Unemployment Benefits – A Thought Experiment

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Jeffrey Carlson of Grand Rapids, Mich., a former insurance salesman and father of six, says he is motivated to find work, despite the $1,650 a month he collects in unemployment benefits. That money does not go far given his rent, child support, utilities and credit card bills. Carlson, 44, said he has applied for numerous jobs with no luck and has spent $40,000 in savings.Carlson, who made $50,000 a year before he was laid off, said watching Bunning and other senators debate whether to extend unemployment benefits was painful and infuriating.

“I paid into the system for 25 years and now I need it,” he said. “People are being put through the emotional heartache and anxiety of not knowing if it’s going to keep coming. There are too many people who need it and are depending on it.”

2010 The Washington Post Company

I don’t know the specifics and details of the federal-state unemployment insurance system. My brief glimpses of it from my job are unpleasant enough. However, assume for a moment that Mr. Carlson did indeed “pay into” a system for 25 years with the expectation that he would be able to withdraw from it when he needed the money.

Why the hell didn’t he just set up a private savings account, deposit the money there, and know it would stay safe no matter what happened? Having done that, he’d be assured of the following:

  • It would always be his money, rightfully earned.
  • It would be immediately accessible and traceable.
  • It would be easily inherited by his family if he died.
  • It would be available to use in case of an unexpected emergency and not limited to unemployment situations.
  • Given a large enough balance and a decent bank rate, he might earn substantial interest.

If the alternative to the above is a politicized, unaccountable, and completely out-of-his-hands system…why would anyone take the government option? How could you live knowing strangers are operating your safety net and are liable to change its terms and conditions arbitrarily? Why subject yourself to the spectacle of some hack grandstanding on your future a thousand miles away?

I can tell you a few reasons.

One, because the government option isn’t really an option. It’s based on a tax and taxes are not optional. You or your employer are forced to pay into the system. If those payments are not made, the fifty ton bureaucratic paper grinder lurches into operation with the expressed ultimate intent of physically seizing individuals and their assets to punish noncompliance. That grinder is the sole reason why I pay taxes. I don’t want to be arrested and I don’t want my property stolen outright.

Two, because most people are counting on that state aggression to force participation. These folks either won’t or can’t save for themselves and are expecting the government option to provide where they cannot. They embrace the Sicilian Mafia phrase pagare tutti, pagare meno. Because those who would not voluntarily pay are threatened with violence if they do not, many people pay less than they normally would if they were acting responsibly. Since they don’t have to deal with hundreds of thousands of individuals gritting their teeth over the taxes and all they have to do is sign up for the money (often after receiving government-paid training to learn how to sign up for the money!), what’s not to like?

Three, because some people actually swallow the political swindle hook, line, and sinker. They are akin to the knowing group above, but differ from those folks because they trust the person claiming to represent them and they trust the talking heads filling in the rhetorical details. Flag-waving, democratic glory-blindness, or raw egalitarianism; not really important which one.

Four, because some people are simply too irresponsible, busy, ignorant, or shallow of thought to even consider a diversified savings plan. It’s just another vague thought-cloud in the back of their minds competing with their next case of Bud Light, what to cook for dinner inbetween picking up the kids and finding a plumber for the sink, whether human evolution is real, and what the heck is up with those brown foreign people fighting with each other all the time. Retirement and building an emergency fund? Oh, yeah, get right on that…mmm, reality TV…*slouch*

All the planning I do starts with the assumption the government will not give me a penny. Not a penny of the money it threatened out of me for decades and not a penny threatened out of anyone else.

Even excluding my sarcastic egoist anarchism, this doesn’t seem like such a radical concept. My confusion is doubled when people are already “paying into” a government system and therefore can already afford to set aside a portion of their money to take care of themselves. This isn’t even an unemployment thing. It applies to any situation where you face an uncertain future with a non-wealthy income.

I don’t get it.

The Bloom Box and Statism

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CBS News: The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

“I like to say that the new energy technologies could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” [John Doerr from the big Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins] explained.[…]

Twenty large, well-known companies have quietly bought and are testing Bloom boxes in California.

Like FedEx. We were at their hub in Oakland, the day Bloom installed their boxes, each one costing $700-800,000.

One reason the companies have signed up is that in California 20 percent of the cost is subsidized by the state, and there’s a 30 percent federal tax break because it’s a “green” technology. In other words: the price is cut in half.

From my selfish, I’ve-got-mine, coldhearted, stubborn, unrealistic viewpoint, I think the real story here is how the federal tax system is getting in the way of serious next-gen technology that could radically improve living standards. There’s the lede, buried as usual.

Don’t take this as something it isn’t. Don’t let someone tell you that a 30% cut in federal taxes has helped make this technology possible. If they say that, they’ve got their cause and effect mixed up. The government didn’t help anyone or help do anything.

A more accurate way of explaining it is 30% of the dollar cost the government aggressively imposes on individuals (and the organizations they own) who add economic value to human existence has been temporarily waived per conditional government approval. The line between economically feasible and a waste of money is thin enough that a third less in this expense makes a difference. This tech might revolutionize world well-being, and for some companies, a few hundred thousand bucks are part of what stands in the way.

Think about that for a minute. Think about the number of people with great ideas, promising implementations, and the willpower to face the risks. Think about the diverse level of interest in improving humanity out there, trying to make It work. Think about the thousands of decisions made each day, many with the weight of cost factoring in at the moment of truth. Most people can’t buy whatever they want; they have to spend wisely or go broke. This is no different from an organization designed to create and manufacture a product.

“This is affordable. Yes, we should do it.”

…or…

“We’d never make any money. No, we shouldn’t do it.”

I think of the untold, unpublished, unrecognized, uncountable mountains of “no” built up over the decades, a mute chain on human progress. I’m no utilitarian and I don’t think the critical determinant of any moral question is the amount, degree, or breadth of some positive outcome. But if those are the grounds upon which someone argues for the aggression necessary to enforce the tax system against people trying to voluntarily buy and sell goods and services, they have no legitimate reason to claim this statism made the Bloom Box possible. The government decided to let these people keep more of their money. That isn’t help just like a robber isn’t helping you when he decides to leave the TV.

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Actually, the robber analogy isn’t a great fit. The robber doesn’t normally return at an arbitrary time to claim your TV, knowing you will be held criminally responsible if you attempt to prevent him from taking it. Criminally responsible, of course, means specially-trained and well-armed people who have substantial legal immunity will eventually arrest, kidnap, and kill you for resisting their orders.

I predict many of the coercive collectivists known as politicians will praise this as an example of proper government policy. I predict I’ll vomit a little in my mouth every time I hear it, knowing that some dolt claiming to be a supporter of free markets and individual liberty will be on shortly to concede away the former by compromising on the latter.

Cigarette Taxes

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Reuters via Yahoo! News: U.S. would reap billions from $1 cigarette tax hike

Adding a $1 per pack tax to cigarettes could raise more than $9 billion a year for states, health advocates said on Wednesday, and a poll released with the study shows Americans would support such a tax.

I wonder if there will ever come a day when I or someone who shares my philosophical temperament will encounter a mainstream news article like the above and not immediately know how it will proceed.

“An increase in tobacco tax rates is not only sound public health policy but a smart and predictable way to help boost the economy and generate long-term health savings for states facing deepening budget deficits,” said John Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

I loathe these people. They take a laudable goal and fuck it up by advocating the violent redistribution of property as a way to achieve it.

“We have irrefutable evidence that raising the tobacco tax lowers smoking rates among adults and deters millions of children from picking up their first cigarette,” Seffrin said in a statement.

Pragmatism: It Can Justify Anything

The groups also surveyed 847 registered voters and found 60 percent favor raising the tobacco tax to help state budgets while 38 percent were opposed.The survey, with a margin of error of three points, found that 72 percent of voters opposed increases in state sales and 80 percent rejected higher gasoline taxes.

Democracy: Danger In Numbers

“Each year in the United States, smoking-caused disease results in $96 billion in health care costs, much of which is paid by taxpayers through higher insurance premiums and government-funded health programs such as Medicaid,” the report argues”Indeed, higher Medicaid costs are one of the reasons states are facing budget difficulties.”

OBVIOUSLY WE CAN’T STOP TAXING OTHERS TO PAY FOR THOSE TREATMENTS. THAT WOULD BE MEAN AND HEARTLESS.

Rather, let’s just order cops to threaten imminent bodily harm, abduction, and detainment against those retailers who won’t collect the tax and who, after their permission to make a living is revoked, continue to operate their businesses. Let’s send strangers violently into the lives of people who have done nothing wrong and command them to raise their prices with the express intent to cut down on their sales. All of that is fine and dandy, isn’t it?

“It is disheartening the report’s authors are suggesting legislators position tax increases as a way to address health issues while the report clearly describes tax increases as a way to fix budgets and score political points with voters,” Philip Morris USA said in a statement.”The report neglects to mention the fact that cigarette tax increases rarely generate all of the revenue they are projected to raise — creating more budget problems down the road.”

Copyright Š 2010 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

And bringing up the rear: the inevitable half-hearted, nutless whining by Industry. Utterly devoid of principle and morally gutted by years of lies, the best they can offer is “I disagree, that plan wouldn’t quite work so well.” I once had some sympathy for these cretins; no more. Not when they say shit like:

In addition to violating many trademark laws, counterfeit cigarettes are almost always sold without the appropriate federal and state excise tax. The counterfeit cigarettes purchased from G.J. Smokes bore no genuine tax stamp. As a result, the applicable excise taxes were not paid.

If you actively advocate the economic destruction of your products, how the fuck am I supposed to care about another buck imposed on top of each pack? Other than the unthinkingly reflexive tea party hordes, why would anyone else give it a second thought unless it was their own habit gored by the government ox?

Big Tobacco is functionally absurd.

Not My Problem

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I’ve been lazy and have not replaced my bedroom’s busted ceiling fan and I prefer having a constant airflow while I fall asleep. I need to replace my sheets because the current set is just plain old and worn out. Down the hall from me, one of my roommates and his girlfriend digested TV in his room all evening. I had been sitting in bed for several hours studying managerial accounting and thinking about my relationship situation. Several topics were bouncing around in my head:

  • Cleaning the cat litter box
  • Hoping the $650 I gave my neighbor will help fix her roof after one of the trees in my yard hit her house
  • Filling up the Golf’s tank soon
  • What the hell I’ll do when I finally graduate college and leave my current job
  • A public speaking presentation on Andrew Bird for one of my classes
  • Editing and posting at least 300 pictures I took over the last few months
  • Juggling bills and my income
  • What I’ll be wearing at a theme party next weekend
  • What the deal was with the two gunshots I heard that evening

So last night I honestly had trouble sleeping. I wasn’t physically or mentally relaxed.

And what is the very first e-mail in my inbox at work this morning?

Please read and pass on

This came from a Marine unit over in Iraq … Their wish is to send it

to as many people in the country as possible.

(Be sure to read their note at the end of the e-mail).. Hopefully we can help them achieve their goal.

I HOPE I DO NOT HEAR OF ANYONE
BREAKING THIS
ONE OR SEE
DELETED
This is a ribbon for
soldiers fighting in Iraq . Pass it on to everyone
and pray.
SLEEP LAST
NIGHT?
Bed a
little lumpy…
Toss and
turn any….
Wish the heat was higher…
Maybe the a/c !
Wasn’t on…
Had to go to the john……
Need a drink of
water…
?
?
Scroll
down

troops03 troops02 troops01

Yes.. It is like that!
Count your blessings, pray for them,
Talk to your Creator
And
The next time when…
The other car cuts you off and you must hit the brakes,
Or you have to park a little further from Walmart than you want to be,
Or
you’re served slightly warm food at the restaurant,
Or you’re sitting and cursing the traffic in front of you,
Or
the shower runs out of hot water, Think of them…

Protecting your freedom!

I wrote about the total monkey-shit-flinging nonsense of soldiers protecting our freedom overseas when I discovered this most excellent Russmo cartoon a while back. The contents in the speech bubbles succinctly capture the complete absurdity of this argument in the form of a father’s letter to his son in the military:

Dear Jimmy,Hope all is well in Iraq. We are so proud of you for going over there to fight for our freedom. A lot has happened since you left…

Our home was taken by the feds for back taxes we owed, and then the family business was condemned by the city so they could build a football stadium.

Mom was arrested for carrying a gun in her purse and your brother is in prison for smoking a joint. At least your sister is okay, though she has to go to court for not wearing a seatbelt.

We wish you were here to help pay for all the legal fees, but just knowing you are over there fighting for the liberties we cherish makes it all worthwhile.

Love, Dad

In case you can’t tell, that’s the bitter sting of sarcasm, not the happy thoughts of a flag-waver. I once believed invading Iraq and Afghanistan would ultimately protect my freedom at home and I regret the public advocacy I committed for those causes. There is simply no contest between the threat American governments present to me and the threat some theocratic Muslims and totalitarian Arabs present to me. American governments actively trample basic freedoms of association and exchange as a matter of routine public policy.

It was bad enough being told from all kinds of earnest, well-meaning people that I should be grateful that tens of thousands of soldiers are risking their lives to save mine…but apparently that simply is not good enough.

I now have to stop whining about my own personal displeasures because those soldiers are stuck in conditions far shittier than mine. Stubbing my toe pales in comparison to walking ten miles in filthy boots filled with sand and sweat. Finding a decent place to eat is nothing compared to Day #274 of MREs. Trouble sleeping in a house with central air but a bedroom without a ceiling fan is a joke when people sleep in spite of mortar attacks, sunburns, the aforementioned boots, vast distances between you and loved ones, the nightmares of your friends dying in front of you, knowing your mission is tossed around like a toy in partisan pissing matches, and in spite of the fact that perhaps you only joined the Army because you wanted help paying for college. Now, you’ve lost a girlfriend, your high school crew is moving on with their lives, and you don’t trust the interpreter for your platoon.

I get all that. I get that it sucks and it’s hot and it’s dusty and it’s fucking depressing and some assholes keep planting bombs that blow sanity and bodies apart. For all those reasons and a lot more, I want those people home. I’ve wanted them home for several years, withdrawn “precipitously” and post-gawddamn-haste. The sooner the better. I’d much rather they not have to deal with post-traumatic stress and fucking amputations and arrogant officers and loser noncoms and the idea of a “vacation” neutered down to a few weeks back home before getting sent out into the shit again. For the third time.

But I refuse to abstain from dwelling on my own very present problems simply because there are others in the world who are worse off than me…and I particularly refuse to temper acknowledging my own problems on the morally fallacious grounds that unwanted sacrifice demands my humility and thanks. Sacrifice – the act of giving up something of value in exchange for an even lesser value – is rotten enough. Don’t make it worse by asserting that I ought to embrace sacrifice done in my name long after I’ve withdrawn my sanction.

How Dare You Call It Socialism!

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Short of making the most difficult economic changes, however, there is the matter that even blue-dog Democrats ought to be able to handle without flinching: establishing the government as employer of last resort.[…]

There is no natural rate of unemployment. But there is a natural – that is, fundamental – right to work. The social and economic costs of unemployment – lost income, crime, broken families, physical and mental health problems, interrupted educations, shattered retirements, social unrest – ought to be plenty to make providing full employment a slam dunk for politicians supposedly in tune with their constituents.

Why, it’s simply beyond the boundaries of polite discussion! The government employing everyone? Silly reactionary, don’t you know that socialism only exists when the state does everything?

Once again, Meteor Blades demonstrates he knows jack shit about economics.