Time enough at last or: Reconsidering the universal basic income…

While trying to take care of some online housekeeping over the weekend, I stumbled upon one of my old Amazon wishlists – one that stretched back a decade or more. The titles listed were definitely “on brand” for what I like to read. I’m nothing if not consistent.

For someone with a full time job and a household to run, I like to think I consume written material at a respectable rate (especially given I have no claim on speed reading). There’s not much down time here that doesn’t find me with a book in my hand. There’s nothing to make my efforts feel inadequate quite like seeing page after page of titles I still want to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet. Worse yet, they’re the ones I haven’t even gotten around to grabbing up a copy of yet. That puts them deeply in the “who the hell knows when or if I’ll get to them” category.

Maybe I should reconsider my whole position on the universal basic income. Not needing to do annoying things like earn a living would really free up the kind of time I need to work through the backlog here. Sure, it creates a whole host of secondary problems and unintended consequences, but it seems that’s what it’s going to take to find time enough at last.

A dark and rainy Friday…

As I was sitting here on a dark and rainy Friday morning seething quietly after cutting a check for a $1825 special assessment from my condo’s governing HOA, I realized it’s been a few days since I posted anything. What can I say, rage, it seems, beings out my inner soul as a writer – or maybe it’s just the catharsis I need after getting gang banged by a homeowners association board who must have been holding on to a shit ton of proxies when they voted.

I’m always curious about those who see rental income as a surefire pathway to wealth. Maybe it is under certain circumstances – if you’re local and can do many of the repairs yourself, if you paid cash and aren’t using at least a portion of the rent to make the note, or if you aren’t governed by an HOA that’s at least as good at spending other people’s money as the United States Congress. I’ve been renting out this condo since 2003 and I’ll admit that there have been a few good years – those years when nothing breaks and there’s no damage to be repaired. Those years are the rarity. Far more often it’s a break even proposition where you’re lucky to be about $500 into either the black or red by year’s end. Then, of course, there are those years where you end up pouring your own cash into the place hand over fist. No one talks about those years when they tell you what a great idea it is having a rental property.

At least the bastards got the bills out in time to use the whole damned mess as a 2018 deduction instead of having to wait an additional year to recoup a few pennies on the dollar. When your “bright slide” is consoling yourself that you have something to help offset the decreased federal deductibility of state and local taxes, you’ve really got to rethink the whole plan from start to finish.

This dark and rainy Friday is going to largely be about resisting the temptation to drive down there and nail a for sale sign to the door and being done with the whole bleeding mess.

Death and taxes…

Depending on your news source of choice, you’ll hear a lot about the tax bill that just passed through Congress being the best tax overhaul in a generation or the worst catastrophe to ever befall the republic. The line I heard today that most sticks with me, though, is that “the tax bill does the most for the people at the top of the income ladder.”

Um, well, yeah. I guess it does. Those are the people who are paying most of the income taxes collected by the federal government. It seems that any changes at all to the tax code would likely impact them more than it does the 43% of the population who currently pay no income tax.

In a quick review of the discussion, I found that “A Pew Research Center analysis of IRS data from 2015, the most recent available, shows that taxpayers with incomes of $200,000 or more paid well over half (58.8%) of federal income taxes, though they accounted for only 4.5% of all returns filed.” Drop that income level down to $100,000 and it accounts for 80.6% if all federal income tax receipts but only 16.8% of tax returns filed with the IRS.

Let that sink in for a moment. About 17% of those filing their taxes carry more than 80% of the burden of paying income taxes. This doesn’t even account for people who for whatever reason aren’t required to or don’t file with the IRS. I’m not now nor have I ever been a math major, but the numbers do seem to indicate pretty strongly that a small percentage of the population is doing a very large percentage of the heavy lifting when it comes to the overall income tax burden.

Knowing all this, when the discussion comes around to who needs to pay their “fair share” or how wrong it is that the people who actually pay the vast majority of income taxes should benefit from a reduced tax burden, I honestly have no bleeding idea what you’re talking about.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Hate speech. Here’s a fun fact, just because you happen to disagree with something someone says, that doesn’t make it “hate speech.” If that were the hight of the bar it needed to cross, damned near everyone I talk to on a daily basis would have to be considered a hate-spewing douchcanoe. As it is, these people generally just happen to have opinions with which I disagree. I suspect the key difference is being able to tell the difference between getting your little feelings hurt and someone who actually says something threatening. Many can’t seem to make the distinction, or maybe they’re too deep entrenched in their “safe space” hiding from the scary words to be able to tell the difference.

2. The new, new boss. I’ve only just formally met the new boss a few hours ago. He seems like a decent enough human being. He’s the third boss our office has had inside the last 12 months. I have no idea if that says more about us or them, not that it matters. It’s just another dash of mayhem in the day while he learns our names and we learn how he likes his PowerPoint charts and whether he wants one space or two after a period in written communication.

3. Ash and trash. The problem with relying on the media to give you information is that regardless of your source, it’s almost always going to be slanted by bias either intentionally or unintentionally. Like when you see Huffington blazing forth with the headline “The Middle Class is Dying.” While that makes a fine headline and all, they don’t dwell much on the actual meat of the Pew survey they’re referencing. What almost none of the stories I read based on that survey tell you is that while the percentage of middle income earners is decreasing, more of that decrease (as a percentage) is attributable to people moving into the ranks of higher income earners than because they are dropping into the range of lower income earners. You actually have to look at the Pew report to see that “Notably, the 7 percentage point increase in the share at the top is nearly double the 4 percentage point increase at the bottom.” Since that factoid doesn’t fit nicely into the narrative the media wants to sell, you don’t see it unless you dig a bit deeper. Sadly that’s just another example of why we need to be our own fact checkers when it comes to the ash and trash slung out by professional “news” sources.

4. The unmitigated asshat who decided rush hour was a good time to try taking his two-lane wide load across a two-lane wide bridge. Believe me when I tell you that it should not take 40 minutes to navigate the 4.6 miles between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, but it did tonight thanks to one misguided driver and the parade of state and local police who forced him to see the error of his ways. If I wanted to deal with that kind of traffic buffoonery I would have taken the job at Ft. McNair when I had the chance.

It’s like House Hunters in reverse…

One of the least entertaining aspects of moving is the fact that I’m about to be the owner of two homes that there’s virtually no chance of my ever living in again. That sounds ok at first blush. Property is property, right? The real estate market always comes back, right? Right? That’s not really the down side, though, as at least intellectually, I know that at some point in the future I will be able to sell at least at the break even point. The real kick in the teeth is that at least for the forseeable future (5 years under current laws), one of these houses counts as a pure liability no matter how good a money make it is as a rental property. It seems that the fine people who make the laws and implementing regulations have decided that rental income doesn’t count as real income (except for tax purposes) until it’s been actively rented for at least five years. What that really means is that I can’t use the rental income from the house here to help me qualify for a loan on a new house. Don’t worry, though. The government is happy to treat the those funds just like regular income for tax purposes, so they’ll be sure to get their cut. Awfully nice of them, don’t you think?

I’m pretty ok with needing to rent when I get back to Maryland. Alot has changed in five years and I’m not really an expert in the northeastern part of the state. Having some time to feel out the area is probably for the best. It would still be nice to know I’d be in a position to buy if the right property and the right price happened to come along. Not much chance of that. It seems mortgage companies are a little skittish these days about writing four mortgages on a single income. Go figure.

All on the home front isn’t doom and gloom, though. It seems the property manager I’ve hired has been doing strong work in the last few days. She called tonight with a strong lead on someone who is very interested in getting into the place as soon as I can manage to get my stuff out of here. Since it hasn’t made the listings yet, I’m hopeful that’s a good sign for getting someone in here and paying the bills quickly. The mortgage writers might not consider it real income, but their accounts receivable department will sure thinks it’s the real deal. That’s a box I’ll be extraordinarily happy to have checked as quickly as possible.

Income Redistribution…

I want to set one thing straight right now: If you don’t pay income taxes in the first place (i.e. your income falls below the taxable level according to the Internal Revenue Service), you should not be entitled to an income tax rebate. In case you’re wondering the command and accepted definition is a “rebate” is money back that one has already spent (i.e. I got a $100 rebate when I bought a new cell phone). How is that difficult to understand?

If you are going to take from the people who do pay income taxes and give it to people who are exempt from paying income tax, call it income redistribution not a tax rebate or a refund. You’re not “refunding” anything since those people didn’t pay a red cent in the first place. How incredibly gullible do the administration and congressional leaders think people are? You can call it roast beef on rye, but if it’s a turd wrapped in Wonder bread. It’s still a shit sandwich.

Boo-friggin-hoo…

The USA Today is the ash heap of American print journalism. Unfortunately, it’s a large ash heap and nearly unavoidable if you spend any time in a hotel. Yesterday’s business section dedicated a good portion of the front page and the entire second page feature to the “plight” of workaholics in the United States. According to the article, “about 60% of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours a week…” Let’s stop right here and do some quick analysis… I mean, is anyone surprised that those individuals between the ages of 25-34 making more than $75,000/year and those over 35 and up making more than $100,000 per year spend more than 50 hours a week at work? Maybe I’m the only one who noticed the general trend that the more I work, the more I make. That was true when I was flipping burgers at McDonald’s and it’s true now that I have a nice cushy desk job. My point, I suppose, is how the hell can anyone be surprised that income is related to how much someone works? Is this really news to anyone who has spent any time thinking about ways to make more money?

The other aspect of the article that raised my hackles was the “high-earning individuals” complaining that they have had to sacrifice personal time and relationships because of work or that they don’t get enough sleep. Know what? That’s a choice you made in order to become a high-income individual, my friend. No one is making you work 60 billable hours per week. If it’s too much for you to deal with, step off the fast track so you can spend more time at the kid’s soccer games. Bottom line is that you make the choice to work in a high pressure workplace. The trade off is that maybe you will get passed over for that next promotion or maybe you’ll have to adjust your lifestyle to meet your new income. Bitch and complain about long hours all you want, I know I do. But don’t try to pass it off as some big, bad employer tethering you to your desk with wireless chains. Take some responsibility for your own actions and make the change if you don’t think you can hack it with the big boys.