Rick Steves Wants to Save the World

One vacation at a time. Lengthy profile of the travel guru, but really well written and well worth the time. In the spirt of Steves, I’m off on a two-week vacation, during which I’ll be pressing pause on Pressing Pause.

I’m agnostic on marijuana. Apart from that difference, I’m down with damn near every other aspect of Steves’s worldview. At the same time, I get tired just reading about his frenetic pace. I’m far too slothful to aspire to be Steves-like, but his non-materialism and associated generosity are definitely inspiring.

I’ll post pics to Twitter, @PressingPause, of my travels. First person to guess the correct country wins an all expense trip to North Korea.

Double Your Money—Guaranteed

The worst of the Humble Blog’s 1,504 titles fo sho, but stick with me.

One morning, a few weeks ago, I was listening to National Public Radio’s Marketplace show. They were telling the story of a 20 year old dude who discovered that his Legos, collecting dust in plastic bins in his parent’s house, were worth a lot of money. Why? Because (mostly) men in their 30s and 40s are nostalgic for their childhoods. Thus began a small online business with his mother who cleaned the Legos and readied them for sale. The two of them thus began buying discarded Legos on Ebay and then cleaning and reselling them for twice what they paid.

Which got me thinking. About alternatives to stock and bond index funds and certificates of deposit. What about investing in nostalgia.

My question for you is buy and hold WHAT for decades? I forgive you if you’re thinking I may not have decades, because life is fragile, so suggest something my daughters wouldn’t dread inheriting. Which of course complicates things because they may not be as enamored as me with men’s watches, air cooled Porsches, Ping putters, or late 80s Toyota Landcruisers. The car references raise another issue—storage and ease of transport considerations. Let’s assume my heirs may not have a detached garage like me and that they’re going to move from time to time.

With those parameters I turn to you loyal readers. I rarely ask anything of you, but what say you on investing in nostalgia? Where should I put my spare change to work? The only thing I ask is that we at least double my money*.

*goes without saying, adjusted for inflation

 

 

On Workism

Derek Thompson’s Atlantic essay “The Religion of Workism is Making Americans Miserable” deserves widespread discussion around dinner tables; and in churches; synagogues; and heaven for bid, workplaces.

It’s hard to excerpt from because the whole thing deserves a close reading. In particular, the conclusion is strong:

“Workism offers a perilous trade-off. On the one hand, Americans’ high regard for hard work may be responsible for its special place in world history and its reputation as the global capital of start-up success. A culture that worships the pursuit of extreme success will likely produce some of it. But extreme success is a falsifiable god, which rejects the vast majority of its worshippers. Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight. A staggering 87 percent of employees are not engaged at their job, according to Gallup. That number is rising by the year.

One solution to this epidemic of disengagement would be to make work less awful. But maybe the better prescription is to make work less central.

This can start with public policy. There is new enthusiasm for universal policies—like universal basic income, parental leave, subsidized child care, and a child allowance—which would make long working hours less necessary for all Americans. These changes alone might not be enough to reduce Americans’ devotion to work for work’s sake, since it’s the rich who are most devoted. But they would spare the vast majority of the public from the pathological workaholism that grips today’s elites, and perhaps create a bottom-up movement to displace work as the centerpiece of the secular American identity.”

Insightful and important, but incomplete. Thompson misses the sociological nature of workism. He implies well compensated Americans are consciously choosing to work to the point of exhaustion, but the dynamic is far more complex. More of a sociological sensibility is needed to understand two things: 1) the subtle and nuanced way status anxiety contributes to conspicuous consumption, and 2) how a few workaholics can create workplace cultures that lead others to haphazardly conform until a critical mass of pathological workaholism takes over.

Simply put, in some workplaces, you are not truly free to choose whether to make work the centerpiece of your identity or not. Your co-workers make the decision for you.

 

 

Abolish Billionaires?

There are about 2,200 billionaires in the world, about one-fourth of those are U.S. citizens.

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that engendered more than 1,500 comments. Most simply, he argued, we should abolish billionaires through much higher taxes and related policies.

When it comes to billionaires, I’m of a mixed mind. On the one hand, given rising inequality, I’m surprised more people aren’t agitating against members of the three -comma club. Not just writing commentaries, but taking to the streets Occupy Wall Street style.

On the other hand, as the philosopher Peter Singer points out, some billionaires are giving away the bulk of their wealth to philanthropy. Bill Gates, in particular, plans to give away 99.6% of the cash money I paid him back in the day for successive versions of Microsoft Office.

Of course, as Manjoo points out, we have to analyze whether the billionaires’ charitable giving is having positive effects or not. Anand Giridharadas style. As Manjoo explains, Giridharadas argues that many billionaires approach philanthropy as a kind of branding exercise to maintain a system in which they get to keep their billions. Especially when they put their largess into politics.

“. . . whether it’s Howard Schultz or Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, whether it’s for your team or the other — you should see the plan for what it is: an effort to gain some leverage over the political system, a scheme to short-circuit the revolution and blunt the advancing pitchforks.”

Gates might be an outlier, but his giving is so exemplary, I’m less inclined to order a pitchfork from that billionaire with the online superstore.

Most Americans Support Warren’s ‘Ultramillionare Tax’

The title of a FiveThirtyEight feature:

“Sixty-three percent of Americans believe ‘upper income people’ pay too little in taxes, according to a new survey from Morning Consult. The poll also found that 61 percent of Americans either “strongly” or “somewhat” favor 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan, which would levy a new tax on households with a net worth of $50 million or more.”

More generally:

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Fund those Roth IRAs friends, like the ocean surface, taxes are going to rise.

“Warren’s tax plan has been described as an “ultramillionare tax” that aims to make the rich pay taxes on accumulated wealth. It would place a 2 percent tax on households whose net worth exceeds $50 million and then an additional 1 percent (so 3 percent total) on those worth more than $1 billion. The plan has faced some criticism, including claims that it’s unconstitutional. Interestingly, however, the support for the plan appears to be somewhat bipartisan, according to the Morning Consult poll: 74 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans said they strongly or somewhat favor the proposal.”

However, as Paul Sullivan explains here, Warren’s proposal will be very difficult to implement. Just to be safe though, I’m going to do everything in my power to keep my net worth under $50m.

Semi-related. As those who know me even a little can attest, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my 56 years, but I’ve never threatened the world’s richest person with legal action. That’s next-level stupid.

Sentence To Ponder

From The Guardian. The report is from Oxfam, a British-based charitable organization:

“The growing concentration of the world’s wealth has been highlighted by a report showing that the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population.”

Oxfam says between 2017 and 2018 a billionaire was created every two days. And then there’s this. Just 1% of Jeff Bezos’s (pre-divorce) fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.

Related.