12 Naughty Ways to Economize at Christmas

Via the terrific Girl on the Right Blog, these helpful suggestion from A. Nonymous:

Most of us are not doing God’s work trading credit derivatives at Goldman Sachs. You may be stunned when I tell you this, because I sure as heck was when I found out: the TARP program covers none of our credit card bills. Like, zero. All of that means another tough, tough Christmas, money-wise. The desperate economy calls for desperate measures to economize at Christmas. Here are twelve ways for the twelve days:

1. The first thing to do is to keep doing more of what you’re already doing: bitching and complaining. Cry poor mouth to everyone. Tell everyone you know how tough it is. Make a Bill Clinton face while you share people’s pain and make them feel yours. Next you say, “You know, let’s make it easy this year, you don’t have to buy me anything.” Of course, that means you don’t have an obligation to buy them anything! That works with everyone except your kids.

2. Tell your young kids Santa’s not real. Kids as young as four are old enough to get real in this day and age. In Indonesia and Pakistan kids are out sewing soccer balls to support a family at that age! So just explain to them that it’s all a scam meant to con them into good behavior, tell them how much you know they wouldn’t want to connive in such a fraud, and assure them you know they’ll behave perfectly well without bribery. They’ll thank you. Someday.

3. What about the older kids? They’re all so eco-conscious these days, and that’s an opportunity for the canny cheapskate. Just tell them instead of lame games for Wii and Xbox this year, you’re saving the planet on their behalf by planting a tree with their name on it in the Amazon! You can even work up some kind of authentic-looking certificate on the computer! People in the carbon-credit business are becoming billionaires doing just that, by the way.

4. You still feel you need some real gifts? Well how about re-gifts? You’ve been given things you never opened — herbal soap, crème brûlée mix, thermal bags for keeping wine cold — pass the parcel! Just try to remember not to give it to the person that gave it to you!

5. Books are such a popular item at Christmas. So many books can be had for free! Libraries put out boxes of new, unread, unmarked books that they want to get rid of. These include books about business, money, and investing that are still very attractive and were timely when they were published last year, but are entirely irrelevant under current conditions. Also look for container-loads of books about the Bush and Clinton administrations, and anything by Dick Morris. I don’t normally advocate illegal behavior, but one exception could be Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals. Bookstores are full of this one – it’s the Obama playbook! Somehow it just seems right to go in there and liberate a copy or three, comrade!

6. One of my cheap-ass friends used to always joke, “I wanted to buy you a big plant for Christmas, but GM wouldn’t sell.” What a laff riot, and it got him off the hook for ever buying anything! Of course, now GM desperately wants to sell all its plants, so the 2009 revision of that joke is, “I wanted to buy you a big plant for Christmas, but the Chinese bought them all!” Ha ha! Your friends
will be falling over, and they won’t even notice you didn’t buy a round of drinks!

7. Speaking of drinks, ‘tis the season to bend the elbow, so herewith some recommendations from Chateau Wang. First, drink cheap beer. The cheapest stuff in my local is also the original and greatest . . . it’s Miller at $3.99 a six-pack, compared to $5.29 for Miller Light. That make any sense to you? Me neither, they take stuff out and charge you more? Forget that! Next, drink cheap wine. André’s Cold Duck is back, it’s $4.99, and it’s as good as it was when you were fourteen and sneaked it in the kitchen after the Thanksgiving dinner was cleared away. (You know you did.)

8. As for food, the trick to economizing on food is not to cook any. Instead, head over to your brother’s house and scrounge Christmas dinner there. You need to go unannounced, early in the day, in case they have the same idea of coming over and scrounging from you. If that was the plan and your sister-in-law makes no move to put a turkey in the oven, give her one of your Miller’s and she’ll at least come through with some Dinty Moore. Note: If you were to show up on the doorstep at 7:00 AM, there are secondary benefits – you can reconnect with the Christmases of your childhood, when you punished everyone by getting up too early, and you’ll get breakfast too.

9. Here are the hard liquor recommendations from Chateau Wang. You want to drink cheap, cheap liquor too. The venerable and cheap bourbons and ryes from Old Huckaby, Rebel Heaven, and Elihu Walton lack the sophistication of single-malt Scotch, but they have all of the wallop! Also consider cheap and nasty tequila like Don Cheech and Señor Pepe brand – they mix great with green Gatorade!

10. You don’t feel you can scrounge 100% at your sister-in-law’s house? Try this recipe that will cost about 25 cents: Mix two cups of flour with a quarter teaspoon each of baking power and salt, and add up to two cups of water to make a heavy dough. Add a few raisins if you have any, tie it up in a clean handkerchief, and boil it in water until it’s time to go home. Then discard it. Tell them it’s the dumpling Oliver Twist had in the workhouse at Christmas. Your brother’s family doesn’t read! They won’t know! Ha ha! Give them a copy of Rules For Radicals.

11. Christmas trees are $60 at the VFW, and wreaths are $20. That make any sense to you? Me neither, so here you have many ways to go. You could wait until 4:30 on Christmas Eve, by which time the guy working at VFW will have gone home and abandoned whatever Charlie Brown Christmas trees he has left. Freebie! Option two, you may live in a place where trees are plentiful all around – neighbor’s yards, parks, and so on, if you “catch” my “drift” (wink wink!) Freebie! Another idea, if Border’s Bookstore actually survives far into this Christmas season, you may be able to buy one of the jokey artificial trees they had there last year – these things were some kind of intellectual joke, made with like a few bare wires covered in tinsel; this choice shows a certain post-modern hauteur which goes very well with Dinty Moore and Cold Duck. It’s about $5.99. But you can make it yourself, using wire coat-hangers, spray adhesive, and metallic flock or confetti. That’s a good thing!

12. Finally, we have to get control of this holiday again. Twelve days my wonderful arse! Our Jewish neighbors get by with just eight nights for Hanukkah, and even that is way too much noodle pudding. Let’s do away with this business of Christmas as a 3-month long retail opportunity. The retailers have been unloading container loads of useless crap from Yiwu, China into their Christmas displays since just after Labor Day! With the cheap and nasty Christmas I have outlined here, we can let them know that that is just not the way we want to be living anymore.

Have a happy.

Do Economic Freedom and Governance Indicators Tell Similar Stories About Human Flourishing?

This follows on from my last post: Do all well-being indicators tell similar stories about human flourishing? The indicators that I looked at did tend to tell similar stories – countries that have high average income levels also tend to have high rankings on other well-being indicators.

The purpose of this post is to extend the analysis to consider the institutions that are associated with human flourishing. There is a great deal of evidence that economic freedom is associated with high income levels and other aspects of human flourishing such as health and education. Evidence on the effects of democratic institutions is less clear, although the opportunity for citizens to participate in political processes may itself be viewed as an aspect of human flourishing.
A recent study by Michael Stroup (‘Economic freedom, democracy and the quality of life’ World Development, 35(1) 2007) has examined interactions between economic freedom and democracy on measures of health, education and disease prevention. The study found that while greater economic freedom consistently enhances a range of well-being measures, democracy has a smaller positive influence.

I accept that leaders (and potential leaders) of non-democratic countries with low levels of economic freedom may need to consider whether they should give higher priority to democracy or economic freedom when devising strategies to improve the well-being of citizens. There are good reasons, however, why democracy and economic freedom should be viewed as complementary rather than competing objectives. For example, rule of law is less problematic if there is a mechanism for political leaders who are suspected of considering themselves to be above the law to be voted out of office. Similarly, control of corruption is easier in a democracy where the public has power to dismiss corrupt leaders. It is possible for democratic rights to result in greater rent-seeking and less economic freedom, but non-democratic rulers do not necessarily promote economic freedom and widespread prosperity – some seek to benefit themselves and their cronies by impoverishing the general public.

The following table presents indicators of the performance of various societies in relation to two indexes of economic freedom and the World Bank’s governance indicators. As in the table in the preceding post, countries have been ranked by per capita income levels. The ratings of countries with performance in the top quartile for each indicator are shown against a green background, those for the second quartile are shown in yellow, the third quartile in orange and the fourth quartile in red.
The table shows that all the institutional indicators tend to tell a similar story about performance of various countries. There are, however, a few exceptions for ‘Voice and accountability’, reflecting particularly an absence of democratic institutions in some high-income and upper-middle income countries. In the case of United Arab Emirates and Kuwait this is associated with relatively poor performance in a range of well-being indicators, but that is less evident the case in Singapore and Hong Kong (as can be seen by comparing information in this table with the one in the preceding post).
All the indicators are strongly correlated with per capita income levels. A few countries manage to have high per capita incomes without a high level of economic freedom and good governance – but only by producing a huge amount of oil.
Indicators are defined and information sources are presented below the table. Hint: Click on the table for a clearer picture.

Income index: Real GDP per capita (rgdpl) for 2007 from the Penn World Table, expressed as a fraction of per capita GDP in the United Arab Emirates, the country with highest per capita GDP. Source: Alan Heston, Robert Summers and Bettina Aten, Penn World Table Version 6.3, Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income and Prices at the University of Pennsylvania, August 2009.
Economic Freedom (Fraser): According to the Fraser Institute’s definition, individuals have economic freedom when property they acquire without the use of force, fraud, or theft is protected from physical invasions by others and they are free to use, exchange, or give their property as long as their actions do not violate the identical rights of others. Data from the 2009 report (for 2007).

Economic Freedom (Heritage): The Heritage Foundation defines economic freedom as the right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself. Data from the 2009 report.

Voice and accountability: Index compiled by the World Bank capturing perceptions of the extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association and a free media.

Government effectiveness: Index compiled by the World Bank capturing perceptions of public services, the quality of the civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures, the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies.
Regulatory quality: Index compiled by the World Bank capturing perceptions of the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, and in particular the quality of contract enforcement, property rights, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence.

Control of corruption: Index compiled by the World Bank capturing perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as ‘capture’ of the state by elites and private interests.

Consumers Are Driving Heady Q4 GDP

The majority of US consumers are no longer on the sidelines. On Friday the numbers point to strong retail sales for two months in a row.

Overall US retail sales in November spiked by 1.3% after a healthy 1.1% gain in October. November’s increase was well above the consensus estimates breaking above even the most optimistic estimate. Keep in mind that these numbers are significant components of the overall GDP for the US. When annualized they equated to a heady 13.2% increase in October and 15.6% in November.

Sales were led by a 6.0% month over month jump in gasoline sales with additional strength in electronics & appliances. Auto dealers’ month to month sales were also up 2.0%.

Categories that also rose were building materials & garden equipment, food & beverage stores, health & personal care, sporting goods & hobby stores, general merchandise, non-store retailers, and food services & drinking places.

Friday’s reading indicates the consumer has much more strength than most anybody had previously believed. There is no doubt now that the strong retail sales numbers will result in a Q4 GDP reading well above Q3.