled upon to curb my own consumption is (hat tip: Rebecca Marie). It's this uber simple, attractive website that helps you consolidate all of your finances - checking, savings, investments, loans, etc. My bank offered the same thing online, but with a lot less functionality. is definitely worth checking out. Warning: initially this thing is a timesuck to set up, but I have a feeling the time investment will pay dividends when it emails me that my account balance is low or when my checks clear.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fun with linguistics

Fun human interest piece in the NYTimes today about a psychology professor - Dr. James W. Pennebaker - at the University of Texas and his foray into the systemized analysis of linguistics. This was the part that interested me most:
Health improvements were also seen among people whose use of causal words —
because, cause, effect — increased. Simply ruminating about an experience
without trying to understand the causes is less likely to lead to psychological
growth, he explained; the subjects who used causal words “were changing the way
they were thinking about things."

Pennebaker litterally counts the frequency of individual words and then analyzes the patterns that unfold.

For more juicy tidbits along these lines, check out his blog on the candidate's use of language in the 2008 election here.

One woman's patriarchy is another woman's...

Leave it to the NYTimes to bemoan the last vestiges of civility in this piece - "Old Gender Roles with your Dinner".
Although the goal in many public places and in much of public life is to treat
men and women equally, most upscale restaurants haven’t reached that
Then again they haven’t really tried all that hard. They’ve learned
that ignoring gender is risky, and often foolish, because men and women approach
and respond to restaurants in different ways, looking for different things.

Could those differences be attributed to differences between genders? Why must liberals celebrate diversity so fervently for everyone but women. These differences can be celebrated and honored without compromising our equality with men.

Timely anecdote:
A friend asked me to sew a button for him this weekend and another male friend turned to me and asked, "Are you going to take that?"
"Take what?"
"That sexism."
I take no offense. Maybe it's because I'm an instinctually nurturing woman or maybe it's because I'm Whitney, but I enjoy taking care of others. Give me that button.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hold the phone - Justice Clinton?!

I actually needed to remind myself to breathe after stumbling upon this nugget casually mentioned in a RealClearPolitics article:
"Beckel sees an Obama appointment of Hillary Clinton to the Supreme Court bench
as soon as an opening occurs..."

So we avoided 4 to 8 years of President Hillary Clinton and now we may get her appointed to a lifelong position on the Supreme Court!? Breathe, Whitney, just breathe. Had this occurred to anyone else? She is technically qualified - she'd give Harriet Miers a run for her money - but what would a Clinton on the bench mean?

In the short term, not much. A President Obama would simply be replacing one of the liberal justices who has been waiting to retire until Bush was out of office.

Long term, however, her expansive view of government authority and negative rights could lead to court opinions with lasting effect on this country's rule of law. I shiver.

When did you start to feel the pinch?

About a year ago, I noticed the portion sizes of some of my staple goods were starting to shrink. It started with those delightful sweets at Starbucks getting cut in half - fine I don't need those empty calories anyways. My mother shared that the same thing happened to candy bars in the 1970s. Then I noticed portion sizes at resteraunts getting smaller. Fine - Americans need some help in the will power department as well. But then came the day that I noticed my tampons were now 24 to a box instead of the usual 36 despite being the same price! That's when I knew things were starting to get bad. My budget continues to get tighter as I pay more for my necessities. It makes everyone take another look at what they consider a necessity.

Relatively speaking, if things get bad enough education can seem like a luxury. This week, I got an inevitable email from my graduate school about the state budget. I braced myself for a tuition increase.
On Thursday, Oct 9th, the Governor released budget information on reductions for the current budget year (FY 2009). [My university] will experience a 7% budget reduction, or $9.8 million. Units have submitted budget reduction plans and will be notified by the end of next week regarding the specific amount of their unit cuts. The Governor also announced a delay of the previously planned 2% salary increase for state employees until July 1, 2009. The current budget reduction cannot be addressed through an additional tuition increase this year or through any reductions in financial aid. At this level of budget reduction [my university] was not considering either action.

Apparently, things are bad, but at least not bad enough to raise tuition mid-school year. With property values flailing, state and local governments have to be feeling the pinch. Technically, this graduate degree is not a necessity, but to me it is. Thankfully, I already have school loans for this year. What about next year? I wonder how many people will have to cut the necessity of education due an increasingly tight budget, steep tuition, and an unsure credit market. What will happen to the student loan market?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pirating the rule of law

A pirate spokesman told news agencies by satellite telephone that the ransom of
$20m (£12m) must be paid by Monday night or the ship would be destroyed.

These Somali pirates threaten to even go down with the ship if they don't get the ransom they demand. The BBC article ends by noting the lack of a functioning Somali government and the continuation of civil strife. This seems to be a drastic example of what happens without a functioning rule of law.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dazed reactions to the market

This photo on MSNBC reminded me of this post on photos to accompany bailout stories I found via Megan McArdle. I think we've hit the "dazed" photo state.

Update: Just discovered the "Brokers with hands on their faces BLOG" - awesome!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why does Sarah Palin evoke such a visceral response?

Ed Koch, an Obama supporter, speaks out against the media's treatment of Palin.
She deserves the media's respect, instead of its mockery and efforts to destroy
her by their clear distain. Interestingly, highly intelligent women friends of mine who support Barack Obama, as I do, were horrified when I told them of my views and that I was writing this commentary. Their position is not to give Palin any credit.

Why do these women dislike Palin so much? Is it true dislike or perhaps fear or even insecurity? I thought this was a very honest confession by one of these elite women:

it's because Palin makes us look like the slackers we mainly are. We've had our
bit of success, but we've also spent a lot of time smelling the roses. We've gone back to school to get another degree, volunteered in poor countries, devoted ourselves to a sport or a hobby. We've not had kids, or if we have, we've had one or two, and we've had nannies paid for by our work or our husbands or our inherited money.

We not only have had passports for decades, we've put serious mileage on them. We've lived overseas or spent months wandering around Africa or India, we understand foreign people and places in ways Palin never will--and yet it's she who could become vice president, not one of us.

This is something I can relate to. Most conservative women I know don't necessarily agree with all of Palin's policies or honestly think that she's qualified, but they support her out of sheer admiration for everything that she's accomplished. If she can do everything she's done while bearing five children, we should give her the benefit of the doubt! Perhaps conservative women have done Palin just as much a disservice by going too easy on her.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


A large part of my job is talking to old people. I love old people - I attribute it to a good relationship with my grandparents. They rock. Whenever I talk to older people, I just imagine I'm talking to Grandma Lee or Grandpa John (which also means my Texan accent comes out - bonus!). Sometimes though, I have to raise my voice or talk slower because the person I'm talking to is hard of hearing. Let's hope, however, that I never engage in elderspeak. This NYTimes article talks about the serious ramifications of talking down to the elderly:
In a long-term survey of 660 people over age 50 in a small Ohio town, published in 2002, Dr. Levy and her fellow researchers found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising or not smoking. The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for differences in the participants’ health conditions.
The article also made me reflect on how I speak to my own mother. Part of her Transverse Myelitis is an impaired short-term memory. Add onto this painkillers and my mother is understandably not always herself. It's hard not to take on a patronizing tone when you're constantly repeating yourself. Sometimes I just have to count to three or take a break from the conversation. Now, I'll remind myself that my tone can impact her psychological well being as well.

Greenspan's guarded optimism

In this WSJ article entitled "Seeking Rational Exuberance," Greenspan says we're emerging from a time of irrational exuberance - an overly indulgent investment period. How did this failure in aggregated knowledge happen? Megan McArdle has a nice bulleted list of 'cognitive errors' not the least of which I think is being overly optimistic. Believe me, it's my Achilles' Heel - I would know.

Monday, October 6, 2008

One of the things I'm getting my brother for Christmas

Disappearing Civil Liberties Mug - your liberties disappear when you pour in hot liquid!

Timely discussion on faith

Great discussion about intellectualizing God over at Sand in the Gears. Actually worth slogging through the comments, but here's my favorite of Tony's retorts so far:

I suspect where you and I disagree about knowledge of God is that I don’t confine knowing to that which can be discerned by the senses. Christian belief is predicated on the underlying assumption that we can know by means other than the senses, i.e., by the action of the Holy Spirit, who generates throughout the Christian life epiphanies large and small, all of which go into a category of knowing that cannot be reached by sensory investigation.

The rationalist and the atheist rejects this out of hand, of course, and for understandable reasons — because all he has known has come to him, so far as he can discern, via the senses. Thus when he hears that there is knowledge to be had by some other means, he naturally rejects the notion. This is akin, however, to a man who has been blind for life, and who has been raised among the blind, asserting that there is no such thing as this mystical “seeing” that the so-called “sighted” claim to engage in.

"Love Actually" has its limits

Seven calls from my mother in twenty minutes last night. This doesn't count the three calls earlier in the day. Two of which were for me to explain how to use her remote to view the On Demand video channel. I only answered the first of the seven calls. Yes, I ignored 6 calls. She's obviously not on fire or dying or she wouldn't be able to dial me over and over. Four conversations in one day is enough. Four interruptions to an otherwise pleasant Sunday was enough. Enough!

Ramblings on faith

Why do I believe in God? Where does my faith come from? Humility before creation. Awe of the complexity of nature. Experience in the intangible. The blessings of kindness in my fellow man. My favorite Bible passage - Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen."

A friend sent me a sermon with the following passage this morning that seemed especially timely:

I think William James captured it pretty well when he observed that the crucial element within all the varieties of religious experience throughout the world came down to one woefully inadequate word: and that word is "more."

That to be religious was, simply, to recognize or to learn that there was – that there is more. More to all of this than meets the eye. More than language can ever capture. "More things," as Hamlet tells Horatio…. "There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

The language of faith is, maybe, the only language we have to express what's going on in those fundamental moments of life when we encounter a sense, or maybe even the presence of the reality of "more."
The passage was timely because I was moved to tears by a late night theological discussion over the weekend. Surprised even by my own passion, I tried to stick to a somewhat rational discussion of what motivates my faith. The primary sticking point was whether I could be with someone (long term) who wasn't Christian. I'm an open minded gal and as long as my main squeeze would accompany me to church, I think I'd be fine, but the thought of having kids with someone who lacks faith chills me to my core. Yes, this is a few years off - this is just how Whitney's mind works.

When I was a little girl, I was scared of the dark and of alligators under my bed. I was scared when my daddy worked late and came home after I went to bed - would he get home ok? The future frightened and overwhelmed me.

My belief in God comforted me even at a tender age and got me through tough times. Perhaps it was a vivid imagination or perhaps children understand the essence of existence better than us adults, but young Whitney knew with radiant certainty that there was a loving and merciful Creator out there who gives life purpose. What that purpose is differs for every individual, but it makes individuals optimistic and self-reliant. It's what makes me the rationally exuberant woman I am today. Though I want my children to find faith on their own, I want to provide them a religious structure and example to guide them in their youth.

My faith is the manifestation of all my hopes and the cumulative result of many unseen, but meaningful experiences.

The Psychic Power of Crowds

Years ago, I skimmed The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. Over the last two years, I've also read a lot about the aggregation of information in society and spontaneous orders. I got another interesting example of this seemingly magical phenomenon in one of my grad school classes last week: the Delphic Method. Cool example from class:

Thirteen people were asked to write their weight on a sheet of paper along with their best guess at the class's average weight. The actual average weight was 158.15. The estimated average weight = 157.23. The amazing thing is that the law of large numbers tends to balance out individual errors even in a small group. So the aggregated estimate was closer than any one individual's guess. Cool, huh?

This financial crisis seems to fly in the face of this concept. I mean isn't that Wall Street specializes in - aggregating financial information? But like a frog being gradually boiled to death, Wall Street didn't see what hit 'em. Despite this failure, I still trust the crowd more than I trust the government. The audacity they have to think that they know how to fix it.

Even the people I know who understand this meltdown and can explain it up and down still don't have a firm opinion on what the government could possibly do to fix it. But ask these individuals what they plan to do and they know. Ask Joe Sixpack on the street what he plans to do and he knows. That's because they will all do what is in their individual self interest. When you aggregate this self-interest, I have faith that the economic tide will continue to rise and we'll get through this mess. If the government doesn't drown us first.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I thought the Amish couldn't use modern technology so I was surprised when I stumbled upon the following page created by an Amish person selling Amish wares. Then I found this Amish Furniture Review site which looks like it was created by a non-Amish person. But it got me the Amish really only market their goods by word of mouth or do they cheat...just a little?

Question: Is the internet exempt from the Amish's technology ban?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Austrian Divide

Hizzah for Drudge picking up on this fair assessment of the bailout in the Financial Post about the divide among free market proponents on what should be done regarding the current financial crisis.

From a fellow Libertarian - "I'm with the Austrians (and not with my home boy Friedman) on this one."

I am, too my friend, I am too.

Rebel pastors for the First Amendment

Breaking the law in order to mend it.
Johnson and 32 other pastors across the country set out Sunday to break the
rules, hoping to generate a legal battle that will prompt federal courts to
throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of

For more, see Washington Post article here.

Why is capitalism getting such a bad rap?

A Washington Post article "Young Chinese Rethink U.S.-Style Capitalism" has got me thinking about what capitalism means today. And what the heck does U.S.-style capitalism mean? How is it different from run-of-the-mill capitalism?

The article laments the predicament the Chinese find themselves in because they are overly reliant upon selling their good to the United States. How is that capitalism's fault? Isn't it Business 101 to diversify revenue sources in order to weather hard times?!

I do think there is something to the term "U.S.-style capitalism," but I don't think MSM and most Americans would agree. The term indicates a watered down version of capitalism - capitalism with a healthy dose of socialism and state intervention thrown in. Not that pure capitalism is really feasible or realistic, but I do think that it is possible to forgo a lot of the interventions and regulations that currently exist. I'd love to see how we would do under a more true form of capitalism.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Incentivizing Chivalry

In a country with generous pensions and a strict tradition of patriarchy, no wonder a new 50/50 divorce settlement law has all of Japan reeling. I love how helpless the men are without the women in this culture with such restrictive gender roles!

Greed is good, not great

Just embrace it people! Interesting Editorial on the current sitch:
The Soviet Union deployed the entire power of the state to stamp out greed — and ensured that the state was the greediest actor of all. Even religion’s not insubstantial powers of persuasion (think Hell) and coercion (think Inquisition) have proved insufficient to blot out this insidious sin.
While I don't completely agree with his underlying logic, I like this commentator's punchline:
When the banker who loses his or her bank also loses his or her shirt, greed will be tempered.
The current crisis will humble Wall Street and provide a market correction that seems long overdue.

Ron Paul, the prescient

Of course these are just Fox Business readers so I don't know how much water that holds, but it's nice to know Ron is still getting some love on the internet. Here he is speaking on the current financial crisis.

From: Jim Pinkerton
Sent: Sep 28, 2008 5:13 PM

Subject: Re: [Bailoutbusters] Details on Bailout compromise...
This is from a running poll on the front page of the Fox Business News website: These folks all believe that Ron Paul is closest to the mark. Not scientific, but still perhaps useful.


Who do you think will come out of this economic crisis looking smartest?
Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman 2%
Henry Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury 4%
Warren Buffett, head of Berkshire Hathaway 15%
Ron Paul, Texas Congressman and presidential candidate 76%
Bill Gross, PIMCO chief investment officer 3%
This is not a scientific poll

[Hat tip: aforementioned email-forward-happy coworker]

Bailout Failed! for now...

Wow! Could Congress actually resist the Road to Serfdom?

Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, said the measure would leave a huge burden on taxpayers. "This legislation is giving us a choice between bankrupting our children and bankrupting a few of these big financial institutions on Wall Street that made bad decisions," he said.

Other conservative Republicans argued the bill would be a blow against economic freedom.

Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., said the bill posed a choice between the loss of prosperity in the short term or economic freedom in the long term. He said once the federal government enters the financial market place, it will not leave. "The choice is stark," he said.

Check out CNN story here.

Take that money back out of the mattress!

Due to a forward-happy coworker, I get a great cross section of economic insights on a daily basis. Today, a venerable economist I admire reassured his friends that the banking industry is solid and the vast majority of banks are solvent so no need to fear massive bank runs! He also recommends the following article by George Kaufman to assuage any remaining fears.

Human [In] Action

Human Action is Ludwig von Mises's magnum opus which at its briefest can be summarized as the following:
  1. An uneasiness or state of dissatisfaction with the status quo
  2. A mental image of a more satisfactory state
  3. The expectation that action will bring about a more satisfactory state
All three must be present for action to occur.

"The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness." Mises p. 13

Well there sure is plenty of uneasiness to go around these days, but sometimes the right action is inaction. So maybe the peeps in government can imagine a more satisfactory state of affairs, but how certain are they that their collective action will bring about a more satisfactory result? What's the government track record on bailouts? Unfortunately, it's not so clear cut. The failures are hidden in indirect and unintended consequences. It makes me sick to my stomach that they would feel comfortable taking such a huge gamble on our country's future.

On a related note, enjoy this human interest piece on how uneasy/depressing the current Wall Street situation is and how everyday Joe Schmoes are coping.