Why are people so desperate to have the very latest Apple device?
Apparently, a Brazilian group is actually suing Apple because the iPad 4 is too awesome. No, seriously. They're mad that they went out and bought iPad 3s and now the iPad 4 is better and Apple should just have not made the iPad 3 so that they'd have waited to get a 4 and . . . seriously?
I mean, forget the incredible entitlement of this argument . . . "Apple made an iPad 3 which is basically just the same as conning grandmothers out of their life savings with fake charities!" I've gotten over that. Whiny self-entitlement seems to be what the internet is for. No, what surprises me is that there are still people getting caught up in the Apple upgrade cycle. That feels so 2007, you know what I mean?
Of course, I would say that: I use an iPad 1, which might as well have been carved out of a block of flint as far as the Fast Cyclers are concerned. In my defense, we bought this iPad on our honeymoon, and I'm rather attached. Okay, also I am far too cheap to buy a new device while the old one is working fine.
But that's the thing: it's working fine. I read and play games on it. I'm not trying to calculate the perihelion of Jupiter or do 3D renderings of the National Cathedral. I barely even use it to check email.
Hospital pricing is famously opaque. And until we understand it, we'll have a hard time controlling costs.
Steven Brill has a long, long piece for Time Magazine on hospital pricing. I'm still reading and digesting it, so expect more later. But here's an excerpt that sums up the core of the piece:
The total cost, in advance, for Sean to get his treatment plan and initial doses of chemotherapy was $83,900.
The first of the 344 lines printed out across eight pages of his hospital bill — filled with indecipherable numerical codes and acronyms — seemed innocuous. But it set the tone for all that followed. It read, “1 ACETAMINOPHE TABS 325 MG.” The charge was only $1.50, but it was for a generic version of a Tylenol pill. You can buy 100 of them on Amazon for $1.49 even without a hospital’s purchasing power.
Everything I needed to know about sales force compensation, I learned by getting a puppy
Last week, my home was invaded by a sort of intelligent alien with phenominal psi powers. It not only seems to know what we are thinking, but more ominously, seems to be able to manipulate our emotions with a brutal precision that totalitarian brainwashing experts could only dream of. It's not merely that we're being manipulated, but also that we crave its manipulation. We rearrange our schedules so that we can spend more time catering to its every whim.
In short, we have adopted a puppy.
Fitzgerald is almost 8 weeks old, and as cute as, well, an eight week old bullmastiff puppy. With his melting gray eyes and inveterate desire to cuddle, he is the sweetheart of all right-thinking people, friend to the world . . . and the mortal enemy of hardwood floors. How to get Fitzgerald house trained before the floorboards begin to warp?
How high is too high?
How much debt is too much? Or more specifically, how much debt can a country take on before it risks hitting a "tipping point": the point where you risk spiralling into a vicious cycle of higher interest rates putting pressure on your budget, which makes the debt riskier and causes interest rates to rise further.
David Greenlaw, James Hamilton, Peter Hooper and Frederick Mishkin have a new paper out on this question. Their answer is "80% of GDP". Neil Irwin has a very good summary, as well as some useful critique:
Considering that the paper was presented at a monetary policy conference, and that its authors include a former Federal Reserve governor (Mishkin), it seems not to grapple enough with the crucial difference between the United States and many of the countries that are among the nations included in the historical analysis the paper is based on. Almost all of the countries that have experienced major financial crises in the recent past have in some way lacked control over their currency. For Greece and Ireland, that is because they use the euro, whose value is determined by the European Central Bank, the value of which is better suited for Germany and France than for those troubled peripheral European economies. In the East Asian crisis of the late 1990s, much of the damage came about because the countries involved had borrowed money in dollars, so when the value of their domestic currencies fell they suddenly had more onerous debt burdens than they had expected.
So for the U.S. fiscal picture to be as dangerous as the paper suggests, one needs a story of how a crisis of confidence in U.S. debt leads to an outflow of capital and no offsetting effort by the Fed to ease policy, simultaneously strengthening growth and making interest rates lower. This paper doesn’t do that.
Can we remake the humanities PhD to have better job prospects?
I read with great interest a column by Michael Berube on rethinking the role and structure of the humanities PhD. This is largely an internal discussion about fights in which I have no dog (except that I think that Berube and I are agreed that people shouldn't spend ten years toiling in poverty for a degree that leaves them with little earning capacity or job security when they are done.)
So I read it mostly the way I read Derek Lowe's blog: with an outsider's interest in an insider's discussion of his own world.
However, in one place Berube touches on a subject that I do know a bit about: the job market outside of academia. It seems that in the absence of enough academic jobs for their students, graduate programs are talking about "alt-ac" (alternative to academic) routes for the people they train:
The alt-ac option, as it is widely known, has generated much debate in the humanities, but so far little sense of what the viable "alternatives" to academic employment might be. The situation is vastly different in the arts, where M.F.A. or Ph.D. holders typically expect to find employment in a far wider array of cultural institutions than humanists—orchestras, dance companies, design companies, museums, theaters, nonprofits. But of course, the cultural institutions to which degree holders in the arts aspire are often in states of distress similar to those affecting universities, albeit for different structural reasons.
The paths to power and success are narrowing. So is the worldview of the powerful.
Yesterday, I wrote about the silliness of requiring a file clerk to have a college degree. This morning, a friend sent me the following note about the narrowing of opportunity in modern America:
Random thought inspired by the NYT article re: requiring BAs for everything and your post, especially the note about your IT team and their varied backgrounds, which is far less likely to be true today.
It seems to me that a similar version of that narrowing-entry option is occurring in many fields
You've written in the past about how the top banks have steadily narrowed the pool of candidates whom they'll consider - e.g., only 5-6 schools will even be looked at. A similar phenomenon has been occurring in law as well, and not just post-08 . . . even before the recession.
Not sure I have a handle on the larger meaning of it all: it just seems like a generalized phenomenon to me that entry pathways are narrowing all over
He also pointed me to a telling passage in Diary of a Very Bad Year, Keith Gessen's interviews with a hedge-fund manager:
There's a big premium on college degrees--but it's biggest at the top
In my last post, I mentioned the college earnings premium. It's real, and it's huge. Just look at the difference that education makes to earnings potential. The difference applies to everyone from entry level workers to the highest earners; in fact, the top earning high-school dropouts don't average much better than the bottom-earners with advanced degrees:
You can see the big discontinuity between education levels: high school dropouts, high school graduates, and those with some college tend to be clustered at the bottom, while the incomes of the educated pull away.
Here's the data organized by educational level, instead of income quartile:
You need a BA to file papers. Is a master's in burger-flipping next?
Last September, I wrote a lengthy cover story asking whether a college diploma is still worth it. In some sense, it obviously is--there's a substantial wage premium for college graduates. But in other ways, it's very much an open question. For starters, the marginal kids who we are now adding to college classes may not get the benefit of the degree: they're more likely to drop out, and less likely to have the complementary assets, like connections and social capital, that help maximize the value of your BA.
More worrying is the way in which a BA is now becoming a minimum requirement for jobs that simply don't require any of the skills you learn in college: receptionist, file clerk, secretary. The New York Times has a lengthy article exploring this phenomenon through the lens of a law firm which requires everyone, even the lowliest clerical worker, to have a college degree:
This prerequisite applies to everyone, including the receptionist, paralegals, administrative assistants and file clerks. Even the office “runner” — the in-house courier who, for $10 an hour, ferries documents back and forth between the courthouse and the office — went to a four-year school.
“College graduates are just more career-oriented,” said Adam Slipakoff, the firm’s managing partner. “Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck.”
Close seat pitches make it hard to enjoy your trip when the guy in front of you leans back.
Dan Kois wants airlines to stop allowing people to recline their seats:
Ding! Instantly the jerk in 11C reclines his seat all the way back. The guy in 12C, his book shoved into his face, reclines as well. 13C goes next. And soon the reclining has cascaded like rows of dominos to the back of the plane, where the poor bastards in the last row see their personal space reduced to about a cubic foot.
Or else there are those, like me, who refuse to be so rude as to inconvenience the passengers behind us. Here I sit, fuming, all the way from IAD to LAX, the deceptively nice-seeming schoolteacher’s seat back so close to my chin that to watch TV I must nearly cross my eyes. To type on this laptop while still fully opening the screen requires me to jam the laptop’s edge into my stomach.
Obviously, everyone on the plane would be better off if no one reclined; the minor gain in comfort when you tilt your seat back 5 degrees is certainly offset by the discomfort when the person in front of you does the same. But of course someone always will recline her seat, like the people in the first row, or the woman in front of me, whom I hate. (At least we’re not in the middle seat. People who recline middle seats are history’s greatest monsters.)
The big box behemoth is having a bad month. Does that mean the rest of us will be having a bad year?
"Where are all the customers?" asks an internal Walmart email published by Bloomberg last week. "And where's their money?" Another email states "In case you haven't seen a sales report these days, February [month to date] sales are a total disaster . . . the worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company."
Brad Plumer notes that Walmart sales are often a bellwether for the rest of the economy. Should we be freaking out?
I'm all for a modified limited freakout. To be sure, Walmart is likely to be disproportionately affected by the changes we've recently made in government policy. Ending the payroll tax holiday probably cut substantially into the disposable income of Walmart's "value oriented" customers. And because the debt ceiling deal was an eleventh-hour negotiation, the IRS couldn't process tax returns as fast. Normally, they'd be starting to roll out around now, ballooning Walmart's sales with once-a-year investments in stuff like furniture and electronics.
So there's reason to hope that this effect is 1) temporary and 2) somewhat Walmart-specific. So why freak out at all?
There are idiots all over. Why are we paying so much attention to what they say?
The instructor at the West Virginia public institution included some possible news sources, such as The Economist, BBC, CNN and The Huffington Post. But the instructor also specified that two sources could not be used. One was The Onion, which the assignment notes "is not news" and "is literally a parody."
The other barred source is the one that got the instructor -- Stephanie Wolfe -- scrutiny this week. She banned articles from Fox News, writing: "The tagline 'Fox News' makes me cringe. Please do not subject me to this biased news station. I would almost rather you print off an article from the Onion."
Just as I gaped and then cringed when an obscure state-level GOP official made repulsive, inhuman jokes about a dead kid on Twitter. Which got me thinking about how these incidents play out in the media space, and in our brains.
Saving vs. debt repayment, index funds v. ETFs, and why they don't turn Camp Pendleton over to developers?
I write to ask your opinion on where to divide $2000 per month of disposable income between emergency savings, retirement, school loans, college savings for my son, and my own school loans. I'm a 34-year-old man, and this March, I will pay off my consumer debt, completing a financial turnaround that took me from the brink of bankruptcy in January 2011. Since then, I've settled $15,000 in credit card debt for about $6,000; short sold my severely underwater house in Detroit; and paid off about $25,000 in other, mostly unsecured, debt. This leaves only my school loans ($145,000 from law school at 6.8–7.9%, and $20,000 from undergrad at 4.25%). This took some discipline, and landing a job at a law firm didn't hurt.
After paying bills and other commitments (such as child support), I have about $2000 per month left over. I have about $4300 in emergency savings, and I estimate that I need $2000 per month to live comfortably and continue to pay child support. I have $2600 in my 401(k), and I'm putting in $1700 per year because I feel I need to put at least something in there. I have not opened a 529 plan for my son, but I plan to do so soon, and I'll probably add some token amount (like with my 401(k)) until I get my student loans paid off.
I've stretched the $20,000 undergrad loans over 20 years—at 4.25%, those loans don't need to be sucking up cash that I could put toward the law-school loans. I'm making graduated payments (currently $1200 per month) on my seven law-school loans (totaling $145,000). I plan to overpay on one loan at a time, resulting in progressively lower monthly payments as I knock off loans the minimum payments of which then get rolled into the overpayment. I make too much money to deduct my school-loan interest.
Before you send in that application . . .
Laura at 11D posts a very solid list of recommendations for people embarking on post-high school education.
- Don't get an AA degree anywhere but at a super cheap community college. Go to a local community college, live at home, and get a part time job.
- Don't take out anymore than $15,000 in loans.
- Try your damnest to get done in four years.
- Don't choose a school based on the college atmosphere.
- Never get a Masters Degree in anything, except if it is guarenteed to increase your salary.
- Never get a PhD in anything.
- Never get any degree in a profession that doesn't require a degree. (You don't need an AA degree in party planning, for example.)
- I would like to tell people to avoid schools where the professors don't actually teach any courses, but it's hard to find positive examples anymore.
I'd add just a few things:
1. Work for a year before you go to college; you'll get much more out of the experience, and you won't need to borrow as much
Were they lying to each other? Or themselves?
There's no question that there was a fair amount of mortgage fraud during the financial crisis. But where did it come from? Actually, that's not the right question: we know where it came from. Borrowers and mortgage brokers falsified the documents.
This is obviously not good, but you can almost see how it started. When banks started using hard cutoffs enforced by computer systems, you would get the crazy result that someone with an income of $50,150 would qualify for a mortgage, while someone with an income of $50,000 would not. Now, there is no one making $50,000 a year for whom $150 is the difference between keeping current, and foreclosure--not when they could close the gap by picking up a couple of shifts at Pizza Hut.
So mortgage brokers started cheating a little to get around an irrational system, and by the time that the bubble was in full roar, they weren't just cheating a little. Private debts and child support payments were left off applications, fake sources of income were invented, the need for a second mortgage was concealed, investors were misrepresented as primary residents. The loans that investors were told they were buying were not quite what they got. And many of those loans, naturally, ended up in default.
But did the originators know? Naturally, they maintain that they didn't. A new paper by Tomasz Piskorski, Amit Seru, and James Witkin, however, suggests that they did:
Would it raise unemployment during recessions?
The other part of President Obama's minimum wage policy, which I didn't really mention yesterday, was the proposal to index it for inflation. I didn't mention it because as far as I can tell, this is dead letter--Democrats like being able to bring up the issue every few years, and Republicans aren't fan of anything that automatically increases the minimum.
Nonetheless, I think it's interesting to ponder. And what I want to ponder is this: what does indexing do to the effectiveness of monetary policy?
One of the main benefits of inflation (a little bit of inflation, anyway) is that it eases the burden of "sticky wages". Which is to say that people don't like their wages to go down. In theory, if productivity drops, employers can lower wages to match the new reality. In practice, they apparently can't, so they fire people instead.
Inflation allows you to lower the real value of peoples' wages by just not giving them a raise, while not triggering the complex emotion response that a pay cut engenders.
Obama’s appointment of Clifford Sloan to head the Office of Guantánamo Closure has many hoping the president finally means business. Miranda Green on whether Gitmo’s days are numbered.
Did Obama lock down the independent vote with his move to reform immigration law? Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky and David Frum debate the liberal and conservative perspective on the latest immigration reform.