Now That's Rich
Every so often the mainstream press has an article so permeated with unintentional irony and humor that the publishers ought to be recognized for their unconscious foresight in vetting it for publication.
This week, the honor for the K Marx the Spot Prize for funniest assertion in a serious article about personal finance goes to Business Week for this Toddi Gutner article on self-directed IRAs:
Until nine months ago, Hal Fong had a fairly typical individual retirement account (IRA) with all the usual vehicles: mutual funds, stocks, and bonds. Then he finally got tired of the so-so returns. So using a "self-directed IRA," he directed 20%, about $125,000, into a private-equity deal, Pan Pacific Bank, a Fremont (Calif.) startup. Fong, a 51-year-old logistics manager at Home Depot in Northern California, expects the bank to be bought, merged, or taken public within three years, earning a 30% average annual return for his IRA.
The funny part is not the idea that a bank in Northern California is going to double in value in the next three years—while a flat or inverted yield curve is not good for banks because they borrow short and lend long, the next three years might well prove good for the Bay Area economy.
No, the problem are the assertions in that lead paragraph that Fong has a "typical" IRA, that the IRA has a balance of roughly $625,000, and that he has earned "so-so returns." Until quite recently, the limit on contributions to an IRA was $2,000 per year. If Fong started his IRA in 1976 (when he was 21), and always contributed $2,000 per year to it, then a 13% per annum return—hardly so-so (the Standard and Poor's 500 gained only 12.6% per year by comparison). If Fong started his IRA later, or skipped one or more years, then his compounded return has been even better.
Statistics show that the average American worker in 2003 had an IRA with a balance of not quite $30,000. More detailed 1999 statistics from the Internal Revenue Service pegged the traditional IRA assets of taxpayers between 45 and 54 years as having a mean of $56,377 and a median of $20,987. Now, several years have passed between 1999 and 2006, but they have not been good years for the stock market, the main beneficiary of IRA contributions. Half of all taxpayers in Fong's age cohort had IRA assets in 1999 of less than $21,000. And certainly far more than half have less than $625,000 today!
Yes, in a state of communism, the retirement security that today only a bountiful retirement account can bring may indeed by typical. But for now, only the atypically affluent will have anything like that.
Now That's Political Correctness
If there is one thing that unites the right wing, from Christian Reconstructionists to neo-monarchists to neo-conservatives, it is the notion that academia is utterly teeming with "politically correct" leftists who want to quash any glimmer of conservative thought.
It is somehow not reassuring to the right wing that even in the supposed bastions of left-wing dogmatism that conservatives regularly and infamously pop up. Somehow Harvey Mansfield at Harvard manages to teach government and be a conservative—and he somehow missed the all-school meeting where every member of the faculty of arts and sciences had to pay fealty to atheism. Somehow Donald Kagan at Yale got tenure teaching history without having to swear to teach only the Leninist version of historical materialism. (And, yes, somehow David Gerlenter managed to get tenure as well!)
Yes, amazingly enough, there is no such thing as a loyalty oath at even the most liberal and most elite of the liberal elite universities. Indeed, even at departments as heterodox as the University of Massachusetts economics department—an actual hotbed of Marxian thought—actual conservatives have earned, are earning, and will earn tenure.
If conservatives are allowed at liberal universities and colleges, is the converse true? Not on your life.
Take, for example, Wheaton College in Illinois. An assistant professor of philosophy was fired from Wheaton for the crime against academic propriety of converting to Catholicism.
Faculty members at the west suburban evangelical Protestant college must sign a faith statement that the Bible is the final authority. Catholics follow the authority of Scripture and the pope.
Joshua Hochschild, an assistant professor of philosophy at Wheaton College for four years, became a Catholic on Easter 2004. He was dismissed last spring.
"I was sad to be leaving my colleagues and students and an institution I valued very highly," said Hochschild, 33. "But I support in principle the right of the institution to have exclusive hiring policies. Not every institution is a liberal democracy. We both agreed that Wheaton has a right to exclude Catholics if it wants to. We both agree there are significant differences between what a Catholic believes and what a Protestant believes. Our significant difference was over whether the statement of faith was an effective way of implementing a policy of excluding Catholics."
Wheaton's own president proclaims on its web site that the college accepts one and only one point of view from its faculty:
When I came to Wheaton I inherited a long-standing policy which specified that all employees must be able to affirm the College's Statement of Faith....One can be enrolled as a student at Wheaton without ever affirming this Statement of Faith, but the team of people who are gathered to serve our students is to be drawn from those whose convictions square with the theological stance of the College....The Wheaton College you and I know, then, is the historical and theological product of American evangelical Protestantism, and its constituency is almost entirely Protestant. This identity is no accident of history but is rather a matter of conviction. In virtually every one of the Reformation/Catholic or Reformation/Orthodox differences, the College by conviction will be found standing on the Reformation side. We need not be anti-Catholic or anti-Orthodox, but neither are we willing to say that the more substantial differences do not matter.
This is what passes for higher education in hundreds of cases across the United States. The all-encompasses nature of right-wing political correctness on campus has literally no parallel on the left. Anyone not toeing the religious and ideological line of these right-wing bastions of "learning" need not apply. Who needs a Little Red Book when the Thick Black Book will do?
The Scum Always Rises
He's back! The man who made millions of dollars claiming that coral calcium would cure all ills has a new product to peddle. In 2004, the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with Trudeau that would supposedly keep him out of the infomercial business. Alas, the settlement did not keep Trudeau from peddling anything on infomercials, because he could still make "truthful infomercials for informational publications."
Trudeau and his lawyers interpreted that as allowing him to peddle a book of miracle cures.
Now that at least some cable and television outlets are onto Trudeau's book as being full of manure, he has started now to peddle cosmetics—the FTC settlement does not cover cosmetics. (Look for an infomercial designed to look like a talk show set with a fellow named Kevin (sitting on the right hand side of the set) as the co-host.)
Chances are that the sales staff was willing to take Trudeau's filthy money but that the management does not want to be tainted by it—that is the impression that I got from New England Cable News, which informed me that it will no longer run Trudeau's latest infomercial.
I just want to know whether television and cable outlets pay the slightest attention to the garbage that they allow to run when they think that only dupes are watching.
To its credit, the Boston Globe did have a front-page story about today's federal election in Canada.
The article analyzed--correctly, it turned out--the likely Conservative victory. But it did not address that the Conservatives were unlikely to form a majority government. And it had an even more glaring problem. The party that will receive the third most votes today was not even mentioned.
The graphic at the start of the story is exemplary (and not in a good way):
Liberal 27%; Conservative 37%; Quebecois 12%; Others 24%
Liberal 43.8%; Conservative 32.1%; Quebecois 17.5%; Others 6.6%
After the jump, a detailed chart outlines the various policies of only the three parties mentioned in the first table—yet the third party (the Bloc Quebecois) does not contest seats outside Quebec. In fact, most of the "others" represents the New Democrats. The first graphic shows that the Liberals have lost a lot of support between 2004 and today—alas, the numbers are junk and bear little relation to the actual results from 2004 when the Liberals led the Conservatives 37% to 30%, with the NDP at 16% and the Bloc at 12%.
Anyone reading the Canadian press would know that the NDP was important in this election, and not just because disaffected Liberal voters might swing to the left instead of the right. The current Liberal government depended on tacit NDP support in Parliament, and NDP support, whether part of a formal coalition or not, might be important in the next government as well.
But you would not learn an iota of that by reading New England's supposedly liberal paper.