Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Faith based retirement," or maybe just bad choices 

Joe Nocera's Friday column on his "faith based retirement" -- his account of his 401(k) account, as it were -- is an unintentional object case in lack of accountability. Read the whole thing to get a full sense of Nocera's own transporting sense of entitlement, but consider particularly this:

The bull market ended with the bursting of that bubble in 2000. My tech-laden portfolio was cut in half. A half-dozen years later, I got divorced, cutting my 401(k) in half again. A few years after that, I bought a house that needed some costly renovations. Since my retirement account was now hopelessly inadequate for actual retirement, I reasoned that I might as well get some use out of the money while I could. So I threw another chunk of my 401(k) at the renovation. That’s where I stand today.
Nocera goes on to argue that his experiences are the most common ones, and that the 401(k) is a failure, and that therefore most Americans will not be in a position to "retire." The implication is that we are all in need of some greater government intervention to rescue us from buying "a tech-laden portfolio" at the top of a bubble, the economic inefficiency of divorce, and money-pit houses (one wonders what, exactly, the need for those "costly renovations" was -- the cynic in me supposes it was a dated kitchen and some ugly linoleum). Or, presumably, other bad choices or bad luck.

Of course, if we indemnify people against bad choices and "bad luck," we are going to get a lot more of both, as we have learned time and again.

Beyond that, the Nocera column strikes me as a powerful argument in favor of a position that I have long advocated -- that we should get out of the business of subsidizing "retirement" entirely. Retirement should be earned by hard work, thrift, and, yes, good luck.

None of this is to say that we should not continue to subsidize people who are disabled. If that disability comes from geriatrics or a crippling injury or some congenital defect, even I am socialist enough to agree that we should have a system that supports such people. The generosity of extended families and small-town duty is no longer available to a great many Americans, so the government needs to step in when people are actually not capable of productive work.

Fortunately, the physical demands of most employed work have diminished considerably, so most people can work much longer than in days past. Just as well, since work starts much later, what with all that high school and college and such. We do not work as early in life, so it is only fitting that we work later in life.

And, of course, our generation has managed to spend our children's patrimony and degrade their future standard of living, so the least we can do in return is continue to add to GDP through productive work for as long as we are able.

The left, of course, sees it quite differently.

And what it means is that we can't afford to retire. Which is bad. We will be clogging the workforce long after we want to be in it and that's not healthy.
Ah, yes, the old leftist insanity -- embodied in such brilliant policies as France's maximum workweek rule -- that there is a fixed number of jobs, and older workers need to retire to make room for the young. Quite the contrary, outside of universities and government bureaucracies and other organizations with artificially static labor structures, we need older workers to create the jobs for younger workers. Those of you who complain that today there are surplus workers, and that therefore the geezers are displacing the young, need to explain how taking older people out of the work force and subsidizing them with even more lavish transfer payments does anything other than raise taxes on either the remaining workers or our descendants.

Now, a squishy lefty -- or perhaps one who knows a smidgen of demography and math -- might say that he or she does not want to increase government transfer payments to the seniors, but that we should return to the defined benefit plans of old. Uh, friendly reminder that they failed or are failing too, not only for the reasons at the link but because defined benefit plans are subject to political fashion. People fuss with the discount rates and other assumptions to achieve some short-term objective like nominally balancing a budget or making a quarter, and big pension funds come under pressure -- not surprisingly, also from the left -- to make investments to achieve "social change" rather than high rates of return.

No, in the absence of a massive surge in birth rates and a huge influx of immigrants who are delighted to transfer wealth to older Americans, there are only two ways to pay for an able-bodied golden age "retirement" -- by dint of one's own savings, or by damaging the standard of living of our posterity. There is no third choice, Mr. Nocera, so stop the whining and wishing for magical salvation.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Dalai Lama speaks! 

The Dalai Lama loves George W. Bush!

In other news, "Free Tibet" bumper stickers are being scraped off all over Hollywood this morning.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Chris Christie on organ donation 

Long-standing readers know that I support organ donation, and have long favored policies that would encourage organ donation. In law school, back in 1985, I wrote a paper on developing regulated but nonetheless fundamentally transparent markets for transplantable organs. As I recall, the title was "What you don't know won't hurt you."

More recently, I was frankly appalled to learn how few New Jerseyans agree to be organ donors when they renew their driver's license, even when asked directly. I was also surprised to learn how few of our readers have checked the organ donor box, and how many opposed policies to promote organ donation or sale.

Regardless, Governor Awesome spoke today on the subject, pushing ahead the cause in New Jersey and no doubt irritating unreconstructed social conservatives elsewhere in the country.

My own views have evolved on the subject since my posts of a couple of years ago, so I no longer support an "opt out" system. Instead, my view is that adults who check the organ donor box before they have need of an organ donation themselves should get automatic priority over all competent adults on the waiting lists who did not check the box before they learned they needed a transplant. Point is, the system should encourage participation by acting like an insurance cooperative, awarding benefits to the public spirited people who agree to help others before they know they need help themselves. (Obviously, we would need exceptional rules for children and incompetent adults, but that is a detail.)

As always, your comments are more than welcome.

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Governor Awesome on betrayal 

There is a reason why Chris Christie certainly seems like the most authentic politician in America -- he reacts like a normal human being would. To wit:

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FPS Russia: Prototype Quadrotor with Machine Gun 

This is really cool. As always, have a nice day.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - School vs Jobs 


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"If I wanted America to fail" 

Here we have a rather awesome bit of YouTube-age propaganda. Red meat particularly for we "national greatness libertarians," a small but happy band!

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

India lengthens its reach 

While the American mainstream media wrestles with the semiotics of George Zimmerman's bail hearing, it largely ignores news that will have vastly greater consequences.

India successfully test-fired on Thursday a nuclear-capable missile that can reach Beijing and Eastern Europe, thrusting the emerging Asian power into a small club of nations that can deploy nuclear weapons at such a great distance....

Only the U.N. Security Council permanent members - China, France, Russia the United States and Britain - along with Israel, are believed to have such long-range weapons.

This is an important development not only for those of us who believe that the world needs a counterweight to China, but also for security in the Indian Ocean, now the most important body of water in the world. As I have been writing for years, the further development of our young but productive relationship with India is quite possibly the most important foreign policy requirement of the next five presidents of the United States.
When a good history of the George W. Bush years is finally written, his breakthrough with India may turn out to be the most important foreign policy initiative of his administration. The Indian Ocean hosts lanes for the oil from the Persian Gulf and an ever larger share of its trade, and India sits in the middle of it. It is also the geographical center of transnational Islamic terrorism. It is essential that the United States maintain a strong deterrent in the Indian Ocean, and that it preserve and enhance its ability to coerce whatever clown revue happens to be governing Pakistan at the moment. India is the key to both.
The question for the world, of course, is whether an Indian strategic nuclear deterrent is stabilizing, or destabilizing. The large and long term answer depends in part, but not entirely, on one's view of Chinese geopolitical ambitions, not just now but in a world where China might wish to exert leverage over the supply of oil coming out of the Persian Gulf. Regarding Pakistan, an Indian missile might be destabilizing if it encourages further weapons development. The last thing India (or the world) needs is a strategic arsenal in the hands of a government that might flip in to jihadi control. Presumably the Indians considered that risk, and concluded that a long-range missile would not increase Pakistan's motivation to develop its own strategic nuclear capability.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

The crime of "doing nothing" 

The Obama Administration has so aggressively expanded the personal criminal liability of corporate officers that the American Bar Association can now charge money to teach people how not to get prosecuted for "the crime of doing nothing."

It started as a rarely-used prosecutorial theory for imposing strict criminal liability for Food & Drug Administration (FDA) misdemeanors, but now the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine has expanded as a means to establish the liability of corporate officers for administrative and civil penalties, among other things. Aptly called the “crime of doing nothing,” this doctrine focuses on a person’s position in an organization to impose a non-delegable duty to prevent violations.
There are many reasons -- both utilitarian and moral -- to object to the criminal (as opposed to civil) prosecution of corporate officers for mere omissions, even if negligent. Suppose, though, that there actually is a sensible basis for the "crime of doing nothing". Should not the same justification support similar liability for the executives who run governmental agencies? If not, explain why.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Governor Awesome: "If I'm not your cup of tea..." 

Chris Christie, on why it is so important to fundamentally reform our public schools.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two Election-Related Items 

First of all, Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race. I'm pretty happy about that. His foreign policy wasn't that bad, but his domestic ideas were way too religiously conservative for me. I'm sure I'd still feel that way even if I was still a practicing Christian.

Secondly, (in the same article) Newt Gingrich's campaign is $4.5 million in debt. How can he credibly say he's the right guy to turn the economy around if he can't stick to a budget?

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Why would anybody in their right mind work for NBC News? 

NBC News is claiming that their editing of the Zimmerman 911 call was an honest mistake:

NBC News' decision to air an edited call from George Zimmerman to police in the moments before he shot Trayvon Martin was "a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call," according to the president of the network's news division.
And, yet, the network fired the producer it says is responsible for the "mistake." Either, an honest editing mistake can get you fired at NBC News (notwithstanding the layers of editors, lawyers, and fact-checkers described in the story, who missed the error), or NBC News is just lying, plainly and simply. It is hard to know what the third alternative would be. Regardless, who in their right mind would work for such people?

MORE: Tom Maguire rather convincingly demonstrates that NBC's claim that "time constraints" drove the editing is, well, hogwash.

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Whiting George Zimmerman 

On Thursday, NBC News quietly fired the producer that edited George Zimmerman's 911 call to make him look like a racist, which termination the New York Times reported on one of its blogs at 7:05 pm last night, but not in its dead-tree paper this morning. Not sure what the deadline situation is (am I the only one who wishes that newspapers would publish their deadline times?), but surely the blog post took a little time to write after the news was in the house.

This morning's Grey Lady does feature a column from Charles Blow (online indicated as "published April 6, 2012," yesterday, but with no time stamp) that parses recent Gallup polling data that purports to show that blacks and white differ in their perception of the Martin-Zimmerman case much as they parted company over O.J. Simpson's guilt. Blow chalks up this up to the unequal treatment of blacks and Hispanics by the authorities, starting with school discipline and ending in prison.

Those inequities persist into adulthood and manifest in things like disproportionate rates of stop-and-frisks for blacks and Hispanics in places such as New York City and in harsher sentences for comparable crimes for blacks and Hispanics.

This lifetime of harsher treatment seems to stand in stark contrast to the authorities’ treatment of Zimmerman. This perception of unequal treatment eats away at the psyche of these men and boys of color and erodes their faith in a just and honest society. That is its own tragedy.

Blow does not mention, of course, that Zimmerman is Hispanic (or, in the official and virtually unique formulation of Blow's paper, a "white Hispanic"), because that would make his argument a lot less effective, even if it remains sustainable on the data. Blow is, of course, intellectually dishonest in this omission. Worse, he is guilty of the same sort of selective editing -- call it "NBC editing," so we put a name to it -- that turned this tragedy in to a racialist circus in the first place.

The killing of Trayvon Martin is a tragedy even if he was pounding on Zimmerman. The promotion of the case as an opportunity for racial grievance is a national tragedy. As with all national tragedies, there are people who will profit financially or politically from its exploitation. Pay careful attention to who they are. CORRECTION: A reader points out (via Facebook comment) that Blow does mention that Zimmerman is a Hispanic earlier in the article, so I apologize for both my poor reading and my criticism of Mr. Blow. The question remains, though, what the proper narrative ought to be. If Hispanics are also treated unfairly by the system, and if therefore Trayvon Martin is not an archtypical victim of white supremacy or domination, why is there so much outrage in this case?

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Just don't call it a boondoggle 

Just in time for an election year, the federal government is relabeling its boondoggles "conferences" to deceive the people who are paying for them:

Washington’s newest dirty word is “conference.”

Thanks to the clowning and magic tricks by the General Services Administration at a posh Las Vegas resort (the one that led to the resignation this week of the agency’s chief and two of her top deputies and the ouster — “administrative leave” — of four officials involved in planning the ritzy event) the word may now be verboten among the agencies.

On Wednesday, for example, the Department of Homeland Security boasted of its successful “2012 National Fusion Center Training Event.” A “training event” sounds like serious business. Not to be confused with a “conference,” which, thanks to the GSA, now conjures up images of conga lines and taxpayer-funded decadence.

Funny, though, that the very same DHS event held last year was billed as the “National Fusion Center Conference.”

Euphamistic scoundrels, that's what they are! Regardless, being a corporate tool of at least middling stature, I get many invitations to go to conferences to hear notables flap their gums, rub elbows with my betters, and stay in nice hotels. Working as I do in the actually productive sector of the economy, I almost never see events that will return as much for our stockholders as I hope I do in my day job, just putting my nose to the old grindstone. Somehow, I suspect our government's employees rarely bother to think in those terms.

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Laurence Tribe's transporting flackitude 

Laurence Tribe, who is usually a smart person, is unintentionally hilarious on Barack Obama's lecturing of the United States Supreme Court:

“Presidents should generally refrain from commenting on pending cases during the process of judicial deliberation,” said Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, a close Obama ally. “Even if such comments won’t affect the justices a bit, they can contribute to an atmosphere of public cynicism that I know this president laments.” (bold emphasis added)
Is there a shred of evidence for the president's lamentations? Because if Barack Obama actually laments "an atmosphere of public cynicism," he must be the world's all-time most regretful person.

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Sunday, April 01, 2012

Sunday morning tab dump 

A few accumulated items for your consideration this Sunday morn...

NBC manipulated -- that is the only sufficiently precise verb -- the recording of George Zimmerman's 911 call to improve the odds that Zimmerman would be understood to be a racist. Considering the inflammatory power of the competing narratives in this case and the passions they have ignited, it is hard to imagine a major media organization acting less responsibly. Whatever happens in the ultimate legal process, the actions of NBC news will make it very hard to reconcile public opinion about this case, and that is a tragedy.

Keith Olbermann, man of the people.

An awesome tale of revenge and the internal war for the soul of the Chinese Communist Party. Fascinating stuff.

As of this morning, the United States now has the highest corporate tax rate in the world. It is a great thing that business cannot leave the country for more attractive climes, and that capital cannot flow across borders. Otherwise, we'd be in quite a pickle.

Don't blame Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for his poor defense of Obamacare in front of the Supreme Court last week.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has been paying attention.

When I had a bit more free time, I would go public lectures at Princeton and marvel at the many ways in which even those bright audiences abused the opportunity to ask questions of the speakers. Finally, some proper instruction in the matter.

The United States under Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama has stopped adding putative jihadis to its network of hidden prisons, because that is what George W. Bush did. Instead, we just kill them, from as much distance as possible. Setting aside the moral and legal confusion in this "reform," we miss the opportunity to, you know, ask them questions.

Have an awesome Sunday.

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