About that Warren Buffett E-Mail

I have now received an e-mail that purports to be a proposal from Warren Buffett to reform Congress. I spent some time this morning penning a response so I figured I’d share it here in case anyone else gets it. First the original e-mail:

Winds of Change.... Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise. In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around. _*Congressional Reform Act of 2011*_ 1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they're out of office. 2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose. 3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do. 4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%. 5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people. 6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people. 7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women. Congressmen/women made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work. If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Don't you think it's time? THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS! If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete. You are one of my 20+ - Please keep it going, and thanks.

Then my response:

I think that the original author (clearly not Warren Buffet) did not do their homework before writing this. In some cases the points are rather ambiguous and others refer to make changes that already exist. My comments correspond to the bullet points above.
  1. Members of congress do not have any sort of tenure privileges the way a teacher or college professor does. Some are in Congress a long time but that is merely because their constituents re-elect them. In regards to the salary/pension issue, some legislatures operate that way (see New Hampshire). I think its a bad idea because without a source of income from serving the members are then forced to find outside income. This means they must either be retired, independently wealthy, or have an outside source of revenue. This means we’ll have more of the 1% in Congress or greater conflicts of interest due to outside influence.

2 + 3. Members of Congress do presently participate in the social security system. Wikipedia informs us a little more here:

The Social Security Amendments of 1983 required all Members of Congress to participate in Social Security beginning January 1, 1984. As Social Security and CSRS benefits sometimes overlapped, Congress called for the development of a new federal employee retirement program to complement Social Security. This new plan was enacted as the Federal Employees' Retirement Act of 1986. This act created the FERS program, under which new Members of Congress are currently covered.

So the Congressional Pension is merely a supplement to Social Security income. Members of Congress are of course free to decline to participate or to buy any other retirement plan available on the open market. However they do not get a 401k and would have to setup a traditional or Roth IRA.

  1. Congressional pay normally raises by cost of living which has recently been less than 3% and Congress has voted not to give itself raises in current years (see http://thehill.com/homenews/news/97971-obama-signs-law-blocking-congress-pay-raise). Again I’d view this as poor policy because millionaires like Nancy Pelosi do not suffer when the pay raises are eliminated but members of congress without money are impacted since they must absorb the inflation. For a story that does a great job of describing the impact of freezing salaries for public officials you should read this New York Times articles on judges leaving the New York Bench.

  2. Members of Congress participate in the same healthcare system as other federal employees (see http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/health-care-for-members-of-congress/)

  3. This is already the case.

  4. This is the dumbest thing I have ever read. It’s not really clear what he is saying here but it is terrible policy to break contracts because then people will no longer trust the contracts you make in the future. This was best understood by Alexander Hamilton when, at the founding of the country, he worked to have the United States assume and pay back its Revolutionary War debts (see http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2008/09/18/past-present-alexander-hamilton-and-the-start-of-the-national-debt)

Finally there is the issue of a citizen legislature. I think its important to note that majority of our founders were professional politicians. They were made-up of lawyers, wealthy businesspeople, doctors, and scientists. Many interest groups are concerned that term-limits and other limitations that make legislatures less stable cause a loss of institutional knowledge and prevent legislators from developing expertise both at their jobs generally and in certain issue areas.

Amazon’s Jungle Logic - NYTimes.com

I thought the following was an interesting anecdote from an article on Amazon’s recent promotion with their price-checking application. It is worth checking out the comments on this article as well. Generally I am not a fan of brick and mortar stores. I will still go for things like clothing and shoes. I also must concede that sometimes you need something the same day or you really want that gadget that just came out. I can attest to the pain of waiting for UPS to deliver my iPhone 4S while my friends had already retrieved theirs from the Apple or at&t stores.

Statements like this will no doubt make us all seem, to Amazon devotees, like a bunch of privileged, holier-than-thou ingrates. Privileged I’ll grant them. But as we swapped e-mails it quickly became clear that the real source of our collective dismay was actually gratitude, not ingratitude. On my first book tour I was invited to Barbara’s Bookstore in Chicago. The employees optimistically set up seven folding chairs, then occupied those chairs themselves when nobody showed up for the reading.

via Amazon’s Jungle Logic - NYTimes.com.

Must Read: The Battles of Dan Malloy

Part 1: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/For-Malloy-first-year-is-one-of-storms-and-2342445.php

Part 2: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/The-Malloyalists-2343742.php

and we have 18 more coming! Not going to comment on it because so many have already. Ted Mann’s writing speaks for itself.

An Update on the Car

After talking to him on the phone I returned to Gengras Volvo to talk with the service manager, John Jeffries. After showing him the problem that I identified with the car he agreed that it should have been caught and that the work they recommended was not necessarily appropriate to my problem. While John may or may not have been obligated to do right by me, he offered to fix some of the other things that they noticed were wrong with my car. At the end of the day I will never know how the tech missed the problem of the hose but to me, symbolically, it makes a huge difference when a business tries to do right when they screw up. Kudos to them for making the effort.

Car Troubles are Not Fun!

For the past few weeks I’ve been dealing with trouble with my 2002 Volvo S60. I love the car and bought/inherited it from my Uncle about a year ago. However its recently been giving me a rough idle and more disturbingly stalled a few times. I took it to my dealer (Gengras Volvo) and they suggested a fix the oil trap, fuel filter, and freeze plugs. The total bill was $1030! Not cheap for a law student. The next day I was driving home and the car stalled out when I was turning into my driveway. Not a good sign.

Luckily I am somewhat savvy and conducted my own research. After sifting through a multitude of Internet posts I think the culprit may be a part called the Electronic Throttle Module. Online forums suggest many people are having trouble with this part and that there was a recall campaign. This seems like some important information that the dealer should have mentioned to me when I was having the work done. However the only two indications that this would be the issue was a small line on the invoice stating that they tested the ECM and it was okay, and a suggestion that the throttle body get cleaned. As an informed consumer I would feel more comfortable with the service if the shop/technician explained more thoroughly in the outtake documents what was found and what work was done. The documents should indicate why the technician thought certain things are more likely the culprit than others. As a computer consultant this is not difficult to articulate and so I do not think it should be hard for a car repair to shop to do it as well.

Oh well, the throttle body cleaning that the dealer suggested I pony up $160 for is easily done at home. I will also be able to test for the wear that is indicative of the failing module and maybe even get a warranty replacement if I find it to be broken. Unfortunately this requires much more pain and proactivity on my part than I believe should be required. Maybe if we paid auto shops to keep our cars working instead of to fix them, the dynamics would change here.

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