“Wealthy” households living hand-to-mouth

Princeton economists Greg Kaplan and Justin Weidner, along with Giovanni Violante of New York University recently concluded something we already knew: those our government tries to paint as “wealthy” actually own a lot of assets they cannot readily access, and are living paycheck-to-paycheck, much like the poor, at whom the government focuses aid.

And because these people, for the most part, only have access to their regular paychecks, “The wealthy hand- to-mouth… behave in many respects like households with little or no net worth, yet they escape standard definitions and empirical measurements based on the distribution of net worth,” conclude the economists.

Now, I’m not going to tell you to pass around a collection plate for these poor souls. They are, for the most part, educated, and the financial shocks they experience only last a couple of years. But if you’re wondering what happens to these people’s money, let me give you a personal example.

Pretend I have a house. Said house is worth $500,000. I have $50,000 in a 401K plan. I also have a job. Said job pays me $150,000 per year. One would think that I’m sitting pretty, right?

Well, no. Not really. I can’t exactly sell the house right now. It’s not easy. It requires resources I just don’t have right now. I can’t take money out of my retirement plan – not without substantial penalties that will cut my $50,000 significantly. My job is great, but 35 percent of my paycheck disappears. After federal and state taxes, Social Security, and medical and dental deductions, I’m only taking home 65 percent of my pay.

That still seems like a lot, right?

401(k) Plans Teeter on the Fiscal Cliff

Among the many tax “loopholes” on the chopping block in the fiscal cliff negotiations are the 401(k) contribution limits.  Liberals like to refer to tax deductions, deferrals, and exemptions as “spending through the tax code,” or “tax expenditures.”  Of course, there are certain tax subsidies and credits that might best be described as spending (e.g., subsidized coverage on the Obamacare exchanges).

But conservatives and libertarians recognize that private property rights are at the foundation of individual liberty, and that any just government must be dedicated to protecting the individual’s right to the fruits of his labor.  Treating a legitimate tax deduction as government spending presumes that the government has a right to those fruits by default - that we are privileged to retain any such fruits, and the government spends its funds in permitting it.  This confiscatory mindset is foreign to our founding and inconsistent with our nature.

The proposed changes to 401(k) contribution limits are a good example of the threats to economic liberty we face as the revenue hawks continue to scour the tax code for backhanded tax increases.

What is a 401(k) Plan?

The traditional 401(k) plan is a method of tax deferral.  You contribute with pre-tax dollars, the account grows tax-free, and you pay ordinary income tax on the distributions when you retire.  If your employer offers a Roth option, you can contribute with after-tax dollars, and both the gains and distributions will be tax-free.  In 2012, employees can elect to contribute up to $17,000, and the total employer/employee combined contribution limit is $50,000.

What’s Being Proposed?

On Every Question of Construction

A couple of items in the news lately have brought the judiciary back into the consciousness of the American public; the announced retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and the recent decision by federal judge Barbara Crabb in Wisconsin in which she ruled that the National Day of Prayer is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In the rulings of both justices we find an egregious disrespect for the plain meaning of the Constitution, and it is a failure of the American people to learn the Constitution that has allowed us to stray so far.

As a nation, we have reached a point where we bestow upon the courts an unjustified level of deference to their perceived wisdom. In fact, the Founding Fathers created the judiciary to be the weakest of the three branches, vested as they are with lifetime appointments.

Thomas Jefferson wrote (in a letter to William C. Jarvis, 1820) that “To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so.” Yet today we have allowed the courts to be elevated to the level of an oligarchy, where we accept rulings that are clearly unaligned with the Constitution without so much as a whimper.

Podcast: 10th Amendment Summit, Joseph Stacks, CPAC, Bayh’s Retirement, 2010 Midterms, Guests: Ray McBerry & Mike Hassinger

This week, Jason and Brett speak with Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Ray McBerry (you may recall his Liberty Candidate interview with us) and United Liberty contributor and political consultant Mike Hassinger on this week’s show.  Unfortunately, Mr. McBerry’s schedule only allowed him to join us for the first topic.

Together, they discussed:

Podcast: Liberty Candidate - Marlin Stutzman (U.S. Senate - Indiana)

Continuing our “Liberty Candidate Series” of interviews, Jason and Brett talk with Marlin Stutzman, discussing the retirement of Evan Bayh (D-IN), Hoosier jobs, energy policy, and fiscal conservatism.  Stutzman is one of five Republican candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat this year.

This special edition podcast is the seventh in a series devoted to showcasing liberty candidates nationwide.

You can download the podcast here. The introduction music is “Silence is Violence” by the always lovely Aimee Allen.

You can subscribe to the RSS of JUST our podcasts here, or you can find our podcasts on iTunes here.

Bayh’s Retirement Not Hurting Democrats As Much As Most Think It Will

After absorbing the news from every outlet on earth yesterday, even our own editor’s take, on the “surprise” retirement of Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, I have to say that analysts are not considering all the “good” that can come from his retirement from the U.S. Senate.  It seems that everyone predicts a Republican to pick up his seat in November.  Lately, I have been among the few to see some things that ebb against the accepted flow in analyzing races and situations.  This is another such ebb.

I think the reason that Bayh waited until Presidents’ Day to announce his retirement was to prevent someone relatively unknown, like Tamyra d’Ippolito, from garnering the nomination without a primary election AND without their seal of approval by collecting the requisite signatures necessary to get on the primary ballot.  The Democrats have an opportunity to select a candidate, since it seems that d’Ippolito did not achieve the 4500 signatures necessary to get on the ballot.  If she had, that is the WORST CASE SCENARIO for Democrats.  By waiting, Bayh almost assured that the state Democrat Party could spend time vetting, choosing and fundraising for someone “moderate” enough to win the state, but “progressive” enough to fully support the agenda of the party for the next six years.  While d’Ippolito likely fills out the latter, there is no chance she can accommodate the former.

Is the Obama Administration coming for your 401(k)?

Every now and again there is story about how some group is lobbying for government to takeover private 401(k) plans. Not much ever comes out of it, just an acknowledgment of something most of us already know…the government wants our money.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that the Obama Administration wants to encourage retirement account holders to convert to an annuity:

The Obama administration is weighing how the government can encourage workers to turn their savings into guaranteed income streams following a collapse in retiree accounts when the stock market plunged.

The U.S. Treasury and Labor Departments will ask for public comment as soon as next week on ways to promote the conversion of 401(k) savings and Individual Retirement Accounts into annuities or other steady payment streams, according to Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi and Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Mark Iwry, who are spearheading the effort.

The “good news,” using that term loosely, is that it’s voluntary…at least for now. How long would that last? Probably not long. You also have to question the use of the word “annuity.” Social Security is basically an annuity, though there are some differences. Why not just say you’d be investing your retirement in the Social Security system?

Podcast: Senate Retirement, Air Marshals, Full Body Scanners, Michael Yon, ObamaCare, Pottawattamie vs. McGhee, & More

Jason and Brett traveled to Birmingham, Alabama this weekend, gathering quite a panel to discuss the political news of the week.  They were joined by Charles Kennedy, Austin Wilkes, Shana Kluck, Stephen Gordon, and Brooklyn Roberts.

The discussion covered:

Social Security: The Biggest Ponzi Scheme

In 1920, Italian immigrant, Charles Ponzi, developed a scheme which promised high-yield returns on the arbitrage and trade of international postal reply coupons. It sounds like a fancy scheme even today and it fooled many investors at the time. Ponzi, however, was not actually making such investments. He was taking money from new investors, drawn by the promise of high returns, to pay off past investors. A brilliant little scheme except for the fact that it is essentially stealing and fraudulent. This basic framework is now called a Ponzi scheme, and former NASDAQ chairman, Bernard Madoff, has been implicated in what may be the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time.

And now some good news: People are living longer than ever before

wsj graph

Let’s talk about something positive: The future. A front page story in the Wall Street Journal today reports that people are living longer. Men have added 2 years to their life expectancy and women have added 2.4 years. We are living longer, and it is a beautiful thing — even better if we prepare for it.

From the story:

Life expectancy for men and women is on the rise because fewer are smoking and there is better medical treatment, said Dale Hall, managing director of research for Society of Actuaries.

The actuarial group’s figures differ from other mortality estimates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this month that the average 65-year-old man would live to be 82.9 years old, while the average 65-year-old woman would live to be 85.5 years old.

The life expectancy from birth for the total U.S. population was 78.8 years old, the agency said. (That figure is markedly lower than the others because it factors in the deaths of Americans who never reach age 65.)

Most of us don’t live to work, but we do work to live. Whether we like our jobs or not, work is a part of life. What’s more, if you want to live a long time, you had better work for it. And you ought to plan ahead.

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