Americans think owning a home is better for them than it is – The Washington Post

Quoting from the Washington Post column,

“The problem is that, perhaps because of tax incentives and ignorance about the financial returns from real estate investments, Americans are buying more house than they need or, in some cases, derive pleasure from.”

This problem is in addition to the previously identified phenomenon of Americans sacrificing their retirement savings in order to buy houses in neighborhoods they can’t afford.

via Catherine Rampell: Americans think owning a home is better for them than it is – The Washington Post.

Hold the onions, and foreign workers: McDonald’s halts program

“Temporary foreign workers” are in the news in Canada.

My thoughts about this Canadian program shifted this afternoon.  My first reaction to the program was positive.  “Hmmm, employers using foreign workers to offset temporary labour shortages make sense.”  What seems to be happening, in some cases (McCases?), is employers using temporary foreign workers to offset the higher costs of Canadian workers.  And then shuffling the expired temps out and bringing new temps in.

Employers seem to be taking advantage of a program that the Conservatives introduced to help employers.  Bad employers.

I like the idea of a program to alleviate temporary labour shortages in Canadian industry.  The government should clarify the intent of the legislation and redraft the regulations regarding Temporary Foreign Workers


Housing Prices Will Be Set by the Most Foolhardy

In this column for Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle presents a variety of arguments in favor of (and against) the idea of forcing people to save for their retirement.  The most interesting aspect to me was the description of how the challenges of home ownership and raising a family make retirement savings increasingly difficult  “The conundrum for responsible parents who want to get their kids into a good school and also save 20 percent for retirement is that the prices will be set by the most foolhardy.”  Ouch.

Ever hear the advice to buy the worst house in the best neighborhood you can afford? I know a lot of 40-something parents who give (and practice) this advice. You get access to the best possible school districts by sacrificing something in the way of home amenities.

However, I hear a fair amount from parents who have tried this strategy and found that it’s not quite as cheap as they imagine. They carefully calculated their mortgage payment and how long they could live with the hideous ’80s black-and-white kitchen. They forgot to factor in the special property tax assessment because the school district is overcrowded and a new building needs to be built. Or what all the add-ons would do to their budget in a town where the average household income is at least $100,000 higher than theirs. All the kids’ friends are on travel teams that cost thousands of dollars a year. The French class wants to go to Paris instead of a local French restaurant. It is theoretically possible to say no, but doing so means that your kid will be sitting home playing video games while their friends are out developing essay-worthy skills. Then everyone’s friends are going away to small liberal arts colleges and can you really tell yours to live at home for two years and rack up credits at community college before transferring to State?

What’s easiest to shortchange? Not the house — you’re already in the cheapest house in town. Maybe the cars — defiantly drive that 1992 Toyota for another 10 years. That still leaves a lot of parents in the hole, and what they choose to cut back on is retirement. The conundrum for responsible parents who want to get their kids into a good school and also save 20 percent for retirement is that the prices will be set by the most foolhardy. If one parent is willing to zero out their retirement contributions, they will set the price for homes in good school districts, leaving other parents with the choice of either doing the same or consigning their children to a less desirable school


Walter Reuther’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom | UAW

I just heard an oblique reference to Walter Reuther’s speech in the 1963 March on Washington.  “Walter Reuther?,  the union guy?”, I asked myself.   Here’s an audio recording of his speech, supplemented with stills of the the original 1963 march and video of the 2013 commemorative march.

The speech is stirring, moving, non-partisan and evocative of a tougher, grittier America where “brotherhood” was hailed in song but too often absent in community.  The march continues.

via Walter Reuther’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom | UAW.

Jim Flaherty, 1949 – 2014

Gosh – Jim Flaherty is dead at 64.  I’m really surprised, and surprised at my reaction…he seemed like a nice guy, put into a series of very tough situations and handling them as best he could.  With devotion.

Not much of a retirement for him.  That hardly seems fair.  Probably a lesson for us all in there somewhere.

Postscript, April 10, 2014…

In the words of  political correspondent and author Paul Wells,

[I]n the end, it all comes down to the same question each of us faces in our lives: Are you going to live in fear, or are you going to live? Jim Flaherty was more alive than the next half-dozen politicians and assorted Hill denizens put together. That’s why his death leaves such a shocking emptiness behind. Each of us should contemplate his example.

CBC’s Rex Murphy offered a very moving remembrance of Flaherty on April 10.  The CBC video clip is easily searchable and I won’t include the link here because of the damn ads that precede the tribute.

Post Postscript, April 11, 2014…

This afternoon I attended a luncheon address by Dr. Ray Bassett, Irish Ambassador to Canada.  In his formal address, he offered his reflections on the negotiations leading to The Northern Ireland Peace (Good Friday) Agreement.  At the conclusion of his formal remarks he offered some very kind words about Jim Flaherty, closing with a March 16, 2014 photo of Mr.Flaherty seated with friends in an Irish pub.  It was a wonderful conclusion to an otherwise poorly organized talk.  The Ambassador was in much better form at Colonel By Day in Ottawa last Summer, judging by this video that I found.

Big data: are we making a big mistake? –

Author Tim Hartford (The Undercover Economist Strikes Back) offers a lot of common sense macroeconomic insights in this one.  I particularly liked these key points:
Fallacy of N = All
Low costs of False Positives
Confusion of correlation and causation

“I used to think that correlation implied causation. Then I took a statistics class. Now I don’t.”
“Sounds like the course helped?”
“Well, maybe …”

(that was one of the Comments on the article)

Big data: are we making a big mistake? –