Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Why Abortion Doesn't Matter Anymore

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Once the hot button issue of the 1970's, abortion no longer brings liberals to the polls.

Democrats are up in arms again, and promise yet more futile protests, spending millions of dollars to accomplish nothing.  Rather than trying to get out the vote and win at the polls, they are spending and wasting their efforts at getting out the protests and winning only public opinion polls.  The latter doesn't get anyone elected or change policy.

The latest outrage is that President Trump is going to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice - a big surprise to many, apparently.   But what did people expect from a Republican, albeit an odd one?   It seems that so much of the protesting going on these days is to protest that Republicans are doing what they promised to do, which is to slash taxes for their friends and eliminate regulations for big business.   Act shocked.  This is what they have promised to do since Reagan was elected.

And overturning Roe v. Wade is next on the agenda.  And the Democrats want to use this to galvanize support for the mid-term elections and the 2020 Presidential election, so they can elect a "Democratic Socialist" as President.

Problem is, it ain't gonna happen.   The abortion "issue" isn't as compelling today as it was in 1973 - for a number of reasons.   In terms of "getting out the vote" it just isn't going to work this time around.  And the reasons are varied, but cumulatively, they amount to a "who gives a shit anyway?" on the part of the vast majority of voters - even Democrats:

1.  Society has changed:   Back in the 1950's and 1960's, there was a shame associated with out-of-wedlock pregnancies.   If a young woman got pregnant, she was damaged goods and could not hope to marry a "nice" man and settle down - which was about her only career choice back then.   Women were trapped in a dual-standard society.  They were expected to have sex before marriage as part of this "sexual revolution" but at the same time, were held to the chaste standards of the previous generation.

Back then, a back-alley abortion was a real possibility.  And back then, many young women were scarred for life or even died from such operations.   I recall an episode of Dragnet that addressed this issue.   A young woman hemorrhages to death from a botched abortion, and Joe and Bill shake their heads as if she somehow had it coming.

Today, however, more than half of all births in America are out-of-wedlock. The concepts of "bastard" children or "loose" women have fallen by the wayside.   The impetus to have an abortion - to avoid societal shame - has lessened or has been eliminated entirely.  Today, having a child out of wedlock is more a matter of convenience.   Having a baby in high school or college and trying to raise it as a single Mom is going to set back your career options, but it won't mark you as a "wanton woman" for life.

And there are other options - adoption being one.  My brother adopted a child from a young Mother who didn't want to have yet another baby by her abusive husband.   It worked out for everyone involved.   For the most part, there are more adoptive parents than children to be adopted, at least judging from the want-ads in the back of the paper, and today, online.  Another friend of mine went all the way to China to adopt a baby, because it was nearly impossible to adopt in the United States.

So yes, there are other options than abortion.   And "shame" no longer drives anyone to a back-alley abortion today, nor would it drive them to one if Roe was overturned.

Yes, there are reports in the press regularly about some young teen mother, usually the daughter of fundamentalist Christians, who stuffs her newborn baby in a trash bin during prom night.   These are tragedies, to be sure, but it is unclear to me how legalized abortion would have prevented them - changing the societal and social values of the parents might be a better alternative.   (Not surprisingly, children of fundamentalist parents have the highest teen birth rate of any social group).

2.  Yes, Abortion is used as birth control:   When I was an intern at Planned Parenthood, we had a policy that we would not recommend abortion services for the same client more than twice (like most offices, we did not perform abortion services but referred clients to doctors that did).   The thinking was, once was a mistake, twice maybe an error, but three times was using abortion as birth control, and that wasn't what we were all about.

Not only that, it isn't healthy to have repeated abortions.   It would be irresponsible to recommend that to someone.

But others have fewer qualms.  When Mark worked at Sheets 'n Things (before they went bust when they couldn't service all that leveraged buyout debt), he met a lot of young women working there who had two or three kids by different fathers.   They explained to him how the system worked, and how you had to have at least three kids to make enough money from government assistance in order to get by.  Of course, some of these programs had a work requirement, which is why these young ladies were working part-time at the store.

They also told Mark that they had had three or more abortions along the way - not for medical reasons, but matter of convenience.   They had enough kids and didn't want more, and didn't want to use birth control.   So, if they got pregnant, they got an abortion, and it was possible to afford this, as there were programs that would subsidize the cost of the abortion.

The pro-choice lobby likes to argue that abortion is not used as birth control, but I am not sure this is entirely true.  And I am not sure that the practices of Mark's co-workers is some sort of anomaly.

And sadly, this problem isn't limited to the lower classes.  When I was an intern at Planned Parenthood, I would leave the building for the day and see young men hunched down in the seats of their hopped-up economy cars, waiting for their girlfriends to emerge, either with a prescription for birth control, or a referral for an abortion.   Today, I am sure not much has changed, other than the makes and models of the hopped-up economy cars favored by teens and 20-somethings.

3. The Abortion Lobby was too successful:   Like the NRA, the pro-choice movement has had a good run, until recent years.  Despite the setbacks in red states and in the courts, the abortion movement has had a lot of success in the past.   And often such success is met with an equal and opposite force - something the NRA should consider before pushing the next part of its extremist agenda (Silencers?  I mean, really!).

Federal funding for abortions for the poor has issues as I noted above.  Forcing employers to provide funding for free abortions is another issue.   Allowing teenagers to have abortions without parental consent was also a bit too much.   A 14-year-old girl could not have a tooth extracted without parental consent, but until recently, was allowed to have an abortion in some States without telling her parents.

Even Democrats might have a problem with that, particularly if they have a 14-year-old daughter.  At the very least, even the most liberal parent would want to know about this and have a sit-down to talk with their daughter about where this is going.

Now, a lot of these things have since been walked back, of course.  But again, I think it was an example of reaching too far, and again, the NRA should take note.   When there is a parade, get out in front and lead it, rather than be the curmudgeon on the sidewalk cursing all the noise.

4.  Roe v. Wade is bad law:  I went to a "liberal" law school, and even there, my constitutional law professors admitted that Roe v. Wade had serious constitutional issues.   The Supreme Court is suppose to decide whether a law is constitutional or not.   In Roe, they went beyond this and wrote new law, defining by trimester when an abortion is permissible or not.  This was made out of whole cloth - doing the job that Congress refused to do.

Congressmen want to get re-elected, so they wouldn't touch the abortion issue with a ten-foot pole.  Actually, they tend to avoid doing anything, whenever possible, and it becomes a matter of gridlock.   Should the courts intervene and do what Congress refuses to do?   That is the constitutional question, of course, and those on the Left say "yes" and those on the Right say "no" - unless of course, the "legislating from the bench" favors a right-wing view point.  Then, it is not legislating from the bench, but merely good jurisprudence.

Regardless, Roe has some structural issues, and the Court could find some legal leverage to highly restrict it, if not outright overturn it.   If the Left wanted to enshrine the right to an abortion, they should have done so by legislation, not by court decree.

5.  There have been abuses:   No one on the Left likes to talk about this, but some doctors who perform abortions have less than stellar records.  Some have ended up in jail as a result of botched operations or by performing abortions in the last trimester.

Now, granted, you could argue that there are more botox doctors out there who have botched operations and killed patients.   The problem is, these abuses, even if rare, provide gristly grist for the gristmill of the anti-abortion lobby.  When it comes right down to it, the whole process of an abortion, even when done properly and legally, has an "ick" factor to it.  And the Right has been quick to use this to their advantage.

6.  The sexual revolution:   Sex has changed a lot since the 1960's.   Not only are attitudes about sex changing, but sex itself has changed.  No longer do people feel the need to go "all the way" to satisfy their sexual urges.  Without going into gross detail, there are a number of sexual activities that people can perform without any risk of pregnancy or even disease.

Perhaps the HIV epidemic is partly the cause of this.  But it is clear that there are other alternatives to vaginal intercourse which can result in pregnancy.  We are no longer teenagers trying to score a "home run" in the back seat of Dad's Oldsmobile on prom night.

7.  Demographics:  Here is the big problem for Democrats.   If we assume that roughly half the country is to the Left and half to the Right, that means the abortion issue (in terms of preserving Roe) really only resonates with half of the population.  Of this half, maybe 1/3 are not strongly committed to it.  Of the remaining 2/3rds, well, only half of them are women.

Yes, men are less likely to be concerned about reproductive rights than women, by dint of the fact they don't risk getting pregnant.  So as a result, as an issue to galvanize support, it may generate a "who cares?" attitude among a pretty big segment of even the Left.   In short, it may not be a winning issue for Democrats.

And of course, the point is moot:  The Republicans have the votes to confirm their nominee, and now have the votes in the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.   All the protests in the world won't change that, but will make the Democrats look silly and powerless.  In a way, it is like the Clarence Thomas hearings - much sound and fury, but nothing accomplished in any real form.

* * * 

So what is the answer for the Democratic party?  Just being against Trump is not enough.  Traditional hot-button issues don't seem to resonate anymore.  And the further the party lurches to the Left, the fewer and fewer supporters they will have.   I for one, am not quite ready to cut a check to a "Democratic Socialist" anytime in the near future.    People like Bernie Sanders are the reason we lost the last election and not the salvation of the party.

Until things get really, really bad, most moderate Democrats will not embrace this new leftism.  And sadly, many on the far left secretly hope things get really, really bad, so they can look like a rational alternative.

But has history has shown, this strategy often doesn't work.  By the time things get that bad, you are locked up in the gulag or on a train to an internment camp. 

\Maybe what we need is less extremism and more moderation.   Crazy idea, I know.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Timing the Crash?

Knowing that something is going to happen is one thing, knowing when that something is going to happen is another.

People a lot smarter than me have said all along that timing the market is for chumps.   We may be able to spot trends, but it is hard to know when these trends will change.  I thought the real estate market would crash in 2005, but it kept on, in zombie mode, until nearly 2008.  I suspect we are seeing the same thing happening today - I am reading the same headlines I read back in 2007 about how houses are so unaffordable.  something has to give.

And similarly, many prognosticators are saying the market will tank - or at least a recession will occur.  But when?  That is the tricky part.  Predicting the future is difficult business, unless you are Faith Popcorn.  Her method is nearly foolproof - simply predict every possible thing, and then later on, pick only those answers you got right as "proof" of your prognostication abilities.

So, with that in mind, I will jump in with both feet and offer my utterly un-expert opinion as to when the market will tank:  2020.

We would be having a mild recession by about now, but Trump ginned up the economy by passing these tax cuts.  This threw gasoline on the fire of a dying bull market, keeping it flaring up for another 18 months or so - enough to safely get him past the mid-term elections and keep the Senate at least intact.   The trick is whether he can ride this wave until November 2020, or like George Bush, see it all fall apart a few months before the election in 2008.

The problem with the tax cut is that it is like taking methamphetamine.  You are living large today, but there will be a price - a steep price - to pay tomorrow.  And in this case, the price is debt - massive debt on the part of the government, started under Obama, but now accelerated under Trump.   With less tax revenue, we will have more deficit spending.  Throw in higher interest rates, and we will be back where we were in the 1970's with interest payments taking up more and more of the government budget.

Now throw in personal and corporate debts.  The latter is the reason so many "brick and mortar"stores are going out of business.  Amazon didn't sink Toys 'R Us, $5 Billion in debt incurred by KKR, Bain, and others, did.   And it is the same story across the board with these private equity deals.  The "vulture capitalists" throw in a billion or two, use the company's own equity to borrow money to buy the place, and then run it into the ground, getting back their initial investment in the form of management fees, interest payments, and whatnot.

A reader asks me how a company can be purchased by using the company's own equity - it makes no sense!   I have to agree with him, but that is capitalism in America today.  In a way, it is no different than buying a car on time, I guess. You walk into the car dealer, put down a pitiful amount of cash, and then walk away with a car, financed using the equity of the car.  Of course, you are upside-down on that loan from the get-go.  So was Toys 'R Us.  But I digress.

The debt problem will be exasperated by rising interest rates which in turn are driving inflation.  More and more borrowers will default when rates and thus monthly payments go up.  And the only HEMP program that will help them will be legalized marijuana, if Jeff Sessions doesn't put a stop to that.

But what about our flash-fire economy?   Unemployment is down!  Everyone is back at work!  Wages are up! The stock market is, uh, going up and down like a see-saw.   Signs, my friend, signs.  These are the same predictors that in the past have foreshadowed recession. When unemployment is too low, wages skyrocket.  All this talk of raising the minimum wage to $15 and whatnot is pointless today - there are wage wars going on at nearly every business.  Even in remote rural areas, we are seeing billboards advertising jobs.  The local fast-food places have competing signs - offering $11 an hour to START there!   $15 isn't far behind.  And hey, maybe they will have to start offering full-time benefits, too, right?  Crazy!

But rising wages are increasing production costs - as are the tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.   This in turn is slowly increasing inflation, which will rise more rapidly as this effect snowballs.  The net result is, like in the 1970's, rising wages merely keep pace with inflation, and thus the middle-class doesn't come out ahead.  With rising interest rates on debt, they come out behind.

Now throw in some collapses of some local housing markets that are overheated - exasperated by the new tax law that eliminates home interest and property tax deductions for many people.  Home ownership is no longer looked upon as some tax-dodging goldmine as it was in the past.   Toss in a demographic that is seeing fewer young people graduating from high school and college in the next few years, and we may see demand for housing slacken.

These things go in cycles.  And we will see this cycle repeat, again and again, over time.  The key is, how dramatic do you want the cycles to be?  A gradually growing economy as under Obama, followed by a mild recession?  Or dramatic gains followed by catastrophic losses?

And in that regard, the signs from the stock market are most troubling.   Two things preceded the big crash of 1929.  First, farmers started going bankrupt years before.  And today, they are doing likewise. Farm suicide rates have risen, according to some sources, by a factor of five.  Economic pressures are given as the primary cause.  Nearly half of all farmers have a second job to help make ends meet.   This is the same sort of pattern we saw in 1927 or thereabouts.

The second thing is volatility.  You may recall just a few months ago, how people were "investing" in derivatives that were based on the volatility index.  They were betting on the market remaining steady.  Again, this is 1927 all over again - when even the local grocery clerk was investing in the market - and the market went nowhere but up.   But before the big crash of 1929, we saw a lot of see-saw action, as the markets went up and down.   People still want to invest in the markets - they want to make a lot of money, and in many cases, have to make a lot of money in order to survive.  I know a lot of retirees whose retirement plans are predicated on a perpetual 10% return on their investment.  Nice work if you can get it.

The markets are going up and down because of uncertainty.  And the uncertainty is being driven, for the most part, by one man and his twitter account.   We have reached a new level of absurdity in our country - the twitter economy.   One tweet from you-know-who and markets can rise or tumble, or a company's stock can skyrocket or tank, overnight.   Everyone, it seems, is looking for signs, in these tweets - signs of where the market is heading.

Meanwhile, other signs, the most basic ones, are being ignored.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Immobile Phone

The cell phone, like cable television,  encourages sloth and immobility.

I was turning on my cell phone the other day and it struck me that in order to turn on the phone I had to push the button on the side of the case for five seconds, making me virtually immobile until it turns on.  I was frozen in position for five seconds, just to turn the damn thing on!

And then it struck me that almost all use of the smart phone requires the user to sit in a static position and move their muscles as little as possible, other than the fingers necessary to manipulate the device.  Taking a photo, for example, requires a serious effort in stillness, for several seconds - which is why tourist places are clogged with people taking "selfies" - the instantaneous "snapshot" of years gone by has been replaced by the ten-minute selfie.

The smartphone is thus the antithesis of exercise.  It is the opposite of the Fitbit.  When you use the cell phone, you stop moving entirely, and become static.

It is like cable television, where people sit for hours on a couch staring at the the screen and not moving the single muscle.  Unfortunately, this form of behavior is very bad for your health.

Like it or not, we are trapped in flawed human bodies, bodies that have, over the millennia, evolved to perform manual functions repetitively. We were born to be walkers and workers and not intended to sit for long periods of time doing nothing.

With the coming of industrial society, this all changed. Early in the history of mankind, some people, instead of hunting or gathering or farming, sat down and performed various manual tasks while sitting in one position - making pots, sewing clothes, cooking food.  We started to move from one mode of operation to another.  But even those early sitters had to get up to get work done.  They may have spent hours sewing a buckskin jacket, but they also had to gather firewood, hunt for food, gather nuts and berries and medicinal herbs.  There was at least some exercise involved.

But over time, as we have specialized, we no longer perform even these modest tasks.  Early office workers had to walk to work, even if they sat for hours a day.  And even then, if you wanted to send a memo to the 8th floor, you had to leave your desk and walk there - no click of a button as today.  Watch old movies from the 1930's and 1940's depicting office workers in Manhattan, and see how many of them are mobile most of the time.

Today, we commute to work not by foot, but by car - if we commute at all.  Many today, including myself (until recently) merely shuffle down the hall to a computer terminal in our home.  No need to even shave or get dressed to go to work!  Ten hours later, you've got a lot done, but are still in your pajamas.  This is not right.

Unfortunately the evolution of our body has not kept up with the changes in our lifestyle and culture.  Our body still demands to be exercised and moved, in order to function properly.  Thus, like it or not, we have to exercise our flawed bodies in order to keep them operating at peak efficiency or even partial efficiency - or even to keep them running at all. Once we stopped moving, we fossilize and the body deteriorates quickly.

And sadly, you see the effect of this, daily on the streets.  Go to Walmart and see people who have ballooned to 300 lbs or more, riding little electric carts - taking away what little exercise they have left.  Their legs look like giant sausages, with no real change in definition from the ankle upward.  Diabetes, heart disease, and amputation lie in their future.

So much of modern technology was designed to prevent us from actually using our bodies. The automobile, one of the most widespread and most important inventions of the 20th century, eliminated the need for people to walk long distances. Instead, we slouch behind the wheel, while our blood pressure peaks, and we exert very little effort.  We are assisted by power steering, power brakes, and even power windows and door locks.  Every tiny task and our lives has been replaced with some sort of electronic motor or actuator.

Pull into a rest stop sometime and watch carefully the professional long-distance truck drivers as they emerge from big rigs.  Most of them can barely walk.  It is a temporary thing, in some instances.  After sitting for an hour to behind the wheel of a vehicle, your legs seem to not function anymore and it takes about 10 or 20 minutes before you could learn to walk again.  But for others, a lifetime behind the wheel of a big rig slowly destroys their health, and walking becomes a painful chore. It is almost painful to watch these long haul truckers try to walk to the restroom and back.

Perhaps someday, our bodies will evolve to this new mode of operation - this mode of sloth. We may end up looking like Jabba the Hutt, our legs diminishing into a pseudo-pod as we no longer need to have mobility in any way shape or form.

But until that far-off time, we are stuck with the bodies we have evolved into - bodies intended to be used for manual labor, work, and walking. And once we stop walking and working, and stop using our hands and legs, they atrophy and our health deteriorates. Quickly.

A whole host of inventions have been created to alleviate us of the "burden" of manual labor, or even the tiniest of efforts.  But the mobile phone is arguably the worst of these, as it requires you to be perfectly still for minutes or even hours at a time.  You see this all over the place - people standing and sitting like statues, staring into tiny screens.  The mobile phone has become the immobile phone.

Maybe today is a good day for a hike - or a kayak.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Changing Nature of RVing

RVs are back, baby!  But not the same as it was a decade ago...

More than a decade ago, the RV business was experiencing a renaissance.  RVs were flying off the lots, and people were going everywhere in their new bus motorcoaches, or big 5th-wheel trailers with four slide-outs.   Today, people are still doing this, but it seems to me the real growth in recent years has been in the lower-end towable units.  And I think how people are using their RVs has changed as well - people are not driving nearly as far as before.

In the 1960's, the idea of travelling across America was a norm.  "See the USA in your Chevrolet!" Dinah Shore exhorted us to do since the 1950's.  And my parents did just that - my Dad saving up a month's worth of vacation, buying a new Dodge station wagon (with air conditioning, no less!) and taking the family on a vacation through the Southwest, idiotically in the summer, of course.  We didn't have an RV, but back then, taking a "dream trip" across America by RV was a thing.

Because flying was so expensive.   I also recall in the mid-1960's, going to Chicago's O'Hare airport and waiting in the American Airlines "Admiral's Club" while our plane taxied to the gate.  Dad flew the whole family - first class, no less - using the frequent flyer miles he accumulated from business travel.   We had to dress up to go to the airport - as if it were church, which in a manner of speaking, it was.

Today?  Well, the airport is the new bus station, and thanks to low fares, everyman can fly - and does, unfortunately, making air travel a toxic experience.  Can I bring my service flamingo on board?  He helps calm my flying anxieties by squawking loudly every three minutes.  And thanks to HIPPA, you can't say no!

But the upshot is, you can take the whole family to Disney by plane for a lot less than traveling by car - or at least at a competitive cost.  And given that people have less time off these days, it makes more sense as well.

Which is why, when we travel, we see that most of the RVs in the campground are not from faraway places, but from right next door - often literally.  People drive no more than a few hours to get to their campsite, often just for the weekend.   And in many cases, people reserve the same site for the same week, year after year - only a few hours from home.   The RV is no longer a traveling machine, but a weekend cottage or a once-a-year getaway by the lake - at a cost far less than that of owning a lakeside cottage.

Some folks will even drive up and park their RV on a site, days in advance, and then the whole damn family shows up (each with their own car, even the small children, with their pink Barbie Jeeps) and hangs out for the weekend.   In a way, it is like the old "railroad camps" that used to line the tracks on some of the Finger Lakes in New York State.  Clapped together out of old scrap lumber, the family would decamp to the lake for the summer, while Dad worked in the city.  On the weekends, he would take the train to the camp, which was often adjacent the right-of-way.  On Monday morning, he would flag down the train (no, really!) and catch a ride back to the city.   Those were the days.

Of course, there are other factors at work here.  The cost of travel is still high.  Even at around $3 a gallon, travelling by RV isn't cheap.  Even our small rig burns up about $40 of fuel per day, going only a couple hundred miles or so.  Larger rigs get even worse mileage (in the single digits) and cost more to move.  As a result, the idea of "seeing America by RV!" has less and less appeal.

But beyond that, I think this recent boom in RV sales is different than in the past.  The era of the big-bus motorhome may be on the wane.   Again, this is based on my unscientific observations.  Perhaps real RV industry data would say otherwise.  But it seems to me that there has been a real boom in inexpensive tow-behind trailers in recent years.  And in a way, this makes sense.  Americans are buying large SUVs and pickup trucks in record numbers.  They find out they own not just a big vehicle, but one with a tow rating in the thousands of pounds - sometimes over ten thousand pounds.  The vehicles are out there - why not sell them a trailer to pull behind it?

And a simple "box trailer" made of sticks and staples can be affordable for a young growing family.  And this seems to be who we see buying them.  All this talk of a decline in the number of high school graduates (which is something I discussed years ago in my college bankruptcy posting) is just a blip in the statistics.  Spend a weekend in a campground sometime - you'll think a kid bomb went off!

So these inexpensive trailers are affordable for young families.  They have the rig to tow them with, and there is a RV park within a few hours of their home to drive it to (within whining distance of small children kicking the back of your seat). A perfect storm.  And an affordable one, or at least more affordable than a motorhome.

Motorhomes had their heyday more than a decade ago, methinks.  As the 401(k) generation matures and retires, the idea of spending a quarter-million dollars or more on a rapidly depreciating asset makes less and less sense.  The previous generation - the pre-baby-boomers - retired from the finger-cutting factory with a hefty pension.  They could live on that comfortably, and when they hit 63, they got a nice present from Uncle Sugar in the form of a Social Security check of $1500 to $3000 a month.

So off to the RV dealer they go, and find out that you can "buy" an expensive motorcoach with a monthly payment about equal to their social security check.  So many did, not realizing that they were upside-down on the coach for most of the term of the loan.   And if Bain Capital bought out the old finger-cutting factory, they might find their pension paying out 40 cents on the dollar.   For a lot of folks, the "dream" RV turned into a real nightmare.

For us in the 401(k) generation, such a nightmare is less likely, as we simply don't have the money.  Or if we did, we would look at the overall cost, not the just the monthly loan payment, and realize that spending 1/4 of your net worth on a "thing" makes no sense at all, particularly when, after five years, it is worth half what you paid for it.

Yes, we still see the motorhomes being driven, and rows upon rows of them at the dealer lots.  But during the recession of 2008, many motorhome manufacturers went bankrupt, including the "See Ya!" brand (which is what they said to people who wanted to make warranty claims after bankruptcy) and the venerable Wanderlodge brand (hampered no doubt, by a front axle overload problem on their later models).   Even old-line brands such as Winnebago, while surviving, branched off into the towable market to get a piece of this rapidly expanding slice of the business.

In short, we are experiencing an RV revival right now, but I am not sure it is the same as the old days.  It seems to me that we are seeing brisk sales, but not of $250,000 motorcoaches, but $25,000 tow-behinds.  And that is a big change in expectations of the current generation over the last.

In other words, it is a thin recovery, not a fat one.  And whether it has sustainability remains to be seen.  When the shit hits the fan, the first things to be cut from the family budget are expensive toys like boats, RVs, and jet skis.  And speaking of boats, that industry is experiencing a similar recovery- lots of sales in the very high-end boats to billionaires, and lots of sales of starter boats to the middle-class.  But the era of middle-class people buying 40-footers seems to be waning, at least from what boat salesmen are telling me.

But the RV industry is a flexible one.  The "factories" that make RVs are little more than warehouses where these rigs are screwed together one at a time.  No big investment has been made in assembly lines or other capital equipment. They buy the parts, mostly from the same suppliers, and then hire kids to screw and drill and saw it all together.   When the market tanks, it is a simple matter to just lay people off and hunker down until the next boom cycle.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Do It While You're Young!

Traveling is something you should do while you're still relatively young.

A reader asks whether we ever get sick of traveling.  I responded that we get sick while traveling but never get sick of traveling.  And there is a difference.

Traveling is difficult both on the mind and the body.  When you travel to different locations, even within the United States, you were exposed to the viruses and bacteria of thousands of different people, as well as different water supplies and foods and whatnot.  Yes, it is not an unexpected that you will get what they call it Mexico, "Montezuma's Revenge" when you travel.

Travel is also difficult on the mind.  You are in strange places, where you don't know the streets and the stores all have different names, and the foodstuffs and products seem slightly different than back home.  And what's worse is that they're not entirely different, but just slightly different, which makes it even more jarring.  And of course, everyone talks with a funny accent, eh?

We are creatures of routine, and traveling often upsets this routine.  Even though I am retired, I find myself going to be about the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning.  Disruption to this routine can be fatiguing and unsettling.  Loss of sleep can make you cranky and even sick.   We find comfort in routine, whether it is the morning commute, or our regular television shows every night - or whatever.  People get used to a pattern in life, and travel can upset that pattern.  For that reason alone, some folks cannot stand to travel.  It is hard.

I used to travel to California once a month, on business.  At first, it was exciting and fun, in a way, even though there was a lot of work to do.  But over time, it just became exhausting - flying the "red eye" from coast to coast and spending a day or two to get over jet lag.   It went from fun to none in no time whatsoever.   That's why they give business travelers frequent flyer miles and other perks - to compensate for the hassle and fatigue of travel.

Travel is both physically and emotionally exhausting.  Thus, it is something you should do while you're relatively young rather than wait until you retire.  What we have seen, living on retirement island, is that people make elaborate plans for big trips for when they retire - and then never follow through with their plans, or if they do, their plans are aborted.

A good friend of ours likes to travel, and she is one of those hippie types who is very easy to get along with.  But even so, at her age it is very difficult to go to foreign countries and experience foreign cultures as well as foreign bacteria.  She told us of a recent trip to India which she said is something everyone should do in their lifetime.  But even though she was traveling with her adult children and had a car and driver (which is not that expensive in India) it was a trying experience.  It is a very crowded country and it as she put it, "sensory overload."  She advised us if we want to go to India, to do it while we're still young or at least relatively young - and not wait until we're 70 or 80. At that age, it could probably kill you.

We see all the time in the RV and boating magazines, advertisements for brand new RVs and boats that have been bought by retirees with great intentions to tour America or do the great circle route. "Must sell due to illness," the ad sadly reads.  They spent all their lives working in the figure-cutting factory looking forward to age 65 when they could retire and take the trip of their dreams.  Sadly, cancer had other ideas.

Even at the relatively tender age of 58, travel is still very hard on me.  My digestive tract, weak as it is, has trouble adapting two new water supplies and foodstuffs.  Last year, we explored the Saint Lawrence River and Thousand Islands area of New York and had a great time.  I also enjoyed visiting their Hospital in Alexandria Bay which has a beautiful view of the water.  It was a $2,500 experience I would rather have done without!

But that is the nature of travel. You have to roll with the punches and stick with it. A lot of people give up and retreat back to their to the comfort of their homes and daily routine.  Neighbors of ours saw our RV and decided that maybe they should try RVing.  They very wisely decided to rent one for a 2-week trip.  They took off and came back three days later, saying that they hated RVing and wanted nothing to do with it.  That's okay - in fact it was smarter than to rent an RV and figure this out.  Too many people buy RVs and then discover they hate RVing and then end up with a $50,000 albatross around their neck, parked in their backyard.

Of course, some people are hardier than others.  There are septuagenarians who are quite spry and think nothing of hitchhiking across the Himalayas even at an advanced age.  While other, younger than their 30s, can't live without regular access to American and fast food and culture.  The bottom line, is, that no matter what your level of hardness, it will decrease over time.

And of course, there are different modes of travel, some easier than others.  Going on cruises has become wildly popular in America, particularly since 9/11.  You put your luggage on the ship and you go on board and they basically ply you with booze and food until you pass out.  Oh, and yes, they actually travel to other destinations.  But many friends of ours who enjoy cruises tell us they never actually leave the ship at these different locations to experience the tropical climate.  Rather, they sit by the pool, which they enjoy even more because most of the passengers have left to see the sights.

This kind of makes me sad, but again, each person makes their own life choices.  Some friends of ours recently went on the cruise to Cuba and reported they were very disappointed in the experience.  They went ashore on a tour and found that the country was run down and depressed - what you expect from a third-world Caribbean country such as Cuba.

A friend of mine noted that everyone made a big deal about the old cars in Cuba, which were really basically bondo'ed and rusted-out old Chevys and Fords with Soviet tractor engines in them.  "I don't understand what the big deal is," he said, "I have a pristine 57 Chevy in my garage, what they drive over there it's basically junk!"

And in a way, he has a point.  Many of the places you travel to in this world are not as nice as the United States of America - or may not be as nice as your home town, even if they are in the US of A. But for us, sometimes that is the best part of traveling.  When we return home to our retirement island, we realize how fortunate we are to live in such a pristine place with so few people around us.

We do live on a pretty small planet.  And you have a finite amount of time in your life to explore it.  If you decide you do want to explore, I strongly suggest you do it while you're still young.  Age will creep up on you and you'll find that you're no longer able to travel at time in your life you want to.  At the very least, you will find travel harder and harder to do, the older you get.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Henry the Dog and Materialism

Owning fancy things is nice, until they own you.

We are in a campground near Michigan's upper peninsula, which is a nice part of the country to explore.  We hope to come back again maybe next year or the year after, and spend an entire summer exploring the area.   Sadly, we only have time for a week or so to knock about.

Leaving a beautiful campground (albeit primitive, but hey, parking right on the lake, what's not to like?) we pass a young couple with a big dog named Henry.  Henry barks and runs over to us, tail wagging, and puts his sandy paws right on the side of the truck, no doubt scratching the paint.  The young lady was appalled.  "Henry!  Come back here now!"

Now of course, Henry should have been on a leash, but hey, dogs.   We both laughed and said, "Oh, Henry!" and once he was clear of the truck, drove on.

Years ago, I would not have been so relaxed about that.   Scratching my perfect paint!  How was I ever going to buff all that out?

When I started this blog, I owned six cars, and for the most part (other than the Jeep) they were in perfect shape. I spent hours washing, buffing, and waxing, to keep them pristine.  And over the course of this blog, I realized I was wasting a lot of time and money owning "things" and trying to keep them "perfect."   Funny thing, we had more fun with that clapped-out Jeep than with the "perfect" cars.

You see, the cars depreciated, whether I waxed them or not.  Sure, they looked nicer and lasted longer, but the upshot was, when I sold the nice green convertible shown above, it netted me about $6700, which was high book value.  Yes, it was a nice car, but it still depreciated like any other thing you own.  And eventually, all the wax in the world isn't going to forestall the inevitable - major repairs, things just rotting out, falling headliners, torn seats, and general wear and tear.

I have friends who are still on this bandwagon - trying to make their lives "perfect" - with perfect cars, perfect houses, and perfect spouses.  They are never happy and always anxious.  Was that a blemish in the finish of the roadster -  or on my wife?   Maybe it is time to trade in!

The Nissan pickup truck went though a hailstorm in El Paso Texas a few years ago, pretty much trashing the body, particularly the roof and hood.  The hood looked like it had been pelted with a ball peen hammer.  I replaced it with a junkyard hood and never looked back (and banked the check from the insurance company).  The nice thing is, I can put my life jackets and dirty sandals on the hood to dry in the sun (and engine heat) or spread out a map, and not worry about scratching the paint.  I can drive down a narrow road with brambles and brush on the sides and not worry that my "perfect" paint job will now be imperfect.

In short, now I am free.

And yea, it is nice to have "nice things" but it is even nicer to just have things you can use and not worry about.  And for most people, this is how they view their possessions - as tools to use in life, not an end in and of themselves.

I mentioned before, a long time ago, how a friend of mine's adult son, when looking through their family photo album, was musing that Dad should have kept that old '57 Chevy they had (in 1960 as a used car) as "today it would be worth a fortune!"   But then again, a four-door post sedan with a six-banger and three-on-the-tree might not be worth all that much.   It was a piece of transportation for a young and growing family at the time, and when it succumbed to New York State salt, it was not worth restoring or preserving, but rather was just another oil-burning, rusted-out junk car, ready for the scrapyard.   No amount of heroic effort could have "saved" that car for over 60 years, and even if it was possible, the costs would have been horrific.

I guess it took me a long time to realized this - that life is not an optimized event, and that things are just things, and so many of them will pass through your life.  Trying to "save" something and keep it perfect often only means you are creating a really nice used car for someone else to buy and drive into the ground.  As eventually, you will probably move on to another car or truck or whatever.

And eventually, the Nissan will go away, too.  By the time we sell it, it will have well over 100,000 miles on it.    By then, it will be worth a few thousand dollars, and the person buying it will be more interested to know if the oil was changed regularly than whether the car was detailed and waxed.  The prospective purchaser will probably not notice that the paint on the hood doesn't quite match the rest of the truck, or notice the small, round dents on parts of the roof.

And I doubt they would notice a small scratched paw print on the passenger side door, either.


Friday, June 15, 2018

I'm a Millionaire, But I Still Cut My Own Hair

Just because you have some money doesn't mean you have to stop worrying about how you spend it.  In fact, the opposite is true.

We are in a campground, and our neighbors have one of those new campers with all the bells and whistles.  An outdoor kitchen, complete with microwave and fridge, slides out from the side, next to the outdoor television - this in addition to the television(s) inside the rig and the inside kitchen as well.  These folks  have more kitchens in their trailer than they do in their home!

Pretty sweet!  But of course, it is all paid for "on time" and they owe more on the rig than it could be sold for, if push came to shove.

It got me to thinking.  Should we have one of these fancy RVs?  I mean, we could afford to pay cash for one of them - or ten of them, or even twenty.   But we didn't, because we chose not to.  It took me a long time to figure this out, but being "wealthy" doesn't mean spending money, but rather saving it.  Instead of owning things, one has to own money.   And not many people own money today.

Early on in this blog, we started looking at expenses and decided that getting a "haircut" by driving 20 miles into town, waiting an hour in a stuffy barbershop while listening to Rush Limbaugh on a cheap AM radio, wasn't worth $20.  In fact, it was worth nothing.  A basic hair trimmer could be had for the cost of one haircut.

Making simple changes in our lives - as well as larger ones - put us on the road to wealth.   Up until then, we had fallen into the trap that many Americans do, of spending just slightly more than we made every year, looking at each raise in pay as an opportunity to borrow yet more money.   I still cut my own hair, even though I am a millionaire, simply because cutting my own hair is what made me a millionaire, at least in part.

When you try to explain that to people, they just don't get it.  So long ago, I stopped trying.   I put down my thoughts in this blog, and a few people read it.  But I got a lot of angry responses from people - as if my cost-cutting moves were somehow threatening to them, which I guess they were, as they called into question their entire lifestyle.

I also got a lot of e-mails and comments from people who wanted to know how to "get rich quick" - as if most of the world were mere dunderheads who only needed to know the "inside secret" to quick wealth, but were too lazy to bother to find it.   Of course, such secrets don't exist - but the legend of them illustrates how people think.  They get hopelessly in debt and wonder why other people seem to have it "so easy" and wonder whether they too, could know the "inside secret" to wealth.

And if there is one, here it is: cutting your own hair.   Not literally, but as a metaphor.  But it could be literal as well.   The idea of spending less and saving more isn't interesting or exciting.  It doesn't sell seminars and isn't sold on informercials.  The shouting guy on TeeVee doesn't promote it (and his haircut is far worse than mine!).  In short, it really is a secret, in a manner of speaking, in that it lies hidden - but hidden in plain view for anyone to see, if only they stop looking so hard.

We won't be buying a fancy camper with a slide-out kitchen.  Our 20-year-old Casita (which we paid $8750 for, in cash, 15 years ago) works just fine.  I did make a slide-out kitchen for the back of our pickup truck, using the cargo tray I made many years ago, and a couple of pieces of wood we bought at Lowe's.   Total cost:  About $50.   Of course, it isn't as fancy or nice as the camper next door to us.

But it is paid for.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Some of the Nicest People...

I don't think that payday loans, check cashing stores, rent-to-own furniture, or buy-here-pay-here used car lots are good bargains.   This does not necessarily mean the people running these places are evil or crooks - or view themselves as such.

I met a nice couple who are retired and living in their RV.   They owned a chain of check cashing stores and payday loan places, as well as rent-to-own furniture stores and a few buy-here-pay-here used car lots.   What was interesting to me was that they were very nice people, not what you'd expect given the stereotypes of "evil capitalists" exploiting the masses.   And although they were able to retire early (in their 50's, I'd guess) they certainly weren't putting on the dog.  They didn't have a fancy motorhome like a million-dollar Prevost bus or something.  They lived quite modestly, from what I could tell.

A couple of years ago, a reader asked me if it was OK to run a payday loan store.  My response was, that if he didn't do it, someone else would.   You see, these types of businesses are not run based on push, but pull.   It is the customers coming through the door who demand shitty deals that makes the whole operation tick.   So long as there are people who think they are "lucky" to get a loan, or that borrowing money is a way to solve their financial problems, there will always be exploitative lending operations.

And if you make them illegal or try to regulate them, they merely move underground.   When I was a kid, the Mafia had a roaring business running "the numbers" until the State lotteries made that sort of obsolete.  Why gamble with some sketchy outfit when the corner convenience store sells state-sanctioned tickets?   Similarly, back then, "loan sharks" would offer loans to people at rates that were as high as, well, as high as a payday loan place today.   The problem for the Mafia today is, why would someone go to a loan shark when you can go to the local "Money Tree" instead?

The folks I met had made some good money at the business, but were hardly Warren Buffet rich.   They did OK, but in the business of sub-prime lending, there are a lot of costs involved, the main one being the high rate of default - which is why interest rates are so high in this business.   Of course, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy - with high interest rates, the borrowers can never pay off their loans, so default is a given.  And even if you make a lot on interest and get most of the principle back in a workout in bankruptcy, there are costs involved in dealing with insolvent clients - even those who eventually pay, but pay late, chronically.

These operations are legitimate businesses today.  But that does not mean it is a good idea to patronize them.   I leave it to your own moral compass to decide whether you think it is right and proper to run such an operation.  Myself, I think I would have a hard time running such a business.   But then again, the sort of folks who are "victimized" by a payday loan place (but in reality are merely victimizing themselves) are the same folks who sat in the back of class at school and snickered at me when I raised my hand (and beat me up after class).   Maybe it is just karma coming around to bite them on their ass.  Ignorant people who refuse to learn - or worse yet, eschew education as somehow "elitist" or whatever, get their comeuppance in the short and long run.  These are the sort of folks who  vote for Trump and then wonder where all the money went.

We can outlaw payday loans - and then only outlaws will make such loans, as loan sharks did in the past.  We can try to regulate them and force them to limit interest rates - but such regulations can be circumvented or drive business underground.   In one state, after efforts to regulate "buy here pay here" used cars, the dealers merely changed to "lease here pay here" used cars.   These sort of operators are creative - and their clients are the ones driving the business, not the operators of the businesses.

So I do not sit in judgement of those who operate such businesses. I am not "outraged" by the latest story on the internet about some poor slob with three kids out-of-wedlock who lost their job and thought a payday loan was the answer to their problems.   If they hadn't gone to one payday loan place, they would have gone to another.   Ignorance and stupidity have a high "tax" associated with them, and I know this firsthand having paid this tax time and time again in my life.   The answer wasn't in outlawing shitty deals, the answer was me waking up from a long slumber and realizing what a first-class chump I was being.

Some of the nicest people run these sort of outfits, and they view themselves as legitimate businesspeople, which of course, they are.   You can blame them for offering crappy deals to the poor, or you can stop taking crappy deals and stop being poor.   Whenever you read one of these "victim" stories in the press, there is always another side either untold or told on page two, that sort of picks apart at the threads of the story.  Usually drug and alcohol abuse is part of the picture, and again, I say this from personal experience.

No one felt sorry for me when I act the fool or did stupid things.   And likely, no one will feel sorry for you, either.  It is incumbent on all of us to look out for our own best interests.  And salesmen and businesspeople look out for their own interests first, and then to yours, if they do at all.  Thinking that the nice man at the car dealer or the loan store has your best interests in mind is just foolishness.

You can call it blaming the victim if you'd like.  But no one is ever "forced" into signing onerous loan documents It is a conscious choice.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

I'm not dead...

Just traveling.  Thanks for your concern!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Threshold of Pain Theory, Revisited

What is your financial threshold of pain, and does it change over time - and could it change suddenly?

In a very early post in this blog I discussed the threshold of pain theory.  I first learned about it while I'm talking with an engineer for what was then called Bell Atlantic which is now part of AT&T. He worked in the cell phone division and I was writing a patent application for cell phone technology.

I asked him why cell phone service wasn't better.  Bear in mind this was back in the 1990's when cell phones were still a new thing and mostly analog.  Hand-held cell phones were just becoming popular, replacing the built-in car phones we had only a few years before.  Smartphones and digital technology were still years away.  Texting was just starting to become a thing - and they charged extra for it - by the text!

Since the cell phone system was largely analog, it required a lot of bandwidth for voice communication.  And then we're not a lot of cell towers, even in major cities.  When you left major cities, service was pretty sparse.

"So, why don't you put in more cell towers?" I asked.  And he explained to me the threshold of pain theory.  The company could have installed more and more cell phone towers all over the city and indeed, even the countryside.  But people wouldn't necessarily appreciate the improved service, nor would they be willing to pay more for this improve service.

Unlike traditional landlines, which were what we called POTS or "plain old telephone service" back then, cell signals were weak and variable and dropped calls were very common.  And as the engineer explained to me, people expected this with cellular technology as it was basically Voodoo at that point.

When I grew up, nobody had a car phone much less a hand-held cell phone.  Only rich executives or special people had car phones in their cars.  I remember watching the movie Hellfighters with John Wayne, who played an oil well firefighter.  He had a car phone in his 66 Chevrolet Impala SS.  That was pretty slick stuff!  But every time you picked up the phone he had to hail an operator over the radio to make a call. Clearly there wasn't enough bandwidth for more than a few people to have car phones.

Once cellular telephones became popular, almost everyone could afford one - and eventually everyone would have one.  And the first time you made a call from inside your car or while walking down the street, it was like magic- because we were used to making phone calls from the only phone in the house - which was tethered to the wall in the kitchen.

So, back then, we were not amazed that cell service was so spotty and calls were dropped.  We were amazed the damn thing worked at all.   In fact we were ecstatic.  Our threshold of pain was very high and we were willing to tolerate dropped calls and poor service - something we would not have stood for with a landline.  The phone companies knew this and realized there was no point in putting up extra cell towers, as they would just be wasting money would have to raise their rates.  People were used to poor levels of service, and therefore the service didn't need to improve.

Of course, eventually it did.  When we moved to the island, there were only three cell towers on the island.  I had to erect an antenna on the roof of my house - a directional flat plane antenna - along with a line amplifier. This amplified the signal from my handheld cell phone to a full 4.5 watts and also enabled reception of the signal from the tower which I aimed to my antenna too.  For the first few years we lived here, I had to use such a contraption in order to get to make and receive cell phone calls on my old Motorola flip phone.

But a funny thing happened.  Within a few years, the cell phone companies reached an agreement with the island authority to erect cell phone antennas on the various water towers here on the island. And they didn't just put on one antenna, but rather dozens of antennas ringing the water towers as well as huge cables snaking down to the legs of the towers into enormous prefab buildings to house the equipment needed to generate all the signals necessary to run such a system.

I asked one of the engineers if all of the weight from those antennas wouldn't exceed the design load of the water tower.  He replied that they just lowered the water level in the tower by a corresponding amount to compensate for the additional weight of the antennas.

Well, needless to say, we get really good cell service now, and I took down my antenna, after it was inactive for several years - and finally threw it away (it was covered with moss and mildew). The line amplifier I think also got thrown away somewhere along the line as well.

What changed between now and back in the 1990's was that our threshold of pain was lowered.  We no longer tolerated having dropped calls, and as more and more cellular traffic became digital - in the form of texting data and even videos, we expected more from our cell phones.  People were willing to switch carriers to get increased bandwidth and better signal.  As the market matured, the competing companies had to sell quality as well as price point.

A similar thing happened in the television industry.  When I did work back in the 1990's for cable television equipment manufacturers, I learned a lot about video encoding and compression systems.  I also wrote a number of patents for VGA systems and types of video compression, including MPEG. And what the engineers told me regarding videos was the same as what the Bell Atlantic engineers told me regarding cell phones. They realized that most people don't notice minor defects in a picture. So there's little point in spending the time money effort bandwidth to improve the quality of a picture if people don't notice it.  Their threshold of pain with regard to video quality might be very high, and you can provide a pretty fuzzy picture and people will think it is acceptable.

In the early days of cable television and computers, low resolution images were acceptable, provided that certain portions of the images were in sharp focus - the portions that people are actually looking at.  Once you could figure out what those portions were, you could compress the hell out of a video signal without any video degradation that would be apparent to the eye.

But of course today, we have high definition video displays and even something called a 4K display .  Many people argue that most folks can't even discern the difference between regular, HD and 4K, but people pay extra for it, anyway.  The bandwidth necessary to transmit video signals at that high resolution is pretty staggering, and most of it is unnecessary.   But nevertheless, our threshold of pain with regard to video signals has dropped dramatically and we now demand much higher resolutions than in the past.  We are no longer content just to get 500 channels on Cable - now we want them in HD or preferably sent over an internet path, digitized.

The threshold of pain theory has other applications as well, including in economics and commerce. And getting back to cable television, that is a prime example where the threshold of pain has been raised continually.  But you can only raise the threshold of pain so far before it collapses and a catastrophic fashion - as predicted by catastrophe theory.

We like to watch old videos on YouTube. One of our favorites are reruns of "What's My Line?" - which was a game show which is broadcast for over 15 years from the 1950s through the mid-1960s. It was broadcast on Sunday night and was considered very sophisticated for the time.  Rather than celebrity panelists who were famous for being famous, they had columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, glamorous  and intelligent Broadway Arlene Francis, and publisher Bennett Cerf.  It's hard to believe that a publisher would be considered a celebrity today.  Most people don't even know what a publisher is - or a book is, for that matter.

But what is fascinating about the show is how few the commercial breaks were.  They had a primary sponsor for the program whose name would appear in front of the panel, and there would be a few commercial breaks for that sponsor as well as one for the "alternate sponsor."

Today, with many cable TV channels, the ratio of advertisements to programming is approaching or exceeding 50%. You watch five minutes of a History Channel "documentary" and then are treated to five minutes of advertisements. When the program comes back on, you were treated to a recap of what the previous five minutes of program were all about,so you can remember what the program was - or if you were channel surfing, parachute yourself into the middle of the program.

How did that happen? As a client of mine wants explained, it's like the boiling the frog theory.  He was a nice gentleman from Alabama and in a charming southern accent explain to me how, if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, he'll immediately jump out.  But if you put a frog into a pot of cold water and slowly raise the temperature, he won't realize that he's being boiled to death, and thus will  just sit there contentedly until he's dead.

Now I mentioned the boiling frog theory before, and many people took me to task for that, pointing out that if you put the frog into the boiling water he be killed instantly and would not have a chance to jump out.  Whereas, if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, he will likely jump out immediately - and people have actually tested this.  I hate hearing comments like that, because they are such spoilsport. It's a goddamn metaphor people, just deal with it.

The point is, when you change something very slowly people might not notice, initially. Their threshold of pain increases over time and they will tolerate more and more discomfort.  That is, up to a point, but we should get to that later.

So over the years from the 1960s to the 1970s, the amount of ad time increased in television.  And as I noted in an earlier posting, I remember quite clearly the first time I was watching television and I saw an advertisement which was not for a product or service, but was an advertisement for more television.  I knew then that something was changing - they turned up the heat in the pot of water and at the threshold of pain had been raised.  Today, advertisements for television on television are as common as dirt.  But it one time such things simply did not exist.

My threshold of pain turned out to be pretty low.  I was pretty fed up with actually paying for television - something that had been free in years past.  Why paid to watch television and be shown advertisements?  Don't they get enough money from the advertisements to cover the cost of the thing? And of course, the answer is they want to make a shitload of money, which they did.

Eventually, the ad content kept ratcheting up to the point where I would change channels when the ads came on, knowing that there were at least five minutes of ads and it will allow me to see what else was playing.  I became one of the legions of "channel surfers" and ended up spending hours watching television but not actually seeing anything.  I became frustrated and decided not to watch cable television anymore, or any television for that matter - and that was back in the early 2000s if not before.

Some people have a much higher threshold of pain than I do and they continue to watch television even to this day.  Although I notice most of them just leave the television on as background noise. Some people call this the "talking lamp" which is present in nearly every household.  It's on all the time, even though nobody's watching it, or they so watch it, they only glance at it occasionally.  It's like a big subliminal advertisement.

Of course today, there's something called the cord-cutting movement.  It's slowly gathering steam but it will be awhile before it has a major impact on cable television.  But when that impact is felt it will appear to be very sudden.  An alternative to cable is emerging in the form of online streaming.  Even though it's been around for many years, it's still in its infant stages.  As I noted in earlier posting, I started online streaming by using a surplus laptop and plugging its VGA port into a flat screen TV that I purchased.  That was a decade ago, and today you could buy a television with a button on the remote that plugs you directly into Netflix.  You don't have to be a computer geek in order to stream things online, anymore.

While one can slowly increase their customer's threshold of pain, there eventually reaches a point where something breaks and they all leave at once.  And this is true in politics as well. We're watching this happen in real-time in Venezuela as we speak. The economy in that country is slowly melting down due to mismanagement by the communist government.  It is the inevitable end of all communist governments - mismanagement, corruption, and insider dealing are the norm.  People have no incentive to work because they're not being paid - and the entire economy collapses.

And of course, the communist leaders always blaming outside forces for their predicament, and use this excuse to prop up their governments for years on end.  But eventually people's threshold of pain reaches a limit and they can't stand anymore and a new revolution occurs, and the old order is thrown out.  But often that threshold of pain has to be very, very high and it takes awhile for people to finally get fed up.

People are starting to starve in Venezuela and people are dying from lack of medicine.  It's unclear as to how long they can hold up under these circumstances before they finally snap.  But when it does happen, it will be very sudden, I think.

What is this have to do with your personal finances?  I think threshold of pain theory can also be applied there as well.  It's very easy, as you progress in life, to incur more and more debts and spend more and more money, often on frivolous or trivial things.  You get used to a certain amount of debt load and a certain amount of monthly payments which neatly dovetail with your monthly income.  You start to think this is normal, and your threshold of financial pain increases accordingly.

Over time, of course, you aren't actually getting ahead, you just spending money faster than you're making it, robbing Peter to pay Paul in order to have things today that you'll pay for tomorrow. Your threshold of pain - in this case the pain being debt - increases over time, until you start to think of hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt as being a normal condition in life.  You start to hear things from your neighbors and friends such as  "debt is a normal part of life!" or "I'll never pay off my mortgage!" or "student loans are inevitable - like a mortgage on life!"

These statements are akin to the man on the torture rack convincing himself, "Hey, it isn't so bad, after all!"

Wen you say these things to yourself or hear them from your neighbor, you're just acclimatizing yourself to the new level of pain that you were experiencing.  You are now basically an opioid addict trying to suppress the chronic pain that is racking your body.

What threshold of pain theory illustrates, however, is that eventually something has to give.  People's threshold of pain eventually breaks and product and service providers no longer can get away with offering crappy service, as competitors will step in and offer better service for  a lower price. Low-resolution videos are no longer acceptable, not when high resolution is available from other sources. And eventually the angry mob overthrows the dictator, if the dictator cannot feed the angry mob.

On a personal level, eventually if you acquire more and more debt to have things today that you'll pay for tomorrow, something will break.  And it could be precipitated by the loss of a job or another economic setback, or a setback in the overall economy.   But when it does break, it breaks all at once and very suddenly - or at least appears to be very sudden, even though the warning signs were there many years ago.  You can build up your threshold of financial pain and endure it for quite a while, but a better approach, I think, is to keep your threshold of pain low, and avoid the resultant trap.

Jump out of the pot right away, before the water even gets warm!