Quick Roundup 354

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Argument against College Education

Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute writes a piece in the Wall Street Journal that makes some pretty good arguments against the use of the Bachelor's degree as a sort of union card for employment.

Finding a better way should be easy. The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.


The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree.
For the most part, I agree with Murray, although I initially felt strong reservations. A solid education should go well beyond simply training someone for a single specific occupation.

I thought something along the lines of, "Isn't that (i.e., the general training of an adult mind) what college is for?"

Well. Yes and no. But the right way to look at this would be to ask, "Isn't that what a good education is for?"

Murray is right. College is a waste of time for most people. But they end up having to attend college to prove themselves -- as well as to make up for the deficiencies of their earlier education -- because of the dismal state of our largely socialized educational system, which is unfortunately dominated by (and entrenches) the Progressive philosophy of education. (And follow that link for a good discussion, if I say so myself, of the flip side of focusing too much on preparation for a particular job, which is a possible hazard owing to how Murray's approach would be interpreted in today's intellectual milieu.)

Ideally, our educational system would be free from government control, which would isolate failures in extent and time, as well as create incentives for schools to excel in the business of preparing children for adulthood. Also, the best schools within such a system would apply an objective theory of epistemology to the problems peculiar to their business. In such a system, most people would be fine without college and better off than most who attend it are today.

It isn't a matter of REclaiming anything....

At Slate is one of those aggravating partially-correct articles one runs across from time to time. Linda Hirshman rightly notes that the left needs to stand up for the morality of abortion -- only to wrongly prescribe altruism as the moral basis for doing so and, worse still, fail to challenge the mystical basis of opposition to abortion.
The 2008 platform, just announced, says instead, "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right." [bold added, link dropped]
Rights -- like abortion -- pertain to an individual's freedom to act upon one's rational judgement so long as the rights of others remain inviolate. There can be, for the same reason, no "right" (as the Democratic platform implies) to take someone else's property by government force -- even if excused by the desire to use it to implement those choices.

Failing to respect one right, like property, while attempting to uphold another, like the control of one's own person, is to undercut the correct part of one's own position. Conservatives used to make a similar error when they stood for economic freedom, while undercutting that stand by supporting the draft. What difference does having money make if one's life can be put at risk at the whim of the state?

Of course, the crucial objection to abortion, which the Democrats have apparently completely evaded, is that a fetus is allegedly a human life. Every such assertion is based on the mystical belief that fetuses have a supernatural soul. This assertion is left unchallenged. (Is this the Democrats' way of appeasing the religious voters they are starting to court?)

One's politics is based on one's morality, true. But morality is based, in turn, on metaphysics and epistemology. If one does not challenge the idea that the universe is a whim of some supernatural being or the alleged means of "knowing" this by faith, one will find oneself beginning to compromise with one's enemies and eventually capitulating.

The Democrats don't need to reclaim the moral high ground on abortion. They need to find it on a map and get there.

The Cost of Bad Government

Detroit's government is so bad that a house and its lot for a dollar are a fool's bargain:
Scrappers tore out the copper plumbing, the furnace and the light fixtures, taking everything of value, including the kitchen sink.

"It about doesn't make sense to put the family out," [neighbor Carl] Upshaw said. "Once people are gone, you're gonna lose the house in this neighborhood."

Tuesday, the home was wide open. Doors leading into the kitchen and the basement were missing, and the front windows had been smashed. Weeds grew chest-high, and charred remains marked a spot where the garage recently burned.

Put on the market in January for $1,100, the house had no lookers other than the squatters who sometimes stayed there at night. Facing $4,000 in back taxes and a large unpaid water bill, the bank that owned the property lowered the price to $1.
The article states shortly afterward that the bank lost $10,000 in the deal!

A proper government protects individual rights. This means, it stops criminals and does not engage in criminal behavior, such as taxation, itself. Set aside for the moment the federal government's role in the subprime lending crisis. Detroit's government is operating almost completely in reverse, and its cost is clearly evident. Read the whole thing.

"Fairness" under any other name would be just as wrong.

The Business and Media Institute warns that a return of the "Fairness" Doctrine would likely affect the Internet, and that it might return under another name.

I am glad they have pointed these things out. Now if only they would take a moral stand for freedom of the press and property rights!
A recent study by the Media Research Center’s Culture & Media Institute argues that the three main points in support of the Fairness Doctrine -- scarcity of the media, corporate censorship of liberal viewpoints, and public interest -- are myths. [link dropped]
Scarcity of media is no excuse for government interference with property rights. Crying "Censorship!" when private property owners select their own content is a disingenuous way for leftists to claim the right to commandeer private property to spread their own views. And there is no such thing as "public interest"!

Yes, repealing the "Fairness" Doctrine put many leftist excuses for it to the lie, but so what? The "Fairness" Doctrine, as a violation of the rights to freedom of speech and to property, is morally wrong and contrary to the proper purpose of government. That is why it should be opposed, no matter what its proponents choose to call it in the future.

Download it while you can! Fight government paternalism!

Apparently, this book of chemistry experiments for kids has been banned by the nanny state for safety reasons! But you can still download it. For now.

How to Buy a New Car

I'm not in the market for a new car, but I've been thinking about cars lately, so this video caught my eye at Boing Boing. The executive summary is as follows:
  • Use two full weekends.
  • Sell your old car, rather than trading it in.
  • Get competitive bids for the final (drive off the lot) price.
  • Walk out when the deal changes.
  • Don't buy any extras.
This is in line with advice I've read before.

-- CAV

This post was composed in advance and scheduled for publication at 5:00 A.M. on August 14, 2008.


softwareNerd said...

Property taxes tend to be high (in percentage terms) in poorer cities. It brings home the simple fact that the rich pay for most government services. So, when richer folk leave a city -- as they did in droves in Detroit -- those left pay increasingly higher shares of their income and wealth, even as services are reduced.

To make matters worse, Detroit imposes a city income tax on it's residents.
This map shows the property-tax millages in Detroit and it's suburbs. You'll notice that the highest rates are in Detroit, while the really nice, wealthy suburbs are all dark blue (lowest rates).

To make matters worse, Detroit imposes a city income-tax on its residents (and on those who go there to work).

Dismuke said...

Another new car buying tip:

If your credit is good, do NOT allow the salesman to talk in terms of monthly payments. That is their opening to scam you right and left.

Once you have decided on a vehicle, the conversation should center ONLY on its final bottom line price.

When they ask: "How much do you want to pay per month?" reply: "Less than I will qualify for."

There are amortization calculators all over the Internet - and there are little portable ones you can buy and bring along with you.

Your monthly payment is determined entirely by how much you choose to finance, your interest rate and the term of the loan. If you give the car salesman a monthly payment goal, they will manipulate one of the three in order to achieve that payment AND pad the final amount you pay which ends up in the salesman's pockets. You can determine the approximate payment yourself - and before you even vist a dealership, you should already know the price range of the vehicle you are interested in and the going interest rate for car loans.

They will press hard to talk about monthly payments - don't let them and walk out the door if they continue to attempt to manipulate you, intimidate you or insult your intelligence.

Basically, shop as if you are paying in cash. HOWEVER, if you intend to finance, let them know up front that you are willing to finance with them if they are able to give you a good rate. They make money off of the loans they originate so your willingness to borrow through them might make them more inclined to give you a good deal on the price of the vehicle because there is more at stake if you go elsewhere. The point, however, is to view the purchase of the vehicle and the financing as two SEPARATE transactions - which they are - and judge each accordingly. When they attempt to "bundle" them by talking about monthly payments from the start - well, that is a huge warning sign that they are trying to play a slight of hand trick on you. The only person at the dealership that the subject of monthly payments becomes relevant with is the finance guy AFTER you have decided to buy.

Now, all of the above may not be applicable if you have bad credit and desperately need to get into a car - especially if you are hopelessly "upside down" in your old car and need to have the new note buy it out for more than it is worth. Basically, there is no free lunch - so they are going to jack up the amount you pay and the interest rate to cover the risk of default, oay off the old car note and to get a higher commission because they know you are screwed and utterly desperate to begin with in such a situation. The best bet in this case is to get the most basic and inexpensive but reliable (repair bills are expensive) transportation you can find until you are able to improve your financial situation. I have had people work under me who paid more than double what a car was worth because they had horrible credit and they needed the loan to pay off their old car which broke down long before it was paid off. I have known people who drive rattle traps who were in the hole on them for almost as much money as it would take to buy a new car.

Also, do NOT give a car dealership your Social Security Number until you have made a final purchase decision and are entering into a finance agreement. They WILL run a credit check on you - and when too many car dealerships run a credit inquiry, it dings your credit score a bit. If they are telling you that they have to run a credit check to see if you qualify for a special price - they are lying. Tell them that you understand any offer is contingent upon good credit once the decision has been made. You should already have checked your credit score BEFORE shopping for a new car anyway.

My advice also is to narrow down the vehicles you are potentially interested in through a website such as edmonds.com Only AFTER you do that go to an actual dealership. Then go for the SOLE purpose of doing a test drive. Listen to whatever they say - but make it very clear that you will NOT make a purchase until you have at least given the other vehicles you are considering a test drive. When you test drive the last vehicle on your list, have one other vehicle in mind that you have already eliminated to tell that dealer you wish to test drive. Listen to any negatives they tell you about the competition - so that you can bring that up to the competition if you decide to look at them further.

If you liked a particular vehicle but found the salesman to be sleazy - then go to another dealership offering the same brand until you find a salesman that you can deal with. In any big city, car dealerships are a dime a dozen. Unless you are seeking an obscure brand, at virtually every freeway intersection and at points in-between you will find Honda, Nissan, Toyota, GM, Ford, Chevy dealerships. Don't be afraid to shop multiple dealerships selling the vehicle you have decided to buy.

Keep in mind that some dealerships do not stock cars in all of the options packages available - or they only stock a very limited number of them to say that they do and then attempt to do a bait and switch to a higher priced options package.

Last time I purchased a vehicle, I had a salesman that I liked and probably would have bought from - but his sales manager was a sleazy bag who kept insulting my intelligence with all sorts of tricks that I saw right through. When I showed him a competitors' ad with a lower price, he told me that it was for a lesser options package that only offered black bumpers instead of chrome bumpers - and that black bumpers would have lower resale value down the road. Since I buy vehicles with the intention of driving them until they no longer run, I couldn't care less about resale value - only durability. I actually LIKED the black bumpers better than the minimalistic cheapo looking chrome on that particular vehicle - and I certainly liked the lower price. When he told me he couldn't sell me the package with the less expensive black bumper, given the fact I had already pegged him as a sleaze bag - I walked out and went to the other dealer.

The second dealership was a den of crooks. They told me that the advertised price was less "necessary options" and they quoted me a final price that was more expensive than the price quoted at the other dealership for the higher priced chrome bumpers - and they had the nerve to call me a liar when I quoted the price of the other dealer. I said something nasty to the sales lady and walked out.

I walked into a third dealership with a newspaper ad with a good price for the vehicle with the black bumper. I asked the first salesman I spotted for the price - and he came back with a price several thousand dollars higher than that which was quoted in the newspaper. I showed him the ad and he claimed to not have known about it - which is a LIE because OF COURSE a car dealership is going to make its salespeople aware of the ads which draw in about 90 percent of their potential shoppers. He went into the back room and to talk with his sales manager and came back to tell me he would be able to honor the price in the ad - to which I immediately replied "you just made a sale." His jaw actually dropped - it was his very first sale and other than having me cut into him over the newspaper ad, he didn't even have to work for it. And I ended up getting a good price for the vehicle - which I am still very happy with 11 years and 273,000 miles later.

Unfortunately, there is a reason why car salesmen have a horrible reputation. Go into it assuming that they are sleaze bags until proven innocent. They are trained to make their money by taking advantage of people's widespread ignorance of price and how amortization schedules work - so make darn sure to do your homework and make sure you are NOT ignorant when you walk in. They also teach them tactics in how to manipulate the timid by means of high pressure tactics. In this context, the timid constitutes a significant majority of the population - which is why they are able to get away with it. Keep in mind that YOU are the one who is in charge and it is THEY who are hungry for a commission and need you FAR more than you need them. Remember that there's always another car dealership right down the street - and given the nature of that industry, it is very likely that you will need to walk out a time or two.

One other tip that the finance guy at the dealership I purchased my vehicle from gave me that I found helpful. I planned to finance it over a four year period. He advised me that, since there was no pre-payment penalty on the loan, it might make sense for me to draw up the papers for a five year note and, if I wished, just simply pay it down at the four year payment rate. That way, if I an emergency that impacted my cash flow, I could have a lower monthly payment if I needed it. He told me that he personally finances stuff on as long a term note as he can as his business is very seasonal with him making lots of money some months and very little money during others. Thus with a long term loan, he makes only the smaller minimum payment during lean months and prepays a great deal during months when he is flush. As it turned out, I paid the vehicle off in less than four years. But that is a nice option to keep in mind for anyone who has the financial discipline to trust oneself to consistently pay more than the minimum amount due. If you lack that discipline, it might not be such a good deal. I actually used that tip when I refinanced my house - I did it for a full 30 years rather than a term what was closer to what I had left on my old loan with the intention of prepaying it off at a vastly accelerated rate. Over the past year with all of the inflation we have had, I have actually stopped paying extra and am now only paying the minimum payment on the premise that it makes no sense to make payments now that I can make down the road with less expensive devalued dollars. If we are going to be inflicted with inflation, I might as well take advantage of the one and only area it is possible to do so in such a context.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thank you for the interesting information regarding taxation in Detroit.

There's a reason that once great city is a slum.


Thanks for the good advice and the interesting anecdotes. In the video, getting outside financing does come up, as it did in a book I read on the subject long ago. LOTS of profit comes from manipulating monthly payment figures.

"Keep in mind that YOU are the one who is in charge and it is THEY who are hungry for a commission and need you..."

I was going to give an underlying principle behind the advice in the video, but decided against it. This is better than anything I came up with.


madmax said...

Car dealers are often used to advance the position that capitalism is dog-eat-dog and, if unregulated, businessmen will rip your eyeballs out. I don't agree with this ofcourse, but I have had terrible experiences with car dealers and salesmen who were outright crooks. Is there some reason for this having to do with government interference or regulation? Or is it just a cultural phenomenon perhaps the result of pragmatism and a poorly educated public?

Gus Van Horn said...

I'd chalk it up mainly to pragmatism (mainly by car dealers), emotionalism (on the part of most of the buying public), and poor education.

[vent] Not to put too fine a point on it, but most car salesmen and the typical car buying process *&^^ me off.

I know what I want and how much I want to spend when I go in. Whatever excitement a new car can bring me will come only after I actually own it, and I could give a tinker's dam about status, keeping up with the Joneses, or whatever the asinine fad of the moment is. But I have to endure all kinds of silliness and come-ons by an slimeball who has perfected making a living by taking advantage of just those kinds of things. [/vent]

(Sorry, but just thinking about how most people "lead" their lives can sometimes get me very angry.)

Having said that, government interference with the economy does have at least one role I can think of, albeit an indirect one. Just look at all the "socialization" going on rather than education in the public schools.

Mike said...

Car sales DO showcase what's best about capitalism -- it's just that most statists are wet-nurse perpetual wards of the nanny state who lack the understanding of why. And the reason why is this: The buyer has ALL the power. The buyer can get up right in the middle of the salesman's sentence and walk right off the lot and go home, and owes the salesperson NOTHING. The salesperson doesn't get paid AT ALL unless he articulates contract terms acceptable to a willing buyer who has money in hand. And if either party is not satisfied with the progress of the negotiation, they can easily find another prospective partner with which to transact business.

Think a car salesman is being sleazy? Do what dismuke says... don't buy from them. If you're willing to hold out just a little, you'll be surprised how easy it is to get a deal that will be more to your liking.

This all presupposes that you're not going in there hat-in-hand with an upside-down SUV and a 475 FICO.

Gus Van Horn said...

True, the buyer has the power. But it is still annoying how thick-headed most salesmen are about it, thanks to all the idiots who act as if they don't have tall he power.

I may have all the power in such a relationship, but I'll still have to waste a lot of time to exercise it. Not a big deal in the balance of things, but still irritating, like most mosquito bites.

Dismuke said...

Actually, I DO think the stereotypical car salesman is representative of the worst aspects of capitalism.

Under capitalism, such sleaze bags become snake oil salesmen and stereotypical car salesmen. They prey on people's ignorance and gullibility. Sometimes they get away with it - but very often they do not because people DO have the right and ability to tell them where to go shove it.

Under something other than capitalism, such sleaze bags become the John Murthas, John Edwards, the Hugh Rodhams and Elliott Spitzers of the world who prey on EVERYBODY, including those who are not ignorant and who are not gullible but do NOT have the legal ability to tell them where to go shove it.

With or without capitalism, sleaze bags will always be with us. Under capitalism, they have no choice but to practice their sleaziness in the context of the marketplace. Without capitalism, they frequently become our masters.

softwareNerd said...

Dismuke's advice on only using the final price is spot on. I had a car salesman ask me once: "what type of monthly payment are you looking for?" To my ears, that sounds like: "I assume you're financially illiterate, and don't realize that whatever number you give me can be met to my own satisfaction".

I think that step one has to be to distinguish yourself to the salesman, so that he realizes that you aren't the regular idiot off the street. I suppose there are many way to do this, but my personal approach is to be direct and up-front. So, to the question about monthly, my response would be to tell him that I wanted to only talk final price. Also, I would be very sweet about it, but I would preface with a smile, and something like: "Come on man, you know that's a stupid question... ha ha... let's just talk about the final price".

I hate buying cars. The last time I did, I went in knowing what I wanted and what price I wanted to pay. I also went in deciding that I would walk if I did not get the price.

The saleswoman quoted a price. Instead of messing around, I told her what price I would pay ($4000 less). It was an arduous two hours, because it was spent convincing her that I could actually get that price elsewhere -- in terms of what I felt was comparable -- and also that I was willing to do so. I ended up paying exactly what I asked.

Of course, the price has to be well-researched, so that you know it is neither too high nor too low (i.e. not so low that the salesman will give up, think it's pointless, and let you walk).

I'll throw in a book recommendation here. It is "Influence" by Cialdini. I mean to blog about it sometime, but it is about general techniques that people (like salesmen) use to influence others. It is written from an academic basis -- and provides results from various sociology experiments as examples. What I liked about it is that it is not cynical about the whole thing -- it does not take the attitude that some sociologists take of: "man cannot be rational, because of all these influences".

Gus Van Horn said...

Excellent point.

Gus Van Horn said...


You comment was lurking in the Blogger queue, but not my email, hence this late reply.

Your approach is pretty much the most efficient way to cut the "idiot tax" in time, spent showing the salesman that you're not going to fall for th usual bag of dirty tricks.... It's also pretty close to the one I'll take the next time I have to buy a car.


madmax said...

I'm curious about what a rational assessment of leasing would be. Does it ever make sense? Or is it an example of living beyond one's means?

Gus Van Horn said...

You mean leasing a car for years (vice the more commonly-understood and accepted leases of a few days)?

I have heard that usually, it's a bad deal, and I *think* it's because you'd end up either owning nothing or having to pay more than the car is worth at the end of the lease to own it, if you choose that option.

However, my wife and I are coincidentally in a situation where it MAY make sense for us to do so. (We talked a little about it the night before last because someone suggested it to her.) Both of our cars are shot and need repairs that would cost more than either is worth, and we MAY need a car in Boston enough to want to own or lease one.

Why would we consider leasing? A lease would be for less than the payment on a new car. There might be a maintenance contract. The car is more likely to get vandalized in Boston (based on the experience of a friend of ours who also just recently moved there and what we've heard). Road salt will probably damage a new car anyway. So if we bought a car, its resale value will be greatly compromised anyway by the time we leave Boston.

I haven't even really begun to delve into this, but it is conceivable that by leasing a car, we could save some money and hassle over ownership. But need to crunch numbers to know for sure.

My short answer is this: Whether leasing is a good deal is contextual and we'll research the option carefully before doing so, if we do so at all.

In our case, if there isn't much financial difference either way, but leasing is substantially more convenient, I'd be in favor of it.