It is time to make another visit to the bounty of information that our nations’ intrepid polling companies gather for our enjoyment. I usually start these visits with a short proviso about how survey data about what people say to strangers who call them on the phone can’t hold a candle to data about what people actually do. Often I point out that survey respondents tend to be neither candid nor thoughtful in their responses.
Today I am going to skip all that. I will just give examples.
The Rich are Optimistic?
On July 12 Gallup found that Upper-Income Americans See Living Standards Improving. Depending on your outlook, that might have given you a sense of second order optimism, after all, those rich folks must know more than the rest of us, or perhaps bitterness of the-rich-just-get-richer sort.
In either case the feeling was likely short-lived because four days later The New York Times carried the front page headline Wealthy Reduce Buying in a Blow to the Recovery. The Times story was largely a compilation of anecdotes and quotes from assorted “analysts” who like to see their names in print. But the gist was that rich folks are pessimistic enough about the future to cut back on spending.
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[This Thursday re-run is from July 9, 2009.]
The latest hot topic on the identity theft front is a paper published on Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by two professors at Carnegie Mellon on how easy it is to guess a person’s social security number.
That day Ars Technica reported on it. Also, the authors of the paper started a blog on it. The AP picked it up Tuesday. CrunchGear blogged on it then too. And Wednesday brought posts from Wise Bread and Wallet Pop.
This is a great story. It combines several of my favorite themes. There’s the ever amusing hysteria over identity theft, which apparently renders a person incapable of rational thought and perspective. There are the unintended consequences of seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time government policies. And there is the recurring phenomenon of folks who report and comment on academic papers without reading and/or understanding them.
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From CreditCards.com comes the news that U.S. credit card agreements are unreadable to 4 out of 5 adults. It is not that they are written in invisible ink, or tiny print, or even that they are hidden away in the deep recesses of some web site. The agreements are printed in easy to see black and white and mailed to the card holder’s house.
Are they in Latin? Do they involve obscure legal terms? Perhaps they are poorly translated from some foreign tongue?
No, they are unreadable to 4 in 5 Americans because those sneaky credit card companies have written them in standard English, but at a 12th grade level. Bastards.
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Some people think that they are two people. They believe that they suffer from a form of split personality, two individuals with differing tastes and inclinations that awkwardly share the same body and, more to the point, the same bank account.
It is an interesting, but which I mean amusing, theory. It is not that I do not think that there really are folks, even millions of them, who have mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, which could be trivialized as two versions of the same person sharing one body. Others have substance abuse problems that cause an irresistible need to ingest certain chemicals.
But the people I am thinking of do not have such problems. They have nothing more profound than an inability to save as much of their income as they think they ought to. This they ascribe to mental illness.
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Today I am going to explain something complicated, so pay attention. Particularly if you write for the Wall Street Journal. My topic has to do with the exotic topic of homeownership.
Many homeowners owe money on a special type of loan collateralized by the house, called a mortgage. Sometimes, they “refinance” these mortgages, often to take advantage of a lower interest rate. Generally, that is no more complicated than paying off lender A with money borrowed from lender B.
However, and here is where it gets really confusing, sometimes the money from lender B is not the exact same amount owed to lender A. If more money comes from lender B, then the refinancing is termed “cash-out.” It is called that because the borrower actually leaves the closing with more cash than they had previously.
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