Archive for Common Cents

States fairish

WalletHub, borrowing data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, has attempted to determine the most fair — and the least fair — state tax systems. Admittedly, mine eyes glazeth over at the presence of “fair” and “tax system” in the same sentence, but I figured I wouldn’t come down with glaucoma from reading their pitch, and if I did, well, I have friends in Colorado.

Oklahoma shows up at #29, about where I expected; the state, says the report, is not overly dependent on property or income taxes, but makes up the difference in sales tax and some of our state-specific Wacky Fees. By this reckoning, the fairest of them all is Montana; bottom of the list is Washington state, which lacks an income tax altogether but which will kill you, or at least maim you, with sales tax. Looking at quintiles, Washington is 7th in undertaxation of the top 20 percent, and first in overtaxation of the bottom 20. (How they rank for glaucoma, I have no idea.)

I was at least somewhat alarmed when I noticed that WalletHub also ran an opinion poll, mostly because I, like most Americans, tend to think other people’s opinions of taxes aren’t worth diddly. I was not surprised, though, to see fairly universal support for a progressive (in the numerical sense) income tax:

Although conservatives appear to support higher taxes on the poor and lower taxes on the rich, the general trend is the same: all Americans believe a fair state and local tax system taxes wealthy households at a higher rate than lower- and middle-income households.

The bottom of the “poor” scale, for this purpose, is an annual income of $5,000; “rich” tops out at $2.5 million. But even the economic liberals quail at more than a 20% impost on the wealthiest, and are willing to accept a percentage point or two at the low end. Somewhere between $30k and $50k, the curves cross.

And this is where it gets interesting. Presented with the hard ITEP data, both sides awarded Montana the top slot, both picked Washington for the bottom, and both left Oklahoma at #29. I conclude that my opinion of taxes is likely worth as little diddly as anyone else’s.

(Roger Green found this.)

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You may work with someone like this

Or one very much like him, because there are a heck of a lot of guys like this:

30 years ago, I was in my boss’ office talking shop with him. The door was open, and it was the day annual reviews were implemented and raises first showed up on paychecks.

One young lower-level manager, upset with the size of his increase, stormed into the office, ignoring me, slapped his paycheck down on the boss’ desk, and exclaimed, “This is an insult! When are you going to pay me what I’m worth?”

Without batting an eye, the boss slid his check back over towards the young chap and said, “I’d love to, son, but there is the minimum wage law to consider.”

In fact, I’ve seen some people who should have been billed for the work they did.

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Why we hate buying cars

A field report from Bayou Renaissance Man:

As part of my search for solutions to my truck’s electrical problems, I visited a few used car dealers (and used car departments of new car dealers) to price alternative transport. I went well armed with information, having researched possible cars and trucks on Edmunds.com and made lists of what Edmunds terms the “true market value” of relevant ones for several model years. I always found that the cars’ sticker prices were several thousand dollars above those listed by Edmunds, and I always asked the salesmen to justify that. They uniformly tried to persuade me that Edmunds.com didn’t know what it was talking about. When I produced corroborating values from NADA and the Kelley Blue Book, they’d fall back on the old “Well, we use a different book” excuse. When I refused to buckle, and insisted on answers, about half of them hemmed and hawed and waffled; the other half simply refused to talk any further.

It was always thus. When I retired Deirdre, my ’84 Mercury Cougar, I was offered something like $1400 above KBB for her in trade. This made no sense to me, but I was ready to deal. The new(ish) car was a ’93 Mazda 626, for which they were asking $9995. In plum condition, and this one was close to it, it was worth a KBB-estimated $8600. By any definition of the term, this was a wash.

(The next Mazda was bought new. Sticker was just over $20,000. But that’s another story.)

There is, however, a silver lining:

Only one dealer was honest enough to tell me that they charged the price they believed the market would bear. If their price was higher than Edmunds’ recommendation, it was because that make and model were in demand in this area, or they’d had to invest extra money in getting the vehicle ready for sale (which they backed up with invoices showing the work that had been done). They made no excuses and didn’t try to waffle.

That sort of forthright statement deserves some sort of signal boost.

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Underbanks of the Ohio

“Unbanked” now has its own entry in Wikipedia, with the following unfuzzed definition:

The unbanked are adults who do not have their own bank accounts. Along with the underbanked, they may rely on alternative financial services for their financial needs, where these are available.

I have had a tendency to conflate “unbanked” and “underbanked,” which I suppose I should quit doing. If you’re underbanked, this is what your life is like:

The underbanked are people or businesses that have poor access to mainstream financial services normally offered by retail banks. The underbanked can be characterized by a strong reliance on non-traditional forms of finance and micro-finance often associated with disadvantaged and the poor, such as cheque cashers, loan sharks and pawnbrokers.

I demur on one count: loan sharks are hardly “non-traditional.” (Neither are pawnbrokers, come to think of it.)

And one possible reason to remain unbanked, underbanked, debanked, or whatever, is the continuing increase in retail bank fees. Since the end of 2013:

  • The average monthly maintenance fee has risen by 15 cents, to $12.69. This means that it costs the average customer more than $150 a year just to keep a checking account.
  • There are fewer free checking accounts, defined as those with no monthly maintenance fees. The percentage of checking accounts with no such fees dropped by about 1.5 percentage points, to 28 percent. This is the lowest percentage of free checking accounts measured by the survey since it began in 2009.
  • The average minimum balance required to qualify for a waiver of the monthly maintenance fee rose by $724.69, to $5,440.

And then we wonder why people are dealing with the likes of Green Dot. Of course, we also look down our noses at these folks, mostly because their demand for services means that, holy Hannah, they’ve opened up a check-cashing place where the florist used to be.

My monthly maintenance fee, I am told — I had to look it up — is $15. (It’s waived for the foreseeable future.) If I had to deal with that kind of fee, I’d be sorely tempted to move everything to an unbank (underbank?) like American Express Serve. Then again, I do a little more (but not much more) research than J. Random Consumer; if I’d done much more, you’d probably have seen the words “credit union” in here somewhere.

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Meanwhile in Montgomery

A change in legislative compensation is coming for the Alabama legislature:

Starting after this year’s elections, Alabama lawmakers will be paid the median household income for the state.

The state has hired a law firm to help determine that amount.

In 2012, Alabamians approved a constitutional amendment making the change in lawmaker pay.

Well, okay. Did it take a law firm to determine this amount?

In 2012, the median household income in Alabama was about $42,000.

Not mentioned in the article: how much they’re getting now. Reid Wilson of WaPo ferreted that out last year:

Alabama legislators only make $10 a day in actual salary, but they get $4,308 a month in expense budgets and $50 a day when the legislature meets.

Says Wikipedia: “The length of the regular session is limited to 30 meeting days within a period of 105 calendar days. Session weeks consist of meetings of the full chamber and committee meetings.”

So this is, then, a raise? And state voters approved it? Then again, these hardy souls must deal with the Alabama Constitution of 1901, which runs over 340,000 words, or about half the size of Atlas Shrugged.

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It’s cheap to be the King

From 1989 to 2002, Burger King was owned by the British conglomerate Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo). In 2010, it was acquired by the equity firm 3G Capital, with offices in New York and roots in Brazil. Now it’s about to become Canadian:

The Wall Street Journal‘s Liz Hoffman and Dana Mattioli report Burger King is in talks to buy Tim Horton’s to pull off a “tax inversion” that would allow it to avoid U.S. taxes.

The new holding company would be based in Canada, the pair report.

Whether one will be able to pick up Timbits with a Whopper is not yet known.

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It’s all about the fractional Benjamins

The Tax Foundation, seemingly never without a map, has issued this one, which illustrates “value of goods that $100 can buy” in each state, compared to the national average, which is presumably $100. The closest match to average seems to be Illinois, where your C-note will buy $99.40 worth of stuff.

Tax Foundation cost-of-living map

Worse than any state, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the District of Columbia, where $84.60 worth of stuff will cost you $100. That same $100 in Mississippi will fill your basket to the tune of $115.74.

Curiosities:

  • Oklahoma and Kansas: identical ($111.23).
  • South Carolina and Tennessee: identical ($110.25).
  • Pennsylvania and Rhode Island: identical ($101.32).
  • Oregon and Florida: identical ($101.21).
  • 680 x 680 PNG version of the map: 164,900 bytes. 480 x 480 PNG version to fit this theme: 165,950 bytes.

The Tax Foundation dates to 1937, at which time $100 worth of 2014 stuff, according to the BLS inflation calculator, would have cost $6.04.

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Itemized

Price increase, you say? Well, maybe, if you tell me where it’s going.

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County of Kings

A Facebook friend in Brooklyn, looking for new digs, posted this image, perhaps to show us out here in the provinces what he’s up against:

Affordable Housing in NYC

For some of us, this is a definition of “affordable” with which we are not familiar. I’m sure it’s worse in Manhattan, assuming there are units like this to be had in Manhattan.

If you’re a sophisticated urbanite, by the definition used by sophisticated urbanites to separate themselves from those rubes out in the ‘burbs, this is what you get for that kind of money in the 405. (My little house on the edge of the Loop runs, um, rather a lot less.)

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The second best that you can do

Nobody knows protectionism like the French, and they’re not afraid of wielding it:

This past October, French lawmakers decided it was time to show Amazon who’s boss. Frustrated by Amazon’s fast and cheap book-selling model, which poses a threat to France’s healthy ecosystem of indie bookstores, politicians banded together to approve a bill that prohibited Jeff Bezos’ company and other online retailers from shipping discounted books for free. The measure is designed to protect traditional booksellers who have complained that Amazon is hurting their businesses.

The new minimum shipping charge from Amazon.fr: €0.01.

“We are unfortunately not allowed to offer you free shipping for ordering books,” Amazon writes in the FAQ section of its website. “We have therefore set delivery fees at one euro-cent for each order that contains books and that is sent by Amazon in order to systematically guarantee you the lowest price for your book orders.”

The other part of the protectionist scheme will not so easily be eluded: France has rewritten its law allowing 5 percent off list price to include brick-and-mortar retailers only. Still, one does not bet against Amazon — not for long, anyway.

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Whatever the market will bear

Behold: 160 trillion Zimbabwean dollars, in a set of three bills:

10, 50 and 100 trillion dollar Zimbabwean notes

This is being promoted as an Educational Product: a merchant is selling sets of three bills, exactly like this, through Amazon for $22.99 with (why not?) free shipping. This is actually a great deal more than face value at their 2008 issuance. In mid-November, the Zimbabwean inflation rate was calculated at 79,600,000,000 percent — per month.

On the reasonable basis that yes, it could happen here, a brief summary of how it happened there:

In 2007, the government declared inflation illegal. Anyone who raised the prices for goods and services was subject to arrest.

This is well within the mental capacity of the US Congress.

In January 2009, acting Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa lifted the restriction to use only Zimbabwean dollars. This too acknowledged what many were already doing. Citizens were allowed to use the US dollar, the euro, and the South African rand. However, teachers and civil servants were still being paid in Zimbabwean dollars. Even though their salaries were in the trillions per month, this amounted to around US$1, or half the daily bus fare. The government also used a restriction on bank withdrawals to try to limit the amount of money that was in circulation. It limited cash withdrawals to $Z500,000, which was around US$0.25.

And finally:

In 2009, the government abandoned printing Zimbabwean dollars at all. This implicitly solved the chronic problem of lack of confidence in the Zimbabwean dollar, and compelled people to use the foreign currency of their choice. As of 2014, Zimbabwe still uses a combination of foreign currencies, mostly US dollars, and the economy is still in a slump.

This was, I must point out, only the second worst hyperinflation in history; the Hungarians replaced the pengő on 1 August 1946 with the forint, which was deemed to be worth 4 x 1029 pengő, and you could get an actual US buck for 11.44 forints. (After 68 years, said actual US buck is now worth about 225 forints.)

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Buy here, pay forever

About six months ago, I said something about the “opening” of the Cuban new-car market, which at the time seemed less like an actual market opening and more like the introduction of new sources of graft for the regime. Halfway through Year One, it’s been, let us say, less than a roaring success:

Reuters reports that because of the markup, only 50 cars and four motorcycles left the 11 nationalized lots in Cuba during the first six months of 2014, netting a total of $1.28 million USD in new car sales.

You remember the markup, don’t you?

In one example cited by the news organization, a Havana Peugeot dealership wanted $91,000 for a 2013 206, and $262,000 for a 506 of similar vintage, which makes the government’s goal of investing 75 percent of all new-car sales into public transportation easier said than done; most state workers make the equivalent of $20 USD per month.

“But Cuba has free health care!” I hear you cry. Enjoy your walk to the emergency room.

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Fiddy bits

Rapper 50 Cent’s new album Animal Ambition, released this month, can be paid for with cash, plastic, PayPal — or bitcoin, which his online store accepts and processes through service provider Bitpay.

This is the part I like:

According to the new media director for G-Unit Records, Corentin Villemeur, accepting bitcoin fits with [Curtis] Jackson’s narrative and history of being open to make money in as many ways as possible.

Which, of course, 50 acknowledges.

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Price competition, sort of

The covers of yesterday’s Daily News and New York Post (courtesy of newseum.org, which is in Washington and therefore presumably out of firing range):

New York tabloids, 23 June 2014

The Post would rather you didn’t remember they went up from 75 cents to $1 two years ago, though the price is clearly stated — in the far corner.

The Times, you ask? Two-fifty. Then again, it’s a broadsheet.

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Leader of the laundromat

A little bit of turn-of-the-century history:

It was a pretty efficient kick, given the size of the deadbolt; the jamb was nicely splintered. The perp’s efficiency, however, stopped there; not only did he overlook the camera hanging right beside the door, he didn’t get much of anything other than frustration. I calculate my losses at $3.25, from a dish of quarters I was saving up for laundry, and about five minutes’ time to tidy up.

Thirteen quarters out the damaged door. This is precisely why I am not going to mock this startup outfit that will ship you (in a mere two days) a $10 roll of quarters for $15:

Laundry pickup services are expensive and often have long turnaround times. For many folks, the biggest pain point is simply finding enough quarters. Banks have long lines and close early. Grocery and convenience stores aren’t always willing to give out more than a few dollars worth of quarters at a time. We put getting quarters on autopilot so you never have to worry about it again.

I need hardly point out that someone who is routinely visiting the local laundromat (which term used to be a trademark of Westinghouse) probably doesn’t have time to visit all those other places on a regular basis, and also probably doesn’t have three weeks’ worth of clothes on hand. And considering what a roll of quarters weighs — half a pound, unless you have the old silver coins on hand, in which case you’re probably not shoving half a dozen of them at a time into the nearest Speed Queen — a lot of that $5 markup is going just for shipping costs.

A decade ago, I spent $800 on laundry equipment so I wouldn’t have to do that again, plus God knows how much in subsequent years to keep the machines powered up and running. I don’t regret it for a moment. But if I hadn’t, I’d probably be sending off for a roll of quarters every two weeks.

(Who’s that banging on the piano? I don’t know.)

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Still mounting up

April ’14, the White House:

President Barack Obama said the government will expand job-training and apprenticeship programs with a $600 million effort to equip workers with the skills sought by employers.

June ’14, Pawtucket:

The MY LITTLE PONY franchise remains a cherished brand worldwide by fans of all ages. Behind a successful global entertainment, licensing and retail strategy which re-launched the brand in 2010, MY LITTLE PONY has grown to represent approximately $650 million dollars at retail across all consumer products in 2013.

Not that I have a problem with spending more money on pony than on job training, mind you.

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Bunch of overactive snatches

Of course, it’s government’s doing:

The federal government has seized a record $360 million from household bank accounts that have been dormant for just three years, prompting outrage in some quarters amid complaints that pensioners and retirees have lost deposits.

Figures from the Australian Security and Investments Commission (ASIC) show almost $360 million was collected from 80,000 inactive accounts in the year to May under new rules introduced by Labor.

The new rules lowered the threshold at which the government is allowed to snatch funds from accounts that remain idle from seven years to three years.

The ultimate goal — the same-day snatch — is probably still weeks away.

(Via Fark.)

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The patented Cash Extraction method

Something called “Federal Benefits Authority, L.L.C.” — the obligatory “not affiliated with any government agency” disclaimer is in type too small for many people my age to read — has thrown a one-sheet letter into my box:

Our records indicate that you may be at or approaching retirement eligibility age. In order to receive an updated Federal Benefits Analysis, please complete the questionnaire below. The customized analysis will provide you with critical information you will need to make important decisions regarding your retirement benefits.

Shorter version: “We want to get our hands on your TSP, and we want you to tell us exactly how to do it.”

Not being a civil servant, or either of those words individually, I don’t have a Thrift Savings Plan, and if I did, I probably might not want it to get near any guys with an Edmond post-office box and a questionable nature and a flawed mailing list. (Not only do I not qualify, they got my middle initial wrong.)

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Tweaking the minimum

The other day, Simon and I were wondering about this minimum-wage proposal: how did they arrive at precisely ten dollars and ten cents? Admittedly, it’s 11 cents more than $9.99, but some of the same psychology might be at work:

A lot of supporters of a higher minimum wage will want to raise it again before too long and some states will want to raise it immediately. $10.00 is such an even number that there might be more psychological comfort with that number. It’s not unlike how some states are finding 10% to be the cap for sales taxes. There’s no particular reason why raising it from 9.5% to 10% should be different from 10% to 10.5%, but there is.

$10.10 isn’t as comfortable a stopping point as $10, and that’s a feature.

Hmmm. Would $9.95 be an easier sell to state legislatures? (Nothing prevents a state from imposing a higher minimum wage than the Federal standard.) And if it’s adjusted for inflation, it will break $10 soon enough, which is to say “almost immediately.”

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Way before supersizing

I had just left a job at McDonald’s (yes!) when these prices went in, which would be about 1970-71:

McDonald's menu board, early Seventies

Back then, when they said “limited menu,” by Grimace, they meant “limited menu.”

And the 60-cent Quarter Pounder, adjusted for inflation since 1971, would now be, um, $3.50. I had been making $1.95 an hour, 20 cents over the minimum wage; that would be $11.48 today. Make of that what you will.

(Via HistoryInPics.)

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A line explained

Longtime readers will recall my brief infatuation with Copernic Desktop Search, which turned into sullen tolerance after version 3 mutated into adware, and slow adware at that. I’d gone back to version 2, which required me to keep it from phoning home for updates via a Registry hack, but it wasn’t about to follow me to Windows 7, so I went looking for a better tool, mostly for work.

What I got was Agent Ransack from Mythicsoft, which is billed as a free “lite” version of FileLocatorPro, an application so old as to have an actual endorsement from John C. Dvorak. It filled the bill admirably, once I got the hang of it. After thirty days, Mythicsoft asked me if I’d like to upgrade my license to Supporter, which probably didn’t buy me any extra functionality, but hey, it’s being used at work, I probably should pay for the darn thing, especially since they were asking only ten bucks.

That was the 9th. Came this notification yesterday:

This notification is just a friendly reminder (not a bill or a second charge) that on Apr 9, 2014, you placed an order from Mythicsoft Store. The charge will appear on your bill as “FS *mythicsoft”. This is just a reminder to help you recognize the charge.

I suppose people have trouble remembering stuff like that — or they charge up so much stuff that they lose track. I am neither. Still:

Our customers have found this notice useful in confirming otherwise unknown credit card charges, as “FS *mythicsoft” may not be easily recognizable on your bill.

Whether this was Mythicsoft’s idea, or FastSpring’s — FS, I’m assuming, is their digital-goods distributor — it was probably a good one.

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Unbalance sheet

Not all income inequality is created, um, equal. Dave Schuler explains:

[M]y greatest concern on this subject is how rent-seeking drives income inequality rather than on income inequality per se. Michael Jordan’s or Tiger Woods’s wealth do not concern me. The Kennedy family trust does. In a society as complex as ours with a government as pervasive as ours these rents take a vast number of forms — they encompass everything from royalty income to physicians’ wages to the subsidies received by bankers or GM executives and workers in the late recession. When you use the wealth you’ve gained through these rents to promote increases in your rents, as the late Sonny Bono manifestly did, it presents an assault on liberal democracy.

Not surprisingly, tax rates — effective tax rates, anyway — won’t be going up any time soon:

[W]hen the highest marginal tax rate was over 90%, effective tax rates were little higher than they are now, i.e. marginal tax rates are virtually irrelevant to income inequality. Also, consider how many millionaires are sitting in the U. S. Congress. Does it actually seem likely to you that Congress will enact a tax on wealth? IMO a significant number of them are there to ensure that such a tax is never enacted into law.

And the rest, I’d be willing to bet, are willing to prevaricate about it in order to shore up their own positions.

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Let’s all go to the Laissez Faire!

Not that Equestria is some sort of free-market utopia or anything, but this line jumped out of yesterday’s episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Take it away, Princess Twilight Sparkle:

[A]ll I’m supposed to do is settle disagreements over whether a trade is fair or not. And since the rule is that a trade is fair as long as both ponies get what they want, there’s never been a disagreement. So there’s really no reason for anypony to treat me as anything special.

“By virtue of exchange, one man’s prosperity is beneficial to all others.” — Frédéric Bastiat, The Law, 1850.

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Zombies would starve

The administration has been conflating health care and health insurance for so long that most people, or at least most people who get TV cameras shoved into their faces, actually believe that the two products are one and the same. So questions like this go unanswered:

[E]levating “being insured” to some kind of holy, sanctified, sought-after-at-any-cost status ignores ways of dealing with things that, nevertheless, don’t qualify as “insurance” on technical grounds. We are constantly told that people who “weren’t insured” would use the ER and Medicaid and whatnot. But now they will “have insurance,” so that’s better. But wait: why is that better? For whom? By what standard? No explanation is proffered. Who needs one? “Being insured” is good and “not being insured” bad, period, say all the Smart People. And nevermind the fact that (in a sense) all those people were “insured,” it just wasn’t by an insurance company, it was by taxpayers-and-whoever.

But I went too far with that “at-any-cost” part, didn’t I? Cost is not even mentioned in the first place. As far as I can tell, I’m supposed to think that increasing the percentage of people who “are insured” (whatever that means) by one basis point is worth spending X dollars — for any value of X whatsoever. The ledger of this retarded debate, as conducted by (retarded) Smart People, has only one side to it.

But there’s one serious problem with these Smart People:

You build a movement by increasing buy-in, and “all smart people agree we’re right” is great for that. To acknowledge contrary evidence — any evidence at all — is to tacitly admit that one isn’t as smart as one claims to be. And who here, in this glorious year 2014, is going to admit that?

Which is why I’ve been arguing for some time now that Republicans need to start arguing, not that liberals are wrong (though, of course, they are), but simply immature… I might not always get it right, but I’m far, far likelier not to get it disastrously wrong. The whiz kid can run circles around me, cerebrally, but there’s no substitute for decades of real-world experience. And it is a truth universally acknowledged, at least by anyone who has ever been around teenagers, that the smartest kids make the dumbest mistakes, because they overlook the most obvious points.

William F. Buckley, Jr. had similar reservations about Smart People:

I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.

Buckley wasn’t always prescient, but he nailed this one cold.

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Bank error in your favor

ATMs are not known for their generosity; in fact, they can be obstinate and obtuse, which surprisingly is not the fault of Windows XP.

But sometimes Things Happen:

This all started at one in the morning, when officers were called to a TD Bank branch on Maine Mall road. A transient was inside the bank sleeping beside the ATM. Officers went inside and moved him along. But, he came back.

At 5:30 in the morning, a woman waiting to use the ATM in this bank called police to report a man spending an unusual amount of time at the ATM. When South Portland police officers drove up, they saw this same homeless man inside filling a shopping bag with cash from the ATM. How much? It turns out it’s more than $37,000 in cash.

We can safely assume this sum exceeded his available balance:

[A police lieutenant] says the man used his bank card to withdraw $140 from his account, but then kept going. And the ATM just kept giving him money.

The cops returned the funds to the bank, which shut down the machine remotely; no charges were filed against the customer.

(Via Consumerist.)

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One impossible thing before breakfast

The state treasurer is requesting a budget cut — again:

For a second consecutive year, State Treasurer Ken Miller is asking the Legislature to cut appropriations for his office. And for the second year in a row, he is the only agency head to do so.

Miller said his request for a five-percent budget cut is made possible by focusing office operations on core treasury functions. He also requested and was granted a five-percent appropriations reduction last year.

Staff inflation? Not here:

Prior to the last recession, the treasurer’s office had 72 employees working in three locations in Oklahoma City, including two leased offices. Now the staff is 40 percent smaller and all treasury employees work in one location in the State Capitol Building after closing external offices.

If everybody got a 5-percent budget cut — but forget it. Just under 100 percent of all agency heads will tell you with a straight face that cutting spending at a time like this is immoral.

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Traditional medicine, alternative currency

I have occasionally linked to G. Keith Smith, MD, who runs Surgery Center of Oklahoma, one of the few medical facilities that posts its prices for all to see, mostly because I like to encourage that sort of thing.

I knew that they were basically a cash-only operation, but apparently they’re now accepting bitcoin, and Dr Smith, as always, is unapologetic about it:

What underlies my willingness to accept methods of payment other than traditional methods of payment is my concept of exchange itself. Any exchange deemed to be mutually beneficial naturally tends to occur unless the state intervenes. This natural tendency for the exchange to occur prevails as both parties in a mutually beneficial exchange see themselves better off subsequent to the exchange and desire its occurrence, otherwise, one or both parties wouldn’t want to exchange their goods or services in the first place.

As for one particular objection that could be raised:

For those who say derisively, “…you never know what the value of the bitcoin is going to be from day to day,” I wonder why they don’t think the worst about the dollar’s value, given its history? After all, some 95% of the dollar’s value has been stolen since “managed” by the central bankers, so it seems clear regarding what results from the state “regulation” of any currency.

There’s always a chance that bitcoin will go up. The dollar? Don’t hold your breath.

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Kind of a losing proposition

Operating costs for Brazilian businesses relying on imported goods are stiff, reports the WSJ [paywalled]:

Keeping prices low has been a challenge for most retailers because operating costs in Brazil are high. Apparel vendors in Brazil pay an estimated 35% in taxes on their products, compared with about 8% in the U.S., according to Alexis Frick, a São Paulo-based analyst for market researcher Euromonitor International. Retailers that ship their products in from abroad pay as much as 35% in addition to those taxes in import taxes.

Which explains how this happened to Fausta:

When a friend from Brazil told me my KitchenAid mixer (that retails for $250 on Amazon) sells in Brazil for US$1,000+, I asked that he take it when he went back, sell it, and we split the profit. He already had bought one for himself, otherwise I would have sold him mine.

As Glenn Frey might have said, it’s the ultimate enticement.

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This offer is limited

And boy, is it. Dan Lovejoy finds a deal with his smartphone, then discovers the fine print:

Offer not valid on the following items

It might have been easier to list the things he could buy at the discount.

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Time as a Veblen good

Jack Baruth lays down the smack on the ultra-expensive Swiss watch:

If you wear a Swiss “luxury watch”, you’re a douchebag. (Full disclosure: I have a few of them myself.) The bigger the watch is, and the more elaborate/flashy it is, the worse you are. The newer and more quick-bake the brand is, the more horrifying your personal presence is to people who weren’t raised in a trailer prior to the IPO/Goldman bonus/first-round draft pick/real-estate deal/personal-injury settlement. I’ve complained about this before, but wearing a watch that is unnecessarily complex and impossible to fix amounts to a Nero-esque destruction of capital without the attendant flair. This goes double if your watchmaker’s brand was “dormant” for fifty years or more before being pried out of the hands of someone’s step-great-grandchild by a venture-capital firm, triple if Nicholas Hayek imagined your brand while he was having a “speedball” medically administered by a twenty-two-year-old Italian nurse who does figure modeling in the evenings.

I’m pretty sure my watch, the very antithesis of Swiss craftsmanship, isn’t fixable, unless what ails it is a dearth of battery power, which can be replenished for $5. Then again, it only cost me $30 to begin with, thirty-odd years ago, and maintenance — it’s on its fourth band now — has run less than $100.

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