Tortuga Music Festival 2017


I decided to be the person least knowledgeable about country music attending the Tortuga Music Festival, a short walk from our Ft. Lauderdale rental. What did I learn?

  • You don’t have to have white skin to enjoy country music. In fact, roughly half of the exposed skin that I saw was blue, red, green, or whatever other color a tattoo artist had decided to impart.
  • If you’re truly passionate about helping sea turtles, one way to do it is put up a mile-wide fence to block them from getting up on the beach during nesting season.

Here were the musicians that I saw…

  • Delta Rae. A lot of energy from all six members. The crowd seemed to like their Fleetwood Mac cover the best. Many references to “strong and independent women” (it was unclear how many audience members had found financial independence through “permanent alimony” under Florida family law, but in any case the crowd cheered)
  • G. Love and Special Sauce. A virtuoso instrumentalist who ably disguises his Northeast roots when singing.
  • Kane Brown, a fit 23-year-old with more tattoos than any audience member(!). He has adapted country music to America’s Victimhood Culture. He performed a rap-ish song (“Learning”) about being nearly beaten to death as a 6-year-old by one of his “stepdads” and then about how the successor stepdad was nicer, but he was “Getting looked down on just because of your skin” (unspecified as to what skin color would have made people look up to him and his family). The theme of the song was about how he was “gonna let it go” and was “learning how to let it go,” but if you write a song about something and continuously perform it can be out there offering advice to others on how to let things go?
  • the Marcus King Band. I just loved this guy. He is 21 years old and answers the question “What if Sam Kinison could play the guitar amazingly well?” He and G. Love jammed together. Their love for the blues was evident.
  • Luke Bryan. He talked about being done with work for the month (it was April 7), enjoying having a #1 record, and drinking shots of Tequila (?) up on stage (the audience was enthusiastic on this last point). I’m ashamed to admit this, but I can’t figure out what is different about this guy from any other modern country star. Nor can I remember what he sounded like.

Tips: Don’t pay up for “Reef” or “VIP” status unless you enjoy extremely loud music and having your organs rearranged by the bass. Most of the festival happens on the sand footwear should be limited to sandals or you may look like a dork from up north…

Transgender situation: Bathroom facilities were divided into “men” and “women” with no “all-gender” options.

Hotel idea: Marriott Harbor Beach, which is near the southern end of the festival. This is about a 10-minute walk from the non-VIP entrance/exit, which means that there are slightly more convenient hotels. However, the Marriott is in a quieter part of the beach and has some great amenities, such as clay tennis courts and a great teacher (Jack Cooper, USPTA). The Marriott is right at the edge of where the traffic gets snarled so you will be able to get out to the rest of Florida during the festival if desired.

Obamacare gets the IRS into the domestic abuse evaluation business


The typical U.S. state offers at least two courthouses for people claiming domestic violence: criminal and family courts (see “The Domestic Violence Parallel Track”). There is also a federal domestic violence bureaucracy, set up for the Violence Against Women Act, e.g., to grant Green Cards based on claims of domestic violence. While doing taxes this year my accountant’s Obamacare section (a full page of questions out of a 29-page questionnaire) asks “If you received advance premium tax credit or enrolled in coverage through the Marketplace, are married, and are filing separately from your spouse, are you a victim of domestic abuse or spousal abandonment?”

The IRS’s FAQ on this corner of Obamacare explains that victimhood is a self-certified matter, but subject to ultimate evaluation by an IRS employee:

To certify that you are a victim of domestic abuse or spousal abandonment and qualify for relief from the joint return filing requirement, you should check the box at the top of Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit (PTC), which you will use to claim the credit. You should not attach documentation of the abuse or abandonment to your tax return, but should keep any documentation you may have with your tax return records. For examples of what documentation to keep, see Publication 974, Premium Tax Credit (PTC) [this is a 74-page PDF]. Taxpayers may claim this relief from the joint filing requirement for no more than three consecutive years. For more information on this relief, see the instructions to Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit (PTC).

Domestic abuse includes physical, psychological, sexual, or emotional abuse, including efforts to control, isolate, humiliate, and intimidate, or to undermine the victim’s ability to reason independently. All the facts and circumstances are considered in determining whether an individual is abused, including the effects of alcohol or drug abuse by the victim’s spouse. Depending on the facts and circumstances, abuse of the victim’s child or other family member living in the household may constitute abuse of the victim.

What does the 74-page Publication 974 say? Taxpayers can keep a “Doctor’s report or letter” or “A statement from someone who was aware of, or who witnessed, the abuse or the results of the abuse”.

What else bulks up this 29-page questionnaire?

  • There is a special form for people who got federal “mortgage assistance payments.”
  • There are different tax procedures for people who use Coverdell Education Savings Accounts or 529 accounts to pay for educational expenses (Form 1099-Q)
  • There are different tax rates for people who install a long list of “alternative energy equipment” or “energy efficiency improvements”.
  • There are procedures for pulling money out of retirement accounts to pay for education.
  • There are procedures for pulling money out of retirement accounts to pay for “a principal residence.”
  • There are procedures for dealing with the purchase of a plug-in electric vehicle.
  • There are different tax rates and/or reporting procedures for money spent on health care via a health savings account.
  • There are different tax rates and/or reporting procedures for money spent on health care via a medical savings account. (how is this different from a health savings account?)
  • The IRS needs to know about distributions from long-term care insurance.
  • There are different procedures and/or reporting procedures for people who owe more than $1 million in total mortgages.

Readers: What complexities did my accountants miss with their questionnaire?

Happy Tax Day!

The senior citizen and Obamacare tax penalties


A retired Ivy League graduate checked the wrong box when using H&R Block software to prepare 2015 taxes. This resulted in a $2,700 penalty for not complying with Obamacare requirements to purchase health insurance. That in itself is a little odd since the same government that was penalizing him and his wife was also providing them with Medicare, which one would think would be legal under Obamacare.

He noticed the error about six months later and filed an amended tax return. Just recently he got three letters from the IRS on the same day. One said that he owed them about $6,000. One said that they owed him $2,700. The third letter said that nobody owed anyone anything.


Sanctimony City-dweller explains her love of immigrants


Some of my Facebook friends are bicoastal sanctimony city-dwellers who work in venture capital (is that actually work when they underperform the S&P 500, on average?). One of them recently explained what’s going on inside her head:

I struggle with caring about [the vast swath of middle America that’s suffering].

Do we owe people good jobs in their hometowns? I’m not so sure. I think we probably owe people jobs, but it’s a bridge too far to owe them jobs they can get with no education in their hometowns, only because of the historical coincidence that their fathers had them. The jobs are there: you just have to learn programming (which you can do free, online) or do shitty low-paying work, and you may have to move. But no one really gets the job they want where they want. I don’t have it.

And all my sympathies are with immigrants. I see them as the best people, the least entitled people. It is hard to move. But they move for the jobs. They move to countries their family doesn’t live in, where they sometimes don’t speak the language, with little money, and they work hard. (This is much harder than the move from West Virginia to Brooklyn.) They often sacrifice their lives so that the lives of their offspring can be better, and they often accomplish this. I wish middle America had more of this gumption, which is deeply American.

So in the end I believe in open borders, the economic value of living closely with others, and that sentimental ideas about our hometowns belong in Faulkner novels, not our economic policies.

One thing I found interesting is the description of the struggling fly-over Deplorables as having “no education”. (Can’t fly over Midwestern Deplorables on Virgin America anymore. Who says that the elite are not suffering too?) They spent 13 years in what is pretty much the world’s most expensive K-12 system. How did they come out with “no education”?


How much would an immigrant have to earn to defray the cost of added infrastructure?


After two weeks in South Florida, where the interstate highways serve mainly as parking lots from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm daily (Ft. Lauderdale/Miami is a 1.5-hour, 28-mile experience; see image below for traffic parked in both the regular and the $12 “express” lanes of I-95), I’m wondering why there isn’t more discussion around U.S. infrastructure and immigration. The Interstate highway system was set up in 1956 when the U.S. population was 169 million. Due primarily to immigration (immigrants and the children of immigrants) the population has doubled since then (Pew). Consequently, we sit in traffic jams instead of working or enjoying leisure and family activities.


A naive analysis of immigration might start from the assumption that we could be better off economically any time that we could accept an immigrant who earns an above-median wage (also factor in whether kids are likelier-than-current-American-average to wage jihad? see Omar Mateen and Syed Farook, for example). But a larger population requires more infrastructure. Most of our infrastructure is inherited from 1850-1970 or so. If it costs us more today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, to build a bridge, highway, subway system, or tunnel, then we could be making ourselves worse off by adding population even if the new additions to the population earn an above-median wage. Does it cost us more? “Why California Stopped Building Freeways” is a 1993 article that describes “skyrocketing costs” through the 1980s. (See also Longfellow Bridge repairs will now take about as long as the original construction for how 2015-18 repairs will cost 4X, in inflation-adjusted dollars, what it cost to build the bridge in the early 1900s.)

Plainly there are some immigrants to Florida who boost the overall economy. A retired Wall Streeter fleeing New York income and estate taxes who buys a $10 million house and pays breathtaking property taxes will more than compensate for his or her burden on the infrastructure. But has anyone calculated the break-even point?

[Of course I realize that boosting an economy is not the only reason to welcome immigrants. However, it is an argument frequently made by advocates for continued and/or increased immigration.]

Sun n Fun report


I attended Sun n Fun 2017 and everything was pretty much the same as in 2014 (my post). I flew in with a friend who owns a Cirrus SR22. After about 500 hours he hasn’t mastered the Garmin G1000 panel. I also have hundreds of hours of G1000 time, including as part of a jet type rating, and I was fumbling quite a bit while trying to do something pretty simple: set up a user waypoint at a latitude/longitude and fly there. The experience reminded me that aviation is still in the “horseless carriage” mode of using computers. The FAA has some electronic processes for registering aircraft, pilots, and mechanics, but paper or plastic certificates are still required and the electronic processes closely mimic the old paper-only processes. There are tablets in the cockpit and a copy of an old paper approach plate will appear on the LCD screen. The 1950s aircraft had one switch and dial for every subsystem. The 2010s aircraft has one screen corresponding to each subsystem. The computer is not a partner in accomplishing a mission, but rather a 1:1 replacement for physical switches. It is the pilot’s job to set up each switch while the computer remains ignorant of the rationale.

Landing gear is not down and the airplane is otherwise configured to land with flaps and a slow airspeed? You’ll hear an electronic warning “horn” that replaces the old mechanical horn and, if you remember your annual training, might associate that with imminent damage to the belly. This shouldn’t be confused with the warning “tone” to tell you that the electronic trim is running away and therefore a crash from stalling might be imminent. Why can’t the $50,000 to $500,000 of onboard computers get it together to synthesize a “trim runaway” or “check landing gear” warning? That’s not how it was done in the 1950s and the point of the fancy computers is to mimic the 1950s processes.

Epic was in the same location as in 2014, with the same 6-seat turboprop and the same message: will be certified within about a year.

In the world of amphibious seaplanes, Searey was there with a track record of having delivered 700 (kits plus LSA). One of them at the show had lived on a yacht for a couple of years. The owner would periodically lower it into calm water and fly around. The company featured an Australian’s round-the-world trip in 2015 (they didn’t mention the recovery from spatial disorientation that is in the linked-to article). Icon wasn’t around (at their current production rate they have several hundred years worth of orders). An amphibian designed in Finland will be built with cheap labor in Maine (Avweb).

Diamond is threatening to shake up the helicopter world with a piston four-seater (Avweb) to compete with the Robinson R-44.

The L3 Lynx transponder-with-touch-screen was being demoed and generated a lot of excitement as a way to bring an old airplane up to date in a bunch of areas, including ADS-B. Garmin was showing their G5 attitude indicator that can be used to replace old vacuum-driven steam-gauge “artificial horizons.” Inadvertently they demonstrated the cost of regulation: $1,199 for experimental aircraft or $950 extra ($2,149 total) for the identical “certified” version that would be legal to put into a Cessna or Piper.

For pilots: the Sun n Fun NOTAM is moderately terrifying in its complexity, but most of it relates to IFR or other airports. The VFR approach is pretty straightforward and we didn’t have much company on the morning of the first day of the event. There was an epic amount of taxiing involved, but it was well-organized, and only a short wait to take off after the airshow. Things are compressed at the end of the day because the airport is closed until 5:30 pm due to the airshow and then closed after 7:30 pm, period. To avoid the rush, consider flying in and out in the morning.

Americans and the Bell Curve


Charles Murray became a pariah for talking about how America is chock full of people with below-average IQ (and therefore way below the average in the high-IQ countries). But he did not specifically address whether or not credentialed Americans are not smart enough to work with the bell curve (Normal distribution) per se.

Thankfully, the New York Times has come along to address this question. Their best and brightest journalists and editors looked at a survey of 250 colleges and universities. The results were pretty close to a normal distribution centered around the previous mean:

39% of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35% reported an increase, and 26% reported no change in applicant numbers.

How did this lack of change from the previous year get understood by the journalists and characterized by the editors? “Amid ‘Trump Effect’ Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants”

[Thanks, Jonathan Graehl, for this beautiful example of everyday math!]


Does the United Airlines incident support Cicero’s point of view regarding wage labor?


United Airlines having a paying passenger violently dragged off the plane by law enforcement officials is still dominating the news and Facebook (see Thanks, United, for making me proud to be a former Delta Airlines employee). Cicero was famous for saying “The cash that comes from selling your labour is vulgar and unacceptable for a gentleman … for wages are effectively the bonds of slavery.”

If we step back from this I think we will discover that it is waged labor that is at the root of most of the unhappiness and suffering that occurred in Chicago. The way that the bumping was set up, passengers would have missed a day of work if they had accepted United’s offer of a travel voucher and a hotel. It seems reasonable to assume that if none of the passengers had a job, at least four would have said “sure, I can hang out near O’Hare airport and play games on my phone for a day.” Certainly the doctor who was beaten up wouldn’t have been so passionate about getting to work if he didn’t have a job.

Probably the flight attendants, gate agents, and police officers were made unhappy by all of this as well. You might argue “Well, they get a fat paycheck so we shouldn’t be sympathetic if they suffer a bit to collect it.” Yet, except possibly the police officers when the value of their pensions are included, none of these folks have as much ability to consume as a non-working American who uses the means-tested government-run economy thoughtfully (e.g., $60,000/year apartment in Cambridge, New York City, or San Francisco, free health insurance via Obamacare, food stamps (SNAP) from USDA, Obamaphone for chatting with friends). Certainly none of them would have the after-tax spending power of a thoughtful child support plaintiff in Massachusetts, California, or one of the other states that offers unlimited child support. (See the Massachusetts chapter for a jobless plaintiff who out-earns her University of Pennsylvania classmates by 3.2X.)

It seems safe to say that many of the people involved in this incident were “stressed-out” at the time and are now unhappy. These bad feelings are not measured very well when looking at life choices of work versus welfare or work versus child support. Some people might try to factor in the suffering that comes from spending 50+ hours/week commuting and sitting at a desk doing tasks that one hasn’t chosen. But I don’t think that I’ve seen an analysis of the outside-of-working-hours suffering of which this United Airlines incident is an example. The incident occurred on a Sunday, theoretically a day of rest for at least most of the passengers, but plainly the stress of having a job that required attendance on Monday morning was a factor for many people.

Readers: What do you think? Given that we’ve built a society where work is option (see Book Review: The Redistribution Recession), are we adequately communicating to young people about just how miserable working is?


Thanks, United, for making me proud to be a former Delta Airlines employee


“United Passenger Dragged From Overbooked Flight” reminds us that the toughest jobs in the airline world are gate agent and flight attendant. It also makes me proud to have been a Delta Airlines employee (through the Comair subsidiary)! The crux of the matter seems to be that United wanted to get rid of four passengers to make room for four airline employees (crew needed to operate a flight starting at the destination?). An $800 voucher didn’t yield any volunteers so, rather than up the offer (Federal law 14 CFR 250.5 protects consumers(?) by limiting how much an airline can offer), the airline “randomly” selected four victims to be hauled back into the terminal. We may have had our shortcomings at Delta, but I don’t remember ever acting out Sophie’s Choice with the passengers.

My Facebook friends are expressing outrage about this. The Trumpenfuhrer is primarily to blame. A sample:

United stock is up for the day. Seems clear they knew there would be no consequence. Expect the rest of the US airlines to adopt the same policies. Now that the airlines have paid the administration to block the good airlines like Emirates why should they care about customer service?)

As I noted in “Unions and Airlines”, it is not a particular President and henchmen/women that make it illegal for Lufthansa or Ryanair to fly you from SFO to JFK, but rather laws made by and preserved by Congress:

In the absence of protectionist regulations, which prohibit foreign carriers from carrying domestic passengers, we would expect the entire U.S. air travel market to be captured by airlines owned by countries where labor laws do not facilitate the unionization of pilots. Without barriers to competition we would expect to see something like the cruise ship industry, where foreign-flagged vessels dominate. An airline might be based in the Philippines, for example, or El Salvador (like the excellent TACA, which has its own history with ALPA), and serve the U.S. with foreign-based crews.

[Separately, the flight seems to have been “United 3411” but shows it to be operated by Republic, a regional airline, on an Embraer E170. So the flight attendants would have been Republic employees, but the folks making the offers and the gate agents deciding on victims would likely have been United people. My job at Comair was unusual in that the regional airline was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta.]


What happens when a whole society wastes time and money on college


In Two big questions for economists today (2015) I reported that, coming away from an economics convention, one of the big questions was “Can higher education make a person more productive at his or her ultimate job?” It sure seems as though the answer for American higher education is “oftentimes no”. The New York Times today is focusing on the evils of the financial institutions profiting from Americans’ blind faith in the university system, e.g., with “Loans ‘Designed to Fail’: States Say Navient Preyed on Students”. I think the details are more interesting and the Times provides that with a separate story: “Voices of Navient’s Borrowers: ‘The Biggest Mistake of My Life’”

One 36-year-old attended two public schools in Florida and came out with what is now $83,300 in debt. She got a “B.A. in maritime history.” In the old days a young person from a wealthy family might have enjoyed four years studying maritime history (tuition would have been about $500 per year back then too). Somehow today this same experience is being marketed to the non-rich. For me the interesting question is why public universities don’t put more effort into online degrees in subjects such as these. Georgia Tech can deliver an online master’s in CS for $7,000. If learning maritime history is mostly reading books that are available in libraries or are no longer within copyright, why couldn’t a degree in the subject be earned by downloading a reading list and writing some papers? If the mission of a public university is to educate the public at a reasonable cost, why didn’t they offer this kind of degree online starting in the 1980s when personal computers became popular or the 1990s with the rise of the Web?

[Separately, if you’re a young economist and don’t like this subject, let me suggest looking at the effects of the change to no-fault divorce in the 1970s (history) and the 1990s switch to child support guidelines (in many states, these give a higher spending power to the person who has sex with a high-income partner than to the person who marries a medium-income partner; they also make it more lucrative to have sex with a high-income person than to go to college and work). See “Litigation, Alimony, and Child Support in the U.S. Economy” for an example. A group at MIT led by David Autor, for example, was referenced in the New York Times for their 2016 look at how children turn out depending on whether they are raised in two-parent or single-parent households. They didn’t have to compete for attention with a classic paper from 1960 because the government didn’t encourage single-parent households back then and there weren’t enough of them.]

Log in