What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Coffee, black. I had blood work done this week and received instructions not to eat or drink anything prior to the appointment. Black coffee was excepted. I appreciate that I was allowed to get caffeinated and avoid the inevitable withdrawal headache, but honestly, even good black coffee is bad. I’m sorry, it just is. I mean I don’t want 10 times more cream in my go juice than coffee or anything, but I like it to come to a nice deep tan before pouring it down my gullet. I know there will be a chorus of “real coffee lovers drink it black,” well, you’re welcome to your bitter bean water, but I’m going to insist on something more civilized.

2. Hand wringing about corporate profits. “But companies are posting record profits,” they whine. Yes, they are…. and those companies are going to do things like invest in their infrastructure, identify growth opportunities, and return a big slice of that profit to their shareholders through increased value or directly by issuing dividends. If you follow the average news report you could be forgiven for thinking “shareholder” is just another word for the evil 1%. In reality, of course, shareholders reflect every single American who has a 401k, or an IRA, or a Health Savings Account, a 529 plan, or yes, even one of those old school union-backed pension plans. Big corporate profits are a good news story for the 55%+ of the population who have invested for their future. Sorry, but in a free market I’ll just never see businesses making a profit as anything but a good news story.

3. Anti-streaming. Look, if you’re going to have people schlep to the office and spend eight hours there doing work that they could be doing from the comfort and convenience of their own homes, the least you can do is unblock some music streaming options so we can make an honest effort at ignoring those inane conversations going on around us. Unless, of course, sitting around listening in on six conversations at once is the “organizational culture” it’s so important to preserve. I mean I know there are people who really dig being in the office, but I can’t for a moment imagine why. There’s not a single thing there that works better than its counterpart in my home office… myself included.

Lowest common denominator…

I’ll admit it. I’m vaguely fascinated by news reports of some of the fringe actors in the modern “protest” movement – particularly the ones that define themselves as being “resolutely anti-capitalist.”

The Cold War kid in me has definite feelings about that. 

The middle aged adult me, the one with a vested retirement and decades of proven growth a tax advantaged savings account, has big feelings about it.

Far from seeing capitalism as the disease, I’ve always viewed it as the cure, though it’s far from a magic pill. I took my lumps back in 2008 just like everyone else – maybe a little more because I was determined to make good on my debts rather than just walking away from them or expecting someone else to foot the bill. Even after taking those lumps, though, I’m miles ahead of where I would have been had I opted out of capitalism to chase a Marxist pipe dream. Color me an enemy of the state for that, I guess. 

I’ve long mistrusted people as individuals – and have had virtually no trust at all of large groups of them who are convinced beyond reason that they have uncovered the One True Way. I don’t have the time or energy to do anything with fanatics other than mock them mercilessly. Life experience tells me that expecting everyone around the globe to link arms, sing happy songs, and do everything out of the goodness of their collective hearts is going to do not much more than shatter the hopes and dreams of a bunch of idealistic youngsters when the realize the world truly doesn’t give two shits about them or whatever cloud castle they’re trying to build. 

The history of our species is a long list of violence and blood-letting. If we pull back the curtain far enough on this wave of “anti-capitalists,” I’d speculate what we’ll find is just another group of elites who are inching along what they’ve identified as a newly feasible path towards gathering up the reins of power into their own hands. 

Me? I prefer the market-based approach. It doesn’t pretend to be kinder and gentler – but a system that rewards personal initiative and risk seems infinitely preferable to one that wants to smash everyone into the mold of lowest common denominator “equality.” 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Big Pharma Guy. Despite the public outcry it’s actually not the physical embodiment of Big Pharma that bothers me about someone who ramps up the price of their product from $13 to $750. The dude might be an MBA, but he clearly wasn’t paying attention in the “shaping public opinion” part of class. Sure, it was a douche move, but hey, I’m going to tell you to go out there and charge whatever the market will tolerate for your product. The fact that he’s been so quick to backpedal gives me a pretty strong indication that he didn’t think things through all the way to their logical conclusion. What annoys me more than anything though, is that I’ve never had the foresight to buy the patent on some widget I can make for less than a dollar and turn around and sell to a willing marketplace for thousands of percentage points in mark up.

2. Volkswagen. Someone established tough standards and then someone else found a way to lie in order to beat the standard. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked. While I agree that Volkswagen did a very bad thing, I’m not sure why anyone is reacting with surprise. People, almost as if by nature, look for the loophole that lets them do whatever they wanted to do with the least amount of trouble. In this case, jiggering with the onboard computer was the path of least resistance. A test is only as good as the way it’s validated, or as a wise old Warrant Officer once told me, “You don’t do what the boss don’t check.” If you’re going to insist on having regulations, at least then insist that someone is responsible for making sure the testing mechanism works. I don’t blame Volkswagen for following their own self interest so much as I blame a system that was put in place that let them get away with it for the better part of a decade.

3. Delayed interest. When I’ve been working on something for months, there is no conceivable way I can bring you up to speed on the intricacies of each bit and piece of the puzzle 37 seconds before that particular thing is done. Thirty seven seconds may be an exaggeration, but only a minor one. At some point when I tell you something needs signed it’s going to have to be ok in believing that I know what I’m doing. At least we can put that dirty rumor that we’re trusted professionals to rest now.

You’re doing it wrong…

I’ve been reading a lot of articles over the last few months about people protesting the high price of this product or that product, general “corporate greed,” and any number of other economic issues. I’m a little surprised that no one has come forward to propose the simple solution yet. If you’re somebody who thinks the oil companies make too much money go ahead and scrape up the coin to buy a few shares of Exxon or BP. Convince 5 or 10 million of your closes friends to buy ten shares each and suddenly you’re a loud voice in the next shareholder meeting instead of just being a bunch of rabble standing on the sidewalk.

You know in your heart we’re not “getting off oil” until we absolutely have to, so why not take advantage of the increasing prices to put some coin in your pocket along with those nasty corporate big wigs. The minute you take on an ownership stake in one of these companies, I suspect your attitude towards profits and “social justice” will change… Unless you think capitalism itself is the problem and the oil companies are just your whipping boy of choice this year. Just remember that the free market has been at work in every culture since two cave men agreed to trade six deer hides for one shiny flat rock. It flourished in the black markets of the Soviet Union and moved China from agrarian backwater to workshop of the world in two or three generations. It was here before us and it will be here long after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Look, it’s a simple concept. There are only about 4 million dues paying members of the National Rifle Association. If the anti-gun people signed up 4,000,001 people and had them vote at the next annual meeting to change the corporate charter. Poof. Just like that the NRA becomes the nation’s leading advocate for gun control. People go about this protesting business all wrong. Tag board signs and marching in the street looks like amateur hour and the mob makes Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public vaguely nervous. If you want to see real changes, put on a suit and tie and find a way into the boardroom. That’s where change happens in the grown up world.

Cry Havoc…

I’m the last person on earth I ever thought would be screaming for massive government intervention in the free market, but for god’s sake the financial sector is taking a pummeling whose only precedent was before most Americans living today were born. Not to sound like a complete alarmist, but if the Congress allows liquidity to dry up any further it’s entirely possible that the entire financial engine of the country could seize. Our economy on the macro level is based on big institutions providing short term loans to one another. If that suddenly stops happening well, then God help us. I hope you’ve stocked up on lots of canned goods.

Damned free market…

OK, so I am usually a dyed-in-the-wool champion of the free market… unless, of course, it’s doing something bad to me. In this case, the national slump in new home sales has driven the builder of my subdivision to take a different approach. Instead of selling their new construction outright, they are coaxing people into “lease-options”… effectively turning all the unsold houses the subdivision into very large stand-alone apartments. I don’t have any particular problems with apartments, per se as I lived in them for a long time and enjoyed it, but the approach he decided to take does all sorts of weird shit to the value of the existing stock of houses, particularly to those of us who bought into the subdivision early. The builder is in it to make a profit and I can’t fault him for that, but still, it creates a giant pain in the ass for me… and we all know what I think of things that do that.