Me and my homunculus

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Homunculus is one of those great words to have in your back pocket. You never know when it might come in handy, and it is a fun word to say. Traditionally, the homunculus was a small physical representation of a human used in the practice of alchemy during the 16th century to symbolize their attempts to re-create human life by… Read more »

Government budgets are moral documents

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“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” – U. S. Constitution, Article I Section 8 With the release of President Trump’s first proposed budget, I thought… Read more »

Uber wages and the Amway model

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A recent controversial study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [1] has asserted that Uber and Lyft drivers’ median wage is really just $3.37 per hour. I don’t want to wade here into the final number calculated by MIT, but I thought it might be useful to demonstrate that the techniques used by Uber and Lyft to keep the “real… Read more »

Do bad things really happen in threes?

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In an earlier post about Poisson processes, I teased the question, “Do ‘bad things’ really happen in threes, as the common folk wisdom goes?” The short answer is, “No.” Okay, there is some wiggle room of basis for this myth for certain familiar Poisson processes, where some random timing effects can cause our minds to perceive a natural grouping of… Read more »

Taxpayer-financed business failure insurance

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Two recent posts looked at private equity (PE) as an aberrant form of business model dependent first on very artificial tax preferences and second on the ability to empty the cash from “cash cow” businesses. In this final part of my critique of PE, I will look at the liberal use of bankruptcy protection as a “feature, not a bug”… Read more »

What makes the United States different on guns?

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A February 26 interview by NPR’s Steve Inskeep with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin on the curiously-ignored mass school shooting in his state in January was one of the most disturbing discussions with a politician I have heard recently. In short, Governor Bevin has no explanation for school shootings except “evil,” and thus no useful suggestions for countering this national tragedy. He… Read more »

The ever-changing river

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The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus was noted for saying that “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” He recognized that the fundamental nature of the universe is that it is ever-changing and ever-moving. You might think of him as the first to understand and articulate, long before the idea of “Poisson processes” as explained in an earlier… Read more »

Army suicides and gun policy

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A very significant U. S. Army study on suicides in the ranks [1] came and went past most public notice in 2013. On some military bases, “successful” suicides are nearly zero. Suicides on U.S. bases in South Korea have been very rare. But the rates are disturbingly high at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Hood, Texas, for example. The one… Read more »

How to milk a cash cow

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An earlier post explored the “tax welfare” characteristics in much private equity (PE) investment in the U.S. This post explores the second key characteristic of PE, which is the preying on “cash cow” companies. One of the greater misstatements common in the business press is that private equity firms like Bain Capital target “troubled companies” for takeover and rescue. A… Read more »

The “mentally-ill shooter” fallacy

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In my earlier post on “The gun violence lottery” I presented the math behind my contention that the rise of American gun violence is mostly correlated simply with the accelerating rise in the availability of guns in America. The short version of the proof is found in the “should be obvious” fact that other “first world” countries have all of… Read more »