End of February Round Up

Continuing a long tradition that dates back four weeks, I’m using this last day of the week and month to round up a few things I’ve found lately on the interwebs that deserve comment but not whole posts.World Map Small

Kiyosaki in Canada

The Consumerist asked the other day Is Rich Dad Robert Kiyosaki Getting Rich Off Suckers? Excellent question. Let’s examine it logically.

1. Kiyosaki is rich.

2. What he does for a living is sell books and seminars.

3. Those books and seminars are basically worthless.

4. Purchasers of those books and seminars are therefore suckers.

5. Ergo, Kiyosaki has gotten rich off suckers.

It seems that the Canadian TV show Marketplace did an expose of Kiyosaki in January, which took a little while to get noticed South of the Border. It’s a classic bit of earnest TV journalism, complete with hidden cameras and ambush interviews.

I could only bring myself to watch about half of it. (It’s 22 minutes long and available at the last link.) It’s not that I don’t think Kiyosaki is a snake oil salesman in a fright wig, it’s just that he is so obviously a charlatan that a long investigative piece on him has a shooting fish in a barrel aspect. What’s next? 22 minutes of evidence that drivers routinely ignore speed limits?

Feeling Rich

Continuing the firm-grasp-of-the-obvious theme, the Wall Street Journal’s Wealth Report on Monday carried the headline Taxpayers Who Earn $300,000 a Year Don’t Feel Rich. How true. Perhaps Obama’s policy should be modified into raising taxes only on those who think of themselves as rich.

I wonder what percentage of Americans would pay higher taxes under that scheme. The closest I can find to an answer is a Gallup survey from 2006 in which 5% of Americans said they “have more money than they know what to do with.” Gallup also tells us that for the past few decades, around 60% of Americans have felt that wealth should be more evenly distributed than it is, and that most of those felt the government should tax the rich accordingly.

The obvious problem being that everybody has a different definition of rich, generally some multiple of their own level of wealth. We can all probably agree that the private jet and domestic staff crowd are rich, but the inconvenient truth is that there are so few of them that raising their taxes isn’t going to move the deficit needle much.

The WSJ item discusses a dentist in Boulder, Colorado who makes $320,000 a year. She attained minor celebrity when she told ABC News that she may cut back her practice so that she makes only $250,000, and thus escapes a tax increase. Yet another example of a millionaire who is bad at personal finance.

I strongly suspect that she doesn’t understand how tax brackets work. She is suggesting cutting back her hours by 22%, from 50 to 39 hours a week, let’s say, because although she is willing to work 11 hours a week for $46,900 net of federal taxes, she won’t do it for $44,800. Well, I suppose anything is possible….

December Case-Shiller

This Tuesday S&P delivered it’s update on house prices for December 2009. The national story was a duplicate of the previous month, down slightly in absolute terms and up slightly when seasonally adjusted. But there was some inspirational news in the report. Las Vegas was up 0.2%, ending a losing streak of 39 consecutive down months, totaling a loss of more than 55% of the value of the average Vegas house. If Vegas can stop going down, prosperity must be just around the corner for the rest of us.

Now, I didn’t think that this month’s update was interesting enough for a full post, so I shouldn’t criticize others for not discussing it. But I will anyway. The New York Times apparently didn’t cover it at all. [Actually, they did. I guess it's just not indexed properly.] Do a search for the C-S index on nytimes.com and you get a list of regularly spaced end-of-month articles ending with January 27, 2010. I guess they needed the space for more important stuff. Like [See also] this  front page article which told us, without citing a source, that the number of homeowners whose houses are worth less than 75% of what they owe is “projected to climb to a peak of 5.1 million by June.” I emailed the author asking where this came from. He did not reply.

At Least I Don’t Live There

Much as I enjoy griping about the various governments with jurisdiction over me, I prefer to amuse myself with stories about governments doing what they do someplace else.

From California, specifically in San Francisco, comes the story (via The Big Money) that “The California Alcoholic Beverage Control agency is cracking down on bars and restaurants that make their own “infused” drinks, such as limoncellos.” And they say that California is ungovernable.

And then there is France. The UK Telegraph carried an article Wednesday entitled “Anti-smoking advert with sexual innuendo shocks French.” If you are thinking that an ad with sexual innuendo that shocks French people must horrify and confuse Americans, you are right on the money. (Go ahead, follow the link. I’ll still be here when you get back. It’s SFW. Barely.) Admittedly, the anti-smoking campaign is from a private group, not the government, but still.

And we will end our world tour in New Zealand, where, Weakonomics tells us, a girl auctioned off her virginity to pay for college. (She allegedly got $30K USD.) Of course, this would not be legal in the Land of the Free. Here the girl couldn’t even get a Frisbee for filling out a credit card application. We have rules, you know.

I was hoping that the comments on the Weakonomics post would discuss the morality of the transaction or possibly even if $30K was a good price. Instead our old friend Kosmo raised a more interesting question: if it were legal in the US, would be taxed as income or capital gain?


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