Friday, June 26, 2009

AGD Chapter 3 questions

There is no obligation to answer these but if you have the time/interest I would appreciate insights on the following:

- GENERAL OVERPRODUCTION, paragraph 2, "If [businessmen] wish to sell their 'surplus' stock, they need only cut their prices low enough to sell all of their product."
Does this mean that people will buy things they don't really want if the price is low enough? If so, is that really true?

- DEARTH OF "INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES," paragraph 3, "If total consumption increases due to population growth (and there is no particular reason why it should)..."
How could it not? Does each person not have a baseline requirement for consumption, so each additional person would mean an increase in total consumption by at least that baseline?

- DEARTH OF "INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES," paragraph 4, "Austrian theory teaches us that investment is always less than the maximum amount that could possibly exploit existing technology."
Don't understand what this means. Example?

- DEARTH OF "INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES," paragraph 6, "In a free market, prices determine costs and not vice versa, so that reduced final prices will also lower the prices of productive factors-- thereby lowering the costs of production."
This is counter to what I've understood up until now. Example?

Regarding the next meeting - I think I'm free all Tuesdays in July.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bank of America and credit cards

This blog has been pretty quiet lately so I thought I would write something to
a) complain about Bank of America
b) ask about alternative credit cards.

I am no fan of Bank of America and never have been (even before the bailouts). Last fall BoA took over LaSalle Bank, where my accounts were held at the time, so I closed my accounts and transferred them to a small county bank. ¾ of a year later BoA still sends me statements showing $0 balance, even though I’ve called numerous times to verify that the accounts are closed, not just inactive. Their disorganization and inefficiency is absurd.

BoA also acquired whatever company was previously in charge of my credit card. I rarely use a credit card and immediately pay any balance I do have, so at least BoA is not making money off me (except perhaps by selling my name). Unfortunately, my most recent statement contained two foreign transactions—one for $100.00 Mexican pesos and one for $500.00 Mexican pesos. This comes to less than $50 USD but it is still incorrect. Trying to sort this out is quite a frustrating process. First, the BoA credit card phone tree is worse than most phone trees. Having worked one summer in customer disservice I consider myself decent at manipulating the computers into letting me speak directly with a person. With BoA, I was directed through multiple layers of the phone tree, with the final branch asking the exact question as the first branch. Then I was on hold for 30 minutes, which was bad enough without a southern-accented female voice intoning how much BoA appreciated my business. The “account executive” (minimum wage cubicle worker) who finally answered was most unhelpful at explaining why there were so many long pauses after I answered his questions. Good CSR people are supposed to be quick, and if they are not, they are supposed to describe what they are doing. For example: “Now I am slowly typing your first name. Now I am taking a break to watch YouTube. Now I am slowly typing your last name and misspelling it, even though it already appears on my screen because you input all of your data in the phone tree.”

Anyway, during the course of filing the dispute, the CSR asked me several times if I was sure I hadn’t stayed at a hotel in Mexico. I realize that many people try to pull scams and that the company must therefore exercise caution in accepting fraud reports, but there is also an inconsistency: I personally know a person who plead guilty to a felony involving stealing a BoA credit card, committing identity theft, and making > $20,000 worth of fraudulent charges on the card. BoA is not pursuing the matter because it’s not worth their expenses to try to obtain payment from her. On the other hand, BoA treats a person who truly did not make < $50 of fraudulent charges like a scam artist. And anyway, the CSR said five minutes later, “Oh, it looks like a telecommunications company” (not a hotel).

The CSR also had flawed logic… or should I say the script from which he was reading was flawed. He indicated I should not be worried about identity theft because the charges only occurred on one day, and because a subsequent charge (something I had in fact purchased) was accurate. ?

Anyway, once this is resolved I’d like to cancel the card entirely. As part of homesteading and self-sufficiency it is becoming even more important to me to deal as locally as possible, and to avoid contributing to and participating in a monstrous “system” that is inefficient and unworkable. In the future I suspect there will be a point when I stop participating in this mess at all. For now, I would like to have a small, as-basic-as-possible credit card for the following purposes:
- I sell sheet music; the majority of people want to pay through PayPal; PayPal requires a credit card
- Credit cards serve as a source of identification and things like car rental companies require credit card reservations, even if your final method of payment is different
- They are a type of insurance in case one is traveling and needs to pay for car repairs or emergencies and is not carrying cash.

Therefore I am seeking a card that has a small limit ($500 would be fine), and is NOT OWNED BY A MAJOR BANK. “Perks” such as airline miles, points, and anything even as mildly complicated as cash advances and balance transfers are undesirable. Supposedly independent cards turn out to have payment centers operated by BoA, Chase, etc. If any of you know of or ideally have experience with small, independent credit card companies, please let me know. Thank you.

Monday, June 1, 2009

How to talk to “normal” people?

Lately I’ve been having more trouble than usual talking to average, everyday people, because nearly every topic is contaminated by invalid terms and ideas associated with government. I can only stare blankly at people in genuine confusion because the more I realize the inherent nature of government the less I can comprehend any standards it sets. This inability to communicate is probably not a good thing, especially if we hope to expose others to better ideas. Do any of you know what I mean? If yes, how do you work around this?

Here is an example.

Today at work I read the Food Institute Report, a weekly industry newsletter to which the company I work for subscribes. It reported that New York state started a “War on Obesity.” The governor, David Paterson, introduced a bill to require restaurants, stores, and vendors to display calorie values on menus and menu boards including drive-through windows. “The initiative seeks to help consumers make informed choices when purchasing food away from home.”

I do not understand that seemingly simple sentence because I don’t understand what a “consumer” is and why they need special protection. I don’t understand how this bill increases “informed choice” because nutrition data is already available on websites, brochures, etc. Subway even puts calorie values on its napkins. The FIR newsletter says that 95% of restaurant patrons do not look at this voluntarily provided data. There is no basis to believe anyone would look at the data once it is emblazoned on neon billboards. So I can’t even coherently respond to people who support such a bill because its basic premises don't make any sense.

Then Paterson said, “When people know the amount of calories in their choices, they make better choices.”

How can we begin to show the inaccuracy of this statement, since doing so would require accepting the governor’s (State’s?) implication that a “better” choice is a lower calorie choice, which is hardly the case? But assuming we accepted that false notion and wanted to factually disprove his statement, perhaps we could reference data showing that, since the introduction of food labeling on product packages, obesity rates have continued to rise. For example, in 1994, when The National Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) required product nutrition labeling, the CDC reported that 10-14% of adults were obese in 23 states, and 15-19% of adults were obese in the remaining 27 states. By 2007 only one state had obesity rates below 20%, 19 states had obesity rates ranging from 20-24%, 27 states had obesity at 25-29%, and three states had obesity rates greater than 30%.

This argument would disprove Paterson's faithful assertion. But notice the hidden premises that using the argument would require us to accept:

- We’d have to concede that “consumers” looked at the product labels.

- We’d have to use data from the CDC, a government agency.

- We’d have to accept that eating high calorie foods is itself enough to cause obesity.

- We’d have to accept the government cut-off values for obesity.

- We’d have to accept the government measure of obesity, which is the Body Mass Index, a totally inaccurate assessment of health developed by a Belgian mathematician-astronomer in 1832.! (Ironically, the CDC’s own website admits that BMI is flawed—and admits its own incompetence. After listing some superior methods of measuring body fat it says, “However, these methods are not always readily available, and they are either expensive or need highly trained personnel.” Nice acknowledgement that highly skilled people tend not to work for the government ;-)

Using the CDC data to argue against Paterson’s claim that when people know “better,” they do better, requires accepting all of those hidden premises. I do not accept any of them and therefore can’t even begin to address his statement. The government and its terminology and standards have permeated everything and created an awful mess of our general language and logic.

Richard Daines, the State Health Commissioner, “applauded the Governor’s efforts.” He said, “This legislation … demonstrates Governor Paterson’s dedication to addressing the obesity epidemic and will improve the health and lives of all New Yorkers.”

What does it mean to be “dedicated to addressing” something? How will shoving data in people’s faces and contributing to information overload improve their health and lives?

Senator Thomas Duane said, “New Yorkers can save millions of dollars in health care costs through this simple program and I will fight for its enactment.” Whose money is he talking about? Private insurance? Taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare? What is this “health care cost?” Would health care cost matter to him if private insurance companies were paying for it, rather than fascist state-affiliated programs whose lobbyists were pressuring him? Where is the connection between mandated menu data and improved health? Why does he think that a person who is overfat doesn’t know, in 2009, that French fries contain more calories than an equivalent mass of carrots? Why does he think that a person going to a fast-food drive-through would actually choose a different item when told that a given item has 2,000 calories? Why does he think anyone cares about this?

As you can see, I am genuinely confused and my thoughts are all in a jumble due to government making a complexity out of something that is really quite simple: customers are going to eat what they like and food services should have the freedom to offer those choices.

So when a newspaper article or a co-worker or a random person on the street says something like, “I think that bill is a good idea because it will help people be healthy,” I have no appropriate response.

When presented with similar comments, do you attempt to address them by conceding government standards in your argument? Do you attempt a lengthy explanation? Do you not bother?