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Same planet, different worlds

October 18, 2011

James Maule, a distinguished tax author and scholar, expanded (did he ever) on how he sees some non-tax issues differently than I do.  The only way I can account for the differences between our non-tax outlooks is to conclude that we live in different worlds.  As this is mostly non-tax stuff, the rest of this post goes below the fold.

I'll call Professor Maule's world "Pottersville," after the alternate reality Clarence shows George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life." In Pottersville things are bad and getting worse, as an "oligarchy" ruthlessly stomps out upstarts, leaving fewer choices of everything, and worse quality in the choices left. Food is tainted, cars are crummier, and everything costs more.

Take grocers.  In Pottersville the Oligarchy is crushing the little guy:

Joe’s other example, involving grocery stores, will soon be history. During the last five years in my area, one grocery chain bought out another, another went bankrupt, and a third is scaling back in what many would agree is the first step in its disappearance. The big box conglomerates are killing not only small business but even the larger regional outfits. The danger of an oligarchy is that it stands poised on the edge of a monarchy. The choices may exist, but they are diminishing. The trend isn’t very promising.

For convenience I'll call the world I live in "Iowa." Here locally-owned Hy-Vee and Dahls battle for the metropolitan market, with Iowa-based Fareway now trying to carve out a share.  National chain Aldi's is present, but in a limited-selection, low-price niche.  Wal-mart and Target have opened superstores, but Hy-Vee opened its own stores nearby and is still strong after years of  going toe-to-toe with the giants.  Trader Joes has moved into town, and Whole Foods soon will open its first local outlet.  

In Iowa shoppers routinely buy items that would have been exotic mail-order items, if available at all, when I left high school in 1978. In terms of hours spent earning money to buy these things, it's almost all cheaper than it was then.  There's more variety of everything from fresh meat and produce to beer, and in real terms, it's almost all cheaper.   Nobody worries at all about getting sickened as a result of the Oligarchy selling tainted food for short-term gain, because such incidents are vanishingly rare. 

Back in Pottersville the Microsoft branch of the Oligarchy cruelly keeps the citizenry trapped in bad buggy word processing software:   

...aside from the occasional instances of local choice, there remains the practical effect of monopolistic practice. For example, though I have the theoretical opportunity to use an operating system and software other than Microsoft’s, the insistence of those with whom I interact to receive documents in a Microsoft format means that to exercise my theoretical right to use another operating system I must invest time and money in applications to convert things into Microsoft format. Not that Microsoft products are superior, as the tidal wave of complaints about Microsoft software failures, security breaches, and other problems indicate, yet Microsoft dominates the industry. Why? Because it has managed to persuade government to back off from its antitrust responsibilities.

Meanwhile in Iowa, Google offers a free full-featured word-processing system online that's far better than any word processor at any price 25 years ago.  Google Documents even can save your work in Microsoft Word format.  Does free software somehow advance the interests of the Oligarchy? Maybe Google's free blogging platform, used by Jim Maule, also does so.  Is there no end to their treachery?

Nobody would choose consumer goods and choices from ten years ago -- let alone 30 -- over those available now.  Old Oligarchs like ATT and IBM are now second-tier companies, while other would-be oligarchs like Borders have vanished.  Yet Jim Maule sees only decay and decline, which can only be remedied by government efforts to repair broken markets.

I like Iowa a lot better than Pottersville. Iowa has the added advantage of not being fictional.  

Of course there are big problems in my world.  The showstopper problems, like the entitlement crisis to the student debt debacle, are courtesy of government.   Government efforts to counter "market failure" generated the enormous failure of Fannie Mae and the foreclosure crisis.  It's implausible that the cure is more government.

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As for food getting cheaper, perhaps in the heartland it is, but an eight percent annual increase does not bode well. This news emerged this morning (21 Oct 2011):

And I'm glad Joe and his Iowa neighbors need not worry about food quality. I do. For example, see

As for things available 10 or 30 years ago and available now, I (and I know many others with comparable experiences (and there even are strangers saying the same thing (e.g.,, have products purchased decades ago that are still operating, whereas items purchased since the "made in China" outsourcing boom barely last a year or two before a component breaks. Planned obsolescence once was a matter of style (e.g., significant changes for each automobile model year) but once people decided not to fall for the style ploy are now built into functionality. Even when a person is willing to pay more to acquire something with longevity, the choices aren't there. Plenty of people would prefer a radio built 10 or 30 years ago (I still have several, working well) than the thing I received as a gift 2 years ago, had to replace because a dial broke a month later, and now need to replace again because the power switch is broken. Perhaps Iowa gets its products from a country other than China, sold by manufacturers more interested in cultivating customers with quality than in maximizing profits by outsource cost-cutting and slipshot assembly and component acquisition.

Perhaps Joe and I live on different planets. The entire world is splitting into two realms. There are the people who don't understand what all the fuss about jobs, the economy, quality of products, and the oligarchy is about, and there are the people who are trying to deal with unemployment, economic upheaval, low-quality products, and the devaluation of the vote through corporate PACs buying elections. Yes, indeed, two different worlds.

I'll trade you a 10-year old IPod straight-up for any new one.

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