One, Two, American Dream

Tom Van Dyke’s recent post on how we’re not so good at math when it matters reminded me that we’re not so good at math when it matters. When linguists first began investigating tribal humans, it was discovered that many of them counted “one”, “two”, “many”. The explanation was that only with the increasingly-complex demands of agricultural and monetary civilization did sophisticated number systems develop.

Yet, such counting methods are still relatively new, and human physiology has yet to adjust. Indeed, modern people still think of numbers in terms of basic units: when we visualize three of something, we think of one group of one and one group of two. Four is two groups of two. Five is two groups of two and one group of one, etc. For complex systems like money, where order-of-magnitude is the relevant property, we must have real anchors to which we can assign relative numerical value, or else we have no conceptual basis.

For example, one dollar is roughly the amount of money that buys me one pack of M&Ms. Ten dollars buys me a used Bloodsport DVD. 300 dollars buys me a PlayStation 3 or pays for one-week’s rent in a studio apartment. 15,000 dollars buys me a five-year-old car in decent condition. A 100,000-dollar loan puts me through business school. If I’m very lucky, very well-educated, and work very hard, in ten years, 200,000 dollars could be my annual salary. If I make the right choices, use my money effectively, and save or invest wisely, I might even be able to buy my one-million-dollar dream house in twenty-five years.

This one-million-dollar dream house is the absolute conceptual limit for 99% of Americans. Quantities above this limit are simply and crudely assigned the value of “many”.

So it’s no surprise that people all over the country are getting equally up-in-arms about stimulus scandals, banker bonuses, con-men, costs of wars, healthcare spending, and the Waltons’s wealth. Nevertheless, to put it all in rigorous, mathematical perspective, here is a list of “many”s expressed in units of American Dreams:

 

Less than a dream house:

0 American Dreams – total 2010 revenues of the U.S. hemp industry

0.15 – the cost to the RNC of wardrobes for the Palin Family during the 2008 Presidential campaign

0.17 – a Senator’s salary

0.23 – amount donated to the McCain campaign by Goldman Sachs

0.98 – amount donated to the Obama campaign by Goldman Sachs

 

Posh neighborhoods:

13 American Dreams – Lloyd Blankfein’s 2010 salary

50 – Rush Limbaugh’s 2011 salary

54 – Lloyd Blankfein’s 2007 salary

388 – total amount spent by the Obama campaign on the Presidential election of 2008

398 – estimated cost of the proposed “Bridge to Nowhere” (which was never actually built)

 

La-di-da gated communities:

2,782 American Dreams – worldwide box-office revenues for Avatar

3,000 – amount alotted by Congress for the Cash for Clunkers program

6,000 – annual budget of the National Cancer Institute

8,100 – 2011 budget of the Transportation Security Administration

8,639 – the 2007 GDP of Cambodia

8,960 – total amount spent on specialty coffee in the U.S. in 2003

 

Exclusive suburbs:

10,000 American Dreams – the amount of federal stimulus money received by Goldman Sachs

18,700 – NASA’s entire 2010 budget

35,000 – estimated cost of universal preschool for three and four-year-olds

46,000 – amount spent on diets and self-help books in 2004 by Americans

50,000 – the amount of federal stimulus money estimated to have fallen into the hands of con men

50,000 – the cost of the Iraq War as estimated by the Pentagon in 2003

65,000 – losses to investors of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC

76,800 – estimated economic gain of drug legalization

93,000 – net worth of the Walton Family as of September 2011

94,000 – estimated cost to “enforce U.S. immigration law” – i.e. deport all the illegals (see estimated cost of the Iraq War above and adjust real number accordingly.)

 

Elite metropolitan areas:

115,300 American Dreams – total cost of the Marshall Plan adjusted for inflation

217,000 – total cost of the Louisiana Purchase adjusted for inflation

262,300 – the 2007 GDP of Argentina

460,000 – present market value of the Exxon Mobil Corporation

500,000 – total cost of the New Deal adjusted for inflation

 

Global megacities:

1,000,000+ American Dreams – total cost to date of the “War on Drugs”

1,600,000 – 2010 GDP of Canada

2,500,000+ – 2009 healthcare spending in the United States

3,600,000 – total cost of WWII adjusted for inflation

3,200,000 – 4,000,000  – estimated cost of all post-9/11 U.S. wars as of June 2011

 

I’ve provided the data. I’ll leave the inference to you.

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66 thoughts on “One, Two, American Dream

  1. The case for the Bridge to Nowhere isn’t quite so straightforward as it appears.   The bridges of NY City were once bridges to the Nowhere of New Jersey.

    Alaska is the Airplane State:  its larger cities are jammed up between the sea and mountains, rather like the problem faced by Los Angeles.  Ketchikan wanted to build a new airport and bridge:  they’ve long since outgrown their old airport.   The actual pork barrel project wasn’t the bridge or the airport, but the highway they built on Gravina Island.

    I am reduced to helpless grins when folks start in with facile Division Problems, as if everyone wanted a Million Dollar McMansion.   They don’t.   It’s as silly as it is arbitrary.  A million dollars won’t get you a doghouse in Santa Monica or Laguna Beach.   If America is up in arms about this bunch of greedy bankers or that herd of plutocrats, it’s becoming dimly aware, however imperfectly, of the distortions within our system, distortions which just might be construed to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

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    • Well I’d say it doesn’t really matter that much if those distortions are 1/100000 the size of some other distortions, and those other much larger distortions actually kill people, lot’s of people. Lloyd Blankfein isn’t torturing and murdering people, right?

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      • Perhaps I’ve graduated a bit from Basic Units.  I’m sitting here importing Tiger data into PostGIS and find the whole problem of the American Dream subsumed into the multivariable calculus of Karush, Kuhn and Tucker.

        We’re not very good at math when it matters.   Most of the evil that results from this ignorance is given form in the stupid questions we’re asking.

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          • Let’s formulate some conceptual basis limit for this putative 99% of Americans.   It’s not a million dollar house, we’ve already established a million bucks isn’t going to get you the same house everywhere.  The American is capable of dreaming of considerably higher into the financial stratosphere.   How high?  I give you Niggas in Paris, by Jay Z and Kanye West, currently in heavy rotation on the hip-hop stations.

            If you escaped what I’ve escaped
            You’d be in Paris getting f*cked up too
            Ball so hard, let’s get faded,
            Le Meurice for like 6 days
            Gold bottles, scold models,
            Spillin’ Ace on my sick J’s
            Ball so hard,
            B**ch behave.

            Le Meurice hotel on Rue Rivoli looks out over the Tuileries.  The gold bottles of Armand de Brignac Brut Gold feature the Ace of Spaces on the label.  Folks have moved on in their dreams but they’ve always dreamed big.  The Depression Era films featured lots of big spenders.   Puttin’ on the Ritz?   Another Paris hotel.

            Not only is this conceptual limit higher than some Million Dollar McMansion, it’s an elaborately detailed stage set, not a crude assignment.  These 99 Percenters know exactly what the score is with the rich, as the poor of France did when they were invited to watch the King and Queen eat Easter dinner.  Not that things were so great, even then.   As the heat of summer arrived, the stench of the privies of Versailles forced its glittering residents elsewhere.

            Look, the Palin gonifs took what they could grab, which may have only been 0.15 percent of a Million Dollar McMansion, but they took all they could.  Goldman Sachs — let me tell you a little story about Goldman.   I’ve traded commodities futures for many years, mostly grains.   I watched as Goldman screwed up that market, creating a demand shock contango, driving up prices, affecting every wheat-consuming culture in the world and damned near wrecked the Chicago Merc.   Goldman Sachs operated beyond the law for decades and sent its leaders to advise president after president like so many Borgia popes sent to the Lateran.

            It’s not a question of scale here.  It’s a question of scope.  These gonifs took all they could, maximizing for personal gain, as did most Americans who took on all that debt, knowing goddamn well they were living beyond their means.   Conflating the GDP of Canada, a nation of 34MM people with the US Health Care costs, a nation of 307MM people just might be a bit of an inferential stretch requiring a few ratios along the way to make sense of them.   The War on Drugs might be a misguided effort, the way we’re fighting it.  Deporting illegal aliens, ditto.

            Raw integers, especially featuring dollar amounts, are not meaningful.

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            • BlaiseP, I think you are on the right track.  In a republic, a nation, a state, even among those who find themselves within arbitrarily-drawn boundaries on a map, there are those who build houses, some who buy them, some who choose to be renters or #occupants of whatever structures are already there.

              Think on it, if you’d be so kind.  I do think—and I say this to you as a LoOGie who isn’t shy about auto-biographizing, thus putting your own life on the table for discussion—a nation is built and sustained by those with both feet in, not one foot out the door.

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              • In a miracle of synchronicity, I have just finished importing all the state and county boundaries into my new database.  A nation is built by those who can pay for the bricks and mortar and two-by-fours, on plats of land established by these governing bodies.   Forget Archimedes’ Lever long enough to move the world, give me an accurate enough theodolite and I shall govern it.

                Nation states are the stupidest invention in the history of mankind.  Worse than religions, really.   Think upon that, ponder why some folks feel obliged to root for ’em like sports teams.

                 

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                • You’re getting in the zone, Blaise, but the nation-state is why we’re not a shithole like Mexico.  A nation-state must have an ethos. Don’t go all marxist [small “m”] and do the “peoples” thing.

                  A nation is built by those who can pay for the bricks and mortar and two-by-fours, on plats of land established by these governing bodies.

                  Yup.  Property rights, dude.  Locke.  Sort of my point.

                  Nation states are the stupidest invention in the history of mankind.  Worse than religions, really.   Think upon that, ponder why some folks feel obliged to root for ‘em like sports teams.

                  Yr auto-bios account yr times in South America, and that about fits.  But if there were no United States of America and you had been unlucky enough not to be born a citizen of it,  we’re not having this conversation.  You owe everything you are and your very life to the nation-state of the USA because you’re back here now. Anywhere else and they’d have dumped your mouthy ass in a ditch long ago and they’d be lighting candles in your memory.

                  Let’s get real, brother.  Tell me that ain’t so.  The world sucks.  Some parts of it suck less than others, and that ain’t just coincidence.

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                  • Oh, Tom.   I shouldered arms for this country and shot up its enemies with very considerable zeal and they gave me praise and thanks for it all round.

                    The greatness of America was always something of an illusion.   Read your Whitman.

                     
                    Clear the way there, Jonathan!
                    Way for the President’s marshal! Way for the government cannon!
                    Way for the Federal foot and dragoons–and the apparitions copiously
                    tumbling.

                    I love to look on the stars and stripes–I hope the fifes will play Yankee Doodle.

                    How bright shine the cutlasses of the foremost troops!
                    Every man holds his revolver, marching stiff through Boston town.

                    A fog follows–antiques of the same come limping,
                    Some appear wooden-legged, and some appear bandaged and bloodless.

                    Why this is indeed a show! It has called the dead out of the earth!
                    The old grave-yards of the hills have hurried to see!
                    Phantoms! phantoms countless by flank and rear!
                    Cock’d hats of mothy mould! crutches made of mist!
                    Arms in slings! old men leaning on young men’s shoulders!

                    What troubles you, Yankee phantoms? What is all this chattering of bare gums?
                    Does the ague convulse your limbs? Do you mistake your crutches for
                    fire-locks, and level them?

                    If you blind your eyes with tears, you will not see the President’s marshal;
                    If you groan such groans, you might balk the government cannon.

                    No, Tom. The era of the Nation State with all its justifications and pomps is coming to an end. If there ever was any greatness to America, it was a greatness of composition, a greatness of the many who came here and made of America a great nation composed of all tribes and tongues. E Pluribus Unum, an odd Latin construction, such a compact and meaningful language, Latin. The many are becoming one.

                    We are no longer one. We are reduced to a cargo cult of unreasoning brutes, our political leaders bowing down in the jungle before the instrument panel of some downed fighter jet. In the Land of the Free, we are slowly reduced to ciphers, our freedoms melting away. I owe my life to a USMC gunnery sergeant who pulled me into a helo, not to this country which now runs secret prisons and spies upon me. I did not fight for this.

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                    • Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard your auto-bio, Blaise, and so has everybody else.  I’m the only one here who actually remembered it and gave a shit. I’m not a soapbox for you to stand on.

                      Go back to being at Dr. Hanley’s throat and vice-versa.  I keep giving both of you a chance like Charlie Brown and the Lucy’s football, but frankly, my dear, I get more pleasure at watching your Iran-Iraq war than talking to either of you.  You both lose, and make no mistake, it’s obvious to the gentle reader.

                      You’re an interesting thinker, BlaiseP, not unlike Gingrich with colors reversed. Bright, illuminating sparks.I know that observation galls you, but I’d rather defend you than repulse your attacks, funny as that sounds.  I’m more an apologist than a polemicist, more a defender of interesting ideas and thinkers than a prosecutor of the stupid ones.

                      I might be your best friend here.  If you’ve read me with the care that I’ve been reading you here in our LoOG, well, I shouldn’t have to write this.

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                    • Koff, choke.   Gettin’ pretty thick in here.   My mouth has kept up with my ass over the years and I’ve put my enemies in those aforementioned ditches.   I do not like where this country is heading and I find all this jingoistic crap about what this country’s done for me to be a bit repulsive, coming from someone like you who has the temerity to act all badass about the USA.

                      Rah-friggin’ rah.   The nation state is running out of relevance, like the Space Shuttle.   What was deluxe becomes debris.  The corporations have all but eliminated any semblance of a government of the people, soon enough they will dispense with the formalities, mark my words. I owe my life to luck and perseverance and the grace of God and not to the color of my passport.

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                    • Yeah, yeah.  When Hanley’s right, I say so.  When he lapses into ad-hom, I am mean to him.   I’ve been at this meanness business longer than most of you, therefore I’d strongly advise folks against getting personal with me.   As Homey D Klown observed, “dey’s a fine line between familarity an’ contempt — and you jus’ crossed it.”.

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                    • To arms, good sir, or to law — the fight never ends… A friend of mine took up a case about gov’t spying on Mennonites (pacifists all).

                      “Taten mamen kinderlach boyen barrikaden”… if the corporations grow bigger than the nation-state, the Worker must grow larger too — until like Paul Bunyan he can stride the Pacific with a single step.

                      May the corporations tremble at the words “Global Strike.”

                      And may the rabblerousers spread mischief and sunlight alike, while juggling daggers in the dark

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            • BlaiseP, I’m not trying to take the human element out of anything here, and I’m certainly not trying to let Goldman Sachs off the hook. It’s a nasty, nasty company.

              What I’m saying is that our political dialog often focuses on insignificant or irrelevant topics, specifically when it boils down to money, as both the Tea Party and Occupy do, because we cannot distinguish between million and trillion.

              Why focus on banker bonuses, when we could focus on the much, much, much, much greater amount the same bank got from the Federal government? Why focus on the Palin Family wardrobe costs when we could focus on the ridiculousness of the War on Terror and all the other wars that represent the most expensive undertaking in our nation’s history?

              Please tell me you’re not rejecting the use of data to convey valuable information about the world here.

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              • Ganbatte, Christopher-san.   I only mean to say we need better questions.  These gargantuan sums need context to be meaningful.   Why did we bail out the banks in secret?   Because we knew if everyone saw IBM and McDonalds and Oracle lined up at the discount window, trying to get lines of credit to make payroll, the country would break out in a rash of assholes and pull all their money out of the banks.

                It’s like that bit of Men in Black:

                Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.

                Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

                People don’t have a clue how economies and monetary systems work.   Every goddamn day Ron Paul is out there bellowing about putting us back on the Gold Standard.   If ever there was a dumb, panicky dangerous animal, it’s that well-meaning moron and all these No New Taxes mouthbreathers aren’t a bit better and that deregulatory doofus Alan Greenspan should be drawn and quartered for his decades of mismanagement.    We may all get down on our knees and thank Bebby Jeezus we had someone like Ben Bernanke at the helm at the Fed or we would all be doing subsistence farming in our back yards.

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                • Interesting, I’ve been meaning to write a post about that segment from Men in Black.

                  I’ve also been meaning to get (back) into subsistence farming once I settle down somewhere. There are few satisfactions greater than overseeing the production of your own food from seed to sandwich.

                  Here’s the thing about how economies and monetary systems work: whatever model we come up with will always significantly underestimate the complexities of reality – this by the very nature of abstractions. Ergo, it’s best to avoid the heavy hubristic hand of centralized control of the money supply. Gold at least has the advantage that it isn’t centrally-controlled (for the record I do not support a gold standard, although I share the Austrian skepticism of the vast, sweeping claims and crude statistical methods of mainstream macroeconomics).

                  I read Abel and Bernanke’s macro textbook. I wasn’t particularly impressed. Bernanke strikes me as a guy who’s dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s throughout the years and who still has perfect confidence in the system that selected him – the same system that lost control three years ago.

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                  • I simply don’t agree with the Gold Standard.   It’s completely unworkable.   Talk about a model which won’t conform to reality.   There’s just not enough gold to make it work.   See, this is exactly what I’m going on about:  proportions and context.   Do you really want to base our economy on a commodity where a substantial fraction of that substance is in the noses of Indian women?

                    The Austrians are all kooks, entirely devoid of reason, in their own Private Idaho.   The nadir of all those Don Quixotes was Hayek urging us to resist the urge to call the police when folks do things we don’t like.   Old Bill Buckley said a Liberal was a Conservative who hadn’t been mugged yet.

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                    • I don’t support the gold standard either, BlaiseP (See my comment above, where this is explicit, before straw-manning me.). For one, it’s prone to speculative bubbles. For another, it’s controlled by the wealthy.

                      That being said, it strikes me as more than a bit odd that all liberals seem to have up their sleeves when confronted with the idea of returning to the gold standard is that Austrian economists – including Hayek, mainstream by any standard – are “kooks” or “cranks” as if I could just say that Hillary Clinton is a doody-head or Paul Krugman is a whiny bitch and that would be enough to silence them and their ideas.

                      This leads me to conclude with a fairly strong degree of confidence that the liberals who typically resort to this name-calling dismissal lack a basic understanding of what it was Hayek was actually talking about.

                      I can at least articulate the Keynesian position before dismissing it.

                       

                       

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                    • Allow me, Chris. The gold standard is impossible because gold is too commonplace. If America (world’s largest GDP?) pinned its money to that, then someone would find a way to get gold out of seawater. Crashing America’s economy would be worth it.

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                    • I’m afraid that Doody Head business about Kruggy et. al. is seen in print very frequently.   Here’s the truth about the Austrian economists:  they’re always somewhere between half-right and completely wrong.

                      I was wrong. of course “you” don’t support the Gold Standard, please forgive me that bit of rhetorical “you”-ing, I’ll try to avoid it in future.    I had thought it obvious enough you /didn’t/ support it but did mention some of the advantages of some such commodity-based scheme, all of which seem absurd to me, if not to you, for the same reasons we both reject the gold standard.   Money isn’t gold or silver.   It’s an exchange medium.   That’s it.  There’s a market for money.   People will pay to use it, too.

                      Economics is not beyond modeling, whatever the more-extreme Austrians have to say about it.   I suppose, since I do predictive modeling, I can find some arbitrary validity in the work I do:  it does a fine job of adhering to the policies set up in the models.   Hayek is as wrong as Marx was about labor:  both failed because both outlined the problem in simplistic terms.    Yes I do understand Hayek, rather better than you might suspect.

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                    • Heh.  Keynes was fine for Keynes’ day.   Mises is a solution in search of a problem. As long as you don’t put him in with his times, or any of the facts, he makes for a fine Aquarium Economist.   Brittle and a world-class enemy-maker, even his friends couldn’t stand him.

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                    • There are lots of reasons not to have a gold standard that outweigh reasons to have a gold standard, just as there are lots of reasons to not have a centralized quasi-governmental secretive entity in control of the money supply that outweigh reasons to have a centralized quasi-governmental secretive entity in control of the money supply.

                      Open up the Fed to audits and more transparency and give Congress the final word. This has been and is likely to be the kind of policy Austrian economics will get us along with its allies in the populist left faction of the Legislature. Ron Paul and Barney Frank can and have worked quite well together in creating structures not conducive to cronyism. I support marginal Austrianism even if I don’t support its totalitarian incarnation.

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      • I have NEVER minded spending one red cent on WV! They pay higher taxes than we do! If they STILL can’t make ends meet, well, I can see my way to giving them something a bit better than dirt roads (gravel, mostly).

        Alaska is a DIFFERENT story. They get $2 from the US Gov’t for each $1 they put in. It’s ridiculous, and they PAY people to live there. They are NOT paying their own way, they aren’t even trying to pay their own way.

        Never mind payin’ for a few rednecks — honest farmers are a good thing, in my book. Then again, I’m pro-welfare.

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        • They get $2 from the US Gov’t for each $1 they put in.

          This type of measurement can be misleading, particularly in the western states.  Among other things that skew the numbers are, particularly where the population is small (eg Alaska): enormous federal land holdings that draw “payments in lieu of taxes”; large military bases/reservations with their payrolls and supply contracts; large national laboratory facilities; large Indian reservations; and extensive federal highway systems.

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          • And The Mineral Leasing Act, wherein the government returns a portion of the proceeds from minerals found on federal lands. The proceeds aren’t counted as taxes, but the portion they get back are counted as expenditures. If the mineral-rich states were their own countries, the federal government likely wouldn’t be receiving any of that money.

            That being said, Alaska still has a pretty sweet deal.

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              • Goddam, Jesse, if only we’d kept the Germans in the American empire after we conquered the bastards in 1945.  They work work work under any system [exc Communism, of course].  We could pretend they’re in charge of the Anglo-Saxon States of America, and they’d work and work and pay and pay for our welfare state instead of Europe’s.

                That would have been sweet, and I bet they’d go for that deal today if they could only get out of that EU full of wastrels.

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            • Yup AK has a sweet deal that everybody across the poli spectrum is fine with. Somehow the PFD is not the gov teat or socialism or whatever. And people who can’t file their taxes on time or find all other gov so difficult manage to get their PFD applications in on time.

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            • One of the numbers that I always like to look at as a rough indicator that gets past a lot of the things like military or national lab spending is the federal Medicaid reimbursement rate (FMAP) for each of the states.  For FY2012, Mississippi is the extreme case amongst the 50 states, with the feds picking up 74.18% of the costs.  Alaska, OTOH, is getting the minimum 50.00% rate, suggesting that the “excess” federal expenditures there are in areas other than human services (excluding Native American services).

              Related to this, my question for Texans who assert that they’re doing such a bang-up job of running their economy is, “Yeah? Then why do the feds pick up 70% of your Medicaid expenses instead of the 50% that California or New York have to get by on?”

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              • Texas’s FMAP rate is actually 59%, which puts it well behind most states (though ahead of California). Per capita federal spending in Texas and California are very similar. I don’t think it’s so much that the federal government spends so much on Texas Medicaid, but rather that Texas spends so little.

                So I suspect the answer to your question is because Texas is famously stingy with its Medicaid spending. Without the federal government’s involvement, they probably wouldn’t be breaking the bank to pick up the slack. Like California, Texas is a donor state on the whole, according to that famed map, though Texas is close while the federal take hits California notably harder.

                I’m not sure these particular statistics are the best way to figure out which-spending-we-count. Partially because the percentages are affected by how much the state spends (California much, Texas not much) and partially because there are lots of ways the government spends money in particular states. Often ways that it’s hard to say whether this should count or that shouldn’t.

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                • Yes, typo, I intended to say that Texas’ FMAP rate was about 60%, not 70%.  And of course it’s not the whole story, just as the fact that federal expenditures in a state are greater than the federal taxes collected there is the whole story.  Still, if Texas’ basic FMAP were reduced to the 50% that California lives with, then Texas would have to find several hundred million dollars more per year to fund their (already skimpy) program.

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  2. Yes, a good post indeed.

    Tangentially, what is the definition of “specialty coffee”? Usually, when I hear people refer to specialty coffee, they’re just talking about stuff that isn’t crap (you see, I live in the country of 1.6M AmeriDreams, and must suffer all those worshipping at the altar of Tim Hortons).

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    • I was wondering what counts as specialty coffee, too.  If I get plain coffee at Starbucks, does that count as specialty, or is it only specialty when I know the fancy lingo to ask for a double frappacino lattee no steam, or whatever?

      As for Timmies, the coffee is serviceable, which means it’s a lot better(and less expensive) than the excessively bitter concoction offered by Starbucks.  The real treat, though, is the ice cappuccino–it almost makes appreciate hot weather.

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      • James, see my comment below. Starbucks actually opts out of this system for various reasons, not the least of which is that the company doesn’t think commodity coffee growers in third world countries get paid enough.

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    • That statistic comes from the documentary Black Gold, about the international coffee industry. It’s a film that’s definitely worth watching. “Specialty coffee” is a technical term that refers to coffee that scores 80 or above on a hundred-point scale employed by the industry. I suppose it’s certainly possible to produce coffee that isn’t subjected to this test (but who knows really with all the ridiculous standards we have on the books), but that statistic represents coffee that has been specifically graded “specialty” i.e. 80 or above on the international scale. Here is a source: http://www.opportunitiesforthefuture.com/uploads/press-coffee_retail_sales.pdf

      I mean, I guess it’s all probably fairly arbitrary, but it’s an interesting trend for sure.

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          • Ratshit contamination is pretty bad. There’s a factory on my “do not buy” list, because it gets in the papers nearly every year on “caused some sort of disease” (when they don’t become convinced that it was cantalope, or not enough people get sick to track it down).

            Rancid oil — quite edible.

            Weevils? That’s what the sifter was for, silly… didn’t kill your granma, did it?

            All told, I appreciate sanitation, and I wish there was more of it.

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            • Kim I’d say all indications point to us living in an unprecedentedly sterile environment that’s well past positive marginal returns. Don’t think I’m singing the praises of rat shit or don’t wash my hands after using the toilet. I’m just not afraid of undercooked steak or brown bag lunches. Fruit that’s brown or covered with bruises goes in the blender with yogurt and ice, and mold gets scraped off cheese.

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  3. I think you need to multiply the American Dream by about 2.5 round here … $1m only gets you a decent sized 3/2. In most of the rest of the country, the concept of a decent sized 3/2 doesn’t make any sense …

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    • SimonK, the OP was rhetorical, not a numerically rigorous argument.  Apples and oranges were indiscriminately cast upon the floor for effect.  “I’ll leave the inference to you” had all the subtlety of inference—implication—of the proverbial two by four to the mule’s head.

      $1m only gets you a decent sized 3/2.

      Um, no, Simon, not by a longshot unless you need to live by the beach in Los Angeles.  I live about 15 miles from it, on a beautiful hilltop, and I’ll sell you mine for well less than half that.

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      • Yeah, real estate prices in the greater Los Angeles area are still crazy-high in comparison to income, but they’re not that crazy.

        Not anymore.  The house I’m living in now I bought for about $225K less than it would have cost me if I bought it in 2007, and even then it would not have come close to a million.

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