Adequacy of State Employee Retirement Benefits

Adequacy of State Employee Retirement Benefits

Public pension benefits:

Amount[1] average full-career state government retiree gets per year,

not including social security:                                                 $34,308[2]

National average[3] social security benefit:                             $14,800 a year[4]

Add retirement benefit and social security benefit:              $49,108

Incomes of Montanans:

Montana median wage: $14.79                                               $29,580 a year

Montana average weekly wage[5] 2013: $705.                        $35,250[6]

Montana per capita income 2012:                                         $37,300[7]

Montana median household income:                                                 $43,226[8]

[1] MPERA CAFR page 281

[2] AEI: Not So Modest: Pension Benefits for Full-Career State Government Employees. Andrew Biggs

[3] Social security benefit for someone who worked all their adult life and retired at 65: 41%[3] of past earnings. For teachers that would be $20-24,000 a year



[6] for 50 weeks, 2.7% more than government retirees receive



What Causes Poverty?

I asked a convenience store clerk this question.
She said, “What’s your answer?”
I said I was looking for answers from others and not giving answers.
She said forcefully, “Lack of ambition.”

I asked a grocery clerk.
She was heavily tattooed. Some piercing holes remained above her eyebrows.
She said, “People who are idiots.”
She said she was pretty much in poverty.
“You can do all you should and if the others don’t do…(I can’t remember her words well enough to reconstruct them), you’ll be in poverty.

I asked a retail store stocker .
He said, “I know in Illinois, where I’m from, the big problem is that if you’re under the poverty line and you work too much, they takes away all your benefits. I think that’s a big problem. I don’t know how it works in Montana.”


Trek-onomics: Awash in Beads


Some LDS youth trekked over the course of several days near the border of Oregon and Idaho, reminiscent of early Mormon pioneers. They were organized into mock family structures, with an adult male and an adult female as “parents.”


Camp directors brought beads to use as a form of money. Young people could earn a bead for good behavior, for helpfulness, etc. Every night the trading post would open and kids could buy Gatorade, ice-cold water, small chocolate bars or bracelets with their beads. At first the price of Gatorade was two beads and ice-cold water was one bead.


Directors gave parents quantities of beads. Parents freely dispensed beads. Soon the money supply outbalanced the goods available. The price for an ice-cold water on the secondary market went to ten beads. People pilfered ice from the coolers, just because the prohibitions on doing so were not clear or because it was easy and desirable. A lukewarm water that wiser heads had stockpiled, predicting inflation, sold for 4 beads.


Eventually people did not want beads because no matter how many you accumulated, you couldn’t buy anything with them. They were worthless, like German million mark notes.


One of the older girls asked the directors if they had planned this exercise to teach a lesson. No, they hadn’t predicted the consequences, though the girl could see from the first moment that, with them giving out bags of beads free, a monetary debacle would ensue.


Towards the end of the trek, youth were using “real” money that they had brought from home to procure the things they wanted from each other.


Unearned income, inflation, supply and demand, baseless currency, acquisitiveness, human nature, self-interest, the function of prices: these concepts the adults should have known.


Rulers continue to debase currencies for their own ends. It’s a story as old as that told in Goethe’s Faust and as new as Kirchner’s Argentina today.


Bags of beads, limited water bottles.

Changing an Inner Tube

Changing an Inner Tube


Things had gotten bad. I took my bike to the photography studio Friday to pick up a CD. I took a tire pump in my side bag because in the past few weeks, my tire had been going flat between each bicycle trip. This day, it was seriously flat, after only pumping it up the day before.


The tire needed inflating one mile from home, then twice more before reaching the photographer’s. On the way home, it only needed pumping up twice.


So it was time to replace the inner tube.


I thought how the last time I had a flat bike tire, I put the bike in the back of my pickup, dropped it off at the bicycle shop for part of the day, and picked it up after the technicians performed the task.


This time I thought, “How hard can it be? I’ll do this myself.” I had done this a few times in adolescence, then even repairing holes with rubber patches and glue.


I am adroit at many skills, but bicycle repairs leave me feeling mystified; they challenge my mechanical confidence.


I strode out to the garage where the bicycled slumped sadly forward on its limp tire. The first task was clearly to remove the wheel from the fork. Clearly. I know this first step. I had noticed a clasp lever that looked suspiciously like the member that would instantly release the wheel, and like it would easily yield to the strength of my hand. Now I noticed another impediment: brakes. How should I relieve the brakes so the wheel and tire could escape their clutch? I thought of loosening nuts but my bicycle toolbox was woefully non-existent. Then I thought of YouTube. Surely it would be of help.


I found several videos to choose from. Some were seven minutes in length. Seven minutes to teach me how to remove the front wheel? Yikes! I found one that was under three minutes and watched it. The technician showed undoing the simple catch that when freed releases the brakes. As I walked back to the garage, I thought how elementary this would be to the enlightened bike owner and how I should feel silly even having to consult YouTube, (YourTube?). Then I relaxed, having seen that 22,000 other people had viewed that video. It’s not just me.


The technique was a snap; the brake pads spread. I flipped the quick-release lever. The wheel axle did not immediately come out of the slot on the fork. I went back to the video; I had stopped it at the two minute mark. The technician showed releasing the axle nut a few turns, (counterclockwise, duh!) Of course I had tried that but stopped after half a turn, feeling unsure. The video was all I needed to get past this mystery.


Now the wheel was off, brandished in my capable hands.


I headed for the bike shop carrying the wheel, tire and tube. I did not trust myself to pick the right inner tube just from notes of some cryptic numbers stamped into the rubber. The store clerk could not ask me any confusing questions about what kind of bike I have, what kind of tire, only to tell me that I would have to call my wife to look for a different set of numbers; what was called for would be plainly evident.


I showed the wheel and tire. The clerk drew a boxed tube from the shelf and we went to the point of sale. He asked if I wanted him to install the tube. I had already made this decision. I told him that I was trying to be more self-reliant and would do it myself. “Cheap” is probably what he thought. The tube was $5.49 and he wanted $12.50 to install it, including the cost of the tube!


He would probably do it in 2 minutes. That’s 60 minutes/2 minutes x $7.01, or $210.30 an hour. Why pay that when I can go home and earn $.35 an hour doing it myself?


At home, I stuffed the tube inside its compartment, snapped the tire back over the wheel edge with just a little difficulty, and pumped up the tire. The wheel reinstalled easily on the fork and I returned the brakes to their ready position. Now I feel a pride of accomplishment and a sense of community with 22,000 YouTube viewers just like me.

Universal Secrets of Happiness

I asked a bicycle mechanic today, “Are there any universal secrets of happiness,” and then to lighten it up, “besides biking?”

He said, “No, that about covers it. Except maybe for skiing.”

Doctor Shortage

“Liberia has one doctor for every 71,428 people, the world’s second-lowest rate.” WSJ August 23-24, 2014, The Challenge of West Africa

Could central planning of health care lead to doctor shortages even here?

For evidence of Liberia’s national approach to health care delivery see:

Click to access s18363en.pdf

I searched this document for “committed to” and found familiar platitudes.

Pepsi, Doritos and Ben and Jerry’s Best for Food Stamps

From AdAge:

Confirming other research, InfoScout finds people using food stamps buy more carbonated soft drinks (Coke indexes 142 and Pepsi 194 among the group) and snacks (Doritos indexes 210). More surprisingly, food-stamp recipients also overindex on Ben & Jerry’s (indexing at 178 for the group) and Haagen Dazs (156) ice cream. InfoScout also found P&G’s long efforts to contemporize Old Spice have worked to the point that its buyers are younger than those of Unilever‘s Axe, indexing at 197 for buyers under 24 vs. 142 for Axe and at 75 for the 35-to-54 demos, where Axe is about average.


Obamacare’s Promise Hits Me

White House Web page: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”

I just opened this letter from my health insurance company:

Health policy notice screenshot












Universal Secrets of Happiness

I asked a young desk clerk if there were any universal secrets of happiness.

He had ready answers.

“Stick with the family. A loving pet. Have a nice dinner with the wife. Cherish everyone you meet.”


Later, I asked a grocery clerk the same question.

She said glumly, “I don’t think so.”

I asked, “Are there any things that a person can do to or think to be happy?”

She did not respond.

I asked, “What makes you happy?”

She said, “My horsey.”


Universal Secrets of Happiness?

I asked a clerk at the grocery store today if there were any universal secrets of happiness.

He said, “I’m not sure.”


I asked if there were any universal secrets of unhappiness.

He said, “I’m not sure. Are there?”


I said, “The question is for you.”


I said, “What makes you happy?”


He said, “Hanging out with friends, people you love and care about.”


I said, “Is that universal?”


He said he thought so and I agreed. Aristotle would agree.


Love and friendship.