Tag Archives: economics

Is Income Inequality Necessary?

As we get into the thick of election season, it becomes apparent we have two Americas — the Trump ‘merica, and the Sanders America. Everyone else falls somewhere in between. Trump’s success stems from his “I don’t give a shit” mentality, offering solace to those angry over years of political correctness getting them nowhere – he wants to “make America great again.” Sanders offers a voice to those who see corruption – legal or not – causing greater inequality and the downfall of our country.

Who’s right?

I’m bi-economical. I’m a socialist and a capitalist – but neither at the same time. Socialism sounds great, until you realize how that limits the opportunity to work hard and get ahead. Capitalism, however, requires inequality. It provides the opportunity to get rich, but that opportunity is light years away for those who didn’t inherit wealth, or work hard and due to a mix of luck and tenacity and good timing make enough money to catapult them into the upper echelons of society. Old money versus new money.

There is no right, persay, but we can look at which countries are happier than others, and how that relates to inequality across their residents. In this Gallup Poll and the World Top Incomes Database, the point is made that in countries with the biggest income gaps between rich and poor, the middle class find themselves unable to afford some simple luxuries like private schools and a house in a good neighborhood.

 

Obama decried income inequality this week in his final State of the Union address. The standard Democrat message — support a thriving middle class  — was front-and-center in the speech.

“Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top,” he said. These trends have “made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to.”

Many blame Silicon Valley as a leading source of furthering income inequality. A 330-page report by the World Bank released on January 14 notes that “the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms. Not surprisingly, the better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits – circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.”

I know that income inequality is at play in America because I’m in the top 5th of income earners and am in the fourth quintile (of five) of all U.S. households in terms of my networth, and still I am unable to afford a home in a good neighborhood or to send my “future” children to private school, should I want to. If I feel this way, I can only imagine how the rest of America feels, outside of the .01%.

Paul Graham, a prominent super-rich Venture Capitalist went on recently about how we need income inequality. “You can’t prevent great variations in wealth without preventing people from getting rich,” he wrote in an essay that went viral online last week, “and you can’t do that without preventing them from starting startups.”

Starting in the 1980s, a gap has been widening between what the best-paid Americans earn and what everyone else in the country earns. Economists Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari shared in a new paper that “Rising income inequality is now a significant barrier to economic growth and full employment.”

I’m worried. I’m worried about the future of America. History has proven that income inequality, when let go for a long time, causes big problems, even civil wars. And in 2016, lower pay for the poor is causing an even wider income gap.

Since the late ‘70s, most of the growth in workers’ earnings has gone to the people who have made the most money. To be precise, the wages of the top 1 percent of workers have grown 138 percent since 1979, while the wages for the bottom 90 percent grew only 15 percent during that period. Yikes. This especially hurts our social security system, which underestimated income inequality, making higher income earners pay a much smaller percentage of their income in social security tax than lower income earners.

This is a huge problem since the number of seniors will double by 2060. If we think income inequality is bad now, it will only continue to get worse.

I find my idealistic side wishing we could get rid of money altogether, but my realistic side worried about creating a decent life for my future family. Where I live, it certainly feels like the only way to do this is to have a household income in the 1% ($400k+) per year, and even that is really just “upper middle class” here. Achieving that is very challenging. It’s much more likely that I’ll be priced out of Silicon Valley as I decide to have a family, and I’ll drop into a lower household income level to be able to afford a middle class lifestyle somewhere else.

 

Investing in China ETFs: It’s Complicated

Whether or not you believe in any specific countries’ ability to economically eclipse the U.S., it’s common investor knowledge that one should diversify internationally in case sh*t hits the fan in America.

In many cases investing in a good general international index fund, like Vanguard’s Total International Stock Index Fund (VTISX), checks off the global diversification box. Yet for others taking educated bets on particular regions may be ultimately more lucrative. Given China’s fast-growing economy, I wanted to do a bit of research into investment opportunities for the average investor to take advantage of China’s potential reward. Of course, investing in a young market has its many risks. My goal is to educate myself on these so I can invest wisely in the country (I already own a small amount of HAO — China Small-Cap ETF, but nothing too significant yet.)

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Holy Cow: 1 in 5 Millennials Living with Parents

Today The New York Times posted a piece “The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave.” Apparently one in five people in their 20s and early 30s lives at home today. And 60 percent of young adults receive financial support from their parents. Despite the challenges I’ve faced in my career, I know I’m extremely fortunate to have been able to… boomer… without the rang.

Nearly 45 percent of 25-year-olds, for instance, have outstanding loans, with an average debt above $20,000. Student loan debt is frightening. I’m a privileged spoiled brat. My parents paid for all of my overpriced, mid-tier private school BFA and a ridiculous amount of expensive art supplies along with the typical library of never-look-at-again textbooks. While I picked up a very part-time job in college at my school (because I didn’t like feeling that spoiled) the reality was the little money I made barely covered, well, not much at all.  Continue reading

Game of Thrones: An Allegory of America’s Class Warfare

downloadOne of the best shows on TV today – Game of Thrones – is successful not only due to its typical onslaught of T&A HBO is known for (which is has plenty of, mind you), it’s because the show itself is an allegory of the age-old problem with societal inequality. Specifically, Game of Thrones walks the fine line between showing different families and individuals at war for wealth and power in a fantasy world, and one where us modern folks can relate by looking at what we’d sacrifice for the success and longevity of our own families.

I’m not the only one who sees the underlying commentary of humanity as a whole in the series, and beyond all the humping there’s a warning for us all: as long as wealth remains within families, there will always be conflict and violence. Peace is not possible, even for the peaceful.

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Making Sense and Losing Cents of the Economy

Like everyone else who has a dime or more invested in equities, I’m concerned about the future of the stock market. Whenever the market looks so bleak, everyone is concerned. And that’s usually the best time to invest. Yet with my yearly investments becoming more sizable, this feels a lot like Las Vegas. Even with diversification, it doesn’t help when all (or most) stocks are on red.

After receiving my paycheck for the past months and reimbursed expenses, I realized that I’m sitting on $16k liquid in my checking account. Part of me hates writing about this because I know I’m so lucky to have the luxury to ask the question “where should I invest?” But this may also be a temporary income boost and I want to invest wisely.

Yesterday, I pulled out my social security statement and studied my yearly income since 2002. Other than last year, I made somewhere between $0 and $25,000 each year. Last year, I broke $60k for a full year’s worth of work. This year as of Sept 1, even with 2 months of unemployment (unpaid), I have earned around $70k this year. And with the way some contracts are shaping up, I expect to make an additional $10k to $30k by the end of the year. So now I face the unlikely problem in a time of economic crisis – what do I do with all this money?

The easy answer is: spend it. Not on wasteful purchases, but things that I need or will need soon. I could buy a new car, or a “new” used car. Or I could invest in property somewhere (though that requires stable long-term income, which I am not confident I’ll have, especially with my plans to go back to school in the next two years.) So where do I put the excess cash?

I’ve already maxed out my IRA and will, within this month, max out my 401k (no match, bummer.) I will likely put another $2000 in my HSA which is invested in very low-risk funds. My IRA is in Sharebuilder and I bought 5 funds – the gold ETF, the silver ETF, two high-dividend ETFs and a REIT ETF. My 401k is invested in a mix of equities and bonds, and I’m not clear what is in it exactly. With a large chunk of my savings this year going into my 401k, I’m concerned that in the next ten years we’ll have deflation, high taxes, and my 401k will turn to mush.

But I’m willing to take that risk with $16.5k because it could be a very good time to invest as well. I’m just not sure I can stomach taking that risk with more money. Not without understanding the real economic situation in this country and the world. History doesn’t always repeat itself, or even if it does it may take a longer time to turn around. I’m young now, I can handle that, but if the next 5-10 years will be lost decade #2, why should I play?

The whole media fueling the fire is disturbing as well. I can’t tell how much of the stocks slipping these days is all the fear stories about how bad the economy is doing. It’s a domino effect that goes in a circle downward. What if all the news resources lied and said the economy was turning around and there’s a ray of sunshine close ahead? If people would invest and spend money than… well, that seems to be the only way to dig ourselves out of this mess right now. I don’t know if I agree with that, but what else can we do? We need people spending again so companies will start hiring again. That’s how capitalism works, right?

But it will take a long time to trickle down to lower and middle classes. The media couldn’t lie for that long. News would get out that the future is not so sunny. And everything would crash again.

Or you can just – apparently – print money until the cows come home and thus make every dollar worth less and less and less. That can’t be a good thing.

Right now lots of big names in economics are saying that we may have a “double dip recession” or – worse? – a depression… because we never actually recovered from the first recession. I wish I understood economics jargon more so I could make sense of this, this, this and this … and the thousands of other economic gloom and doom stories I’m reading.

Any feedback from those of you out there who are more economically savvy?

Is Capitalism Evil?

I’m a little late to the table on this question, but is Capitalism evil? My boyfriend and I watched the Michael Moore film Capitalism a few days ago and have been arguing since. My boyfriend believes the whole capitalism is evil argument, while I’m torn. It is a system based on greed and greed ultimately equals corruption (because that’s just the way people are), however it’s the best system I know. That’s not saying it’s the right way to have an economy.

If my boyfriend had his way, he’d live in a real communist society. One where everyone really gets exactly the same. His happiness will never come from material goods. He could live in a cardboard box and be perfectly happy as long as he had the freedom to live as he chooses and more importantly that he knows everyone else is equally compensated.

I, on the other hand, live my life squeezing out pennies from my salary, negotiating for higher pay, working long hours at two jobs to earn as much income in as little time so I can put it into the stock market and other less risky savings vehicles and have compound interest hopefully work it’s magic for the future. It’s not that I need a lot of money to be happy… I more so need a lot of money to feel comfortable. Maybe that’s the evils of capitalism telling their story.

My boyfriend likes to compare Hitler killing all the Jews to capitalism, because in a capitalist society you have the super rich and then everyone else is poor, and there’s very little in between. As a Jew, I kind of take offense to this argument. I don’t think it’s the same thing at all. In Capitalism, everyone DOES have a chance to succeed. Not everyone will. Some people do have an unfair advantage. But no one is taking masses of people and killing them in gas chambers. The comparison is unexcusable.

But — I’m not sure where I stand on the whole capitalism thing. If I knew that I could make less money but have stability over the years (a pension, enough to buy a house, live a decent life, take vacations every few years) then maybe I wouldn’t be so set in supporting capitalism. The only way I can see living that life is through capitalism now. Even if I’m able to sock away $50k per year after tax for the rest of my life, it will take me 20 years to become a millionaire. I’ll be 46. That’s not so bad, but that also means that I will need to keep renting an apartment with roommates, will need to keep working two jobs with one of them being for a large corporation that can afford to pay a 6 figure contractor salary, and I’ll have to sacrifice much of my life for work.

At least with the stock market there’s the chance that those 20 years can be shorter, or that I can save less each year and through compound interest have my million or two million in retirement. I know I won’t have a pension. I don’t know how much social security will be around by the time I retire. I can’t lead a comfortable life unless I know I can save money and have it grow.

Ok, so the biggest argument in the movie that I can say my boyfriend and I agree on is that politicians shouldn’t be allowed to be funded by private corporations. That really is just asking for corruption. It doesn’t even help the small businesses because the only companies who can afford to have major influence are the ones who are already super rich.

But I don’t want to live in a communist society. I like making money. It seems that’s the only thing I’m passionate about these days. I don’t even like spending money anymore. The more I make, the less I want to spend, because I’m able to start saving thousands of dollars a year. My goal this year is for my networth to go from $50k to $100k. And what’s amazing is that it’s possible. I’m one of the lucky ones, sure, but I’m still working two jobs. I’m still finding out what my skills are and applying them to roles where I can make a decent wage. I still know that I can lose my job at any second, so I have a sizable emergency fund, and I don’t have debts so if I need to cut back on my spending I could feasibly live off $1,000 a month. I wouldn’t get to save any more, but I wouldn’t be losing money. I wouldn’t be evicted.

Maybe I can’t understand yet because I don’t have a family. I’m sure it’s a lot harder with kids. I have so much freedom as a single person to say I can live on $1k a month. But that’s why I believe in spending your 20s earning as much as possible and saving as much as possible. Living as cheaply as possible. Work hard now, play later. Hope the stock market doesn’t completely crash. That’s my motto. Does that make me a capitalist? Eh, I guess so. Will my boyfriend ever understand? I think not.