thrifty

22 December 2008

Word rationing has reached the newspapers. This article

Banking Regulator Played Advocate Over Enforcer
Agency Let Lenders Grow Out of Control, Then Fail

By Binyamin Appelbaum and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 23, 2008; A01

contains the following two paragraphs about Darryl W. Dochow:

In the late 1980s, Dochow had been the chief career supervisor of the savings-and-loan industry, and federal investigators later concluded he played a key role in the collapse of Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan by delaying and impeding proper oversight of that thrift’s operations.

Dochow was shunted aside in the aftermath and sent to the agency’s Seattle office. Several of his former colleagues and superiors say he eventually reestablished himself as a credible regulator and again rose in the organization.

And this article (via), a month later,

Senior Federal Banking Regulator Removed

By Binyamin Appelbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008; 3:24 PM

includes some familiar information

In the late 1980s, Dochow had been the chief career supervisor of the savings-and-loan industry, and federal investigators later concluded he played a key role in the collapse of Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan by delaying and impeding proper oversight of that thrift’s operations.

Dochow was shunted aside in the aftermath and eventually sent to the agency’s Seattle office. Several of his former colleagues and superiors have said that he gradually reestablished himself as a credible regulator and again rose in the organization.

Is this common? The author of the second article was one of the authors of the first, so there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the repetition, but it still strikes me as odd. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all had I not previously posted on the first article.

Advertisements

chance coincidence

20 December 2008

When I heard that Blagojevich quoted Kipling in his press conference, I wondered if he quoted the same poem Grandpa Simpson quotes in a casino in the episode where he almost gambles away all the money he inherits. Turns out, he did. Here’s Blagojevich:

Here’s a transcript of the Kipling quotation:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…

That’s from the start of the poem. Grandpa Simpson picks it up at a later point, quotes a few lines, then skips to the end:

I think Rudyard Kipling said it best: If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss, yours is the earth is [sic] everything that is in it, and, which is more, you’ll be a man, my son.

Homer’s response: “You’ll be a bonehead!”


home economics

18 December 2008

The supermarket is running a sale on some Progresso soups: 10 cans for $10. Other Progresso soups were the regular price. The shelves for the full price soups were nearly full, the sale soups nearly sold out. Only a few cans of lentil and a couple of split pea remained, and you had to be nearly floor level to see them on the racks.


hey diddle diddle

18 December 2008

Not sure what a Ponzi scheme is? Or a pyramid scheme? What about a pump and dump, a jitney game, a bucket shop, or front running? Slate‘s explainer answers those questions, but what we really need for today’s world is something a little more thorough, like “Diddling Considered as one of the Exact Sciences,” a look at the scams of the 1840s by that famous economics journalist, Edgar Allen Poe (you may remember him from such works as “The Mortgages in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Debtor,” and “A Scheme within a Scheme”).

What did it mean to diddle? This will give you an idea:

Diddling, rightly considered, is a compound, of which the ingredients are minuteness, interest, perseverance, ingenuity, audacity, nonchalance, originality, impertinence, and grin.

Minuteness: — Your diddler is minute. His operations are upon a small scale. His business is retail, for cash, or approved paper at sight. Should he ever be tempted into magnificent speculation, he then, at once, loses his distinctive features, and becomes what we term “financier.” This latter word conveys the diddling idea in every respect except that of magnitude. A diddler may thus be regarded as a banker in petto — a “financial operation,” as a diddle at Brobdignag. The one is to the other, as Homer to “Flaccus” — as a Mastodon to a mouse — as the tail of a comet to that of a pig.

Interest: — Your diddler is guided by self-interest. He scorns to diddle for the mere sake of the diddle. He has an object in view — his pocket — and yours. He regards always the main chance. He looks to Number One. You are Number Two, and must look to yourself….

There follows a list of diddles, mostly small-scale – furniture sellers tricked, pocketbooks supposedly lost, promissory notes eaten by dogs, fake robberies foiled, and so on – but ending with one quite a bit more ambitious:

But as there is really no end to diddling, so there would be none to this essay, were I even to hint at half the variations, or inflections, of which this science is susceptible. I must bring this paper, perforce, to a conclusion, and this I cannot do better than by a summary notice of a very decent, but rather elaborate diddle, of which our own city was made the theatre, not very long ago, and which was subsequently repeated with success, in other still more verdant localities of the Union. A middle-aged gentleman arrives in town from parts unknown. He is remarkably precise, cautious, staid, and deliberate in his demeanor. His dress is scrupulously neat, but plain, unostentatious. He wears a white cravat, an ample waistcoat, made with an eye to comfort alone; thick-soled cosy-looking shoes, and pantaloons without straps. He has the whole air, in fact, of your well-to-do, sober-sided, exact, and respectable “man of business,” par excellence — one of the stern and outwardly hard, internally soft, sort of people that we see in the crack high comedies — fellows whose words are so many bonds, and who are noted for giving away guineas, in charity, with the one hand, while, in the way of mere bargain, they exact the uttermost fraction of a farthing with the other.

He makes much ado before he can get suited with a boarding-house. He dislikes children. He has been accustomed to quiet. His habits are methodical — and then he would prefer getting into a private and respectable small family, piously inclined. Terms, however, are no object — only he must insist upon settling his bill on the first of every month, (it is now the second) and begs his landlady, when he finally obtains one to his mind, not on any account to forget his instructions upon this point — but to send in a bill, and receipt, precisely at ten o’clock, on the first day of every month, and under no circumstances to put it off to the second.

These arrangements made, our man of business rents an office in a reputable rather than a fashionable quarter of the town. There is nothing he more despises than pretence. “Where there is much show,” he says, “there is seldom anything very solid behind” — an observation which so profoundly impresses his landlady’s fancy, that she makes a pencil memorandum of it forthwith, in her great family Bible, on the broad margin of the Proverbs of Solomon.

The next step is to advertise, after some such fashion as this, in the principal business sixpennies of the city — the pennies are eschewed as not “respectable” — and as demanding payment for all advertisements in advance. Our man of business holds it as a point of his faith that work should never be paid for until done.

WANTED — The advertisers, being about to commence extensive business operations in this city, will require the services of three or four intelligent and competent clerks, to whom a liberal salary will be paid. The very best recommendations, not so much for capacity, as for integrity, will be expected. Indeed, as the duties to be performed, involve high responsibilities, and large amounts of money must necessarily pass through the hands of those engaged, it is deemed advisable to demand a deposit of fifty dollars from each clerk employed. No person need apply, therefore, who is not prepared to leave this sum in the possession of the advertisers, and who cannot furnish the most satisfactory testimonials of morality. Young gentlemen piously inclined will be preferred. Application should be made between the hours of ten and eleven A. M., and four and five P. M., of Messrs.

BOGS, HOGS, LOGS, FROGS, & Co.
No. 110 Dog Street.

By the thirty-first day of the month, this advertisement has brought to the office of Messrs. Bogs, Hogs, Logs, Frogs and Company, some fifteen or twenty young gentlemen piously inclined. But our man of business is in no hurry to conclude a contract with any — no man of business is ever precipitate — and it is not until the most rigid catechism in respect to the piety of each young gentleman’s inclination, that his services are engaged and his fifty dollars receipted for, just by way of proper precaution, on the part of the respectable firm of Bogs, Hogs, Logs, Frogs, and Company. On the morning of the first day of the next month, the landlady does not present her bill, according to promise — a piece of neglect for which the comfortable head of the house ending in ogs, would no doubt have chided her severely, could he have been prevailed upon to remain in town a day or two for that purpose.

As it is, the constables have had a sad time of it, running hither and thither, and all they can do is to declare the man of business most emphatically, a “hen knee high” — by which some persons imagine them to imply that, in fact, he is n. e. i. — by which again the very classical phrase non est inventus, is supposed to be understood. In the meantime the young gentlemen, one and all, are somewhat less piously inclined than before, while the landlady purchases a shilling’s worth of the best Indian rubber, and very carefully obliterates the pencil memorandum that some fool has made in her great family Bible, on the broad margin of the Proverbs of Solomon.


life and taxes

17 December 2008

Robert J. Samuelson claims*

Sure, the wealthy extract privileges from government, but mainly they’re its servants. The richest 1 percent of Americans pay 28 percent of federal taxes, says the Congressional Budget Office. About 60 percent of the $3 trillion federal budget goes for payments to individuals — mostly the poor and middle class. You can argue that those burdens and benefits should be greater, but if the rich were all powerful, their taxes would be much lower. Similarly, the poor and middle class do have powerful advocates. To name three: AARP for retirees; the AFL-CIO for unionized workers; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for the poor.

Ezra Klein and Henry Farrell point out that Congress is actually more responsive to the preferences of the rich than to those of the poor and middle class.

Ezra also notes that tax rates for the wealthy have gone way down and goes on to talk at length about taxes, wealth, and inequality. That’s important, but there’s another key point here: taxes aren’t automatically bad. They pay for social welfare, they pay for the military, they pay for public subsidies for business, and so on. Taxes are a public good.

Does this mean that current tax rates are at an ideal level? No. It also doesn’t mean that they’re too high or too low or too regressive or too progressive, though they may be one or more of those things. It just means that discussions of taxation should proceed on the basis that taxation done right provides benefits everyone rather than on the assumption that taxes do not provide some kind of a return to those who pay them.

______

*I wasn’t going to click through to the column, but then felt I should. Surprisingly, aside from the claim about the rich, it’s not a bad defense of lobbying – or at least, of the idea of lobbying.

Update: See also here, especially the income graph.


the long dark knight of the winter

17 December 2008

Last summer I didn’t pay attention to most of what was written about The Dark Knight because I hadn’t seen it and was planning to. Well, I never got around to seeing it in the theater and so I didn’t see it until yesterday when I watched it on DVD through Netflix.

Did anyone point out in the early reviews that it’s excrutiatingly awful, sort of a messy draft of a movie that never got around to an editor, at least not the kind of editor who cuts things out? That it lacked the subtlety of some of the not very subtle crime dramas about corruption and racketeering and reform that came out in the 1930s to 1950s (I am the Law, for instance)?

I liked Batman Begins and don’t think I automatically favor older movies over new ones (though it’s quite possible that I do) so I was pretty shocked at how much I disliked this. Netflix probably is too, since it predicted I’d give it 4 out of 5 (probably on the basis of my liking Following and Memento, both also directed by Christopher Nolan). My Netflix predictions are usually more accurate than that.