Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Social Security Migration to New Blog

Since November 2004 the primary function of this blog has been to serve as a personal resource repository for Social Security materials, but from the beginning most of my actual work was done commenting on other blogs and then after May 2008 as the main Social Security blogger on econoblog Angry Bear Meanwhile this blog has served a dual function as a personal and at times family blog. Well it is time to formalize the split.

Social Security was for me always more of a hobby than anything, but in the last two and a half years it has become central enough that I am hoping to move it to the center of my professional life, which among other things attempting to secure funding either via sponsors or advertising on my new dedicated blog called Social Security Defender. Additionally the website dailyKos is rolling out a new platform that allows the hosting of individual and group blogs within the confines of dKos and so piggy-backing on its current half a million hits a day. So over the next few months I expect to migrate most of the resource links from the Bruce Web to Social Security Defender on blogspot while mirroring some of that on a dKos Bruce Webb individual and a Social Security Defender (or related name) dKos group blog. I also expect to keep cross-posting much of the Social Security policy to Angry Bear.

The end result may or may not leave The Bruce Web an orphan. Once I disconnect it from the world of Social Security policy where veddy, veddy serious people might chance upon it, I can make it a truly personal blog. For example I have always taken an interest in my family history and carried around materials related to it, starting last week I have begun to take it from dusty paper and old photo form to shareable electronic form.

In any event any old or new Social Security friends (or foes) who have this site bookmarked or blog-rolled it is probably time to update to

Bruce Web goes in new/old direction

Saturday, November 13, 2010

So Much for Daily Updates

My original plan of putting up something, anything every day seems to have gone by the wayside. In part because the weather has been such that I couldn't get any good photos going, plus I have been busy selling/trading books and moving things back and forth from storage. The above shot is another one from the Montlake Bridge this time capturing a boat in crew practice along with the coaching boat.

Oh and some other things intervened. Like an election. And the release of the Chairmen's proposal from the Obama Deficit Commission. Both of which sparked some comments from me around the blogosphere, but not so much at the BruceWeb. So we will have to see how things go.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sic Transit Bruce

Just a pun, I haven't 'passed over', but I am going to avail myself of an impressively integrated set of transit systems here. Seattle and its surrounding Metro area are served by a complex mix of buses, trollies, light rail, heavy rail and of course passenger-auto ferries operated by an equally complex set of transit agencies. But last year they introduced an electronic fare card that allows seamless transfers between systems or just within a selected one. For example I had my ORCA card loaded with an Everett Transit Pass plus a few extra cash dollars in case I needed to take a countywide Community Transit bus. In which latter case I was credited with the first 75 cents of the fare. In October I have been in transition between Everett and Seattle and just paid via the cash stored on my card, with credit for transfers within the window. Starting tomorrow I have an unlimited $2.25 card meaning I can take any number of trips per day and have the first $2.25 covered.

For example I plan to go to my old stomping grounds every Sunday to pick up mail and watch some football with Everett friends. Today that will cost me $2.00 on Seattle-Metro to get to the transfer point to the Everett Express but only $1.00 more to cover the $3.00 normal fare to Everett. And the same back for a total of $6. But next week, with the November pass enabled, the whole round trip will cost $4.25 with no extra cost if I stop somewhere in Seattle on the way back, or take a trip downtown before. Anyway once the monthly pass is paid for it is a positive incentive to play tourist, the marginal cost of visiting a new neighborhood or park within the city being zero. And ditto for the digital camera, for the price of a couple of AAs and my existing internet plans I am good to go.

Above picture also from the Pike Place Market yesterday.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Settling In

Weather has been pretty miserable even by Seattle standards but I was able to catch a brief sunbreak to take the top shot from the Montlake Bridge looking West. My new place would be just out of frame to the left (South) while the Univ of Washington campus and specifically the UW Medical Center is to the right (North). The Montlake Cut was just that, an artificial cut to join the once land-locked Lake Washington to Portage Bay and ultimately Puget Sound. It offers a near perfect location for crew racing being mostly sheltered from crosswinds.

This shot was from the Pike Street Public Market though not the actual famous fish shop where they throw fish. You don't get a good idea of scale here but the big Kings (aka Chinooks) in the lower right are easily three feet long. BTW while the first photo was from a digital camera the fish picture is from an iPhone and doesn't really do the scene justice.
Update: the Pike Street Public Market iconic Pig

Monday, October 25, 2010

The BruceWeb Has Landed

Well this has been an interesting two weeks. On October 14th I moved out of my place in Everett and on the Friday the 15th arrived in the University District of Seattle for house/room hunting. After a disappointing weekend I stumbled on a pretty nice situation. For those of you who know Everett Seattle I found a room in a shared house at the northernmost tip of the Montlake District, across the Montlake Cut from the University of Washington campus. The house, though a little shabby compared to its House Beautiful type neighbors, is warm and dry (the latter being REAL important in Seattle) and is perfectly situated on major bus runs going just about anywhere in Seattle and in fact the region you would want to go to work/play. The weather is miserable this week and my unlimited transit pass doesn't kick in until Nov 1st so I won't put up photos and such here just yet. But in my spare time I fully plan to play camera snapping tourist this winter and spring.

I am still moving some stuff in from storage and stocking the pantry and haven't ventured to explore the campus and community resources but I think this is going to be just fine. And when I hit my stride I will try to put up more topical blogging on Social Security etc.

A new phase begins.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

More stuff shifted

Oddly still haven't walked around my new neighborhood, instead just shuttling between storage facilities here and there. But in a week I'm back in a college town.

And yes this blogging from iPhone thing DOES work in a pinch.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Pre-move plus one. Testing iGoogle

In theory I can post via my iPhone via IGoogle. So here goes.

Got a lot of staging done for my second stuff move this next weekend. The shift getting more real by the day.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Moving Day One: the Pre-Move Goods Shift

No turning back now. This afternoon my buddy Kip and I are going to take a van load of my stuff to a new storage unit across the street from the U of Washington campus. I'll still be sleeping in Everett for the next couple of weeks but after today my center of gravity is going to be 30 miles South. Where things actually happen. Everett is a nice enough place and downtown at least is getting nicer all the time (it was pretty gritty when I moved here and not yuppie friendly even now) but even its biggest booster would admit there is nothing there to draw people on weekends. Mostly you could shoot a cannonball the whole length of Colby Ave on Sunday (the main drag) and not risk hitting a moving object.

So big changes in store for me.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Bruce is Turning the Page/Leaving the Building

Bruce has been living and working (and then not working) in Everett Washington since 1993 but his time here is running short. Starting October 15th I will be living (and looking for work) in the University District of Seattle. The U-District being a whole lot more wired internet wise than Everett and Bruce for the time being having unlimited time on his hands means taking this blog once again live.

The Bruce Web started as a Social Security policy blog in Nov. 2004 and still serves as a resource for that. But since 2008 I have been doing my SS blogging at econoblog Angry Bear with an index here (see right side-bar). I also have a job seeking blog with my resume at The PlanWebb. But for now my plan for THIS blog is to take it back to the blogging roots, just my daily or whenever notes and observations on whatever passes my fancy.

Well it is Saturday and approaching noon. Which means college football and beer! Roll On You Bears! Cal Bears that is.

More later/tomorrow/manana/whenever.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

2010 Social Security Report

Update: Report is up and these links work. Detailed discussion starts at Angry Bear Let the (Social Security) Games Begin!

The 2010 Report of the Trustees of Social Security is due out at noon DC time on Thurs Aug 5th. Assuming the Trustees use the same file name conventions as they have in the past the following links should come live right as the Report is released to the web. If for some reason they are different you should be able to access the PDF and HTML versions or order the paper version at Reports from the Board of Trustees

Entry page
Table of Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures

I will be posting extracts from the Report plus commentary at Angry Bear immediately after Report release.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Social Security: 'Where's the Report?'/Catfood Comm Ed

Upcoming Attractions in Social Security Mar 21

Will the President's Commission Use CBO or SSA Numbers? Mar 27

Overfixing Social Security: the Importance of Honest Scoring Mar 31

Actual List of Social Security Trust Fund Assets April 10

Social Security and the Infinite Future: 1997 to Heat Death of the Sun

How Deficit Commission Painted Itself into Corner on Social Security

Catfood Commission Update: Simpson on a Hot Tin Roof

CBO Scores Social Security Policy Options

Why the Pelosi Rule MAY Not Be a Sellout of Social Security

Social Security: Deficit, Debt and How CBO Scoring Screws the Catfood Commission

If a Social Security Report Vanishes into the Forest

Who Scores the Deficit Commission? CBO or OACT

Intergenerational Real Benefits in Social Security (Rosser's Equation Illustrated)

Social Security Update: 3 Items of Note

It arrives on Aug 5th. 2010 Social Security Report

Let the Social Security Games Begin!: 2010 Report Released

Social Security Report: a Surprising Drop in 75 yr Actuarial Gap

Notes on the 2010 Social Security Report: Day 2

Fall 2009-Spring 2010

CBO's Long Term Projections for Social Security: 2009 UpdateAug 9

Social Security: An UpdateOct

Bashing Reagan on Social Security: Don't Go There Nov 25

Why Soc Sec TF Balances Grow in a Time of RecessionJan 22

Krasting v Angry Bear on Social Security: 'Critical' Interest Rates Jan 31

Obama and Social Security: NewDealDemocrat Tees Off Feb 16

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blogging vs Commenting

Well I just spent the morning writing and posting extensive comments, and sometimes multiple extensive comments on other people's blogs, comments that would have made a reasonably solid blog post here. Well that is kind of dumb, first of all comment threads are more ephemeral than blog posts, particularly in places like dKos where things scroll by like crazy.

Anyway I was just about to post the following at Washington Monthly when I realized I had nothing up here today. It is not quite in a finished format, in part because I knew it was just ephemeral, but it allows me to check out my new iPad as an editor (I am writing this from home).

Well I left a comment when this just showed up at the WaPo making the point some have made here, lots of good things happen at the front end.

But the biggest problem for Republicans is that the single weakest point of the bill, the one being attacked by the Republican AGs from the Right and the Firepups and others from the Left, the piece that would be the very LAST to be taken out of a repeal bill is the only piece that makes it work for the R's corporate masters. I speak of course of the individual mandate.

You already hear R rumblings about keeping this little piece and that little piece and inevitably those are the ones with the biggest negative impact on AHIP member profits.

It is the same dynamic that has Republicans trapped on their call to repeal the Stimulus Bill, because that is immediately going to draw calls for "excepts". Well except for that extra funding for cops, except for that extra funding for rural projects, well and God knows we NEED that water project, in the end they are likely to except themselves to death. Because in the end Congressmen LUV waving those oversize cardboard checks around, and nobody is going to be happy knowing he just voted to cut the money that was going to fund the upgrade of the sewer plant or build that new school.

There probably is not a single suburb or small town or rural area that is not familiar with the 'Little Suzy from Down the Street is going to Die without an Operation" Donation jar on the cashier's counter at the local market, complete with a smiling picture of Little Suzy before she got sick and maybe after. Because Dad got laid off or the family hit their lifetime limit or whatever. Democrats can go right to the people and tell them they don't need to be holding bake sales for cancer patients, instead they can go back to using them to raise money for softball teams or playgrounds.

Is it playing rough to use poster children? Well I don't see why, just about every disease awareness campaign in history has personalized, think of 'Jerry's Kids'. Republicans are trying hard to make this all about taking your dollars away to give to undeserving Others, but in the case of health care that Other includes people you know, after all we are talking about 1 out of every 6 people in the country and by and large not counting poor people.

Now this may not be true for people living in a senior community or you may be so young and dumb that you think you will never need to see a doctor or 'they have to treat you' (they don't, not for everything, ask Little Suzy). But in most places around this country 1 in 5 or 6 of the people shopping in that supermarket has to think twice or three times before going to a doctor, buy groceries or check out that cough. Which is probably just sinuses and not H1N1, is it worth $160 to find out?
To be continued and polished.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Testing the iPad as blogging devuce

Got the iPad a week ago and mostly exploring it as a web browser and eReader in conjunction with my portable wireless WiFi. Whichnis a device the size of a credit card. So far so good, although it doesn't play well with the JS-Kit comment system. Don't know why, that works fine on a iPhone running essentially the same software combo.

Anyway going to try to post this, and then move on to HTML and image uploads.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Insufferable iPad Bleatings-Off to the Mall

On my way out the door hopefully to score an iPad today. Meaning it is time for the haters to step up. I think this is going to be the greatest advance in human history since the second biggest advance, which of course was baked bread. (The biggest advance obviously being the genius that let grain spoil in exactly the right way to make beer.)

Some people have had iPads in their hands for 48 hours. Others are sickened to death over the hype. Here is your chance to express your opinion either way or on anything else at all prior to Bruce getting his hands on one.

Open tech thread.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Passes: What now?

Well everything and nothing. The world moved under our feet and yet we won't feel anything right away. But some random thoughts.

No more sniffles in the Emergency Room. If you're kid is sick you take him to your doctor, or to Bernie Sander's newly funded Community Health Centers. 15 million people, including for the first time working poor singles, will be added to Medicaid, if you need to see a doctor you make an appointment, or walk in.

Near elimination of cost shifting due to non-reimbursed care. Currently hospitals are squeezed from both ends, on the one side having to negotiate with insurers to lower costs, on the other side providing care that they know they will never be able to collect for, and in the middle the uninsured or underinsured who get the resultant cost-shifting, and if they have assets can end up losing them all. Over time this should just level out, a medical procedure will cost what it does, whether you are publicly or privately insured. And among other things this will revolutionize charitable hospitals including the Catholic and Jewish systems. In my town both main hospitals are run by the Sisters of Providence who have a sterling record of writing off care to those who can't afford to pay, in turn sucking down huge amounts of money from the various parishes that support them, now those donated funds can go other directions.

No more collection jars on the store counter for poor Lexi or some other child who can't afford a needed operation. No more TV features of some struggling family facing destitution because Dad maxed out his lifetime limit on his insurance and Mom is still sick, no more stories about how in the richest country on earth people could still be dying because they simply couldn't afford the care anymore.

Things you would never have thought of. Nowadays people have medical riders on their car insurance in case of traumatic injury. Probably no longer necessary except perhaps for long term care. Same with AFLAC and other suppliers of supplemental insurance, with no annual or lifetime limits why carry a cancer policy?

Transformation of the labor/employer power balance. Practically every major labor struggle over the last twenty years has revolved around health care coverage with employers implicitly or explicitly threatening to just drop it altogether if they don't get the wage or cost-sharing concessions they want. Now in a lot of cases they won't be able to drop coverage even if they want to or have to pay a per employee subsidy to the Exchange to help pay for individual coverage.

These are just random thoughts on the morning after. But we haven't begun to think through all the ramifications of this.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jeez, its been a month

since I checked in here. And close to that at Angry Bear. But I am still around and still thinking about stuff but not with enough intensity to actually get a coherent piece together. But a hint of things to come.

Today is the day for Health Care Reform. It is a big day for me, for a variety of reasons I would never get insured through the individual market under the rules operating today, and the market for jobs with such coverage from the employer being kind of bleak in my field (property research and development). But it is a bigger day for the country, this will be transformative in ways that go far beyond simple health outcomes.

One example is the breaking of the handcuffs that keep people stuck with their employers. I had a co-worker who was independently wealthy, he had parlayed a successful career in commercial real estate into shrewd investing into what I surmised was a pretty comfortable portfolio. His hobby was to go on cruises and his dream was to organize a cruise travel agency which would allow him to organize and lead cruise groups, which if it were up to Jim would have meant him being out at sea all the time. Instead he was stuck working along side me at a demanding and often frustrating mid-level customer service job issuing building permits and explaining zoning regulations. Why? Because he had some medical conditions that would have made buying insurance literally impossible. If this bill had been in place ten years ago who knows how many thousands of cruise miles he might have under his belt (literally, Jim loved to eat, and cruising is the right place for that).

And this country is full of people like Jim, entrepreneurs and artists and free-lance writers who would love to strike out on their own but who have to take a boring job simply because they, or more often perhaps their children, need access to health care. The bill being enacted today doesn't break this bond between job and health coverage, people will still be attracted to jobs with "bennies", but the knowledge that losing a job doesn't mean losing access to health care outright will be extra-ordinarily liberating.

Up to today a lot of my Health Care blogging has been focused on defending the current bills from attacks from both the Left and the Right in a situation where the opposition from both sides has been arguing from bills that mostly existed only in their own imaginations, or the bill they thought would emerge from negotiations. And this combined with the fact that the bills were in fact always changing and not always for the better, made it difficult to pin down exactly what this new Health Care system would look like. Well hopefully starting tomorrow all that back and forth and change will be stabilized by two pieces of enacted legislation. At which point I expect to present a series of posts laying out not what the bills might do but what the law will do in terms of access, affordability and cost control. After I take my own advice and "Read the Bill".

On another front we are fast approaching what I semi-jokingly call "The Bestest Day of the Year", the release of the Annual Report of the Trustees of Social Security. This year is much more critical than years past because of a combination of a bad job situation that really is hurting Social Security combined with the existence of the President's Entitlements Commission. People who have always hated Social Security on principle are gearing up for one last run at killing it or transforming it beyond recognition. So in response I am planning another series of tutorials on various aspects of its financing.

I can't promise daily posts, but hopefully it won't be a month, I wouldn't be surprised in people aren't purging me out of their blogrolls as I type. Arrivederchi.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lensing the Framing Part 2: a Draft for Angry Bear

The following is an uncompleted draft for a future Angry Bear piece. Any preliminary comments welcome.
Social Security 'crisis' divides itself into two large parts, each of which divides itself depending on it is viewed, kind of like the duck/rabbit gestalt.
The most common framing of Social Security 'crisis' is economic and traditionally focused on Trust Fund Depletion. Under current law the Treasury is mandated to pay full scheduled benefits for as long as combined income and assets allow which under current Intermediate Cost projections means until 2037 when all accumulated assets in the Trust Funds are exhausted and benefits have to be reset to the level supportable by then available revenue, or contrawise revenue increased in some manner so as to backfill the gap. This crisis revolves around issues of solvency and how to achieve it and the solutions depend on whether you define the problem as one of benefits or cost.

While I'll return to the benefit-cost distinction I want to insert the second framing of 'crisis' which is ideological. There are a couple of factions in this country who believe that the crisis presented by Social Security is that it exists at all. Some libertarians would follow Milton Friedman and label it 'immoral', others see it as simply socialism and so a big step down Hayek's Road to Serfdom. others (and these groups overlap) are fervent believers in Free Markets being everywhere and always more efficient and productive than any Statist solution. Their ideal solution would be to transition away from Social Security, as Michelle Bachmann would say to 'wean' workers away from their dependence on the State. Opposed to these factions are people committed to various forms of Social Democracy, which is to say social solutions to collective social problems.

So when we decide to enter into debate it is important to know where the opposition is coming from, that is the argument fundamentally one of financing and solvency? or one revolving around Free Markets vs Social Democracy? Failure to understand the distinction is some explanation of why discussion on this sometimes sales past each others ears, particularly when what is really an argument about the Free Market comes hidden in an argument about Solvency.

Because ideological opponents of Social Security are in a bind, history has shown that people like Social Security, so much so that it was long referred to as the Third Rail of American Politics, touch it and you die. Which in turn has led to various schemes to drain the juice out of the Third Rail, of which a prominent one, first put in print by Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis was dubbed by them the 'Leninist Strategy'. This strategy involves a certain 'more in sorrow than in anger' approach, the authors agree and understand why people like the program, they just insist that over the long run it is bound to collapse anyway through what they see as its internal contradictions. And this is key, they are not really interested in any kind of fix, and certainly not one that increases satisfaction with the system, for the ideological opponent of Social Security the worst possible news would be that new numbers, or for that matter existing numbers shows that Social Security will be perfectly fine for a generation or even too, or that properly framed Social Security is not a crisis at all.

Over the last couple of years posters and commenters at Angry Bear have been advancing two lines of argument. One pushed largely by Coberly is that the cost of a fix on the revenue side is in real world context cheap and easy, and this argument is the basis for what we call the "NW Plan". Another argument suggests that the 'crisis' really isn't one at all, that under Intermediate Cost assumptions the end result would still be a better benefit in real terms than retirees get today (75% of 160% = 120%) and that economic results better than Intermediate Cost and so better ultimate benefits are possible and even likely, that in fact a plan of "Nothing" could potentially result in an overfunded system.

These two lines of argument, however numerically solidly backed up, are not in the end satisfactory to ideological opponents of Social Security, they literally don't want to hear them, or more precisely they don't want democratic majorities to hear them, because acceptance of them simply re-amps the deadly current in the Third Rail and so defeats the Leninist Strategy. The distinction between the two camps of opposition was aptly captured by Baker and Weisbrot in 1999's 'Phony Crisis' Exactly so. Which makes arguing for "Nothing" or the "NW Plan" useless if the goal is to change their minds, for them a successful social democratic program is essentially a contradiction in terms, a surrender to the socialistic enemy. Instead arguing for the NW Plan is simply an open attempt to thwart the Leninist Strategy to sap support and ultimately kill any movements to Social Democracy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Johnny the Supervisor and his Magic Clipboard: an iPad Parable

I have been putting up a couple of posts on the iPad and reading a lot of reviews and from the responses it is pretty clear that people just don't get what it is and what it isn't. If you start thinking of it as a netbook then some features seem inexplicably missing, but if you start from the standpoint of functionality, of what you would want it to do I think it all comes into focus. So I am going to tell a story of a black plastic clipboard that could.
Johnny is a mid-level supervisor at a medium size firm and like a lot of supervisors splits his time between his office where he does what he has to do and then out with his people training, coordinating and communicating. On the day in question he walks in the door ten minutes late (train was delayed) and finds his boss waiting for him with a shiny black clipboard to replace his old brown manual one. When Johnny asks why the change the boss says "This is a magic clipboard." When Johnny asks what it can do, the boss says "Pretty much whatever something that size and shape could do, Just ask.' Then handed Johnny the clipboard and walks away.

So Johnny starts thinking and talking aloud. As a supervisor pretty much everything runs by the clock. As he says 'clock' one appears on the clipboard, and not just any clock, but a customizable world clock with alarm functions. Then of course you don't supervise for a single day, you need a scheduling calender. And one appears on the clipboard. As Johnny walks he mentions other tools he uses on a daily basis: 'training manual, employee manual, company personnel policy' each shows up on the clipboard and then reduces to an icon. 'Phone list', 'org chart'. 'Supply catalog' 'Company Product Catalog'. Hmm, 'Outside Contacts/Rolodex'. Suddenly Johnny's office bookshelves are looking emptier and emptier as is his physical desktop.

Johnny stops to talk to a couple of his team about an ongoing project and says 'Project management tracking' and that application which had been back on his office computer displays on his magic clipboard. The company has an automated J-I-T inventory system, why not have a window into that? Presto. Then Johnny asks for and receives the four or five key professional texts and directories he needs on a regular basis and there they are. Johnny has a clipboard with a dozen or so icons, each representing a tool he uses every day.

After doing some rounds Johnny steps back in his office and sees some family photos on his desk. How about having more of them all displaying on his magic clipboard. And it happens. Okay what other tools does Johnny use on a daily basis that can be provided by a magic clipboard. How about something that tracks his portfolio? Bink. Records, schedules, and TV times for his favorite spots teams? Bink. Bus and Transit Schedule? Bink. Local weather projections? Bink. Local TV News alerts? Bink. All when not needed retreating to a neat little icon on the screen.

Okay Johnny has work and the world kind of covered with those 20 icons, time to spread out. How about a Facebook application? Done. Johnny likes crosswords, what if he had one touch access to unlimited crosswords? Done. Johnny also plays a mean game of Chess, how about a beautifully rendered traveling chess board? Done.

So we leave Johnny with his magic clipboard that is one at the same time and all by selecting a single icon at a time a work reference library, a time management system, a project management and inventory tracker, a customized news/weather/sports/stocks aggregator, a social networking tool and a source of diversions for his breaks in the forms of games and puzzles.

But neither Johnny or us has to stop there. The iPhone software running the iPad comes with multi-language voice recognition, it should be easy to turn it into an automatic on the go translator at least for simple daily personal and business transactions. Imagine being able to go up to anyone speaking a standard world language and having your clipboard translate it into spoken and written English. That is kind of a mind blowing possibility but nothing I see would prevent it even just using today's technology.

So lets put on another hat, that of the college kid. You got a magic clipboard, what would you have it do. Well for starters you might want a combination of alarm clock and class/social schedular. Plus maybe a full screen Facebook Wall. Copy of the college course catalog and schedule, along with a library catalog window would be nice. As would be a customized TV, movie, club and concert schedule. Of course you want your music and your videos, two more icons for that. Then you might as well load your textbooks, at least the heavy ones, on plus some reference books. Suddenly that backpack is looking oddly empty. Add in another couple of icons representing your own news sources and you have a pretty cool student clipboard. Or in his case iPad.

What else would you want? Most people could use some sort of mapping/directions function which in this case is built in. And of course most people would like a full page Internet browser, also built in. But after that the choices are only bound by your own interests and hobbies. Interested in dining? Download or scan in restaurant menus. Cooking? Download cookbooks, recipe applications, and a cooking time. Bird-watching? Load on a Field Guide. Hiking? Get a set of USGS Topos loaded on, the clipboard already has onboard GPS and a compass function. Want to learn a foreign language? Add a language module.

What the iPad represents is an information machine, it allows you with a few simple steps at the beginning to have dozens of customized information sources for every facet of your life from the minute to wake up to its alarm clock to the minute you fall to sleep to its music. In between it can act as a totalizing scheduler and reference library and media player and social networking tool.

Okay what about the drawbacks? Well some are illusory to start with but lets go down the list:
1) No Flash Player capability. Well that is mostly a listening issue/pissing match between Apple and Adobe, both companies are making it clear that Flash Applications will be able to run on the IPad and within iPhone/iPad Apps, expect this to be resolved by product shipment.
2) No Camera, No Video. Well the form factor of the iPad makes it pretty awkward as a point and shoot camera anyway, Apple is already making adapters ready that take either a USB cable from an existing digital camera or alternately an SD Card, so that seems to be a non-issue. As to video I would think I 3rd party Bluetooth solution should be readily doable.
3) No USB. Well this is not quite true, the sync/recharge cord is USB and there is already a combination dock/keyboard to plug the iPad into to make it a passable desktop.
4. No Physical Keyboard. See three above. The onscreen virtual keyboard seems reasonable enough to me, and if the iPad can simply plug into the dock/keyboard it should be possible to attach it via adapter to any other traveling USB keyboard. Plus there is always wireless via Bluetooth.
5. No Video Out. Well there seem to be plans to allow hookup to an exterior monitor, but really how many people have a need to connect a Netbook up to a monitor to start with?

Summing up I think this Magic Clipboard once understood not as an office computer in the wild but instead of as an accumulation of life and business tools customized right to the actual daily needs of the user will be seen as indispensable for anyone reliant on text and audio based anything. And who among us doesn't reach for a TV Guide, a menu, a Bus Schedule, a manual, a catalog or something during the course of the day? Who doesn't check the news or need to look something up? And not only does the iPad allow you replace all those guides and schedules it does so in a way that is even more easy and elegant that the original

Monday, January 25, 2010

Latin: Conservo vs Liber

Conservo, conservare: to conserve, preserve

Libero: free

Over the last few months I have been putting up occasional posts about the origins of modern conservatism in the political and economic tumult of late 18th century Britain, and I stick by that you can understand much of the conservative movement by realizing they still take their leads from Edmund Burke. But understanding that political Conservativism can be seen simply in reaction to demands for democracy and workers rights doesn't quite explain modern Conservatism and its central conundrum from the Liberal point of view: Why do so many objectively working class people go against their clear class interest and support conservative leaders?

I put up a post or two awhile back deriving from Fustal de Coulanges "The Ancient City". And if we revert to that world to the era-of pre-Classical Europe we find an economy and a society centered around the householder and his proprietary rights. A modern expression that captures some of this is "A man's home is his castle" (another is "You kids get off my lawn!"). In the world of the "Ancient City", the head of the household however humble is king and literally high-priest. And within the house, Latin 'domus', the householder holds dominion over all other inhabitants from wife and children down to servants and slaves, if any.

While households can exist in isolation with the house surrounded by its own fields surrounded in turn with its own wall and perhaps separated from the next by some distance, as for example was typical of Settlement Iceland, generally households are clustered in groups in villages, towns, and cities and so had a need for collective decision making. For most purposes this decision making fell into the hands of the householders, each speaking for his own house, which meant leadership by the fully aged, in Latin 'seniores' hence Senators.

But parallel to this was another structure. In time of danger it was not only householders who were called to duty, instead that fell to a larger group of tribesmen, or villagers or townholders, those who were called in Latin the liber homines, the free men. In most other aspects of social, economic and religious life they might fall under the ultimate and unquestioned rule of the head of household, but war requires a different structure and one that is by nature more communitarian.

So I suggest that Conservatism as its name suggests is always rooted in property rights of householders not only from enemies beyond the wall but over everthing within them. While Liberalism as its own name suggests is always rooted in the community interests of the whole aggregate of liber homines, the free men.

Liberals generally have a difficult time understand why so many working class people stick with conservative leadership and conservative parties even where doing so means going against their own clear economic interests, and often look to answers in the form of inherent subservience to authority or simple stupidity. Instead I suggest that social, economic and political conservatism might all have their roots in the desire to maintain property rights over your own household and its contents, including its human contents. From that perspective everything from father-daughter Purity Balls and 2nd Amendment Absolutism falls right into a coherent package. And BTW not one motivated by malice, most everyone understands the principle "Not in my house".

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Social Security Trust Fund: Barrell Lid and not Barrell

In our ongoing debate with Bruce Krasting he seems unable to understand the difference between a Pension Fund like CalPers and Social Security.

In a standard Public Retirement System employers and employees pay into a Pension Fund which then invests the money and then pays out whatever the amount of the contracted pension at retirement. The better the choices and economic luck of the Fund managers the easier it is to pay out the pension when the time comes. That is because the payouts come off the top.

Social Security is different, the payouts come out the bottom. Try this image:

Take two graduated cylinders. The one labeled CALPERS is filled to its ideal level with green. It has two inputs near the top, one which delivers a steady trickle of employer and employee contributions, and the other that delivers ROI on that water. It also has an output which drains off some or all of those earnings to pay retirement checks. If anything is left over retained earnings plus new contributions increases the amount of productive water in the cylinder. But in any event it is the retained water that constitutes most of the volume of the water, moreover for this purpose it is relatively still, all the action is at the surface.

Now examine the cylinder marked Soc Sec TF. For this cylinder the the big input is at the bottom as a flood of receipts from payroll tax flows in. Just above that is another input through which periodic injections of tax on benefits come. On the other side of the cylinder three outputs such water out into channels called benefits, admin and RRB Xchange. Any fluid that doesn't get pumped out right away congeals with a mass floating on top of the rushing stream in and out of the cylinder. That mass is the Trust Fund. But right at the lower edge of the Trust Fund mass and floating with it is another input that represents interest on the dollar value of the floating lid. If inflow continues to exceed outflow it just joins with that surplus and congeals into the floating mass. But in any period in which outflow exceeds inflow a portion of it joins the outflow with only the overage congealing. In this case interest is increasing the mass of the TF even as it contributes a little fluid to the outflow out the bottom.

In the case of CalPers earnings get tapped first, if they drop the put the retained water at risk as some gets tapped off.

In the case of Social Security earnings get tapped second to last, variations in them don't necessarily change anything in the short run, the key is not as in CalPers who much earnings the mass of fluid throws off, but instead how much fluid is flowing into the cylinder, if that flow slackens or if outflow increases then the bottom of the TF mass sinks down towards the output port and eventually that comparatively small stream of interest coming in starts having some of its flow go to the outflow. But the total volume of the interest stream is so relatively small compared to the main flow of tax revenue above and the mass above that there is no perturbation in the system as a whole.

Well this wasn't as simple as I hoped, It will have to do for today.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why Soc Sec TF Balances Grow in a Time of Recession

Blogger/Reader BK: I know what the TF says and I know what the CBO says,and I think they are both wrong. We will top out the Fund at a much lower number $2.8 T and it will come much sooner than anticipated.
To see why this isn't so and actually just can't be we need to inspect the following table from the 2009 Report Table IV.A3.—Operations of the Combined OASI and DI Trust Funds, Calendar Years 2004-18. The second column from the right shows the Combined Trust Funds projected to go from $2.4 trillion in 2008 to $4.0 trillion in 2018. What would it take to freeze it at $2.8 trillion? Discussion below the fold.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Krasting at Zero Hedge: Taking it personal

What a Tangled Web we Weave. In the linked post I give some links and background. A blogger named Bruce Krasting posted a piece arguing that the current recession had dealt a very serious blow to Social Security and one that required an immediate response. I am currently working with some policy people in DC to ward off the Conrad-Gregg proposal for a Commission that among other things would address the perceived Social Security 'crisis'. The key vote on this is scheduled for next week and I think it important to push back on any suggestion that Social Security actually needs a short-term fix, at least when that fix is pre-defined as benefit cutbacks. I have also been engaged in a policy dispute over the last year with some scholars at American Enterprise Institute about whether the current recession has really dealt that aforementioned serious blow or whether they are misinterpreting certain monthly reporting. So when I got pointed to a blogger who in the week prior to this critical vote was making the same argument based on the same monthly reporting and getting his math wrong in the same way I assumed that he might be following the lead of perhaps the foremost and most formidable of Social Security 'reform' advocates, former Deputy Commissioner of Social Security and proprietor of Social Security blog Notes on Social Security Dr. Andrew Biggs.

Well I may have been wrong on that, Mr. Krasting claims he came up with all this on his own. And while I stand behind the substance of the substantively hostile but mostly light in tone comments I left on his web-site to SS Trust Fund-2009 Full Year Results-Ugh! I might even have advanced an apology based on the fact that not everyone admires my mockery, especially when directed at them. Instead Mr. Krasting decided to elevate this to a pissing match by posting the following on Zero Hedge in I'm No Chicken Little
I wrote a piece on the 2009 results that were published by the SSTF. Some of my assumption and many of my conclusions have come under criticism. Mr. Bruce Webb, a well-respected fellow, suggested that I was “peddling crap”. He went on to suggest that I was in collusion with two leading economists, Mr. Briggs and Mr. Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). There is no truth to that. Right or wrong I have come to my observations on the Fund on my own. I have written a total of 11 pieces (out of 180) on the SSTF in the past year. They have all been published outside of my blog. I am not that new to this debate.
Well I don't know about "well-respected", but I like to think that I myself "am not that new" and am perfectly prepared to fricassee this Chicken.
BK: FICA and SECA taxes were less than benefits paid for the first time in history in 2009. That is a significant milestone
Apparently Mr. Krasting defines 'history' as 'starting in 1983'. If we examine the historical results as reported in the 2009 Trustees Report we come across Table VI.A4.— Operations of the Combined OASI and DI Trust Funds, Calendar Years 1957-2008 [Dollar amounts in billions] and can see that FICA trailed benefit payments in many years from 1958 to 1971 as the TF ratio shrunk form 298 (three years of reserve) to 95 up to 103 and then in all years from 1975 to the low point a low point of 14 in 1983. While you can argue that both 1966 and 1971 represent 'milestones' in that the TFs fell out of actuarial balance in those years, in point of act the General Fund honored its obligations all the way down and indeed until now, that the TF goes cash fund negative not being important in itself.

BK: Yes, if you divide 2.5 trillion by 5 billion you get 500. But we both know that is an irrelevant calculation. You think that math adds to this debate?
Words fail. What after all could math add to a debate over solvency of the Trust Fund? Moving on.

BK: But we have 10% unemployment and few prospects for job creation. If we started getting increases in NFP of 700k per month, I might back off. But we are still losing jobs. I think that net of census hiring we will lose jobs for the full year. I am not alone in that view of employment. What is your outlook for jobs creation? Are you looking for 10mm net new hires this year? If not, you might want to consider the implications to the Fund.
Well I have looked at implications for continuing 10% unemployment and they are not pretty. On the other hand the numbers show that Mr. Krasting's numbers are off by a minimum of half a trillion dollars over five years. If that is you add math to the debate.

BK on COLA: “The December to January benefits number fell by $475mm ($6b annualized). The first time ever absence of a COLA adjust may have contributed to this unusual phenomenon. In the past decade there has not been any years where this has occurred. The percentage change in the past few years were 06/07 = + 2%, 07/08 = + 1%, 08/09 = + 5% and 09/10 = -1%. A big swing in direction for 2010."
Wow, I guess math does matter. In any event the lack of a COLA for 2010 is because the 5.8% COLA adjustment for 2009 was set too high based on an estimate of energy prices that most more than actually occurred. But there was no actual drop in benefit checks per recipient in January any more than there was an actual drop in May, July, Aug, October or November which saw similar drops month to month. Krasting put too much weight on a single data point that from his own table just can't substantiate his argument.

BK on career advice: "Coberly and Webb have unique knowledge of the workings/numbers of the Fund. They could turn that into an opportunity to make a buck. They should try it. It is rewarding in many ways. But I doubt that they see the forest for the trees."
Dale is retired. On the other hand I am open for an opportunity, if someone wants to pay me for this stuff I'll do my best to extract myself from the forest. But what this has to do with an argument on the substance kind of escapes me.

BK: That was not a little rain shower we just went through. That was the storm of the century. Yes we have eaten into the surplus. In 2010 we may start to ‘live off the interest’. And this ship is far from being turned around.
Wow and I thought I was the king of overwrought metaphors, but even I would not thought of eating the seed corn during a hurricane. But that aside the century is still young. I am old enough and suspect Krasting is too to remember 1975-1980 a period that the Trustees report averaged 0.9% productivity, 8.9% CPI, 6.8% unemployment, and 8.5% interest rates. Now that was a storm. And if we take 'century' to mean 'in the last hundred years', this is a little hyperbolic, we having al long way to go between 10% unemployment and Great Depression 24% levels.

BK: You have me right on this point. I am alarmed. While I agree that this is not an issue for the SSTF, it most certainly is an issue for the entire fixed income market. In prior years the SSTF acquired Treasury IOU’s for as much as 50% of the total deficit. In a few years the Fund will be a seller versus a buyer. Do you really think that is not a significant development?
This is a little incoherent. The Special Treasuries in the TF were not acquired in the fixed income market and won't be liquidated into it by 'selling'. About half of the balances in the TF are the result of accrued interest that were not financed at all even as they were counted as part of Unified Budget Surplus/Deficits and these Treasuries will be redeemed (not sold, they are not marketable) at a predictable rate. This will require either allocation of tax revenues or offsetting borrowing but the impact on the fixed income market will be proportionate to the percentage of that market these would represent. When I look at the numbers by year I see a moderate strain in the late 2030s but in constant dollars don't see anything like the challenges Bush budgeting presented or the current stimulus/war spending, elevating Social Security finance to an existential threat just doesn't hold up to the numbers. Table VI:F7: Constant Dollars

The fund has proposed either a 2% increase in payroll taxes or a 13% cut in benefits (or some combination). The 2% solution proposed by the Fund would increase payroll taxes by $115 billion annually. That number would rise each year thereafter. Please point me to the economist, Senator or Congressperson who would sign up for that. I think the voters in the States that they are from would be anxious to hear about that. You have my email. Send me the list and I will publish it.

The Trustees said that ‘creative thinking’ would be required. I don’t see you two putting anything new on this table.

Well that is because you have never checked. Coberly and I along with a guy named Arne Larsen have developed a plan we call The Northwest Plan for a Real Social Security Fix The supporting spreadsheet is here: and it shows that a 0.3% increase in FICA devoted to the currently in the red DI component of OASDI fixes combined Social Security until 2026. If you would have done a little background work, maybe like Googling 'Bruce Webb Social Security' you might have run across it PRIOR to making a fool of yourself at Zero Hedge. The NW Plan hits the median household's take home at $1.50 a week initially with equivalent increases needed starting in 2026.

And I don't even want to get into the Gates argument. At what point would you actually start means testing and how much savings would you actually yield? Their just are not that many billionaires that stripping some $30k apiece in SS checks would make any difference, in order to get real money you have to dip down far into the middle class and so fatally undercut political support for Social Security. Which of course is the point.

Krasting if you come by know that you didn't have to take it to the level you did, but near as I can tell all you did was ended up pissing up a rope.

Krasting Biffs Trust Fund Arithmetic

(Draft-maybe I'll complete this later)
In order to understand how Krasting went so wrong we have to go back to fundamentals.

Social Security is based on an insurance model. It collects premiums in the form of payroll taxes and funds payouts in the form of disability, survivor, and retirement benefits. Although the monthly payouts are based on the amount of money paid in the total payout is not, if you die on your 65th birthday and have no eligible survivors you get nothing. On the other hand if you live to 115 you get an inflation protected annuity, as you would if you were totally disabled at 35 even if that payout vastly exceeded your actual contributions. It's insurance and not savings.

Social Security has four potential sources of income. First and foremost is a tax on wage income, Social Security takes 6.2% of your paycheck which is matched by an additional 6.2% from your employer for a total of 12.4%. Additionally since 1983 Social Security has taxed benefits on higher income retirees. Over the long run the amount taken from wages and tax on benefits is designed to pay all benefits with a modest amount left over to serve as a reserve in a time when receipts lag because of economic conditions. These overages are invested in interest earning Special Treasuries and held in two Trust Funds, one for the Disability Insurance program (DI) and one in the Old Age/Survivors insurance program (OAS) which are for most purposes treated together as something called OASDI. In good times the OASDI Trust Fund(s) more or less sit there absorbing any cash surpluses from tax collections not needed to fund current benefits and interest on its total balance which combination has built that balance to $2.5 trillion dollars. But this point is crucially important, the Trust Fund does NOT finance Social Security in normal times, instead SS is a Pay-Go system where current benefits are financed from current receipts, the Trust Fund only being needed as a backup if and when.

Well if and when is now. The DI Trust Fund has been running negative for a couple of years now DI: the Sick Man of Social Security. The damage isn't mortal, the DI Trust Fund having accumulated assets of $202.5 billion, but then again it is down $5.4 billion for the year meaning that benefits are exceeding not only taxes collected but also the interest accruing on the TF. Meaning DI needs to be fixed.

On the other hand DI is only about 10% of the size of OAS which on the whole is doing fine. At the end of Nov it was also down $4.4 billion but this was out of a balance of $2.3 trillion and we know that for technical reasons November is a down month, December should make up that deficit and more for a year over year surplus in OAS. On paper. But here is where things get deep. In any month in which either DI or OAS receipts from taxation trail costs the difference has to be made up with cash from the General Fund which is offset by retirement of certain maturing bills and notes. But not necessarily all of them.

Krasting, Biggs, AEI

In the previous installment I all but accused Bruce Krasting for being a sock-puppet for Andrew Biggs and Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute something Krasting denies. Well okay perhaps they came upon what I see as the same fallacious argument on their own. Andrew Biggs and I have jousted quite a bit in times past maybe with me punching a little above my own weight. Biggs along with his day job at AEI maintains a blog called Notes on Social Security Reform. Andrew is a heavy hitter, and in many ways maybe THE heavy hitter among the opposition to traditional Social Security. From 'Notes'
Andrew G. Biggs I am a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where my work focuses on Social Security policy. Previously I held several positions within the Social Security Administration, including Deputy Commissioner for Policy and principal Deputy Commissioner. Prior to that I was a Social Security Analyst at the Cato Institute. In 2005 I worked on Social Security reform at the White House National Economic Council, and in 2001 I was on the staff of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security. My Bachelor's degree is from the Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. I have Master's degrees from Cambridge University and the University of London and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science. I can be contacted at andrew.biggs @
Biggs doesn't do full justice to his role at Cato. He was instead deputy director of Cato's Project on Social Security Choice previously known under a more open name of Project on Social Security Privatization

Biggs is a paid career advocate for eliminating Social Security as it currently exists in favor of a private system based on something based on an IRA model. And there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that, its a free country and anyone is free to push market based solutions in preference to government ones. But equally I am free to point out the policy bias, Andrew is not a neutral analyst here, by training, inclinaton and paycheck he is pushing a specific argumentative line. I think of Biggs as a particularly skilled lawyer one who is not going to throw up his hands and say "Your Honor, my client is guilty as hell. You know it , I know it, the jury knows it. lets send him to jail and go out for a drink". Nope Biggs will argue his case to the very end. Admirable enough but meaning don't drop your guard, this is not neutral ground, not a level playing field, the other team is out to win.

"What a tangled weave": Social Security in a time of crisis

Well this is going to take some time to unpack. We have a disturbance in the force. Up unto a couple of days ago we had two bloggers blissfully unaware of each other, one named Bruce Krasting and one named Bruce Webb. Krasting mostly being a finance guy who started out as a bond seller and Webb being a historian turned civil servant each of whom latched onto Social Security policy essentially as a hobby only to come into collission. Webb thinks Social Security is on the whole sound enough that a policy of doing "Nothing" is better than almost all proposals out there, while Krasting is convinced that we need to move on Social Security RIGHT NOW because the current recession has done unalterable harm to it. And bridging the gap between "Nothing" and "Something" is going to take some doing. So call this part one.

Let's set the stage. On January 13th Krasting published this piece as Zero Hedge: I'm no Chicken Little striking back by name at my and Dale Coberly's attacks in comments on his previous piece at his own blog SS Trust Fund-2009 Full Year Results-Ugh! where Krasting comes to a particular conclusion:
I think that the recession of 08 and 09 and the anticipated high unemployment (low employment) in 2010 has crippled the Fund. Nothing short of a major overhaul can turn it around at this point. The damage has been too great.
Well I believe this conclusion is offbase and itself based on a total misunderstanding of Social Security finance, and enough so that I accussed Mr. Krasting of essentially being a sock puppet for Andrew Biggs and Keven Hassett of the American Enterprise who argued the same case last March. This argument more or less started with this article by Hassett in Bloomberg Recession Bites Into Social Security’s Surplus: Kevin Hassett which got picked up in this article by Lori Montgomery in the WaPo a day latter Recession Puts a Major Strain On Social Security Trust Fund: As Payroll Tax Revenue Falls, So Does Surplus which sparked the following post at Angry Bear Vanishing Surpluses-Yet Again. If you really want to follow the story you would need to read the pieces in order and work back from there with the sequence being: Hassett, Montgomery, Vanishing Surplus, 2009 Full Results, Chicken Little.

Or perhaps you could cut to the chase and read the following article from some real experts Paul Van de Water and Kathy Ruffing: Social Security Does Not Face a Near-Term “Reckoning” Alarmists’ Claims Are Unjustified, But Action Is Needed to Restore Long-Term Solvency. Paul and Kathy's views remain their own and need no endorsement from me and what follows in the next few posts is entirely my own opinion, but for those who don't want to track down this particular dispute between the Bruce's could by-pass the whole thing and read Van de Water and Ruffing.