Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Problem with "JOBS"

Before finding solutions to several of our national problems like: health care reform, tax simplification, smaller government, and a number of other concerns it is necessary to face the elephant in the room, (I don't mean the Republicans). that will make any real attempt to solve these problems beyond our reach. The elephants name is JOBS. Any substantial reform in any of these areas will result in large numbers of lost jobs.

American’s relationships with their jobs has taken on an unhealthy status over the last few decades. It never used to be possible to get “Rich” by a job. You used to have to create something of value and through the entrepreneurial process you either sold or stewarded your creation through the building of a business. We are now rewarding bureaucrats based on the number of people they have working for them, without regard to how well they are performing their jobs. We also seem to highly reward those whose create value for a small few without regard to what that does to the rest of the world. Well into the 20th century, people used to change from entrepreneur to employee and back again several times in their lifetime. Under our current economy this no longer takes place as often if at all.

I did not take up the “family occupation” dealing with career counseling to enter the world of financial planning. Being a little more exposed to the idea of ‘we are what we do’, I quickly realized that we as individuals lie on a line between working solely for sustenance or working totally out of passion for what we can accomplish. Most of us envy those who display a true passion for their work. We emulate it and hope that it will contagiously rub off on us. The nature of our jobs is such that we are not willing to admit a lack of passion; as that is the surest way to a dead end future. It is clear to me that most of those that reach the highest point in their organizations have this passion and know how to look for it in others. Many of us fakers are able to rise quite a ways in the organizations we work for, but frequently end up burnt out and ready to leave.

When you look around you at people you interact with, it is pretty obvious where people are on this line: You love interacting with those that are passionate about what they do because you know they really care. Those just earning a check, you would rather not have to contend with as they will do just enough to get by. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone you dealt with was passionate about what they did! We would be happier and much more efficient.

This won’t happen until we change the way we assign our self worth to our occupation. It would also help to change our society just enough to allow people to survive and thrive without a job. Most of our beliefs and political persuasions are made up from looking at things on a continuum of security to opportunity. The more security we have, the less opportunity, and vice versa. Many look at this as a continuum of bureaucrat to entrepreneur and this can be useful if we realize that even entrepreneurs want some security while the most hidebound bureaucrat is likely to say they would like more opportunity.
I believe there is a huge contingent of Americans that would love to quit their jobs and occupy themselves in non or lesser remunerative ways. We tend to keep this from happening by our social policies: We tax Social Security benefits (for those who have been fiscally responsible), and we tax Unemployment benefits, (who knows why). We also make it hard or impossible for anyone with health problems to get medical insurance without a group plan from an employer. If you are employed you can deduct $15,000 to over $40,000 into a retirement plan. If you have no “earnings” you can’t contribute a penny and deduct it. We also tax dividends twice while the retained earnings only pay tax once, allowing the bureaucrats to decide what to do with the money rather than the owners, (shareholders).

Ask any accountant what “Tax Simplification” means to him/her and you will first get a laugh and then be told that it means more forms for them to fill out and is synonymous with tax complication. The debate about health care reform degenerated into a debate about insurance jobs rather than health care.

It should be obvious that before we can effectively reform health care, taxes, or the legal system we have to devise a system that that emphasizes incomes over jobs. How do we keep all those people we throw out of work living a life that they will be happy with?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stupidity in America

Growing up in an academic community, I have always been stuck with being an “elitist”. Watching our current affairs I can’t help but wonder how we got to such a state and I believe it began when we started to reward stupidity. The plaintiffs bar started this when they saw a great opportunity to earn contingent fees for representing idiots. The McDonalds hot coffee case seems to exemplify this, however there are so many cases it boggles the mind. By playing on the jurors emotions, a good litigator can now get huge rewards by posing the large heartless and rich corporation against the poor injured individual. The prevalence of these settlements has caused a large percentage of Americans to plan their retirement by either; winning a large settlement, or the lottery.

My father used to state; “half the population is below average intelligence”. This statement along with John Stuart Mills that : “Not all conservatives are stupid, but all stupid people are conservatives”, seems to explain a lot. The politicians have energized a large group of the less intelligent with their campaigns of hate, anger, intolerance, and lies. I fear for my country when I see that stupidity has climbed to the highest leaders in this country. In Minnesota we have a congresswoman who doesn’t know the difference between gross sales and net income and is basing her decisions on this lack of understanding. We have a governor that thinks he’s Presidential material, but has spent 8 years destroying health care for the poor, cutting education funding to the core, and forcing up real estate taxes by double digits, all so “he didn’t raise taxes”.

Realizing that taxes are the cost of living in a civilized society, we always used to argue about how to tax the other guy. Now we have a large population that thinks that all taxes are evil and should be eliminated. We demand an efficient government but are unwilling to pay a competitive wage to those working in government and continue to insult all those on the public payroll. The only time the deficit is mentioned is when someone doesn’t want to fund some other politicians’ project. No one says how they are going to cut the deficit without raising taxes, but all seem to say it is possible! The ferocity with which the “death” tax has been fought best shows who is in charge of the conservative agenda. Who better to tax than “rich dead people”? People object to taxes because they believe that they earned all their income themselves. They don’t seem to realize that their income wouldn’t have been earned and kept in a society without roads, police, schools, and many of the other services that the government provides.

Competition in the Media holds much of the blame. In the 1970’s the “Birther” lies would never had been printed. Now, if the media doesn’t cover one of these spectacular lies they lose readers/viewers so they are forced to cover them. We have seen over and over again how if you repeat a lie often enough it takes on the shine of “truth”. One of the scarier media/political trends is the publishing of polls asking very complicated questions and then having a politician act on the result of the poll: “XX% of the population doesn’t like the TARP program”, While less than 1% of the population is educated and intelligent enough to understand it in the first place.

Only stupidity can explain the secrecy now involved in politics. A politician that goes against a powerful special interest group can almost be assured of a large war chest being contributed to his opposition in the next election. On the other hand the Senator that puts a secret 3 day hold on legislation that may harm a special interest, is almost assured of a large contribution as well as the secretly funded campaign against his opponent next election.

One of the current lies being repeated is that the United States is a Christian country. While the majority of Americans claim to be Christian, we have never been a “Christian” country. Many of our founding fathers professed a religion closer to Unitarian Universalists than Christianity. There have been Jews active in the country since the 1700’s and Thomas Jefferson actually translated the Koran. The “Special Nature” of the US is largely because of its’ tolerance, not its’ religiosity. It seems very weird that the very people who are fighting Sharia in the US are the same ones who want the government to force prayer in schools, have the government decide when life begins, and fund religious programs.

Intelligence is a relative thing. We consider someone “smart” if they are smarter than we are. We are frequently challenged around those that are smarter than us as they make us feel stupid. This has made us rail against the “elites” and be more accepting of the “not so smart”. I would suggest that society is too complex for simple answers, instead requiring those with the intelligence, experience and knowledge to solve today’s problems. This is not to suggest that “experts” don’t have their own agendas, but only to state that we need listen to the experts with knowledge of their agendas. In any case we have to stop accepting and call out the stupidity that keeps coming our way.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Politicians and Jobs

I always get nervous when I hear politicians promise to create jobs. What we seem to forget is that there are only two types of jobs that politicians can create: Public sector jobs created with new bureaucracies or private sector jobs created because of new regulatory requirements. I would suggest that we really don't want these types of jobs. If politicians were really serious about helping to create jobs they would stop changing the tax code each and every year. Until Fanny Fox brought down Wilbur Mills, US businesses could count on taxes working the same each and every year. Confidence in business plans requires confidence in the tax codes that they are written to take account of.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Before you vote your anger

Before you vote your anger I hope you remember the last number of things you have done in anger and remember how they turned out. Politicians and their handlers have discovered that they can avoid discussing the issues if they can get you angry. Consider that the mess we are in is due to us electing politicians who have promised to shake things up and never change their mind. Real leaders rely on building a consensus amongst people by bringing them together to accomplish common goals. Candidates that concern themselves with creating division will only make things worse in the long run. With all the money from unknown sources inundating us with lies, exaggerations and misrepresentations, it makes it very hard to determine the integrity of any candidate. I would ask that everyone vote only for candidates that they have carefully researched independently of their opponents' claims. Please remember it is better to not vote than to vote for someone you don't know anything about.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Why do our electoral candidates claim that being a politician is such a bad thing? Isn't this what they are trying to become? An elected official is a politician whose duties include: determining who and how much to tax, determining how and to whom those funds are spent, and passing laws for the protection of the population. Because he/she is an elected official they will likely want to do the will of their electorate and that will frequently mean changing their minds. With this in mind, why would we vote for someone that accuses their opponent of taxing, spending, and waffling, when that is why we pay them?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bureaucratic Feudalism

In trying to understand the use of anger and fear in our political dialogue, along with the lack of reason, I've come to believe that the retention of power is what is really driving all the crap we hear. All sides agree that the US is not where it should be and the direction that it is going is not in our best interest. What no-one wants to state, however, is: exactly where are we? Rather than using the old fear words of Socialism and Capitalism, I would suggest that our current system is a brand new one: Bureaucratic Feudalism.

The old feudalism was characterised by an Aristocracy that was largely hereditary, a hierarchy that was well defined, and power that was mostly in the hands of the landowner. Local prosperity depended on a king that was powerful enough not to be attacked, but not so powerful that he would institute war. It also depended on a workforce that was engaged in productive pursuits. Everything depended on the loyalty of the lesser to the greater individuals.

Our new Feudalism shares many of the same characteristics. Instead of land, the new aristocracy rules from bureaucracies. Power is mostly in the hands of the CEO's of the organizations that rule our lives: the business's, governments, charities, religions, and professional organizations. Their princes are generally the "special interest" groups that lobby our legislators.

Their use of fear and anger to maintain their comfortable status quo can be seen by the recent health care fight. The insurance lobby, through their "Chamber of Commerce" connection has maintained their hold on the 15 to 20% of every dollar spent for health care, despite the total uselessness of what they do, in a country that already has universal health care, (50 states require emergency rooms to treat all that ask). The fact that they call this a government take over of the health industry is laughable. The new act just added a few requirements on top of the many state regulations that were already in place. The government took over health care well before 1975.

The fight is for power, the fear is lost jobs. If we really reformed health care; how would all those involved in insurance make a living? If we really had tax reform; how would all those tax professionals make a living? If we really had tort reform; how would all those lawyers make a living?

That the seeming gridlock we are in is the desired state of those in power, is exemplified by the secret 3 day hold in the Senate. Any Senator can put a three day hold on discussion of any bill without letting anyone know they are responsible. I think it would be very enlightening to see the Senators campaign contributions matched up to the holds that they have instituted. Unfortunatly this is very unlikely to happen.

With the new Supreme Court ruling that corporations can make political contributions, along with the secrecy allowed for many of them, I don't see things getting any better soon. I believe that we ought to limit campaign contributions to only those that can vote in that election.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Why is it that religion, down through the ages and continuing to the present, is used as a vehicle to promote hate and division? Those that claim to believe in the God of Abraham continue to twist the words of the prophets into things that they have never said. Moses, Jesus, and Mohamed have all explicitly stated that it is wrong to speak evil of others, kill innocents, and commit suicide. Rather than listen to others using these holy people to justify their own ends it would help if we went to our respective holy books and read for ourselves what is really stated. The only real thing of value we have in this life is time. Whether we use this time in anger, hate, jealousy and sadness or love, understanding and happiness is our own choice.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's all about Big Money

If anyone doubts that the rich control the United States they should consider the fate of the Estate Tax. With everyone looking to cut the deficit and find new sources of revenue, I find it amazing that the country can't get behind a reasonable estate tax. To me the ideal tax would be paid by people with the means to pay it that couldn't complain in any manner. This is the description of rich dead people. The argument talks about a "DEATH TAX" in such a manner that makes poor people think they are going to have to pay it. While there is a need to revise Section 6166 that allows illiquid business owners and farmers estates time to pay the tax, this tax could be a great revenue source. The 2009 tax wasn't paid by anyone with an estate of less than 3.5 million, the 2011 tax will be paid by estates of over 1 million because our politicians are afraid to raise any taxes. The tax could always be easily avoided by giving the estate to charities. Elimination of this tax will only benefit the heirs of the deceased who haven't earned the money and don't deserve it. We don't need more Paris Hiltons in this world.

Fear, Anger, Hate and Blame


It's not about Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives. It's about the kind of world that we want to live in. I would suggest that if we vote for people that engage in speaking evil about their opponents, suggesting that they can do miracles like lowering the deficit without increasing taxes, and relying on anger, fear, hate, and blame to generate votes, we will live in a dismal place. We must remember that anger hides reason, fear allows us to justify the means with the ends, hate generates more hate, and blame ignores solutions. The beneficiaries of the current extremism are the special interests. They are working to keep the status quo. The Democrats have the governmental units, the unions, charities, and the trial lawyers, while the Republicans have business and religious groups. We are fast descending to a behavior that is no better than the Taliban and those that we claim to despise. We must recognize that we are to blame for our current situation. We have supported and elected leaders that appeal to our baser instincts. If we want to get out of our current malaise we must reject those that use fear, anger, and blame and look for those with integrity and a vision of a future that we do want to live in.