Scamz

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/10/19/how-your-junk-mail-shows-if-youre-rich-or-poor/

It seems this is an example of the government protecting people. It is a case in which, if left to the devices of the free market, there are people that will take advantage of others, in this case in “broad daylight” so to speak. The government has since changed the rules on this activity…so I wonder where the predatory behavior has migrated to? And what if this means that credit card companies become incredibly less profitable? Is this a social ill? It will surely be measured that way in a political debate that ignores the whybehind the loss of profitability
 
Something I think that I find hard to wrap my head around is what exactly the state should do in markets? Referee. That’s an old answer. It’s not cheap to a) collect data, b) have the knowledge to spot these and frame them as crimes, c) have the proper policy response to correct the problem, and d) be able to sell that response to the dipshits that get elected and vote on these things.
Finally, I also don’t know where I stand on the morality of it. These are adults who agree to be taken advantage of, in a sense, and the defining feature of those who avoid the trap seems to be an education. Buyer beware is one response, but it’s not reasonable to expect consumers to be experts on subjects outside of their productive scope. This paper makes the argument that people are acting irrationally, and therefore don’t understand the contract…and what if we made people take comprehension tests in addition to signing contracts? Haha, there goes your housing market!
Haha, perhaps universities should be using these types of studies to sell over-priced education, rather than false promises of employment. Fear is a better motivator than greed, after all. So if you tell people that your best defense against predatory corporate interests is to be smart enough to avoid their traps, what would enrollment cost-benefit analysis look like? But…alas, the people without an education offend easily, and would resent the marketing.
I think the further irony…if you’re reading these articles, you probably aren’t targeted…knowledge is power.

Dead foreign children

A friend emailed me this news article today. It’s about Canadian politicians and the currently famous picture of the drowned Syrian refugee boy.

I have one strong case to defend the conservatives…overload. They have a lot of cases to deal with, many of them tragic. But people don’t like that excuse. I don’t envy the government officials, this is an issue that really demonstrates the difficulty of governing, at a personal level. Most of us are glad to be free of that burden.

Overall, I am most offended by the opportunism of Trudeau in this context than the conservative’s policies. What’s the quote? “You can’t decide you have compassion after the fact…etc..”(something along those lines). Mulcair’s response was much more subtle and much more palatable, but still opportunist. Harper’s response pissed me off, too. But I think it comes from a solid, respectable conviction, a conviction I disagree with, but one that is useful for the moral debate, at any rate…because it is consistent, it has merits as well as severe problems. Ultimately, I don’t know if politicians can turn that opportunistic part of their personality off, when you have been campaigning aggressively night and day, you lose sight of reality.
Yet…what I actually see in this story is the moral ineptness of our people. This is a case in which I would say, people read about it, blame someone else, and go back to their lives. If you were to bring up the refugee crisis before this photo was published, and before this story was published, people would assign it a low priority in the overall election debate. Now that the international community can blame Canada for inaction, all of a sudden it is a priority (or not, we shall see). But the problem is that I have a longer memory than the news cycle. I know from my personal experience that people don’t care until they have something tangible. A big reason is the lack of imagination and the lack of committing time to thinking about the suffering of others, and an abundance of time thinking about which beach resort to trot off to next, or which streams to go a-fishing on.
If we entered this conversation with the acknowledgement that our real set of values in this life do not place human lives above our own amusements, then we can go somewhere. But people find this appalling. So I’ll admit it, that I don’t universally value human lives above my own pains and pleasures, and this is a moral failure. This is why I feel qualified in saying that we are a morally inept people, I have to look no further than my own life. It upsets me that this is a condition of modern life, but there are reasons: lack of power to change anything; lack of information to remind me of this problem. Etc… Perhaps if society were structured differently, I would not be such a failure.
Many of those who get involved in the ’cause’ will find this position frustrating, no doubt. I have been in both sets of shoes, as an activist in certain causes and as the myopic worker bee. There are very marginal expressions of power available to people (Canadians in this case), perhaps starting with who you vote for. However, these marginal expressions of power do not produce the feedback needed to incentivise an individual to remain vigilant and committed to a cause. Rather it is the acknowledgement of like-minded peers that matters.
This is what leads me to my conclusion that these types of injustice will be a fact of life until someone comes along with a mechanism to express power, or a mechanism to sustain commitment to a cause. I would imagine a currency of some sort, ‘freedom points’ if you will, a way to contribute to the overall good of humanity in a measurable, publicly displayable fashion. The closest thing I am aware of are the works of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum…things like the happiness index. But these are macro-societal initiatives that do not communicate to individual “morality” balances.
Another interesting observation I can draw from this article is the power and real world value of art. Call a photo what you will. The narrative of this newspaper is a work of art, it is not a scientific report. It selects the facts that might compel the readers to act. If you ever doubt the fundamental power and primacy of the humanities (maybe not in an academic setting, but in the real world), here is your evidence. It’s not a scientific narrative, it’s a moral and philosophical one that is being reported.
But to focus on art. It serves the purpose of communicating emotion. And what we need in this world is a ‘free market’ of emotion. We need to obliterate emotional distance and the best tools we have, at the moment, are works of art. The sad reality is that arts in commercial settings are too often used to fuel our lust for materials, what else is pop music? It is not something I will ever really feel spiritual about, I can basically guarantee that much. If you want more evidence of our moral ineptness, turn on any television, and remember the statistic that in the time use surveys conducted recently, television is still the number one way people pass time. How many moralistic programs can you find? Well, a bit of a trick question, but the morality of the television is highly consumerist. And is a TV mirror or a window?
Anyway…Adorno basically wrote all of these ideas 50+ years ago. Nothing has changed. Thoroeau wrote this same thing 150+ years ago. Who else in history? Marcus Aurelius? The stoics? The difference is that we have technology to viably communicate these things, and most people don’t even feel guilty for wasting the opportunity.

Proselytizing cold-ass reason.

Key quote :

As indebted as she is, she can’t bear to part with the home that means so much to her elderly mother. She would do anything to keep the place her father built when her parents got married.

The author reveals the bias right there. It’s so emotional, heartbreaking, but it’s also so irrational. If you want to see entitlement, there you go, it’s not the prima donna, it’s messier than that. I know full well that most people would respond to this statement with a sense that there is something wrong with a system that “puts” people like Juanita into this horrible situation. But lets not forget, she is sitting on an asset that she refuses to sell, she has some financial means, but chooses not to utilize them. Maybe out of desperation, but people act like they have no choices. Which is certainly not true here.
People in Canada really do believe they have a ‘right’ to own a home, which, while they do have that freedom, it is not the same kind of capital-R Right that guarantees her personal safety, or ability to speak her mind.
I hate that this is happening. It is a tragedy. It is tragic that there are people so financially illiterate they use the services of the jewellery guy. And I  also hate the way that people will paint this guy as a sleaze-ball…I mean, he sorta is, but he is also 100% not wrong. He forces nobody, he doesn’t feel bad, doesn’t care, and it isn’t his place to care. People make choices, emotional choices, that get them into these financial straits. The Huff post author would like to frame it as No choice at all. But there is a clear choice, sell or don’t. There isn’t any victimization in this loan market. Not the way this story reads. But it feels like it. Right there in the prose.
Hey, remember Shylock? Merchant of Venice? People that charge interest are not morally fallible because they charge interest, sorry. They provide all of the information about what will happen if payments are not made. Whose job is it to make sure someone understands the risk they are taking or not? Grey area. Who is able to judge if someone understands? Not easy. How much would that cost? A lot. Buyer beware, no? Consumers have agency, and we really should keep it that way. 
All this to gloss over that the author identifies some troubling incentives in the loan market. There is a problem that occurs if everyone is out for themselves here.

Although alternative lenders are not insured by the CMHC, mortgages in Canada are considered “full recourse” loans, which means the borrower is responsible for repaying a loan even in the case of foreclosure, unlike in the United States.

That means lenders can take legal action to recover the money owed. It is also why many alternative lenders are often not the primary lender but will help finance second, third or even fourth mortgages. They are willing to provide loans to borrowers with just five per cent equity in their homes.

Unlike banks and credit unions, which rely on deposits from other customers for capital, shadow lenders finance loans with money from groups of investors. Some experts worry that such lenders, who earn their money in fees from investors but take on little risk themselves, could be more inclined to dole out bad loans that are likely to default. A growing contingent of market watchers is calling for better monitoring and regulation of shadow banking activities.

So the market maybe doesn’t have a good price mechanism on risk or ‘risk premium’, there is potential market failure there. Which is a public goods problem, and the government is probably the correct body to address that. No doubt. Good to report on that. But again, the author’s bias would likely be that the people that go for these loans are not responsible for the repercussions. Because this is a victim piece. “Full recourse” is scarty, it means that rich people can sue and bleed poor people. Power imbalance. Truth be told, the rich people can do that because the poor people agree to it, they agree to it so they can keep their stuff. When they agree to a loan, they transfer the Right to own their stuff to someone else…so it’s a case of ignorance. If they want to keep their house, no matter what, they shouldn’t leverage it.
For some reason, we have this narrative in the west, or whatever universe we wish to define, in which the ignorant are innocent because of their ignorance. Ignorance is tragic, and in some way excusable, because: “how to not be ignorant?”. But we shy away from assigning ignorance the blame it rightly holds. I can attempt to theorize why, but I assume it has to do with fear. We fear our own ignorance, and so we are careful to avoid addressing it in others as a mutual way of saving face. The reason we have to save face is that we are petty and judgemental to one another in the first place. Which is partly because we are so egotistical, narcissistic, and obsessed with advancing our own rank in society ( ironically we do this also by amassing wealth in material objects). So ignorance lives and thrives. So we have tragedy. So some wish to protect the ignorant from their own ignorance, disincentivising self education, perpetuating tragedy. It’s the tragedy of good intentions, or maybe it’s the tragedy of narcissism, or cowardice, or all of the above. Let’s not make this simple. Remember Shylock? These problems’ve been around a while. 
The Juanita story is there to say what? “Hey, it’s not fair that some people get to own homes and some people don’t.”
 
It’s not fair. Or, perhaps, it is exactly the most fair it is possible to be, because to do anything else would be to say that Juanita is entitled to somebody else’s property. Or at least to say Juanita is entitled to someone else’s precious effort and time and focus…scarce resources. And in a free society, you can’t really force anyone to give up scarce resources just because someone needs them. Yet someone should, right? So the government should fix it. But that’s taxation, and quite literally means someone is giving up their property for Juanita, so she can keep hers. In truth, she could sell her house, rent, and have money to help her in that situation…but the author doesn’t criticize her for being irrationally attached to some romanticised asset.
Her dad built it, I get it, it really would be a shame to have to give it up, but it’s still just a possession, a material possession. And what matters more in all of this is that she is making this sacrifice for her mother, to ease the burden of illness on her family. She is taking a shitty loan to manage her finances. 
 
What message is the author really getting at? That she should keep her home, and that the system is wrong if it ‘puts’ people in these desperate situation. And on that note, I think I agree. Aren’t we supposed to have universal health care in Canada? Isn’t Juanita’s story better to point out the inadequacies of that system? After all, as a country, we did decide that health is a capital R: Right. I totally find her story sympathetic.
And at the same time, if it isn’t the healthcare system that failed her, is she really blameless? Sometimes medicine is hard to swallow. She should sell her house. That is the rational way forward from a financial perspective given the information the reporter provided.
 
There is a reason people hate the Huffington post, but actually, it’s great. They report on things that everyone is else neglecting. You just have to see that they miss the point, they are lazy thinkers. They know something is wrong, they just don’t know what.