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The T-Party Movement and Running Government Like a Business

There is a media narrative out there about the T-party that it is made up of people who are angry because they lost their jobs or fear losing their jobs. The actual demographics of T-party supporters don't really reflect this at all. Instead, the typical T-party adherent is male, moderately well to do and in his 40's. Of course, not all fit that demographic. But far from being "trailer trash" as some people imagine, the T-party folks have been relatively successful.
So why are they angry? Because they fear life is getting worse, rather than better. And they, as individuals, react psychologically to their fears by getting angry, as opposed to other extreme of going to bed and pulling the covers over their head. But to focus on the causes of their anger, which are mostly personal psychology, is to ignore the causes of their fear.
Of course, we can't expect politicians or the media to address those causes. Success in politics requires validating that fear and ange…

Five Solutions to Social Security

As I discussed in Friday's article, there is a concerted political campaign to "wean us off" social security, as one of the program's congressional opponents put it. Central to that campaign is the notion that the program is going "bankrupt" and future generations will not receive any benefits. While that argument has little merit, there is some reality to the underlying problemt. Lets look at the reality.
The real problem facing Social Security is demographic. That huge group of baby boomers born after World War II is approaching retirement. This means they are ready to leave the workforce and start collecting social security. That demographic bubble means more people will be receiving benefits and relatively fewer people will be paying for them.
This problem has been anticipated for a while. The solution hit on 25 years ago was to switch to having current workers pay more in social security taxes than the costs of paying benefits to current retirees. The…

Social Security and Retirement

The current media narrative is that "social security" is not reliable. It has gotten to the point that this urban myth has become an accepted part of unrelated discussions of retirement. Here is one on article on retirement planning that is an example. This repeated media driven mantra has lead many young people to adopt the attitude that, as one told me 15 years ago, "I don't expect to get any social security."

But in fact that is wrong. Even once the social security trust fund is gone in 30 years, continued revenue is expected to cover at least 75% of the projected benefits. And even that is based on projections that assume US workers wages will continue to represent a declining proportion of any increases in productivity. And reducing benefits to 75% of those promised is only one of many options, if in fact social security taxes don't cover all the promised benefits.

The reality is that for many people Social Security is the ONLY reliable leg of the stool.…

Understanding Property Taxes

The AARP newsletter this month has a story about property taxes that seems to share many people's confusion about how the amount of property taxes they pay is determined. Once you understand the system, you realize there is no reason to expect your property tax bill to decline when property values decline or for it to increase when property values increase.

Many people think that local governments budget like they do. First you figure out how much money you have and then you decide how to spend it. But that isn't the case. In most jurisdictions, they start the process by deciding what to spend. Local elected officials decide what services they will provide and at what cost. This becomes the basis for making a levy of taxes against local property values.

The total local budget is divided by the total assessed value of taxable property. This establishes the tax rate. That rate is then applied to each property owner's value to determine their individual tax bill. What is import…

Who is to blame for this mess?

There seems to be a lot of discussion to who is to blame for the financial crisis. But an awful lot of the media coverage is highly misleading. Here is synopis:

1) The meltdown in the financial market had little to do with people getting mortgages they couldn't afford. The collapse of the mortgage backed CDO's was caused by the collapse in the value of the houses which provided the collateral. It turned the mortgages behind the "collateralized debt obligations" (CDO's) into mostly un-collateralized debts. The result was that they went from AAA rated bonds to junk.

2)So what caused the housing bubble and collapse? Many people blame the fed, but don't have the story right. The fed did play a role. By keeping interest rates on Treasury Bonds low, they provided a market for alternative bonds that would pay a greater return.

But the major cause of the housing bubble was the creativity of the investment banks. These are not the retail banks that make home mortgages n…