Archive for category Economist “humor”
by Swifty Johnson[*]
It is a melancholy object that has come to our attention; namely, that there are a number of barriers to graduation in the state of California that could easily be eliminated. These barriers are, in ascending order: the obligation to learn to write; the necessity of learning to do sums, the onerous requirement to think analytically, and finally, professors themselves. We have come upon a solution to this nagging problem in public higher education; it will result in a four-year, 100 % graduation rate. It is as follows:
Present the first-year student with a tuition bill for the next four years of his or her university education, said bill becoming due immediately and to be paid through grants, loans, the student’s own accumulated inheritance from recently and timely-deceased grandparents, or the third mortgage his or her parents can negotiate as a lien on the family’s ancestral suburban home. Alternatively, it may be possible to garnish the student’s wages at Starbucks for the next fifty years. Immediately upon the check’s clearing and being deposited in the coffers of the state university, issue the baccalaureate degree to the student in question.
Subsequently, provide the student a PIN number that will allow him or her to gain access to unlimited massive, online training courses which, at his or her discretion, can be pursued for enrichment, skill-building, and virtual laboratory experimentation. Or not.
The outmoded concepts of “seat time” and required courses having been replaced by a completely elective and at-will higher education system will also provide the added benefit of freeing up acres of university buildings and property to be leased, at great profit, to the private businesses that have developed these wondrous online tools for their use in team-building seminars and golf tournaments.
Professors will no longer need to be retained; most professors will have been transformed into holograms. A robust administration, however, is necessary to be kept in place so that the system can be centralized and regularly assessed and so that, on the first day of classes, which will also be the day of commencement celebrations, someone can be present in full academic regalia to distribute the diplomas and to smile for the cameras of proud aunties and uncles while doing so. At all costs, graduation celebrations must proceed as usual in order to mark this singular, significant event in the lives of these proud undergraduates.
Make no mistake: this is as foolproof a plan as solving the Irish famine by telling the populace to devour their own children.
[*] Swifty Johnson is the nom de plume of Prof. Susan Gubernat, Professor of Creative Writing, California State University, East Bay. Prof. Gubernat was kind enough to give me permission to reprint her writing in my blog. If I have inadvertently introduced any mistakes, I apologize (and will correct them asap).
When environmentalists discuss the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project, they often state that their real goal is to prevent Canada from developing the tar sands. Unless and until Canada becomes our 51st state, I have bad news for these folks: Canada is a sovereign nation. They have a government that is separate from the U.S. But, in the spirit of education, I offer a small video clip that will show them how to stop development of the Canadian tar sands. (This video is available in three flavors. One is a small .m4v file designed for mobile users. The second is a larger .m4v file suitable for larger screens and faster connections. The third is a Quicktime .mov file that most web browsers can play in native form.)
Mobile m4v (3.9 mb): Stop Canada’s Tar Sands
Full-sized m4v (14 mb): Stop Canada’s Tar Sands
Full-sized Quicktime .mov file (80 mb, be patient, it will start eventually) Stop Canada’s Tar Sands
Following quotation was the closing story on Marketplace today. Do we really want Jack Lew at the Treasury?
The Jewish Daily Forward newspaper recounts that Lew was once asked to serve as the treasurer at his local synagogue. Turned it down with a smile, the story goes, saying synagogue finances would be harder to manage than the federal budget.”
Most people are aware of the proposal for the U.S. Mint to strike the one trillion dollar coin. The Treasury would turn the coin over to the Federal Reserve. The Fed would credit Treasury’s account with $1 trillion and the government could continue to spend without exceeding the national debt ceiling. There are some quibbles about the legality of this proposal. I’ll mention them and provide links at the end of this article. My main purpose here, however, is to collect some of the more comical comments — mainly from Twitter — that have been made. I will, of course, mention my slim contribution early: what should this coin be named and whose image should appear on its face? But before that, I want to talk about the recent demise of this proposal and the language used by White House Celebrity Spokesmodel Jay Carney to make the announcement. This will just take a minute, then I’ll get to the humorous stuff.
The following quotation from Mr. Carney is via the Huffington Post:
There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or they can fail to act and put the nation into default,” said Press Secretary Jay Carney. “When Congressional Republicans played politics with this issue last time putting us at the edge of default, it was a blow to our economic recovery, causing our nation to be downgraded. The President and the American people won’t tolerate Congressional Republicans holding the American economy hostage again simply so they can force disastrous cuts to Medicare and other programs the middle class depend on while protecting the wealthy. Congress needs to do its job.
Is simple accounting really that difficult? Apparently for our math-challenged president, it is.
A Serious Digression on Default
First, a definition: default is a failure to make payments on debt obligations when the payment is due. Have you ever been late with a credit card payment? Or any other debt obligation? Technically you were in default. But here’s the funny thing about government default: the government has a steady stream of tax revenue arriving every second. It is up to government officials — the President, Treasury secretary, and anyone else that is invited to the meeting — to decide the uses to which that tax revenue is put. They can choose to not pay the debt obligations but let’s be clear on one thing: default is a choice, not a necessity. The government can choose to pay debt obligations and, perhaps, do something that will be very popular with the American public like ending the war on marijuana. Or scaling back the sexual abuse practiced by the Transportation Security Administration at our airports. Just as the government spends tax revenue in millions of different ways, it also has millions of ways to cut spending.
That was the hashtag I proposed on Twitter. I had no idea there were so many people with so much time on their hands. Here is the entire response to #NameTheCoin:
The winner is @ProofBlog whose blog, proof-proofpositive.blogspot.com features the coin in all its glory (http://proof-proofpositive.blogspot.com/2013/01/new-trillion-dollar-u-s-coin-freddie.html). The winning name: the Freddie Krugerrand. The image, forever etched into posterity, is shown here:
As far as I can tell, the #MintTheCoin hashtag was invented by Joe Weisenthal (@TheStalwart, columnist for BusinessInsider.com). Here are excerpts from one of his early columns supporting the idea:
It wouldn’t be a real column about fiscal and monetary policy without an excerpt from a real economist. Prof. Stephanie Kelton (U. of Missouri Kansas City, @DeficitOwl) is one of the best and most articulate, so why not quote her? Good idea:
For those interested in historical accuracy (really?), Joe Firestone has the most comprehensive article I’ve found. (Suggestions are, as always, welcome.) He focuses on blog entries and comments, completely ignoring the far more important Twitterverse.
If you’d like an interactive timeline of blog entries, Corrente has published a semi-working interactive timeline as well as a downloadable table of their data.
But, sad to report, the White House has dismissed this idea without much comment (except the mandatory major error by Jay Carney mentioned at the beginning of this article). Here is an excerpt from another article by Joe Weisenthal under the headline COINTASTROPHE: White House Rules Out The Trillion Dollar Coin Option To Break The Debt Ceiling.
Comments from Twitter: A Slideshow, Wait for Eleven Slides
Rather than present these one at a time, I’ve decided to display them as a slideshow. The reason is simple: creating slideshows in WordPress is difficult and I haven’t made myself crazy today (yet). This should do it.
Conclusion and a Few More Serious Notes
One obvious question: Is this really legal? Apparently it is. The relevant section of the U.S. code is 31 USC § 5112 – Denominations, specifications, and design of coins, specifically, section (k): “The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.” (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/31/5112)
There has been some debate about the meaning of “platinum bullion coins.” Apparently this means that the coin would have to contain $1 trillion of platinum. Paraphrasing Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, “That’s gonna be one big coin.” However, the second part of the clause, “proof platinum coins” would appear to give legal authorization. (A proof coin is one struck, but never intended for circulation. I think it’s a pretty good bet that the trillion dollar coin would be a proof coin.)
Some people have expressed surprise and wonder that this is the way money actually works. Surprise! The dollar bill in your pocket has no intrinsic value and is not backed by gold, silver, weasel pelts, whale teeth, or any other commodity money. Like most countries, the U.S. money supply is fiat money meaning that it only has value because we all accept it in exchange for valuable goods and services. (Whale teeth were actually used as money in Fiji, although calling them commodity money seems a stretch. After all, commodity money is supposed to have use value as well as money value. Whale teeth would, presumably, only be useful to whales.)
If nothing else, this episode has taught quite a few people about money and fiscal policy. And it is among the best examples of economist “humor.” The very best humor is stories like this that have elements of truth, teach something about economics, and create fun. Can’t do much better than this.
Meanwhile, over on Twitter, Dr. Goose (@DrGooseEcon) has tried a limerick. (Reminder: I did not write this. Direct all complaints to Dr. Goose, please.)
1 shouldn’t put 2 much reliance
On the art of political science
Which tends 2 4tell
An outcome as well
As the calendar made by the Mayans.
When counterfeiting, know your security features. This was brought to mind with a story in the Prescott (Arizona) Daily Courier July 26, 2012. Apparently a man tried to pass fake $100 bills twice. In one place, the cashier noticed that the security thread and watermark were wrong. In the next place, the cashier needed change and asked her manager. The manager noticed that, while the main picture was good ol’ Ben Franklin, the watermark was Abe Lincoln. This technique, known as “raising the note,” is accomplished by bleaching the ink out of a legitimate piece of currency (in this case a $5 bill), then printing the legitimate currency paper with a higher value ($100). The practice has been around for decades, but it’s much harder today with security threads, watermarks, and so on. Anyone interested should track down a PBS NOVA show called “Secrets of Making Money.” Although the video was made in 1996, there’s still a lot in it that people don’t know about. And the website seems to have been kept up to date. Of course, if you’re looking for basic facts, There’s also a government website devoted to various security features in different denominations.
Helpful tidbit: have you noticed that the $5, $10, $20, and $50 notes have peach and red colors on the note? Ever wondered why the $100 bill doesn’t? To understand the answer, you need to understand the two broad categories of counterfeiters. There are professionals who only print fake $100 bills. (If you don’t get that, ask yourself why no one ever bothers to print a fake $1 bill. Exactly.)
There are also casual counterfeiters, people (often fairly young) who have access to a high-resolution scanner, a color laser printer, or a color copier. They don’t even bother with the $100, knowing it’s out of their league. And when they see the results of trying to copy the lower denominations, it’s a real deterrent to trying to pass those fake notes.
Funniest story ever: a guy in Florida (it’s always Florida, isn’t it?) created a fake $20 bill by snipping all four corners off a legitimate $20 and pasting them on to a $1 bill. I’m not smart enough to make up stuff this good.
Just what you need for a Sunday in July, an update on the Martian banking system. That’s all I could think of after hearing reports that between $21 and $32 trillion worldwide are hidden in offshore bank accounts. The story broke in the London Observer.
James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has compiled the most detailed estimates yet of the size of the offshore economy in a new report, The Price of Offshore Revisited, released exclusively to the Observer.
My thought was undoubtedly the same as yours: since we’re talking about the entire planet, what is the meaning of “offshore?”
Exactly my thoughts! Mars has banks. That’s the only possible explanation.
(Image from http://www.watchvideos.com.au/Mars.html.)
Germany celebrates Greek exit. With apologies. From the front page of the Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2012. As far as I can tell, this image is not available on wsj.com.
Yet another unconventional stimulus for the U.S. economy. In November, 2010 I wrote about economic stimulus from unlikely sources. Those included people who are not paying their mortgages ($2.6 billion per month), bad management, and the Microsoft Kinect. Recently another item caught my attention.
According to Reuters, Ronald Page of Detroit was able to withdraw $1.5 million from his checking account via ATM. This despite maintaining an actual balance of about $100. Apparently the Bank of America ATM dispensed hundreds of thousands of dollars at every withdrawal. Missed it by that much! ($1 to Maxwell Smart)
Mr. Page, being a good U.S. citizen, gambled the money away. That’s $1.5 million in additional spending! Mr. Page copped a plea and faces 15 months in prison. He should get a medal from President Obama instead.