Category Archives: Weekly Column

New Yorkers Complain About Economics

From the ever-expanding “This Isn’t Price Gouging” Department, the New York Post reports:

Passengers are blasting the Uber car-service app for its “surge’’-pricing scheme, which kicked in during the city’s first snowstorm of the season — in one case pricing a short trip across town at a whopping $132.

But in Boston, blogger Jessica Gioglio — who bills herself as “The Savvy Bostonian” — shelled out $91 for a 3.18-mile, 16-minute trip from Beantown’s Back Bay to Central Square.

Posting a screenshot of her e-mail receipt, she called the fare “price-gouging” and said, “I’m really disappointed in u guys.”

Uber, much maligned by regulatory fiends and taxi cab sympathizers, has really upset the taxi cabal in many major U.S. cities. Namely by providing better, more convenient service for a more premium price.

Unlike taxicabs, whose drivers can usually only impose a change in prices when allowed by decree from the government (i.e. during a snowstorm, or when gas prices are unusually high), Uber can raise prices to reflect market demand. And users are clearly made aware of this before they agree to take an Uber, as seen below.

The Post continues:

The app’s practice of surge pricing is actually designed to help consumers, Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian insisted Sunday. The higher rates “get more cars on the road quickly when demand outstrips supply, helping to guarantee that New Yorkers can get a ride when and where they want,” she said.

“As soon as demand falls or supply increases sufficiently, prices return to normal.”

Uber cars and their drivers, like everything else, are a scarce resource with alternate uses. Uber is right to raise prices to incentivize more drivers to work than to accept private contracts (as many Uber drivers do in Washington), hunker down with their family, or go out and get supplies for their homes. Just like laws prohibiting so-called “price gouging” during a storm serve as a disincentive for shop owners to stay open, the rules that govern taxi cabs often result in less taxis being available.

Which, in turn, might cause Uber’s demand to surge even higher than it normally would if taxis had greater flexibility to charge market rates. bsig

Thoughts on 30

I turned 30 this weekend. I am officially no longer a spring chicken.

Thirty is one of those ages that seems to have (or at least had) some importance, but is not one of those hallmark birthdays that require large parties like ages one, sixteen, twenty-one, or forty (15 if you’re a hispanic female.) I had long thought of 30 as the second major pillar of adulthood, the first being 18.

Of course, I had a 30th birthday party anyway. Any excuse to grill and drink beer with friends certainly necessitates doing so, at least in my book.

When my parents were 30, they had been married for a few years and I was already born. In my early twenties, I didn’t think of 30 so much as a goal to be married and have a child, but rather (at least) where I would be mature enough to be married and have a child. Let the record reflect that I squeaked in a month before turning  30 one of the two.

In the period of reflection leading up to my having attained three decades of life, I am of the view that 30 is no longer regarded as the second major pillar of adulthood that it once was.

Times have changed. Or maybe they haven’t and we’re just led to feel that way by changes in popular culture.

Adolescence appears to have been stretched out. After all, 50 is the new 30, and Orange is the new Black.  Right? At least that’s what some people think and what we’re told by Madison Avenue-types, and in the media and movies.

Who to blame is up for debate. I cannot say for sure which group is stretching out adolescence. Is it adults who, like Toys ‘R Us Kids, never want to grow up and live in Geoffrey’s world of toys or like frisky seniors in a Cialis commercial?  Or is it the young-ish millennials trying to live out movies Old School or any movie by Judd Apatow? (I have opted-out of the term millennial, for I am a member of the Pepsi generation.)

Back when my parents were young, you could drink 3.2 beer at age 18. That is, until Elizabeth Dole felt the need to get involved and ruin things. Now, you can stay on your parents’ healthcare insurance until age 26.

Maybe 26 is the new 18, and 30 the new 21.

No matter who is to blame, I don’t like it. I’m 30 now, and I am here to complain.bsig

Embracing my Inner Curmudgeon

One line of demarcation between youth and adulthood, I’ve decided, is whether or not you give a shit about the Billboard Top 40 — and I don’t.

Some time in the past few years — and I can’t recall exactly when — I crossed this line. Now that I know I have passed it, I’ve determined that I am far, far beyond it.

I cannot name a single song on that list. I’m strangely proud of that.

O.K., that’s a lie — I can. Only because Rahm Emanuel was videotaped thrusting his pelvis to some song performed by Alan Thicke’s son. An intern had to tell me why it was funny, aside from the awkward pelvis thrusting.

I listened to it and — surprise! — the song sucks. Canadians aren’t known for their music, and you should trust that anything by somebody other than Elton John who named their son “Rocket Man” (really) also sucks. Imagine if those two forces combined, and you get “Blurred Lines.”

My musical tastes are as dead as Amy Winehouse. I was reminded of this by who else but Amy Winehouse herself. Among some old CD’s I popped in my trendy new six disc changer in my brand newish car was a CD I made for a road trip I took in 2007. “They tried to make you go to rehab, Amy” I thought. Alas, she’s dead, so I suppose those people were right.

The next song on the CD by some no-name artist made me realize that I haven’t listened to popular music in years. To and from work, I alternate between WTOP news, WNEW All News 99.1, and WCSP-FM, which is C-Span’s radio station. In addition to avoiding traffic pitfalls in one of the country’s most congested cities, the former hill staffer and current journo in me finds it hard to enjoy much else.

Since four of my six radio presets are news stations, I should make an official declaration: I am either a curmudgeon or a Beltway insider. Possibly both.

I have become like my childhood dentist, who subjects you to NPR in his torture chair. Sitting there drugged and helpless, Mara Liasson murders your eardrums all while you’re getting stainless steel pick axes jammed into your gums.

No wonder everyone’s afraid of the dentist. NPR is downright scary.

(Memo to self: If Gitmo absolutely must be closed, can we subject prisoners to a strict dentist/NPR regimen? Email John Yoo about that.)

All of the news on our car rides irks Mary, and I can empathize even though I’m not making her listen to talk radio. After a while, she’ll complain and we’ll listen to Big 100.3, which plays oldies rock songs. That’s about it so far as music on the radio goes, and I’m O.K. with that.

Recently, when planning what music will be played out our fast approaching wedding, there wasn’t even any debate to leave the “Top 40” box unchecked.

As a youth, I never was all that into popular music, other than what was socially required. Now that I’m engaged and nearing 30, I spend less (read: no) time at trendy clubs. Thus, I have no incentive to know or care.

While this is all well and nice, I realize that this respite is likely temporary. At some point I’ll probably have rugrats running around. And before I know it, my inner Tipper Gore will jump to life and convert me into a one-man Parents Music Resource Center, blindly meting out justice.

Until then, I’ll enjoy the news. bsig


Memory Madeleines

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Proust, in In Search of Lost Time, uses the madeleine cake as a symbol of memory. For me, one item like that happens to be Lime Tootsie Flavor Roll Twisties.

In the early 1990s or late 1980s, I remember spending one Halloween in Sidney, Ohio with my grandparents. I don’t recall why we went there instead of going door to door in my hometown, Shaker Heights, but I was happy to spend time with them.

Sidney, Ohio

Sidney, Ohio

My mom’s father wasn’t immobile, but he preferred the confines of his La-Z-Boy with his pipe, newspaper, books and yellow legal pads to moving around a lot, especially getting up 40 or 50 times to dole out candy and exchange pleasantries to little kids seeking handouts.

So, Grandma and my mother took Betsy and I out to go beg for candy. I don’t remember what I was — it was one of those years maybe your memory decides to forget on purpose, but remembers all the silly costumes. What I do remember, is grandma grabbed a metal bowl, put it on a chair, filled it with Tootsie Flavor Roll Twisties, and tacked a note “Please be kind — Only take a few.”

It was foreign to me that people could, or should, be trusted to take the appropriate amount of candy responsibly. I asked whether she really believed people would honor her request. She told me that she didn’t know, but for her, God was to be the judge of them.

I surely thought the first miscreant and deadbeat parent combo to saunter to the porch would take all the candy, maybe even the bowl. Yet, as we returned from the Halloween festivities, the bowl (and some candy) remained. Maybe her instincts to trust her neighbors was right. Or maybe the candy wasn’t all that good.

As an adult, I’m not sure I would be so trusting. (As an adolescent, I used this tactic to set up a perfect opportunity to scare the shit out of teenagers by hiding in camouflage with my friends.)

Today, as I picked through the office candy bowl at the office, what did I find?

Lime-flavored tootsie rolls and a memory of my late grandmother.

Some day, a few years or decades from now, or even soon, this candy will disappear from the world. What won’t go with it, I hope, is this memory of my kind and trusting grandmother.bsig

The Wonders of Privatization (Snow Edition)

contractorsBainbridge Township, Ohio

“Did they shovel our porch?” my sister asked my mother. “Yep.” replied mom. “Wow.”

Ohio, at least northern Ohio, is experiencing one of its worst storms in recent years. Last night, the meteorologists spoke only of dire outcomes. And we’re only supposed to get a foot of snow.

This is not the same Ohio I grew up in, where snow was quite prevalent and a few feet fazed only the carpetbaggers. Snowmageddon in D.C.? Nothing compared to the great snowstorm of 1996 where we got over four feet of snow.

In recent years, snowstorms have been more mild here.

A year ago, my parents were still residing in my childhood home on Eaton road in Shaker Heights. To its credit, Shaker Heights has a very good public works system relative to neighboring communities. Of course, that comes at a high cost.

Shaker recently raised its taxes to keep its very good public works system — snow and trash removal — despite state budget cuts in the form of aid to cities. They proposed, and the voters approved, tax increases.

My parents moved. One county over, in fact, to Bainbridge Township in Geauga County, where taxes are lower (both in income and property taxes.)

Despite telling us for years they would impound our childhood in storage and buy a loft downtown, they opted to move east to an even bigger home. It’s a nice home. But, it’s in the snow belt.

Shaker Heights, like all inner-ring suburbs, gets its share of snow. Chagrin Falls and the surrounding parts of Cuyahoga and Geauga Counties tend to get a lot more snow.

The meteorologists were a little off on the timing, but they seemed to be correct on the amount of snow. It’s coming down hard.

Interrupting our alcohol-fueled games of bananagram and Jenga was the sound of snow plows. Since most of Bainbridge is unincorporated, the communities (run by Home Owners Associations) hire contractors to do the work of government that cities, like Shaker, ordinarily perform.

Dad came out of his new office and notified us that Ali and I would have to move our cars if the contractors were to plow our driveway. It was more of a command.

This, of course, was foreign to us, since we grew up using the winter mouse murderer known as the snowblower.  (If you’ve never seen mouse blood and parts sprayed over snow, then you haven’t truly lived, my friend.)

In Shaker, the city plowed the streets. When I was younger, they had this strange device designed to plow sidewalks. But given the age of those sidewalks, it often resulted in destroyed slabs and damaged machines. I don’t know this for sure, but I am pretty sure they killed that program.

The plows were big, and all of their drivers were city employees. Presumably belonging to a union. While the plows afforded bigger economies of scale, the labor contracts probably negated those benefits, since public employees’ unions have CBAs with pensions and overtime.

Of course, you had to plow your own driveway, and we used our snowblower to clear the block’s sidewalks because that’s how we roll, but the streets were plowed well — better than in the city of Cleveland.

Out here, however, the contractors plow your roads, your driveway, your walkway, and your porch.

Ali’s car — the Lesboat I call it, since it’s a Subaru — has 4WD. It pulled out of the driveway with ease. The “Silver Fox”, my dad’s old Honda Accord  that I now drive– complete with FIGHT TERRORISM license plates –does not. It was quickly evident when trying to move it why he no longer wanted it.

It got stuck.

I tried, in vain, to back it out of the driveway, a slight decline. Our driveway in Shaker was about a one-story incline that required skill to navigate. This, one would think, would be easy. Not so much. Without 4WD, skill was required.

After a few tries, my dad put on his boots and came to my aid to help push my out. It didn’t work.

All of the drivers of the snowplows stopped and got out of their trucks to help push me out.

That’s service.

(My mom rewarded them with a sixer of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold.)

It got me thinking about city-provided services and private contractors.

While city-provided big trucks may be superior at providing the economies of scale necessary to plow big thoroughfares, the same could be done by a smaller amount of F-250’s, or bigger trucks. (Ohio isn’t big into privatization, while my current home of Virginia has embraced it, with VDOT using private contractors to plow main roads.) If allowed to compete, they’d presumably buy bigger trucks.

When the weather is tame, cities eat the cost of stagnant trucks and employees. Contractors have more flexibility. If it is particularly snowy, they can hire guys with trucks to join their team for the season, or lease trucks fitted with plows. That saves time and money, especially when competing for contracts.

And when it comes to providing service, they do a better job and more thorough job, at least when it comes to plowing snow.

In Bainbridge, however, my parents still have to take the trash out to the end of the 30 foot driveway. In Shaker, they employ little golf-like carts that pick it up from the back.

In the end, it’s all about trade offs, I guess. And my parents seem to value lower taxes and better snow service.bsig





Death to Discount Pricing!


This morning, I did what I pretty much never do, and that was to get up early and go to a department store to go holiday shopping. I am not a shopaholic, or lover of the holidays — I don’t hate the holidays, I just am ambivalent about them.

Department store visits are a once or twice a year thing, usually around the holidays or Mary’s birthday.

The object of my present buying spree was my fiancé, who does not share my hatred of the department store. I explained to her once why I don’t like going there, and it’s because of something called discount pricing. Having agreed to marry me, she listened politely and quickly changed the subject. My attempt to proselytize the evils of department stores and discount pricing had failed.

Macy’s, Kohls, and Bed, Bath and Beyond have worked their voodoo magic on her. I do have the rest of our lives together to win this war, so I’m optimistic I may outlive these businesses.

What is discount pricing? describes it this way:

A valuation approach where items are sometimes initially marked up artificially but are then offered for sale at what seems to be a reduced cost to the consumer. For example, a retail store business might offer discount pricing on all of its apparel items for a limited time period in order to attract new customers and boost sales.

It’s like those Jos. A. Bank commercials — buy one suit, get three free! I’ll admit I shop at Jos. A. Bank, but not because these deals have suckered me. I do pay attention to them, just in case one day the first customer to come in is awarded a free franchise.

Shopping for the special lady in your life at department stores is a nightmare, because you see a set of kitchenware from Wolfgang Puck or Martha Stewart and it says “Usually $500, today $150!” You think to yourself: “Man, Wolfgang is really taking a bath here!” Then you scan the UPC with your smart phone and see that if you bought the kitchenware from here, it’d be you taking a bath.

Where Department Stores Probably Source their Jewelry

Where Department Stores Probably Source their Jewelry

Jewelry, what all women want, is damn near impossible to find at department stores. Oddly, however, it’s not as if they have a shortage of jewelry, it’s just that most of it is for grandparents (all of mine are dead), people of different cultural tastes than your lady, and about 10,000 pieces of jewelry that look as if they were swept up from a street market in Tangier and stapled to felt squares with catchy names etched on them.

Finding a decent piece of jewelry that isn’t behind the counter is like finding a needle in a haystack. And we all know to avoid the lady behind the counter, or she’ll guilt trip you into buying a cubic zirconia heart pendent for $200 (normally $1,200!) In addition to the discount pricing on the largely crappy jewelry, I think each store hides about five decent items in the normal areas, and nobody will tell you if they’ve all been sold. Sometimes, and I don’t know because I don’t buy a lot of jewelry (though that will change) I think that Walmart probably has better jewelry than a typical department store does.

Even basic items like picture frames are in this nightmarish kabuki dance of discount pricing. Normally, this frame is $50! But today, for you, it’s $9.99. And their frame typically selection sucks, nothing good in the middle. Even if you manage to find a decent frame, you have to very carefully peel those super sticky stickers off of the glass, after which the glass is all covered in fingerprints. At least Walmart has the sense to put the UPC label on the fake stock photograph in the frame. Good on them.

Discount pricing, translated if you haven’t gotten the point by now, means “fake sale.” The savings, much like what you find in President Obama’s budget or the pay-for in the latest spending spree bill, are imaginary.

“Well, sir, if we pretend the war funding goes until 2020, and we end the wars sooner, we’ll save TRILLIONS!”

“Johnson, you are a genius. I am going to appoint you head of the CBO.”

There is one department store that has recently earned my respect, despite my general distaste for them. After all, who likes walking through real-life version of minecraft with tons of scary salespeople popping out from behind their cube, trying to spray perfume on you or sell you lotion made with anti-aging bubbles (which are actually just air).

That store is J.C. Penney. Bloomberg Businessweek reported earlier this year that they decided to get rid of the annoying discount pricing:

The lynchpin of J.C. Penney’s revitalization is a new “Fair and Square Every Day” pricing strategy. The plan stems from Johnson’s realization that three-quarters of everything sold at J.C. Penney is typically sold at a 50% discount from list price. Instead of using deep discount sales to attract customers, starting this week the chain will simply offer three prices: (1) “Every Day”, (2) “Month Long Value” (theme sales such as back-to-school related products in August), and (3) “Best Prices” (clearance). Prices will also now end in “0″ instead of “99″ and price tags will list just one price (instead of including the de rigueur “previously sold at a higher price” convention).

In the long run, they’ll probably save millions in signage costs. Businessweek’s reporter thinks this strategy is risky, but I don’t think it’s as bad as they fear.

While discount pricing appeals to both genders, I am sure there are many men out there like me who don’t want to scan every item they’re considering buying to know what percentage of the “sale” is imaginary bullshit. On second thought, that might be a little more difficult to market than “SALE SALE SALE.”

Either way, next year I’m going to Penney’s.bsig

For My Birthday, Leave Me Alone, Sales People

Nothing makes me angrier during Birthday season than people messing around with me for my birthday. OK, some things probably make me angrier, but pulling my chain regarding my very special day is definitely in the top 10.

Some companies send me nice coupons to their restaurants. Most even offer me a free meal, assuming I buy another one for Mary. I think that is nice. They’re advertising to me and making pleasing the lady lighter on the wallet.

What I do not appreciate is vague stuff like this (depicted left). Why? Because it’s a BAIT AND SWITCH. That’s why. Oh, you mean if I merely call your conveniently local phone number I’ll get a free “Touchpad Tablet Complete with New Android Software?” Well, SHIT! Why did I buy a Kindle Fire last year? Probably because I’m not a dipshit and I know people don’t send me letters promising to making it rain Android tablets.

A company that stupid would run out of business in a New York minute. No. These assholes want something. Who knows what they want? I don’t (yet) but I am sick of it. Sure, market to me when I’m at Lee’s Famous Recipe Fried Chicken, I know that “everybody wins the cruise.” That’s shitty marketing, but you know what it doesn’t do?

Denigrate my birthday with crappy offers, that’s what.

Remember Yeah. I do. I actually got a free iPod — 20 gigs — and a free t-shirt. That website was straightforward, at least with me. I’m sure some stupid people didn’t read the terms of service and felt they got duped, but as I recall it was pretty straightforward. You sign up, agree to a partner’s deal (I think I did BMG music?) and refer some friends who also have to complete the deal. I used an advertisement right here on and Andrew Chappelle, ironically, was the last referral that got me the free iPod. It appears the company that runs them, Gratis Networks (and later FreePay) doesn’t seem to be around, but they held up their end of the bargain.

You know what they didn’t do? Exploit my birthday exuberance. I’m happy I am turned 29 this year. Why? Because I’m not turning 30. And they’re not even telling me whether I’m getting a new Kindle Fire HD or some shitty alternative.

A cursory search tells me that CP, at PO Box 20389, West Palm Beach, FL 33416 is something called Classic Promotions. The Better Business Bureau doesn’t have nice things to say about them.

The mailing wishing me a happy birthday tells me “Some restrictions apply. See voucher below.” Turns out this voucher has been sponsored by one of those “DirectBuy” franchises. You may have seen their commercials, but imagine if CostCo, BJ’s or Sam’s Club had slick commercials telling you that you could save 4x the value of their membership fees, but they only sell items related to home furnishings. Like paying a membership fee to shop at IKEA. (Seriously, how much can you possibly spend on refurbishing your home?)

Yeah, this is who sent this to me. Via a company with an F rating at Florida’s Better Business Bureau. DirectBuy, to its credit, has a B+ rating with BBB, and is accredited with them.

I considered making a trip to Woodbridge to spend 90 minutes of my time hearing, presumably, a high-pressure sales pitch for something I don’t need. (Like SouthPark’s Asspen episode.) The tablet (allegedly) is valued at $249, and for 90 minutes, that means I value my time at $166 an hour.

Then, I decided I’d rather just take a nap. After all, I’m getting old.


Presidents Don’t Get a Pension Equal to their Salary. Neither Does Congress.

For months now, I have seen graphics on facebook and via email saying that the President and/or Congress gets their salary for life. This is wrong.

Members of Congress (House & Senate) and the leadership do not receive their salaries for life.

According to the Congressional Research Service:

“Under both CSRS and FERS, Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at the age of 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.

As of October 1, 2009, 455 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service. Of this number, 275 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $69,012. A total of 180 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $40,140 in 2009.

Members who had retired under CSRS had completed, on average, 18.8 years of civilian federal service. Their average annual CSRS annuity in 2009 was $69,012. Those who had retired under FERS had completed, on average, 15.6 years of civilian federal service. Their average retirement annuity in 2009 (not including Social Security) was $40,140″

Secondly, Presidents — while they receive an obscene pension of $191,300 — do not get $450,000 a year for life. They get about $200,000 and benefits like travel funds and mailing privileges. Since 1997, Presidents receive Secret Service protection for a decade after leaving office. Beforehand, they got it for life.

Some back of the napkin math for you:

If all current living former Presidents lived to the ripe age of 93, and we took away all current appropriations (at current levels) —  that would fund the salaries of 2,315 soldiers at this graphic’s average salary or the average income of 7,333 seniors on social security, assuming their figures are correct.

Active duty service members in combat zones are eligible for the military pay exclusion on their income.

Point being?

Yes, a yearly pension of $191,300 is absurd. But, reducing it to zero and committing the money elsewhere wouldn’t make a big dent in entitlements or military funding. Not much of a dent at all.

Perspective is important.

Despite working an average of over 15 years, taking away the pensions of retired Congressman, similarly, won’t make much of a difference in ensuring military pensions or social security are funded.

That’s the simple truth.

To be sure, there are ways we can and should significantly reduce federal spending. During my five years of service in the federal government, I paid into a pension plan, a thrift savings plan (sort of a government-run 401(k)), and social security. I also saved on my own.

That’s four separate retirement mechanisms. Good enough for government work, huh? If we want to get serious about retirement spending for government employees, dinging the pensions of elected officials is probably a publicly popular way, albeit insufficient, to get started. We should, however, find a way to end federal pensions — which are outdated and costly.

Especially when there’s social security, the TSP, and private savings. However, if this last campaign taught us anything, getting rid of costly pensions and moving to less-dated retirement plans for employees is difficult and unpopular.

Ask Mitt Romney and the folks at Bain Capital.

College Fairs

Tonight, despite my better judgement, I will once again go on my semi-annual volunteer gig as an alumni representative at a college fair for my alma mater. I agreed to do this months ago at the local high school months ago, not knowing that Game 7 of the NLCS and the third and final Presidential Debate would all happen on this night.

Any other night would be fine, but I am a man of my word, so I will I attend.

College fairs, for the uninitiated, are hilarious. I don’t know how the full time college representatives do it. In my capacity as the President of my area alumni club, I end up doing a lot of these things — not that I mind — I love my college, and it’d be expensive for them to send people to every one.

I’ve done them at public schools, big fairs, and “boutique” college fairs for very specific individuals. I’ve never done it at a private school, though.

From what I can tell, a lot of kids I talk to are not prepared to go to college. It could be that some of them are too young at this point, and that’s OK. The boutique college fairs have kids as young as freshmen in attendance. These kids have no idea what they want in life, let alone from a college. I give them a pass. Their older counterparts, however, not so prepared.

Here are some of my favorite inquiries over the years, paired with what I would like to, but don’t, say:

“Does your college have any internships I can do now?” You? A high school senior? 835 miles away? No. We don’t have any internships for you.

“Does your college offer degrees in (my ethnicity) studies?” Actually, yes. But I really would recommend studying something more practical. Maybe make that your minor.

“Can I smoke pot at your college?” You can smoke pot at any college, numbnuts. It’s illegal at all of them.

“What’s your male:female ratio… heh heh?” I don’t think it really matters for you.

“Why is your college so expensive?” Because it doesn’t get big subsidies from taxpayers that make tuition appear cheaper.

“Do I have to become a Catholic?” No, but you have to take religion courses.

“Did you go to school there?” No, these numbers after my name are just to …. YES. I WENT THERE.

“Why is your college the best one to go to?” No college is the ‘best to go to’ unless you are 1000% sure you know what you want to do and you’ve meticulously researched which schools have the best program in that area.

“Does your school have a good party scene?” Our main dorm is named after a beer baron and so is much of our campus. Take a guess. Seriously, it’s college — nearly all schools have a decent party scene.

“What kind of scholarship can YOU offer me?” Me? None. I don’t even know if you’ll be accepted. Seriously though, make your question ‘what kind of scholarships do you offer?’

“What can you do for me?” What do you think this is?

You Don’t Have A Right to a Job

And please, let’s keep it that way.

In P.J. O’Rourke’s book, Don’t Vote, It Just Encourages the Bastards, he writes:

“When rights consist of special privileges and material benefits, rights kill freedom. Wrong rights are the source of political power.”

O’Rourke is right.

On Facebook recently, a friend of mine shared an image that depicts a proposed “Second Bill of Rights” that President Franklin Roosevelt outlined in his 1944 State of the Union speech.

Thankfully, much of this proposal died with him.

According to what would later become Newsweek, the footage was thought lost until liberal icon/September 11 truther Michael Moore found it.

Thank goodness Moore put aside conspiracy theories for a moment to share with us footage of more of FDR’s economic malarkey.

Newsweek, excuse me, The Daily Beast, quoted Pulitzer prize winning author and content borrower Doris Kearns Goodwin’s views on the “Second Bill of Rights”:

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, told The Daily Beast that Moore “is absolutely right” to focus on FDR’s second Bill of Rights. She said she has never seen a film clip of Roosevelt describing his proposal.

“It was a radical proposal, suggesting a positive role for government in protecting people against the vagaries of the market, and had he lived, it is fascinating to wonder how much of these ideas might have been translated into policy,” Goodwin said in an email.

Remember, aspiring writers, when caught using a person’s work without proper attribution, the question is not whether you should lose your job, rather, “the larger one.”

As Kearns Goodwin put it:

“The larger question for those of us who write history is to understand how citation mistakes can happen.”

But what do I know? I’m not pretentious enough to posit that I “write history.”

What is it that’s so bad about FDR’s proposed second bill of rights? Why is it so bad?

The first line in this proposed new bill of rights is that “every American has a right to __________.” The graphic proposes assigning these six news rights to every American.

The seventh — I am told from some very tenuous deep background sources — is that FDR also wanted to propose a right for Americans  never to be killed by your government abroad by a robot airplane without pesky warrants, arrests and trials. You know, the whole justice system thing.

But after detaining ethnic minorities — citizens no less — in “containment camps” FDR didn’t want to limit his successors. At least he was forward thinking.

The first new proposed right is a right to a job.  As it currently stands, many Americans aren’t in possession of this proposed right since lots of them are unemployed.

I’ll admit, America would be pretty swell if we all had jobs. And West Highland Terriers. But how would we go about implementing such a new right? Let’s flesh it out with a few ideas:

  1. The government employs everyone. (See: Communism.)
  2. The government employs everyone who cannot find a job in the private sector (See: Socialism and related variants.)
  3. The government forces employers to hire people (See notes in #2.)

As O’Rourke said, conferring new rights kills freedom. Either by telling people how to run their businesses, or by taking taxes from them to achieve those ends.

Same goes with the second guarantee — an adequate wage and a “decent” living, however defined. What’s decent living to New Yorkers might seem third worldly to people in the deep south these days. Four people to a closet in a hostel? Why not have a McMansion for the same price? No “big” 20 oz drinks? Come get a supersized 84 0z drink at Confederacy Mart.

A right to a decent home? How would the government implement this? Heavily subsidize housing to ensure more people get it? That worked out great in recent years! Everybody has decent housing…. Right? Or is that just me?

Well, maybe instead of using government (read: taxpayer and China’s) money to encourage people to buy homes, we try to artificially game the market and set prices on housing.

You know, rent control, like in New York.

In New York, rich people with second houses get rent controlled apartments. Kids lie to the government about their residency so when grandma dies they’ll get her posh apartment. (And they never break residency or voting laws, that’s for sure!)  Best of all, if you’re a former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, you get a couple rent controlled apartments. I think that is in New York’s state constitution somewhere.

Smart kids with a Master’s degree get to live with three other people in a closet for $750 a month per person. Rent control is awesome.

The government, if unshackled by those greedy free marketeers, could do so many great things to make housing affordable. If given more power, imagine how much more affordable housing could be in places like New York! Everyone could be just like Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother.

From what I can tell, impoverished people love government solutions that make housing affordable. Government does such a great job. (Unless, of course, you’re a greedy landlord.)

Which brings me to medical care. Every American has the right to medical care? Close the book on this one, guys. Even before Obamacare, this already was the law of the land.

Oh wait. You mean they had to pay for it? Like, by finding jobs? Choosing appropriate housing? Where is the fun in that?

We’re not done yet. There are two more, so stay with me.

Number five is the right to “Economic protection during sickness, accident, old age or unemployment.” Sounds a lot like Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment. Well, those have already been implemented to varying degrees.

The results?

Social Security Disability Insurance runs out of money in a mere six years. In 2018 the trust fund will be broke and recipients will have their benefits cut unless Congress pours more money in. Most state unemployment funds are broke, too, borrowing money from the feds.

Well, it’s not like a guarantee of such benefits (or perceived entitlement of them) makes the system susceptible to fraud. No way!

I don’t know about you, but I know at least five people who have, or are currently, committing some level of fraud. People feel entitled. To them it’s not fraud, rather, it’s just getting their money back.  (Which means I know at least five people who would make great citizens in Greece.)

The last is a right to a good education. I grew up in a town that spent ungodly amounts on education, and my parents (and those of my friends) spent more money to send us to what would appear to be an inferior Catholic school.

Yes, my grade school alma mater is a recipient of a Blue Ribbon School Award. How is it that my school, where we dissected chicken wings instead of dead pigs like the kids at public school (seriously!) produce better results (on average) than kids whose education cost multiples of mine?

I got a better education for a fraction of the price (not including taxes for those public schools that produced flunkie yuppies and drug addicts), and the really poor kids three miles east of me got a worse education for five times the cost.

How did that happen? Well, just trust government a little more and presto chango, outcomes will change. Oh, right, they need more of your money, too, so pay up.

You cannot guarantee a “good education”  It’s a pipe dream of false government promises.

It’s up to teachers, parents, students and the like to ensure people get a good education.

The late — not great — FDR’s proposed second bill of rights are nothing but feel good platitudes that don’t give serious thought to the issues and the unintended consequences. Which might explain why unions like them.

In America you have the right to pursue or obtain these things. But they shouldn’t just be given to you by other people. A decent education, for example, takes effort from you. So does finding a job, and using its wages to pay for housing and medical care.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a job? Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had an adequate wage and decent living?  Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a decent home and medical care,  economic protection during sickness, accident, old age or unemployment, and a good education? And a West Highland Terrier.

The Beach Boys were right — wouldn’t it be nice?

One thing FDR either didn’t consider is that you can’t realistically promise these things to people. And you shouldn’t. Or, a more sinister version is that he knew such promises were dumb but did it for political gain anyway.