Skip College, Go to Trade School

I’ve been beating this drum for years. More young people should consider skipping college, learn a trade, and start life without a crushing burden of debt for a degree you never needed. The Wall Street Journal has now noticed a trend, profiling the new generation of students who don’t opt out of college because they don’t have the grades, but because they want to take a different path.

In 2009, the last year for which data is available, 19% of high-school students were concentrating in vocational subjects, down from 24% in 1990.

Even as more students enroll in college, “40% to 50% of kids never get a college certificate or degree,” said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And among those who do graduate, about one-third end up in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

Why go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt (in some cases, hundreds of thousands), to end up in the half that don’t finish anyway or the large percentage who don’t end up using all the expensive “book learning”. And let’s not forget the crazy classes and ideological indoctrination and crazy bacchanalian libertinism.

Meanwhile, the kids who apprenticed or went to a trade school or got vocational training are out there earning good salaries and getting their lives started without crushing debt.

My older brother Bernie never went to college, but he owns his own business driving a tractor trailer and is quite successful, much more than I will be having gone to 4+ years of college. That path will be one of the options my children will explore.

Solar Power is in Reach, But the Old Dinosaur Still Stands in the Way

Men installing solar panels on a roof

We finally have an installation date for our solar panels from Solar City/Tesla. As you may recall, we started this odyssey at the beginning of last summer (2017) and signed the paperwork in July. But our local electrical provider, National Grid, had told us that we couldn’t put them on their grid because their local connection equipment wasn’t up to snuff.1 They said that an upgrade would take 16 to 20 weeks!

So nearly six months after that, the upgrade has been done and now our solar panels are scheduled for installation in mid-March. But that doesn’t mean they will be running by then, because after the installation we have to wait for National Grid to inspect them to make sure they are connected to their grid properly. The current wait time is running 10 to 11 weeks. When all is said and done, we’ll have waited almost a year to get up and running on solar, nearly all of that time due to National Grid’s foot-dragging. And because they’ve dragged their feet, they will have sucked an extra $3,600 out of us.

Of course, the electric utilities don’t like everyone going solar because not only do they lose the money for the electricity they were selling us, they also have to buy back any excess electricity we generate. But it didn’t have to be this way.

In fact, they could have avoided all of this if they had been a forward-looking innovator instead of a backward, too conservative monopoly more interested in the status quo. Imagine if the electric utilities themselves had gotten into solar leasing instead of letting companies like Solar City and Vivint take over. National Grid already owns all the infrastructure and has relationships with all of its customers. They could show up one day and say, “Hey, let us put solar panels on your roof and cut your bill in half. It won’t cost you a dime.” Sure, on the one hand, they get half of what they were getting. On the other hand, half is better than none. Even better, they don’t have to buy back the extra electricity: It’s already theirs. And they can then sell that electricity to other customers, having created more capacity in the grid without having to build expensive plants or buying from a regional cooperative.

But old, comfortable companies, especially those with monopolies, don’t think like this. No cable company could have invented Netflix. No bookstore chain could have invented Amazon. No record label could have invented iTunes.

So now, I’m left waiting to get my solar panels up and running as National Grid runs out the clock on their monopoly, squeezing every possible cent out of the system. And no one will mourn them when they are gone someday.

  1. We’d actually tried connecting with a different solar company before Solar City, but National Grid said their local transformer that serves our neighborhood needed an upgrade to serve more solar panels. So they had so many solar customers already and before more could be added, they need to upgrade. They told us that we would have to pay $3,500 for the equipment upgrade. No thanks! I’m not subsidizing giant corporations so they can then serve more customers because once the equipment is upgraded any neighbors who want to go solar in the future would benefit too. When I went to Solar City they agreed to pay the upgrade. I wrote about this last September.

The Trash and Recycling Our Family Generates

Recycling center

I am consistently amazed by how little landfill trash our family of seven generates. Our trash company gives us a 96-gallon barrel for trash and two 96-gallon recycling barrels, which they pick up every two weeks. The basic level of service is usually one of each, but we eventually discovered we needed two recycling bins. We could also get weekly pickup if we wanted, but it hasn’t been necessary from a volume standpoint (although in the summer heat, I sometimes wish it was every week) and there is a substantial savings if we go every other week.

And while the amount of trash and recycling varies, in general the amount of landfill trash (i.e. what can’t be recycled) is about one or two 13-gallon kitchen trash bags per week. Meanwhile, I’m often left trying to jam in more and more recycling into the two recycling bins by the day of pickup.

I usually divide our recycling between the two barrels1, with one barrel holding just cardboard boxes and the other holding all the various household paper and metal and glass, mostly from the kitchen. It often works out to about even amounts in the barrels. The cardboard is mainly Amazon boxes because we do so much shopping there, including Subscribe and Save on things like large boxes of paper towels.

Of course, there’s a third kind of trash I have to deal with, namely all the things that I can’t put in the barrels, like broken bicycles and a broken wheelbarrow and very large cardboard boxes that have to be broken down before they can fit in the recycling bin and even then only in pieces over time so as not to monopolize it. For that stuff, I think I will begin to do an occasional Bagster pickup, as needed. I had one last year when we had our floors redone and I managed to put a bunch of other stuff in there too.

A valid question is how we manage to divert so much from the landfill. Certainly, our trash has changed over the years. For one thing, we no longer (for now anyway) have lots and lots of diapers as we did for almost a decade. We also don’t subscribe to a paper newspaper (I’m iPad subscription only now), which took up a ton of space in recycling.2 We also try to re-use food waste in other ways as well. We save chicken bones and vegetable ends for making stock and put other kinds of vegetables and food in our compost. Melanie even saves orange peels for making marmalade and old bananas (so many overripe bananas) in the freezer for smoothies, breads, and chocolate ice “cream” for Lucy.

We are by no means perfect at this. Nor are we especially militant about it. And there are recent questions about whether household recycling makes as big a dent in the landfill problem as we think. But it makes me happy anyway to do what I can to show that big families are not necessarily the resource hogs that some people say they are, that in fact big families can have a light environmental footprint compared to, say, a twenty-something childless couple living in a hip downtown loft.

  1. This is not a requirement of the trash company; just something I started doing on my own as an experiment.
  2. Although junk mail continues to be a substantial amount of recycling.

Solar Power Struggles

My brother had solar panels installed on his house by SolarCity about 3 or 4 years ago now, right near the beginning of the new leased solar panel trend. In the past, you had to buy a solar panel setup outright, often at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars outlay. Even with tax credits and electric savings, you wouldn’t see a return on your investment for years. But the new solar panel leasing allows you to get panels on your roof for a low monthly fee. You don’t own the panels, but maintenance is taken care of by the vendor and, in our case, we’d save about half off our utility bill.

This seemed like a good deal so we contacted my brother’s salesman, but because of a number of distractions we never followed through. Earlier this year, I saw something from Google about going solar where I could enter my information and several different solar companies would contact me about their services. I did and heard from one, Vivint. They gave me their pitch, which outlined what’s involved and how much we would pay.

Read More and Comment

What They Really Want is Lower Taxes

When conservatives and liberals debate taxes, many liberals often take pride in paying taxes, extolling the virtues of all the services that we receive from government paid for by our taxes. But the quiet reality they’d rather not admit is often that they would rather not have to shell out quite so much to the government.1

To whit, Lifehacker, a reliably liberal lifestyle blog aimed at millennials of the liberal bent, recently had an article titled “You Could Save on Your Student Loan by Moving to a Different State—Here’s How Much.” That’s a bit of a misnomer really. In reality, what they’re highlighting is that different states have different income tax rates and if you move from a high income tax state to a zero income tax state, you can use that extra money in your pocket to pay down debt, any debt, including student loan debt. And suddenly they love the idea of lower taxes!

Except when they don’t. The same writer penned an article yesterday on President Trump’s proposed tax cut that makes it out to be a sop to the rich (who pay the vast majority of income taxes and thus would logically reap the most benefit), but also have negligible economic value while depriving government programs of their funding.2

But where was the concern for people paying lower taxes when Lifehacker and their writer were suggesting readers move to places where they could pay no taxes? Of course, the argument is always that someone else should be paying more, usually those dastardly rich people who don’t deserve it.

  1. At the same time, the dirty secret many conservatives don’t want to admit is that while they want lower taxes, they’re reluctant to give up all those government services they like.
  2. Although, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind the tax cut as I’d end up with a $1,700 per year tax cut.

How Affordable is Your State?

WalletHub offers an annual survey of the property tax burden on homeowners in the 50 states and ranks them accordingly. But which data you look at determines whether you’re getting a good deal or not.

The survey’s basic ranking says the top 5 states for property taxes are Hawaii, Alabama, Louisiana, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.1 Now, Alabama and Louisiana make sense and maybe Delaware, but Hawaii and DC are notorious for high-cost of living and real estate. How could they be top-ranked for property tax? Because the survey ranks based on tax rate, not the average dollar amount of taxes paid.

When you rank the states by total annual taxes priced at state median home value, the best states are Alabama, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and South Carolina, which are all top 10 states for tax rate as well. Combined with low median home value, you’re getting a good deal. The worst states are, in order from the top, are New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire2, New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts at #6.

Read More and Comment

Why Is There So Much Hatred of the Wealthy?

On my commute to work on Boston’s Southeast Expressway, there is a carpenter’s union building right next to the highway with a billboard. In addition to the usual pro-union messages, they occasionally have other sorts of political messages. One in particular caught my eye that claimed that a handful of billionaires held more wealth than 50% of the world’s population.

My immediate reaction was that this was another instance where we should talk about raising up those who live in poverty instead of railing against the few who have wealth.

Jeff Jacoby tackles the same subject in today’s Boston Globe when he calls out Oxfam’s executive director got up at the ultra-exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to proclaim that the eight richest men in the world hold as much wealth as half the world’s population and that 1 in 10 people live on less than $2 per day.

Of course, as Jacoby points out, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, it’s a tragedy that so many suffer on so little, but the glass is also half full: Three decades ago, the number was twice as large. Yes, we cut extreme poverty in the world by 50%.

Read More and Comment

Ford’s Creepy Post-Sale Come-On

Talk about skeevy marketing attempts. We bought a used van from a Ford dealer back last May and it came with a limited 36 month/36,000 mile warranty that started from the day it was new in 2015, not when I bought it. The sales manager had tried to get me to bite on an extended warranty, but I know enough not fall for paying thousands of dollars in case I need a several hundred dollar repair.

This week, I got a letter from Ford, marked “Warranty Expiration Notice”. That’s odd, I thought, the warranty shouldn’t expire for another 1-1/2 years. Ah, but when I read it I saw it said: “Our records indicate that you drive more miles than the average driver” and then estimated my mileage at 26,000 miles. Now, keep in mind I have not returned my van to the dealership for any service since we bought it.

So how do they know how many miles we drive? They don’t! This is pure marketing deception. In fact, we don’t drive nearly as many miles as they think and there’s no way for them to know how many miles we drive.

Is it any wonder people hate the car buying process and dealing with car companies?

Amazon: from manufacturing to delivery?

Awhile ago, I asked a question on Quora.com about how much of an average residential UPS or Fedex truck was Amazon packages, but no one could give an authoritative answer, but I have long suspected that it’s at least half. But as Amazon sucks up more and more of the delivery services’ capacity, it’s beginning to make sense for them to take care of that job too in some places.

In a public interview at this year’s Code Conference put on by Recode, tech journalist Walt Mossberg asked Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos about the growth of white Amazon vans in some metropolitan areas, and specifically about whether Amazon wants to replace existing delivery services.

“We will take all the capacity that the U.S. Postal Service can give us and that UPS can give us and we still need to supplement it,” Bezos explained.

Apparently, the Christmas 2013 disaster when so many Amazon packages were late was the real turning point.

Maybe I need to think about selling my UPS stock.

Chuck Schumer on the Excessive Burden of Taxes

N.Y. Sen. Chuck Schumer thinks federal taxes are an onerous burden on those who work hard and excel and thus should not be levied on them. Has the liberal Democrat taken a sudden conservative turn? Not exactly. Schumer is just pandering to fans of the Olympic Games.

“Our Olympian and Paralympic athletes should be worried about breaking world records, not breaking the bank, when they earn a medal,” said ‎Schumer. “Most countries subsidize their athletes; the very least we can do is make sure our athletes don’t get hit with a tax bill for winning. After a successful and hard fought victory, it’s just not right for the U.S. to welcome these athletes home with a tax on that victory.

Schumer is proposing that Olympians’ cash prizes should not be taxed. While it’s nice to see a liberal acknowledging the drag that excessive taxation causes on those who wish to excel, I wish he would see that the same principle applied to middle-class laborers and white-collar workers, and even to upper-class business owners who create jobs and capital.

Next Page →