Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Good luck, buddy!"

I went to school today by walking from downtown (I live in Chicago), and on the way I walked through the "Greek Town" neighborhood. It was about 10:30 or so in the morning, and as I walked, I noticed a penny on the ground. As is my habit, I pocketed it (I've learned this practice as a good way to save up money....I collect all the coins I find and save all the change I get from purchases, and after about a year, I can exchange it for a lot of money, usually $80 or so).

A gruff man was standing outside one of the Greek Town restaurants, smoking a cigarette, probably on a work break. He saw me pick up the penny and said, "Good luck, buddy!"

I'm not sure why, but that incident brightened my day!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My recent absence from blogging

I've not blogged as much in the last month or so as before because (gasp!) I've actually been doing my job: I've been writing my dissertation. I'll probably not blog as much as before until I finish my current chapter, but once in a while, I might wend my way over here.

For the record, my dissertation topic is about "antitrust policy as it may or may not have applied to coal dealers in the Chicago and Toronto areas from 1880 to 1939." So if you have ever had any pressing questions about that particular topic, waiting with baited breath for someone, anyone, to ask, I'm your man!

A credit to the cause.....

A few years ago, I closed a checking account with a bank whose name I won't disclose but rhymes with "Hank of America." It had a credit balance of, say, 40 or 50 dollars. I closed the account with a letter and a request to mail me the balance in the form of a cashiers check. I had no checks or other obligations outstanding. I received the check along with a letter expressing H of A's sadness that I was parting company with them as a customer.

Last week, I received a collection notice from an organization whose name I won't disclose but that I'll call "NCO Financial Services number 2." The notice referenced the old B of A H of A checking account number and said I had an "overdraft" of about $32 that the bank was sending to collections if I did not pay up.

I've worked in banking, off and on, for more than four years in several capacities, most of which were operations- or customer service-based. I think I know what happened. When the account was officially closed, it probably still had to cycle through one or two fee cycles. The account was at a zero balance, probably had a zero-balance fee, which caused an overdraft fee, which caused the account to close with an overdraft.

Knowing this, however, does not make me less angry. My credit history is probably as close to immaculate as the credit history of a graduate student who makes about $15,000 a year can be. It is clear that in this case, the way Hank of America organizes its operations did not work, and I wouldn't be surprised if other customers are harmed by its clumsiness. I have taken care of this matter with the bank, but I will not be its customer again.

I should say that I have a strong distaste for most populist outcries against the "power elite" and the near conspiratorial outlook some have about "the banks" and the economy. Still, I'm a bit perplexed how, given the economic and political climate, Hank of America apparently does not take more careful steps to serve its customers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jim Babka on Citizens United v. FEC

Jim Babka at Positiveliberty has an interesting post on the recent Citizens United case (Click here to see it in full). I rarely agree with Mr. Babka's post, but here I'm in almost total agreement. He says, in part,
Your [i.e., the hypothetical incumbent who'd benefit under McCain-Feingold] opposition might be small, spontaneous, and inexperienced. That might also mean too cash poor to afford attorneys or consultants to navigate the perilous law. But the Powers That Be — the authors and enforcers of these laws — always seem to have the resources to operate under these constricting rules. Is that a mere coincidence?

No, it appears to be intentional. After all, when contributions are limited in size, one is required to raise more of them in order to pile up sufficient marketing funds. That’s always easier to do for incumbents. A political contribution can be an investment or it can be protection money. But what does a donor gain by supporting your opposition effort? Given that his contribution is too small to settle the matter in the way he’d prefer, but big enough to be reported so that the incumbent office-holder can see it, the answer may well be “trouble.” So…
This is substantially the point #2 I tried to make in my previous post (here).

I part company with Mr. Babka when he suggests in his post that the media are actively "lying" to the public about the import of the decision. I think it's more a case of people honestly disagreeing about the import and consequences of the case. But I refer to his post because it is much better written than my point on the same topic.

Update, 2-3-10: I should emphasize that while I agree with the result in Citizens United, I still find the corporate dominance--and the dominance of money in particular--in politics to be disturbing. I oppose bans on corporation speech. I believe it is better to keep in place a bad system instead of adopting reforms that would create a worse system. If there is a more effective way to regulate campaign finance that answers the two objections in the post of mine I link to above, I might support it.