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Belmont Club

I Wonder Why

January 26th, 2014 - 2:50 pm

The New York Times has a human interest piece on a lawyer, a partner in a reputable firm, who has fallen on hard times. “According to his petition, he had $400 in his checking account and $400 in savings. He lives in a rental apartment at 151st Street and Broadway. He owns clothing he estimated was worth $900 and his only jewelry is a Concord watch, which he described as ‘broken’”.

How does a man earning $375,000 a year fall to the clothes on his back and a busted wristwatch?  The answer is expenses.  The NYT describes how difficult it is for a man of a certain stature to make ends on such a meager sum. Someone else might think that $375,000 a year was a lot of money — but they wouldn’t understand.

How far does $375,000 a year go in New York City? Strip out estimated income taxes ($7,500 a month), domestic support ($10,517), insurance ($2,311), a mandatory contribution to his retirement plan ($5,900), and routine expenses for rent ($2,460 a month) transportation ($550) and food ($650) and Mr. Owens estimated that he was running a small monthly deficit of $52, according to his bankruptcy petition.

The emphasis of the piece is on the new vulnerability of professionals. In former times no one had to live on such a comparatively small amount. But economic pressures have forced law firms to increasingly rely on “nonequity” partners who are essentially employees.  The security of the past is gone.  Whereas the distressed lawyer might in former times have expected a much higher income he has been compelled by circumstances to accept the smaller sum. And how can a guy live on that?

“It’s sad to hear about this fellow, but he’s not alone in being in jeopardy,” said Thomas S. Clay, an expert on law firm management and a principal at the consulting firm Altman Weil, which advises many large law firms. “For the past 40 years, you could just be a partner in a firm, do good work, coast, keep your nose clean, and you’d have a very nice career. That’s gone.”

In a way the travails of the lawyer are simply those of the country writ small.  Jim Geraghty of the National Review reports that whoever used the world “affordable” in the Obamacare act didn’t know what “affordable” meant.

A non-smoking woman, age 30, buying the plan with the lowest possible premium in the state of Virginia would pay $564 per year, or $47 per month. Affordable! . . . Until you realize the deductible is $7,500. That’s how much she has to pay out of pocket before her insurance pays anything. Maybe in a terrible year, full of ailments, she’ll hit it in autumn.

And that’s a bargain compared to some other states. In Vermont, a 30-year-old non-smoking woman can find a plan with a monthly premium of just $56 per month! Except that the deductible is $100,000, according to the GAO report. Sure, you can get a plan with a $3,500 deductible . . . for $292 per month.

Who has that kind of money laying around? Or more to the point, who thinks that people have that kind of money laying around? How can you not know what “affordable” means? Maybe the problem with all things money is that it is measured by our personal yardsticks.

Ask Daniel Garza of Detroit who believes the designers of Obamacare never understood what Hispanics could pay, especially because most of Hispanics are young and overcharged by Obamacare. And secondarily that money doesn’t buy value because Obamacare networks are so narrow that Hispanics can’t actually find doctors they can talk to.

Unfortunately, our options are limited by the fact that only 5 percent of doctors are Hispanic. Yet that’s where Obamacare kicks in and makes things worse. Because the law imposes so many expensive mandates and regulations on health insurance, the most affordable health care plans no longer include the large networks that give us the most choice.

Something has been lost in translation.  Some of this misunderstanding may be due to context: the possibility that Garza’s constituency reads “affordable” as “free” whereas the lawyers who drafted the Obamacare may regard $7,500 in deductibles as “affordable”.

It recalls the perhaps apocryphal story of a hobo who approached a titled English lady at the height of the depression with the plaint, “I haven’t eaten for days!” to which the lady with the best of intentions answered, “my poor man. There’s a nice restaurant just down the block, I’m sure you can eat there.”  That wasn’t the question the hobo was asking, but then the rich, F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “are different from you and me.”

They’ve forgotten what it was like to be poor.

Charles Murray observed that by the late 20th century, in order appear wealthy in America you above all had to give the impression of never having known any other kind of life. It was not enough to have money. It was necessary to live and act as if money had always and would always be there, a condition of nature. That was the key. And for many it was not necessary to act, for the belief that the good times would always roll was entirely sincere. Murray wrote:

What makes the new upper class new is that its members not only have power and influence but also increasingly share a common culture that separates them from the rest of the country. Fifty years ago, the people who rose to the most influential positions overwhelmingly had Hank’s [a successful small businessman's] kind of background, thoroughly grounded in the American mainstream. Today, people of influence are characterized by college education, often from elite colleges. The men are married not to the girl next door but to highly educated women socialized at the same elite schools who are often as professionally successful as their husbands. They were admitted to this path by a combination of high IQ and personality strengths. They are often the children — and, increasingly, grandchildren — of the upper-middle class and have never known any other kind of life.

The American upper class entered the 21st century with the unshakable belief that money was no problem. If more were ever needed then the Fed could simply print it. And in the context of this cornucopia it would be completely reasonable to offer education, universal healthcare and open the border to all; to supply foreign aid without limit and embark on the unfettered use of the US military to prevent any ethnic cleansing or bigotry anywhere in the world. In such an ideal world only the the lack of compassion would be grounds for refusal.  It only remained to convince the narrow minded men mired in the narrow world of car repair shops and lumberyards to see things the right way.

The unarticulated question raised by the New York Times article is ‘what if times have changed?” Suppose the downturn in tenured professors, equity partners and book publishing isn’t temporary but permanent? What if — gasp — we have to live on less than $375,000 a year? Then what on earth shall we do?

What shall we do if we got it wrong? What shall we do if men in the lumberyards and car repair shops are after all right? Suppose money is not forever and … well what now?  As the nation — like the lawyer writ large — ponders possibility of bankruptcy it must be said that maybe the world does look different with only the clothes on your back and a broken watch.

And yet for many, even in the depths of rueful acknowledgment,  the mystery will remain: when was the fatal moment? They went to the correct schools, settled in the approved city, punched the right tickets and now — this? Where exactly did it go wrong?


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Top Rated Comments   
An interesting philosophical question, going back to Genesis 18:22-33 in the Judeo-Christian tradition. How many “righteous men” suffice to spare an enemy nation/state from destruction? How many good intermixed within the evil suffice to not regard them as an enemy? Further, how many sides does it take to start a war?

There were, undoubtably, good and moral Germans in both World Wars, in and out of government service. But the majority were indubitably very dangerous enemies who had to be killed to avoid Americans being killed by them at the direction of their governing authority. Similarly for Japanese, for Chinese in Korea, and for Americans themselves, north and south during the Civil War. And we bombed and killed Germans and Japanese, civil and military, with no attempt to separate sheep from goats. During the Civil War, Yankee general Pleasanton came through western [as opposed to West] Virginia literally burning, raping, and looting his way through undefended civilian areas. Sherman scorched a swathe through Georgia. Neither cared whether the locals had supported either secession or slavery.

If you are an inhabitant of a belligerent state, when war comes you are as much the enemy as your neighbor regardless of what your separate beliefs are. It is the nature of war, that the other side will lump you together. If you do not want to be so classified, you either have to prevent your country from attacking the other, or leave before or during hostilities.

We are engaged in a Cold Civil War right now. Not Left-Right; but rather the statist TWANLOC which enfolds the Nomenklatura of both nominal wings of the Governing Party –v- the rest of the country. We are two separate nations, cultures, languages, and ideologies that are incompatible and are locked inside of the borders of the same piece of territory we both claim. That has historical precedent, and the number of possible outcomes is both limited and not … gentle.

If we listen to TWANLOC, they are plain in what they say. They intend to crush, enslave, or wipe us out. At least 25% of us if Obama’s mentor is to be believed. That is the percentage that they believe cannot be re-educated. I’m hoping that they are underestimating the cussedness of Americans.

OK, talk is cheap, and the mass of the enemy has never encountered the pointy end of the stick. Nor the idea of discipline. Nor the concept of consequences for their actions applying to them. It may be a case of oral cavity overloading the rectal one.

But we see our country’s economy deliberately being destroyed. We see our defenses being dismantled and our foreign enemies both encouraged and subsidized. We see the Congress castrated [although much of that is deliberately self-inflicted]. We see the courts packed with the enemy’s agents, and those who are not agents are suborned or bribed. The Constitution is ignored. Elections are fraudulent to the degree that the outcome cannot be trusted. And the entire Executive Branch has been militarized with every aspect of a police state installed.

This is more than words. This is a series of actions that lead up to a certain conclusion.

So, I tend to regard whole areas and populations controlled by our enemies to be just that. Fair to individuals? Probably not. Nice? Definitely not. But I do consider it to be a rational response to the situation. There are others who do not, and who do not see the current situation as being as threatening as I do. Every person has to make his own way to his interpretation of the truth. I figure that no matter what I say, the truth of the matter will become manifest probably in a shorter time than anyone is going to like.

4th post, this thread, and out.

Subotai Bahadur
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've looked at money from both sides now
From debt and wealth and still somehow
It's money's illusions I recall
I really don't have no money at all

When the government can make a hash of any financial plans you make, from long range investment for retirement, the value of your house to the real inflation rate, they have destroyed the notion of the soveriegnty of the individual and defacto, destroyed property rights.

Those inalienable rights? Yeah, we're going to have to fight for them again.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
All blue cities are unaffordable for the middle class and getting worse. The Lefturd Criminals that run those places can't resist the urge to regulate the hell out of anything that moves, and as a result the cost of living is sky-high.

The Pubs and Conservatives have missed the boat big time on this issue.

The consequences of suffocating regulation is not just about the affect on jobs; it also makes everything more expensive, and lo and behold after a while no one middle class can afford to live. Imagine the effects of Obamacare and extrapolate it to all your other household expenses.

This squeeze on the middle class is purposeful, for the aim of our betters is force us all into dependent serfdom.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (68)
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$120k in "domestic support" each year. That's insane. And feminists wonder why more and more men are opting out of marriage.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Kathy Shaidle at http://www.fivefeetoffury.com/2014/01/27/the-unarticulated-question-raised-by-the-new-york-times-article-is/

wonders just how the NYT found this guy. She asked a friend who asked back if maybe the NYT reporter is hooked up with the ex-wife?

Who knows? Such a thing would be in the grand tradition of Journalism
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
According to Seth Mandel at Commentary, there's another lawyer/former husband in the Left's crosshairs: Jeff Davis.
"But it was only going to get worse for her ex-husband, and now it has. Politico is running with a magazine piece by Liza Mundy defending Davis. Most of the article is mendacious–it consists of setting ablaze a field of straw men. But then she aims at Jeff Davis:

While she has been portrayed as the materialistic beneficiary of a duped husband, let me offer another plausible interpretation: At some point Jeff Davis astutely realized he had married a woman who aimed to do more than answer phones and serve salads. He saw that it would be not just in her interest, but his, if he facilitated her advance. He helped her go to law school not only out of the goodness of his heart but because he was betting on her economic prospects, as women have long bet on the prospects of men. How many hundreds of thousands of American women worked to put a husband through law or med school? Did we criticize the men who benefited? Jeff Davis did for his spouse what wives have long done for husbands: He invested in her—their—future.

When Mundy says 'let me offer another plausible interpretation,' what she is saying is she’s about to speculate without evidence that Jeff Davis had ulterior motives when he made great sacrifices for his family. . . ."

More at the link: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2014/01/27/left-goes-after-wendy-daviss-ex-husband/
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Further to Mark V below:

Yes, I did the same arithmetic, and came almost to the same conclusion. However, the phrase is "in the black", not "in the red". And since I was working a minimum wage job a few years ago waiting for the recovery, I was living on $1500 gross per month, and had to pay rent, food, transport, etc. out of that. What's his problem?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
In light of Subotai's and no mo uro's (and others') posts, it may be a good time to revisit the "Who Goes Nazi" post from a few years ago.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theanchoress/2010/07/25/the-game-who-goes-nazi/
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
In Edo Japan, the merchant class was the most despised, and was held to the lowest stratum -- even lower than farmers and fishermen. Yet they were the ones with the most money and goods! The Samurai and Shoguns had to borrow from these "lowly ones" to support their lifestyles. The merchant class financed the rebirth and flowering of block-print art that had become famous worldwide after American warships forced Japan to end its isolation at gunpoint.

Are we heading towards a similar topsy-turvy restratification? Will the current "monied class" that may find itself in dire straights have to beg from those who will be truly more resourceful, if only because such newer people will believe in selling real value for real value in return? The Robertsons of Duck Dynasty got their millions from making duck calls. Maybe that down-at-the-mouth on $375K lawyer could find employment handling legal affairs for those mega-wealthy swamp billies?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Here is the best detailed description and explanation of America's new elite.

http://spectator.org/articles/39326/americas-ruling-class-and-perils-revolution
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great link. From it:

"Machiavelli compares serious political diseases to the Aetolian fevers -- easy to treat early on while they are difficult to discern, but virtually untreatable by the time they become obvious."

Another link, from Instapundit earlier today:

http://bearingarms.com/connecticut-scrambles-for-amnesty-plan-after-realizing-that-citizens-are-refusing-to-register-their-assault-weapons-and-high-capacity-magazines/

It seems to me that America has one of those serious political diseases, yet the new American elite Codevilla described is too incompetent, arrogant, and self-absorbed to notice.

I pity them a bit, on the rare occasions when my loathing tires.

They keep writing rules and regulations to make the world a better place, but the damned dirty apes of flyoverland just won't do what they're told.

I suspect the slavocracy of the politically dominant American south had roughly their same dilemma just prior to the Civil War, as did the English government just prior to the American Revolution.

That is, the political arrangements of the time were collapsing, and they knew they had a problem to solve. The solution all adopted was to mash on the buttons they had available even harder.

The slavocracy engineered themselves a supreme court decision which would have rendered state laws banning slavery moot, resolving the slavery question in favor of the South, if that decision had stood. Lord North attempted to put the colonists in their place with the Intolerable Acts, closing the port of Boston after the Tea Party. Etc, etc.

Today, we have Obamacare. I figure this an attempt to solve the socialist problem of running out of other peoples' money by simply expropriating a new revenue source- all the wealth that had previous been directed at providing medical care- and using it to keep the welfare state stumbling along.

Obviously I don't think that will succeed. I see many pessimistic comments here, from many people I recognize from years past, and I feel like a crazy optimist sometimes for disagreeing with their pessimism.

But when the present regime can't even manage to get people in deep-blue Connecticut to register their guns, after decades of propaganda, I simply do not believe that the present ruling class will be able to retain their grip on power.

To paraphrase Andrew Jackson- they have written their words, now let them enforce them.

So far, it ain't going well.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've had times when I was working and still very short of money, and I've known quite a few men who have gotten into the same predicament the subject of this tale is in.

In my experience, the real problem always comes down to a single word: Women. Government, at best, is a co-conspirator.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mistake #1 - don't get married.

The largest impact on his expenses is to an ex that does nothing in return. If this guy, who has got to be at least passingly familiar with contract law, could not see that he signed on to the worst one-sided contract he possibly could, with a court system that imputes his income and has the history of only enforcing one side of the contract, with incarceration, no less, and has a vested interest in making sure his payments are set as high as possible, then he, quite bluntly, sucks as a lawyer, and should not, in good faith, be in the business of looking out for other people's interests.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
...and this is one of the reasons America is in such deep trouble.

Nobody does the math.

Given the figures in this article, our hapless lawyer is not running a $52 dollar deficit per month, as stated in this article.

He's $1362 per month in the red.

Here are the numbers that were given:

Monthly Annual
$7,500 $90,000
$10,517 $126,204
$2,311 $27,732
$5,900 $70,800
$2,460 $29,520
$550 $6,600
$650 $7,800
$29,888 $358,656 Totals

$375k per annum is $31,250 per month

$29,888 - $31,250 = ($1,362)


Now, I'm not crying a river for this lawyer, but I am pointing out that our society has gotten used to sloppy arithmetic, so much so that the man's lawyer can't get the math right, and the author of this article doesn't catch it, and it slips right by the majority of the PJM commentators, who are probably a cut above the general population in intelligence, education, and awareness of such issues.

So how can we expect Johny on the street to see through the repeated lies of the Democrats when it comes to matters financial?


31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well we finished off the bottle and I told him,"Joe I think I ought to
Be headed uptown"
Well it was late, and I'd been drinkin', drivin' home I got to thinkin'
'Bout what's been going down

Cause they're nervous down on Wall Street, but they're trying to keep it upbeat
Or maybe they just don't care
But down at the river eyes are burnin' cause they feel the tables turnin'
So if you wind up down there . . .

"Keep yourself to yourself
Keep your bedroll dry
And boy you never can tell
What the shadows hide
Keep ene eve on the ground
Pick up whatever you find
'Cause you've got no place to fall
When your back's to the wall"

-- Steve Earle
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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