Culturalism · Federal Government · investing · Personal Finance

Corporations Don’t Want To Compete

The common line in conservative and libertarian circles is that corporations are suffering. All they truly want is to operate in the free market without government intrusion, but the State is a harsh mistress. So they are left to solemnly trudge on, tears at the corners of their eyes, wishing and wondering if someday a change might materialize.

While this remains a touching and heart-plucking image, it simply fails to measure up in the real world. Despite the protests of economic liberals, very few firms (at least the larger ones) actually desire substantial market competition, which can easily cut into their profits and require continuous innovation. They find it far easier to establish a dominant position from where effective opposition can be limited, if not entirely stomped out.

In case skeptical souls raise complaints, let us go directly to the source. Peter Thiel, the brilliant co-founder of PayPal, flat out admitted in his excellent book Zero To One that creating monopolies is the way to get rich. Corporations follow his lead quite dutifully, buying up smaller competitors before things get too large, and lobbying for regulations to help protect themselves against new blood. After all, the more market share one firm controls, the less ability tiny rivals have to threaten margins by offering cheaper products.

With this in mind, the primary beneficiaries of free market economics would be startups and small companies, not the towering juggernauts operating today. Of course the problem does not end there. So long as we operate within the bounds of a system where power can be influenced by corporate money through the Legislative and Executive branches, the lobbying for price controls and regulations shall continue. Thus even a genuinely “lolbertarian” system exalting no regulations would eventually be subverted if the reins of power were democratic (or the national leadership could somehow be groomed by big money).

Indeed, were we to establish a system like the aforementioned one, officials would still have to contend with the question of mergers and acquisitions, moves which themselves can diminish market freedom. The debate would then rise as to whether antitrust laws are an acceptable form of regulation to preserve a less-regulated model. Yet does such a position invalidate the purity of the free market model?

The jury is out with their competing opinions, but Corporate America knows exactly where it wants to be.

Personal Finance · Self-Improvement

Restoring Goldberg Manor: Part III

So it has been a while, but certainly not for reasons of inaction or work shyness. A number of significant reforms have already occurred, and two major projects (roof and windows) are in progress. I thought I would give everyone an update here for good measure.

Re-Screening of Porch Door

Before:

Notice the large hole…bad news when the mosquito Staceys come calling.

After:

Installation of New Bedroom Lock

Before:

After:

The holes would later get puttied in, and will be painted at some point.

New Screws for GEM Pump

Before:

After:

I am not happy with the Rustoleum paint’s efficacy. This was after all the metal parts got a week-long coke bath.
I have ordered a chain plus buckets, so my next move is to replace the rotting base wood.

Dryer and Washer Install

Before:

After:

I will be having this drywall worked on soon, but the shifted location for the washer is far more convenient.
Don’t have a before pic on this exact spot, but you get the idea.

Federal Government · investing · Personal Finance

The Terrifying Future For Stocks

No, this article falls outside the category expected. It is not destined to be some foreboding warning about the threats of excessive fiat printing, or monopoly money stock buybacks. Nor are bonds the subject to be promoted as a safe alternative. Those are all great angles, but they fail to seize the goose.

What we’re concerned with is a little different. Over the last several days it dawned on me that stocks might be unsafe from the standpoint of maintaining legal ownership. Forget about the respective firm going bankrupt, or a market downturn burning the green. Might corporations or states one day simply require shareholders to surrender their stake, or, in the former’s case, revoke your assembled stocks completely? 

The idea is not as far-fetched as gullible GOPers probably believe. The State could certainly nationalize retirement and investment accounts to generate more revenue, or perhaps jack up tax rates on any sales/withdrawals. The easiest justification for an act is embodied in Social Security’s fractious position, and the move would be advertised as a question of patriotism.

Corporations on the other hand merely have to follow current social trends. They have already bent over backwards to appease the street-based terrorist group known as BMM, firing people for dissenting opinions and donating millions to “civil rights” despite their property being destroyed. How long until they bow to communist pressure and dilute or withdraw shares held by individuals who do not tow the party line?

But that’s impossible, you will say. Really? The present Supreme Court just barred churches from holding large religious services, and endorsed the undemocratic immigration power grab by an esteemed progressive. If little people stand to lose their financial holdings, would the Supreme Corporate actually care?

Not to interject with a Godwin’s Law moment, but our friend Joseph Goebbels had some great insight on this issue. Writing after his boss moved to snatch up the estates of a less-than-cooperative German monarchy, Joey said: “Real estate is the foundation of economic independence, and economic independence always furnishes a basis for political influence.”

Absolutely, and stocks are similar in nature. Will the likely Biden presidency, free of all legitimate DOJ scrutiny, defend the economic rights of the Right?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the NASDAQ.

Federal Government · Personal Finance

The War On Cash

I seldom pay with cash. Nothing against Lil George or DJ Franklin, but it is rare for me to have any need, and paying with a credit card actually earns some cash back (mainly in the denomination of Abraham the Creator). Nevertheless, I have a burner phone that is refilled with smacker payments for the purposes of privacy. As I went about completing the transaction today, I snatched a prepaid card, marched to the Wal-Mart self-checkout, and saw the following sign:

Really. Not only the poor spelling, but each register strictly refused to accept cash, leaving me to drop the card by the register shelves and break the rules by exiting through a one-way entrance. For this I received a stern finger-wagging from the staff, who were terrified that I might spread coronavirus to other shoppers. Strangely enough, the store had closed down an entire entrance, as though having everyone enter and exit through the same spot is a clever way to promote public health.

Regardless, the coin question struck me as grimly predictable. The empowered news media is claiming the culprit to be a disruption of supply due to less circulation. I would argue there is a far more to the story. Many of us have been warning about the danger inherent to a cashless society, even as the authorities that preside continue zealously pursuing it. The boldest step in this direction recently came in the form of Flimsy Andrew, whose campaign centered around direct payments from the Fed to Americans, and elimination of the penny. In fairness to Yang, your money would be worth about the same if his policies went into effect, but that is besides the point.

Why do they hate cash so much? Because it is difficult to control. Someone on Craigslist can offer up a service for a flat rate fee, and pocket the cash upon completion, simplifying the process and eliminating the government’s ability to tax. Transactions are very difficult to keep track of without card payments, whether because the State wishes to monitor a person or some corporation wants to use your buying habits for marketing purposes. The only identifying factor on a cash payment receipt would be the time and whatever video footage is available in-store. Nothing else.

So naturally the pandemic is a great excuse to further diminish the freedom of citizens and consumers in everyday life. It is likely that stores will attempt to maintain these policies in the future, and perhaps prohibit cash payments altogether, unless of course they get accused of waycism for the practice. We can only speculate and see.

Actually, there are more concrete actions which can be taken. Consider starting (or building on) a stash of precious metals. I would stay away from the SLV and GLD trusts, which have unclear guidelines as to the physical ownership of the metal. APMEX is a reasonable option, and there is of course Bezosmart. Be careful with pawn shops or gold stores, as they tend to jack up prices compared to online.

Some things just glitter and shine.

Personal Finance · Self-Improvement

How To Make Clothes Last

Clothing is THE critical issue. Around the nation, it drives people to their weekend or mid-week shopping sprees, greased so often by the need to appear “hip” or “sexy” on the Instagram dot com. Coming off as poorly-dressed is often associated with less respect, diminished romantic prospects, and even difficulty making money.  To show how serious the question is, reports indicate that the average American expels around $150 per month for clothing and related services – no small joke when the average income is under 64k before taxes. The sweatshop stitching intensifies.

Although less common as a financial topic, preservation of clothes is a fantastic way to break from the norm and spare a crying wallet more pain. What’s more, it need not fly at the expense of style or comfort, assuming certain steps are followed. The key aspect is to understand garments for what they are, obtain enough of them, and treat each one with the utmost respect.

Socks

Probably the last thing folks think about, even though they serve such a glorious purpose by keeping feet healthy and comfortable. Everyone knows socks wear out, but far less consider how this can be mitigated effectively. For one, purchase enough pairs so you have two for every day of the week. This allows for swapping at midday, which improves circulation to the toes and avoids too much strain being placed on the fabric. Consider a pair of slippers for the house, and avoid walking in socks on the driveway, where rough splotches can tear at the threads.

Also be sure to invest in a quality darning egg and stitching kit. When the heel or toes begin to show off more skin than a tradcon would approve of, you can fix them up lickety-split. Through this strategy I have been able to maintain pairs of Dickies going back 5 years, which beats purchasing a new pack every few months.

T-Shirts

Here again, quantity helps with longevity. Another useful approach is to buy more synthetic and polyester materials than cotton. Sure, they might feel tacky, but the quick-drying and sweat-wicking fabrics just feel nice, and seem to last longer, even without a Nugenix pill. I’ve had a surprisingly good experience with Wal-Mart’s Dri-Star materials, and you can go premium if that brings more satisfaction. Regardless, make sure to turn them inside out when washing, as this both cleans the fabric better and limits wear on the front. This is doubly true for any shirt (such as a uniform) that has velcro pockets.

Shorts/Briefs

Try to hand-wash these guys, including the sporty versions, as a means of increasing shelf life. I have seen some absolute tragedies coming out of the washing machine and dryer due to the underlying design. Adidas and Nike for example tend to leave the interior stitches exposed, and those threads will wear out rapidly when being tossed around.  If exercise shorts must go in a washer, remember to lace the drawstring up a couple times; doing so prevents it from getting dragged into the waistband by your machine’s impeller.

Pants

While it is fine to throw some pairs in the washer, they should be handled with care and turned inside out. Do not let them sit in the machine after it finishes. Instead, shake them out and place in the dryer for 10-15 minutes before hanging up to air-dry. Placing slacks or jeans in the dryer for long periods of time can result in damage to the buttons and belt loops, or even shrinkage. Get a decent iron and smooth out the wrinkles when they are dry before either folding them for a drawer or hanging the rascals up.

Washing In General

If it is not already a primary theme, limiting the use of washing machines and dryers is important (if not always practical) as we seek to preserve clothing. The reason why I emphasize synthetics is because they require less time in the dryer and can return to wearable status faster on even a lukewarm day than a piece of cotton will. Unless you are big into those fancy Gain or Downy scent pods, just consider a nice environmental detergent and be done with it. The especially brave might even try out a wash rack, but that is only for the muscled arms among you.

Finally, when a piece of cloth must be retired, keep to mind that it might be compostable, or even made into a cleaning cloth. This will not function as well for synthetics, but cotton socks can serve as excellent shoeshine pieces, and t-shirts past their prime become excellent rags or mopping heads. Alternatively, trim them up and add to a compost pile. Nothing wrong with that.

#VanLife · investing · Personal Finance

It’s Impossible To Have Enough

“The more you have, the more you want.”

At some point all of us have heard this adage about life. If you go out and accumulate things, you’ll simply lust after more, and it becomes a sordid spiral of avarice from there forward. Human greed is never satisfied, but rather throbs and expands with each passing hour.

That may be true, but a lot of what others perceive you to be greedily collecting could well be a necessity forced by circumstance. Stop and reckon for a minute: when buying something new or expensive, is the motivation typically driven by sheer covetousness, or did a milestone of existence suddenly spoil the party? They’re far more common than one might believe, and often unavoidable.

To put it in perspective, when I practiced van life full-time, most of my purchases related to food or some gadget to correct issues with my living space. These included battery-operated fans to beat back the sauna regime, seat-mounted storage compartments, and inflatable mats to spare my back. Sure, I could have gone without them, but the decision seemed sound from a quality of life standpoint.  Without a doubt however, I did need less.

Fast forward about a year, and I purchased a house. I didn’t need one, but as an investment the idea felt decent. Of course a house requires repairs and improvements, with some arising long after you sign the contract and move in. These might be little things, like additional motion lights for safety, or a fresh coat of paint on the porch. Again, I could wing it without, but that opens the possibility of long-term decay or injury.

Recently I have also been exploring the possibility of buying a second car. Some would immediately relegate this to crude consumerist desire, but living further away from a backup vehicle means the risk of getting stranded without a ride – and possibly catching an employer reprimand. Bear in mind that the last time my car went bad it took over a week to have the repairs made, perhaps in part because things went south over Christmas. My alternative in that case was a single cab truck, so you can imagine how napping felt in there.

The underlying point is that lifestyle spurs wants or needs, not rampant greed alone. While frugality is a virtue, depending on how a person lives they could very well be a huge consumer and have little choice in the matter. After all, that beaten up Taurus you bought from an old farmer is hardly some testament to personal vanity; it just runs well enough to move you from Point A to the restaurant at the end of the universe.

Sometimes greed just solves problems.  

investing · Personal Finance

Why Metro Real Estate Is Risky

Several days back I stumbled across the following Twitter post:

It’s hard to gauge how significant these numbers are, but one might reasonably conclude they are high in the neighborhoods directly or tangentially targeted by looters over the past two weeks. Keep in mind that crime is already a big issue in the city, and fresh plans to dismantle the police department might not exactly endear folks to the prospect of a safe living state.

This helps explain the danger of property investing within any major metropolitan sprawl. While it is possible to see prices skyrocket due to gentrification or opportunity expansion, there is also the risk that the historically butthurt and irritated will use any viral video as justification to run rampant around the block. The homeowner also stands to pay sweetly in the insurance department, and might need to fight with their policy provider depending on what caveats are built into the offering.

Of course the empowered and metrosexual could argue that other places will keep their police forces, thus reducing the risk to homeowners. Fair enough, but take a look right here:

Badges, guns, and pleasant indifference. Can you really blame them though?

investing · Personal Finance

My Investment Arsenal

A few folks have requested to see my approach to investing in more detail, so I decided to conjure up the following post. It obviously features a level of diversification, but more in style than substance. I see investments as both ways to grow money and also explore different concepts, so at times certain targets are selected more for interest than practicality.

Stock Accounts

1. Individual Account (Taxable)

This houses the bulk of my investing money, at times to great annoyance. The biggest upside is easy movement of funds If I need to do something important in the short-term, but the negative surrounds tax policy requiring me to hold longer than I would prefer in some cases.

2. Individual Robo-Managed Account (Taxable)

I got this to take some weight off my shoulders on a weekly basis. My broker service offers different plans optimized for taxes, conservative wealth strategies, or growth, and I place a small amount in each month with minimal overhead where management fees are concerned.

3. Roth IRA (Non-Taxable)

Probably the best place to store your investment holdings for the long run. The money goes in post-tax, but then grows without penalty until you’re older, providing no early withdrawals have been made. I do my best to max this out each year, though I fell short a few years back, and more recently got penalized by the IRS for contributing too much based on my salary.

4. Employer 401k

While I am not a fan of 401k programs, I started putting in 5 percent this year (pre-tax) because my income was creating expensive charges when tax filing rolled around. I made sure to pick the lowest fees for my funds, and generally don’t pay much attention to it other than the occasional checkup.

Fixed Income Sources

1. Savings Account

One can shop around, but I use the decently-high option from my broker service. This account yields a little over 1 percent and is effectively an airlock for money that will journey to any of the first three accounts mentioned.

2. Lending Club

This is more of a novelty than anything else to me. The site allows participants to purchase loans and get paid interest, providing you meet specific income standards. I tossed a grand in at the beginning of the year, focused on two different lines of credit. Probably should check it more frequently, but they don’t come due until a few years from now.

Real Estate

1. Fundrise

Not sure this goes here exactly, but I started with the REIT broker last year, and have enjoyed their products thus far. They offer different portfolios depending on your priorities, but I mostly bought in to take advantage of the projected growth in Midwestern city redevelopment. Biggest downside is receiving multiple forms to enter for taxes, which can create a problem if your software (*cough H&R Block*) doesn’t recognize small dividend amounts. That becomes a non-issue after you have been with them a while, however.

2. Physical Real Estate

As some of you know, I purchased a house earlier this year. Thus far it has required time and pennies, but the goal is to have at least half the mortgage paid by renters, and possibly as much as 100 percent. It also gives me the space to start a new business venture I have been planning for some months now. We’ll see whether I was smart to buy or not in the years to come.

Alternate Hedges

1. Cryptocurrency (Coinbase)

I’ve been nibbling on Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, XRP, and even 0x for a while now. Can’t say any of them have done spectacularly well, or at least not long enough for me to react. I keep adding despite Coinbase’s obnoxious fees because we can never know what will happen to fiat currency in the future.

 2. Precious Metals

I continue to accrue silver whenever possible. A key thing to consider is WHERE you are purchasing it. Going to a pawn shop or metals joint can lead to astronomically higher prices with no chance of a refund. Make sure to Google the value of whatever you choose to buy, and check online retailers to ensure there is no extreme markup.

#VanLife · Personal Finance · Self-Improvement

Restoring Goldberg Manor: Part II

Things are coming along smoothly enough. This past week has been a lot of electrical work, plus some other aesthetic improvements. I also have a larger paint job lined up for the next several weeks, one of two major changes planned, the other being Central Air, which will likely be a fall project.

Painting Walls In the Sunroom Plus Electrical Additions

Before:

After:

Two of these installed. You’ll note how the ground is on top, which is the correct way to install them, although the popular style in the U.S. is to invert the receptacle.

New motion activated light:

Scraped and Painted Pump

Before:

After:

This will probably get a second coat, along with the chains and buckets to make it functional.

Federal Government · investing · Personal Finance

That Kind of Hertz

In an eleventh hour weekend move, the car rental company Hertz filed for bankruptcy, sending its shares for a lovely ride:

“Give you a lift?”

I’m curious what stands to follow, especially as many states continue their draconian frighten in place orders despite the economic bleeding. The travel industry and airlines might raise particular concern, but even some restaurants could hit the chopping block due to their brick and mortar ways. And that’s all excluding oil, which has a lot of livelihoods attached to it throughout various parts of the U.S.

If nothing else, this crisis should inform politicians of how fragile the financial web remains in our country. Sending over thirty million to the welfare rolls in order to save them from the invisible enemy strikes the mind as nanny state idiocracy, which we surely don’t have in America. After all, this is the greatest country on earth.

Right?