A Philosopher's Blog

The Debt Ceiling

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on July 27, 2011
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The United States is currently at risk of hitting and then breaking the debt ceiling. While the general consensus among rational people is that this would be rather bad, congress (as I am writing) has yet to settle the matter.

On the one hand, raising the debt ceiling seems to be a no-brainer. After all, doing so has been business as usual and it has been done most often under Republican presidents. More importantly, the consequences of not doing so are supposed to be rather bad-hence it would seem to make sense t0 simply follow the usual process and raise the ceiling.

On the other hand, there are some legitimate concerns about simply raising the debt ceiling. First, the mere fact that it has been done repeatedly in the past is hardly a good reason to do it now. To believe that what is commonly done is right because it is commonly done is, of course, the classic fallacy of appeal to common practice.  To believe that something should be done because it has been done in the past and is thus something of a tradition is, of course, the fallacy of appeal to tradition. That said, it is still reasonable to ask (as a legitimate use of burden of proof) why the established policy should be changed now. This leads to the second point.

Second, think of the national debt as being analogous to a bar tab and Americans as heavy drinkers. Like a regular at a bar, we have simply raised our tab over and over again. However, there seems to come a time (perhaps now) when the barkeep should insist that the tab not increase again and that it be paid off. To insist on just raising the tab and continuing to drink the future is to act, obviously enough, like a selfish and thoughtless drunk. The responsible and correct thing to do is not ask for a bigger tab limit and to pay off the existing debt. Likewise, America needs to sober up, set a reasonable debt ceiling and pay off that debt. After all, we want to be a great nation and not that pathetic drunk in the corner, begging for booze and money.

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Debt Collection

Posted in Business by Michael LaBossiere on November 29, 2010
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Friday night I received a call from the Takhar Group saying that I needed to call them immediately or visit their web site. However, the call did not identify the purpose of the call nor did it specify who was being called, so I assumed it was some sort of scam.  I did decide to check the site and found out that it is a collection agency. Since I only owe money on my mortgage and one credit card (and my payments are up to date), I knew the call was not for me (or should not be for me).

I have gotten many calls in the past for people with my last name as well as for people with totally different names. I assume that the collection agencies just call anyone with the same (or similar) last name in the rough area or that the people who are in debt used my number in place of their own. Either that, or they had the number 18 years ago, before it was mine, and used that when getting into debt.

While I am not actually being badly harassed by such mistaken calls, it is annoying. For a while it was extremely bad-I would get a call or two everyday on my answering machine. In some cases I was able to call the company and convince them that I was not the person they were looking for. In other cases, the calls just stopped.

Because of these experiences, I think that collection agencies should be required to confirm phone numbers before calling. When calling, they should be required to identify themselves as collection agencies, state who they are collecting for, and state the name of the intended target. They should also provide a clear means by which the wrongly called can stop receiving these calls. Leaving a vague message to call is simply not adequate.

I do understand that collection agencies can be engaged in legitimate operations and that they need to use various means to find people and collect. However, I am tired of being annoyed by agencies trying to collect debts from people who are not me.

Of course, my annoyance pales beside the horror stories of people who have been subject to far more serious misdeeds and outright illegal activity at the claws of unscrupulous (or incompetent) collection agencies.

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Easy Money

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 7, 2010
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The alleged purpose of the various bailouts was to stabilize the economy and to set the groundwork for a recovery. However, the reality seems to be that the bailouts are enriching the financial companies at the expense of the taxpayers.

While the massive gifts of cash to these companies are a thing of the past (for now), they are now able to exploit incredibly low interest rates to generate significant profits. The banks are also apparently still able to profit from their toxic assets, including entire banks, by getting taxpayers to continue to take care of their problems.

This is hardly surprising. Despite all the talk about the Democrats being socialist and Obama being anti-business, the fact seems to be that things are just as they have always been. The folks in power, in general, see to it that the financial companies are well taken care of and that taxpayer money gets funneled to the right places.

This transference of money from the taxpayers to the financial folks seems to be rather unfair. After all, the financial folks were largely to blame for the financial mess. They also seem to be doing nothing to really earn this money, but rather are simply being handed profits at the expense of everyone else.  Given the large number of unemployed Americans, it would seem a better choice to use the money to help them, rather than to pile even more profits into the corporate coffers.

As a final point, given the rather large federal deficit, it would seem to make sense to curb the channeling of money into these financial institutions. After all, why should the nation go into debt so that these few might profit even more?

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Buy Insurance or Pay a Fine?

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 24, 2010
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Very soon Americans will be forced to buy health insurance. Individuals who fail to buy insurance and companies with over 50 employees that do not provide insurance will be fined. As such, the compulsive power of the state is being used to force people and companies to buy/provide insurance.

While having health insurance is an excellent idea, it can be argued that this should be a matter of choice. One easy way to argue for this is that people should only be compelled when doing so is necessary to prevent harm to others. The fact that something is a good idea or would be beneficial is not adequate justification for the use of compulsion. Obviously enough, I’m following Mill’s arguments about liberty here. In the case of health insurance, a person not having it would not harm others. As such, people should not be compelled to buy insurance. Another way to argue for this is to contend that such a fine violates the right of choice. If it is assumed (or argued) that people have a right to make decisions about their own well being, then having the state compel people to buy insurance would seem to violate that right. Yet another concern is that people are being forced by the state to buy a commercial product. If the state forced people to buy laptops or books, then that would be seen as absurd. After all, what business does the state have in making us buy things from companies?

Of course, it can also be argued that the state should use it compulsive power to force us to buy insurance. In reply to the first argument, it can be argued that a lack of insurance does harm the rest of us. After all, it has been argued that people who are uninsured cost taxpayers a considerable sum of money. If this is true, then the harm done by the uninsured would seem to justify the state using its compulsive force to prevent such harms. This can also be employed against the second argument. After all, an individual’s right to chose generally ends when that choice can harm another. For example, I can chose to drink, but if I chose to drink and drive, then the state has the right to stop me. Likewise, a person can chose to life an unhealthy lifestyle, but they have no right to expect others to pick up the bill for their medical expenses.

In the case of the third argument, it can be pointed out that we are already compelled to buy auto insurance. But, we are not forced to buy from any specific company, so this might be seen as acceptable. Of course, there still seems to be a concern that we are required by law to buy a commercial product. In this case, the arguments for why the private companies are better than the government can be trotted out. After all, if it is acceptable for the state to compel us to buy insurance, then we have to buy it from someone and the choices would seem to be between the state and the private sector. Assuming the private companies are better, then we should buy our insurance from them.

In my own case, I got insurance as soon as I could. After graduate school, I was without health insurance and had to pay all my medical expenses out of pocket. If I had been seriously injured, the medical expenses would have broken me financially. That said, I find the idea of being forced by the state to buy insurance rather annoying and a violation of my liberty. Of course, I also recognize that the general good often requires giving up some liberties. The question is, of course, whether the gain to the general good is worth the cost.

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Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 8, 2010
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While the AARP presents itself as being a champion of retired people, some members have left its folds because of its recent health care lobbying efforts.

The gist of the criticism is that the AARP, which brands a variety of insurances, is acting in its own financial interest rather than in the best interest of its members. While it is reasonable to except a business to be in the business of making a profit, the AARP is supposed (or so the critics claim) to act for the best interest of its members rather than to be in the business of maximizing its profits.

Of course, the AARP has an obvious reply-while they are making profits, they also claim to be acting for the good of their members. This is, of course, a factual matter that can be sorted out by crunching the numbers (profits for the AARP relative to the benefits gained by the AARP members).

Of course, the AARP is not the only organization that presents itself as serving the interest of its members while also making a profit. While I am not yet old enough for the AARP, I do belong to the NEA. When I joined the faculty union in Florida, I also got a membership in this national organization.

Naturally, I had thought that the NEA was supposed to lobby and act in the interest of educators. However, I soon learned that the NEA was also in the credit card and insurance business. I regularly get junk mail (paid for by my dues, no doubt) pushing NEA credit cards and insurance. While I am for organizations providing benefits, it struck me as bit odd that my union was involved in such things. After all, my thought is that the NEA should be involved in doing what it is supposed to do and this does not include credit cards and insurance.

One obvious concern about such groups being involved in insurance and credit cards is that they now have a motive to make money and this can lead to a conflict of interest. After all, the NEA and AARP are (in theory) supposed to be acting in the interest of their members. However, if they are also in the business of pushing insurance, then this can be a bit of a conflict.

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Extra Credit, Again

Posted in Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on November 20, 2009
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As the end of the semester draws nigh, I am being asked the inevitable question: “do you offer extra credit?” Although I start the semester by telling the students that I do not, the folks who ask about it are generally not the sort of folks who pay careful attention in class.

Having been asked this question countless times, I have a set response. Actually, a series of responses-people are usually not content with “no” and I usually have to spend a few minutes or even half an hour explaining why there is no extra credit in my class.

First, I point out that my classes have “extra credit like” stuff built in. In all my classes I drop at least 5 low quiz scores and only keep the best 3 of 4 tests. In classes with a paper, the students are required to do an early draft, they get to revise it for weeks, and they even get +5 points added on just for being them.

Second, I point out that adding more work would not mean that the person would do better. After all, if someone needs extra credit, then that means that they are not doing well on the work to date. So, I suggest that rather than asking for an increase in the workload, they should probably focus on doing better on the work that remains. After all, someone who is doing bad work will most likely continue in that trend if given more work.

If the student points out that there is very little work left, I counter by pointing out that since the grades are posted online from day one, they should have been aware of their grades long ago.

At that point, the student often looks at me like I just don’t get it. By “extra credit” they tend to mean “free points” (that is what it meant when I was a student) and all this talk about work is no doubt very confusing. Obviously, I have no reason to hand out free points just because someone takes a few minutes to ask about extra credit.

Third, I point out that if I give one student extra credit, then I have to make the same offer to everyone. But, If I were going to do that, I would  have just included that “extra credit” work in the class (and the student would no doubt do poorly on that as well).

Students, obviously, counter by pointing out that they are special. I counter by pointing out that everyone thinks that and every student can come up with some reason why I should give him or her extra credit. Which just goes back to the need to offer it to everyone and hence to the reply that I would have just put it in the class to begin with.

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Posted in Business, Medicine/Health, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 13, 2009
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While the medical insurance companies seemed to be on board for health care reform, they recently commissioned and released a study that seems to be a shot at this reform. This study alleges that there will be a 111% increase in premiums from 2009 to 2016 if the Baucus plan passes. Of course, insurance premiums somehow always seem to increase, so the projected increase without the plan is 79%. The folks in the Congressional Budget Office take issue with the numbers presented by the industry study.

One obvious problem is that both the folks in industry and the folks at the CBO are interested parties in this matter. This does not entail that they are mistaken (though at least one of them must be), but it does provide reasonable grounds for being suspicious of their claims. While some experts have taken issue with the industry numbers, all of the speculation is just that-speculation. While some intelligent estimates can be made about future premiums and how they will be impacted by this or that, such predictions must be taken for what they are.

Of course, the industry claim that rates will increase can be seen not just as a prediction but also as something of a threat. I’ll run through the logic. As noted above, the industry seemed to have been on board with the plan, but dropped this bomb at the last minute. I suspect that the industry was on board with the part of the plan that required everyone to have insurance. After all, what industry would be against a plan that mandated by law that people would have to buy their product? Of course, the plan also required that insurance companies insure folks that have pre-existing conditions. Currently, insurance companies do not generally do that-after all, you don’t make much profit on insurance selling it to folks who will almost certainly need to use it. As far as I can tell, they were willing to make a trade-off: they would insure those with pre-existing conditions in return for the guarantee of all those new, legally mandated customers. Presumably a little number crunching revealed that the loses from insuring those with pre-existing conditions would be nicely offset by these new customers.

Of course, while people would be legally required to buy insurance, the current plan allows a way out. If someone does not buy insurance, then she must pay a penalty to the federal government. While this penalty is significant, apparently it is not harsh enough to ensure that enough people  (from the standpoint of the insurance folks) will purchase insurance rather than pay the penalty. After all, some people chose to go without insurance now and presumably some of these folks would make the same choice if the penalty was sufficiently less than the cost of insurance.

If enough people elect to take the penalty rather than get health insurance, then the industry will not (as they see it) have enough new income to offset the loss of insuring those with pre-existing conditions. As such, the reason for the last minute dissent is evident.

As a final point, I find it interesting that they are effectively telling us this: “If we don’t get what we want, we’ll jack up your rates 111%. If we get what we want, the jacking will only be 79%. You get jacked no matter what, but you should be used to that by now.”

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Debt Collection Abuses

Posted in Business, Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on September 23, 2009
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Debt collectors generally have a bad reputation, but it has gotten even worse in the past year. Because of the economic mess, more folks are unable to pay their debts and the folks who are owed money need it even more badly. This has, not surprisingly, caused a surge in the intensity of debt collection tactics.

While abusive tactics are illegal and there have been recent crack downs, the problem of abusive tactics remains. Recently I saw a segment on CNN about a pending case in which it is being claimed that debt collectors literally hounded a man to death. The individual in question was out of work due to a heart condition and the collectors made mention of this in their calls, thus showing that they were quite aware of it.

While it seems somewhat unlikely that the needed causal connection between the collectors’ actions and the death will be established, it does seem likely that the collectors will be in some legal trouble in regards to their tactics.

While I am not in debt, I can attest to how annoying and harassing debt collectors can be. For the past week I have been getting a call each day from a collection agency looking for someone who just happens to have my last name. While the automated calls are not particularly rude, they are certainly annoying. This has also happened before, so I assume that debt collectors often do not believe they have an obligation to determine who they are calling. Since I find the calls I get rather annoying, I can imagine just how unpleasant it can be for folks who actually owe money.

While I do believe that folks who owe money are obligated to pay it back, debt collection agencies are also obligated to act within the law (obviously) and they are also not exempt from morality. As such, they should stay within the boundaries of the law or be properly punished.

If you do owe money and are dealing with debt collectors, it is important that you know your rights and the laws that debt collectors must follow. Obviously, you should not simply assume that they are following the law, especially if they are acting in ways that you find threatening, insulting, or harassing. While they do have a legal right to collect the debt, they must also operate within the law. If you believe that a debt collector is acting in a way that violate your rights or the law, then contact your state Attorney General’s office (www.naag.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).

While some folks think that the government is inefficient and good for nothing, the folks in the AG and FTC can actually help you.

Speaking of the government, while there are laws limiting the actions of debt collection agencies, it seems likely that the state and private sector should address this problem. After all, there seem to be many folks who are in debt and cannot pay. This harms them as well as the folks they owe money. While I do not think that the state should bail people out, this problem does need to be addressed. Naturally, I’d like to put in a request that debt collectors cannot just call people who happen to have the last name of someone they are looking for.

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FAQs for Obama’s Health Care Plan

Posted in Humor, Medicine/Health, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 22, 2009

Q: Does Obama have a health care plan?
A: Yes. Much like Hitler had a plan.

Q: Speaking of Hitler, I heard that the health care plan will be a Nazi plan. Is this true?
A: Nothing could be further from the truth.

Q: Whew, that is a relief…
A: Wait, I’m not done answering. It will be ten thousand times worse than the Nazis. At least. Probably much worse.

Q: Um, yeah. I also heard that Obama plans to kill old people. Is that true?
A: Not at all. Killing them would waste valuable resources. His plan is to put them to work at GM. After they drop dead assembling socialist cars, any usable organs will be harvested and the leftover bits will be made into pet food. Or maybe people food, perhaps something called Soylent Gray. You know, like in the movie.

Q: Soylent Green?
A: Yes. That one.

Q: Health care sounds expensive. How will Obama pay for it?
A: He’ll tax the f@ck out of everybody. Especially people like you. He’ll double f@ck you. I bet you won’t like that.

Q: What if the tax money isn’t enough?
A: He’ll sell the old people’s organs to the Chinese. Plus, there is already a deal in the works with Purina and McDonalds for the other bits.

Q: Really?
A: Yes. Here, try a sample McPerson burger.

Q: Any trans fat in it?
A: No. McPerson meat is 100% trans fat free. Plus it is free range and organic. By that I mean that the old people sleep outside when they aren’t making cars and they mostly eat what they can find around the factories. Things like weeds, mice and pigeons. Sometimes each other. It is best not to ask, really.

Q: Back to health care. What can I expect to get from the plan?
A: Taxed. And double f@cked taxed.

Q: I mean, what about my medical care?
A: Well, a Nazi bureaucrat will get between you and your doctor. Plus, you’ll have no choice. If the bureaucrat says that you need a hysterectomy, then you get one.

Q: A hysterectomy? But I’m a man.
A: You won’t be after that operation. But that was just an example. Maybe he’ll decide that you need to be euthanized. It is all up to the bureaucrats. They will probably just spin a wheel or something to see what to do. But in any case you’ll have to wait a long time before seeing a doctor. You’ll probably be dead long before your appointment.

Q: Can I keep my old insurance? I have Blue Cross and Blue Shield?
A: No. Obama is going to round up all the people who work for insurance companies and put them into camps. Like I said, it is a Nazi health care plan. You can keep your old plan, but everyone who worked for that company won’t need health care anymore. If you get what I mean.

Q: Is this all true?
A: As far as you know.

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