Friday, January 19, 2007

Five More Thoughts (unoriginal edition)

Gotta get those social and economical thoughts out of my head. Don't want to get a reputation for a serious political type or anything.

1. Big sigh everybody, more about housing.
Like it or not, new home construction is, if not a key economic indicator, an oft-cited one. New home construction is up, the economy is saved! Now it's down, and we're all sinking with it. Why is it so important?

The housing market, we're frequently told, is an economic bellweather. From the bottom view, having an economy built on real estate means that people occupy homes and service businesses come to employ people and pay them, and as such, the Starbuckses and Wal-Marts that follow the population also sustain them. It seems a little like a perpetuum mobile, complete with corporate demons, but value really is being created. It's generated in developing the real estate from idle fields into valuable homes, and it's generated in moving those services near to them. The problem is, there is only so much real estate, and only so many people to occupy it.

New home construction, to my mind, is one of those easy-to-identify bubble quantities. Yes, the population changes (grows, natch), as does the fraction of it that rents, or the number of people per home, or even the number of houses that people own, but there are still some hard limits to the number of homes that can be sustained, correlated to the actual number of people. Growing an economy on real estate seems to work by picking up the market and moving it somewhere else, again and again ...until there is nowhere else to put new ones. And what a nasty, sterile shithole my kids will be living in then.

Shouldn't we be creating new markets by creating new technology? New services?

unoriginal: I've rediscovered the obvious. Also, it seems every third post of mine is on this subject

2. I've heard this before.
Listening to NPR last week (as I usually do on my inexcusably long commute), I caught a piece in which the U.S. ambassador to Iraq (or possibly it was the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S.) was talking up Bush's bold new surge. Paraphrasing the radio interview from memory:

"What does this surge change on the ground? What will you do differently now?"

"Well, we must reduce violence in the streets if Iraq is to be a soveriegn yada yada blada blah blah..."

"Interesting. And so what are the goals of the surge?" [And NPR has the good interviewers, right?]

All this surge talk sounds awfully familiar to me. If you've worked in a company with sufficient turnover in management, you've heard it too. Once or twice a year, the newer leaders prove their meddle by organizing some kind of corporate initiave, and whether it's for "excellence," or "super value," or "world class organization," or some similar pleasing-sounding but meaningless bullshit, it's first greeted with great fanfare, causes a few extra meetings for a while, and then it's clean forgotten in about five weeks. The initiatives result in precisely zero lasting change in anything, and us working stiffs learn to ignore them after the first few iterations. (Maybe the company's going under because we just don’t believe hard enough.)

Your MBA president, everyone.

unoriginal: I got excited and posted this last week as a comment on the lovely hipparchia's blog.

3. Ten bucks an hour to do what?
Don't tell them there's a war on or anything, but our daring Democratic congress made it an agenda item in their first hundred hours to raise the minimum wage. (Did they get it through? I meant to write this two weeks ago.) Long live the donkey, the poor are saved!

I'm pretty ambivalent about the minimum wage. I'm not too happy about people being underpaid, mind you, and empathize with anyone who's in the unenviable position of trying to subsist on one. The problem that I have with it, is that some jobs aren't made for subsistence. Johnny Q. McDipshit should be able to work after school peddling gas or sweeping warehouses for beer money, and not bankrupt his employers while doing so. Mrs. Kathleen O'Frazzled should be able to make a few bucks on the side as she hides from her children a couple times a week. The problem with minimum wage jobs (assuming the liberal anecdote is true) is that people rely on them to live. Maybe that low unemployment is thanks to the greeters at those new suburban Wal-Marts, or the foam wiper at the shiny new Starbucks. Is our economy ever fucked, or what?

In any case, in a head-slapping moment, I realized that the minimum wage is about redistribution. That's a loaded word of course, but it's not like we don't have our share of upward redistribution. The minimum wage is designed to make employers spread out more in wages than to shareholders or CEO bonuses or lobbyists or graft. It's to compensate rampant inequality. But I doubt it actually works much. Not only do I think it targets the wrong employers, but if you're in a position where an extra buck an hour can save you, you've still got it pretty rough.

unoriginal: I've rediscovered the obvious again.

4. Another head-slapper
So I was assigned a little light reading a couple weeks ago about the U.S. health care system. When confronted with gigantic problems like that, it's my inclination to try and reduce them to the clearest possible representation that I can get to without actually doing any actual research (ahem). One important question among many: can the government administer medical insurance effectively enough and responsibly enough for a single-payer system to be effective. Though I'm as distrustful of government as anyone, I can't help but note that even if other countries aren't quite as stratospherically super-dee-duper in their top-tier medical technology, then they still look like they're getting more care for their euro or their loonie. Would we be better off with Medicare?

Believe it or not, Medicare is less expensive to administer. One serious detractor was only able to come to the conclusion that the difference, while extant, wasn't as big as advertised, and that was by taking care to include the either sort of provider's administrative costs. Medicare does something that the private companies don't, however, which is include anyone. In fact it insures a segment of society that is far more likely to be sick. What does private insurance have that Medicare doesn't? Well, I'm pretty sure they hire more actuaries. Those extra costs are to find ways of not paying insurance.

(But I am not at all certain that Medicaid works.)

unoriginal: hipparchia got this one out of me too

5. Fuck the po-lice
It's that time of year again:

"Mr. Resident? This is Bubba from the fraternal order of--"

"Not interested."

"Don't you want to support the po--"

"I don't take phone solicitations."

"But this isn't a solicitation." [Which, parenthetically, is of those statements that categorically can't be true when it passes someone's lips.] "If you pay just fifteen dollars, you'll get a sticker that--"

"Fuck you. Goodbye."

Even the hardcore libertarians (I'm a softcore one, I guess) agree that internal justice and security are legitimate functions of the state. And it's not that I don't support the cops in principle, or even that I object to policemen's charities. The problem is the damn sticker. For one thing, I don't think it's going to get me anywhere if I'm stopped doing 80 along the backroads, but more to the point, I oppose it on principle. Those strong hints are to suggest that the cops are going to give me (or beningly neglect some) extra cop service for supporting them with their goddamn decal. That's crossing the line from a civic service to a protection racket.

(Don't forget to ask me about red light cameras.)

unoriginal: These are my words, but I'm pretty sure I read a similar rant ten years ago on another forum. I'm annoyed enough to regurgitate it.



twiffer said...

aren't there exceptions for minimum wage? i thought, for instance, that you could pay kids less. but i might just be making that up.

Keifus said...

You know what, I have no idea. If so, it takes some heat from that sermon. I know you can pay less to people who earn tips (waiters, e.g.) however.

Nice picture. You'll be pleased to know I've grown my own beard back. Makes me look like a grownup.


twiffer said...

hey, that's (partly) why i have one. plus, the warmth in winter. not that it's actually been cold, granted. plus, my dad has one, so i suppose that factors in. and i don't like shaving.

yeah, i know about workers who get tips. really not sure though. i do know that my first season as a lifeguard, i made $7.25 an hour, and that was, like, 2 bucks over minimum wage. and my first post college job, as a temp, i think i made 10 an hour.

obfuscati said...

i made about $1/hr more, with tips, delivering pizzas several years ago than i do now as a computer geek. same holidays, sick days, retirement, and health insurance for both jobs. ie, none.

mecwtzjh: macbeth witch hunt
yxinoje: why in the heck not, joe?

obfuscati said...

actually, this one really deserves better than the two rather fluffy responses i've offered, but my brain cells have gone on strike.

uiwsbqv: to you i wish biscuits
gtqknvnp: great quip on knapsacks
wkokir: i give up [glad you liked the old hag one]

Keifus said...

Fluffy comments? You responded with the wrong nickname.

Too bad too, because your quip made me think of this (on a cd my dad recently gave me). Googling, I also discovered you can buy these. Good grief.

Anyway, I'm outta here.

tdxmtn: damn the mountain tax man

hipparchia said...

should i tell you that i have books on backpacking with your dog?

anyways, shameless self-promotion

hfakeljd: he faked it