TBT: Counting Blessings

In searching through some old blog posts recently, I stumbled upon one from April 2020 about being thankful for the blessings in our lives.  The day before I’d written what I thought at the time was a doom-and-gloom post, but reading it now, it wasn’t too bad.  I do seem to remember being in an exasperated mood when I wrote it, so that probably explains, in part, the sense of contrition I experienced after writing it.

Regardless, it yielded “Counting Blessings,” a post giving thanks for God’s many blessings in my life.  It’s rather serendipitous that I stumbled upon this post again the other day, because the theme of counting one’s blessings is one I’ve been contemplating quite a bit lately.

Life is going well enough for yours portly (I’d better not say that too loudly!).  Work is clipping along and I’m hustling big time with lessons.  I have a great (and godly) girlfriend, dog, and house, and a supportive family.  Things could be worse.

With that here is 29 April 2022’s “Counting Blessings“:

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SubscribeStar Saturday: The Second-Hand Economy

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A neighborhood friend of mine and I have worked out an arrangement regarding my fig tree and grapevines:  I provide the fruit, he provides the jelly (before he gets angry, let me clarify that he actually makes preserves, and they’re delicious).  It’s a pretty good deal for me:  he and his son come by and pick figs (and grapes, soon), converting them into delicious preserves, which I enjoy after the fact.  All I do is keep the plants alive and give him access to my property.

Earlier this week, he and I spoke for a bit after he and his son partook in some morning fig harvesting (God is Good—it’s been a bumper crop this year, and the figs haven’t gone entirely to the birds and the beetles).  We talked about the figs and the muscadine grapes that will be ready for harvesting soon.  In doing so, he pointed out all of the possibilities in our neighborhood for similar collaborations:  those with some resource or item (in my case, figs and grapes), and those with the time and inclination to put them to use (in this case, my neighbor making preserves from them).

In years past, I’ve shamefully let my figs go unharvested, letting the brown birds and beetles strip the tree of its fruit before I could get to it.  One year I managed to get maybe a half-pound of figs from the tree, but my own negligence, coupled with a busy schedule (not to mention South Carolina’s intense summertime heat) has dissuaded me from picking the luscious fruit.  Even having gotten the fruit, I’m often at a loss as to what to do with it, other than pop full figs into my mouth.

Thus, the magic of this arrangement:  my neighbor has the time and the knowledge to put my resources to use; I simply have the resources.  He gets a good portion of preserves, and I get to enjoy some jars, too (and they’re really good preserves).

Regardless, in discussing the beauty of our arrangement of the possibility of other such collaborations around the neighborhood, we also discussed how much stuff—not just fruits and vegetables, but just sheer, material stuff—is just sitting around, unused, waiting to be put to some higher purpose—if only someone with the know-how, time, and ability could come along and put it to use.

The possibilities exist for an entire second-hand or recycled economy.  How often have you driven past someone’s home—usually way out in the country somewhere—to find their yard or a half-open shed full of goodies untouched by human hands (even if touched quite extensively by the ravages of time)?  But that junk—one man’s junk is a another’s goodies, I suppose—is actual, usable stuff—it can be put to good use.

In an age of hyperinflation, the expansion of a second-hand or cast-off or recycled economy takes on a whole new level of attractiveness.

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TBT: Disincentives to Work

I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom this week, but it sure feels like things are falling apart all around us:  food shortages, rising unemployment, riots.  I think we’re in for a really nasty summer, but I hope I’m wrong.

We’ve been muddling through longer than we realize.  While gas prices have only shot up in the past five months, people have been dropping out of the workforce for a good while now.  Back in the Obama years, conservatives used to mock (rightly) the government’s unemployment figures for leaving out the labor force participation rate, which was pretty paltry back then (something like only 60-70% of working aged people were actually actively looking for work; the unemployment rate was based off that portion, rather than all working aged adults).

Now we’re in the midst of what the mainstream media is calling “The Great Resignation,” with millions of Americans quitting their jobs.  That’s due in part, I believe, to the generous government largesse during The Age of The Virus.  We’ve all gotten a taste of easy money—inflation be damned!—and now we want the gravy train to keep on rollin’.

But I think it goes deeper than that.  My generation in particular—prone to wokery, alas—legitimately has gotten the short end of the economic stick, entering the workforce during a recession, saddled with billions in student loans and overcredentialed.  Granted, some of those problems were our fault—we fell for the siren song of expensive degrees—but we were largely following the advice that had worked for our parents’ generation.

Understandably, many of my peers did not want to go back to waiting tables and pouring coffee for strangers—or going back to other thankless jobs.  Not all of those folks are deadbeats or mooches—some of them are just worn out.

Regardless, the government’s sticky hands are in all of this mess (for example, college tuition is so astronomically high because the government will keep extending loans to anybody to get them to go to college, even if that person isn’t going to earn much with his degree).  Work is annoying, stressful, and demanding—but doing it makes us better people.

With that, here is 26 May 2021’s “Disincentives to Work“:

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Disincentives to Work

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece, “Fast Food Premium,” which argued that, as restaurants began offering higher wages and even signing bonuses to employees, those increased wages would get passed along to consumers, and would result in wider inflation (a big “thank you” to jonolan at Reflections from a Murky Pond for expanding upon the premise of my post with his own, excellent piece, “UBI —> UBM“).  My observations might be deemed “prophetic” if they weren’t so blindingly obvious:  higher input costs mean higher prices.  That’s basic economics.

Of course, the ongoing labor shortage is not due to a booming economy, per se, but due to excessively generous federal unemployment benefits, which have effectively increased the minimum wage for restaurant employees:  many such employees are paid more to stay at home, collecting unemployment, than they are to flip burgers, wait tables, etc.  Mogadishu Matt highlights this phenomenon in a reblog of a John Stossel piece:  the issue is not a labor shortage, but a problem of incentives.

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TBT: Cass on Our Diminished Income

The other day my students and I were talking about the Model T Ford, which in the 1920s ran around $6000 in today’s money for a new car.  It is impossible to find a brand-new vehicle of any make for $6000 today.  Granted, a Ford Focus, for example, is packed with way more technology and safety features than a Model T from 100 years ago, and that technological advancement gets factored into the price.

But consider that in the 1990s, when Kia hit the American market, they advertised a new sedan for around $6999 (in 1990s’ dollars).  What would that be twenty-five years late—maybe $9000 or $10,000?  That price point, too, is virtually impossible.

I managed to purchase my current vehicle—a 2017 Nissan Versa Note SV—for right around $9100.  It has around 45,000 miles on it when I bought it, and had been a rental vehicle before I purchased it.  I got a steal on that car—the closest comparable I’ve found since then was a list price of around $8900 (the list for my car was $8000 even).  That’s for a four-year old subcompact hatchback.

I got lucky when I found that car.  I figured it would be easy enough to find a decent car for under $10,000 when I began vehicle shopping in late 2019.  Boy, was I wrong.  Vehicles last longer than ever before, and maintain their value a very long time.  They’re also, as mentioned, packed full of technology and safety features that weren’t present even twenty years ago.  Trucks in particular hold their value extremely well; to find a truck in my price range, I’d have had to purchase a Ford F-150 from 1994 with half-a-million miles on it.

It’s great that cars last longer and are safer.  But those features—many of which drivers will never need or use—drive up the costs substantially.  Such was the point of an illuminating Twitter thread by Oren Cass, which demonstrates that, despite earning more money, Americans’ expenses for basic goods are substantially higher, requiring a whopping fifty-three weeks of pay to cover now versus a mere thirty weeks in 1985.  Naturally, given that there are only fifty-two weeks in a year, that presents a problem.

I don’t know the solution, but as I wrote a year ago, “Something’s gotta give.”

Indeed.  Here is 28 April 2020’s “Cass on Our Diminished Income“:

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Hustlin’ Towards Financial Independence

It’s another Bandcamp Friday, which means if you buy my music today, Bandcamp doesn’t take their cut; ergo, yours portly pockets a few more dimes.

Those dimes add up. Regular readers know that I’m a major advocate of sensible financial planning and reducing unnecessary spending (at one point, I would have been an “extreme budgeter,” but now some hedonic adaptation has kicked in and I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor a bit more).  I also promote hustlingworking hard and spinning different side gigs—to generate extra income.

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Overblown

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As I’ve long suspected, The Virus is not nearly as lethal as the doomsayers predicted and insisted.  It turns out that only 6% of reported COVID-related deaths were purely related to The Virus; the other 94% of victims had other underlying medical issues.

Let me be clear:  I do think The Virus is real and is potentially life-threatening, especially for the elderly and the chronically ill.  Indeed, the CDC findings indicate that is, indeed, the case.  Even when not life-threatening, it’s surely unpleasant—just like a particularly bad case of the flu is unpleasant.

But just as we’ve done in the past with bad flu seasons, we should begin returning to some degree of normality.  Indeed, Sweden’s approach to The Virus has been practical and effective:  protect the elderly and other vulnerable populations while encouraging as much normality as possible for the rest of society.  Let younger people work, play, and mingle, and develop that coveted herd immunity.

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Trump’s Pages of Accomplishments

Looking at national polls and predictions, it’s easy to get discouraged about President Trump’s reelection prospects.  Even with Joe Biden losing his mind, and the pick of a radical, authoritarian Kamala Harris as his running mate, “Sleepy Joe” is managing to stay up by hunkering down.

On our side there’s grumbling that Trump hasn’t done enough—on immigration, on law and order—and those aren’t entirely warrantless grumbles.  Republicans squandered—perhaps intentionally—an opportunity to fund the construction of the border wall while they controlled both chambers of Congress.  John McCain pompously and vindictively voted to keep the odious Affordable Care Act in place, a clear parting shot at Trump.  Trump did not seem to offer a robust response to the CHAZ/CHOP fiasco, but is now belatedly defending federal property in Portland, Oregon.

Those critiques aside, it’s worth remembering what Trump has accomplished—and he wants you to be reminded.  That’s why he gave Breitbart a six-page document of his achievements.  They are substantial—and make him one of the greatest presidents of the last fifty years.

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