Hey wonks, please ask yourself ‘Compared to what?’ before hitting publish
March 1, 2015, 3:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This is one of the more irritating types socio-economic analysis: How Student Debt Stunts Financial Growth. The key seems to be combining some true observations with myopic diagnoses:

This is why IBR [income-based repayment] misses the mark: because it currently doesn’t do enough to address one of the key ways student debt may negatively affect young adults, by limiting their ability to accumulate assets. Students with outstanding student debt, even very small amounts, are more likely to postpone accumulating assets as young adults, as recent research shows. IBR plans may even exacerbate this problem by extending the period of students’ indebtedness.

Asset accumulation is important, because it positions young adults for significantly improved economic outcomes over their lifetimes—something higher education is supposed to do. The consequences of diverting income to debt repayment instead of asset accumulation may worsen the wealth divide between those who must take on debt to go to college and those who can avoid it.

I mean, on the one hand, duh! Of course ‘student debt’ – versus the alternative of ‘not student debt but everything else the same’? – ‘stunts financial growth’. But why, and how, is that the alternative?

So, I read this and think: well sure, there’s a lot of student debt out there, and sure, it makes sense that someone in IBR would delay asset accumulation. And sure, asset accumulation is a great thing if you can do it. So, yes, ‘diverting income to debt repayment instead of asset accumulation’ – taken as a standalone choice (as if anyone faces the choice ‘gee should I repay my debt or accumulate assets’!) – is not great, all else equal.

But the thing is, what’s the alternative? Compared to what exactly?

I think this is how you can identify Annoying Socio-Economic Analysis quickly and easily: it never asks “compared to what?”. There is no counterfactual. There is just the pointing-out of a bad thing, and bad things are bad all else equal, so let’s get rid of the bad thing, because it’s bad, and all else would be equal.

In this case, a proper counterfactual to the fact that so many people have lots of student-loan balances outstanding, and/or are put into (logical enough taken on their own terms) IBR programs, (and therefore don’t accumulate assets), would have to involve serious consideration of an alternate-universe which we might loosely term The “They Didn’t Go To College In The Fucking First Place See? So Now They Don’t Have Degrees At All” Universe. I’d be game for comparing our universe to that one and soberly weighing the tradeoffs, but I don’t think most others are quite willing to go there.

So instead we just get the Annoying Socio-Economic Analysis which imagines there is a perfect square-the-circle solution where all these people got degrees, publicly-funded loans were thrown at them to get those degrees, and yet (because we don’t want to inhibit ‘asset accumulation’ or some similar local/current consideration – there’s always a local/current consideration not to repay debt) we are supposed to just write off all that debt. And, what, later rinse repeat?

(Oh, the article does make a policy suggestion of child savings accounts or something, but I’m not taking that seriously enough to talk about it.)

Do I have to come right flat out and tell you everything, gimme some money
February 26, 2015, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

You probably saw this earlier today. Treasury won’t explain decision to make $3 billion in Obamacare payments

The U.S. Treasury Department has rebuffed a request by House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., to explain $3 billion in payments that were made to health insurers even though Congress never authorized the spending through annual appropriations.
What’s tricky is that Congress never authorized any money to make such payments to insurers in its annual appropriations, but the Department of Health and Human Services, with the cooperation of the U.S. Treasury, made them anyway.

Sure is tricky! Neat trick, that.

It seems like we’re seeing more and more of this, government agencies kinda basically just deciding to hand out money to whoever they feel like, on the basis of their Views and Theories and whatnot (yes yes they have Reasons), regardless of whether Congress told or authorized them to.

Personally, I’m all for it. Some agency should give me money too. I like money. They should authorize spending, oh, to pick a number, $17 billion dollars on me. Credit my account with $17 billion dollars from the government account. Come on. Just do it. Get your lawyers together and sign the papers to authorize it and do it. Dooo ittttttt

What’s the counterargument? None that’s what. There’s no law authorizing it? LOL come on are you Smart or not. You can do it if you wanna. Gimme some money.

We have questions, Governor Walker
February 23, 2015, 1:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Kevin Drum (who, by the way, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this or you’ve ever heard this from anyone, is a Very Nice Guy) calls my attention to some of the important questions the press has been asking Scott Walker lately:

  • Whether he agrees with Rudy Giuliani’s comment that President Obama doesn’t love America.
  • Whether he believes in evolution.
  • Whether he believe that Obama is a Christian.

Now people, this is just Civics 101. In fact if we were going to hand out the Presidency by having people fill out a questionnaire I’m sure we can all agree these would be the first three questions on it.

How can you possibly be the President of the United States if you don’t have a ‘belief’ regarding what the religion is of some other guy named Barack Obama, whose religion we are all required to know and have a belief about? Or worse, if you have such a belief but (almost unthinkably) decline to state that belief? I mean it’s been a while since I’ve read the Federalist papers but I’m pretty sure this is all in there.

And this is to say nothing of the evolution question. People, don’t you realize the stakes? The President-guy is, primarily, the evolution-deciderer for the entire nation. There’s also some other stuff about being Commander-in-Chief or whatever, but mainly, the evolution-decidering, that’s the job. Upon swearing-in his belief regarding whether evolution is the explanation for all life becomes immediately impounded into all the rest of the humans in the country via forcible cranial implants developed by Lenovo. Didn’t you people see the 20/20 episode on this?

Finally, could it be any more clear that when some other guy says a different other guy (the same other guy mentioned two paragraphs prior) doesn’t love America, you must form and state an opinion about what that other guy (the second other guy not the first other guy) said before you can possibly be entrusted with the Oval Office? I mean, obviously.

So anyway, (SPOILER ALERT) Kevin Drum thinks these questions are totes fair, particularly because Scott Walker is (to quote Kevin Drum, nice guy): ‘basically a tea party guy’, but we need to find out whether he’s a ‘pure tea party creature’ .


$ grep -c ‘tea party’ kevin_drums_blog_post.html

is not a command that I have run on my 80-character green-on-black monochrome UNIX terminal just now. Just so you know.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Kevin Drum is a very nice guy.

The first grandma Bond girl
February 23, 2015, 7:11 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Here’s a bit of silliness, Monica Bellucci asserting that Sam Mendes “will be a hero among women” for casting her, because her chronological age is 50, which somehow strikes a blow for & helps (?) all other 50+ year old women (regardless of whether they look like Monica Bellucci).

I mean, get real. Okay she’s 50 but she’s also Monica Bellucci! If he had cast a 50+ year-old like, oh, Sally Field as a ‘Bond Girl’ maybe she’d have a point. Typical oblivious pretty-girl comment, like supermodels who complain they were skinny losers who never got dates in high school.

Bellucci added: “True sexiness is in the mind, the imagination – not in the age of the body.

Yes yes well I suppose that’s all very well and true and a laudable sentiment Monica Bellucci but in your case I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s also in your body :)

All that said, would I have liked to see Bellucci as M? Sure, what the hell. Bellucci in a movie is just never a bad thing, which is the point; putting her in a Bond movie is like the least-brave decision in the world.

Teach your children well
February 22, 2015, 9:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Little girl strikes a blow for feminism by whining about something trivial vis-a-vis the trivial topic of comic books (one infers, in the background, the existence of a Pushy Smart Parent dropping hints about what sort of comic book whines would be praiseworthy and college-transcript-adorning), having someone at the the comic book company take the time to draw her as a cute superhero, and then responding ungraciously.

Yup, sounds about right.

Please stop publicizing the things that this sick man Bill Nye says
February 22, 2015, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In-depth interview with Bill Nye “The Science Guy” [sic]:

What grade does America deserve in science?

Well, this is the world’s most technically advanced society, and we have people denying climate change. These guys are still in deep denial, and future generations, what few of them will be alive, are just going to go, “What were you freaking people doing? What was wrong with you?” So, in a sense, an F. But if it makes you feel any better, you can say a B-minus. We have this top tier [of scientists] in the U.S., the people who graduated from Stanford, from Berkeley, from MIT, Cornell. Those people are still exceptional and really good. But we have this enormous gap between that and just regular software writers and farmers and people that need to be scientifically literate.

How much ‘just regular software’, of any kind, has Bill Nye written? To say nothing of climate models of course.

Bill Nye may have a bachelor’s in something or other, but let’s get real: for some 25 years now he has been, by trade and vocation, a comedian and performer. He is not an actual scientist any more than Captain Kangaroo is a real captain. And whatever generalist science knowledge he may have obtained by osmosis or by speaking in front of crowds of scientists and having wine & cheese with them afterwards, it really cannot be overemphasized that when it comes to climate modeling, he just does not know what the fuck he is talking about.

I really think this “science guy” persona has gone to his head and given him mental problems. The man is delusional and yet journalists keep turning to him, in effect publicizing and enabling his mental sickness as he goes through this ultra-slow-motion public meltdown. This is a form of media-driven exploitation/abuse and needs to stop. It’s actually quite sad, like Being There without the wit, like A Face In The Crowd without the folksiness.

BI gets dumb on the minimum wage
February 18, 2015, 12:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

BI lists the most expensive places to live, but for the SF entry throws in this dumb aside for no reason:

As of June 2014, the median cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco was $3,120. Luckily the minimum wage in the Bay Area — $11.05 an hour — helps make up for the cost, and residents voted to raise the minimum to $15 an hour by 2018.

‘Luckily’? A little math: $11.05/hour x 40 hours x 52 weeks = $22,984/year before taxes.

$22,984/year / 12 months/year = $1,915/month

(And what about the coming raise to $15? $15 x 40 x 52 / 12 = $2600. Oops.)

Sorry no, I don’t think someone who has (or had) a full-time minimum-wage job in San Francisco is living, at least not by themselves, in that kinda-okay median one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. They are living in the slum parts of town, in shall we say less than comfortable living conditions (like someone’s couch, and/or, with their parents), or somewhere farther away and taking BART in.

Or they have some sort of housing assistance, so the minimum wage has little to do with their ability to afford living where they live – except in a perversely negative way, perhaps.

Whether whatever-minimum wage is ‘lucky’ for such people is a crapshoot that depends mostly on whether they lose their job (and/or, hours worked) as a result. The ones that currently have minimum-wage jobs by definition survived the last increase; the ones that don’t lose their jobs on the next increase will be more lucky still. So yes, for those people, it’s probably a windfall and they can fairly say it’s helpful to them that the minimum wage is not smaller than it is.

But that has nothing to do with their ability to afford living in the prototypical median San Francisco living situation, which they really can’t regardless, as the whole purpose of modern nice cities like San Francisco in the first place is to price-out the sort of riffraff who have to work minimum-wage jobs, and make sure that they have to live far far away. Increasing the minimum-wage is, from this POV, mostly a way of reducing the number of riffraff who even have an (official) reason to commute in; better that those jobs be filled by, say, graduate students or nice parent-supplemented kids anyway.


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