Monthly Archives: July 2012

Are the 1% Paying their fair share?

According to Greg Mankiw when you take transfer payments into account the one percent effectively pays the highest percentage of their income when compared to any other income group.

From Greg Mankiw’s Blog:

Because transfer payments are, in effect, the opposite of taxes, it makes sense to look not just at taxes paid, but at taxes paid minus transfers received.  For 2009, the most recent year available, here are taxes less transfers as a percentage of market income (income that households earned from their work and savings):

Bottom quintile: -301 percent
Second quintile: -42 percent
Middle quintile: -5 percent
Fourth quintile: 10 percent
Highest quintile: 22 percent

Top one percent: 28 percent

The negative 301 percent means that a typical family in the bottom quintile receives about $3 in transfer payments for every dollar earned.

This is an interesting view of the tax code. Not just what one pays, but more of an income – expenses view. I personally think this is much more telling than just the effective tax rate an individual may or may not pay into the system. I also found this very interesting:

…the middle class, having long been a net contributor to the funding of government, is now a net recipient of government largess.

I think that statement might become important later. Especially when we start to frame the middle class as beneficiaries of the state rather than a group paying into it.

Income vs. Market Income

Just in case you were thinking that Mankiw was playing with the definition of income by calling it “Market Income” (I suspected fowl play to adust the statistics) here is a definition:

Market Income: Market income is the sum of earnings (from employment and net self-employment), net investment income, (private) retirement income, and the items under “Other income”. It is equivalent to total income minus government transfers. It is also called income before taxes and transfers.

I have to say, upon further research, using the term Market Income seems pretty water tight.

Thoughts on these findings?

My Problem with Calvinism

Our destiny is decided.  What we want doesn’t matter.  Whether we follow the path of righteousness and enter heaven or follow a path of evil and find hell awaiting us after death is all predetermined.  Hell, whether we choose Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms for breakfast tomorrow morning has already been decided too.  Predestination – one of the illogical pillars of Calvinism that I despise.

Calvinism is even illogical from a religious perspective.  Double predestination assumes not only does God choose a few elite persons  (at random?) to go to heaven, but that the rest of us poor saps are going to hell, forever, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  What kind of loving creator creates something to ultimately be tortured for eternity?  If we go by that logic, assuming there is no such thing as free will, then not only is God himself responsible for sin and evil, but also for our eternal damnation.  Surely this can’t be the case.

I mean seriously.  Does it at all seem logical for an all loving, all just, creator to build something, specifically programmed to behave a certain way – then arbitrarily choose most of them to spend the rest of time in pain and agony.  When you created them to be exactly as they are!  Free will seems infinity more logical and just.

The Dangers of Calvinism

The Calvinist way of thinking is a dangerous one.  It’s essentially a hopeless one.  Why do anything when you are doomed to hell or blessed with heaven by no actions of your own?  (Although I’m sure all people who are actually Calvinist believe they are part of the elect selected by God to go to Heaven.  How convenient.) If you do not feel the call of God, you are going to hell anyways, so why live?  Calvinism essentially leads to an overall environment of moral nihilism.

In fact, it only makes sense that people who believe they are going to heaven are Calvinist.  Is anyone a Calvinist who actually believes they are doomed to Hell?  What a bunch of elitist pricks.

The Undeniable Logic of Free Will

If you are a Christian you MUST believe in free will.  If not, what point was it for Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind?  The fate of the people have already been decided. By the Calvinist’s logic: God decided in advance who goes to heaven or hell, then sent himself to earth to die on the cross for sinners, sinners who he had already decided were going to heaven or hell anyways. Right?

This is all Bullshit Anyways  

Look folks, if we are going to start cherry picking versus from the Bible to support our way of thinking we may as well consider ourselves screwed anyways.  Calvanist pull versus like “…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…” to demonstrate clear references to predestination.

Alright, fine. I’ll pull this one “Yet she increased her prostitution, remembering the days of her youth when she engaged in prostitution in the land of Egypt. 23:20 She lusted after their genitals – as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions. This is how you assessed the obscene conduct of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your nipples and squeezed your young breasts.” (Ezekiel 23:19-20)  The only thing I’m wondering is – are my genitals supposed to be “as large as those of donkeys” or am I missing something?  Wow.

In the End

If you are religious and believe in God – use a little common sense.  The Bible isn’t literal and once we understand that – Calvinism starts falling apart.  If you aren’t religious – well, you know.

The Fallacy of Marriage

*See Updates section below

Marriage is an interesting institution in my opinion. Interesting in the fact that society places such a value on a ceremony that may not be necessary at all. Outside of the legal implication of marriage – is there really anything marriage provides to a relationship that cannot be had without it? In a modern society is marriage even worth it?

I’ve been happily married for two years now. I wouldn’t change that, but honestly our relationship didn’t change from one day to the next when it comes to marriage. We lived together before marriage, we shared incomes, we supported eachother, and we were monogamous. An expensive ceremony later, a few forms to change her last name, and WALA voilà – marriage.

The worst part about the institution of marriage is the legal implications. The worst of those – ending the marriage. Sometimes I wonder if the parting ways of two individuals should be left to the legal system at all. Shouldn’t it be a personal decision and a family matter? Even when kids are involved I imagine that most times (with the exception of violent relationships, which would require legal action since assault is a crime anyways) the entire situation would be better handled out of court than in it anyways.

You pay a thousands to get married then half of us pay a few more to get un-married. Seems like a brilliant Ponzi scheme played on us by society. Like I heard one guy say “It seems like a relationship based on love and wanting to be with each other is a lot more valuable than one based on staying together because it’s too expensive to separate.”

Legal Issues

Okay – legally speaking marriage is at times advantageous. It is helpful to, legally, be family. There are tax incentives, financial incentives, and the like. However, these are incentives to marriage that are built in to society. Legal incentives are not a natural advantage to the concept of marriage. Society could just as easily catered to a the recognition of the relationship status of each individual – without the complexities and legal ramifications of joining and separating from one another.

Marriage in Society

I can only imagine a few people cringing at this post. Some people probably feel that this is a direct attack on “traditional family values” and the very fabric of society. That’s not what I’m doing here though. I too believe that strong monogamous relationships are valuable.

I think that even the idea of marriage in religion is a far cry from what we have today. In the times of antiquity marriage was very personal. It involved the church, two committed people, and the family. There was no judge involved, often no legal ramifications, yet somehow it worked out.

Take Native American tribes. Couples were monogamous, helped each other live, and for all intensive purposes for all intents and purposes – married. The legal system had nothing to do with their commitment. Yet, somehow the very idea of marriage has become a legal one. Why?

Marriage vs. Marriage

The concept of marriage in it’s bastard form today serves to strengthen the state – not the two individuals engaging in such an act. When is the last time you heard of a couple that was happier BECAUSE they were married. I’m betting their love existed long before the exchange of vows and signing of legal documentation. If anything couples today exist IN SPITE OF marriage.

So for the couples out there who resist the traditional marriage yet live happy committed lives together – I say good for you. Maybe you are doing more for liberty than you even realized.

Updates:(7/18/2012)

After a few great comments/discussions I decided to somewhat reverse my opinion of the institution of marriage.  From a contract perspective it makes sense – especially when it comes to protecting the interest of the non-money earning party.  Here are a couple of comments that made me change my mind.

Via reconcileme:

That’s something I’ve often thought about. Even as a Christian I don’t really see the point in spending tons of money, likely putting people in debt, to make a commitment that can be made between 2 people and God. It really is simply about commitment and not tradition or ceremony. 2 people can decide to support and love each other without the state getting involved.

Now, even with that being said, there are definitely benefits to having a state recognized marriage when it comes to some of the things you mentioned, but also in divorce. There are a great many women who have literally given their life to a marriage. They have sacrificed careers, relationships, and the means to adequately support themselves for the sake of a husband and children. If not for the established legal system quite a few of these would be left with absolutely nothing after a divorce. If a man decides to leave a woman who has given her life to a marriage because he suddenly decides he wants someone else then she has a right to at least half of a family’s finances and continued support. How else is she supposed to achieve this if not for some kind of big binding legal agreement. The same type of scenario exists for men who see their marriage dissolve despite attempts to keep it together. Without some safeguards a woman could just up and move out taking the kids and leave a man with nothing to show for years of hard work and sacrifice.

While I certainly don’t think a legal document makes any 2 people more committed I do think the same legal document protects one party from the other’s bad choices.

Via Holden:

I think marriage provides a certain amount of security to the female in the relationship. Its natural that women be home keepers once they have a child in many cases and once a couple has kids, the woman usually takes primary custody with the kids in a divorce. Its not chauvinistic or sexist, its just a reality of life.

This leads to a limitation in a woman’s ability to earn for themselves and support themselves. Marriage acts as a bit of an assurance that they won’t get fucked over quite as bad if their husband decides to skip town.

Another thing. In my marriage, I “buy” the home. My name is on the loan, I pay for it. But my wife co-owns it with me. And she stays home and raises our children. If there were no legal/state involvement in contract of marriage, I could walk away and kick her ass out on the street. Is this fair?

Sorry, But the state most definitely needs to be involved in the institution of marriage to provide for a level playing field for both parties involved.

Alright, alright. I can admit when I’m wrong and I think both of these commenters made great points.

The Courage to Live

This is an email I wrote to my best friend today.  After sending it I realized it might be worth sharing with the world.  

Dearest Holden,

Here I am.  Sitting in this little grey cubical at a client I could live with or without.  I’ve sent a few planning emails to clients for my upcoming weeks of travel.  I am executing yet another items request list for yet another client that I have in a few weeks.  So the process goes.

I imagine about right now you are being orientated (at his new job) in some way.  You probably feel a mix of feelings.  A feeling of “I made it” mixed with some excitement and maybe even a little nervousness.  You probably feel some need to rush on to your first project thinking “I just want to get started”.  Oh, and your ambition – your unlimited ambition to be promoted to the next level all to increase that paycheck and put a little more cushion and security between your family and the evils of poverty.

I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.  I am contemplating dreams.  Dreams of giving tourist sailing lessons and fruity drinks on some majestic Island or lake in the mountains.  Dreams of travel, adventure, and excitement.  Dreams of taking one-of-kind photos, writing stories about life, debating the economic and political future of the world.  Dreams where the monotony ends and the excitement doesn’t.  A life so full, so exhausting, and so lived that when I die I will be ready – without regret.

Ask yourself this Holden.  Is this the best your life can be lived?  For myself, sometimes I wonder.  When I die will I look back and say – I should have don it differently.  Or will I look back and say “Damn, that was awesome.”  I hope the latter is what’s in store for my future dying self – I only hope I have the courage to live that way.  Courage.  Courage to get out there and bust society in the mouth.  

Otherwise we’re beat.  We’re beat with the big stick of status quo.  I grin at my 22 days vacation.  I think that’s awesome.  Then I realize the other 250 work days a year I’m stuck wasting most of my time forgetting what it’s like to live a truly amazing life.

We are stuck behind the idea that we are “supposed to do”, “supposed to have”, “supposed to…”, and we so quickly forget what we need.  What we need to live amazingly.  Maybe all that we do is a means to the end – I just hope we realize it when that end comes.  I hope we make the leap.

So here’s to always remembering to be awesome.  Let’s get to it.

Lessons learned in hard times

So I mentioned a couple of days ago that my mother attempted suicide. That was an interesting experience; however, the thing I learned most about the entire event wasn’t how awful the situation is, but instead how these episodes of  life have ultimately shaped me into the person I am today.

On some level the bad days really make you appreciate the good ones.  They humble you and make you appreciative of everything you have.  The good friends, a good wife, all successes, all securities, and even a great group of blog followers who are supporting you the whole way.

Conquering Adversity

I’ve been thinking about my life a lot lately – especially since the incident that happened earlier this week with my mom.  What a duality my life has been.  I remember wrestling for the state championship in high school, being accepted into college, graduating college, getting married, landing my dream job, and a gigantic list of awesome and incredible highs in my life – wow I’m a lucky guy.

On the other hand I remember all of the completely insane things I’ve had to deal with too.  I remember when I was about 9 and my parents would go out and ask for “donations” at local grocery and retail stores for our “youth group” – but pocket the money instead.  I remember seeing all the drugs and alcohol.  I remember my parents arguing and going to my room and praying to God that it would be better one day.  I remember saying to myself when I was a kid “I wonder where I’ll be in five years” and pretending I would be in some awesome place achieving great things – that was my mental hiding spot.

Yeah – I had all of those trials, but what if I hadn’t?  Would I have the drive and will to succeed and conquer adversity today?  Would I be unphased by adversity like I am now?  Would I be as strong or as mature?  I doubt it – and THAT I am thankful for.

Who I am Today

Make no mistake.  We are who we are as a result of each and every experience in our life.  If you frame it appropriately even the worst experience can be an amazing opportunity for self improvement.

When I was driving home Tuesday, thinking about my Mom, a women almost ran me off the road.  She was honking, obviously cussing me out.  Normally, I imagine I would have became angry myself – but not that day.  I took a breathe and told myself “look at what I’m going through right now.  I can only imagine what’s going on in her life too.”  I couldn’t get angry because I realized an ounce of understanding goes a long way.

Maybe that’s the lesson I needed.  To feel a little empathy – something I have admitted in the past that I had very little of at times.  I will never make an excuse for a person’s poor behavior, but at a minimum I can learn to show a little understanding.  Every person’s life is effected by so many variables that it is nearly impossible for us to understand why a person is they way they are.  So instead of getting angry maybe we can just learn to understand that we can’t understand – and accept it.

Thank you

Before I end I just wanted to say thanks to anyone who gave their support to me the other day and those who continue to give me their support.  It means  a lot that a few people that you barely know out there on the internet were nice enough to share a few kind words, prayers, and thoughts.  It is much appreciated.

Food in Guatemala

By popular demand – stuff I remembered to take photos of in Guatemala – that I ate.

My mom attempted Suicide today

My Mom called me while I was at work today. She was upset, but that’s not terribly unusual. She often calls me crying when my father and her have had a fight. I stepped outside to get some privacy and that’s when she said it.

“I just swallowed a whole bottle of Klonopin”.

She was sobbing almost uncontrollable at that point and the adrenaline hit me in the face like a hammer. I almost started to shake and I could feel my lungs contract a little because my body was preparing itself in a fight or flight sort of way.

“Mom, call 911 right now.” She refused. “Mom, for your only son, please call 911 right now.” She refused again and the crying became more intense. “I just want to go and see Jesus” She said. The crying became uncontrollable at that point so I hung up. I took a deep breath and knew it was essential that I stay calm so I could handle the situation; however I couldn’t for the life of me remember my Mom’s address to call 911.

By the time I was able to reach 911 I was informed that parametics were already on the scene. Apparently my Mother also called her sister. I honestly believe that her “attempted suicide” was more a call for help than anything else. She didn’t really want to die.

More to the Story
Oh, but the story gets more interesting. After rushing to the hospital some hours later I find my aunt who has interesting news for me.

“They found Meth in your Mom’s system.”

My only question was who is she getting it from. “She’s getting it from your Father – he’s addicted to.”

So great – though my parents are separated they occasionally share a few hits of Meth together – how romantic. I can’t say I’m surprised though, I’ve had to deal with this shit my entire life. Fucking druggies and liars – you can’t really have one without the other. My parents are both.

I immediately called my father to get the whole story because as it turns out my aunt is a notorious liar too. I have to be a goddamn CIA agent to get any truth out of anyone. So my tactic was to seperate each, question them, and compile the truth from each of their corroborative stories.

Not surprisingly my Dad lied. He first said he had no idea what I was talking about. He said it so convincingly I’m sure he believed it himself. After about a half hour of questioning and begging him to simply “man to man, level with me” he came clean. He has himself been on Meth for years and occasionally shared with my Mother. This is not surprising since each of my parents have done stints with drugs that they finally admitted to me over the years. My Dad, though he does Meth daily and will not quit, claims he is not addicted.

So here I am – a guy trying to live his life. A mother who attempted suicide today, a mother on Meth, a Father also addicted to Meth – and just wondering what the hell I’m supposed to do with this mess. I have shielded myself and my wife from my family with a veil of selfishness – a refusal to recognize my parents’ problems as my own and continued successes in my own life. I refuse to bring myself down because of them. I’ll handle this shit just like I do everything else. If/When I have kids one day – they will never have the burden of their parents to worry about.

I think the helping my Mom to move closer to me is out of the question now, but we’ll see how this plays out. The idea of bringing that kind of trouble into my life may be worse that leaving her to rot in her own soup of destruction. This requires more thought.

She was asleep when I arrived at the hospital so I didn’t even speak to her. The hospital refused to wake her because she was “extremely aggressive” when they brought her in. More good news.

What’s Next
So for the next few days my Mother gets to stay in the hospital. I get to drive 60 miles (one way) to visit her and eventually they will transfer her to some sort of mental hospital for a week or so. At least I’ll have something to write about for the next year decade.