Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/24/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. Making the round this morning: Social Security, youth unemployment, and health insurance “hustlin’.”

"Social Security Heading for Insolvency Even Faster," by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar (Associated Press). We, like most of the Internet, are still reeling from the new government forecast that predicts the Social Security Trust Fund will run dry in 2033, three years earlier than previously predicted. The Medicare prediction stayed steady at 2024. (Politics editor David Morris emailed with this comforting note: “The payroll tax from employers and employees would still bring enough to pay 75 percent of the full benefit at that point, even if no changes are made between then and now. So a benefit cut, yes, but not a benefit elimination. The problem will be fixed, at some point. It always is. Too risky politically to let the reduction come about, and still plenty of time to fix it.”)

"Report Finds Wave of Mexican Immigration to U.S. Has Ended," by Paloma Esquivel and Hector Becerra (LA Times). America’s sluggish economy hasn’t just impacted its homegrown workforce. A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center finds that Mexican immigration has slowed to a “standstill,” largely because of the economic downturn.

"53% of Recent College Grads Are Jobless or Underemployed — How?" By Jordan Weissman (The Atlantic). A recent AP analysis found that one in two young college graduates are out of work or underemployed. Mitt Romney seized on the report as evidence of Obama’s failure on economic policy. But Weissman has another take: He argues that, economically speaking, college just isn’t for everyone.

"Of the 1%, By the 1%, For the 1%," by Joseph Stiglitz (Vanity Fair). An unusually lyrical look at what income inequality means now — and how it could topple the economy in the future. Regarding the Middle East protests, Stiglitz writes: “As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.”

"No Sympathy for the Creative Class," by Scott Timberg (Salon). On the economics of making it as an artist. (They’re not great.) And on that note…

"Out of Work, Out to California," by Rachael Maddux (The Billfold). A music critic reflects on the time she spent unemployed after her magazine folded.

In other news: Some state governments save money by legalizing fireworks, one Good writer goes to extraordinary lengths to make it without health insurance, and Forbes has some interesting advice for job-seeking young men. (Your friendly curator likes number two: “Don’t be a bro.”)

What are you reading?

Monday, April 23, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/23/12

Good morning, Tumblrs! Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. What we read over the weekend: hidden problems at Lehman Brothers and Wal-Mart, universities as entrepreneurial hubs, and the many struggles of making $5 million a year.

"It’s Still the U.S. Economy, Stupid," by Ben White (Politico). Ignore the sideline debates on dogs, moms and Etch a Sketch. The deciding issue in the 2012 election will still be the economy, White argues — five economic issues specifically, like whether things are getting better and who connects with the middle class. (Our take on this: “5 Economic Issues that Will Drive the 2012 Presidential Election.”)

"The Case Against Lehman Brothers" (60 Minutes). We don’t usually link to TV transcripts, but this one is fascinating. Four years after the collapse of the world’s fourth-largest investment bank, no one has been held accountable — despite allegations that Lehman’s financial reports were unfair and misleading.

"Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up By Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle," by David Barstow (New York Times). Wal-Mart dominates the Mexican market, but it appears that the mega-chain didn’t win that position through low-priced goods and red-tagged “rollbacks.” A New York Times investigation revealed widespread bribery between Wal-Mart and Mexican officials, totaling more than $24 million. (Shares have dropped since this news surfaced over the weekend.)

"Romney’s Healthcare Plan May Be More Revolutionary than Obama’s," by Noam Levey (L.A. Times). Romney has made healthcare reform one of the hallmarks of his campaign. But Levey’s analysis suggests that “repealing and replacing Obamacare,” as Romney campaign posters tout, could actually prove more disruptive than Obamacare itself, introducing more risk for consumers and leaving a large number of adults uninsured.

"Get Rich U," by Ken Auletta (The New Yorker). Stanford’s focus on launching entrepreneurs has made a lot of students rich (and netted more than $1 billion for the university itself). But the university’s priorities and its close relationship with Silicon Valley speak to deeper issues about why students go to school and what education means in this economy.

"An Athlete and His Money Don’t Have to Part," by Noah Davis (GQ). Your friendly curator struggles to sympathize with the financial “woes” of pro athletes who can’t manage their multimillion-dollar salaries. Still, the second installment of GQ’s series on athletes and money proves an interesting read — if for the pie charts, alone.

"What Makes Some Cities Greener than Others?" By Richard Florida (Atlantic Cities). The Atlantic’s urban-economist-in-residence examines the correlations between high CO2 emissions and the economy. Hint: Bike lanes and granola types would seem to factor in.

In other news: Presidential eating habits are now a campaign issue (good thing Shake Shack opened last year), tax refunds shrunk in 2012, and a store in Brazil has added an electronic display of Facebook “likes”  to its hangers in an effort to drive Mother’s Day sales. 

What are you reading?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/19/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. What we’re discussing in the break room today: campaign debts, the ethics of Target, and the post-cubicle office.

"The Business of Ending a Presidential Campaign," by Julie Bykowicz (Businessweek). Santorum ended his campaign with $1 million in debt. Hillary Clinton still owes nearly half a million dollars on her presidential run. While candidates may fade from the public spotlight, their expenses live on long after someone else has won.

"Closing the Gender Gap," by Margaret Talbot (New Yorker). "What do women want? Didn’t Mel Gibson answer that?" Jokes magazine writer Susannah Snider (who, your friendly curator is pleased to announce, recently made the jump from mag reporter). Jokes and congratulations aside, ladies tend to lean Democratic — and the Romney campaign is struggling to determine how to reach them. 

"The Inequality Obsession, by Holman Jenkins (Wall Street Journal). Nary a day goes by when we don’t see a headline about the 1% and 99% — heck, we post a lot of them on this Tumblr. Jenkins claims it’s reached the level of cultural obsession. “I never thought about it that way,” said Kip.com’s social media guru, Amanda Lilly. “I also love the part where he asks why we’re so concerned with ‘getting even’ with the 1%, rather than improving everyone’s opportunities.”

"Mitt Romney, American Parasite," by Pete Kotz (VIllage Voice). Kotz’s colorful long read on Romney’s work at Bain Capital unearths, in his words, “everything you hate about capitalism.” (In related news, Nate Silver thinks Romney’s poor favorability ratings don’t really matter in the long run.)

"Are All Mega-Chains the Same?" By David Sirota (Salon). When Sirota asks if all chains are the same, he’s not talking about quality — we all know Trader Joe’s has better hummus than Wal-Mart. Rather, he’s curious about their effects on labor unions, small business and the local economy, the issues of so-called “ethical consumers.” 

"Insurance-Coverage Gaps for 48 Million Americans in 2011," by Louise Radnofsky (Wall Street Journal). A new study finds that one in four working-age adults suffered a gap in health insurance coverage last year. “This cuts right to the heart of universal health care,” says magazine reporter John Miley. “There are such huge numbers of people who go uninsured. The study began a year ago — it makes you wonder what things look like today.”

"Talks With Instagram Suggest a $104 Billion Valuation for Facebook," by Evelyn Rusli (New York Times). A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? $104 billion. 

And in other news: Some companies are killing cubicles to save cash, Justin Peters wonders why there aren’t more beards in politics, office drinking didn’t end in the Mad Men days, and a group in D.C. is trying to give workaholics a break — by organizing events like pie-throwing parties. (“I really like this, minus the pie in the face,” says mag writer Susannah Snider. “I prefer cake.”)

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/18/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. On our iPads and in our inboxes this rainy Wednesday: big banks, millenials, and the economics of urban bike-shares.

"Banks Seen Dangerous Defying Obama’s Too-Big-to-Fail Move," by David Lynch (Bloomberg). JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs held $8.5 trillion in assets — or 56 percent of the U.S. economy — at the end of 2011. That’s twice (!) as big as 10 years ago, despite Obama’s vow that banks would no longer be “too big to fail.”

“‘Not If, But When’ For Spanish Bailout, Experts Believe,” by Luke Baker (Reuters). While the European crisis is looking less critical elsewhere, Spain still struggles with deep unemployment and a collapsed property market. Some economists predict it will require euro zone rescue funds within the next six months.

"Competition Needs Protection," by Eduardo Porter (New York Times). The Justice Department filed a price-fixing suit against Apple and several top publishers last week, much to the anguish of bookstores, writers, and publishers themselves. The good news for consumers: This will likely make books cheaper. The good thing for the market: At least according to Porter, it will protect and encourage innovation on the web.

"This Year’s Fight Over Taxing the Middle Class — and the Rich," by Linda Killian (The Atlantic). Pundits are predicting a pre-election tax showdown, with Democrats and Republicans each attempting to win the upper hand in the public opinion war. But after the election, Killian writes, we could see real tax reform — at least if historical patterns hold true.

"Can Politics Catch Up With Technology?" By Michael Lind (Salon). The IT revolution irreversibly changed commerce and communications, but the government still lags behind. “Our politicians could take a lesson from Apple or Facebook,” jokes mag reporter Susannah Snider.

"Generation Lost? Millenials Come of Age," by Chris Taylor (Reuters). Oh good, there’s hope for your friendly curator’s much-pitied generation. Not much hope, admittedly. But there are some silver linings to growing up in a recession, higher lifetime investment earnings among them.

"What It Cost Eight Women Writers to Make It In New York," by Brent Cox (The Awl). Ignore that headline — this story is much more about inflation and changing living costs than cutting it as a writer. An interesting sample: Dorothy Parker’s midtown one-bedroom cost $981.31 a month in 2012 dollars. (“If you see a Midtown one-bedroom for less than a thousand dollars I suggest you take it,” Cox snarks.)

"Temple for Rent: Italy Hopes Sponsoring Can Save Cultural Treasures," by Fiona Ehlers (Der Spiegel). Italy, like many of its neighbors, has slashed its culture budget to confront the European crisis. But where the government left off, corporate interest began. Companies can now rent or buy monasteries, villas and other historic landmarks across the country, and some Italians aren’t happy about it.

And finally, in other news: bike-sharing systems don’t generate revenue for cities (including Washington D.C., where a few Kiplinger employees bike-share to work), blame H&R Block for complicated tax forms, and food-truck talk with a small business expert.

What are you reading? 

Monday, April 16, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/16/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. On our radar for Monday: income inequality, the yuan, and what IRS commissioner Doug Shulman has to do with Macy Gray.

"Buffett Rule or Not, Most Rich People Already Pay," by Richard Rubin (Businessweek). Rubin runs the numbers on Obama’s “Buffett Rule,” a tax reform that Congress will vote on (and likely vote against) today. An interesting sample: “The median effective tax rate for the middle 20 percent of U.S. taxpayers is 13.3 percent, including income, payroll, and corporate taxes. The top 1 percent of taxpayers pay a median rate of 29.6 percent.”

"Inequality 101: The Picket Fence and the Staircase," by John Cassidy (The New Yorker). Income inequality is hardly a new issue, but John Cassidy sure can turn a phrase.  ”No one writes and reports in a prettier way than the scribes at the New Yorker,” says Letter editor Ken Bazinet. Bottom line: “There is income disparity in this country and a deep need for tax reform.”

"Traders Greet China’s New Yuan With a Yawn," by Kevin Carmichael (The Globe and Mail). China loosened controls on its currency last week, allowing its value to move a bit more with the market’s. But so far, the impact has been … underwhelming. (Kudos to the headline-writer at the Globe and Mail.)

"Declining as a Manufacturer, Japan Weighs Reinvention," by Martin Fackler (New York Times). As political discourse in the U.S. shifts toward more manufacturing, Japan — with its aging population and long-declining industrial sector — is moving away from it.

"Bank of New York Case Tests IRS Power to Halt Foreign Tax Abuses," by Megan Murphy, Vanessa Houlder and Jeff Gerth (ProPublica). Several banks used abusive tax shelters called STARS to deny the government some $1 billion in tax revenue. Now the IRS is bringing a case that could determine how the government deals with tricky corporate tax planning in the future.

Speaking of taxes, tomorrow is tax day — and to mark it, NPR asked IRS commissioner Doug Shulman for his favorite motivational jams. Fifty thousands dollars will buy you a spot in Mitt Romney’s “inaugural retreat.” (Or will it?) And to round out the reads for your Monday morning, some lawyers now score a whopping $873 an hour. Yes, your curator regrets her career choice, too.

What are you reading today?

Friday, April 13, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/13/12

Happy Friday, Tumblers! Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. Here’s what we have on tap for Friday.

"Student Loan Debt a Growing Threat to the Economy," by Becky Yerak (Chicago Tribune). Americans owe $870 billion in student loans — far more than auto loans and credit card loans. Could this be “America’s next mortgage-style economic crisis”?

"In Cash Push, Two Campaigns Likely to Reject Public Funds," by Nicholas Confessore (New York Times). Both Romney and Obama are on track to raise more money than ever before. 

"The Draperizing of Mitt Romney," by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman (Politico). Your friendly curator is mostly pleased that “Draper” has become a verb. Aside from that wonderful bit of pop culture wordplay, this is an important look at how Democrats are casting their GOP opponent.

"Taxed by the Boss," by David Cay Johnston (Reuters). At major corporations like Goldman Sachs, General Motors and General Electric, a portion of withheld state taxes go to the company — not the government. It’s a scheme meant to sweeten business in the state. But Johnston writes that it also typifies “corporate socialism, in which business gains are privatized and costs socialized.”

"Tax Day: 1040 Reasons You Should Know Nina Olson," by Mark Trumbull (Christian Science Monitor). An intriguingly personal look at the IRS’s taxpayer advocate, who knits, “dabbles” in textile design, and does her own tax returns (!).

And to end, as we always do, on a slightly lighter note: Businessweek says you should drink at work (editors, are you reading this?), pizza sales are up in the U.S., and a New Jersey couple sued their landlord — claiming the house is haunted.

What are you reading today?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/12/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. On our radar: foreclosure, factories, and the “income tax cocktail.”

"The Great American Foreclosure Story: The Struggle for Justice and a Place to Call Home," by Paul Kiel (ProPublica). Banks have foreclosed on more than 4 million homes since 2007 — and 6 million loans remain in danger of foreclosure. Kiel’s beautifully reported long-read on the foreclosure crisis is a poignant look at what homeownership means now.

"Mitt Romney is the New Al Gore," by Marin Cogan (GQ). No, he didn’t invent the Internet. But Romney and Gore both display what columnists the world over have called a certain robotic stiffness — a definite unfamiliarity “with human customs,” in the words of New York’s Dan Amira.

"Forget the Factories," by Matthew Yglesias (Slate). We noticed a lot of our fellow finance writers tweeting this one this morning — Yglesias claims that a return to American manufacturing, that distant dream touted by the Obama campaign, would actually make America poorer and less competitive in the global market.

"David Foster Wallace’s Tax Class," by Seth Colter Walls (The New Yorker). “ACCOUNTANTS ARE COWBOYS OF INFORMATION.” “PASSIVE a big word for IRS.” And other notes from DFW’s time in a tax class, researching The Pale King.

We’ll wrap with a trio of light-hearted tax news, since you have five days left to file. The ever-irreverent Awl has launched a personal finance blog, and it took tax questions yesterday. (We’re following said blog with great curiosity.) Good has a recipe for an income tax cocktail. (Appropriately, it sounds bitter.) And mag reporter Susannah Snider tells us that “safe drivers shouldn’t drink, text or think about filing taxes behind the wheel” — fatal accidents spike on tax day.

What are you reading today?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/11/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. What we’re reading on an overcast Wednesday: Santorum, subprime loans, and an economic theory for finding good food.

"Rick Santorum’s 10 Best Quotes," by Tim Mak (Politico). Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican primary yesterday, making Mitt Romney the de facto GOP nominee. To celebrate, Politico rounded up 10 of Santorum’s more memorable moments. (In more serious news, they also have stories on what the Romney and Obama campaigns should do next.)

"Mitt Romney Can’t Leave Women Voters to His Wife," by Ruth Marcus (The Washington Post). Women, Hispanics, and low-income voters are among Romney’s biggest hurdles in the general election. But thus far, Romney has outsourced much of the women’s outreach to his wife. “Women are not a foreign country,” Marcus point out. “You don’t need an interpreter to talk to us.” 

"Lenders Again Dealing Credit to Risky Clients," by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Tara Siegel Bernard (The New York Times). So much for lesson learned: As banks and creditors recover from their recession-era losses, they’re once again reaching out to clients with less-than-impressive credit. “Even I wouldn’t make a loan to me at this point,” says one bankrupt woman with piles of credit card offers.

"Fannie, Freddie Weigh Mortgage Write-Downs," by Chris Arnold (NPR). Yesterday the mortgage giants came one step closer to reducing the principal on thousands of mortgages. But depending on whom you ask, the move won’t actually help.

"The Creepiness Factor: How Obama and Romney Are Getting to Know You," by Terrence McCoy (The Atlantic). If you’re reading this, then high-tech campaign strategists already know everything about you — from most visited websites to “which soda’s in the fridge.” Digital data-mining allows strategists an unprecedentedly clear picture of how voters act and think.

"Unemployment Falls Fast in U.S. If Men Get College Degree," by Craig Torres (Bloomberg). Men lag behind women in terms of educational attainment. Closing that gap could lower unemployment, jumpstart marriage rates — and staunch the growing number of men leaving the labor force entirely.

"Gilt Groupe: Big IPO Looms for the Amazon of Luxury," by Nancy Hass (Newsweek). The woman who brought you the flash sale is about to watch her game-changing fashion company go public.

"Economic Theory Plots a Course for Good Food," by Damon Darlin (The New York Times). A George Mason economist thinks he’s solved the puzzle of picking a good restaurant — and it has nothing to do with Yelp. Among his tips: “Avoid restaurants with beautiful women, hipsters and smiling and laughing people.” (At this point, you might as well eat at home.) 

And finally, some more fun fare: all phones will be smartphones within five years (and we can all post our Instagrams to Facebook!), your friendly curator’s job ranks at the very bottom of this ranking of best and worst jobs, and a Dunkin’ Donuts ad in South Korea sprays coffee scent on city busses.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/10/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. Making the office rounds this morning: the Buffett Rule, Instagram, and Budweiser as luxury beer.

"White House Makes Case for ‘Buffett Rule,’" by James Politi (Financial Times). The Obama administration has begun to push in earnest for a 30 percent tax on millionaires, but don’t expect the rule to make it into the tax code. “It’s an effort to demonstrate to voters how out-of-touch Mitt Romney and the GOP are with the middle class,” says Letter editor Ken Bazinet. “About two-thirds of Americans say they want to see the rich pay more, but that won’t stop the GOP-controlled House from blocking the bill.” Related reading: “The Numerical Weak Spot of Obama’s ‘Buffett Rule.”

"In Praise of Crowdfunding," by Andrew Leonard (Salon). The JOBS Act has been roundly criticized by reform-minded liberals like Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibi, who recently wrote that it “couldn’t suck worse.” But not so fast, says Leonard: the law’s crowdfunding provision could provide enormous opportunity for small businesses. Kickstarter, anyone?

"Health Care Law Will Add $340 Billion to Deficit, New Study Finds," by Lori Montgomery (Washington Post). Well, there’s a headline that speaks for itself. The study, released today, comes from conservative policy analyst Charles Blahous. 

"It’s Time to Accept the Existence of a Social Media Bubble," by Rebecca Greenfield (The Atlantic). Instagram sold to Facebook for a whopping $1 billion yesterday, just weeks before Facebook’s much-anticipated (and highly valued) IPO. How is Instagram possibly worth $1 billion? Greenfield argues that “speculative mania” is driving up valuations for Internet companies — and that investors suffer when the bubble bursts.  

"The Amazing Matzo Stimulus," by Adam Davidson (New York Times Magazine). Magazine reporter Susannah Snider has been eating a sad lunch of matzo and brussel sprouts all week — perhaps why she flagged this story. “Can a company thrive on a product that 2% of the population is forced to buy one week per year?” She asks. Apparently, yes!

And finally, in lighter news: a tweet is worth a tenth of a cent (a Yelp review or Foursquare check-in, considerably more); New York City income inequality, as graphed by its supermarkets; and Budweiser as a luxury — in China, anyway.

What are you reading?

Monday, April 9, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/9/2012

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. On our radar this fine Monday morning: more on jobs, patent trolls and executive perks.

"U.S. Job Figures Become a Fickle Political Football," by Robin Harding (The Financial Times). Economists and finance writers always note the monthly jobs reports — but now campaign strategists pay attention, too. “The challenge for President Barack Obama and his all-but-certain Republican rival Mitt Romney is to tell a story about jobs that holds true with every report,” Harding writes. (Unrelated challenge: When the Financial Times says “football,” does it actually mean soccer?)

"Federal Funds to Train the Jobless Are Drying Up," by Motoko Rich (The New York Times). 12.7 million people are still looking for jobs, but federal funding for work force training has dropped to historic lows. Both employers and employees suffer.

"For Big Companies, Life is Good," by Scott Thurm (The Wall Street Journal). New jobs report got you down? New analysis from the Journal finds heartening growth elsewhere — among large corporations, which are leaner and more profitable than they were pre-recession. 

"The Troll Toll," by Ray Fisman (Slate). ”Patent trolls” buy up huge numbers of patents for the express purpose of litigating. That’s a hassle for small businesses, obviously. But a new study by MIT economist Catherine Tucker indicates a greater problem — patent trolls may actually stifle innovation. (Required listening on this subject: This American Life’s “When Patents Attack!”) 

"The Truth About Ric Edelman," by Caren Chesler (Financial Advisor). We’re getting a bit insidery here, but bear with us — FA’s April cover story is an intriguing personality profile of a guy once called “Suze Orman before there was a Suze Orman.” Edelman, who has written a mountain of books and hosts a weekly radio show, is arguably one of the country’s most controversial financial planners.

"A ‘Fat Cat’ With the President’s Ear," by Robert Frank (The Wall Street Journal). While we’re talking profiles, this one’s a must-read: Robert Wolf, the president of UBS’s investment bank, was one of President Obama’s top fundraisers in the last election. The so-called “Pied Piper of Wall Street” might step back in 2012.

"In Chief Executives’ Pay, a Rich Game of Thrones," by Natasha Singer (The New York Times). Apple CEO Timothy Cook makes $42,000 an hour. Enough said.

What are you reading today?