Wednesday, July 30, 2014

sandwiches and the complexity of taxation

If you've ever been any sort of manager, or even a parent, you know that when you try to come up with a rule, the first thing everyone starts doing is looking for loopholes in how you've created the rule.

NPR's Planet Money has a cute (15 minute) podcast on the history of sandwich taxes, which really evolve out of an exemption for food from the general sales tax.

Today on the show, what regulating sandwiches and all other takeout food tells us about taxation. And how something as simple as the sandwich sales tax ends up spawning a complicated list of definitions, interlocking exemptions and rules which somehow transform the burrito into a sandwich in the eyes of the law.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014


 “We had noted how wedded to our devices we all seem to be and that people seem to find any excuse they can to keep busy,” said Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study. “No one had done a simple study letting people go off on their own and think.”
The results surprised him and have created a stir in the psychology and neuroscience communities. In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes. 

Moreover, in one experiment, 64 percent of men and 15 percent of women began self-administering electric shocks when left alone to think. These same people, by the way, had previously said they would pay money to avoid receiving the painful jolt.
rest here:

Fascinating. We really like all this stimulation. It's an addiction. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

vegan meat(less)balls

I had found this recipe for vegan meatballs some time ago and I'd been meaning to give it a try. I'm not a huge fan of meatless versions of meat things. It only leads to disappointment if you are comparing them for me. A chik'n nugget is never going to be a chicken nugget.

Nevertheless, I gave these meatless meatballs a whirl. I tried not to compare them too much to meatballs, because they're not. But they were pleasant, and if you think of them as vegeballs, you could get used to them. Actually, they were pretty tasty and the consistency was remarkably close to my own meatballs.

They're eggplant-based...

so making them started with chopping up a smallish egg plant and frying it in olive oil.

The other cooked ingredient was fried onions and garlic.

The eggplant, onions and garlic, and parsley, as well as great northern beans went into the food processor and got chopped up...

but not liquefied

really the only other thing that goes into them is a cup of breadcrumbs.

then you mold them into balls

and pop them in the oven for a half an hour or so.

They come out quite firm, which surprised me since there was no egg in them. Kandie and I ate three each, which the recipe said was about 280 calories. I've frozen the rest for another day. It's a nice way to eat a bunch of veges.

I recommend the recipe - it's at least worth a try. I'll use it again.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

a cooking day

When I wasn't blogging today, I spent most of it cooking. Which is a good way to spend a day.

I started the day making a banana bread, which was inspired by the fact that I was going to make banana pancakes and I realized the bananas were too far gone for that. So I made a banana bread, and chocolate chip pancakes for the girls.

Then while I was wrapping that up, I started in on a wheat bread (because all we had in the house was some of that spongy nasty stuff they call "bread" in the store). By the time that was under way, it was time to make lunch and I launched into making some sweet and sour cole slaw, then finished off the little head of cabbage with a variation on bubbles and squeak.


This was a seriously moody cabbage.

Technically bubbles and squeak is supposed to be made with left over mashed potatoes, but we didn't have any, so I just used the food processor to chop the cabbage and the potatoes and fried them together.


The light in my kitchen is just phenomenal. This shot doesn't do it justice, but I love looking at things in there. Such a great kitchen. I will miss it when we leave here. Probably will be my second best kitchen I've ever had - after the one in Belchertown.

bubbles & squeak, acorn squash

Anyway, made the bubbles and squeak and some acorn squash with a light glaze of maple syrup.

So bubbles and squeak is this weird British goulash of left over mashed potatoes, fried cabbage, and any other vegetables you might have lying around. I didn't really have any other left over vegetables, so I dumped some frozen peas into the mix to round it out. Fried everything in olive oil with plenty of fresh ground pepper, some kosher salt, and a little paprika, which is not British at all, but just for fun. The result was pretty good.

We also had an acorn squash that needed to be cooked up, so I baked that, and added some maple syrup at the end as a glaze. Good way to eat acorn squash.

The day just rolled on and into the evening, big wok full of fresh chopped zucchini and summer squash, onions, peppers, and carrots, all fried together in olive oil, and then some cheap red wine I keep on the counter for such occasions, and a can of diced tomatoes and voila! vegetable pomodoro!

Blah. Long day. Now for a glass of wine and a little relaxation.

a trade off in unemployment rates

Earlier today I used this graph and I made the assertion that unemployment usually hits men worse than women. Then I sat and looked at the graph for a while, and while that is true since about 1980, before 1980, bouts of unemployment hit women more than men.

You can see fairly clearly from the graph that female unemployment was generally higher than male unemployment all the way through to 1980, at which point it equalized, and then, once equalized, it appears that after 1980, men were more likely to be unemployed than women during economic downturns - but during years of growth, unemployment rates were about equal.

That is interesting. I'm sure this has been noted in the labor economics literature, but I'm certainly not a labor economist and I wasn't aware of this switch. My gut intuition is that women have become more attached to the labor market over time, and have established themselves in jobs that are relatively non-cyclical. Cyclical jobs would be tied to sales, whereas non-cyclical jobs would not be. Cyclical, sales linked jobs would of course be sales reps and production workers. Non-cyclical jobs would be those that are needed by a company in good times and bad - such as HR, accounting, and other staff positions. I think this is in fact where woman have primarily succeeded. I wonder if we looked at survey data pre-1980 if these staff positions were primarily held by men, and women were loosely attached production workers who were brought on when times were good and let go when times were bad. Because of the inherent risk of cyclical jobs, they would have to be better compensated than non-cyclical jobs. I.e., if I take a sales job, I know I'll be the first person the company cuts when times get tough. Therefore I will require a premium over what I would want if I was working a job that was unlikely to get cut (i.e., a job with "job security".) This might explain some of the wage gap between men and women today. In an earlier period when women were actively discriminated against, they wouldn't have collected the cyclical premium, and the non-cyclical jobs wouldn't have been open to them.

Mullings on a Saturday night.

killing the goose who lays golden eggs

President Obama is pushing to push more businesses overseas. According to the AP:

President Barack Obama says a loophole that lets companies dodge U.S. taxes by moving their headquarters overseas is unpatriotic.
Obama is denouncing "tax inversions" in his weekly radio and Internet address. He says companies are essentially renouncing their citizenship to avoid paying their fair share.
Obama says the best way to address the problem is through tax reform that lowers the corporate tax rate. But he says the problem can't wait. He's urging lawmakers to join the effort to close the loophole.

Obama says Americans don't get to pick which rules they follow and neither should companies.
It's more of the usual non-sense. The US has built an absurd tax system that seeks to extort more taxes from corporations than any other country in the world. Now, I'm proud to be an American, but this talk of a "fair share" sounds a little silly when our top corporate tax rate is 40%, and the EU and Asia have average tax rates of less than 22%. Even France, perhaps the least business friendly country in the West, has a corporate tax rate of 33%. How can we possibly be thinking we have a business friendly (read job creating) environment when even France has a lower tax rate than us. (for a nice tool to see comparative tax rates, go here: ).

Here's a regional summary:

Region Avg Rate
Africa average               28
Americas average               28
Asia average               22
Europe average               20
Oceania average               27
North America average               33
Latin America average               27
EU average               21
OECD average               24
Global average               24

Perhaps instead of prioritizing the closing of so-called inversion "loop-holes", our leaders should focus on making the geese who lay golden eggs happy so that they don't want to leave.

Businesses will always seek to incorporate where they can get the best total environment. As Progressives are always carrying on about, they are not people. They aren't unpatriotic because patriotism is an emotion, and corporations, like governments, don't have emotions. The harder we squeeze our corporations, the more we try to extort from them, and the more we try to keep them from being able to flee our grabbing hands, the more they will simply leave. Or die. Corporations do die. Unlike when people die, though, there's nothing left when a corporation dies. Except a hole where there used to be jobs and goods and services.

As I've said before, the right corporate tax rate is zero percent. Same for income tax. Replace it all with a policy of sales and use taxes. It's fair and it's green. And instead of job creating companies seeking to flee over seas, they will be flocking back to lay their eggs on our shores.

The Big Lean Out

From the 1960's onward a rising percent of Americans were employed in the formal labor market, rising from about 59% to a high of 67%. Participation peaked in about 2001 and has been falling ever since, but took off precipitously in 2008 when the Great Recession began.

The fall off correlates with the spike in unemployment that began in 2008 as a result of the financial meltdown and the many years of failed economic policy that followed. It's clear that a large part of the improving unemployment rate is a result of millions of workers giving up on formal employment, and therefore no longer being counted with the unemployed. To paraphrase Sheryl Sandberg's recent biography, as a country we are leaning out.

It appears men are doing most of the leaning out, but even women, after decades of increases, are leaving the formal labor market.

It was men who bore the brunt of the recession's increase in unemployment, as they usually do, but at least now it appears the rate of unemployment is returning to an equal level.

One good news story is that the hiring of temps is on the rise. While that doesn't sound particularly appealing - few people dream of temporary employment - it is generally regarded as good news by macro economists. Rising temporary employment is an indication that businesses are exceeding the capabilities of their permanent staff, and need more manpower. The hiring of temporaries is usually a first step before businesses begin to hire permanent employees again.

The rising number of temps combined with a declining number of new unemployment claims seems to indicate that perhaps we are finally approaching the end of this employment disaster. The question in my mind is, when will the participation rate reverse itself?

I'm not sure it will. The labor force participation rate starts at 16 and ends when you die, so some of the fall is due to baby boomers retiring (and leaving the labor force permanently). A discouraging labor market over the last seven or so years has no doubt been the cause for many boomers to retire who might otherwise have continued to work. Their disproportionate demographic impact will continue to tilt numbers for the next several decades as they increasingly reach retirement.

In 2012, about 17% of the population was over the age of 65; by 2022, that number will be about 22% ( see ). The story doesn't get better. So although it looks like we have some near-term improvements on the horizon, the long term does not look good unless we have a significant change in behavior by our older/elderly population.
We're a society poised for the Big Lean Out.