Read This If. . .

You enjoy iconoclasts, craft beer, and independent businesses—Dick Cantwell’s Beer is Immortal (Allecia Vermillion).

You think we’ve ruined kindergarten. The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland (Tim Walker).

You wonder what makes dogs happy. Hint: The answer is in their tails. The secret lives of dogs: Emotional sensor helps owners understand their pup’s feelings (Michael Walsh).

Inside Amazon

Despite only being two to three days old, this New York TImes Amazon expose has generated 5,735+ comments. And a rebuttal by Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos.

First, let’s acknowledge that the trustworthiness of the Times’s investigative reporting has regrettably slipped in recent years. Despite that, it’s an amazing peek inside the company that so many consumers, myself included, have to this point mindlessly supported. And by amazing, I mean really disturbing.

It’s a precautionary tale for any business or organization that believes data analysis or “metrics” is the answer to all problems.

Bezos says its not the company he knows. That probably means he’s completely lost touch with most of his employees’ day-to-day realities.

Amazonians’ long hours and personal sacrifices might make sense if it had a more inspiring mission than sell more shit and dominate retail. Another reminder that materialism shapes 21st Century U.S. life and wealth is a powerful motivator.

In skimming a small cross-section of the comments, I was struck by how many readers said they were completely cutting the Amazon chord. Will they follow through? Will they slow the giant retail supertanker? Time will tell.

It’s Self-Evident, All Flyers are Created Unequal

Yesterday, while traveling from San Jose to Seattle, it suddenly dawned on me that I’m an air travel “Have Not”. Which is probably a good thing since everywhere else I’m a “Have”.

Air travel “Haves” zip through special “pre-TSA screening” security checks; wait with other “Haves” in special “members only” lounges that are probably decked out with soft frozen yogurt machines; and board way before you and me.

Alaska Airlines employs an especially detailed caste system for boarding passengers.

1st—Russell Wilson.

2nd—Families with babies.

3rd—First class.

4th—Gold platinum members.

5th—MVP Elite members.

6th—Those people who can pronounce Ta-Nehisi Coates correctly.

7th—Ron Byrnes.

Sentence to Ponder

From an article on Jeb Bush’s taxes in today’s WSJ.

“The average rate for middle-income households was projected to be 12% in 2013, the latest available data.”

The top 1% of earners, who do 99% of the complaining about tax rates, pays an average of 33%.

What percentage of people in developed countries would sign on to pay 12%? Trick question. Somewhat less than all because some (many?) would not want to accept the trade-offs of minimal taxes including worsening infrastructure, expensive health care, and tens of million in poverty.

What the Affordable Care Act Gets Wrong

Poor form to be contrarian following a week liberals can’t stop celebrating, but count your blessings I’m done writing about golf. For now at least. I always reserve my right to tap my inner Alan Shipnuck.

Thursday night near the end of another spirited training ride. Soft spinning on North Street, two friends and I head for home. One is a well-to-do 59 year old who just retired. His very nice lake home is paid for and he and his wife just returned from another trip to Europe. Euro vacations aside, as his threadbare cycling gloves illustrate, he’s actually on the frugal side. He says he can afford the vacations because of the gloves. Decades of having made very good money no doubt help too.

“You’ll never guess what medical plan I’ve signed up for,” he says. “No clue,” I replied. “Medicaid!” “Wait, you’re 65?!” “No, I’m 59, that’s Medicare. I was surprised to learn I qualify for Medicaid because I have no income now.”

Quick google search. Medicaid is “a U.S. government program, financed by federal, state, and local funds, of hospitalization and medical insurance for persons of all ages within certain income limits.”

I was stunned. He told me a person can make about $20k/year and still qualify for Medicaid. He hardly has any capital gains because he hasn’t sold any assets for a long time. Apart from his international vacations, I’m guessing his expenses are minimal and he’s living off of savings that he previously set aside. I’m not sure how he’s sheltered his wife’s income.

Then he tells me the adult son of a mutual cycling friend is also getting “free” Medicaid despite the fact that he has a very large trust fund that must consist of tax-free municipal bonds.

Undoubtedly, if my friends are doing this, so are other high wealth/low income people. Especially those whose income stems largely from tax-free municipal bonds. Why isn’t anyone writing about this gigantic loophole and what we should do to close it?

More generally, why does the Affordable Care Act (ACA) use income as it’s sole reference point instead of some combination of income and wealth? The same can be asked about the IRS and college financial aid offices. When it comes to health care premiums, college financial aid, and taxes more generally, it’s far better to be wealthy than to have lots of income. Just ask Mitt Romney. My guess is, and I’d love a more tax savvy reader to enlighten us on this, IRS agents, ACA bureaucrats, and college financial aid officials are unable to determine people’s total wealth with any certainty.

Why not ballpark it though I wonder. If the government knew my friend owned his home outright, would it compromise his Second Amendment rights to privacy? How do we balance well-to-do people’s right to privacy with public policies that, through subsidies, take from those of modest wealth and give to those with considerably more?

What We Get Wrong About Work and Retirement

A fair number of my friends are in their late 50’s to mid-60’s meaning they’re heading towards the exits at work. Some who’ve recently retired are struggling to adapt to life without work routines. They werent enamored with their work all the time, but it provided a predictable structure for their lives.

Meanwhile, we continually read about how wonderfull everyone’s “Third Act” is, whether traveling the world, volunteering, consulting, or starting new careers which shouldn’t count as retiring at all. Retiring is like investing, we only talk about the most positive examples, thus painting a misleading picture. The truth of the post-work matter is, many people don’t know what to do when they don’t have to do anything.

Yes, you’re right, this is a nice “first world” problem to have. Too many people can never afford to retire, but solving that problem is well beyond the reach of my pea-brain, so here I focus on those fortunate enough to soon pull the work plug.

Maybe the best way to think about the challenge is to consider the experience of a friend of mine in his late 40’s because I think his experience is fairly typical.

“Tom” works 60 hours a week, 49-50 weeks a year. In the limited non-work time he has, he watches reality t.v. and his kids play sports. Despite being friendly, he has few friends because he spends almost all of his time working. He assauges his guilt for working so much by spending all of his non-work time with his family. Consequently, he doesn’t have any independent interests or hobbies. In a few years his kids will be gone and he’ll wonder what to do with that little bit of non-work time. I hope I’m wrong, but I predict that In fifteen years, when he stops working, he’ll be completely lost.

Our typical way of thinking about work and retirement, work too much for several decades and then throw a switch and completely stop working, is seriously flawed. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to succeed at reshaping their personal identity overnight.

My working friends who make time for their friends right now and love things like cycling, gardening, and traveling, will fair better than my friend who has decided to sacrifice personal interests on the alter of exceedingly long work weeks.

Of course, the closely related challenge is creating a lifestyle that doesn’t require decades of overwork. If Tom’s children decide to live more simply, like many Millenials seem to be, maybe they’ll strike a better work-life balance. One other important “dot” to connect is one’s wages. Obviously, the more specialized and sought after one’s skills are, they better they are compensated, meaning the fewer hours they HAVE to work.

Instead of throwing a retirement switch, more Baby Boomers are gently turning a dimmer switch, choosing to work half time for example. Gradually transitioning from the world of work to the world of non-obligatory work makes real sense. If you can afford it.