Friday, April 08, 2016

Should bring the laptop out more often

It's ok to post a few quick lines on the tablet. But, for the most part, typing on this thing is a pain in the ass.  I've got a few minutes here in the coffee place, though, so here are a few collected links from this week.

The Fiscal Times: "The Retirement Revolution That Failed: Why the 401 (k) isn't working" David Dayen on the number our very smartest bankers and technocrats have done on everyone's retirement.
Nearly half of all working-age families have no money in retirement accounts at all. The median family has $5,000 saved. Even for people between the ages of 56 and 61, the median retirement account savings is a paltry $17,000. While the top 10 percent have at least $274,000 saved, the bottom 50 percent have next to nothing. “We are moving toward a retirement system that magnifies inequality instead of just reflecting it,” Morrissey said on a conference call Thursday.

This was not always the case. Pensions used to be far more egalitarian, held by people of modest incomes as much as the wealthy. Pensions were even held relatively equally by white and black populations. (Hispanics, Morrissey points out, always lagged behind.)

The 401(k) revolution changed this. Low-income Americans are more likely to have jobs that don’t offer 401(k) plans. And as financial risks are shifted to individual employees, the poor are increasingly unable to afford to put portions of their paychecks into their own retirement funds. Relatively complex 401(k) plans are also more difficult to understand when compared to having a pension benefit manager handle the details.
We've spent 30 years on this mistake. And in the process we've blown a hole in the security of an entire generation of future retirees. It would be nice if we could shut the failed experiment down. But it turns out that would make some hedge fund managers less wealthy and that would  be rude.

The Nation: "The Problem With Hillary Clinton Isn’t Just Her Corporate Cash. It’s Her Corporate Worldview." Naomi Klein explains why Hillary Clinton is exactly the wrong person to expect will be much use solving problems like the retirement crisis mentioned above or, to take Klein's example, climate change.
At the center of it all is the canonical belief that change comes not by confronting the wealthy and powerful but by partnering with them. Viewed from within the logic of what Thomas Frank recently termed “the land of money,” all of Hillary Clinton’s most controversial actions make sense. Why not take money from fossil-fuel lobbyists? Why not get paid hundreds of thousands for speeches to Goldman Sachs? It’s not a conflict of interest; it’s a mutually beneficial partnership—part of a never-ending merry-go-round of corporate-political give and take.

Books have been filled with the failures of Clinton-style philanthrocapitalism. When it comes to climate change, we have all the evidence we need to know that this model is a disaster on a planetary scale. This is the logic that gave the world fraud-infested carbon markets and dodgy carbon offsets instead of tough regulation of polluters—because, we were told, emission reductions needed to be “win-win” and “market-friendly.”
Buzzfeed: "Spies In The Skies"
Each weekday, dozens of U.S. government aircraft take to the skies and slowly circle over American cities. Piloted by agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the planes are fitted with high-resolution video cameras, often working with “augmented reality” software that can superimpose onto the video images everything from street and business names to the owners of individual homes. At least a few planes have carried devices that can track the cell phones of people below. Most of the aircraft are small, flying a mile or so above ground, and many use exhaust mufflers to mute their engines — making them hard to detect by the people they’re spying on.

Forbes: "In World's Best-Run Economy, House Prices Keep Falling -- Because That's What House Prices Are Supposed To Do"  I'm not sure there's a lot here that suggests policy solutions in the U.S. unless we are willing to make fundamental changes to our ideas about housing as an investment asset, which we are definitely not willing to do. 

Also some of this seems not quite right.
A key to the story is that German municipal authorities consistently increase housing supply by releasing land for development on a regular basis. The ultimate driver is a  central government policy of providing financial support to municipalities based on an up-to-date and accurate count of the number of residents in each area.

The German system moreover is deliberately structured to encourage renting rather than owning. Tenants enjoy strong rights and, provided they pay their rent, are virtually immune from eviction and even from significant rent increases.
 Hmm.. so is the rent not too damn high in Berlin?  Let's check on that
As formerly low-income Berlin neighborhoods have attracted wealthier residents, there has been a widespread ripple of fear from many Berliners who worry that, despite rent-calming measures and some subsidized provision for people on low incomes, they will soon be priced out of their homes. This general fear has been tapped into by a small group of vandals, who have acted out their anger by attacking expensive cars parked in gentrifying areas.

When the craze began in 2007 and 2008, Berlin’s police were widely castigated for their perceived inaction. Then-Police Chief Dieter Glitsch became notorious for saying to car owners: “Don’t park your Porsche in [gentrifying] Kreuzberg.” 

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