Income inequality. Could the third richest man in the world have the “answer?”

Warren Buffett is the third richest man in the world ($72.7 billion). He has mostly supported the notions of our current President – based on that he is not the third smartest man in the world. But he penned the article below which shows a dramatic insight into “income inequality.” Maybe he is the “third smartest person” in the world.

And thanks to HP for sending this to me.

Better Than Raising the Minimum Wage, Help Americans who need it with a major, carefully crafted expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Warren Buffett

The American Dream promises that a combination of education, hard work and good behavior can move any citizen from humble beginnings to at least reasonable success. And for many, that promise has been fulfilled. At the extreme, we have the Forbes 400, most of whom did not come from privileged backgrounds.

Recently, however, the economic rewards flowing to people with specialized talents have grown dramatically faster than those going to equally decent men and women possessing more commonplace skills. In 1982, the first year the Forbes 400 was compiled, those listed had a combined net worth of $93 billion. Today, the 400 possess $2.3 trillion, up 2,400% in slightly more than three decades, a period in which the median household income rose only about 180%.

Meanwhile, a huge number of their fellow citizens have been living the American Nightmare—behaving well and working hard but barely getting by. In 1982, 15% of Americans were living below the poverty level; in 2013 the proportion was nearly the same, a dismaying 14.5%. In recent decades, our country’s rising tide has not lifted the boats of the poor.

No conspiracy lies behind this depressing fact: The poor are most definitely not poor because the rich are rich. Nor are the rich undeserving. Most of them have contributed brilliant innovations or managerial expertise to America’s well-being. We all live far better because of Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton and the like.

Instead, this widening gap is an inevitable consequence of an advanced market-based economy. Think back to the agrarian America of only 200 years ago. Most jobs could then be ably performed by most people. In a world where only primitive machinery and animals were available to aid farmers, the difference in productivity between the most talented among them and those with ordinary skills was modest.

Many other jobs of that time could also be carried out by almost any willing worker. True, some laborers would outdo others in intelligence or hustle, but the market value of their output would not differ much from that of the less talented.

Visualize an overlay graphic that positioned the job requirements of that day atop the skills of the early American labor force. Those two elements of employment would have lined up reasonably well. Not today. A comparable overlay would leave much of the labor force unmatched to the universe of attractive jobs.

That mismatch is neither the fault of the market system nor the fault of the disadvantaged individuals. It is simply a consequence of an economic engine that constantly requires more high-order talents while reducing the need for commodity-like tasks.

The remedy usually proposed for this mismatch is education. Indeed, a top-notch school system available to all is hugely important. But even with the finest educational system in the world, a significant portion of the population will continue, in a nation of great abundance, to earn no more than a bare subsistence.

To see why that is true, imagine we lived in a sports-based economy. In such a marketplace, I would be a flop. You could supply me with the world’s best instruction, and I could endlessly strive to improve my skills. But, alas, on the gridiron or basketball court I would never command even a minimum wage. The brutal truth is that an advanced economic system, whether it be geared to physical or mental skills, will leave a great many people behind.

In my mind, the country’s economic policies should have two main objectives. First, we should wish, in our rich society, for every person who is willing to work to receive income that will provide him or her a decent lifestyle. Second, any plan to do that should not distort our market system, the key element required for growth and prosperity.

That second goal crumbles in the face of any plan to sizably increase the minimum wage. I may wish to have all jobs pay at least $15 an hour. But that minimum would almost certainly reduce employment in a major way, crushing many workers possessing only basic skills. Smaller increases, though obviously welcome, will still leave many hardworking Americans mired in poverty.

(OK. Up to this point I agree completely and better understand income inequality. What follows, I cannot subscribe to – not because I know it to be wrong. I simply can’t see far enough down the road he proposes we take to see all of the unintended consequences. Remember, however, we have already “invested” $22 trillion on the “War on Poverty.” It is difficult to imagine the solution he proposes will cost as much or be less successful. You can revisit my three-part series on “Poor in America.” – RF).

The better answer is a major and carefully crafted expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which currently goes to millions of low-income workers. Payments to eligible workers diminish as their earnings increase. But there is no disincentive effect: A gain in wages always produces a gain in overall income. The process is simple: You file a tax return, and the government sends you a check.

In essence, the EITC rewards work and provides an incentive for workers to improve their skills. Equally important, it does not distort market forces, thereby maximizing employment.

The existing EITC needs much improvement. Fraud is a big problem; penalties for it should be stiffened. There should be widespread publicity that workers can receive free and convenient filing help. An annual payment is now the rule; monthly installments would make more sense, since they would discourage people from taking out loans while waiting for their refunds to come through. Dollar amounts should be increased, particularly for those earning the least.

There is no perfect system, and some people, of course, are unable or unwilling to work. But the goal of the EITC—a livable income for everyone who works—is both appropriate and achievable for a great and prosperous nation. Let’s replace the American Nightmare with an American Promise: America will deliver a decent life for anyone willing to work.

Mr. Buffett is chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

Roy Filly

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OK. I couldn’t resist.

The following video shows us what the Muslim world thinks of our current President. As a patriot, I do not like the idea of foreigners casting aspersions on the holder of the highest office in the land. However, you can judge for yourself if they speak the truth.

And thanks to Bay Area Patriots for sending this to me.

Roy Filly

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School choice.

During the upcoming election you will hear heated debates about school choice. I favor vouchers, charter schools, educational savings accounts, and tax credit scholarships for low income Americans – just so you know from which side I am coming.

As it turns out “school choice” is already widely practiced in America. I can already anticipate your charge that sending one’s children to private schools is not “school choice.” You may be surprised that I agree. I am talking about exercising one’s freedom to send one’s children to the public school of the parents choice. OK, say you. You’ve lost me Dr. Filly. Parents DO NOT have freedom to send their children to the public school of their choice. That is what the current argument is all about, you exclaim – and quite testily I would add.

Ah, but you are wrong. They do indeed choose their childrens’ public schools, but it is near to equally as expensive as private schools. My children went to public schools – but I and my wife my wife CHOSE THEM!

[Source: Free the students, by John C. Goodman]

The vast majority of parents are already participating in a system of school choice. Here’s how it works:

The last time I counted, there were 79 school districts within a 50-mile radius of downtown Dallas. Assuming each district has at least two campuses at each grade level, a typical family has a choice of about 158 public schools — provided the parents can afford to buy a house in any neighborhood and are willing to drive a considerable distance to work.

How well does this system work? Better than you might think. A study by researchers at Southern Methodist University and the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank found that North Dallas houses near higher-ranking elementary schools sold for about 20 percent more than houses near lower-ranking schools. The authors conclude that the market for education works surprisingly well. Parents can discern quality and the market charges a premium for it.

… Although most Highland Park homes are inside the Highland Park Independent School District (HPISD), a few are in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). Gibson found that, all else equal, homes on the HPISD side of the street sell for 24 percent more than those on the DISD side. This implied that many Highland Park homeowners were paying about $72,000 just for the right to send their children to Highland Park schools.

More recently, scholars at the Brookings Institution investigated the same phenomena nationwide:

  • Across the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring one.
  • This housing cost gap reflects the fact that home values are $205,000 higher on average in the neighborhoods of high-scoring schools (Almost as expensive as a “view” in San Francisco – RF).

This, of course, is just another way to exclude the children of the poor from good quality education. Now ask yourself which political party wants this to change? Vote wisely in the next election.

Roy Filly

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The liberal media has come out swinging – at the left!

When I think of extreme left wing opinion writers, I think of most of the people on the Washington Post editorial board. Perhaps the New York Times editorial board is a skosh further to the left but one would need a micrometer caliper to measure the difference.

Which editorial writers lead the left-list at the Washington Post, ask you? Well, let’s see, answer I. I would say David Ignatius, Kathleen Parker, Ruth Marcus and Dana Milbank. Listed below are the titles of their most recent editorials:

David Ignatius: A tragic replay in Ramadi. A year after Mosul fell, the Iraq army and U.S. strategy collapse again.

The capture of Ramadi last weekend by Islamic State fighters is a significant setback for U.S. strategy in Iraq and shows that, nearly a year after the extremists overran Mosul, the United States (i.e., the Obama administration) still doesn’t have a viable plan for protecting the country’s Sunni areas.

Kathleen Parker: Trigger warnings, colleges, and the “Swaddled Generation.” Killing free speech on campus to protect against unpleasant thoughts…

It seems that mostly conservative sites and writers are concerned with the increas-ingly draconian suppression of free speech on college campuses. But then, it is mostly conservative writers and speakers who are treated as though they’re bringing the Ebola virus rather than contrarian ideas to the sensitive ears of what we may as well name the “Swaddled Generation.”

Ruth Marcus: A bogus argument against the trade deal. Secrecy is a phony reason to scuttle the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

One of the most seemingly compelling arguments against the free-trade legislation now before Congress turns out to be largely bogus.

Dana Milbank: Hillary Clinton’s hypocrisy.

If she really thinks money is corrupting politics, she can take concrete steps right now. She could pledge to return immediately to the public finance system and call on pro-Clinton super PACs to cease and desist….

Remember that John McCain offered to keep his pledge to use the public finance system. Barack Obama made the same pledge – except that when hundreds of millions of dollars poured into his campaign he demurred.

I think this is going to be an interesting election.

Roy Filly

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The Baltimore and Ferguson riots.

The cartoon below is, sad to say, closer to the truth than the placards of the protesters in the Baltimore riots.

IMG_0246

Ah, yes. The Great Society. Well after 50 years of wasting money, it turns out it wasn’t so “great.” It was on January 8, 1964 that President Lyndon B. Johnson presented his State of the Union Annual Message to Congress in which he outlined his “Great Society” program (a $20 trillion taxpayer-funded war on poverty) with its astounding number of proposals to enrich the life of man. “This administration today, here and now,” he thundered, “declares unconditional war on poverty in America.” Fifteen percent of Americans lived in poverty in 1964 and fifteen percent of Americans live in poverty today.

The federal government currently runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans. Government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012 alone, and roughly 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. (That figure doesn’t include Social Security or Medicare benefits.) Federal and state welfare spending, adjusted for inflation, is 16 times greater than it was in 1964.

Although there were suspicions that many “participants” in the Ferguson demonstration weren’t local community members at odds with the police force, but rather bused in agitators, today the truth came out. Unfortunately for the organizations that bused them in for the “riots,” the agitators are now agitating against the very organizations that hired them. Why is that, ask you? Because, answer I, they HAVEN’t BEEN PAID!

Hired protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement have started a #CutTheCheck hashtag and held a sit-in at the offices for the successor group to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in Missouri after the group allegedly stopped paying them.

God save the United States of America from progressive/statist/altruists!

And thanks to JM for sending this to me.

Roy Filly

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Bush v Obama and the subject of “lying.”

Progressive/statist/altruists are commonly heard to say President Bush “lied” about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

Lie: an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive.

But, it is abundantly clear that President Bush was given spurious information by his intelligence services.

[Source: Discover the networks.org, WMD: Pre- and post-invasion intelligence]

Critics of the Iraq War have consistently claimed that George W. Bush misled the U.S. into an immoral and/or unnecessary conflict by lying repeatedly about an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that Saddam Hussein allegedly possessed and might supply these weapons to terrorists like those who had already attacked America on 9/11.

Democrat Senator Harry Reid spoke for a host of other opponents of the war in insisting “the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq.” Senator Ted Kennedy depicted the war as a sinister plot “made up in Texas” and sold to Congress because it “was going to be good politically” for President Bush. “The whole thing was a fraud,” said Kennedy. Former Vice President Al Gore charged that Bush was “engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate the facts in service to a totalistic ideology,” and that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with WMD, but rather had been “pre-ordained and planned before 9/11 ever took place.”

These post hoc assertions had no basis in reality and were demonstrably lies themselves.

In fact, however, George Tenet, George W. Bush’s CIA director, assured the President that the case for Saddam possessing WMD was “a slam dunk.” In this assessment, Tenet had the backing of all fifteen agencies involved in gathering intelligence for the United States. The National Intelligence Estimate of 2002, where their collective views were summarized, asserted with “high confidence” that “Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions.

The intelligence agencies of Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Israel, and France all agreed with this judgment. Even Hans Blix—who headed the UN team of inspectors trying to determine whether Saddam had complied with the demands of the Security Council that he dispose of the WMD he was known to have had in the past—lent further credibility to the case in a report he issued only a few months before the invasion:

“The discovery of a number of … chemical rocket warheads in a bunker at a storage depot 170 km southwest of Baghdad was much publicized. This was a relatively new bunker, and therefore the rockets must have been moved there in the past few years, at a time when Iraq should not have had such munitions…. They could also be the tip of a submerged iceberg. The discovery … points to the issue of several thousands of chemical rockets that are unaccounted for.”

Therefore, the accusations that President Bush lied are themselves falsifications, exaggerations, prevarications, and taradiddles, if one actually knows the definition of the word, lie.

However, by contrast, there can be little doubt any longer that President Obama has lied about virtually everything he said in the run up to the 2012 election about al Qaeda. Obama described al Qaeda as having been “decimated,” “on the path to defeat” or some other variation at least 32 times.

When specifically asked whether he thought it appropriate to lie to the American public under certain circumstances, he was quite clear in his answer.

Q: Describe a situation when you think it’s appropriate to lie to the American people.

A: I don’t think it’s appropriate to lie to the American people. And I think that one of the things I want to change about the culture of Washington is, not just the “big lie,” but also the “soft lie.” The fudging, the manipulation, the spin. If we can restore a sense of trust between the American people and their government, we’re going to go a long way to changing the country for the better.

Q: What about in a national security situation?

A: I don’t think it’s appropriate to lie. I mean, you can put together a hypothetical where there is a national security emergency that is imminent. And you don’t want to provide, for example, the location of our troops. You don’t have to lie in those situations. You simply say, “we’re not answering questions.”

The President has stated that, “The world is less violent than it has ever been. We devastated al Qaeda’s leadership. The goal that I set — to defeat al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild — is now within our reach.”

Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn is the former Defense Intelligence Agency Director. This is the man who was in charge of the Pentagon’s intelligence wing – UNDER President Obama. He revealed in an interview with Brett Baier that in May of 2012, when Obama was giving speeches about our successful efforts against al Qaeda the information pointed the opposite direction. According to Flynn, he was aware of no information that would suggest to Obama that al Qaeda’s defeat was in reach. In fact, in the interview, the retired general said that he couldn’t say that al Qaeda’s defeat was in reach now, in 2015.

I could go on and on. The difference is that Obama was saying these things when his intelligence agencies were saying exactly the opposite.

Watch the interview with General Flynn. It is enlightening to say the least! And sorry you will need to watch a commercial first.

Roy Filly

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Liberals weren’t always, “Tax, tax, tax.”

Although Lyndon Bains Johnson’s “Great Society” programs have nearly bankrupted our nation, he did embrace the tax cuts proposed by John F. Kennedy before his assassination. The Revenue Act of 1964 was a bipartisan (What does “bipartisan” mean, ask you?) tax cut bill signed by Johnson in February, 1964. Individual income tax rates were cut across the board by approximately 20%. In addition to individual income tax cuts, the act reduced corporate tax rates and introduced a minimum standard deduction.

According to today’s liberals (known as progressives because the word “liberal” carried the “tax and spend” taint by 1980) that should have been anathema to the poor. They were “helping” the “poor” with the “war on poverty,” a $15 trillion fiasco which, had it never been initiated, would mean we would have only a $3 trillion national debt today instead of an $18 trillion debt.

But I digress. Let us return to the “dire” effects of the tax cuts instituted by one of the biggest liberals of all time. Please remember that the numbers are reflections of the time. Johnson’s tax cut measure triggered what one historian said was “the greatest prosperity of the postwar years.” The US Gross National Product increased by 7% in 1964, 8% in 1965, and 9% in 1966. The unemployment rate fell below 5% (economists consider that “full employment”). By 1966 the number of families with incomes of $7,000 a year or more had reached 55%, compared with 22% in 1950. In 1968, when John Kenneth Galbraith published a new edition of The Affluent Society, the average income of the American family had doubled from what it had been a only decade earlierDisposable personal income rose 15% in 1966 alone. The Obama administration, great tax raisers, have seen middle class incomes decrease.

But “progressives” will quickly warn that deficits will skyrocket and federal tax revenues will plummet if we lower taxes! So, was that true. Au contraire, mon ami! Federal revenues increased dramatically from $94 billion in 1963 to $150 billion in 1967. The next big “tax-cutting” President was Ronald Reagan. His administration spawned the greatest rise in wealth in the shortest period of time in the history of the world – and again, federal tax revenues increased.

My friends, you will hear arguments by the Democrat Party that tax cuts are a “windfall” for the wealthy. To some extent that is true, but only because they have so muddled the tax code that only the top 20% of earners pay virtually every penny of income taxes (footnote).

Roy Filly

Footnote:

408chart images

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Statist’s view of taxation.

If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets, and all that don’t get wet you can keep.

Will Rogers

When there’s a single thief, it’s robbery. When there are a thousand thieves, it’s taxation.

Vanya Cohen

The nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.

William Simon

I say this only partially tongue in cheek that statist’s think that all of our earnings belong to the government and we should be grateful for that portion we are permitted to keep and spend. The left often speaks of government “handouts” to the “rich.” A progressive/ statist/altruist thinks of “deductions” as giveaways. If the deduction happens to favor someone who has earned more than the poverty level, then it was a “gift” from government to that citizen.

[Source: In the Left’s Orwellian World, Taxpayers Who Get to Keep their Income Are Getting “Handouts,” by Daniel J. Mitchell]

Importantly here, I am speaking of income taxes. As I have pointed out in previous posts, when transfers from government to individuals are added in (true “gifts” from Uncle Sam) nearly every penny of income taxes is payed by the top quintile of earners (see graph).

images

As a preamble to the following, allow me to say that if a flat tax were proposed and passed that eliminated every last “gift” (i.e., tax deduction) to taxpayers, I would applaud this action. I believe it is time for a new Barry Goldwater. Goldwater said, “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” And then, perhaps my favorite Goldwater quote, “The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government.”

These typical “gifts” bestowed on taxpayers (i.e., deductions) include: [Paraphrased from the Mitchell article]

  1. The mortgage interest deduction for big houses and second homes.

I don’t think the tax code should be tilted in favor of residential real estate. But a handout is when the government takes money from Person A and gives it to Person B.

2. Rental property.

Progressive/statists are upset that people running a business get to subtract costs from gross income when calculating net income. But even if progressive/statists thought that gross income was the right tax base, this still isn’t an example of government taking from Person A to give to Person B.

3. The capital gains tax rate.

In a good tax system, there’s no double taxation of income that is saved and invested, therefore I would abolish the capital gains tax. As such, the “preferential” rate in the current system is more accurately characterized as a mitigation of a “double taxation” penalty. But even if one believes that saving and investment should be double taxed, a lower capital gains tax rate doesn’t take money from Person A to give to Person B.

4. The estate tax.

The death tax is triple taxation. Regardless, letting a family hold onto its own money is not the same as taking from Person A to give to Person B.

5. Gambling loss deductions.

I don’t gamble, but that doesn’t alter the fact that gambling is legal in some circumstances. As such, the government should only tax gamblers on their net winnings (if any), which is the proper approach. And even if the government gave a deduction for net losses (which isn’t the case), this wouldn’t be an example of taking from Person A and giving to Person B.

6. The Social Security earnings limit.

The Social Security system is supposed to be social insurance, and one of the implications of this approach is that there’s a limit on the benefits one can receive and the payments one has to make. As such, it’s silly to assert that the “wage base cap” is somehow improper. But even if one believed in turning Social Security into a pure redistribution scheme, the existing earnings limit simply means a cap on what the government takes. There’s no coerced handout from Person A to Person B.

7. Retirement plans.

The bad news is that we have pervasive double taxation in the internal revenue code. The good news is that some forms of retirement savings, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, are protected from double taxation. That protection does not require any money being taken from Person A and given to Person B.

There are, of course, other areas of double taxation and other areas where progressive/ statists view tax deductions as tax giveaways, but I think my point has been made.

Roy Filly

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Huge tax on the poor.

There is a $70 billion tax every year and the poor pay the lion’s share of it. Even we stingy Republicans would say that’s unfair.

[Source: Why you should never, ever play the lottery, by Matt O’Brien]

What are you talking about, Dr. Filly, ask you? The lottery, answer I. The least fortunate, the desperate, are the Americans who are far and away most likely to purchase lottery tickets. The amount of money squandered on lottery tickets comes to an astounding $300 per year per adult American. However those in the bottom third of income purchase more than half of these tickets. That calculates as follows: households earning less than $28,000 per year purchase, on average, $450 worth of lottery tickets.

Why would I call that a tax? It is, after all, a voluntary purchase. The reason is that a large amount of those dollars goes to schools. Those schools would otherwise be supported by property taxes – property taxes that do not need to be paid by property owners.

But, counter you, they have a chance to win millions. Indeed, that is true. They might win tens of millions of dollars in a Powerball jackpot and the odds are only 175 millions to one against them winning.

When one considers other things with better odds, one must step back and wonder. For example, death at the “hands” of a vending machine is only 112 million to one. On average, two people in the U.S. are crushed to death underneath vending machines each year. Remember that when you pull too firmly on the vending machine handle. We all fear dying in an airline-related terrorist attack. Here the odds are only 25 million to one. Getting struck by lightening is 175 times more likely than winning the Powerball. One is actually more likely to die in an asteroid apocalypse than to win the Powerball.

[From the O’Brien article] It’s not that poor people don’t understand that the lottery has a near-zero chance of making them dynastically wealthy. It’s that they think everything else has an actually-zero chance… People making less than $30,000 are 25-percent more likely to say that they buy lottery tickets for money than for fun, while it’s the opposite for everyone else. State lotteries, in other words, don’t just prey on poor people’s dreams—they do that for everyone—but rather on desperate dreams.

It appears that preying on the “desperate dreams” of the poor is one of the few things in politics that is truly bipartisan. Below are the states that do (Blue) and do not (Gray) have lotteries. Neither red or blue states can resist getting their sticky little fingers on this cash.

Stateswithlotto

Only 5 out of 50 states put the old kibosh on lotteries and one of them is NEVADA! Well, Nevada sucks the life out of poor people with innumerable other ways to fritter away their money.

So, Dr. Filly, do you want to be a killjoy and rid the world of lotteries, ask you? No answer I. There is a better way. [From the O’Brien article] …Abolish (the lotteries) and replace them with prize-linked savings. What’s that? Well, it’s an idea so good that it seemed destined to only exist at think tank conferences. It’s a system where instead of each person earning interest on their savings, all the interest is pooled together and then raffled off. So in the worst case, people have saved money that they otherwise would have lost on lottery tickets, and in the best they won a nice little cash prize on top of their little nest egg. Or, as the Bipartisan Policy Center puts it, prize-linked savings are “a lottery with no losers.” Now, up until last year, banks hadn’t been allowed to do this in all but a handful of states, but, in a stunning act of competency, Congress got rid of all the federal hurdles in the way.

Ya’ know! I like that idea!

Roy Filly

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Postscript – I forgot to add.

In this morning’s post I forgot to add one salient feature. Look carefully at that graph again (below).

ar5-scenarios

Basically, the reason “alarmists” are always “correct” is that their “models” predict EVERY CONCEIVABLE OUTCOME! No matter what happens in the next 85 years, one or the other of these innumerable graphs will have PREDICTED THAT END RESULT!

Roy Filly

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