How does the government keep track of dead people for Social Security purposes?


“Mom died in 1993, but her daughter kept cashing her Social Security checks for 24 years” (Sacramento Bee) describes a situation that I would imagine to be fairly common. Social Security checks come from the Federal government, but deaths are recorded by local governments?

How is this system supposed to work such that the Federales figure out it is time to stop sending checks? What if the Social Security recipient has emigrated to Mexico or Portugal? (Social Security checks keep coming after emigration, but Medicare entitlement is limited to treatment within the U.S., I think)

As the U.S. population keeps growing and the chance of bureaucrats and beneficiaries encountering one another in person, will this become more common?


  • “Agencies can’t always tell who’s dead and who’s not, so benefit checks keep coming” (Washington Post, 2013)

Merits of immigration, explained simply


From our town mailing list:

Sort of Off Topic since this forum is not ‘Wayland Talk’ but I noticed that some of those ‘Stop the Wayland Monster’ signs now cropping up in [Happy Valley] so I figured it has something become more relevant here. Does someone want to give a somewhat unbiased overview of the pros and cons of this development

Wayland is a suburb where a typical house sits on at least one acre of land (1/2 acre is the zoning minimum; Happy Valley has a 2-acre zoning minimum). A developer is trying to build a four-story apartment complex characterized by opponents as “89-bedroom” (about 45 apartments if they average two bedrooms each).

I know a passionate Bernie/Hillary supporter who lives near the site and summarized his point of view in my response to the list:

My understanding, from a Wayland resident who lives near one of these proposed buildings:

1) immigration into a nation of 325 million is good and needs to be supported with passionate political effort

2) immigration into a town of 13,444 is bad and needs to be fought with passionate political effort

This yielded a firestorm of responses. Example 1:

People who are living there locally are probably objecting to a huge development in their neighborhood that is going to overload the roads and services, add noise and will change the peaceful enjoyment of the area.

American-style auto-centric development is brutal. It makes sense to develop in either in areas with adequate public transportation and services or in small cities trying to reach a critical mass where transportation services other than cars become viable.

So we should grow the U.S. population, but make sure that our own “peaceful enjoyment” is not affected? There are other areas of the U.S. with uncongested roads and underutilized services where the next 100 million Americans will be happy to settle?

The hot-button word “immigration” sparked righteous thoughts, despite the fact that the “immigration” I was talking about was from Sudbury or Framingham to Wayland (i.e., most likely a native-born American moving from one suburb to another):

I missed something: How did this turn into an immigration debate?
Where should immigrants live if not in our cities and towns? Immigration works well if integration is possible, and that is best achieved for small numbers of immigrants in small communities.

The mandate of having 10% affordable housing is very reasonable and needs to be enforced in some way, otherwise it is not going to happen. Wayland proved that point. I am grateful to those in our town who have worked hard to make sure we have 10% of affordable housing, not just because it protects us from unwanted developments, but because diversity is good for all of us.

I.e., diversity is good, but maybe 89 new people (average of 1 per bedroom) is too many for a town of 13,444? A pro-immigration sentiment from another anti-development fellow citizen:

Thank you! And, we should remember that all of us were immigrants at one time, unless you are Native American.

Some of us are first generation, and some of us 5th or more, but, immigrants all.

[To my knowledge there aren’t any Native Americans who have chosen to purchase 2-acre lots in our town so we didn’t hear from them regarding how immigration has worked out from their perspective.]

The simplest response to my note:

Well said. I personally find the Wayland persons comment bigoted and ignorant.


Nature versus Science


“Investigation finds Swedish scientists committed scientific misconduct” is a featured piece in Nature about a purportedly fraudulent paper published in… Science (coincidentally, Nature‘s main competition).

How reliably can economists predict the effects of the proposed tax rate changes?


“What Happens if the Tax Bill Is a Revenue Disaster?” (nytimes) is a piece by Nobel laurate Paul Krugman. He uses his macro-sized brain to predict how Americans and American enterprises will react to this bill and thus what the likely impact on revenue is.

My comment:

Thanks, Professor Krugman, Your last prediction about the markets and the economy that I can recall was in November 2016: “It really does now look like President Donald J. Trump, and markets are plunging. … If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.”

I don’t follow the stock market closely. Was there, in fact, ever any kind of recovery for the S&P 500?

On a more serious note, why do we think it would be possible to come up with an accurate prediction? For individuals there has been a lot of research on the tendency of people to work more as rates are lowered or work fewer hours as tax rates are increased. But do we have any data or experience with corporations? Given the complexity of the tax code for business it doesn’t seem as though a simple “look at the rates” approach would work.

Was there any economist who predicted that U2 would move its songs to an offshore Netherlands trust or use corporate shells in Malta and Guernsey for property investments? (The Sun) Since it has never previously been tried, how can anyone know what would happen if it were possible to pay the IRS a straight 20 percent instead of paying armies of lawyers and accountants and offshore functionaries?

Phone should vibrate when you’re repeating yourself?


One of the things that drives children, especially teenagers, crazy about adults is our poor memories, which lead to us repeating ourselves. The problem gets worse as we get older. Since our phones are always listening (and sending the audio back to Vladimir Putin’s office?), why not have our phones keep track of everything that we’ve ever said to everyone. The phone can then vibrate if we’re advising a younger person of something that we’ve already noted. For the fifth repetition and beyond, perhaps a Bluetooth shock band can zap us. This could reduce embarrassment for adults and improve relations between adults and teenagers.

Readers: What do you think? Useful?

What to do with the net neutrality bureaucrats?


The haters (i.e., the Republicans) on the FCC voted today (nytimes) to kill off the net neutrality enforcement rules.

Let’s assume that the government can’t fire anyone. What do readers want to see the bureaucrats who were enforcing net neutrality doing?

My personal suggestion: find a way to stop spam phone calls (see Set a minimum price for phone calls?)

Better ideas?

Psychotherapy in the bitcoin mania days


At a party on Sunday, an anesthesiologist friend told me that she was happy to be earning real money, finally, after ten years of training. Other folks were talking about bitcoin. Now these two scenarios can be compared with an online calculator: Bitcoin v. Medical School.

Please test it out and let us know what you think!

(Also, any HTML or design ideas would be welcome.  The OG markup for Facebook sharing links to this photo of a bitcoin investor hard at work and it would be nice to work the photo into the design somehow. Maybe add one of a doctor studying?)

Why are modern browsers so bad at rendering old HTML pages?

8 is a web page from about 15 years ago. It is barely readable with Chrome on the iPhone. The HTML is super simple: a table with two cells and a hint to the browser to give 50 percent of the screen width to the first column. The phone can do voice recognition (well, sort of). Why can’t Chrome figure out a reasonable way to render this? (There were actually a bunch of research papers back in the 1990s about how to adapt web pages to the mobile devices of the day; nobody ever said “one day we’ll be able to get SXGA resolution into a postage stamp-sized area on the screen, so let’s just scale the thing down dimensionally”.)

My congestion pricing dream coming true in Northern Virginia


For years I have dreamed that U.S. state and local governments can escape their pension-commitment and healthcare-commitment insolvency while simultaneously freeing Americans from the agony of traffic jams. It seems that my dream of congestion pricing for driving is coming true in Virginia: “A $40 Toll to Drive 10 Miles? It Happened on Virginia’s I-66” (nytimes).

One glitch from my point of view: the toll is $0 for a car containing two people, which will generate just as much congestion as a car containing one person. (Do carpool lanes actually encourage significant numbers of people to carpool? I myself end up in them sometimes, but invariably because my passenger is someone with whom I would be sharing the trip anyway.)

Hand-spun milkshakes at Five Guys


Why I love Corporate America #472: A sign outside our local Five Guys proclaims “hand-spun milkshakes.”

We walked in and found… an apparently conventional milkshake machine. We asked one of the crew what it all meant. “It’s exactly the same as a milkshake at McDonald’s,” he explained.

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