Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 9, 2011

Mr. Toad, Sly, Alvin, College and the Third Republic

So Mr. Toad is back, he’s big, he’s large (footprint is about a handprint in size) and in-charge. This was an exciting moment in our house… ’cause we always look for him. Is he the same Mr. Toad from last year? He was rather silent and wouldn’t give me his business card without a free, stiff drink… so there’s no telling.

We had a new competitor move in somewhere about a month ago. First I thought he was a copperhead, but casual research suggests those fancy markings more likely make him a Rat Snake. No, the dude wouldn’t pose for his picture. And the speed camera definitely didn’t pick him up, despite my wife’s objections to his presence (twice!) on the front stoop. I call him “Sly and the Family Snake” but he hasn’t been seen in a while. And given the rather humongous siting of Mr. Toad, I’m wondering whether Sly either decided to move on, or find his way into Mr. Toad’s digestive system. Toads, as much as I’m a fan of amphibibibibians, seem to be omnivores and rather hungry. Note that the wife is pretty okay with this idea, and asked Mr. Toad if in fact he’d like a chaser. But again, no comment. Toads can be silent types… when of course they’re not in mid song. Kind of like Fats Domino and the like.

Anyway, Alvin the Chipmunk seems to be taking up residence in the front wall according to the dirt in front of one of the weep holes. The puzzle is that the weep hole is the very same one ol’ Sly went in and out of at one point. But like I said, Sly has been on the lamb somewhere, and he wasn’t no bigger than a piece of Beef Jerky anyway. So I’m still holdin’ with his redecorating Mr. Toad’s innards. But Alvin…. that’s another story. I think Jib’s (the Dog) antics have chased him out of the back wall and into the front. Quieter somehow… except for the laundry man, mailman, UPS man, Fedex man… all those guys Jib drools over sinking toofers into one day. My daughter wonders about ol’ Jib’s “tendencies” as we used to say but I just think she’s been in Atlanta too long.

Darling daughter works at the Marley in Atlanta, an Irish bar started by some actual young Irishmen and women from a family that turned left when they should have turned right and somehow wound up in Atlanta with some very good recipes. So four years of Emory and a rather high GPA and we wind up waiting tables. “Get an education” I’d said and the rest will take care of itself. “Doesn’t matter what you major in so long as you learn to love learning” I’d said. Boy was I full of it. Well it does matter and I’m probably not the most popular guy when two somebodies (my son and daughter both) get started wondering, “How’d we end up here?” But if you read Bill Gross at Pimco, he’s positively insulting over the young college grad’s prospects and foolishness over getting sucked into the tuition promises (which I didn’t hear on the tour anyway).

Besides having most of his facts wrong…I checked and Bill might want to revise his figure of 25 million undergrads here in the states…because we’re graduating only 3 million a year from high school and the total enrollment for undergrad, two-year programs, post-grad, and professional degrees has yet to top 21 million. We do these things as part of checking what’s really happening on the employment growth end of things – trying to gauge the softness in the economy and therefore market prospects… so I really don’t have a hard case for ol’ Mr. Bill, but one does wonder how a billionaire can’t seem to find a decent fact checker. Bill does seem to write to encourage investment along one track while investing along another (by necessity), and I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone to have to hold with a losing hand just because they wrote about it… but the consistency of this pattern does seem to support the ol’ “consider the source” line one of my mentors taught me to focus on.

Fact is that when I was a kid, I remember President Johnson knocking cartoons off the air one night a year to tell us about all the colleges that had been founded and rising numbers of folks going there… like it was a good thing and totally unrelated to draft deferments. Bill Gross would have you think otherwise. Fact is that we now are sending almost 70% to college. Graduation has to be looked at as a six year phenomena now… because many work their way through (Rice U. used to pick up most of the tab for those who’d completed their sophmoric year… but it frequently took folks three or four to pay their way through the first two… and Rice ain’t cheap or easy). Gross discounts the whole affair as some con job, but the facts say otherwise: Salaries of college grads have risen modestly over the last 10 years… not much, but at least they’ve risen. By contrast, salary expectations for high school and below folks have actually dropped significantly.  A good part of this is simply displacement by college workers from the high end unable to place initially in jobs commensurate with their background – and so waiting tables – and the waves of unskilled immigration on the lower end.

Fact is, all the talk about the rising dichotomy between rich and poor in this country seems to take place in the vaccuum of conveniently ignoring the millions of  unskilled laborers crossing the border every year. Honestly, did folks think these folks would suddenly morph into highly skilled labor just because they’re no longer Mexicans or whatever and residing on our shining shores? Hello! Duh! I’m not saying we don’t have a problem, I’m just saying there is a relationship. And an economy that seems intent on destroying middle middle class jobs (skilled labor… like manufacturing and eco-agriculture) and expanding low wage, lower class jobs has got to do some serious homework. You can’t complain about incomes when you don’t have an income policy. Taxes and their incidence are not incomes…. jobs and the composition of the work force and work opportunities are incomes. And I’m sorry, but creating 125,000 jobs out of a government stimulus of $700 billion just seems woefully inefficient and too temporal. I’m a Keynesian, and Lord Maynard would be gnashing his teeth and wrenting his garments if he were to hear what people attributed to him these days… even those who don’t worship at the market trough.

As Thomas Carlyle might have said, “Look people… you know what to do, go and do it!” and might have said it to a bunch of unemployed economists (instead of his mum) – who incidentally are as legion as any other field. In the 1930’s regulation was something new. When it was introduced, it had the justification of correcting market failure. Yes, when’s the last time you heard anyone use the term “market failure” ? Not anytime in the last twenty or thirty years. I know there are lot of folks who blame everything on Reagan, but the man was a Keynesian in his policies, and a pragmatist. Markets do fail. Almost by definition, luxury goods (by definition, goods whose demand rises as the price rises) conform to this type. If a good is a luxury good… and a public good at the same time (health, education, safety) where people equate spending more with getting better, there’s a good case that we have a problem that price is not going to solve, and the case for market intervention can be made. Back when regulation was new, folks would then proceed to direct regulation to try to rectify the problem… and I can just about guarantee no one on the left (without even looking at it to see!) is studying ways that might address price rationing failures of this sort. No one. Going for income redistribution tax policy ain’t going to solve the problem but make it worse: You’re just giving more money to chase the luxury goods to those who need them most.

I’m not saying a little income redistribution can’t be a good thing if it keeps the peace, but it needs a grass skirt and this ain’t it. Taxes on the other hand can go up in my view in those areas that are unfathomably untaxed or taxed at rates that make no sense or result in the incidence of taxes falling more heavily than justifiable on other areas. Why does the internet remain untaxed and continue the dis-employment of record numbers of retail establishments? Do we really want to get rid of all the stores (even the luxury good stores with high enough mark-ups to pay someone a decent wage?) and shift folks into 24-hour fast food joints? And what about the billions not collected in the cash-only transactions that an economy dependent on illegal laborers consents to allow? Is there really something that wrong with a VAT when it helps just about every export industry with tax rebates on export? What’s the sense in being the only nation on earth with this policy? And not to pick on those employing illegal labor, how about our high end hedgies and private equity guys taxing ordinary income as-if it were capital gains… and therefore at the lowest rate on the roles? How did a left-leaning Democratic majority in Both!!! houses with a left-leaning Democratic President consent to continuing this charade? I’m no leftie…. but common sense is common sense. Let’s look at how this happens and hardly anyone even loses their elected jobs???

Ah… but then we have the Third Republic… and all its apparent admirers in this nation. Yes, I’m talking France, the surrender monkeys and all that… the same guys who spent their 70 year span futilely fearing the rise of Germany… that for all the bother, went ahead and rose to defeat France in ten minutes or so (okay that might have been the Fourth republic, but excuse me for blinking). So you can be right and still blow it. My thought here is basically if you look at the pattern of things in this country… something I guess a trendy type like me has to do… you see first we thought the Japanese were eating our lunch and we got all riled up in the 1980’s about that. Then we thought the Koreans and other Asian Tigers were eating our lunch and got all riled about that in the 1990’s while we borrowed our way into prosperity. And now it’s the Chinese. I’m not saying we’re wrong…. but we keep putting the lunch on the table, so what do we expect? All I’m saying is that if you listen long enough, I’m telling you that pretty soon you get tired of the griping. And we begin to sound like the Third, Fourth or Whatever Republic.

Where’s the fight? Where’s the “Can Do” spirit? That’s all I’m wondering. No, I don’t celebrate our demise… getting off the high horse and back to work actually brings with it some good… if not many good things. But I think there is much good in our people… even all these new folks we have here with us now. The issue should be more about pulling together and doing what we obviously know we need to do…. and even once before in a similar mess knew enough how to do it (even if we were making it up at the time)… cut the crap and get busy. Less jawjaw and more get’er done. The only thing different this time is that finally, today… the upper class groupies are feeling some of the pain that’s been going around since household wages stalled out in the 1970’s… when we forgot income policies.

So that’s my bit and I’m sticking to it. Must be a hot, muggy summer’s day. Funny how having off’d the sum of a few hundred pages of economics reading and a few minutes of “what do you think about that?”, I feel better.  Thanks for your patience.


  1. oh my! It must be hot and muggy and you just finished mowing the lawn. How did you get from toads to taxes I’ll never know, but you did it.

    • and just for the record (not that it matters much), I’d much prefer snakes over toads. Every spring our pool becomes the Love Boat or the Love connection (or both) and the noises that go on all night keeps our whole cul-de-sac awake. Plus, snakes eat mice…. nuff said.

  2. Well…. it was hot and muggy, but I wrote this BEFORE going on my run. But y’know now that I think of it… there are a lot of parallels between Toads and Politicians… maybe that’s the link?

    Thanks for stopping by!

    • toads and Politicians!! LOL.

  3. We don’t have toads in AZ except sometimes around the old golf course water traps, too hot. I miss toads. We do however have rattlesnakes. We have one of the crappiest economies in the country. While applying for stop gap jobs I left off my education. Home Depot doesn’t want to see a guy with a couple hundred graduate hours mixing paint. Tough stuff, taxes and all. The only consolation I have is the only clients I have that still call me are my rich ones. Trickle down seems to work to some degree… someone has to build and make all the stuff the rich people buy. Unfortunately not even they are spending in the middle class’ direction lately.

  4. That thing is enormous! I came across a little frog (maybe two inches long) under a leaf the other day and jumped about a foot in the air. On closer inspection I always think they’re really cute but the shock of seeing something so lizardy and rubbery in a London garden always has the same effect.

    I’m really enjoying your posts 🙂

  5. Gold: Thanks for dropping by! Yeah… the lizardy look is a bit reminiscent of Jaba the Hut.. but most of the little guys are better looking.

    Long ago, when the New Yorker used to run odd news clips along the theme of “Only in England”, they once cited the building of a culvert into a road so that the toads and frogs could cross without getting squished. Still sticks in the old noggin’.

  6. I like toads a lot (and frogs) but I never see any, too far away from water. We do have pheasants who amble around the subdivision from time to time and they are cute. We also seem to have had a lot of shrews but my Little Sisters killed them all and brought the bodies home one by one.

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