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Rocket Surgery

As I sit here “flying my desk” I continue to receive confirmation notes from Amazon that:

  1. My order has been confirmed
  2. My order has been shipped

These notes come complete with tracking numbers that allow me to view the status of each order and, then, to see where FedEx is in shipping each order.  It’s my hope that in the coming year I will have outdoor cameras/locked delivery boxes that will allow me to view the delivery of each package.

In any event, I am struck by the absolute and sheer awesomeness of a marketplace that is open 7x24x365.  I’m able to shop for goods around the globe at any time of the day.  Most specifically, a time of day that is convenient for me.

In addition to the fact  that the market makes available global goods of all kinds at any time of day, I don’t have to leave my desk, or sofa, or tub or wherever I am accessing that market place from.  I am able to order, pay for and then have delivered to me my goods and never even leave the house.  Depending on my specific state of organization, this may be literally true.  I could order a book and have it delivered to me before I even ever need to leave the house.

And this whole trade I make with the market place makes me richer.

I value having a book delivered to me more than I value the $10.50 it cost me.  By definition, I become more “wealthy” as a result of this transaction.  As each transaction adds up, I become even MORE wealthy.  Bird food delivered to my door?  More wealthy.  Bakugans for the boy?  More wealthy.

And the genius is that Amazon becomes more wealthy too!  They value the $10.50 more than they value the capital it took to establish the infrastructure to facilitate the sale.  Same with FedEx and the imbedded shipping charges.  And the publisher who printed the book.  And the author who penned it.  None of them would have entered into the arrangement had they not felt so.

We ALL become more wealthy as a result.

And it struck me.  If we reject capitalism, that each man is out to obtain the best value for himself, then what we are saying is that we would only desire to read books written by ourselves.  To wear clothes woven and stitched by ourselves.  Eat food grown or raised by ourselves.  And live i houses built by ourselves.

That, or enjoyed at the coercion of others.

Are there losers in capitalism, even as it functions “properly”?  Yes, without a doubt.  But it is the unmistakable sting of failure that drives us to succeed.  It is the joyous sense of success that drives us to avoid failure.

And so it must be.  It is how we evolved from that first strike of lighting in the primordial mud.  A series of experiments where some failed and withered while others succeeded and thrived.  Evolution is, in a sense, capitalism.

To reject the free market is to reject truth.  And instead rely on “faith”.  Faith that all men, or enough of them, will act in such a manner that is contradictory to his nature.

The law says that you are only allowed to vote if you are a citizen.  And then only once.

Why is it that the Obama Justice Department continues to block efforts to enforce existing law?

AUSTIN, Tex. — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to enter the turbulent political waters of voting rights on Tuesday, signaling that the Justice Department will take an aggressive stance in reviewing new laws in several states that civil rights advocates say are meant to dampen minority participation in the national elections next year.

Can you imagine passing a speed limit law and then forbidding law enforcement from checking how fast you’re going in order to enforce said law?

Suppose I’m a hiring manager.  And I’m interviewing for an open position.  Can I legitimately use the fact that one of the candidates showed up for the interview in his pajamas as a reason not to consider him for employment?

How about if one of the candidates pulls out a cigarette and lights up.  How about that?  Can I use that fact to disqualify a candidate?

So, if I can discriminate against jammy wearing smokers, why can’t I discriminate against people who won’t go and get a job?

Unbelievable.

If the Occupy crowd wants to know why they are graduating with mountains of debt and no viable job options to pay it down, they have to look no further than their own existence:

Occupy Wall Street is becoming a teachable moment for New York City college students.

New York University plans to offer two classes next semester on the protest movement, whose participants frequently marched and rallied around the school’s Greenwich Village campus this fall.

The for-credit undergraduate class, offered through the university’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, examines economy and culture. The class has a rotating focus, and for the coming semester, it will be called “Why Occupy Wall Street? The History and Politics of Debt and Finance.”

I bet employers all over the nation are looking to hire kids with THAT on their resume.

I know.

I KNOW that a professional used to making North of 80k isn’t interested in hearing this.  Hell, someone making 30k doesn’t wanna hear this either.  But the fact is, there are jobs out there.  The problem is, the government is making it impossible to fill ’em.

When a potential worker is faced with working 40 hours a week in order earn 8-9 bucks an hour [$320-$360 a week] vs. not working at all and making $310 in unemployment, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out what’s gonna happen.

By the way, McDonalds is offering 401k, insurance, cheap food and scholarships.

There are jobs.  That doesn’t seem to be the problem.  We need people willing to work.

Oh, and Lawrence O’Donnell too.

I’m watching The Last Word with Lawrence tonight as I’m working a little on Tarheel.  The topic of the night, at least the lead topic, is the Republican debate.  And his second guest segment is with Michael Moore.  You know, the guy that hates capitalism.  Yeah, him.  Anyway, this is classic.

I’ll put the video up as soon as they have it on the you tubes.

Okay, so it starts like this:

Newt: [hypothetical question to an OWS protester] Who’s gonna pay for the park you’re occupying if there are no businesses making a profit?

Lawrence: Introduces Moore.

Banter between Moore and Lawrence
Moore: I think he’s got it mixed up though when he says “if it wasn’t for the corporation, there wouldn’t be a park there.”  I seem to remember, ah, in America, parks are developed by the local governments —

Lawrence: Mmmm hmmm

Moore: — for the people by the people let the people picnic and do things.  I don’t ever remember a corporate park.

Lawrence: You don’t have to buy a ticket.

More head exploding nonsense follows.

For clarification:

Zuccotti Park:

Zuccotti Park, formerly called Liberty Plaza Park, is a 33,000-square-foot (3,100 m2) publicly accessible park in Lower Manhattan, New York City, privately owned by Brookfield Properties. The park was created in 1968 by United States Steel, after the property owners negotiated its creation with city officials, and named Liberty Plaza Park and situated beside One Liberty Plaza. It is located between Broadway, Trinity Place, Liberty Street and Cedar Street. The park’s northwest corner is across the street from Four World Trade Center. It has been popular with local tourists and financial workers.

The park, once known as Liberty Plaza Park, is owned by A CORPORATION!  I think I should say that again.  The park, the place where OWS is gathering, is not a public park.  It is a private park owned by a CORPORATION!

Newt knows this.  I know this.  Every fuckin’ body knows this.

Except Lawrence O’Donnell and Michael Moore.

It is SO owned by a corporation that THIS happened:

The park was heavily damaged in the September 11 attacks and subsequent recovery efforts of 2001. The plaza was later used as the site of several events commemorating the anniversary of the attacks. After renovations in 2006, the park was renamed by its current owners, Brookfield Office Properties, after company chairman John Zuccotti.

After being damaged in the terrorist attacks, the park once known as LIBERTY PARK for chrise’sakes, was renamed Zuccotti park after the COMPANY CHAIRMAN!

They changed the name of the park from Liberty Park to the name of their CHAIRMAN!

This park can’t GET any more corporate.

Michael Moore is an ass.  And a dumb one too.

Thursday I posted my thoughts on the GINI rating and how it pertains to income here in America.  In that post, my main thrust was the fact that GINI, as reported when comparing national income disparity rankings, was comparing household incomes.  Not the incomes of individuals, but of households.

And I think that’s important.  As I demonstrated in that post, taking these two families:

  • Family A making $60,000 a year
  • Family B making $70,000 a year

Looks to be fairly equitable.  But now let’s consider that family A and family B get divorced, created 4 households out of two.  Then the breakdown looks like this:

  • Family A making $0 a year
  • Family B making $28,000 a year
  • Family C making $32,000 a year
  • Family D making $70,000 a year

THIS looks to be dramatically different.  However, the same four families in the second picture are the individual household represented in the first picture.  Remarkable, yes?

So, how do things look in real life?  Let’s take a look at the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for 2010:

Descriptor Lowest Fifth Second Fifth Third Fifth Fourth Fifth Highest Fifth
Family Households 9,411 13,969 16,162 18,543 20,528
% 12 17.8 20.6 23.6 26.1
Married Couples 4,037 8,521 11,587 15,270 18,621
% 7 14.7 20 26.3 32.1
No Earners 14,805 7,037 3,327 1,496 722
% 54.1 25.7 12.1 5.5 2.6
One Earner 7,845 12,474 11,488 7,853 5,263
% 17.5 27.8 25.6 17.5 11.7
Two Earners 1,020 3,790 7,702 11,700 13,258
% 2.7 10.1 20.6 31.2 35.4
Three Earners 55 379 1,040 2,112 3,119
% 0.8 5.6 15.5 31.5 46.5
Four Earners 5 58 180 577 1,377
% 0.2 2.6 8.2 26.2 62.7
Aggregate Earners 10,240 21,940 31,595 41,125 48,338

The data is remarkable.  Let’s go through it bit by bit.

First, the “Fifths” listed at the top is earnings by quintile.  That is, the poorest 20% is the “Lowest Fifth” while the richest 20% is the “Highest Fifth”.

Now then, the data:

Households that are “families” is a massive indicator of income.As the percentage of families in each fifth increases, so does the wealth.  The same goes for married couples.  The top fifth has nearly 5x the number of married couples as the bottom fifth.  Seems that family is important in wealth creation.

Family aside, the powerful statistic that I took away was the number of earners in a household.  And what I found matches exactly with the phenomenon I described in my earlier post.

Of the households in the bottom fifth, more than HALF don’t have a single wage earner in the household.  More than half.  While the top 20% has only 2.6% of households that don’t qualify as a wage earner.

Further, if you look at the “Lowest Fifth” as a column and march down, you’ll see that fewer and fewer of those households have the described number of earners.  Starting at the top, this segment of the population has 54% of households with 0 wage earners.  While at the bottom, it has but .2% of the households with 4 wage earners.  The exact opposite is true of the “Highest Fifth”.

In short, it would seem that as a household has more wage earners, that household moves from one of the fifths to another.  And to the extent that this is true, look at the last line; aggregate earners.

The “Lowest Fifth” has 10,240 members.  The fifth that earns twice as much money as the lowest fifth has twice as many wage earners.  The fifth that makes three times as much as the lowest fifth has three times as many wage earners.  The fourth has four times as many wage earners.  And the highest has five times the number of wage earners.

This is true almost to the exact number.

The data presented above tells me that we don’t have an income disparity issue.  We have a family structure issue.  If you take a single wage earner in a household and compare that household to one with 4 wage earners, it should be no surprise which of the two households makes more money.

And lest there be any doubt.  The “Highest Fifth”?  They are some working sums -o- beetches.  Fully 62.7% of those households have FOUR wage earners.  This is not the lazy rich that the OWS and the ((% make them out to be.

One of the most powerful lessons I’ve taken away from all the reading, studying, arguing and debating I’ve done over the past 4 years of my “political awareness” has been that of incentives.  And how much they matter.  And until you can admit that people are driven by incentives, in general mind you, you will never be able to understand how laws and regulations shape our world.

Consider:

(AP) ONEONTA, Ala. – Potato farmer Keith Smith saw most of his immigrant workers leave after Alabama’s tough immigration law took effect, so he hired Americans. It hasn’t worked out: Most show up late, work slower than seasoned farm hands and are ready to call it a day after lunch or by midafternoon. Some quit after a single day.

Now listen, Alabama has an unemployment rate of 9.8%.

Nearly 1 in 10 Alabamians are out of work.  More I’m sure, if you count the folks who’ve given up.  And the numbers are worse if you add up those folks who are underemployed.  Yet farmers can’t keep help.

Too be sure, the value proposition is a tough one:

 It’s hot, the hours are long, the pay isn’t enough and it’s just plain hard.

At his farm, field workers get $2 for every 25-pound box of tomatoes they fill.

A crew of 25 Americans recently picked 200 boxes — giving them each $24 for the day.

That’s $3 an hour.  Hardly worth downsides of the job.

Finally, and here is the kicker, the government makes it too easy to say “no” to jobs:

It may make sense for some to sit on the couch. Unemployment benefits provide up to $265 a week while a minimum wage job, at $7.25 an hour for 40 hours, brings in $290.

Who in their right mind would choose to work back-breaking jobs in order to make an effective $25 a week?

No one.

There are jobs out there all right, just that we make it too easy to say no to ’em.

All of us are trying to figure out this #OWS stuff and  how it impacts us.  The opinions ranges from one of skepticism and disgust to respect and admiration.  Clearly the movement is having an impact.

My personal reaction to the movement is one of disdain.  It’s my understanding that these folks are upset that 1% of the people control more than 1% of the wealth.  That the remaining 99% of the population is somehow getting screwed.  To be sure, there is some version of protest that speaks to the very elite rich manipulating the “system” to their advantage in a way that endangers our economic fabric, but I firmly believe these people to be few and far between.

What we are seeing is a bunch of folks upset that there are rich people.  Or rather, who have more money than they have.  But is that the real picture?

Let’s take a look at the top 1%:

I sit in an interesting chair in the financial services industry. Our clients largely fall into the top 1%, have a net worth of $5,000,000 or above, and if working make over $300,000 per year. My observations on the sources of their wealth and concerns come from my professional and social activities within this group.

…a family enters the top 1% or so today with somewhere around $300k to $400k in pre-tax annual income and over $1.2M in net worth.

Okay, so that’s a lot of money.  A TON of money.  I can remember a time when earning that kind of money was stupid.  In fact, earning that kinda money for me is STILL stupid.

But let’s go further:

The 99th to 99.5th percentiles largely include physicians, attorneys, upper middle management, and small business people who have done well….

The net worth for those in the lower half of the top 1% is usually achieved after decades of education, hard work, saving and investing as a professional or small business person.

Decades.  Hard work. Saving.  Investing.

Decades.  That is, these folks didn’t “come into” this money, they earned it.  EARNED it.  By working, risking and sacrificing.  THAT is the lower half of the 1%.  Which means that we are now talking about the top half of the 1%.

The whole read is fascinating.  But I’ll leave you with what the author leaves us with:

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is this: A highly complex set of laws and exemptions from laws and taxes has been put in place by those in the uppermost reaches of the U.S. financial system. It allows them to protect and increase their wealth and significantly affect the U.S. political and legislative processes. They have real power and real wealth. Ordinary citizens in the bottom 99.9% are largely not aware of these systems, do not understand how they work, are unlikely to participate in them, and have little likelihood of entering the top 0.5%, much less the top 0.1%.

I think this is true.  I am willing to believe that the top 0.01% of Americans have much if not all of the power and influence in this country.  Which, by the way, turns out to be about 32,243 people.  And we’re not really talking about people, we’re talking about families.  So it could be half that.

If the cost of 99.99% of us living like relative kings is having 16,000 of us live lives that we can only dream of?  Well, hell, I’m willing to pay that.

Don’t ever forget.  Ever.  That we have a life that would have been the envy of the richest people of the world just 50 years ago.  Imagine what the world’s wealthiest would have paid for what we now see as everyday convenience.

If you wanna graduate level course in “Impacting Corporate Greed”, just read the following:

Bowing to customers’ anger and confusion over its move to divide its streaming and DVD video offerings, Netflix is reversing itself, snuffing the plan to offer DVDs by mail via a new service called “Qwikster.”

Why did Netflix do this?

The decision to split the services was wildly unpopular among Netflix subscribers. Reacting to the announcement on Facebook, a customer named Willie Williams summed it up in a way that 1,877 people agreed with:

Individually your DVD and steaming services do not offer enough to justify their expense. As a bundled service they supplement each other and provide the value that made Netflix wonderful. DVDs allowed you to view newer releases in a fairly timely manner. Streaming allowed for viewing of the older catalog of movies that come up when you think of it but might not be worth waiting for to arrive in the mail….

By separating these services I fear you are weakening Netflix as a service and subsequently the brand. Together these services made Netflix a success, separated you lack the availability and pricing of your competitors.

Corporations have no power if they don’t produce stuff you don’t want.