The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Planning for the coming trade war

Posted By on November 9, 2016

So, now that the die is cast, it’s time to execute on contingency plan T (as opposed to plan C, which was “prepare for war with Russia”).

In the short term, I have some computer hardware that I’m going to buy that, ideally, I was going to wait until after tax time (in case I needed the liquidity), but now I want to make sure to grab it before Trump assumes office and places tariffs on those foreign goods. I think the right play here is to wait until the post-Christmas tech goods price drop, so the time to buy is early January.

I also am replacing my cell phone, but that will be a used one (I am not spending $700 on a phone. $200 is about where I’m comfortable, so a Galaxy S5 from swappa is in my future), so the lifecycle timeframe doesn’t matter, and I will therefore be getting it as soon as I get my VW money.

The only long term CapEx that we wanted to do was a new family hauler in 2018, but the front runner for that is a VW Atlas which is being built in Chattanooga, and is therefore likely to be minimally impacted by tariffs. As such, that remains on plan.

There were some optional things to be done (pave the driveway, add a fireplace to the living room), which may or may not happen depending on wage and market volatility. We’ve put those off for about 5 years due to having kids, and, we can easily put them off for the forseeable future.

I think everything else is just absorbing price increases, minimizing expenditures, and trying to keep ahead of increases in parts I might need (German cars, Japanese tractor, etc.) for service and repairs. But, the savings is likely not worth the cash outlay now.

Finally, as far as investments go, if your employer matches your 401(k), then that’s still the best deal going. Even if it loses 25% of its value, if your employer matches 100%, then you’re still up 50% over your contribution. Plus, as I am only 36, my horizon for collecting off of it is pretty long, and I can handle the world markets hammering it for the next 8 years (just as they have for the past 8 years). I have other investments, mainly in municipal bonds (because they’ve been doing well) and I’ll be meeting with my financial guy in Q2’17 to reevaluate. With any luck, the markets will have sorted themselves out by then, but, I expect they’ll freak out again when Trump starts poking at Obamacare. After all, when Obamacare was being debated, they went nuts, so it’s reasonable to assume they’ll do the same if it starts getting revised.

Eventually, however, the uncertainty (which is really what markets don’t like) will resolve and stabilize. The real question will be how much wealth will be destroyed in the process.

In summary, I expect I’ll just batten down the hatches, paint a bunch of miniatures, and wait for the storm to pass, just like I always do.

World War II

Posted By on October 19, 2016

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And people wonder why I don’t trust the government…

Posted By on October 14, 2016

Worth a watch. Bring tissues. Or alcohol. Or both.

Anonymous – The Story of Aaron Swartz Full Documentary

3 day work week

Posted By on October 13, 2016

Apologies for the old article, but I’m catching up on stuff I wanted to write about, and I’ve just been busy.

As some of you know, I have recently been working a 4 day work week (that is, 32 hours). I’ve been enjoying it because it allows us to do more family things on the weekend, and I can do a bunch of “keeping up the house” on the third day. Thinking about doing this “writ large”, it occurred to me that the standard “work week” could become 3 days, with 2 adjacent shifts working in the same space. So, one group works Monday – Wednesday, and the other group works Thursday – Saturday.

In order for this to work, we’d have to divorce health insurance from work (as in, everyone buys it on the open market) so then you don’t have any impediments like “you need to work 30 hours per week to be eligible for our company-sponsored health insurance”. If you want to work more, you can work “double” and work 6 days. Otherwise, you’d just work your 3 days, and then someone else would work the other 3. As a result, you have more free time, and there is less unemployment with similar (if not more) output due to the extra day. That said, the tradeoff is money. You’d have less of it, because you’d only get 3/5 of what you make now. But, you’d have more time.

Apparently, I’m not the only one with this idea.

The economics of the VW TDI buyback program

Posted By on August 10, 2016

So, using the VW Court Settlement tool, I punched in my VIN and answered the questions to find that VW is going to give me just under $15k for my 2012 TDI Jetta, plus just under $6k of “We’re sorry” money, for a total of just under $20k. Armed with this information, I went searching for a new car so that I can sell back the old one without having to scramble to find one when everyone else is doing the same thing. Voila:

20160808_152459

But, the economics of the buyback are interesting. In 2012, I bought the car for $28,500 less a $6,500 trade-in for my old TDI Golf, which means I paid $22,000. I’m getting back $20,777. This means that I drove the car for 4 years for a total of $1223, plus about $800 or so in maintenance (3 oil changes plus a fluid change on the DSG trans). Spending $2k over 4 years and 62k miles is not too shabby.

“New” car is a 2013 Turbo Beetle (early year, so it’s the Gen 1 TSI, not the Gen 3 fitted in the bottom half of 2013) with just under 19k miles on it. It is more than paid for by the money I will get from VW in a couple of months.

Matt’s voluntary “tax” plan

Posted By on June 10, 2016

In talking with people about taxation being theft, the argument of “but we need taxes to pay for roads” (aka, the OMGMAHROADS! argument) often comes up. I’ve even had folks say, essentially, that “taxes are the price we pay for civilization”. The goal of this post is to articulate a plan where we can have civilization similar to what we do now, without it being supported on a foundation of violence, coercion and theft.

Caveats

Since state laws vary, I will just contain this discussion to federal taxes, since they are common across the US.

General rules:

If taxation is theft, then:

  1. The government may not collect income, property, excise taxes, or any other taxes which result in a seizure of “owned” property if taxes are not paid.
  2. The government may collect “usage fees”. For example, the government owns the roads, and can legitimately charge you for their usage. This is analogous to the electric company charging you for the line maintenance in addition to the electricity they sell you. Previously, these fees were collected with gasoline taxes, because the technology wasn’t there to charge people based on road usage. However, we now can do something akin to “EZ-Pass” but writ large. This is voluntary because, if you do not want to pay the tax, you can elect not use the service/utility/etc. However, while this is definitely a topic worth discussing in general, I will not discuss it further because it starts to get out of scope.
  3. By the above definitions, the government may conceivably collect “sales tax” on non-essential goods, because, if you don’t want to pay the tax, you could not purchase the goods. However, I will not put those in my plan because, to me, that pushes the edge of “voluntary”.
  4. The government may not take out loans as this represents a tax on future generations. Just as I cannot take out a loan and expect my children to pay, the government cannot take out a loan and expect future generations to pay. A possible exception here is “in time of war”, where the threat is so dire that there could conceivably be no future.
  5. The government may not play “the inflation game”. Assuming the current central bank and fiat currency model (again, another topic) the government may not inflate the currency supply except at a specific, predictable rate. For example, “the money supply expands and contracts at a rate equivalent to GDP growth and shrinkage”. This is because inflation is a hidden tax on savings, and therefore immoral, but you also want your money to supply to grow with the size of your economy in order to keep price stability (so that, absent market forces, etc. a chocolate bar is always $1, for example).

Plan A (the simple one)

Given the above constraints, we make the following changes:

  1. We eliminate the mandatory income tax.
    • There are no tax returns, because paying taxes is not required.
    • There are no deductibles, because there are no tax returns.
  2. At the same times where you would currently fill out a W-4 (basically, when you take a job and whenever you like thereafter), you fill out a similar form which states how much money your employer would withhold from your paycheck (percentage or dollar value) and those are remitted to the government.
    • They do this already, so it is not an increased burden to them.
    • They would not send out a W-2 because you don’t need it, because there is no tax filing. So, in all, it makes their lives easier.
    • Self-employed folks can still pay quarterly, as they do now. Or yearly. Or whatever. It’s voluntary, so it’s not required.
  3. As happens now, money goes into the general fund and is apportioned off by the government to appropriate agencies via the conventional budgeting process.

Q&A

  1. How will the government be able to operate if they don’t know what their budget will be ahead of time?
    • They’ll have a good idea of what it will be, because they’ll have the receipts from Q1-Q3 to, in Q4, do the budget for the next year.
    • Businesses deal with this variability all the time.
  2. What about Social Security?
    • This deserves its own discussion, because Social Security reform can happen with or without the above. But, the super short version is “we make it voluntary except for a transitional period where some people will be forced to pay into it in order to pay off all of the people who have paid into this Faustian Ponzi scheme their whole lives”.
  3. What about Medicare/Medicaid?
    • Now comes out of the general fund. I’ve never understood why it was under a separate line item on my paystub anyway.
  4. What about disability?
    • Buy your own disability insurance if you want to, otherwise don’t. The government shouldn’t force you to do what is in your best interest, nor should it compete with private disability companies and unions.
  5. But we won’t collect the same amount of money we collect now.
    • Then we’ll get exactly as much government as we are willing to pay for, and no more. The economics of “how much something costs” are totally divorced from the conversations these days, so people vote for the sun, moon and stars, and then complain at being taxed somewhere in the 60% range.
  6. I’ll pay, but other people won’t (the free rider problem).
    • Do you really have such a low opinion of your fellow citizens?
    • In reality, I think that most people who pay taxes now still would (though maybe not as much), and some rich people would pay more (and have said that they think their tax rate should be higher. This gives them the opportunity to pay more).
  7. What about corporations?
    • I see no reason why the corporate tax couldn’t be replaced with a voluntary contribution either.
  8. But they spend the money on the wrong things!
    • See “Plan B”, below, for an option which addresses this.

Plan B (the more complicated one).

So, this one takes Plan A and:

  1. Works the same way if you don’t care (puts all your money in the general fund)
  2. If you do care, you can file a separate form which works like a 401(k) election, and allows you to distribute your tax dollars according to your personal preferences as to where the money should be spent. You check the boxes for the things to which you want to give money, and fill out a percentage of how much you want to go into there. Must add up to 100%.

Q&A

  1. How will program X get funded?
    • Either out of the general fund or as a result of specific allocations.
  2. But most people don’t like program X, so it won’t get funded!
    • If people don’t like it, why is it being funded now? (Hint: I bet someone donated to someone else’s political campaign!)
  3. Won’t this remove politician’s “power of the purse”?
    • You say that like it’s a bad thing.
    • Seriously, yes, a bit. On the one hand, they won’t be able to give out benefits to their friends, but, on the other hand, they won’t be able to clamp down on government agencies by limiting their budgets if the public specifically allocated them monies. However, the public would have to do that, and the main reason congresspeople investigate government agencies is because of their constituents pressing them to do so. Look at the Snowden revelations. If something like that happens and people like what those agencies do, they would get more money. If not, then they would get less. No congressional input required – it’s the most direct form of governance and oversight.
  4. All that choosing sounds complicated.
    • No more than doing your taxes is now.
    • You can also just use the default and kick it to the general fund.
  5. This is doing to lead to government agencies spending tons of money on advertising to get people to spend more on advertising in order to get the people to give them more money.
    • Maybe, but they’d spend less on lobbyists (which is who they pay now so they can get more money) while at least being more straightforward and transparent.
  6. But then all these hippies wouldn’t fund the military and the terrorists would win!
    • Maybe some hippies wouldn’t fund it, but I’m sure there are enough folks who believe in a strong military that they’d be willing to specifically check a box and earmark a ton of their contribution to the military.
  7. But then no one would fund the roads!
    • I bet more folks would fund the roads than the military.

On violence and the left

Posted By on June 7, 2016

So, there has been a lot of surprise at the violence which erupted at a Trump rally in San Jose. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why people are surprised. This is what the left does. Allow me to explain.

Apropos of this discussion, there is this Cato presentation about the constitution which brings into stark contrast something which, on some level, I have always known – we do not have one constitution, we have two, because two camps read it two different ways.

  • The republican constitution, is generally (though not always consistently) read by the right to preserve individual liberty at the expense of society. So, for example, such a reading prohibits things like forcing a bakery to make gay wedding cakes. (Aside: This is also where many Libertarians fail their ideological purity test. Gary Johnson, for example was a Republican governor and is now the Libertarian Party candidate for president, and his statement that Jewish bakers should be forced to bake Nazi wedding cakes). But, exceptions and hypocrisy notwithstanding, this is generally the view of the right.
  • The democratic constitution generally (and this is pretty consistent) is read by the left (and sometimes the right, when it suits them) to apply to the collective. Essentially, the duty of government is to do what is best for us as a society, and the individual comes second.

Now, if you take it at that level, then the view of the left is that the point of government is to force people to do “what they should do”, i.e. what is best for us all (this is not a new idea – it dates back to at least James Madison saying that government is an “institution to make people do their duty”). So, when you have someone who is saying things that the left doesn’t like, then that is bad for society, and therefore that person shouldn’t say those things. This logic is very consistent and can be seen in the increased restrictions on speech on college campuses (safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc.) and the backlash in the form of the rise of cultural libertarianism.

Given the above, it’s not a very big stretch to say:

  1. Saying X is bad (hate speech, for example).
  2. The government should do something.
  3. The government isn’t doing something.
  4. We should do something.
  5. And thus, people do something.

Hence, this is a logical outcome and should not really surprise people, as it’s eminently predictable.

Does gaming have a white male terrorist problem?

Posted By on June 3, 2016

So, I came across this post:

http://latining.tumblr.com/post/141567276944/tabletop-gaming-has-a-white-male-terrorism-problem

And I am appalled at what she has described. But, it also doesn’t really square with my experience. In uni, half my Shadowrun group was female, and all of the “inappropriate” comments were between people who were already sleeping together (sometimes, I think they viewed gaming as foreplay). In the decade and a half since, I’ve gone to many cons (generally Cold Wars and Carnage) and have played pick up games with lots of folks, and have also played in some RPG campaigns. Yes, it’s a male dominated hobby, but there are a decent amount of girls and women in it (offhand, I’d say 30-40%) and I simply can’t imagine this stuff happening on a regular basis at any of the places I’ve been. Indeed, enough of a proportion of the gamers are chivalrous and polite that if someone did try something like that, you’re probably going to get handed your teeth (or, at the very least, police will be called, if not already there, because a lot of cops play). I mean, hell, my Mom plays, and aside from a few asshats making jokes about how the game might be too complicated for a girl (which is even more hilarious when she beats them), she has never had anything like this happen to her.

Am I wrong here? Or, maybe I’m just out of touch with mainstream gaming enough that this is what it’s like, I just don’t see it because everyone is playing 40k and I’m playing TNT….

So, I’ve been dark for awhile…

Posted By on June 2, 2016

I’ve been away for a bit because I’ve been working on other things; specifically:

Now that I’m finished with those projects, I’ll likely be posting more. Still have a lot of hobby stuff to talk about, pictures to post, and some website maintenance to do. I’ve enabled a markdown plugin, so I can use markdown for my formatting, but that required disabling another plugin I was using, so most of my past 3 years of entries need to be edited to use markdown. Since markdown is a standard, hopefully this is the last time I’ll have to do this.

Once that is all sorted, I’ll likely go through and start converting pages from my old site into WordPress.. This has been outstanding for years, and I really should get around to it at some point.

Anyway, that’s it for now.

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep

Posted By on April 12, 2016

For all the parents out there, this book seems odd, but totally works. It’s basically hypnotic relaxation techniques. I figured it worked because it was just boring (and, I mean, it’s REALLY boring), so I tried reading the kids the AD&D 2nd Ed Players Handbook in its stead, but this actually worked better.