Perry Glasser

Archive for the ‘EDUCATION’ Category

THE CRUSH IS ON US – PART 3 of 3

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Millenials, TAXES on June 13, 2018 at 12:16 pm

THE CRUSH is not a youth problem; it’s a shared disaster.

Titanic_sinking_stu_w1Being on the upper decks of the Titanic did little to protect wealthier passengers from flood below. Passengers in steerage just drowned sooner, but eventually the entire ship lay at the sea bottom and all passengers were in the drink, a few alive but many more dead.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of THE CRUSH, Dollar$ explored the dimensions and culpability for the coming student debt crisis. But THE CRUSH is with us now. We have struck the iceberg and are taking on water. Never mind the moral bankruptcy of blaming victims, rejoinders to “Suck it up, kid,’ and “Pay your dues, punk” are not only insulting, they ignore the economic realities.

This is the rising tide that sinks all boats.

Seeking better loan programs are merely fuzzy thinking that Dollar$ will risk beating a metaphor to death by calling it the equivalent of moving deck chairs. Better loan programs remain loan programs, that is, they continue to tax the poor for being poor.

Instead, Dollar$ puts forward some substantive changes.

  1. All existing and future loans should be 50% the responsibility of the associated colleges and universities – institutions need skin in the game if they are to have incentive to stop soaring tuition and fees.
  2. Free tuition and fees at state schools through 14th grade. Naysayers will scoff at this “giveaway,” doubtlessly the same naysayers who opposed mandatory free education through 12th grade when everyone was certain a 6th grade education was peachy.
  3. Tax private university endowments. Yale and Harvard don’t need tax shelters for accumulated wealth.
  4. Eliminate tax deductions for education donations. Existing tax structures enable the rich to get richer while dumping the burden of social advancement on the rest of us.
  5. Initiate federal tax credits for tuition and fees to all schools — that’s a credit, not a deduction. If education is the key to our society’s future, why can’t all of us lift some of the burden undertaken by a few of us?
  6. In schools with more than 2500 students, cap university administration at 1/300 students by taxing the payrolls of schools with higher ratios. Someone has to step up and squeeze costs: let’s start with non-classroom personnel.

Why?

Well. . .

ECONOMIC RED FLAGS

Autos.

The auto industry is a mainstay pillar of the US economy. Rubber, glass, steel, plastics, aluminum—there is no element of car manufacture that does not support tens of thousands of people. Subsequent to sales, there is an entire service industry, everything from car washes to oil changes to mechanics employing hundreds of thousands more.

Yet the average age of the person buying a new car is up to 51.7 years; that Boomer earns $80,000 per year. “It takes four millennials to replace one boomer” in terms of economic impact,” observed Steven Szakaly, the National Automobile Dealers Association’s chief economist in 2015.

Dollar$ notes for the less financially sophisticated that auto sales on the secondary market, trading your older hunk of junk for a slightly newer pile of junk, has all the national economic impact of opening a lemonade stand in your driveway.

Sure, Whiners will eventually buy new cars. They will have to in order to get from here to there when the supply of jalopies have all turned to rust. But they will delay joining the auto market—the definitions of a demographic market slowdown. They are barred because they carry too much debt. Buying a new car either has to be postponed or requires even higher interest rates.

That, readers, is THE CRUSH that is visited on us all.

Houses.

c20_currHousing starts in the past 20 years have dipped precipitously, most during the Great Recession of 2006-07, but have never recovered. This, Dollar$ hastens to add, is a fact in the teeth of the lowest mortgage rates ever, the reason housing prices and rents are soaring.

It’s our old friend, the fact that cheap borrowed money always inflates prices.  So it is with tuition; so it is with housing.

Cheap borrowed money does little for the Whiner who can’t enter the market because mortgage qualification is out of reach—too much debt already on the books. Qualifying for a mortgage grows more and more difficult, a task like a donkey running on a treadmill for a carrot.

So what, you ask?

“During the first two years after closing on the house, a typical buyer of a newly built single-family detached home tends to spend on average $4,500 more than a similar non-moving home owner. Likewise, a buyer of an existing single-family detached home tends to spend over $4,000 more than a similar non-moving home owner, including close to $3,700 during the first year.” National Association of Home Builders

Every year a Whiner postpones or is barred from entering the housing market is another year that $4,000 of spending on appliances, carpeting, lawn care, furniture, window dressing, pots, pans, wallpaper and paint is withheld from the general economy. With millions of Whiners forced to stay on the sidelines, billions and billions of dollars are withdrawn from economic activity.

That, readers, is THE CRUSH that is visited on us all

Social Life.

We are hard-wired to like babies. We are hard-wired to enjoy creating babies.

Religious imperatives implore us to be fruitful and multiply, but even if you are of the less religiously minded who believe the problems of our planet stem from the ugly fact that people (gasp!) live here, a problem best cured by having us quietly vanish in favor of a planetary legacy of dolphins, daisies and roaches, Dollar$ notes that for most of us the purpose of life is to create ever more life.

Dollar$ also notes that however unpopular the fact may be, in general, the age of women has a biological shut-off date beyond the shut-off date of men.

Yet the median age for marriage and childbirth are rising.

Women are waiting.

 

Dollar$ endorses the idea that technological and social advances have made much of that delay possible, and Dollar$  celebrates that technology has gifted women with freedoms and choices never seen before.

Nevertheless, among the Whiners, student debt diminishes those choices. Dollar$ suggests no one has children until that want to, and Dollar$ fervently hopes people will be able to afford children when they make that decision, but Dollar$ also notes the delay of expenditures associated with childrearing siphons billions from the economy.

Involuntarily delayed childrearing holds costs for many that cannot be measured because unhappiness is not quantifiable on any balance sheet.

That, readers, is THE CRUSH that is visited on us all.

Dollar$ believes that most things worth doing are worth doing to excess. No so with student debt, however. Enough, in this case is too much.

READ

PART 1 – THE CRUSH: THE COMING STUDENT DEBT CRISIS

PART 2 – THE CRUSH: WHY DOES EDUCATION COST SO DAMN MUCH?

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THE CRUSH – PART 2 of 3: WHY DOES EDUCATION COST SO DAMN MUCH?

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Millenials, Political Economy on June 8, 2018 at 10:58 pm

The Whiners can’t win for losing. In the education stakes they are damned if they take on education debt, damned if they do not, and have no third option, at least not as long as anyone wants a comfortable middle-class life. You know, a car, a family, maybe a house, a pet, food in the panty, and a place to put books that isn’t bricks and boards purloined from a construction site.

Why does it cost an arm, leg, foot, your mother’s wig and a promise of your first-born? A Baby Boomer could sell ice cream on the beach all July and August, take another two weeks to goof off, and pretty much have education fully covered. No such luck for the Whiners.

WTF is going on?

The cost of an education soars because unrestrained lending and unrestrained spending is the cocaine of finance.

UNRESTRAINED LENDING

Not long ago, the world learned there ain’t so such thing as a free lunch. Global markets became grossly inflated because of easy credit. No lender had any incentive to say, “No.” After all, if the price of everything will go sky high in the very near future, even your Uncle Pete’s lamebrain kid if he borrows money can pretty much do nothing but clean his toes, wait for profits, sell, and pay off everyone.

But if markets head south, the Uncle Pete’s lamebrain kid shrugs and walks away from a soured investment. When a million knuckleheads all walk away at once, and the financial community is left holding worthless paper.

That was the story of The Great Recession, the worldwide economic slowdown that had national economies shrinking anywhere from 6 months to 6 years after 2006.

It’s not as though a few speculators took it on the chin. When nations’ economies shrink, angry crowds that see their futures and the futures of their children evaporate, carrying pitchforks, torches, and ropes fill the streets.  They want blood.

The similarities between the Great Recession and The Crush are scary.

THE GREAT RECESSION THE  CRUSH
EASY CREDIT BORROWERS Sub-prime mortgages Any 18-year old who can sign his name—or get a parent to sign in his stead.
MARKET CONSEQUENCE The price of housing soars since no one is paying their own money. Why not? Let’s buy 3 properties and in a year sell them to reap huge profits. At 3% down, our returns will be stratospheric! 3? Piker–let’s go for 10! The price of education soars, since no one is paying their own money. Why not? Let’s take three degrees, take our time in school, and figure out what to do after a year or two abroad. We can’t lose! We have a diploma and a bunch of letters after our name! Mom will be proud!
UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION Housing prices will always rise. A return is sure. What can go wrong? College grads will always earn more, a guaranteed return. What can go wrong?
THE CREDIT ENGINE In the US, Federal National Mortgage (FNMA) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Company (Freddie Mac) guarantee loans made by banks and other agencies.  The Fed is our safety net! How can we lose when the US taxpayer is on the hook to cover all bets in the event of defaults? In the US, Sallie Mae guarantees Federal student loans made by banks and other agencies. How can lenders lose when the US taxpayer is on the hook for defaults if some slacker Whiner refuses a decent job?  Never mind defaults:  the only way to discharge a student loan is for the borrower to drop dead!
THE TOP In 2008 just as the subprime crisis was coming to a head, Americans had $12.68 trillion in debt outstanding, of which housing debt made up $10 trillion.
With collateral like a standing house whose value rises every six months, we’ll make out like bandits!
In 2014, there was approximately $1.3 trillion of outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. that affected 44 million borrowers who had an average outstanding loan balance of $37,172.

With collateral as sound as a college degree, there’s just no way the kid can’t pay it back—and if he doesn’t, we’ve got Mom and Dad on the hook, too!

THE BUST The rise in housing prices proves unsustainable as supply outstrips demand. Financial organizations “too big to fail” do just that. It’s hard to stay solvent when there is not money coming through the front door. Individual savings and investments evaporate like piss on a hot rock. Municipalities holding “guaranteed” mortgage paper can’t pay retirees; whole countries flirt with bankruptcy. Political unrest endangers the developed world Just wait, Bunky.

The Crush is coming.

UNRESTRAINED SPENDING

Unrestrained spending for colleges and universities siphons money from the paying customers–students–into rat-holes that have little to do with their own educations. What incentive does any school have to contain expenditures?  The kids have to pay, and with  a generation coerced into attending, and lending institution falling over each other in haste to lend to kids who can’t resolve debt except by paying or dying, why would a school say to a student, “Nothing doing”?

Living and working on a campus is a nice life. There are shows, sporting events, a lot of trees; pleasant company, all in a landscape that is a joy to the eyes. Bird songs. Fountains. Statues.

Of course it’s not the school’s money that pays for that lovely life. It’s the students. Schools just spend their students’ money. If there is some project near and dear to an administrator’s cold dark heart (assuming administrators have hearts at all) if there isn’t enough in the cash box just raise tuition and fees.

Administrative passions vary, but all have a few things in common:

  1. Administrative bloat has outstripped the pace of student growth. Every dean needs a secretary and an assistant dean who also needs a secretary. Worse, student growth is now reversing itself, but don’t expect college layoffs any time soon.
  2. Administrative services to students allegedly about insuring a safe and healthy environment create the “snowflake” mentality and in fact infantilizes young men and women. Here’s an idea: instead of crumbling with anxiety and accessing expensive college support services, drop out of school and come back when you are ready. Yes, it is possible to live in a world where people disagree. Keep your cash, have another latte, ponder your future.
  3. Whole curricula that have little or nothing to do with traditional scholastic concerns in the Liberal Arts and Humanities or real-world studies such as Math and Science are now lavishly funded. Professors are passionate about educating students about the smallest social segments anyone can identify. Instead of seeking our commonalities, find our differences. A professor’s fantasies of revolutionizing society must be indulged. Identity politics can and perhaps should be stressed on campuses as an engine of social change, but never forget that students pay cash money for a political indoctrination that is available for free 5 yards beyond the ivy-covered walls.
  4. Colleges and universities compete for students by offering amenities usually reserved for cruise ships or mental hospitals: health clubs, guidance counselor, swimming pools, lounges, architecture that wins awards, teams that win championships. The world’s greatest teachers, Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha, taught under a banyan tree; Jesus of Nazareth did his best work lecturing in the open air on a hill. They managed to change the world by talking about common humanity, not by demanding their student spay heed to their difference.
Almamater

Please pay at the door.

  1. Colleges and universities have no financial skin in the game. How this point eludes legislators mystifies Dollar$. Thanks for borrowing cash, kid, thanks for giving it to us, don’t let the door slam you in the ass on your way out where you will soon discover that your profound knowledge of a contemporary gay Asian poet has less market value than the dude’s poetry.
  2. Legislatures have cut aid to state education, off-loading what was once understood to be a public good to what now constitutes a use tax. Never mind that all of us benefit from youth ready, willing, and able to make the innovations in products and processes that will benefit us all, let’s charge only the kids.

But is there a costs to us all?

You betcha.

We are every one of us at risk. The Crush will come for us all.

READ:
Part 1 – THE CRUSH – THE COMING STUDENT DEBT CRISIS
Part 3 – THE CRUSH – THE CRUSH IS ON US

THE CRUSH: THE COMING STUDENT DEBT CRISIS — PART 1 OF 3

In Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Millenials, Personal Finance on June 7, 2018 at 5:58 pm

When it comes to student debt, because of the coercive necessity for advanced education and its the rising cost, the perennial Millennial and Gen-X complaint about how their parents, those self-centered Boomers,  screwed up everything, Dollar$ concedes the issue.

Millennials are, for once, correct.

Call them The Whiners, but call our system to fund education The Crush.

whiner

Dollar$ despises the reductio ad absurdum that dumps entire populations into convenient rhetorical buckets. Gross generalizations about millions of people can never be accurate. Any thinking person (a Dollar$ reader, for example,) can point to dozens of exceptions, but in the grand scheme of things it is now long overdue that we grapple with the out of hand system for funding education.

The Crush will soon crush us all.

So this column will not be about how Whiners need to man-up, knuckle down, and work. Look, a kid borrowing money for education is accepting debt precisely because the kid wants to get ahead. The Crush does not allow it.

This Dollar$ series will be about

  • our coercive culture,
  • risk-free lending from banks and The Fed,
  • educational institutions that have no incentive to manage costs.

The Crush allows  no escape, no free market options, no serious choice to not participate, and no institutions with any incentive to carry the weight, though plenty offer lip service as they add bricks to the load.

COERCIVE CULTURE

Citizens in America with advanced degrees earn considerably more than citizens without a parchment.

graph

Of course, free spirits may always choose to abandon The System and be poor, but the gap between having a Bachelor’s Degree and not having one in a nation where medical care, housing, and being reasonably fed depends on income, makes the Poverty Option the choice of living with a gun to one’s head or not.

Trapeze artists who fly with no net all eventually fall to earth.

What is a Whiner to do?

RISK-FREE LENDING

Bankruptcy laws are the enlightened replacement to debtor’s prisons. Nor do we allow people any longer to become indentured servants to pay their debt. Slavery is simply evil; holding debtors behind prison walls disables their ability to pay their creditors.

Besides, in our corporate state, to be fair, where corporations are legally people, you can’t jail a business no matter how badly it manages its affairs (though Dollar$ ardently wishes we could).

Bankruptcy laws humanely offer a Citizen a new start. To be sure, as a strategy to manage personal finances, declaring bankruptcy should always be a last resort; it cuts an individual off from future credit for many years, and the process of bankruptcy debt relief is managed by courts that apportion remaining assets to grumpy creditors who must accept something instead of nothing.

Yet debt incurred for education whether it be from the Fed or a private loan from a bank cannot be settled by bankruptcy. Businesses leverage their assets with debt all the time. Who would argue that leveraging oneself as an asset that can and will earn more is a bad idea? That debt follows the borrower forever, even through bankruptcy. Short of paying it off, the sole means of settling student loans is Death.

death

THE ONLY WAY TO ESCAPE STUDENT DEBT

Like Fat Harry, who in my Brooklyn childhood was all too happy to lend money for a quick plunge on a horse at Aqueduct, some education loans grow through compounding any unpaid balance. Harry called that the vig. Harry might apply a baseball bat to the knees of a derelict borrower to encourage compliance, though Harry never preferred a payoff when he could keep his money on the street earning ever more. An outstanding balance was far better than some Citizen … uh make that Sucker….trying to settle.

With educational loans, just because you’ve made the stupid decision borrow a fortune against future earning when you are in your teens (something like betting on the wrong horse), the banks and Fed will forgive several payments. No problem! Like Harry, they are delighted to fold what you did not pay into your outstanding balance and add it to your total debt! When you start paying the vig again, YOU’LL OWE EVEN MORE and if you don’t pay, they’ll take it through the IRS.

It’s not a baseball bat to the knees, it just feels like one.

THE RISING TIDE WILL SINKS ALL SHIPS

The cost of that required education at public and private schools has soared at twice to three times the rate of inflation, a rate that HMOs, hospitals, and medical insurance envy. Baby Boomers who earned a year’s tuition and fees with a decent summer job, if they needed it, worked during the school year for a few hours per week for incidental expenses, inexpensive textbooks and dormitory space that was less than luxurious, but kept rain off their heads.

Whiners caught in The Crush have no such option.

The average tuition and fees for a degree program at a state institution in 2017 is just under $10,000. Now add books and mad crazy things like food and a roof. Boy, those college kids are scamps!  The eat food! They wear clothing! Such frivolity!

There’s not enough ice cream to scoop to meet those expenses.

Of course, they might work their way through school, attending fewer hours while they work somewhere at minimum wage–except that winds up making the cost of their education go up by another year or two…

The Crush has no mercy.

**********************

COMING SOON

PART 2—WHY DOES EDUCATION COST SO MUCH?

PART 3—THE CRUSH

WALL STREET PERVERSITY

In Business, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Politics, Wall Street on February 9, 2018 at 5:26 pm

Dollar$ notes again that the financial community seems to be insane. Buccaneers and Wizards confound the simple Citizen who needs a money harbor other than a pillowcase. Until someone invents bedding that pays interest or dividends, that is likely to be a bad idea.

screwed1

Citizen

You may have read that the markets are down because of too much good news.

It’s true.

January 2018 saw a market run-up of breathtaking scope. The Weasel-in-Chief was smugly taking credit and taking Olympic Gold for World’s Worst Comb-over (Orange Division). Kids on the street were selling their bicycles and holding bake sales to pick up some bitcoin, wait a day or two, and then cash in expecting in a day or two to have enough money to buy a private Caribbean island that would be closed to those short-sighted ever-selfish Baby Boomers who ruined the Earth by inventing cell phones, expanding civil rights, and creating cheap birth control that begat Hook-Up culture, all while stupidly neglecting to shape a world where no one would have to work.

Mean or what?

WHEN GOOD NEWS IS BAD NEWS

The good news that rattled the markets is that more people are working and that the people working are earning more money. Wall Street, naturally, near soiled its underwear.

The bad news was that many people persist in believing that economies are a zero-sum game. If the notion of I win, you lose! rules the markets, what could be more awful than Citizens getting a bigger piece of the pie?

More people, more jobs, more money, that’s bad.

R-i-i-i-i-i-ight.

 

CITIZENS & TUMBLING STOCKS

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance, Politics, ROBERT REICH, SOCIAL MEDIA, Wall Street on February 5, 2018 at 7:27 pm
jimmy-stewart

investor

Dollar$ readers have asked for a comment on the recent path of stocks falling off a cliff. Though Dollar$ seldom references perturbations in the market, in this case he will make an exception because any number of people with brains of tapioca or in possession of advanced degrees will point to this event to declare it political, a referendum of sorts on Donald Trump for whom they hold unsustainable rage.

 

THE AXE OF RAGE 

Rage as a political stance is unsustainable because it consumes its object as well as those who revel in it. We grind that axe at our own peril.

That won’t bother pundits such as Robert Reich at Berserkely. Expect his gloating to surface in a day or two while his cadre of unsalaried graduate student do his work for him.

After all, Reich persuaded thousands of Facebook followers that Spring rain, the demotion of Pluto from planet to rock and back again, and your most recent dose of athlete’s foot, were all ploys by the rich to separate you from your money because there is no bottom to the depth of their greed. (Except for St. George Soros, who sends wheelbarrows of Canadian cash to political causes in the United States out of simple generosity, something that most of us would find curious if the cash came from Outer Slobbovia or Russia.) The Professor has yet to mention the President’s promise to go after Big Pharma or his championing “the right to try” to give the sick access to medications stalled in the FDA’s long system for approval. How could Reich do so? His followers might dial back their rage, and then who’d buy the Professor’s books, subscribe to his videos on Netflix, or line up to enroll in his one class per year in a lecture hall packed with the beneficiaries of privilege, those students at Berserkeley who on cue wildly applaud before marching to deny free speech to someone else?

To be sure, Professor Reich will neglect to mention that the trillions lost on world markets in the past few business days have mostly been lost by the rich. Who did you think owned the shares of companies? Your barber?

Also, make certain you know, that Dollar$ believes our President to be at base a lout, a racist, sexist, and probably a compulsive adulterer who happened to revolutionize American politics by seizing on social media as a means to create a bridge between himself and voters when his own party and the American press gave him all the chances of a balloon in a pin factory.

Benjamin-Franklin-U.S.-$100-bill

Chastity?

None of that, by the way, makes him unfit to join the ranks of John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, or Bill Clinton. There were many others; the folks who brag about zero tolerance for white male sin remain eager to rewrite history by expunging ordinary men from the presidential rolls. God help us if they figure out what the Founders did with their time when separated from spouses for months, and that rascal, Benjamin Franklin, was not know for his chastity.

Fortunately, The Donald did not run for Pope.

STOCKS

Dollar$ is happy to report the sky has not fallen, at least not in my neighborhood. If Jemima Puddleduck races past your front door, Dollar$ urges you to unwrap that shotgun you received as a gift from Grandpa. Go bag yourself an inexpensive cheap chicken dinner.

Responsible financial advisers will tell you to do nothing: Dollar$ agrees, unless you have a working crystal ball in which case Dollar$ would appreciate a call. All the elephants could not get through the door without the house collapsing. That’s what happened today.elephants

DECISIONS

What now? Better to ask: Where would your money be better off?

The world economy is peachy.

The American economy is also peachy, showing healthy signs of continued growth.

Do not confuse the economy with the stock markets. After a run-up of 21% in a year, market algorithms were bound to get nervous.  (Algorithms don’t properly get nervous, but the notion of market sentiment is a joke when upwards of 90 percent of all market transactions are conducted by computers.)

The American economy is in danger of suffering wage-inflation. Prices will rise because Joe Doakes, his cousin Joe Six-Pack, and their cousin, Jane Doe, are earning more.

O, the Horror! What will Reich say if people are earning more?  What fraud is being perpetrated that will need a decade to play out?

RELAX

The past week has seen a drop of 5 percent. More is coming.

Bear in mind that historically, a 7 percent gain in a year is good news. If after the carnage we saw today and can expect for a few more days your 401-k, your kids’ 509, and your savings ratchet back to a “mere” 12% annual gain, try not to swoon.

Stay  the course. There are bulls, there are bears, and there are pigs. People who try to time the market—that is, sell now with the hope and expectation of buying it all back when things have settled—are pigs , and like pigs will be slaughtered.

BITCOIN & SAD MILLENIALS

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance on February 3, 2018 at 1:18 pm

It’s hard to be sympathetic.

Several years ago, Dollar$ started plainmoneytalk to offer explanation and instruction about financial matters to the naïve and young. Someone had to.

Big honkin’ financial websites and advisory services run by Wizards have a vested interest in making what is basic seem complicated, the better to charge for magical advice no one should need.

buzzard

Credit Card Company

Personal Finance instruction at high schools is abandoned after explaining checkbooks, possibly because teachers themselves are uncertain of how banks, credit cards, car insurance and all the rest fit together. Young Citizens are left baking in the sun along the roadside, tasty meals strewn meal for carrion credit card companies who feast on the dead.

Dollar$ refrains from specific investment advice, the realm of Buccaneers and Wizards who cover their asses by couching advice in subjunctive mood: If XYZ Corp does not go up, it might go down!  Yes, well, other than standing still, there is no third alternative. There is, however, lots of deniability, and the advice applies not only to investments but to hydrogen airships navigating through lightning storms. If it does not go up like the Hindenburg, it will do just peachy.

hith-hindenburg-

Financial adviser: “But look how well they are doing at the front of the ship!”

The four personal financial functions – Saving, Investing, Spending, Insuring (SISI) — have been explained by Dollar$ in the past. Underlying the advice are a few principles, the hallmark of which is Get Rich Slowly.

BITCOIN TODAY

So it is with a heavy heart but some smug self-justification that Dollar$ observes that in the past two months, the eager sweaty Get Rich NOW! Millennials, nurtured on tales of college drop-outs making billions in weeks and because of weak toilet training remain puzzled by the concept of delayed gratification, have gotten kicks in the head and keister. (Why do we never read of the legions of Ivy League dropouts who lost Mom and Dad’s fortune by investing in systems to convert lead into gold?)

Bitcoin and other “digital currencies” took a beating, dropping a bruising 60 percent from a high of $19,783 in December 2017 to (gulp) as low as $7,700 last week. That’s 60 percent, and the fun is not yet over.bitcoin

Someone will offer a postmortem—increasing regulation around the world? invisible North Koreans getting out of the game until after the Winter Olympics?—but the fact is that at any time  they could have read Dollar$. With any luck, we have seen the last of this worldwide swindle put together for the greater glory of sex traffickers, arms dealers, dope runners, and terrorists.

Dollar$ does not like saying, “I told you so” because it is like kicking  corpse, but in this case will make an exception.

 

BITCOIN IN WONDERLAND

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, Personal Finance, Political Economy, Wall Street, Wall Street Journal on December 22, 2017 at 2:52 pm

“Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); ‘now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!”

Bitcoin Speculator

Bitcoin Speculator

Whenever Dollar$ believes the Bitcoin mania is safely dead, someone nibbles a few crumbs of Bitcoin Cake and we hauled back to Looking Glass Land where mad creatures believe strongly that “Jam yesterday, and jam tomorrow, but never jam today,” is an economic promise and not an explanation the White Queen offers Alice.

The Queen said. ‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.’
‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.
‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’

Beware of strange substances that are labeled Eat Me.

A Silicon Valley startup called Xapo is the White Queen of BitcoinLand.

If you think gains like these are sustainable or represent some sort of value, you must have been eating Alice’s cakes. Maybe you’ve got some of that jam from yesterday. You might also wish to contact Dollar$ who just happens to have shares in the Brooklyn Bridge he can be persuaded to sell to you, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

BTC-2010-lin

 

Xapo is headquartered in Hong Kong, safely away from pesky US regulatory agencies. Sure, they’ve got offices in California, but so does every other financial firm in the world. The Board of Directors boasts former bankers from Argentina and Brazil, not exactly world beaters for stable currencies.

Magic Beans

The bitcoin business proposition is like the story Jack and the Beanstalk. (When it comes to bitcoins, metaphors from fantasy and fairytales are unavoidable.) Give us your real cow, and we will give you magic beans! Overnight they will grow to the sky! When you get up there, you’ll probably encounter a voracious giant ! To survive the giant, you’ll need to be a thief and run like Hell! All you need is the heart of a thief!

The Xapo Proposition

Xapo claims to have constructed physical vaults, “the company says are in mountainous regions.” There are no physical coins, of course. What will be down there will be computers Xapo promises will never be connected to the Internet–you know, like your laptop with no wifi.  If so, that means an army of people doing data entry on a army of disconnected laptops, in mountainous regions that cannot be approached easily. The mountain locations are, naturally, top secret.

If this does not strike you as the premise of a James Bond plot to bring down the world currency markets, what does?

goldeneye_oddjob007_reloade

Bitcoin Security

Liquidity

The bottomless credulity of the cyber-community originates with vitamin deficiencies caused by a steady diet of cold pizza and Red Bull for breakfast, watching Goldfinger too many times, the conviction being that one can get rich without ever getting out of a chair, if armed with an unshakeable libertarian belief that the arms merchants, sex traffickers, and drug dealers MUST have an untraceable non-government issued currency for money laundering.

Bitcoin Banker

Bitcoin Banker

 

Tulips and BitCoins

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance on December 7, 2017 at 9:00 pm

Tulips

In 1636, Holland discovered the tulip. They were imported. People went crazy for them. Everybody wanted them. No one could get enough of them, and the more rare they seemed, the more valuable they became. The cost of tulip futures for some bulbs rose to prices worth more than 20 acres of land. I am not making this up.

It’s easy to laugh, but open your closet and count your Beanie Bag Babies stash. How many collectibles have you bought recently? Holy bananas, have you been buying fake money and stamps with baseball players on them from small Caribbean states as family heirlooms?!?

But God forbid, have you considered BitCoins?

The Wizards on Wall Street are fainting. They notice that Bitcoin rose above $15,000 this week, and is up from $800 a year ago.  Remember, always that Wall Street Wizards invest in nothing, but they want a piece of every transaction. They earn profits when money changes hands, and if that is when your kid’s college education turns to dust, well, that’s a shame.

BitCoins are an imaginary currency backed by the full faith and credit of nothing, not nobody, not nohow.  The dollar, on the other hand, is a currency backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, which Dollars$ admits may not be all that much more, but has to be worth more than a few beeps and blips on some kid’s garage in a Tokyo sub-basement. Sorry, Binky, but the gold in Fort Knox has not been seen for decades. Every bill in your American wallet is a promise to pay–later.

The US dollar is also the standard for several other currencies, small countries, mostly, that cannot risk having speculators manipulate their money. In  the currency markets where money floats, the US dollar is relatively stable.  On the other hand, people who invest in Bitcoins either live too far from a decent casino or think Monopoly money is tricky stuff. They plan on being the last person through the exit when the inevitable collapse occurs, but do you know what happens when all the elephants try to get through the door at the same time?

BitCoin is the preferred currency among drug dealers and computer hijackers, those rascals who are the cousins to that Nigerian prince who offer you millions if you’ll send just a few thousand. The Prince makes that offer by email; the BitCoin pirates fly the Jolly Roger  while sailing through cyberspace.

You get your choice.

bitcoin

look that them digits!

jolly roger

WEALTH INEQUALITY

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, TAXES on December 5, 2017 at 10:40 pm

bossy sisterWhenever my big sister played Monopoly, if the game was going against her she would toss the playing board in the air. My hotels and houses would scatter across the living room carpet as she shouted, “Salugi!” (a New York-ism pronounced “suh-LOO-gee”)and lunged across the table to confiscate most of my deeds, especially Boardwalk and Park Place.

When I was able to read the rules of the game, I learned there was no allowance for tossing the game in the air or confiscating my property. My sister was cheating! But since I was 8 and she was 14, she was able to meet my accusation by beating me up.

The History of Wealth Redistribution

My sister was a revolutionary.

To be sure, Dollar$ reminds readers that rebels object to rules, but revolutionaries rewrite them. Rebellions are common; revolutions are rare.

The folks who threw the board in the air in the past have cried, “Justice!” not “Salugi!” They had names like Washington, Lenin, Mao, and Castro.

Note that political persuasion—Left or Right—has nothing to do with revolutionary status. Mao and Washington might have discussed military tactics, but Dollar$ suggests they would have come to no agreement about economic systems or the function of government.

The Function of Governmentpreamble-20532-20120118-55

It’s less complicated than Monopoly.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Washington (the dude on the $1) believed that the function of government was primarily to protect the rights of the individual, rights that most often needed protection from government itself. If no military personnel have been billeted in your living room, thank Washington.

Washington may have noted that to promote the general welfare required some redistribution of wealth to insure equal opportunity and to insure domestic tranquility, but that does not guarantee equality of status among citizens.

Washington’s pal was the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton (the dude on the $10). Hamilton understood that wealth concentration in institution like banks were a social good, provided the bank used that concentration of wealth to fund the visions of a greater society, lending money to visionaries and giving stability to the economic infrastructure by protecting wealth from being squandered by a ruling class on personal indulgences. Hamilton, an orphan at 11 and the illegitimate son a British West Indies plantation owner, would likely not endorse a notion that the function of government was to protect the rights of the filthy rich to become obscenely rich.

The Situation Today

Some of Dollar$’s best friends sink into fuzzy thinking when talk comes around to how wealth is created and distributed in the United States. They lose sleep fearful that someone, somehow, somewhere, is leveraging assets to optimize profit.  They simple-mindedly believe that economics is a zero-sum game and cannot imagine economic growth. If an organization makes a dollar, someone must be a dollar poorer.

No. That simply is untrue. If it were so, you and I would enjoy the same standard of living as Washington and Hamilton. But the fact is that economies grow.  At issue is how they grow, not whether they should grow at all, though there are indeed some who think that a good idea, too.

The deluded friends of Dollar$ from time to time propose bold programs to redistribute wealth, programs they understand as pursuing Justice.

There two reasons those cannot and should not work.

1. Nowhere in the US Constitution will one find the word corporation. True, we reserve the right to free assembly, but that does not elevate any assembly of citizens devoted to profit a guaranteed right to speak lies in its advertising or compensate its directors and executive officers so rapaciously that shareholders who hope to partake of the boons of the system see their profit participation reduced by rapacious Buccaneers.

Oliver-Wendell-Jr-Holmes-9342405-1-402
Not Sherlock; not Mycroft, just Oliver

2. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. The idea is carved in stone on the IRS building in DC., but let’s note that corporations do not pay taxes, they collect them.  If you think they do not, you are submitting to a distraction. Dollar$ hastens to explain that citizens are consumers. Tax us, and we bleed money. Bleeding, we consume or save less, neither of which are good things, though it does not follow consumers should not be taxed. Civilization is messy, but must be purchased. But to a corporation, taxes are a cost of doing business, like labor, supplies, and logistics.

Raise corporate tax rates, and corporations will only raise their prices.

Guess who pays the difference?

Today’s  Lesson

Remember, friends, we cannot pursue social justice by confiscating wealth. We can, however:

  • Limit executive compensation by law to some multiple of the lowest worker in an organization;
  • Create progressive income tax brackets that limit the shift of American wealth to the rich from the poor;
  • Lower repatriation taxes so that companies that keep their money off-shore are encouraged to bring it home where they can invest in more factories and create jobs here–better to collect 15 percent of something than 30 percent of nothing;
  • Demand that higher education is a matter of national security, and so to insure the blessings of liberty are  free to all;
  • To insure the blessings of liberty on ourselves and our posterity, give tax breaks to organizations that train employees instead of demanding that future employees borrow so much money to gain perceived needed skills that students have no choice except a life of indentured servitude;
  • Regulate publicly traded corporations by disallowing aggregation of profits as cash without paying shareholder dividends, a means to share in that profit. Can we stop the nonsense that hoarding cash is good corporate financial strategy when all it does is spike share prices that are subsequently used to calculate executive performance compensation? (Are you listening Apple Computer?)
  • Return to personal income tax rates that  reflect the needs of our society. Under Eisenhower, we built the interstate highway system and taxed marginal income as much as 92 percent.

We don’t have to throw the game board in the air to start over again: all we need to do is play by the rules.

WUBBA-WUBBA – IT’S TAXES!!!!

In Business, Economy, EDUCATION, TAXES on December 2, 2017 at 1:57 pm

Monster1My friends (Dollar$ has a few) who are academics are running in small circles and tearing at their hair because both tax plans coming from Congress will require graduate students to declare their free tuition as real dollar income. Sesame Street’s Grover would respond to stress by running in small circles and tearing at his hair while crying “Wubba Wubba.”

Maybe the blue Muppet is a professor.
Academics aren’t as smart as Muppets, so we should charitably give them a bit of latitude. Many seem to believe that graduate education in America is done, another victim of a vengeful carrot-topped president who despises anyone with an IQ above room temperature.

But the same folks who picket and bemoan how their institutions exploit graduate students and adjuncts should be celebrating this tax reform.

Glad you asked. Let’s think before we run in circles and cry, “Wubba-Wubba.”

Suppose (God forbid) you are the president of Big Ass University (BAU), a research institution. Down in the labs they are doing unspeakable things to rats and monkeys; in the Humanities they are lying on tattered divans reading books, rising only to apply for grants to allow them to lie on European divans read European books; every two or three years the faculty reorganize the required curriculum to reflect the newest political orthodoxy. As the head honcho at BAU, you spend most of your time gazing at the blueprints for the next architectural triumph that will mark your legacy, residence halls to rival the Marriott, gymnasia, and perhaps a library, albeit one with as few books as possible insofar as the digital age puts texts and other documents in the hands of students’ smartphones. Books are high maintenance; get rid of them and you can be rid of librarians, as well. The renderings of these oncoming innovations hang on the walls near your office, granting you bragging rights before a single spade of earth is turned. The local construction unions have gifted you with a decorative hardhat.

Your most difficult chore is to staff several thousand classrooms with teachers. It’s a real challenge. The people who write checks to BAU have come to expect something more than a 4-year cruise with aerobics, bull sessions, and yoga classes.

Your noteworthy faculty would prefer to remain unmolested by such niceties. Their important research absorbs their time, so they heartily endorse a system that brings your cheap labor to the front of lecture halls. You hire that cheap labor by paying with scrip, that scrip being free tuition and fee waivers that cannot be ported to any institution other than your own. They can’t pay the butcher with it; they can’t pay a landlord for some close-to-campus vermin infested hovel. The resemblance to the Company Store in a 1930s coal town in West Virginia to BAU should evade no Dollar$ readers.

Note carefully, the dollar value of their pay is calculated by you and has little or nothing to do with their time, labor, or even intelligence—it is a figure calculated by what you are NOT collecting.

Now up steps the Fed with its infernal new tax plan. The Fed will insist your employees declare the scrip that you give them to be income, just like they expect you to declare your limo, clothing allowance, and the two cellphones that come with the job. The Fed now expects to extract taxes from graduate student income in the same way.

How will you ever staff those classes?

PAY THEM WHAT THEY ARE WORTH!

If your professors can earn $100,000 by teaching six or eight classes in a year, they are earning at least $12,500 per class. If a graduate teaching assistant teaches 2 sections in Fall, 2 more in Spring, and 2 more in Summer, at $12, 500 per section, they are good for a salary of $75,000 per year.

What? You say that’s too much? That graduate teaching assistants were meant to be exploited? Wasn’t that you Dollars$ saw on the picket line demanding equal pay for equal work?

What? You fear people will stop going to graduate school and so to cover lower division classes BAU will have to create more tenure-track jobs??? How will adjuncts in dead-end careers stand it? Job openings????

Wubba-wubba, wubba wubba wubba..