Monday, September 29, 2008

Just the facts, ma'am....

Economics isn't really an exacting science. It has been said that if you ask 5 economists the same question, you'll get 8 different answers. Eric Schansberg, a friend of mine who is a Professor of Economics at Indiana University in New Albany, (and the Libertarian candidate for Indiana's 9th Congressional District) told me earlier this summer that economists had predicted 7 of the last 3 recessions.

So while we might tend to respect their opinions, we also need to remember that they are just that. Opinions.

There are a lot of opinions being expressed about the causes of and cure for the latest Wall Street meltdown. Probably more opinions than facts. It's a fact that there has been some government control over the market. Some people are of the opinion that if the government had more control we wouldn't be in this mess. On the other side, people like myself are of the opinion that if the government hadn't meddled in the first place, we wouldn't be in this mess either.

Regardless of what the politicians decide to do, the government's course of action will be based on opinions.

As a matter of fact, that's what all government decisions are based on.

In my opinion, anyway.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A trillion here, and a trillion there...

The word "trillion" is getting tossed around a lot lately. If you're like me, a trillion is kind of hard to get your head around. I saw something a couple of years ago that compared a million, a billion, and a trillion. It went something like this:

One million seconds = 11 days

One billion seconds = 32 years

One trillion seconds = 317 centuries

The federal government just added $1 trillion to your debt, and Andrew Davis at the Libertarian Party Headquarters reports these figures:

"One trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) is enough money:

To buy everybody living in Los Angeles at least one Lamborghini Gallardo.
To buy 88,052, 394' custom mega yachts; enough to stretch around ¼ of the world.
To buy everyone living in Belize and Malta a Manhattan apartment.
To get half of the Democratic Party into a fundraiser for Barack Obama at the $28,500 admission price.
To give one out of every two men in the United States a Men's Presidential Rolex watch.
To buy every woman in the United States a Tiffany Diamond Starfish Pendant.
To get two Mitsubishi 73" HDTVs for every household in America.
To buy four copies of The Office: Season Four on DVD, to every person on earth.
To send everybody in America on an all-inclusive vacation to Tahiti (and some people can stay a few extra days).

$1 trillion is enough money for everyone in Buffalo, NY to buy their own 65-acre island in Panama.

This is how much the government is going to cost you (roughly $3,278 for every man, woman and child in the United States).

Barack Obama is for it. John McCain is for it.

But, Bob Barr and Libertarian Party are against it."

Most of the people I've talked to are against it also.

Not that that matters.


Friday, September 19, 2008

40 rod from a galloping horse...

One of my early mentors in the trades was a skilled carpenter who advised me on work ethic as often as he judged my work. Not one to hand out flowery compliments, one of his favorite comments on the acceptability of a mitre cut was " It'll pass at 40 rod from a galloping horse." I guess he meant it would be alright, if you didn't look too close or too long.

I think Sarah Palin is going to work out the same way. It didn't really matter to me who John McCain chose as a running mate, any more than it mattered to me who Barack Obama chose as a running mate. I'm convinced that no matter who they chose, or who wins the election, 4 years from now we'll still have troops in 140 or so countries around the world, our national debt and unfunded liabilities will be approaching $100 trillion, and government taxes and regulation will still consume about half of my income.

But watching from the bullpen, I first thought the presidential election was the Democrats' to lose. Even when they tried to split the party in the primaries, I was half convinced that anybody they ran could probably beat anybody the Republicans put up. Even John McCain. Sarah Palin probably brought enough conservative Republicans back on board to make it an even race. Maybe even enough to win.

But only if they want a win so bad that they don't slow down and look too close. Or too long.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Race Is On....

There wasn't a lot to do for entertainment when I was a kid growing in Millville. So sometimes, if we got the milking done early enough, my old buddy Stinky Wilmont and I would scrape together 75 cents and catch a ride with my cousin up to the Sun Valley Speedway in Anderson. I wasn't really a big racing fan, but I was as anxious to go somewhere then as I am to stay at home now.

Sometimes, they would have what they called "Figure 8" racing, where all of the cars would hurry around the track and cross each others path in the center. Stinky just loved it. I, on the other hand, never understood the attraction. It just looked like a good way to get your car torn up to me. Still, I guess it was something to do.

I hadn't thought about those trips to Sun Valley for a long time, but a couple of days ago I made my first passage through the new 27 and I-70 interchange in Richmond. I was driving south when I found myself in the middle of a bunch of white and yellow and solid and striped lines running every which direction, with some lights hanging overhead in some various locations throughout the......project.

Now, I know that Mitch and the gang over in Indianapolis are awful proud of this....project. I know that we spent $27 million on it, and I'm sure that if I ever have to drive through it again, I can probably handle it. But probably most of the time I'll just slip up Waterfall Road or the Sim Hodgin Parkway.

There was one good thing that came out of the experience, though. I hadn't seen Stinky for years, but I'm pretty sure he passed me at least twice while I was maneuvering through the.......project.

Keep an eye out for him next time you go through.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Pay 'em now, and pay 'em later...

I run a small construction company with the help of my brother, my youngest son, and Hank, when he’s not mowing his yard. And Jay when he’s not in school or playing baseball. Or fishing. We try to build a couple of homes a year, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the size and complexity of the project.

As part of the agreement, if the customers are happy with the final product, they pay us and we move on to the next project. Hopefully I have enough to pay everybody, buy my wife and grandkids something for their birthdays, and then put a little back for a rainy day.

That’s how it works, and that’s how it’s supposed to work. The homeowners know that I can’t or won’t come back 15 or 20 years from now and ask them to pay me again, or ask their children or grandchildren to pay me again. The job was completed and the job was paid for. Period. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that when the government is involved.

Most government employees are promised a pension when they retire, just as many private sector employees are promised a pension when they retire. It’s admirable that a person would plan ahead for their retirement, and if part of their pay consists of their employer contributing to and frugally managing their retirement account, they certainly are better off for it.

However, Hoosier taxpayers are justifiably concerned about the ever rising cost of government, even as government is feverishly trying to justify its ever rising cost. There is seldom a day goes by that we don’t hear of some ridiculous government spending program. A couple of weeks ago, the news was filled with the report of state legislators’ pension funds receiving a $4 to $1 match from taxpayers. As maddening as that program is, the $14 million taxpayers have contributed in the last 16 years is small potatoes compared to other pension contributions they are making.

When government promises a pension to its employees, it’s actually promising that taxpayers will continue to fund that pension. The government doesn’t always set the pension money aside, and even when it does, it doesn’t always leave it set aside. In order to feed its insatiable appetite, government often borrows from the pension funds that taxpayers have supported, leaving a massive debt for present and future taxpayers to settle.

Across Indiana, Hoosiers are on the hook for billions of dollars that have been borrowed from teachers and public employee retirement funds, and a lot of the taxes they are paying now, that should be applied to current services, are instead paying interest on borrowed money and repaying benefits that they or their parents have already paid.

And government doesn’t help things with the generous retirement plans it offers. Some departments offer a healthy retirement to employees after only 20 years of service, and at the age of 50. Sometimes less. Here in Wayne County, some members of the sheriff’s department qualify for nearly $35,000.00 a year retirement after only 8 years of service. It’s likely that a lot of these retirees will be drawing benefits for over 40 years. That means there is a real possibility that your great-grandchildren will be paying for the retirement of the current police force. We get a double whammy when an employee retires from one department, and then goes to work for another department, and ends up drawing a retirement from both.

Certainly government employees that provide essential services should be fairly compensated for their efforts, and that compensation should be adequate to fund a reasonable retirement plan. And certainly if they decide they want the government to administer that retirement plan, they certainly have that right, although in view of its past performance, I would question the wisdom of that decision.

One of the best ways to control government spending is to limit its access to the billions and trillions of dollars that should be in these funds, and let employees control their own accounts. Overall, that is the fairest plan for the taxpayers. And their employees.