So, the US Postal Service is slowly going bankrupt under a crushing load of unfunded pensions and union wages. Fortunately, there is an obvious solution.
What? Re-negotiate the labor contracts to something sustainable? No, no, no. The answer we were looking for was promote brand awareness by starting your own clothing line.
“It will make a contribution, but it’s bigger than that,” Betts said. “It’s really brand reputation, brand awareness, in addition to revenues.
I can totally see how this plays out: “Man, what a cool jacket! I think I’ll go home and send some *correspondence*, yo!”
I personally can’t see how this could possibly fail.
…the somewhat startling reality that “the single mom is better off earning gross income of $29,000 with $57,327 in net income & benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 with net income and benefits of $57,045.”
The graphic below quite clearly, and very painfully, confirms that there is an earnings vacuum of around $40k in which US workers are perfectly ambivalent toward inputting more effort since it does not result in any additional incremental disposable income.
From Zero Hedge.
Ed Morrissey points out that income inequality prevents equal access to firearms:
Now that the Roberts Court has affirmed that the government has the power to mandate purchases of private goods and services as long as it’s structured as a tax, I propose that we put this new-found authority in the service of an explicit Constitutional right. For far too long, too many Americans have suffered from an inequal distribution of firearms, despite the Second Amendment’s express exhortation to “keep and bear arms,” in large part because income inequality in this nation has kept the poor and working classes from having the proper protection for themselves and their loved ones. We need to end this disparity now by applying the ObamaCare model immediately.
RTWT. Is it bad if I can’t tell if this is satire?
An article on CNBC highlights the difficulties municipalities are going to have with their pension systems.
Big US cities could be squeezed by unfunded public pensions as they and counties face a $574 billion funding gap, a study to be released on Tuesday shows.
The gap at the municipal level would be in addition to $3,000 billion in unfunded liabilities already estimated for state-run pensions, according to research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Rochester.
“What is yet to be seen is how this burden will be distributed between state and local governments and whether the federal government will be called upon for bail-outs,” said Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School.
I’ve believed for a while now that the defined-benefit pension system is simply unsustainable. The math tells us that we are beginning a demographic shift in which we are going to have more retirees than workers. The burdens of these pension systems will shift more and more onto the current workers. But the article makes a fundamental error:
Based on his estimates, which use US Treasuries as the benchmark, each household already owes an average of $14,165 to current and former municipal public employees in the 50 cities and counties studied.
In New York City, San Francisco and Boston the total is more than $30,000 a household and, in Chicago, it tops $40,000.
This is not correct. The households have no obligation whatsoever to anyone. The local governments do. They can pass that obligation onto the households in the form of taxes. But the household has the option to say “Screw you guys, I’m going home” and move to greener – and less taxed – pastures. Technology makes movement even easier. I can do my job from anywhere I can get to an airport and get broadband internet access.
What will happen when cities like New York and Chicago, which are already loosing residents, suddenly find themselves having to pay higher and higher pension obligations with a smaller and smaller tax base? How long can they survive before everyone pulls out?
Ponzi or pyramid schemes are investment scams in which investors are promised abnormally
high profits on their investments. No investment is actually made. Early investors
are paid returns with the investment money received from the later investors. The
system usually collapses. The later investors do not receive dividends and lose
their initial investment.
Hmmm….what does that remind us of?
Peter at Bayou Renaissance Man posted a semi-tongue-in-cheek idea on how to address our economic woes.
Sadly, it won’t work. All it would do is raise prices where only those beneficiaries of economic largess would be able to afford anything. Oh, and any savers would be wiped out. And anyone holding US debt would be wiped out. And some of those folks might get pissed.
I’ve been using an analogy to describe the current condition with Social Security and Medicare. We sitting in a lifeboat. We have a member of our boat that has been grievously wounded. They are going to die. This is very sad, but there is nothing we can do. As a boat, we have two choices. We can expend all of our resources to try to save our crew member, have them die, and then starve to death ourselves, or we can let the crewman die and still have resources for our own survival.
This may sound dire, but I believe that the math bears me out. Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable. They have become giant cancerous tumors that are starving the host. If it isn’t cut out, the host will die. We can do this now, while the host is healthy and the “surgery” has a good chance of success…or we can wait until the tumor is so large, the damage so grave, and the surgery so risky that it has a good chance of killing the patient.
I don’t make this suggestion lightly. I understand that it means that a number of individuals who were counting on their Social Security will probably end up being unable to retire. That’s very sad. But the question that I keep coming back to is this: am I willing to ensure my parent’s standard of living at the expense of my child’s? Am I willing to shackle my daughter with lifelong debt in order to assure the lifestyle of today’s seniors?
No. I’m not.
Lawdog links to a story of insurance companies taking their balls and going home.
I made rather the same point, about what happens when you make companies sell products that they can’t make money on. They take their balls and go home.
Borepatch wrote a great piece…holy crap, three days ago? Man, I need to catch up on my feeds. I hate to try to summarize it, because he does a much better job than I, in a nutshell, he makes a similar point to the one that I did yesterday: government regulation slows down the pace of innovation, and can even stop it all together. RTWT.
BP calls out Sarbanes-Oxley as specifically having destroyed potential value for our country by stifling new company creation. SOX has theoretically reduced our risk of another Enron…but at the cost of billions of dollars in lost upside. Human beings are not very good at understanding risk. We tend to ignore the cost in favor of the benefit.
For example, I might propose a law banning the posession, sale, and use of a common piece of recreational sports equipment. These items are prevalent in the United Sates: over 10 million are privately owned. Unfortunately, they kill almost 4,000 people per year. I am referring, of course, to the backyard swimming pool.
This kind of issue can also bee seen in the current effort to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide.
I was excoriated in my behavioral analysis class for suggesting that Ford might have acted properly in their analysis of the Pinto situation. In a nutshell, in the late 1970s, Ford discovered a design problem with the Pinto which under certain circumstances a collision would make a vehicle fire likely. A $11 part fixed the problem. Ford did the math, decided that it was cheaper to pay out the wrongful death suits that would result from the fires, and declined to make the fix. Mother Jones magazine got wind of the situation, and published an article decrying the Ford company for being the heartless monsters that they obviously are, and hilarity ensues.
But let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we? Ford had made about 2,000,000 Pintos by the time the problem was known. This must have been a pretty serious problem. How many fires did we have with the Pinto? 27. Not a big problem. A rare occurrence.
Second, the Pinto was an entry level car. Basic models started at $1850. An $11 dollar fix on an $1850 car starts to become significant. But suppose it wasn’t $11, suppose it was $100 or $1000 dollars? Should we still make the fix? Where do we draw the line?
“Ah…but, George”, you say, “these are human lives we are dealing with here. Surely, if we can save one human life, it is worth it!” This sounds good. No one wants people to die. But once you acknowledge that there is a point beyond which we ignore the risk because it is too small, and the cost of mitigation too big, then we are only arguing about magnitude. And that is precisely what Ford did. Their error in conducting their cost/benefit analysis was not a flawed methodology, but rather that they failed to consider the impact of what would to their reputation if the memo got out. My buddy Lewis calls this the “CNN moment.”
Which brings us back to SOX. The problem with SOX as a risk mitigator is two fold. First, it takes what in fact a very rare occurrence (massive, intentional fraud by corporate management) and treats it as a mainstream occurrence. This imposes enormous monitoring and bonding costs on our economy that result in lost wealth.
Secondly, it makes the same mistake the the TSA does. The TSA believes that it can prevent future terrorist attacks by looking at what terrorists have done in the past. This is skating to where the puck is rather then skating to where the puck is going to be. The next corporate fraud, like the next terroist attack (and there will be next ones) will occur despite SOX and the TSA. And we will have spent all that money for nothing.
A post by my buddy American Manifesto about ObamaCare has worked me to sputtering rage before my trip to the gym, and I feel the need to respond.
I don’t want to get into the ObamaCare thing. Whether you think it is a Good Thing, or a Bad Thing is, strictly speaking, not really germane to my point. What I want to do is talk a little bit about business, and why it is that government mandates always raise prices.
As regular readers know, I recently completed an MBA. Simply put, I have a masters degree in taking piles of money, and converting them into larger piles of money. That is all a business, any business, does. They go about it in many different ways, with different strategies (or “business models”) but at the end of the day, that is all they do. Take money pile A, and make it into larger money pile B.
Now, consistent with the goal of making their money pile bigger, they have two sub goals:
- Make the pile as big as possible, as quickly as possible, with as little friction as possible.
- Minimize the possibility that the pile will not get as big as they expected, or heaven forbid, even get smaller.
These truths are universal, whether you are talking about a behemoth like Microsoft or GM, or your local mom-and-pop business. We call the first sub-goal “profit” or “return”. We call the second “risk”. Every business wants to maximize return and minimize risk. And as they decide on their strategy for making their money pile bigger, or business model, they form it around their expectations of return, and their tolerance for risk.
To use examples to illustrate the point, at one extreme a business could take all their assets and put them into low yield Treasury bonds. Historically, these bonds are considered perfectly safe in that they guarantee a set rate of return with no possibility of default*. Very low risk, very low return. At the other extreme, we might invest our assets in a roll of the Roulette wheel, betting all on black. A possibility that we will instantly double our money, but an equally even possibility that we will loose it all. Very high return, very high risk.
Which is the better strategy? There is math behind this, but accept for the sake of argument that the answer is it doesn’t matter. An investor doesn’t care about risk versus reward as long as they are getting the right return for the risk that they are taking. In other words, our hypothetical investor doesn’t care about the roulette wheel, as long as his upside is 100% return. (And considering the number of people who flock to Vegas regularly, there is observational evidence that this is true.)
OK, what happens if the casino owners decide that instead of returning 100% on black, they will only return a profit of 75%. The risk/reward calculation has changed. Our investor isn’t being compensated for his risk. So, he picks up his chips and goes to another table, or calls his broker and buys some T-bills.
Back to our business. Our business owner is making decisions that are no different from that of our gambler in Vegas. He has to decide how to make his money pile bigger, while avoiding the possibility that it will get smaller. In order to do this, he formulates a plan: “I’ll take $1,000 out of the bank and use it to build a churro stand at the street fair. After all my expenses, I can make 1000 churros, sell them for $2.00 each and make a cool $1,000!” The potential upside of $1,000 is enough to get our investor out of bed early in the morning on Saturday, and to accept the fact that he may not sell 1000 Churros. He may only sell 500 and will be eating Churros for dinner for the next few weeks.
What happens when the street fair commission decides to impose a $.50 cent per churro tax at the fair? Our businessman has a problem. He can eat the tax, and only accept that he can only make $500 selling churros at the street fair. But that presents him with a problem. It’s a real pain in the ass getting up at the crack of dawn. And he HATES eating the leftover churros. It’s not worth his time and effort any more if he is going to make a lousy $500. The reward isn’t worth the risk. So, he has two choices. He can raise his price to $2.50, thus bringing his risk and reward back into balance. Or he can say “screw it” and either exit the marketplace or invest his $1,000 somewhere else that will give him the proper return.
One more wrinkle, and then we will get to insurance. Suppose instead of selling the churros himself, our hero decides to just give some money to someone else to do it? He could invest his $1,000 in his neighbor’s churro stand, for example. His neighbor says he will split the profits with him. A $1,000 investment now gets him $500 return, and without all the fuss and bother of having to get up early and eat left over churros. Pretty sweet. But oh noes, the commission comes up with their churro tax!
Now the neighbor has a problem. He can go back to his investor and say “Sorry, dude, I can only get you a $250 return on your money.” But then the investor will probably pull his funding and invest his other neighbor’s deep-fried Oreo stand instead, where his $1,000 still gets him the expected $500 return. He can eat the tax himself, returning the full $500 to his investor. But this leaves no profit for him. Or he can pass along the cost to the consumer, keeping his investor happy, and keeping himself properly compensated for his own risk and effort.
This is precisely what happens in the real world. When government mandates, or taxes, or regulatory items come down from on high, it alters the risk/reward calculation that businesses go through. A business is faced with the same basic choices:
- Accept a lower profit potential. Without a corresponding change in risk, investors will transfer their capital to businesses offer better returns. Put simply, if you have a choice of two investments, A and B that are identical in every way, and both return 10%, where do you put your money? Now what happens when A’s return drops to 5% and B still returns 10%, where do you put your money? This is a key point. Businesses do not have this option in the real world.
- Raise prices to maintain profits at the level necessary to bring things back into balance. This is the only choice that a business can make and remain a going concern. This is why we say there is no such thing as a tax on a corporation. Taxes on corporations are born by either the customers of the corporation, or the investors of the corporation.
Which, finally, brings us back to health insurance. ObamaCare mandates that certain things must be covered. Put another way, they must accept that the cost of providing insurance has gone up; services that they didn’t use to have to pay for are now covered. The insurance businesses can either raise prices or go out of business. Those are the only two options. And at the end of they day, that is what a lot of folks who advocate for more mandates and more government intervention forget. Businesses always have the option of closing up shop.
*(I say historically…the discussion of whether or not this will be true going forward is best kept for another time.)