Friday, August 31, 2012

Obama, I think you just won my vote

He came out and said he'd support a constitutional amendment to end Super-PACs. No doubt there is some political motivation here since Romney is dominating the Super-PAC game but the rules around campaign finance are certainly contributing to the current disaster in DC.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Music + Dancing = Beheading

In case anyone doesn't already think Afghanistan is a screwed up place - 17 people were beheaded for attending a party. This is the closest I've come to supporting the war since 2001.

Gentlemen, its been a good run

Op-ed in the NYT asks - Men, Who Needs Them? I can't argue with this kind of logic:
If men were cars, who would buy the model that doesn’t last as long, is given to lethal incidents and ends up impounded more often?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I didn't realize this was legal...

If you have a life insurance policy you can sell it to someone else, they will pay your premiums and collect the money when you die. If your life expectancy is 40 years then this policy isn't worth much because there are a lot of premiums left to play but if you have cancer and your life expectancy is say 1 year then this policy is very valuable. But then whoever owns the policy wants you to die as soon as possible so they get the biggest possible payout. Apparently banks and hedge funds can buy pools of these policies from brokers. Is it just me or do I see another wall street scandal coming?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Songs stuck in my head part 1

I periodically get songs stuck in my head and listen to them like a hundred times over the course of a week so I thought I'd share what's been going through my head of late:

Talk about the passion ~ REM
Part of me ~ Katy Perry
Without me ~ Eminem
Wrong 'em boyo ~ Clash
Real wild child ~ Iggy Pop

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mitt Romney = everything that's wrong with the tax code

Mitt Romney said today that he's paid at least 13% taxes over the last 10 years.

Yes that sounds pretty ridiculous, to give you an idea of just how ridiculous this is I did some math. Let's say you were unemployed last year and collecting unemployment benefits all year at the national average rate of $300 per week. So over the year you collected a total of $15,600 of benefits. Naturally our tax code says that unemployment benefits count as income and are therefore subject to income taxes. The first $8700 is taxed at 10% and the remaining $6900 is taxed at 15%. That means you would have paid a tax rate of 12.2%. Think about this for a second - this means there are millions of unemployed Americans defaulting on their loans, losing their houses and they're paying essentially the same tax rate as Mitt "250 million dollar" Romney.

Moving and Minimalism

Every time I move I'm appalled by how much stuff I have so inevitably I throw out or donate a lot of stuff (i.e. 4 of the 6 sets of xmas lights that I found). I don't think I could get down to 15, 39 or 60 things as described in this blog post but maybe I'll start a donation bag with old winter clothes next month.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Falling behind or leaping ahead?

Article in the NYT today about how social welfare programs in the US are lagging behind the rest of the developed world.

The crux of the argument is "we're richer than they are so we should be able to provide the same programs they do." But the author fails to consider the point that maybe the reason we're richer (approximately 40% richer than other developed countries) is because we don't have those programs. Yes our unemployment insurance is less generous, but too much unemployment insurance creates a disincentive for people to get jobs and produce. Yes our health care system excludes millions of people, but universal health care leads to mis-allocation of resources and over-consumption of health care. We haven't necessarily made the right choices on these issues because citizens in each country collectively decide what's right for themselves. But so far we've chosen that we want to be richer and freer (on average) and consequently less equitable than other developed countries. The argument that "the rest of the world makes different choices" isn't a sufficient reason for change. I certainly agree that alleviating human suffering should be a big priority for the country but everything comes with a cost (debt, taxes, lost productivity etc) and if that cost means hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and lower incomes (i.e. becoming more like Italy) then I'm not sure that we would be better off with more social welfare programs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to become a member of the Swedish 1%

What is the most important predictor of professional success in Sweden - is it cognitive capacity? Personality type? Educational attainment? Where/what you studied?

The results are pretty surprising to me - early on total schooling is most important but then later on personality type is most important. Cognitive capacity is of limited benefit net of schooling. Which school you attend and what you major has only a minor impact as well.

EU winners and losers

This article has me wondering about who the winners and losers in the EU really are. 6 years ago Greek companies were selling their freight ships to German companies, now they're buying back those ships at huge discounts as German companies are go bankrupt.

The more I think about it the smarter the Greeks sound. They took out lots of debt to buy German cars, debt which the Germans are now on the hook for... brilliant. Although I've said it before and I'll say it again - don't push around the Germans you won't like them when they're angry.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The history of central Asia / Procrastination

I love the title of this essay "How to Be a Better Procrastinator"

Is it ironic that I'm writing a blog post about procrastination while at work? And that I put off writing this post to write a comment on a previous post?

Friday, August 3, 2012


No I'm not retiring from blogging, but I did just read a very interesting op-ed on retirement policies in the new york times.

The stats on how little people in the US have saved for retirement are depressing. Many people are facing poverty due to either lack of planning or poor decisions. Yes some people can keep working to ease the blow but many can't. And though I'm generally against government intervention its clear the current system needs to be fixed. Retirement is an area where I feel the ideas of libertarian paternalism are most applicable. If someone doesn't want to save for their retirement that should be their choice, but right now we have an opt-in system - meaning that the default choice is don't save. If the government mandated an opt-in system the evidence suggests people would save a lot more. Under such a system you're automatically enrolled in 401k contributions unless you fill out paperwork to the contrary. Furthermore the government should mandate that all companies offer everyone better low cost investment options and make it more difficult to withdraw money. I follow all this stuff pretty closely and it still feels overwhelming at times! And I manage risk professionally. I can't imagine how someone without all that experience must feel. All this is basically at the heart of libertarian paternalism, let people do whatever they want but nudge them toward better options.

Chicago Parklets

I've always liked the idea of big pedestrian-only areas with lots of restaurants and shopping. Although I enjoy al fresco dining in Chicago there isn't anything really akin to say  Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Having cars drive by you when you're eating dinner outside definitely takes away from the experience. With street festivals we get rid of cars but add all kinds of tents and music that no one really cares about - so its a bit of a wash. But this latest plan to build parklets in Lakeview and Andersonville is a step in the right direction!

Abandoned Subway in NYC

Next time I'm in nyc I'm going to ride the 6 train just so I can get a view of this abandoned subway station. It looks incredible!