Irrational for Americans to work unless above-median income can be earned

As we celebrate Tax Day (updated date for coronapanic) and you add up what you’re paying to the Feds and states, it might cheer you up to look back to this 2019 article from a former Senator and a former top executive at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Wall Street Journal article on income inequality:

Official measures of income inequality, the numbers being debated, are profoundly distorted by what the Census Bureau chooses to count as household income.

The published census data for 2017 portray the top quintile of households as having almost 17 times as much income as the bottom quintile. But this picture is false. The measure fails to account for the one-third of all household income paid in federal, state and local taxes. Since households in the top income quintile pay almost two-thirds of all taxes, ignoring the earned income lost to taxes substantially overstates inequality.

The Census Bureau also fails to count $1.9 trillion in annual public transfer payments to American households. The bureau ignores transfer payments from some 95 federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, which make up more than 40% of federal spending, along with dozens of state and local programs. Government transfers provide 89% of all resources available to the bottom income quintile of households and more than half of the total resources available to the second quintile.

Today government redistributes sufficient resources to elevate the average household in the bottom quintile to a net income, after transfers and taxes, of $50,901—well within the range of American middle-class earnings. The average household in the second quintile is only slightly better off than the average bottom-quintile household. The average second-quintile household receives only 9.4% more, even though it earns more than six times as much income, it has more than twice the proportion of its prime working-age individuals employed, and they work twice as many hours a week on average. The average middle-income household is only 32% better off than the average bottom-quintile households despite earning more than 13 times as much, having 2.5 times as many of prime working-age individuals employed and working more than twice as many hours a week.

Condensed version of the above: Your spending power will be roughly the same if you don’t work at all (and therefore don’t have to file tax returns, extensions, estimated tax, etc.) than if you work full time, unless you are a high-skill worker who can command a wage that is well above the median. The article includes a chart from 2017, before all of the Coronawelfare was ladled on top:

Note the flat shape of the “Net income” (i.e., spending power) curve until one is in the top 20 percent. The old sourpusses who wrote the article conclude with a scolding tone:

America already redistributes enough income to compress the income difference between the top and bottom quintiles from 60 to 1 in earned income down to 3.8 to 1 in income received. If 3.8 to 1 is too large an income differential, those who favor more redistribution need to explain to the bottom 60% of income-earning households why they should keep working when they could get almost as much from riding in the wagon as they get now from pulling it.

But, as Cicero noted more than 2000 years ago, “The cash that comes from selling your labour is vulgar and unacceptable for a gentleman … for wages are effectively the bonds of slavery.” Maybe the fact that we’ve created the world’s largest group of humans who don’t work is a feature, not a bug?

(Separately, I don’t see how the above calculation can be done accurately. Many of our brothers, sisters, and binary resisters who receive free housing and/or reduced rent are in private-sector apartment buildings that have been ordered by local governments to provide free or reduced rent. The rent subsidy is reflected in higher rents paid by market-rate tenants, not in a local government’s budget.)


Full post, including comments

Keeping the faith, coronapanic edition

“They’re Vaccinated and Keeping Their Masks On, Maybe Forever” (NYT):

Whenever Joe Glickman heads out for groceries, he places an N95 mask over his face and tugs a cloth mask on top of it. He then pulls on a pair of goggles.

He has used this safety protocol for the past 14 months. It did not change after he contracted the coronavirus last November. It didn’t budge when, earlier this month, he became fully vaccinated. And even though President Biden said on Thursday that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask, Mr. Glickman said he planned to stay the course.

In fact, he said, he plans to do his grocery run double-masked and goggled for at least the next five years.

He has direct personal evidence that his “safety protocol” does not deliver “safety” (since he actually got COVID-19 while wearing two masks and goggles).

The article reminds us that if you’re seeking financial safety, get a state or local government job:

Leni Cohen, 51, a retired kindergarten teacher from New York City who has a compromised immune system, said she planned to continue wearing a mask when she helped out as a substitute teacher. But what she would like more is for her students to stay masked.

“Kindergartners, while adorable, are quick to share their secretions,” Ms. Cohen wrote in an email listing the illnesses, including colds, strep throat, pneumonia, influenza and parvovirus, that she has caught from her students over the years.

“This year is so different!” she continued. “The kids are not sucking on their hair or putting classroom objects or thumbs in their mouths. Their mouths and noses are covered, so I’m (mostly) protected from their sneezes and coughs. I can see keeping up with masks. It is the safest I’ve ever felt in a classroom full of 5- and 6-year-olds.”

51 years old and retired; she was born after 1960 so if she’d chosen to work in the private sector she would reach standard Social Security retirement age at 67, or 16 years from now.

Is this more evidence that reactions to coronavirus are essentially religious in nature?


Full post, including comments

Is cryptocurrency the ultimate estate tax avoidance tool?

President Biden has promised to raise estate taxes (but wouldn’t it make more sense to get money from Melinda Gates, MacKenzie Bezos, et al.? See Would limiting charitable deductions raise more than a wealth tax?).

Crytocurrency has become more mainstream.

Could these two be put together?

Let’s go back to the family in Can billionaires marry their children to avoid Joe Biden’s new estate taxes? Jack and Jill have a lot of money that they want to transfer to children. Why can’t they buy cryptocurrency and give their children, Morgan and Parker, the relevant passphrases? After Jack and Jill die, if the IRS asks what happened to a big chunk of money that was wired to a crypto exchange overseas some years earlier, the survivors can say “Jack and Jill must have bought some crypto and lost the password” or “The password died with them.”

Morgan and Parker can quietly spend cryptocurrency for the rest of their lives, so long as they don’t lose the passphrase or spend so much in a short amount of time that they draw IRS attention.

Readers who are experts on crypto: What am I missing?


Full post, including comments

Smoke alarm with wireless access point for hotels?

Our April trip to Florida and back entailed a bunch of stays at Hilton-family hotels with crummy Internet. The WiFi networks at Embassy Suites and DoubleTrees seem to be throttled to about 5 Mbps when they work, but coverage was spotty. Working remotely would have been impossible in most of our Embassy Suites room in Atlanta (at right), for example.

When we looked up to pray to the WiFi gods, however, we inevitably saw smoke alarms in the room. These were hard-wired back to a central station. If each device needs to be connected to power and signal, then mounted to the ceiling, why not have that device also provide WiFi service? It couldn’t add more than $20 to the cost of a smoke alarm to have it serve as a wireless access point, right? Maybe the wires back to the central station would need to be beefed up.

Something vaguely along these lines exists for the home: “First Alert Has Its Own Wi-Fi Mesh Router That Hijacks Every Connected Device With Smoke Alarm Warnings” (Gizmodo, January 2018).

Every new hotel by law must have a smoke alarm in each room, right? And every new hotel for commercial reasons must have WiFi coverage. Why isn’t there an off-the-shelf solution combining these two requirements?

Full post, including comments

Joe Biden’s mask order meets Florida

The Florida Free State ends at the border with federally-owned land, e.g., Everglades National Park. See “Biden’s first executive order will require masks on federal property” (CNN). The order isn’t quite as stringent as what we have in Maskachusetts. It is legal to be in the middle of federally-owned woods without a mask on, for example, but you’re supposed to wear one if you can’t maintain a 6′ social distance.

How much difference in individual behavior occurs when there is effective leadership in Washington, D.C.? Last month both Floridians and out-of-towners mingled on the Anhinga Trail boardwalk, politely sharing information regarding alligator and bird sightings. Although a few folks sported chin diapers, nobody actually wore a mask, despite this being the most crowded part of the park, even when coming close to another person (every few minutes).

The #Science-informed Federales want you to stay healthy by drinking nothing but Coke. At the trailhead:

(#Science says protect yourself against an airborne virus by washing your soda can, a behavior that would previously have earned you a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. See also Does disinfectant theater contribute to coronaplague?)

Government experts remind us that immigrants from Africa, Central America, and South America are “unwelcome” and “crowd out their native neighbors”:

Full post, including comments

Why is there no repentance in the religion of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

A reader sent “Apple fires Antonio Garcia Martinez after employee backlash” (Apple Insider):

Apple has reportedly fired Antonio Garcia Martinez after an employee backlash over sexist comments that he made in his book “Chaos Monkeys.”

The newly hired engineer is “gone from Apple after employee backlash,” the company confirmed to Bloomberg on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Apple employees began circulating a petition that called for an investigation into Garcia Martinez’s hiring.

“At Apple, we have always strived to create an inclusive, welcoming workplace where everyone is respected and accepted. Behavior that demeans or discriminates against people for who they are has no place here,” Apple said in a statement to Bloomberg.

In their petition to Eddy Cue, the Apple employees said that Antonio Garcia’s hiring “calls into question parts of our system of inclusion at Apple, including hiring panels, background checks, and our process to ensure our existing culture of inclusion is strong enough to withstand individuals who don’t share our inclusive values.”

This is interesting first for revealing how little Apple employees must read. Garcia Martinez’s book was a big seller in 2016. If writing something 5-6 years previously is a disqualifying offense, why wouldn’t the folks hiring him, including in HR, pick up a copy before making the offer? Most of what they object to could be found right here in this blog, e.g., quoted in Chaos Monkeys: Relations between the sexes in Silicon Valley.

More interesting to me is that the religion of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, at least as practiced by Apple, does not include Repentance:

Repentance is a stage in Christian salvation where the believer turns away from sin. As a distinct stage in the ordo salutis its position is disputed, with some theological traditions arguing it occurs prior to faith and the Reformed theological tradition arguing it occurs after faith. In Roman Catholic theology repentance is part of the larger theological concept of penance.

The most beloved Christians are those who previously succumbed to temptation and error. Why wouldn’t Garcia Martinez have been given the opportunity to repent? To say “I wrote that in 2015. After exposure to all of my neighbors’ ‘In this house we believe…’ signs, however, I realized that almost everything important in the world of computers and electronics was developed by women and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Please forgive me for my past sins.”

If the DEI religion accepts only those who have been pure in thought and deed since birth, what incentive is there for someone who has harbored wicked thoughts to come over to the side of Light?

(Considered and discarded headlines for this post: “Apple fires its Hispanic Employee”; “Not every Hispanic is a good Hispanic”)


Full post, including comments

Can our golden retriever get a COVID-19 vaccine before elderly humans in poor countries?

From our government-funded media, “CDC Says Kids As Young As 12 Should Get The Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine” (NPR):

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine be given to adolescents ages 12-15.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky issued a statement saying, “The CDC now recommends the vaccine be used among this population, and providers may begin vaccinating them right away.”

An independent federal advisory committee on Wednesday had voted — 14 in favor with one recusal — to recommend that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be quickly approved for those as young as 12.

Here in Massachusetts, prior to deaths-by-age data being withdrawn from public view, nobody under 18 had ever been killed by COVID-19 (see Maskachusetts: When people aren’t scared enough, change the Covid-19 dashboard). Due to the minimal impact of COVID-19 on the young and the non-FDA-approved status of the vaccines, the physicians whom I’ve talked to say that it would be against the Hippocratic Oath to inject vaccines into young adults, much less children. See Is it ethical for a physician to vaccinate a healthy 20-year-old against COVID-19? and We love our children so much we will give them an investigational vaccine

Even if we believe that a 12-year-old will somehow benefit from getting an “investigational” pharmaceutical, do we think that he/she/ze/they will benefit as much as a 65-year-old in a vaccine-poor country? If we believe our lawn signs (“Black Lives Matter”) and our statements (#StopAsianHate and Brown Lives Matter), why wouldn’t we ship Pfizer doses to India or Colombia to be injected into old (vulnerable) people we refer to as “brown” rather than into white American 12-year-olds?

The map from Our World in Data (“Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people”):

Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, India, Costa Rica, et al. all have higher case rates than the U.S. and presumably plenty of people we would regard as worthy vaccine charity cases. Here’s the map of vaccination rate (percent of people who’ve had at least one dose):

India is at only 10 percent. Why does a white American 12-year-old get a vaccine before a 60-year-old in India? At the rate we’re going, is it fair to predict that Mindy the Crippler (our golden retriever) will be eligible for a vaccine before a 50-year-old in India can get one?

Separately, comparing the above two charts shows high vaccination rates in Chile, Uruguay, and Canada, for example, and also fairly high coronaplague “cases”. Considering deaths, the statistics for which are less dependent on testing zealotry, Chile and Uruguay have both a high vaccination rate and a high death rate:

If they’ve vaccinated the old/vulnerable, how is it that these countries are experiencing a significant wave of coronadeath? Are these old/vulnerable folks who got infected months ago and have been in the hospital for a long period of time?

To close on a cheerful note, the plague in India does seem to be subsiding in accordance with Farr’s laws. From the NYT:

Full post, including comments

Kristi Noem and support for small business

Kristi Noem, famous or notorious (depending on your perspective regarding governor-ordered masks and shutdown) for saying that people who didn’t want to get COVID-19 should stay home and not rely on the government, a bandana, or a 3-cent paper surgical mask to protect them from a respiratory virus, is being talked about as someone who might enter national politics.

A recent CATO analysis of the small business environment in the 50 states has Ms. Noem’s South Dakota at #2 for business freedom:

Note that New Jersey, which if it were its own country would have the world’s highest COVID-19 death rate (ranking), is almost dead last! Also, states that you might expect to be free, e.g., Montana, aren’t. It is interesting to look at correlations with how easy it is to make money via pregnancy and child support. Georgia, where the government wants you to set up a business, has a soft cap on child support profits (so does South Dakota). Connecticut, on the other hand, is the nation’s most difficult state in which to start a business, but is a paradise for alimony plaintiffs and also offers unlimited child support.

Readers: Now that the Republican Party draws its support primarily from those who operate small business (everyone else is on the government gravy train either through welfare at the low end and crony capitalism at the high end), is Kristi Noem a likely future presidential candidate?


  • states ranked by COVID-19-tagged death rate (unfortunately not adjusted for percentage of population over 65), in which we see #Science-following Maskachusetts right near the top and give-the-finger-to-the-virus South Dakota at around #10.
Full post, including comments

Tesla Solar Roof (the price is not the price)

Back on December 9, 2020, I signed what I thought was a contract with Tesla for them to install a solar roof within 180 days (by June 9, 2021) and two Powerwalls for a total of $71,533. Somewhat more than a regular roof, of course, but we’d have bragging rights, would be saving the planet, would have backup power in the event of a grid failure (a regular event here due to trees plus an apparent unwillingness to put the powerlines underground), and would have the joy of maintaining yet another household system (not like those dumb people who rent and let the landlord take care of everything that breaks!).

After months of silence, on April 23, I received an email:

We have increased the price of Solar Roof and have added adjustments for individual roof complexity. Learn more 

We’d like to offer you one Powerwall at no additional charge when you proceed with your Solar Roof installation. You will receive an email when your new agreement is ready for your review and acceptance before moving forward. Please make sure to keep at least one Powerwall on your order to take advantage of this offer. If you have not already done so, please complete any outstanding items in your Tesla Account.

On May 5, 2021, I received a text message telling me to check the web site, which shows that the price has gone up to $84,137. Battery prices are supposed to be on a downward trend, but it looks as though Powerwalls have gone from $7,000 each to $10,500 each?

One interesting aspect of this design is that there are power-generating tiles on both the north and sides of the house:

(the legend is a little confusing, but I think the tiles surrounded by white are the solar tiles; the top of the drawing above is the north-facing side of the house)

Full post, including comments

What infrastructure did we build for the Americans added between 2010 and 2020?

From our Census Bureau:

  • U.S. population on April 1, 2010: 308,745,538
  • U.S. population on April 1, 2020: 331,449,281

That’s an increase of 22,703,743 people (unclear how many of the new undocumented Americans are included in this count by friendly government agents; see “Yale Study Finds Twice as Many Undocumented Immigrants as Previous Estimates”).

22.7 million is roughly the population of Illinois and Michigan combined. Those two states have 563,237 lane-miles of road (source). Were 563,237 lane-miles added between 2010 and 2020 nationwide? Here’s a chart from the U.S. Department of Transporation:

In case you’re wondering why you’re always stuck in traffic, the above chart shows that lane-miles have barely budged since 1980 while vehicle-miles actually traveled have grown by roughly 50 percent. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics offers finer-grained data: 8,542,163 lane-miles in 2009 and 8,785,398 lane-miles in 2019 (243,235 new lane-miles over 10 years, but essentially flat since 2014; the growth over 10 years was only 2.8 percent, less than half the 7.4 percent growth in population).

It is more difficult to get statistics on other elements of infrastructure, e.g., square footage of school buildings, capacity in water and sewer systems, capacity of the electricity grid, etc. But my sense is that none of these are being expanded at the same rate as population.

If roads, schools, water/sewer, electric grid, etc. remain constant while the population grows, doesn’t that mean we’re turning the U.S. circa 2030 into India circa 1990?


Full post, including comments