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« Where's My iPod Shuffle? | Main | Graham Nickson »

December 07, 2006

Elsewhere

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Tim Worstall responds to my "Blogging and Economics" posting. It's all about the utility, argues Tim.

* NZ Conservative reports that high immigration rates are causing problems not just in big modern countries but in small non-democratic states too: Tonga, for instance, where riots by native Tongans resulted in the deaths of a number of ethnic Chinese.

* The Rake catches Dave Eggers being a little ... devious or something.

* 101 Reasons to Stop Writing interviews NaNoWriMo veteran S.Y. Affolee.

* Is Social Security really in trouble? And, if the retirement age is lifted, what kinds of jobs will oldies be doing? Dean Baker and commenters trade ideas. I have a recurring nightmare in which I pay heavy Social Security taxes for decades, get nothing out of the system for The Wife and myself, and spend my declining years stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, all so the system can be "fixed."

* Quiet Bubble points out that a recent issue of The High Hat was devoted to Robert Altman.

* A Washington D.C. nurse reports that illegal immigrants aren't shy about helping themselves to American-quality health care at the American taxpayer's expense.

* The ten most-watched YouTube videos. (Link thanks to Tyler Cowen.)

* How to compare notes and make discoveries in the digital age? Brian has a tip. He writes, "I've discovered more good pop music through Hype Machine in the last six months than through all the friends I've ever had in my entire life."

* The Fat Guy speaks up for lard, butter, and steaks.

* Gallery of the Absurd shows one inspired way to have fun with celebrities. (Link found thanks to Rachel.)

* "From a global perspective, if you have net worth of more than $61,000, you are rich," writes Greg Mankiw.

* "I wish I hadn't read that" sentence of the day: "Hospital-acquired infections are estimated to affect about 2 million patients annually and cause an estimated 100,000 deaths."

* In her latest column, The Communicatrix lays out the five worst reasons for being an actor.

* Daniel Libeskind wins two "Eyesore of the Month" awards in a row from James Kunstler. Never has a more deserving architect etc etc....

* Bratz dolls: innocent toys, or the end of civilization as we know it?

* I always found '60s movie musicals real horror shows. Now I've been vindicated.

* Matt Mullenix evokes a visit with nature writer Steve Bodio, and pulls together an eloquent slide show about the visit too.

* I wonder if the sensible people who object to irresponsible architectural experimentation are growing more sure of themselves. I certainly hope so. How are the depradations going to be stopped if not by our ridicule and outrage? John Massengale reports on a couple of heartening people-vs-the-pros incidents.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at December 7, 2006




Comments

Dean Baker's long pointed out that Social Security is not in any significant danger for the foreseeable future. Any financial issues that might arise can be fixed by a little tinkering around the margins. It's Medicare that's it far worse shape, with financial disaster not too far off.

Posted by: Peter on December 7, 2006 12:25 PM



Peter and Dean Baker are right. This whole Social Security "crisis" is quite the hype, largely promoted by people who have always hated Social Security on principle. The mystery is why so many in the media without an apparent ax to grind are so willing to buy the hype.

Posted by: Steve on December 7, 2006 12:54 PM



Yeah, you can "tinker" in various ways to stiff people owt of their pension benefits, but when you get sick, you get sick.

Posted by: BIOH on December 7, 2006 1:24 PM



Peter and Dean Baker are right.

I can't really take credit for that. All I've done is cite to Dean Baker's writings, as he's an economist and has researched the issue - I'm not and I haven't.

Posted by: Peter on December 7, 2006 1:48 PM



On the Denver Art Museum: A building designed like an instrument for proctological surgery.

Egads! I hope not. Looks more like a bayonet.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on December 7, 2006 3:18 PM



For some reason I couldn't follow the link that "vindicated" your hatred of sixties musicals...but do you mean all of them? I was just sitting here smiling as I thought about Fagin in "Oliver!"---one of the great characters (yeah, I know, thanks to Dickens, not Broadway). I loved his song..

I am reviewing the situation
Can a villain be villain all his life?
All the trials and tribulations
Better settle down and get myself a wife

A wife will cook and sew for me
And come for me and go for me
And go for me and nag at me
The finger she will wag at me
The money she will take from me
A misery she'll make for me...

I think I better think it out again!

And let's face it, Bill Sikes as The Villan is one scary dude. "Oliver!" doesn't exactly fit the "musical" stereotype.

Posted by: annette on December 7, 2006 3:22 PM



Peter, Steve, BIOH -- Those Medicare/Medicaid figures looks scary. I'd actually like to see personal accounts folded into the whole Social Security package. But that's more for ... ideological/aesthetic reasons (inculcate a sense of personal responsibility, etc) than for any emergency reason.

JewishAtheist -- Kunstler's nothing if not a vivid writer!

Annette -- The link if it works should take you to a mashup of "Mary Poppins." Someone has taken footage from "MP" and turned it into a horror-movie trailer. Pretty funny. "Oliver!" was certainly an odd one among all those '60s musicals, wasn't it? A really good movie too. I'm trying to think of other '60s movie musicals that didn't scare the life out of me ... Can't come up with one. They were about the only movies I saw at the time, aside ffrom the early Bond movies. Mark me down as a Bond fan, not a "Sound of Music" fan. Say, that's a pretty good "you're either this or that" way of divvying people up, no? Bond or "Sound of Music"?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 7, 2006 4:18 PM



Say, that's a pretty good "you're either this or that" way of divvying people up, no? Bond or "Sound of Music"?

Sorry to dash your theory, but I'm a huge fan of both, as well as Funny Girl. Well, the first half, anyway.

What can I say? I'm a cheesehead...

Posted by: communicatrix on December 7, 2006 5:37 PM



Re: '60s musicals, I guess "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is the other exception that proves the rule? But mostly I think of individual performers -- Streisand in "Funny Girl", Preston in "The Music Man."

Posted by: Steve on December 7, 2006 5:59 PM



About the Bratz doll: I wonder: is it really that awful. Yes, to an adult the doll is clearly slutty. But the little girls who play with it: who knows what's going through their heads? All I know is that as a kid I was fantastically innocent. I know now that I didn't "get" the adult moments in the movies I was taken to see. Or the pictures and sex stories in the tabloids of the day -- I saw them, but did they register? Not really. I just don't think that kids are nearly as damageable as we think they are. At least not by a doll that they dress and play with and have a momentary superficial "crush" on.

Posted by: ricpic on December 7, 2006 7:28 PM



Re: Bratz, do little kids really "get it" in an adult sense? No, but *I* get it. Even if I don't entirely buy the idea that kids get all their notions of body image, etc., from toys like Barbie and Bratz, I don't want my prepubescent daughter playing with a doll that looks like a prostitute. It's plain sleazy.

Put it this way: I could give her a blow-up sex toy doll and she'd probably bounce around with it and have fun with it. And then she'll get to an age when she looks at me and goes, "What the hell were you thinking?"

Posted by: Steve on December 7, 2006 8:21 PM



MB: Social Security was never designed to finance all of retirement, or to replace "personal responsibility". Trust me, if you are "irresponsible" and end up relying entirely on Social Security you will have a very bare bones, minimal retirement. The idea that SS as currently structured has a negative effect on "personal responsibility" is old liberatarian propaganda you should perhaps clear your mind of. The system was designed as part of a "three legged stool" of retirement -- personal savings, employer pension plans (which are increasingly merging with personal savings), and Social Security. Social Security is designed to be the leg of the stool that gives you a basic, minimum pension as a fallback in case your other investments go bad. It is just there to make sure you don't starve -- if you want any luxury in your retirement you do indeed need to show a lot of responsibility in saving for it.

Social Security is too important to open it up to being looted for a basically aesthetic preference (personal accounts are so cute! they must somehow be connected to "personal responsibility"). Once you let the "centrist" policy types at it they will find a million ways to break the government's obligation to give you the promised pension in return for the taxes you have paid.

Posted by: MQ on December 7, 2006 11:27 PM



MQ writes:

Once you let the "centrist" policy types at it they will find a million ways to break the government's obligation to give you the promised pension in return for the taxes you have paid.

Ha, ha. What possible obligation does government have to do anything? That is quite possibly the most naive remark I've ever hear: government is about compulsion and force, not about rules or fair play.

And as for social security representing some kind of "justice" or "equity", please. It is quite redistributionist. I myself, making the maximum possible contribution into the system and paying (as a self-employed person) that maximum contribution twice, will never receive even a significant fraction of my contributions back, even in nominal dollars, let alone inflation-adjusted dollars. This is by the explicit design of the system, and not some kind of "centrist tampering" you are so horrified by.

On another topic, Greg Mankiw is an idiot, as he defines being "rich" by the relative standard of being richer than most people. This is just silly, as there is a well-established absolutist definition of being rich: having enough money that you don't have to work. Also, he describes the top 1% of people by the amount of assets they possess--"the rich"--as being 37 million people. But 1% of the human race would be 60-65 million people.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 8, 2006 7:52 AM



In my day it was Garbage Pail Kids, which can be seen in all their squalid glory here. (Check out Swell Mel/Dressy Jesse!)

The usual authorities got their tits in a wringer over it, but we kids thought the cards were funny and the critics were clueless - as such critics usually seemed to be, from our perspective. Looking at my generation today I see no discernable Garbage Pail Kids influence, so once again it's Kids 1, Critics 0.

(Now heavy metal is another matter. It's the devil's music! How many promising young people grew their hair long, donned White Snake t-shirts, and drove their Trans-Ams off a cliff, Aldo Kelrast style? The world may never reckon the damage.)

Posted by: Brian on December 8, 2006 8:10 AM



re: comparing Bratz to Garbage Pail Kids and the fallen gods of Heavy Metal, I'm thinking Brian is giving us a topographical map of the slippery slope. The Garbage Pail Kids have an undeniable Rat Fink subversiveness; as a former mullet-head, I'm pressed to admit that in the case of Heavy Metal the "subversive" claim cuts in two distinct directions. If I saw just a hint of that subversiveness in the Bratz, I'd be inclined to give their marketing team a bit of a break. Now, if Barbie went Rat Fink ... I'd be first in line!

Posted by: Whisky Prajer on December 8, 2006 9:26 AM



"This whole Social Security "crisis" is quite the hype, largely promoted by people who have always hated Social Security on principle. The mystery is why so many in the media without an apparent ax to grind are so willing to buy the hype."

Oh, so wrong. The social security system can't be considering in isolation from the larger fiscal deficits the US gov't will be experiencing in the coming decades.

Posted by: jult52 on December 8, 2006 1:37 PM



FB wrote --

"Ha, ha. What possible obligation does government have to do anything? That is quite possibly the most naive remark I've ever hear: government is about compulsion and force, not about rules or fair play."

Your statement is more naive than mine, except it lacks even the virtue of being idealistic. So many libertarians essentially assume the worst about what government can be made to do, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By definition government sucks, hence all we can do is moan about it. With all its flaws, it is quite obvious that the U.S. government is not a military dictatorship that responds only to raw, violent force. There are many channels for affecting the system.

"And as for social security representing some kind of "justice" or "equity", please. It is quite redistributionist."

I'm well aware of that. Unlike you, I do not see a contradiction between redistribution and equity -- especially in social insurance programs. The purpose of insurance, whether it is a product sold in the private market or one created in the public sector, is to redistribute money. Your homeowner's insurance does that too.

"I myself, making the maximum possible contribution into the system and paying (as a self-employed person) that maximum contribution twice, will never receive even a significant fraction of my contributions back, even in nominal dollars, let alone inflation-adjusted dollars."

First of all, that is factually wrong. Assuming the system keeps its promises to you and you do not die too young (e.g. before retirement), you will certainly receive back over 100% of the income you put in. The question is how your return would compare to investing it yourself. But Social Security also has an insurance component. It is insurance against what is essentially bad luck. If your investments go bad, you become disabled, or you die before your wife, your family may end up receiving back well more than you are currently predicting.

Also, you do not pay double for your social security. You pay both the employer and the employees share -- but everyone who has studied the issue agrees that employees end up paying the employers share even if they are hired for a salary.

"This is by the explicit design of the system, and not some kind of "centrist tampering" you are so horrified by."

What I am "horrified" by is the possibility of people cutting back further on the promised returns from social security, returns you already believe are too low. Hence, you should be more "horrified" than I am.

Posted by: MQ on December 8, 2006 6:36 PM



MQ--

Projected returns for people paying in the maximum levels of social security are not just low, they are negative. As the top end of income subject to social security continues to rise, they will become even more negative.

As for redistribution being "equitable"--well, we'll just have to agree to disagree. Personally, deep down, really truly, I think that progressive taxation is sustained because the Average Joe (1) has never been on the receiving end of top bracket taxes and thus has never considered the matter in a, shall we say, personal light, and 2) to the extent that he ever has thought about it in theoretical terms he never expects to be in the position of paying those kinds of taxes. And let's not ignore the most powerful reason we have progressive taxation (which has nothing whatever to do with redistribution--which progressive taxation hasn't accomplished, if you notice). The most potent reason is that progressive taxation permits a much larger public sector than the general public would be willing to otherwise support. Politicians and many, many interest groups thus find progressive taxation just dandy.

Finally, perhaps I'm just in sour mood, but I think arguing that the U.S. government is a divine institution to which I owe respect and deference because it doesn't put me in a concentration camp is not the strongest logic I've ever heard. I mean, I'm a pretty inoffensive guy--I've created a lot of jobs, employ a lot of people, pay my taxes, drive the speed limit, eschew violence, don't play loud music, etc.-- and all it's gotten me is the short end of quite a few governmental sticks over the past few decades. Sorry if I find government chiefly to be concerned with pushing people around for fun and profit--even if that government has stopped short of outright genocide, at least for the last century.

Anyway, I'll be quiet now, because obviously nobody wants to hear any of this.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 8, 2006 10:03 PM






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