Archive for the ‘Consumer tips’ Category

NY Times reports another benefit of the citizens dividend

photo credit: coal dubya via flickr (cc)

photo credit: coal dubya via flickr (cc)

If the earth belongs to the people, then whatever is paid for the use thereof belongs to them in some equitable fashion also.  Therefore, beyond what’s needed for legitimate government purposes, there would seem to be enough for a considerable “citizen’s dividend” for everyone.  Plenty of discussion on this subject can be found here.

My guess is that it would likely be enough to replace most of the aid programs which provide funds — rarely enough but maybe better than nothing — to low income people.  One advantage is that it could be administered at relatively modest expense.  A related advantage is that it can probably be made to work, with everyone getting what they’re entitled to. This latter aspect is what came to mind when I read this NY Times article, in which a Georgetown law professor summarizes “a litany of automation and contracting meltdowns” whereby the poor were unable to obtain benefits to which they were entitled under various aid programs and which may have been essential to their support.

His point seems to be that, while healthcare.gov suffered major problems initially, it was soon repaired because its failure affected many non-poor people. (I have no idea how well-repaired it might be, but will assume he is correct about this.)  He does not mention the citizens dividend, perhaps is unaware of it, or maybe ignores it because it would likely reduce the demand for lawyers. But he makes the case. A regular check for everyone, as a just entitlement, would be a far simpler system than most of the means-tested (and otherwise-restricted) aid programs which cost taxpayers so much money.

And while we’re on the subject of means-tested programs, consider this:

[I]f a single mother has two children in childcare and she’s making $36,000, she’ll pay about $310 a month for childcare. Then, if she gets a raise to $37,000, she’ll need to pay $1,200 a month for childcare because of the loss of a subsidy.

Of course, it needn’t be a raise, it might just be a decision to work a bit of overtime. I have written about this before and I will probably have to write about it again. Means-tested aid is a disgrace.

 

How the CPI values our privacy– or doesn’t

wallet contents

image credit: ItalianPsycho via flickr (cc)

Measuring inflation isn’t an easy matter; I don’t think many of us can even agree on exactly what inflation is. But it’s somehow related to prices consumers pay, and the biggest operation measuring that, at least in the U S, is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. There are lots of issues with how they measure, and how they report, but one which I haven’t seen discussed regards “loyalty” cards and the value of privacy.

Many retailers in recent years have set up “clubs” of one sort of another to better track their customers. One of the noteworthy exceptions until last year was Walgreens, and there remain a few other respectable merchants, but nowdays one who chooses not to participate ends up giving up a fair amount of money (or convenience).  So does the Consumer Price Index recognize that privacy has a price?

The answer, at least conceptually, turns out to be straightforward.  It’s right here in Chapter 17 of the Handbook of Methods. As described on pages 31-32 of this pdf, if a discount is offered only to card users, is temporary (lasts no longer than a month or two), and at least 50% of the sales are at the discounted price, then the CPI recognizes the discounted price. (If the discount is for a longer period, then pro-rata weighting is used.)  In essence, if most people give up privacy for a discount, then the CPI doesn’t recognize this as a cost.

At least in the stores I visit, it seems that most folks are quite willing (or economically constrained) to take the discount; anyone who wants to make a purchase under the policies that were in place twenty years ago needs to pay a higher price, which is not recognized in the Consumer Price Index.

I am back, recovered from an attack not by privilege

based on image by: William Wilkinson via flickr (cc)

based on image by: William Wilkinson via flickr (cc)

This blog disappeared on February 3, and returns today February 17 2013.

The reason is a strangeness at my former host, whose ordinary practice is to evict customers from time to time, without warning or appeal, when servers become overloaded. I had heard about this from other victims before I signed up, frankly didn’t credit those reports, but it is true.  I have no reason to think I generated a lot of load, but have no access to the account to see.  What’s strange is, if I was running a budget host, and one of my customers, who was only paying less than $1/week, generated a lot of traffic, I would suspend the account and send the customer a message: “If you want to retain your account with us you must upgrade to a more expensive plan.” No such message was received or referenced.

I can’t blame privilege for this, as the hosting market seems to be quite competitive, and I see no evidence that the deceptive practices of some hosting companies are protected by government.

As it happens, I am at a new host, and I am paying more than previously but not outrageously so.  Another difference between the old host and the new one is that here we have a fairly active user discussion board, where even prospective customers are able to participate.  Otoh, transition to the old host was much smoother, whereas moving here involved several discontinuities, which caused delays despite prompt attention from tech support.

I am not naming my old host right now, for two reasons.  First, I remain responsible for another site over there, which hasn’t (yet?) been evicted. Second, other than evicting me without notice, the old host was quite cooperative about sending me a backup file and redirecting nameservers. (A refund has been promised; we shall see about that.)

Just because they ask, doesn’t mean we have to give it to them

Governments here in Illinois (and probably everywhere else) like to “request” things, but that doesn’t mean we mundanes always need to grant these requests.  Two examples from recent experience:

detail from work of Chris Karr via flickr (cc)

detail from a photo by Chris Karr via flickr (cc)

Saving money: Illinois Secretary of State Certificate of Good Standing.  Our high-tech sophisticated Secretary of State makes it easy, relatively, to get the “certificate of good standing” that organizations may require, for example, to set up some kinds of financial accounts.  No problem, just go to Jesse White’s web site, do a search (which really works, in my experience), fill out the simple form and authorize a credit card charge of $16 ($5 transaction fee, $1 payment processor fee, and $10 expedited fee).  But suppose you aren’t in a great hurry and don’t need (or want to pay for) expediting.  Or suppose you lack a credit card but have a checking account (or can buy a money order). What to do?

Nowhere could I find the answer on Jesse’s web site.  Fortunately, cheapness wonk Adam Kerman of the Transit Riders’ Authority knew what to do:

Write a letter to request the Certificate of Good Standing. Make sure to include the corporate file number and your contact phone number. $5 fee Secretary of State Business Services 501 S. Second St., Rm. 330 Springfield, IL 62756

And that’s just what I did.  A week or so later, the certificate arrived.

Current RTA Executive Director

Saving Dignity: Regional Transportation Authority old person discount fare card. A good and privacy-minded friend of mine, having recently attained the age of 65, wanted to take advantage of the “reduced fares” available to old people (among others) on RTA-funded transit systems. First thing she found out was that it takes 3-4 weeks to get the required farecard, so she should have applied 21 days prior to her birthday.  Too late for that, but she readily found the necessary form, which turns out to serve two functions: (a) apply for reduced fares based on age or other criteria; (b) apply for free fares based on likelihood of voting Democratic documented low income.  Being successful enough not to qualify for (b), she still had to complete a form with a blank for “Social Security Number.”  What do to?

She wrote “NOT REQUIRED” in the SSN blank, and 23 days later received a reduced fare card in the mail.  Moral of this story: You can surrender somewhat less privacy than the authorities ask for, without giving up rights or privileges, at least in this case.