Should the U.S. seek to join the EU?

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Barack Obama has written an op-ed urging Britons to vote to stay in the European Union. Let’s assume that he is correct about how great EU membership is for a nation. Shouldn’t the U.S. then also seek to join the EU? The UK is physically closer to the rest of Europe than is the U.S., but in our modern age of telecommunications and low-cost air travel, why is distance an obstacle to membership?

Some advantages of joining the EU:

  • We could stop fighting about interest rates, printing money, etc.
  • We wouldn’t have to worry so much about who is on the Supreme Court since the ultimate decision-makers on a lot of issues would be in Holland or Belgium.
  • No immigration lines on either side of the Atlantic.
  • No cheese import quotas and hence the prices of high-quality cheese would fall by at least 50 percent. Wine prices should also collapse down to European levels.

What do readers think? Should Britons take advance from Barack Obama? If so, why should we also take the same advice?

Can a Hugo Chavez and Bernie Sanders supporter consistently advocate that a person marry for money?

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I was talking to a supporter of Hugo Chavez (she has lived in Latin America, but not in Venezuela) and Bernie Sanders the other day. She expressed disappointment and surprise that her middle-aged sister had married a middle-aged artist with no track record of financial success. “He’s as poor as a church mouse,” she noted. She was generally approving of the man’s personality and character.

She buys into the idea that some citizens should work harder than others and, through a Chavez- or Sanders-conceived redistribution scheme, support those who don’t work as hard. But she doesn’t want her sister to work harder than her new brother-in-law.

Readers: Is there any inconsistency between her political and personal views?

[Separately, note that while the marriage might not last, the sister’s obligation to support the arts could very well continue. Under Massachusetts family law, for example, given a gender-blind judge, he will be the “dependent spouse” and his entitlement to alimony could begin after a day of marriage and, given a favorably disposed judge, extend until her death (the Legislature has suggested limits to judges based on what attorneys call “time served” but judges have felt free to ignore those limits). Under Florida law, if the artist sues her after seven years of marriage he is on track for “permanent alimony.” Under California law, he needs to wait for ten years to be presumptively entitled to a permanent meal ticket (see 0:45 of this video (credit: GermanL) for a reference to this rule).]

If a minimum wage of $15 per hour is deserved, why not impose it immediately?

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Obamacare was pitched as a moral imperative. Humans are entitled to health insurance as a basic right. We are responsible to provide health insurance, not simply health or emergency care, to anyone residing within the borders of the U.S. Yet Obamacare was designed with the expectation that tens of millions of Americans (plus millions of undocumented immigrants) would remain without coverage (statistics).

Are we doing the same thing with the $15/hour minimum wage? People advocating to make it illegal for Americans to work for less than $15/hour say that it is a moral imperative. But then the moral imperative phases in through 2020 or 2022? We’re going to behave immorally for the next six years but then become moral actors in 2022? Businesses can exploit workers in 2018 by paying less than a fair wage but beginning in 2022 the exploitation must stop?

Example from BernieSanders.com: “Millions of Americans are working for totally inadequate wages. We must ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty. The current federal minimum wage is starvation pay and must become a living wage. We must increase it to $15 an hour over the next several years.” (i.e., poverty and starvation amidst plenty are okay in 2016 and 2017 but they will become unacceptable at some future date)

The strip club owner’s opinion of the $15/hour minimum wage

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“We don’t have enough strip malls, strip clubs, and traffic in Boston” is how I explained to interlocutors in Florida my rationale for spending two weeks in Ft. Lauderdale, right around the corner from Pure Platinum. I happened to be riding a shuttle bus back from the Miami Open with a strip club owner while looking at a news article about the $15 minimum wage being proposed around the U.S. How would that affect his business? “Anything that makes it tougher for an 18-year-old to get a regular job is great for us,” he said (apparently minimum age for a stripper in South Florida is 18), “because dancing is seldom a first career choice.” Wouldn’t he have to give dancers a pay raise to compete? “They’re independent contractors,” he noted, “but even they weren’t the decent ones are all getting more than $15/hour right now.” [Note that, as with everything else regarding employment in the U.S., this is the subject of litigation: example1; example2]

Wouldn’t his dancers earn a larger income by using their bodies to produce a child? “The 21-year-olds are not planning 18 years ahead,” he replied. “The blowjob pregnancy [followed by child support] is a great retirement plan for a dancer, but they don’t usually start down that road until they’re closer to 30.”

[He did have some non-dancer employees currently working for less than $15/hour, but their compensation was not a big percentage of total costs and he thought that he’d be able to eliminate some jobs by keeping only the most productive of the lowest-wage workers (the Costco approach).]

Here’s the waterfront Ft. Lauderdale home that our tour guide identified as belonging to the owner of the Pure Platinum club:

2016-04-07 11.04.52

Related:

  • Florida family law, which does provide for potentially unlimited child support profits, but only if a high-income defendant can be identified (the cash yield from obtaining custody of the child of a moderate-income defendant is only about half as large as in Massachusetts or New York)

Concerned about global warming and also supporting immigration to the U.S.?

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My Facebook friends seem to be combining two passions recently. One is spreading alarm regarding climate change/global warming. The second is advocating for more immigration to the U.S. I’m wondering how these can be consistent positions.

An increasingly common element of climate change alarmism is fretting about whether it is possible to be virtuous on the climate change issue while simultaneously adding to the overpopulation of Planet Earth by carbon-spewing humans. “Does climate change make it immoral to have kids?” (Guardian) is an example link from these Facebookers. An implicit message is that rich well-educated people in developed countries should further limit their reproduction (already below replacement levels, e.g., for college graduates in the U.S.).

Yet as noted above, the same folks express indignation at any suggestion that immigration to the U.S. be discouraged.

This chart of countries ranked by carbon emissions shows that a resident of the U.S. pushes about 19 metric tons of CO2 per year into the atmosphere. A resident of Syria, on the other hand, is responsible for only about 3.5 tons. A resident of Afghanistan or Somalia is pretty close to carbon-neutral.

If an important goal to these folks is saving Planet Earth via reducing carbon emissions, and it is so important that they would refrain from having children of their own, wouldn’t it make sense for them to oppose immigration from any country whose lifestyle is less carbon-intensive than the lifestyle of a U.S. resident?

[Note that the same folks who fret about climate change and push for more immigration also advocate financial subsidies for Americans who choose to have children. “San Francisco becomes first US city to mandate fully paid parental leave” (Guardian) is a typical article that leads to Facebook celebration. Why would you be eager to pay Americans to have children if you’re not sure that it is a good idea for anyone to have kids? (see also this post about whether employers or taxpayers should pay for the leave)]

U.S. Aircraft Registration: We’ve reach the tipping point where Americans have created more bureaucracy than they can handle

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“Donald Trump’s Jet, a Regular on the Campaign Trail, Isn’t Registered to Fly” is a nytimes story on the expired registration for a Cessna Citation X owned by a shell corporation in Delaware. The registration is expired, something that would have been impossible until recently. The FAA changed the rules in 2010 so that registrations are now good for only three years whereas before they were valid until modified by the owner or a new buyer. Apparently the typical American worker simply can’t handle the new requirements, as evidenced by Angelina Jolie’s Cirrus debacle and this latest one with Trump and his staff.

I’m wondering if historians will look back on this moment as a tipping point when the ability of Americans to generate regulations outstripped the practical ability of Americans to comply with regulations.

[Readers might legitimately point out that car registrations expire and people somehow manage to get them renewed. However, the sight of the Massachusetts State Police towing away cars that lack current stickers from the side of the Interstate, leaving families stranded, is not uncommon. And even if in theory Americans should be able to comply with a regulation like this it seems worth looking at actual ability.]

Why aren’t people, dogs, and cars equipped with transponders?

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My suburban neighbors get their panties in a twist periodically over the issue of people speeding along narrow two-lane roads bordered by houses and occasionally used by pedestrians and dogs (we have decided not to invest in sidewalks). There are demands for speed bumps that town officials refuse to meet.

We’re now in about Year 20 of most residents of the U.S. carrying an electronic device most of the time. Cars are stuffed full of electronics and have near-infinite electric power available.

If human lives are important to us, why haven’t we developed an electronic infrastructure for collision-avoidance in situations like this? Cars tell the pedestrians’ phones that they are approaching and phones alert cars and drivers that it is time to slow down for that person in the road just over the hill. This can be tied into the auto-braking systems that manufacturers are now putting into cars.

There would have to be a way for the devices to notice that there were so many cars and pedestrians that it was time to shut down (“Manhattan mode”) but that doesn’t seem too challenging to build.

Self-driving cars seem to be relying on the same senses that had led to accidents for human-driven cars. Why not supplement with the electronics that have successfully prevented nearly all high-altitude mid-air collisions among airplanes?

U.S. is about to have a labor shortage?

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“The U.S. Occupations at Greatest Risk of a Labor Shortage” is a WSJ story about how some of the finest minds in corporate America believe that we’re about to have a labor shortage. Here are some excerpts:

“In the next 10 to 15 years, we expect U.S. employers to demand more labor than will be available, which will, in turn, constrain overall economic growth,” the Conference Board said in a report to be released Tuesday.

It may seem premature to talk about a labor shortage while the Great Recession and its 10% unemployment rate are a recent, painful memory. Meanwhile, the share of Americans in the labor force is historically low and wages are barely showing signs of picking up.

I’m wondering if this report was prepared by the Harvard Business School and McKinsey alums who set up the compensation plan and overall strategy at Enron.

We’re going to be chronically short of “Religious Workers” they say. How is that possible when people can study religion and become qualified as religious leaders at any age? We’re going to be short of “Top Executives”? I guess you could argue that we already are short-handed in this department since the Yahoo board felt compelled to pay Marissa Mayer $365 million. But by definition wouldn’t any pyramidal bureaucracy have a sufficient number of people at the top? We’re going to be short of fire fighters? 25,000 people applied for jobs with the Chicago fire department the last time that they allowed applications. Wikipedia says that the entire department has only 5,143 employees. We’re going to be more short of lawyers than engineers say the 10 lb. heads behind this report? We’re going to be desperately short of “Motor Vehicle Operators” as the self-driving vehicles come off the robot-rich assembly lines?

Is it time to invest all of our money in Asia if this is the best that American business minds can come up with?

At what point can Verizon replace all of its striking workers?

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According to this Boston Globe story, the average Verizon worker currently on strike earns total compensation of about $130,000 per year. If there is a defined benefit pension plan and Verizon doesn’t have a letter from God stating the year in which each current worker will actually die, the cost to Verizon shareholders of these workers could be quite a bit higher.

For a company with a bunch of older workers whose pension costs are high, you’d think that an opportunity to replace those folks with younger workers on a 401k defined contribution pension plan would be welcome. What are the actual obstacles facing Verizon in bringing in permanent replacement workers (nytimes) at a number closer to Massachusetts median household income of about $68,000 per year (Boston Globe)?

Separately, I think it is interesting that the Globe implies that Verizon should be required to pay workers more than $130,000 per year. payscale.com says that the Globe itself pays employees between $25,000 and $70,000 per year (benefits presumably add something to this).

Why are people so excited about this? The ADP paycheck calculator says that $130,000/year pre-tax is $85,658/year after tax. If the Verizon jobs disappear, aren’t there other ways for people to get hold of $85,658 per year? The Houston Chronicle‘s analysis of BLS data shows that the typical American, regardless of education level, can’t expect to earn this much by working. Perhaps there a way to get to the same standard of living of a striking Verizon union worker without working? A Massachusetts resident could obtain nearly the same spending power by having sex with two partners, each of whom earns $250,000/year (managers at Verizon?), obtaining custody of the resulting two children, and collecting for 23 years under the Massachusetts child support guidelines. A Massachusetts resident who already has custody of at least one child and who has a friend in one of the central public housing ministries, e.g., Cambridge or Boston, could obtain a luxury rental in a new building with a market value of $48,000 per year plus MassHealth (Medicaid) valued at about $15,000 per year. It is hard to see how collecting traditional welfare could result in harvesting the remaining $22,000+ without working, though perhaps it would be possible to earn $22,000 per year in after-tax dollars by working part-time in jobs that are paid in cash, e.g., 1222 hours at $18/hour as a babysitter.

How to keep the kids off the iPad

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At the Miami Open there was a booth from the IMG Academy, formerly Nick Bollettieri’s, near Sarasota. For $60,000 per year they will take a child as young as age 8 and give him or her five hours of private school per day then four hours of sports instruction (they are most famous for tennis but now they have some other sports). Children can live on campus starting at age 12. If it sounds expensive, keep in mind that most graduates end up getting athletic scholarships to college.

Even for an 8-year-old there is a minimum of coordination and athletic ability required for entry. The school wants kids to come to one of their camps first and/or for a video to be sent with an application.

What do readers think? Let’s assume that a typical child cannot become a successful pro athlete. However, presumably a typical graduate of this academy would be one of the world’s top 1000(?) tennis players and that would be a valuable lifelong skill and source of pride and fun. Is it better for a kid to (1) go to a high-grade suburban public school or expensive academically oriented private school and then fight all of the world’s crammers for an Ivy League admission or (2) to become a great athlete via coaching at IMG and meet a whole world of successful people through tennis? At a minimum, one would think that the school+tennis program would keep a child from getting sucked into the virtual world of screens.

Personally I wish that I had studied tennis in elementary school rather than learning all of the state capitals by heart. Google knows almost everything that I learned in public school, but can’t help with my pathetic one-handed backhand (“I’m not an ambi-hitter”).

[Note that the private school at IMG is probably at least above-average by feeble American standards. The place is packed with international students, an advantage in a globalized economy, and claims to have “nearly a dozen AP courses” available. Graduates have gone on to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. (none have been dumb enough to choose M.I.T.!). Perhaps this public school in Dallas that requires a minimum of 11 AP courses to graduate would be better academically, but most people don’t live in Dallas.]

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