Archive for Common Cents

The Merry Marvel MasterCard

Facebook pitched this to me last night:

Marvel MasterCard

As I understand the Terms and Conditions, the M.M.M.C. offers a 20-day grace period beginning on your statement date, after which you get a less-than-friendly visit from Wolverine.



The Death Panels approve

The Food and Drug Administration, by law, takes no position on pricing. The advantages of their neutrality are occasionally offset, though, by stories like this:

Here’s yet another facet of the U.S. drug pricing conundrum: older treatments which have been around for years can win label expansions that significantly increase their value, and consequently, their list prices. That appears to be the case with Marathon Pharmaceuticals’ deflazacort, a steroid that has now achieved FDA approval for treating the devastating muscle-wasting disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). There’s a dearth of available DMD treatments (and the most recently approved one in the U.S. was cleared under a cloud of controversy), so it’s not hard to see why the FDA wants to speed treatments to the finish line. But Marathon also decided to price the drug, which is available for less than $1 per pill in Canada as a steroid, at $89,000 per year. And since the treatment isn’t already approved in the U.S. for other, cheaper indications, there’s no risk of doctors prescribing it for off-label purposes to Duchenne patients.

Then again, this sort of news is by now old news:

In recent years, companies that have gotten old or existing drugs approved to treat rare diseases have reaped big financial rewards. For example, tetrabenazine, a drug that was available from abroad and used for years to treat the uncontrollable tremors of Huntington’s disease, was approved as an orphan drug in 2008. In 1998, it cost $42.28 for a bottle of tetrabenazine pills from a European pharmacy, according to Joseph Jankovic, a neurologist at Baylor College of Medicine. After receiving approval as an orphan drug, that bottle of pills — now known by the brand name Xenazine — carried a list price of more than $6,000 in the U.S. in 2008. The price was repeatedly ratcheted up to more than $21,243 a bottle, according to Truven Health Analytics data. Xenazine accounted for $325 million in U.S. sales in 2015, the year it went generic, according to data from Evaluate, a market intelligence firm.

I suppose I should be grateful that none of the stuff I take costs as much as $10,000 a year. (Yet.)

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The cost of crowdfunding

Last summer while I was laid low by a wrecked nervous system, a friend who is a legitimate social-media maven suggested turning to GoFundMe; the campaign didn’t quite make its $4000 goal, but the last installment on the hospital bill was only $3800 or so, so I figured I had no reason to complain.

There are, however, some ethical-ish questions raised by this practice:

Medical crowdfunding could have negative effects on equitable access to health care. The likelihood of a crowdfunding campaign reaching its funding goal may depend in part on factors such as the kind of treatment needed and the reason for the campaign. Differentiation by the popularity of the medical cause or sympathy for the recipient goes against principles of treating patients according to the severity of their medical needs or aiming for the greatest good in treatment. In other words, funding according to popularity runs against evidence-based attempts to use our health care funding as fairly and efficiently as possible.

I have always felt that I had more recognition than I could possibly deserve, so I can see this, maybe.

Other factors, such as the recipient’s physical appearance, social connections, ability to get media attention for the story, and online communication skills are also likely to affect a campaign’s success. If those characteristics are correlated with the recipient’s position in society, then medical crowdfunding will have a tendency to benefit mostly those who are already in a relatively advantaged position.

At this one, I shrug; life has always favored rich young pretty people, the sort who get mentioned in Vanity Fair sidebars while still in their twenties, and it would be silly to expect otherwise from their crowdfunding campaigns.

If we had a truly egalitarian healthcare system, perhaps some of these concerns would evaporate. But I think it’s a safe bet that other criticisms would arise, particularly among those who fancy themselves the Official Measurers of legally defined equality.

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Index we trust

The official inflation rate, I suspect, has been artificially deflated in a way not even Tom Brady envisioned:

I’m wondering if I am old, or poor or just cantankerous. Inflation seems to be getting stronger every day, witness the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaching some new milestone. My theory is that the interest that the government is accruing every year is basically sucking the life blood out of our currency. Multiply the government debt by the wages paid to working people and divide by the square root of Beelzebub and you will see that I am right.

In the dear, dead days of 1999, James K. Glassman and Kevin A. Hassett put out a book called Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market. When was this heady height going to be reached? In 2005, give or take a few eons. I suspect that to get there, the actual dollar value of an actual dollar is going to have to shrink a heck of a lot more than it already has, and given that the worldwide debt load, no thanks to the unfunny money known as “derivatives,” is pushing the quadrillion-dollar mark, this seems almost inevitable.

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Gratuitous gratuity

It’s not so hard to calculate 20 percent of something. If it’s hard for you, this place saw you coming:

Restaurant tab with suggested tips

Twenty percent of $20.50 is, of course, $4.10. I guess that’s why they say “suggestive” instead of “suggested.”

(Via Channel 933.)

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Rolled back into the parking lot

Walmart’s long game, so far as I can tell, is to sell everything to someone, and to sell something to everyone. Inevitably, I suppose, they would have had to test the car business:

Launching in April, Walmart’s CarSaver program will make it the perfect middleman for impulse car buyers and local dealerships. CarSaver is designed to allow shoppers to browse, select, finance, and insure a vehicle through its website or at kiosks positioned outside of the nail salons and vision centers of twenty-five Walmart Supercenters.

At launch, 16 AutoNation stores in Phoenix, Houston, and Dallas will be participating, said AutoNation Chief Marketing Officer Marc Cannon. All of the dealerships are within 15 miles of a Walmart CarSaver kiosk.

Oh, well, we don’t have any AutoNation stores here, so — wait, what?

The kiosks will also be available in Oklahoma City Supercenters, however, those will be unaffiliated with AutoNation.

This might be interesting. Maybe. I’m not in the market for a new car at the moment.

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Why there will be no TrumpCare

David Brooks came up with this howler:

The Republicans are going to try to introduce more normal market incentives into the process. They are probably going to rely on refundable tax credits and health savings accounts so everybody can afford to shop for their own insurance and care.

Nobody actually believes this, of course, least of all the Z Man:

As soon as the phrase “market incentives” comes up, you know that there is no existing market. This is a phrase cooked up by managerial class types so they can engage in central planning, but pretend they have respect for free markets. Incentives are synthetic creations to get people to do things they otherwise would not do. If you want a market, you don’t want central planners dreaming up incentives to warp the market. What would be the point? You want the buyers and sellers to sort things out among themselves.

Pseudo-intellectual posers like Brooks don’t understand this because he does not have the slightest idea how any of it works, but he is willing to expound on just about everything as if he is an expert. That’s a problem we have in the mass media age. The alleged experts that citizens rely on for opinions spend all their time filling the air with laughable nonsense. In health care, for example, most Americans not only think it is a right, they think it is a product that should never be rationed. This is complete lunacy, but you can’t blame people for thinking it. All the “smart” people say it on television.

All goods and services are rationed. The question with health care is how is it to be rationed. Will it be by price or by a monopoly of supply? Progressives want the latter so that their coreligionists on the health care boards can murder enemies of the faith by denying them health care. The alternative should be arguments in favor of free markets, but instead we get magical thinking from guys passed off to us as conservatives by the mass media. The result is an increasingly misinformed public.

Then again, this is a case where the public prefers to be misinformed, because they think it’s in their best interest, be it financial or philosophical. I suspect the one and only way to get rid of government distortion of the health-care marketplace is to entirely remove the government as a player, and this isn’t going to happen so long as someone’s Aunt Tessie needs to go on dialysis. Square One exists only in theory, and practice says that theory will never be tested. I suspect Donald Trump, who has endorsed single-payer in the past, will do so again — just so long as we don’t call it that.

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Drugs R us, eh?

There was a time when “Canadian pharmacy” was nearly as much a guarantee of Questionable Spam as Nigerian, um, just about anything, and I remembered that time well enough to be bewildered when I received a brochure, in hard copy no less, from a Canadian pharmacy. Well, sort of. This is the opening sentence to the Patient Acknowledgement:

I appoint Global Pharmacy Plus to act as my agent for the sole purpose of conveying my order and prescriptions to a licensed pharmacy in India, Europe and/or Singapore.

No chance you’re getting anything from the Great White North, even though you’re sending your order to Vancouver.

The six-page booklet contains one FAQ page, on which I find:

My prescriptions are on file at my regular pharmacy. What should I do?

You can either make an appointment with your doctor to get new prescriptions, send us a copy/photo of your pill bottle’s label, or send us your detailed pharmacy receipt/invoice.

This is not exactly Prescriptions Filled Without A Prescription, but it’s close.

Though the price list gives brand names, most of the products offered are generic equivalents. One of the exceptions is Vesicare (solifenacin), which in 5-mg strength they sell for $200 for a 90-day supply, quoting a US list price of $580. To me this sounds a little low. A 90-day supply through CFI Care (not their real initials) runs me a $225 copay, so I’d save $13 — shipping is a flat $12 — were I to take them up on their offer. On the downside, they don’t take American Express.


Bubbleheaded reasoning

As of the first of the year, Philadelphia has imposed a 1.5-cent per ounce tax on soft drinks. Inevitably, this has meant an increase in retail prices, much to the surprise of the Mayor:

Mayor Jim Kenney, who proposed the soda tax and championed its passage through city council last year, told reporters on Tuesday it’s not the new 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax that’s making it more expensive to buy a can of Coke in Philly. No, according to the mayor, those higher prices are caused by city businesses price gouging their customers in order to stir up opposition to the tax.

Is he kidding or what?

[T]he new tax technically is applied at the wholesale level. That is, the city is charging a tax on the transaction that takes place when a business, like a sandwich shop or grocery store, purchases soda (or the syrup used to make soda in a fountain) from a distributor. In the mayor’s mind, it seems, distributors and retailers are supposed to eat the cost of the tax and continue selling their products at the same price as before the tax went into effect.

In the real world, those sandwich shops and grocery stores, of course, are adjusting the retail price of sugary drinks to make up for the added cost imposed by the tax. Some of them have posted signs to inform customers why drink prices have skyrocketed.

Kenney doesn’t like that. He called those efforts “wrong” and “misleading” and suggested that it could be an extension of the expensive fight put up by soda companies, retailers, and even the city’s Teamsters Union in a failing effort to prevent the tax from passing in the first place.

How does someone this dumb-with-a-capital-D get elected, anyway?

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Several units of epicity

After running up $160,000 in health-care bills last year, I figure I deserve this particular accolade:

Epic Patient Refund

Apparently “Epic” is not actually an adjective, but the name of the hospital’s accounting system. Still, I needed a laugh, though not as much as I needed a hundred bucks.

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Deep pockets, were there pockets

Somebody somewhere is making money off naked people:

Social nudism/naturism is presenting investment opportunities, according to a lite article on a site called Clapway.

Some of the numbers it cites are encouraging, if not overwhelming evidence of the investment potential of social nudism/naturism: “50 million Europeans visit a nudist beach at least once a year.” And “the industry is worth $400 million worldwide.” And “major holiday (vacation) companies include nudist-oriented activities,” including the top three in Britain.

You may have noticed that the places mentioned are not in North America, where there is an industry, but not much of one. Or maybe “not much of two” might be more appropriate; there’s the Old Guard at the traditional resorts, and there are some youngsters looking for something less, well, traditional. There are times that I think both sides view the other with suspicion.

And then there’s that whole “American = puritan” thing. You never quite know where it’s going to strike, but you know it’s never far away. It even divides families: there were five of us growing up, and two eventually embraced life in the nude, while three were horrified at the very thought. Certainly neither of my kids have ever shown any interest in the subject. I have friends who would happily doff their duds, but aren’t about to start until [insert far-off event, usually something along the lines of “when the kids move away”].

Vacation facilities in the States, by and large, seem to be indifferent to those of us without swimsuits. I say “seem” because there’s always the chance that I might be wrong. A friend once told me that a local water park had one heavily-unadvertised clothing-optional event each season. “Should we go?” I asked. For some reason, we never did; I tend to believe this was because she was married at the time and didn’t want to upset whatever applecarts might be parked around the home.

The Old Guard, incidentally, has a tendency to close ranks against one particular subgroup: single guys. This is one reason I haven’t taken advantage of its facilities; besides, I would much rather have someone go with me, even apart from the Rules. (I even hate going to dinner alone; it seems like such a waste of a potential good time.) Maybe someday, if I survive this current series of health crises.

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Liberally cheap

Somehow this doesn’t seem surprising:

My oldest son is a bartender/waiter in a college town. He works at one of the chain restaurants. Some of his frequent customers are the professors from the university. My son says these professors are the worst tippers as a group. One guy in particular irritates him. This professor comes in often giving all within earshot a hearty dose of his political philosophy. The liberal professor holds forth on Trump, economics, and the so-called “living wage.” And never, no matter the size of the bill, tips more than $2, says my son.

I suspect that these snowflakes grown old have never actually done anything as mundane as waited tables.

Waitstaff and bartenders are paid in tips. Their minimum wage is a fraction of the federal standard and most restaurants only pay the minimum wage if the tip amounts ate less than the hourly minimums. It is either/or for the worker. Most establishments get rid of servers who cannot pull in more in tips than the paltry minimum wage. So when this blowhard tips a measly couple of Washingtons on a $50 tab, then he has cheated the server. Not only did he not pay the worker for the effort. But he took up a table that might have tipped better.

Geez. I gave the pizza guy five bucks yesterday on a $24 tab. This is, I believe, consistent with the apocryphal origin of “tips” as an acronym for “To Insure Prompt Service”; the email confirmation says something like “30-40 minutes,” and I typically get my stuff in 27 or 28. (Distance from here to pizza place: 3 miles and change.) If I’m spending $50 on dinner, I’m handing out $10 at least.

I am in no way arguing you should generously compensate bad service. I do find it hard to believe this one guy gets substandard service every time he dines at this restaurant. If he does, he should not continue to patronize the business.

Yeah, and government programs often fail, but how often are they abandoned?

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Hard to budget

I suspect this sums it up for a lot of folks around half my age or thereabouts:

Were I bringing in enough to cover those items, I could retire tomorrow.

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Meanwhile in the Third World

Not so long ago, I was in Pay It Forward mode, and signed up for a couple of loans through I am now informed that both recipients have begun paying back those loans more or less on schedule, which I consider a Good Sign. And while I’ll never make any serious coin in this way, hey, it beats stuffing myself on Thanksgiving and paying for it later with indigestion.

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Short thrift

From yesterday’s Oklahoman, business section:

Oklahoma City and Tulsa residents are expected to average $899 and $519 respectively on holiday spending, according to a report released last week by WalletHub personal finance website.

Among 570 U.S. cities, Oklahoma City ranks 116th and Tulsa, 399th. The predicted biggest spenders are Palo Alto, Calif., consumers at $2,281, and cheapest, Brockton, Mass., residents at $70.

Okay, Tulsa, what’s with the skinflintiness? (And geez, Brockton, how do you do it?)

WalletHub’s analysts based their ratings on cities’ incomes, ages, debt-to-income ratios, monthly income-to-monthly expenses ratios and savings-to-monthly expenses ratios. Among other metrics, Oklahoma City residents average 34.1 years of age, $5,583 in savings, and $4,228 and $3,313 in monthly income and expenses.

I’m guessing that $915 a month ($4228 less $3313) goes to the taxman.

Still, even at our lofty 116th, we’re not exactly big spenders:

Nationwide, the predicted holiday spending average is $935, up from $805 last year, according to the report. The National Retail Federation predicts the same average, which includes gifts for others, food, flowers, decorations, cards and some $139 consumers are expected to spend on themselves.

Not even going to jump on that last item.

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Rather low interest

My bank, I am told, continually seeks “ways to enhance our products and services to meet your financial needs and provide you an improved banking experience.” This sort of statement is usually shorthand for “We’re about to jack up fees,” and that’s what it proves to be here:

On December 7, 2016, your account(s) will be converted to a new Personal Savings account. Your ability to earn a competitive interest rate won’t be impacted by the change, and no immediate action is required on your part.

The major change: a $5 monthly service fee.

Now do the math. The current interest rate I’m being paid is, um, 0.03 percent. Last month I earned a whole four cents on this account. Five bucks will eat that up rather quickly.

In practice, I will not be affected by this fee: a $10 transfer from checking per month, or an average balance of $250, will get the fee waived. In the six years this account has been open, the balance has never been as low as $250. So this is apparently aimed at the folks who keep ten bucks in savings just to say they have a savings account. I’m told there are some such.

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Issue forced

I have occasionally grumbled at how CVS has handled the legacy of Target Pharmacy, but not enough to get me to change drug stores, and certainly not loudly enough to draw anyone’s attention.

Or maybe it was. Received in the mail:

Beginning January 1, 2017, CVS Pharmacy #16007 will no longer be a part of your pharmacy network. This includes all CVS-owned pharmacies and CVS pharmacies in Target stores.

Why would CFI Care (not its real initials) do this? They’ve hired something called Prime Therapeutics to run their pharmacy-benefit operation, and it turns out that they own a piece of Prime. And there’s already bad blood:

Prime Therapeutics is suing CVS Health Corp. after the drugstore chain claimed generic drug payment changes will cost it more than $100 million annually.

CVS is seeking about $19 million outside of court from Eagan [Minnesota]-based Prime, claiming the pharmacy-benefits manager violated terms of a 2007 agreement plus federal and state laws, according to a lawsuit filed [in December 2015]. Prime disputes those claims and is asking a Minnesota federal judge to rule that it did nothing wrong and doesn’t owe CVS money.

I do not comprehend, however, how it was that the eight prescriptions filled yesterday at that specific CVS location, official copays totaling $103, were turned over to me for a mere $45. Surely they’re not bidding for my non-network business.

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Propositions put forth

In addition to the stuff I expected in the absentee-ballot package, I found a yellow sheet: bonds. School bonds. Oklahoma City Public Schools wants to borrow some serious cash:

  • $106,340,000: “acquiring or improving school sites, constructing, repairing, remodeling and equipping school buildings, and acquiring school furniture, fixtures and equipment.”
  • $54,460,000: “acquiring or improving school sites, constructing, repairing, remodeling and equipping school buildings, and acquiring school furniture, fixtures and equipment.” My guess is that this one is the fallback position: “if we can’t have a hundred million, can we at least have fifty?”
  • $19,200,000: “acquiring transportation equipment.”

For what it’s worth, OKCPS is growing rather speedily of late: long the second-largest district in the state, they passed first-place Tulsa several years ago. And the district has been frank about its problems:

“In addition to our current $30-million dollar budget shortfall, we have dire basic needs throughout the district,” said OKCPS Superintendent Aurora Lora. “Our air conditioning deficiencies in schools have been well documented the past few weeks; an aging bus fleet continues to be a major financial burden, and most of our students don’t have modern classroom technology.”

In typical Oklahoma practice, these bonds will fill in a space vacated by bonds from many years ago, now retired; this enables the claim that no actual tax increase is involved. Last year, OKCPS received about 52 percent of the tax on the palatial estate at Surlywood.

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More microfinance

From earlier this month:

PayPal & microlending pioneer,, are celebrating 10 years of collaboration. Make a loan to an entrepreneur by October 10th, get a $25 Kiva credit to create more impact.

Which I did. I now have a second loan out there:

Muborak is a generous woman. She was born in Tursunzoda, Tajikistan, in 1992. She is married and has a daughter.

She is a challenged woman who has faced hard, difficult times in her life. In order to not burden her husband, she used to work at seasonal jobs. Then she gradually learned from her neighbors how to sew traditional women’s dresses. She has been working more than six years in this sphere and has a lot of experience.

She was seeking $650 to buy fabric, which doesn’t strike me as being a whole lot of fabric, but this is not my area of expertise. So far, ten of us have ponied up $25 each.

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Forget you, Chuckie

The routine has been simple: when the PayPal account gets depleted, restock from the bank account. Takes two to three days, more if it’s over a weekend.

Then this showed up in the PayPal transactions list:

Bank transaction failed

No notification from either PayPal — except there — or from the bank.

Trying it again.

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Don’t buy that

I have come to the conclusion that most of the savings advice I get from the bank or from the people who laugh at service my 401(k) is just barely above the level of concern trolling.

Nor am I alone in this conclusion:

I get economizing. I was taking my lunch to work loooooong before “The New Frugality.” (Though in my case, it was more a combo platter of “ugh, I hate fast food” / “I’d rather use that time to sit at my desk and surf Ravelry while I eat” / “I have some very specific health and dietary concerns that are better served by my having strict controls on what goes into my food”.) But the endless drumbeat of having fewer and fewer little pleasures in life to save all your money for some nebulous future-time … no.

What’s more, it gets worse the farther down the income ladder you go:

Also, something I read recently that struck me: some of the “Why don’t ‘poor folks’ save more money? Why do they spend their money on junk like lottery tickets and fast food and cigarettes?” is answerable by the fact that people who live in an uncertain and insecure world, who have always only known budget insecurity, are less prone to planning for a future that may never arrive — that people live in the moment because the future is hard to imagine, or something. And I can kind of see that. I think a similar thing was in play when someone I know who worked for a doctor’s office said that shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, they saw LOTS of people going off of diets (whether weight-loss or things like low-salt) because they figured, “The world’s ending, so what does it matter now?”

There’s a meme which obliquely addresses the “Why don’t” types: “Explain, then, why a burger is $1 and a salad is $7.”

And it goes even farther:

There are people like that: “Oh, spending on and having EXPERIENCES is great and wonderful and enriches your life! But spending on THINGS is a waste and just ties you more to material possessions.”

I have to wonder if any of them ever bought, say, a book.

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I, microfinancier

Were I to make a list of all the things I imagined doing in a lifetime, helping to build a toilet in the Philippines would probably be somewhere near the bottom. And yet it’s happening just the same.

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When the levies break

Reports Rasmussen:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 83% of Likely U.S. Voters believe that when most businessmen pay their taxes, they try to pay as little as possible. Only 12% feel they are more concerned with paying their fair share.

Bill Quick calls out what’s wrong with the way this survey is worded:

1. “Avoid paying taxes.” The implication is that taxes should never be “avoided,” even if the tax code specifically permits you to follow procedures that lessen your overall tax burden. A further implication is that taxpayers should not do this at all — because, really, it isn’t your money, is it? If the government lets you keep any of “your” money (which it actually regards as its money), well, isn’t that nice of the government?

2. “Try to pay as little as possible” versus “fair share.” I really hate this notion of “fair share,” because it loads the calculus in the direction that “fairness” requires you to hand over to the government as large an amount of your own wealth as possible, to be “fair.”

Wealthy people pay by far the largest amount of taxes in this country. If you want to talk about actually fair shares, what about the enormous number of people who don’t pay taxes at all.

More eloquently, Judge Learned Hand, then on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals:

Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.

Opinion in Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Newman, 159 F.2d 848, 1947. Then again, it was a dissenting opinion; the government, once it was awarded droit de seigneur with regard to your paycheck, has consistently argued that the award was deserved.

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Cudgel by proxy

The Internal Revenue Service, too busy of late hassling people for political reasons, is now outsourcing one of its other hassling functions:

The Internal Revenue Service unveiled its plan to turn over collection of outstanding tax debt to private companies, as required by Congress though a law passed in 2015.

The IRS identified four companies to collect unpaid taxes deemed “inactive” by the agency, meaning government personnel have ceased working on the accounts. The agency said “older, overdue” tax accounts and a lack of resources would prompt the IRS to tap the contractors to take up the collection.

CBE Group, Conserve, Performant and Pioneer will serve as the private collection agencies, or PCAs. Congress included as a provision of a highway bill late last year the requirement that the IRS outsource the debt collection, with supporters of the policy saying industry could more effectively bring in money Americans owe on their taxes. The law had required the IRS to enter into the contracts within three months, but they were just announced Monday and will not take effect until the spring of 2017 at the earliest.

Which is less than six months away.

Is there any compelling reason why they can’t privatize the whole agency? It’s not like anyone’s ever going to take legal action against them.

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Manhattan around

Amanda is running eight ways to see the best of NYC on a budget, and at least one of them seems just slightly contrarian, inasmuch as it spurns the ride-share services:

I practically never use cabs or Ubers and I live here. It’s just not financially practical when I can get to nearly any destination for $2.75 per subway ride or using my old fashioned feet. If you’re dead set on having the typical NYC cabbing experience, take one and that’s it. It’s simply just too expensive and it adds up.

How expensive is “too expensive”? The Taxi & Limousine Commission fare chart fills a screen quickly:

  • Onscreen rate is “Rate #01 – Standard City Rate.”
  • The initial charge is $2.50.
  • Plus 50 cents per 1/5 mile or 50 cents per 60 seconds in slow traffic or when the vehicle is stopped.
  • In moving traffic on Manhattan streets, the meter should “click” approximately every four downtown blocks, or one block going cross-town (East-West).
  • There is a 50-cent MTA State Surcharge for all trips that end in New York City or Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange or Putnam Counties.
  • There is a 30-cent Improvement Surcharge.
  • There is a daily 50-cent surcharge from 8pm to 6am.
  • There is a $1 surcharge from 4pm to 8pm on weekdays, excluding holidays.
  • Passengers must pay all bridge and tunnel tolls.

And it goes on (and on) from there. Curious, I punched up a trip on TaxiFareFinder: 315 Bowery (once the home of CBGB) to 1619 Broadway (the Brill Building), a route chosen mostly because I knew both addresses. The trip, just over three miles, would run $22.52 at the time I requested it (Monday evening, 10:30 pm). For comparison, a trip of roughly similar length through Oklahoma City would come in at around $9.

However, we won’t discuss, for instance, the joys of a Sunday drive along the Cross Bronx Expressway.

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Little reserve

We are occasionally regaled with tales of how broke we are, and it was just a matter of time before the Daily Mail got into the act:

It’s easy to think those making six figures are stashing away loads of cash in a savings account for luxurious vacations or relaxing retirements.

But a new study shows that isn’t the case.

Nearly half of those earning between $100,000 to $149,999 a year have less than $1,000 in a savings account, according to GOBankingRates.

Approximately 18 per cent of those making an income in that range have absolutely nothing saved.

Hey, it’s September. All that pumpkin spice costs money.

And if you think those earning more than $150,000 are faring any better — you’d be wrong.

Close to 29 per cent of those with an income in that range have less than $1,000 in their savings account.

Six per cent have nothing at all to show for their admirable income.

I admit my own exchequer is a bit depleted of late, though I did manage to scare up almost three grand via crowdfunding toward the summer medical bills, a tad short of the declared goal but enough for me to be able to cover the single biggest bill in one lump sum. (I am no longer promoting that campaign on social media, but if for some reason you want to give me actual money, I won’t even object.)

Of course, Captain Obvious is interviewed:

The GOBankingRates survey found that lower-income adults are the least likely to have money in savings. Of those earning less than $25,000, 38 percent have $0 in savings and another 35 percent have less than $1,000 saved. The percentages are nearly identical for those earning $25,000 to $49,999.

You don’t say.

(Via Fark.)

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Tabs from heck

One of my Daily Drugs is name-brand only; CFI Care (not its real initials) specifies a copay of $75 a month for it, and will presumably do so until such time as a generic version becomes available, whenever that may be. A Mumbai-based drug company announced three years ago that the FDA had granted them tentative approval for a generic, but the patent apparently doesn’t expire until 2020. In the meantime, CFI Care gets to pay $12.32 per tablet.

Ongoing bladder issues led my doctor to recommend a trial of yet another brand-name drug: he handed over three boxes of seven tablets each. It worked fairly well. There exists a generic, but distribution seems to be blocked for now, so the pharmacy duly boxed me up 90 days’ worth, with a caution from the pharm tech that “this is very expensive.” Well, yeah, I knew that:

A 2006 cost-effectiveness study found that 5 mg solifenacin had the lowest cost and highest effectiveness among anticholinergic drugs used to treat overactive bladder in the United States, with an average medical cost per successfully treated patient of $6863 per year.

This was $18.80 a tablet in 2006. It’s come down some since then; CFI Care got to fork over $9.72 a tab. Still, it’s another $75 a month out of my pocket. Fortunately, Martin Shkreli doesn’t seem to be involved.

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My mind on my money

And my money on my mind. Snoop Dogg notwithstanding, this is not a position to which I aspire:

I imagine being rich is kind of a pain in the ass. Yes, I know, somebody famous once said “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and being rich is better,” but you have to constantly be thinking about your money and what you should be doing with it, where you should invest it, who is trying to steal it. Now some people might take to that kind of agonizing like a duck to water, they might actually enjoy it. Me, I find it tedious and boring. Fortunately there are things like Mutual Funds that remove most of the day to day agony.

Being rich requires paying attention to your money. Stop paying attention and all that money will wander off. And what do you do with a billion dollars anyway? I mean after you’ve bought your fancy car, boat, house, airplane? You invest it in something that you hope will make more money.

I’m not at all suited to these things. If I showed up on the Forbes 400 at, say, #399, I’d presumably have to start thinking about how I avoid dropping off the list next year. Perhaps fortunately, this is not going to be a problem for me, inasmuch as I have a mortgage and a lot of nerve damage and a five-figure net worth, well short of the $1.7 billion it takes to make the 400 these days. At least, I can console myself, it’s five figures on the positive side of the ledger. (It wasn’t always.)

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Strange new hybrid plastic

Major League Baseball MasterCard issued by Bank of AmericaThis turned up on, home page for Major League Baseball, and I’m sure 99 out of 100 people who saw it didn’t see anything peculiar about it — which is, of course, where I came in.

BankAmericard, the brand, goes back to 1958, originally with Bank of America behind it. After about a decade, BofA began licensing the name to other banks, and in 1970 they withdrew from control: issuing banks became a de facto consortium, kind of like archrival Master Charge. Eventually it was decided that the card was still too closely associated with BofA, resulting in a 1976 name change: to Visa.

About thirty years later, BofA revived the name “BankAmericard” for a new rewards card, a Visa. It would never have occurred to me that there ever could be a BankAmericard that was a MasterCard, but there it is.

Really, I should have paid attention. BofA also these days issues American Express cards under license.

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Running (some of) the numbers

I live in a small — not tiny — house, so maybe this doesn’t apply to me, but let’s look at it anyway:

It occurred to me the other day that it doesn’t take any more money to live in a big house than it does to rent a small apartment, providing that the house is paid for. Take someone who has lived in the same house for 30 years and diligently paid their mortgage every month, or someone who inherited a house, or won the lottery and bought it outright. Doesn’t matter how they got it, once the mortgage is paid off, the expenses don’t go away, but they are considerably reduced. Going by my own experience, annual property taxes on a house are going to about 1% of the market value. Utilities and insurance are about the same. A mortgage or rent for a house or apartment is about 1% of the market value per month.

I’m about halfway through that thirty-year note. Property taxes vary considerably in this state, but I usually end up paying about 1.2 percent of market value each year. Insurance, however, is a monstrous expense here: we are, after all, smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley, and my annual premium ends up at about 3 percent of market value, a figure entirely too close to $3,000. Utilities will fluctuate with the season, but on average, about 2 percent of market value each year goes to paying for water/sewer/refuse, electric, and gas. (Last two electric bills were just over $170 each. Then again, those bills were for July and August, when it’s either hot or stupidly hot, the time of year when we spit at those Northeastern jerks who think they’re too good for air conditioning.)

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