A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Money Management Mishaps’ tag

Government Funding of Science is a Curse

without comments

Donald Trump announced his budget. It’s what you’d expect from a neocon. Money was shuffled from neoliberal favored programs into the military:

Yesterday, the Trump administration released its first proposed budget outline. While this is just the first step in what will inevitably be extensive negotiations with Congress, it gives a clear indication of what Trump’s priorities are. First and foremost, he is focused on the military, which will see a $54 billion increase in spending, offset by cuts or wholesale elimination of programs elsewhere. Science is clearly not a priority, as it is repeatedly targeted for cuts in every agency that funds it.

But those cuts aren’t evenly distributed. NASA’s budget is almost entirely unscathed, although Earth sciences research funded by the agency will be cut to expand funding elsewhere. The National Science Foundation, a major source of grants for fundamental research, isn’t even mentioned, so there’s no sense of how it will fare. And the harshest cuts appear to be directed at biomedical research, which will see a dramatic 20 percent drop in funding for the National Institutes of Health.

As one would expect, the neocons are cheering this increase in military spending while the neoliberals are flipping out because the proposed budget cuts from their beloved science. What they fail to realize is that cutting funding for science would be a good thing for actual science.

Resource misallocation has plagued science for decades. Instead of science that focuses on the market (that would be you and me), companies have been allocating resources for the State’s pet projects in order to obtain government funding (which takes the form of tax dollars stolen from you and me). With less government funding to go around researchers would once again have to rely on the market to decide where resources were allocated. That would mean more research into making better goods and services instead of whatever idiotic pet project some random politician drummed up.

Of course, since the military budget is going up resource misallocation will continue to plagues science. Researchers will continue to focus on the State’s pet projects instead of what the market wants. Those pet projects will merely shift to making more effective methods of blowing shit up. This, of course, will anger the neoliberals because blowing shit up isn’t within their vision of what science ought to be. But the belief that science ought to be one thing or another and dictated by the State is the fundamental error being made here.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 22nd, 2017 at 10:30 am

Looking Good While Thumping Skulls

without comments

The Los Angeles Country Sheriff’s Department decided that its current silver colored metal uniform ornaments are no longer in vogue. To correct this horrible fact the department is going to spend $300,000 of taxpayer money on replacing all of its current silver colored ornaments with brass colored ornaments:

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is getting down to brass tactics.

Sheriff’s officials are spending $300,000 on items they say would make deputies look more professional in their jobs and could help make them safer.

But the taxpayer dollars won’t go toward tools such as higher-quality ballistic vests, backup guns or body cameras, all of which are optional items that deputies have to pay for on their own.

Instead, Sheriff Jim McDonnell is spending the money on a minor cosmetic makeover of deputies’ uniforms: changing the color of their belt buckles and other metal pieces of gear from silver to gold. That way, the metallic bits — all made of brass — will match the gold-hued tie clips, lapel pins and six-pointed star badges that deputies already wear, McDonnell said.

This waste of money wouldn’t be so bad if the department was a business with funds acquired through voluntary trade. But the department is funded entirely through expropriating wealth from the people is claims to protect. I doubt the color of the metal ornaments will even be noticed by 99.9 percent of the department’s victims clientele. After all, who really gives a shit what color the metal ornaments on an officer’s uniform are when they’re either responding to your 911 call or thumping your skull because your skin color is a bit too dark for their liking? Since nobody will likely notice nor care about this change it’s an even bigger waste of taxpayer money than most expenditures.

But I’m sure the officers will feel better knowing that the metal bits on their belt finally match their tie clips.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 15th, 2017 at 10:30 am

A Fantastic Specimen of Corporate Speak

with 2 comments

Rumors of Gander Mountain’s demise have been on point. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody who has walked into one of its stores. Its prices are ridiculous, especially in this age of online shopping. A lot of its used guns go for the same price as new guns elsewhere. And when it runs a sale the prices finally come down to normal prices elsewhere.

In the last week people have been claiming that Gander Mountain is in the process of filing bankruptcy. The company finally put out a statement on the matter. I think the statement will go down in history has one of the best examples of corporate speak:

As a privately held company, it is our longstanding policy not to comment on our business affairs. Unfortunately, recent speculative news articles have caused concern among some of our customers, employees, and trade partners, and require us to make a rare exception.

Gander Mountain is the nation’s largest outdoor retail network with 162 specialty stores across 26 states. We are a fully integrated Omni-Channel retailer dedicated to servicing the hunting, camping, fishing, shooting sports, and outdoor products markets. As ‘America’s Firearms Supercenter™,’ we are a market leader in the shooting sports category with an extensive offering of firearms, ammunition, and accessories.

Like most retailers, we are subject to normal economic cycles, changes in our industry and shifts in consumer demand that require us to adapt our business accordingly. It’s been that way since 1960, when we started out as a catalog company in small-town Wisconsin, and it remains the case today. It is this constant adaptation and desire to offer our customers the best selection, best value and best service that has been our hallmark for generations.

Gander Mountain and its ownership group have undertaken a best-practices approach to review our strategic options specific to positioning the company for long-term success. When we engage in such a review we often seek information and advice from external advisors to inform our decisions. To assist in this process, we have retained Houlihan Lokey as independent advisors and we are confident that the outcome of the review will identify the right go-forward strategy. In the meantime, our Gander Mountain stores and gandermountain.com remain the place to go for all of our customers’ outdoor adventure needs.

That is a lot of words put together to say nothing meaningful. If I had my corporate buzzword bing cards out I’d have probably screamed bingo at least a dozen times. I could have cut that statement down to a single sentence: Our financials are fucked and we’re brining in outside help in the hopes of fixing this shit.

I’ve periodically told gun control advocates that if they really want to land a blow against the gun industry they should vote for Republicans. The industry does best when the fear of gun control legislation is on the table, which is generally higher when Democrats get into office. Since the Republicans have pretty much taken everything we’re probably going to see a great culling of gun manufacturers and resellers as sales drop. Business like Gander Mountain, whose propensity to overcharge is well known through the shooting community, are in trouble.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 28th, 2017 at 10:30 am

More Security Theater at the TSA

with one comment

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a sordid record when it comes to airport security. Since airport security is the agency’s primary job and it hasn’t been doing an effective job at providing security you might expect it to, you know, try to improve its capabilities. Instead the agency has been doubling down on security theater. But the best part is that the agency realizes that its efforts are theater:

If you’ve ever suspected that the TSA’s airport behavior screening (where it looks for visual signs of lying or stress) was just another example of ineffective security theater, you now have some science to back up your hunches. Thanks to a lawsuit, the ACLU has obtained TSA files showing that the organization has pushed and even expanded its “behavior detection” program despite a lack of supporting evidence. While the TSA maintains that it can detect signs of shady activity through fidgeting, shifty eyes and other visual cues, studies in its files suggest just the opposite — you’d have just as much success by choosing at random. And those are in controlled conditions, not a busy airport where anxiety and stress are par for the course.

The TSA hasn’t thwarted a single terrorist attack since it was founded. It hasn’t even done anything noteworthy in the field of security. The only thing the agency has managed to do is bolster the profits of bottled water manufacturers by stealing air travelers’ water and forcing them to buy more inside of “secure” areas. Yet this agency continues to exist. It continues to exist because the government that established it believes stealing your money and giving it to one of its entirely ineffective agency is fiscally responsible.

The next time some statist dipshit tells you that taxes aren’t high enough remind them that a ton of tax money is being irresponsibly dumped into agencies like the TSA.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 9th, 2017 at 11:00 am

The Truth Hurts

with one comment

Donald Trump has promised to bring in a new wave of protectionism for American businesses. This news has been met with cheers from the small government advocates in the Republican Party. The democrats haven’t been cheering but only because Donald Trump is promising it. If Hillary Clinton had promised it they would be cheering but at least the cheering wouldn’t come immediately after claiming they’re for a small government.

Protectionism is almost always promised by people who blame foreign countries from a bad domestic economy and this case is no different. Trump and the republicans are claiming that China has been stealing American jobs. But Jack Ma, Chinese billionaire, sees things slightly differently:

Ma says blaming China for any economic issues in the U.S. is misguided. If America is looking to blame anyone, Ma said, it should blame itself.

“It’s not that other countries steal jobs from you guys,” Ma said. “It’s your strategy. Distribute the money and things in a proper way.”

He said the U.S. has wasted over $14 trillion in fighting wars over the past 30 years rather than investing in infrastructure at home.

While I disagree with his claim that the money was merely misappropriated, he’s entirely correct in saying that the $14 trillion spent in fighting wars was wasted.

Any economist who isn’t a complete moron, of which there are very few, knows that wars don’t produce wealth. Sure, it often looks like wars are good for the economy because jobs are created to feed the war machine but none of those jobs are productive. They exist to destroy wealth. Every piece of military machinery is build to be destroyed. Ammunition is expended. Tanks are either destroyed in combat or destroyed after they’ve been made obsolete by a new tank. Aircraft carriers that aren’t sunk by the enemy are sunk by the owners when they’re decommissioned to make way for the new fleet. Every building, road, and telephone pole destroyed in a war must be rebuilt afterwards. No actual wealth is created by war. Wealth is merely dumped into building expendable equipment or redoing work that was previously done. This is also why fourth generation warfare is so effective. One side spends pennies while the other spends trillions.

Instead of waging an endless war, the people of the United States could have been doing productive things. But the government chose warfare, the people rolled over and accepted warfare, and a huge amount of wealth has been diverted to unproductive endeavors, which has done nothing good for the economy. China isn’t taking American jobs, the United States government is destroying those jobs.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 19th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Just a Slight Shortfall

with one comment

What happens when a business makes more monetary promises than it can fulfill? Its assets are liquidated so that the proceeds can go towards paying off some of those promises. What happens when a government makes more monetary promises than it can fulfill? That seems like an important question to ask right now:

You can look at the financial health of Social Security in many ways.

[…]

Despite the huge numbers, there’s even a less generous way of looking at the fiscal shortfall.

A projection, known as the “infinite horizon,” takes into account all the program’s future liabilities, even those beyond the 75-year period that Social Security actuaries typically use in their calculations.

Under the infinite horizon, Social Security will have $32.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities by 2090, $6.3 trillion more than last year’s projection. (See the chart below.)

Social Security was sold as a safety net that would guarantee that retirees would have money even after they were no longer working. But like all government schemes, Social Security was just another mechanism to expropriate wealth from the people for the benefit of the State. The scheme was originally quite simple. Today’s valued dollars would be taken by the State so it could use them as it pleased and then returned at a future date after inflation had devalued those dollars significantly. But the scheme quickly became more complicated.

Since 1982 Social Security has been paying out more than it has been bringing in. This deficit, often referred to by cute names such as unfunded obligations or unfunded liabilities, is slated to ballon to $32.1 trillion by 2090. To put that in perspective, the current national debt is hovering near $20 trillion.

If Social Security (or the United States government for that matter) was a business it would be forced to file bankruptcy as there is no realistic way that it will ever be able to repay its debts.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 28th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Dire Straits

without comments

In Finland the jobless can get their money for nothing and they don’t have to install microwave ovens:

Finland will soon hand out cash to 2,000 jobless people, free of bureaucracy or limits on side earnings. The idea, universal basic income, is gaining traction worldwide.

The computer graphics in that video are almost as bad as this idea!

Before any advocates of universal basic income start creaming their pants over this let me point out that this is a solution to a problem that was, not surprisingly, created by the government in the first place:

While entrepreneurs are eager to put these people to work, the rules of Finland’s generous social safety net effectively discourage this. Jobless people generally cannot earn additional income while collecting unemployment benefits or they risk losing that assistance. For laid-off workers from Nokia, simply collecting a guaranteed unemployment check often presents a better financial proposition than taking a leap with a start-up in Finland, where a shaky technology industry is trying to find its footing again.

The problem isn’t that there aren’t jobs available. The problem is that the Finnish government has created a system that discouraged unemployed individuals from seeking another job. Instead of fixing that problem the Finnish government has decided to exacerbate the problem by giving unemployed individuals money for being unemployed. How will that encourage them to seek a new job? It won’t.

I’m sure a bunch of advocates of universal basic income are ready to accuse me of hating workers because I’m not onboard with their little scheme. But I don’t hate workers. In fact, I am a worker. But universal basic income is an unsustainable idea because it relies on taxes and taxes only exist if there is wealth to steal. Ask yourself this, without employees motivated to work how can employers create the goods and services that create the wealth that supports universal basic income? Without employers wealth isn’t created. Without employees the employers can’t create wealth. This means that eventually the supposedly guaranteed income is no longer guaranteed because there is no money to pay it with.

TANSTAAFL, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, is the rule that the universe runs by. A few words written by some bureaucrats in a marble building can’t make that rule go away.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 22nd, 2016 at 11:00 am

If Keynesian Economics isn’t Solving Your Problem Then You’re Not Using Enough of It

with one comment

Although it’s unlikely he actually said it, it is often claimed that Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. By that definition there are a lot of insane people out there discussing mainstream economics.

Take this article, for example. The article tries to argue that Keynesian economics could save the United States. The problem with the article, besides its advocacy of nonsense, is that it’s based on the false premise that the United States government ever stopped following Keynesian economics.

The United States is in the mess that it’s in, in part, because it followed Keynes’ advice instead of Mises’. Instead of relying on free markets, a commodity based currency, and debt avoidance the United States has been relying on cronyism, a fiat currency, and racking up more debt than a drunken teenager with their parents’ credit card. The natural correction mechanisms of markets have been suppressed for decades, which has lead to a massive misallocation of resources. Eventually the problem will become so bad that no force will be able to continue suppressing these market forces and people will get to enjoy the mother of all depressions. Debt, likewise, is unhealthy in the long run because creditors eventually refuse to loan any more money (or buy your debt in the case of the United States) and call in outstanding loans. When those loans are called in and you don’t have the money to pay you end up going bankrupt (or killing your creditors as the United States will likely try to do).

The current United States economy is what you get when a government goes full Keynesian. If you’re really interested in trying to fix this mess you should pick up some books written by Ludwig von Mises and follow their advice.

Using Data Classification to Hide the Truth

without comments

Continuing on my theme of the State having many layers of protection that hinder any meaningful change, I came across a story about how the Department of Defense used data classification to protect itself from possible budget cuts:

In January of 2015, as the US Department of Defense was chafing under the sequestration of its budget, the Pentagon leadership got some great news. A study prepared by the Defense Business Board (DBB) and a team from the global management consulting giant McKinsey and Company found that even with “moderate” changes to business practices, the DOD could save $125 billion over five years.

[…]

That good news, however, did not fall upon welcoming ears. DOD officials had no real idea how much bureaucratic overhead was costing them, as the costs were never accurately measured. When they saw the numbers from the DBB, the Washington Post reports, some of the Pentagon’s leadership was afraid of a legislative backlash. After DOD officials had complained for years about not having enough money to Congress, the department feared findings would trigger further cuts to the DOD’s budget. So the data for the study was designated as sensitive, and an overview of the report that had already been published to the Defense Business Board website was pulled.

You will never find a department within the State that will willingly submit to a budget cut. In fact, departments will go to great lengths to justify expanding their budgets. Different departments have different strategies to argue against cuts but they all work together to ensure that the State always has a justification to keep cranking up taxes.

I would have liked to see the looks on the faces of those Department of Defense (DoD) bureaucrats when they saw that they could cut $125 billion for their budget. I’m sure they made more than a few implied threats to the people who created the report to discourage them from performing such an investigation in the future. And if the DoD didn’t have a policy to mark any reports arguing in favor of a budget cut as sensitive before, I’m sure it does now.

People talk about changing the system from the inside but that’s not possible when every component of the system has hundreds or thousands of roadblocks preventing changes. Concealing information is one such roadblock. How can somebody make an accurate budget when the information they need is inaccurate or missing? So long as every department only reveals information arguing for the need to increase their budget there is no way anybody within the system is going to be able to make a valid (to the State, not to the people) argument for decreasing taxes.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 7th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Secure Your Assets

without comments

Anybody with more than two braincells to rub together and has even a modest knowledge of economic history knows that you can’t trust the State for your retirement. The government issued funny money is in a constant state of devaluation, which means every slip of its paper you save will be worth much less when you retire. Because of that, smart people find alternative ways to preserve their wealth for retirement. Some people invest a portion of their wealth in the hopes they can grow it faster than the rate of inflation while others prefer to rely on time proven precious metals.

If you look at historical trends the latter is a pretty solid choice if your goal is to preserve your purchasing power. However, if you’re going to opt for precious metals you need a secure method of storage, to spread out your assets, and probably a decent insurance policy because physical assets can be stolen:

ST. PAUL, Minn. – St. Paul Police are looking into an reported burglary that stripped a female resident of her entire life savings.

Police spokesman Steve Linders confirms that the alleged victim, a 57-year-old who lives on the 1600 block of Abell Street, had her valuables stashed in her bedroom because she does not trust banks. The thieves got away with 100 gold bars valued at more than $1,200 apiece, $60,000 cash and a diamond ring valued at $36,000.

I’ve seen quite a few comments making fun of the fact that her lack of trust in banks caused her to lose her life savings. But if your money is in a bank account its purchasing power is constantly being stolen in the form of inflation so acting high and mighty because you keep your government funny money in a bank is just as stupid as keeping all of your gold in one location and not properly securing it.

By the description of her storage method (stashing it in her bedroom) I’m left to assume she didn’t have her gold in a quality safe. If you’re going to have a lot of gold on hand you should invest in a decent safe that can be bolted to the ground (i.e. a decent gun safe). Bonus points can be had if you can also conceal the safe. But a quality safe offer two advantages. First, it greatly increases the time it takes for a burglar to get to your valuable assets. Burglaries are often smash and grab affairs where the burglars want to minimize the amount of time that they’re in a house. The more secure your assets are the less attractive they will be to a petty thief looking to get in and out. The second advantage a quality safe offers is fire protection. You don’t want to lose your retirement if your house burns down.

In addition to a quality safe you also want to spread your assets around. Keeping all of your eggs in one basket is not a wise idea. I would personally recommend against a safety deposit box at a bank because the State can and has seized them. And since the United States government has confiscated gold in the past it’s not unreasonable to think another gold confiscation might occur. You’re better off having trustworthy family members or close friends or have a second piece of property where you can install a quality safe and store some of your assets.

The third thing, which can be tricky if you’re concerned about another possible government gold confiscation, is having an insurance policy. Precious metals are valuable and valuable assets should be insured against loss. However, insuring your precious metals also means records of the metals existence will exist. If the government decided to do another gold confiscation they very well may require insurance companies to surrender information on customers who have insured precious metals. Then again, an insurance policy is a nice thing to have if burglars break into your home and get into your safe. It’s one of those risk-reward formulas that you have to figure out for yourself.

Storing your retirement savings in government funny money in a bank is not a good idea but if you’re going to do something else you need to be smart about. Simply buying gold isn’t a solid plan if you don’t have a way of securing that gold longterm.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 27th, 2016 at 10:30 am