April 15th may not mean much to our international readers, but it’s the day we USian taxpaying throgs owe our third (or half, if you’ve selected your state unwisely or earned too much, or more, if you’ve done both) of our productivity to the most unproductive organization on earth, the various levels of US Government. You send it in along with your “tax return,” a document whose very name implies that it’s the .gov’s money all along, they were just letting you earn it for them. Right generous of them.
Because we experienced the unusual combination of a weak earning year and a good investment year, 2013 was a little peculiar: the amount we just sent in with a Federal extension was more than we actually made working. We’ve finally reached the point of the old Simplified Tax Form Joke: the simplified tax form has just two lines:
- How much did you make last year?, and,
- Send it in.
Here’s Remy Munasifi with a musical rendition of just how good this feels:
We’ve long noted that despite deep divisions in US politics, most everybody thinks the federal government wastes leviathan quantities of money. The left and right may not agree with what exact programs are the wasteful ones, but they agree there are a lot of wasteful ones. And the cocktail-party conversation evidence is that most honest people on either side of the aisle are appalled at how much waste and corruption there is, even in programs that they support philosophically.
If you’ve noted us getting ill-tempered around here lately, well, not everybody has Remy’s knack of making a musical joke of it.
Where the Tax Money Goes
Lois Lerner, a retired “civil servant” for the IRS and the wife of another former “civil servant” for the same agency, have amassed, through the usually corrupt inside-the-beltway self-seeking processes, vast sums of money, and live in a two and a half million dollar house. The average federal employee has a total compensation of well over $100k a year, more than twice what the actual workers who pay the taxes get, and has many other benefits unheard of in the Dreaded Private Sector. In 2009, almost 400k Federal employees were in the 100k salary-alone club (not counting rich benefits like overtime, location pay, and an unsustainably rich pension scheme). By 2012, the number was closer to 500k employees, more than one in five Federal payroll patriots. On average, Federal employees earn twice as much as private sector employees in comparable jobs.
- How much did you make last year?
- Send it in.
Something Better that Happened April 15th
On this day 50 years ago, Ford Motor Company designers and engineers brought forth in this land a conceptually-novel and category-defining product, the 1965 Mustang. Within a few years it would be copied by almost everybody in Detroit. Most of the copies (and a chunk of the nameplates that spawned them) have fallen by the wayside; a few (Camaro, Challenger) have been reborn; but the Mustang has remained in continuous production, and more or less true to its original vision, if you squint past the Carter ‘Malaise’ era Mustang II. Starting in the 1980s the Mustang came back with remarkable strength, sometimes despite Ford accountants’ efforts to strangle it. Everybody else will have a picture of the body style today, so in our contrary spirit, here’s the office:
It is clearly a product of its period, and people who try to use them as daily drivers quickly learn what fifty years of engineering progress has wrought, despite fifty years of government meddling. But it is a time capsule, and to drive one at seven tenths is still exhilarating. (At nine tenths, terrifying; at ten, traumatic).
This is not the greatest paradox of the original Mustang, but a paradox it is: in fact it was no feat of stylistic perfection or engineering genius. It was a somewhat busy reskin of the dreadful Falcon econobox, an attractive enough car, but one launched into a market experiencing a golden age of automotive styling. Its engineering was pedestrian, and sports-car snobs laughed at it (until Carroll Shelby’s racing team started beating them with Mustangs). But it was a new idea and one that took the world by storm. (In Germany, where the all-American trademark “Mustang” was owned by a lawnmower company that would not negotiate with Ford, they sold as the “T5,” but they still sold it, remarkable given the differences in roads, fuel costs and laws). It was swept along into legend by the youth and vigor of the Baby Boomers, the very same generation now grown grasping and bitter in their dotage.
No, the greatest paradox is that the 1964 could have been the 1962 Mustang. It’s probably just as well it wasn’t, or it would be hopelessly mired in Camelot journoworship, but the reason for the delay was the presence of the bloodless numbers guy, Robert S. MacNamara, as head of Ford. MacNamara’s career is an interesting example of a guy going to the “right school” — in his case, Harvard Business — and then failing ever upward. His high points:
- Before Ford, he was head of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, the statistical whiz kids charged with making it look like it was the 8th Air Force, and not the US, British and Russian ground armies, that actually beat Germany. They tortured the data mightily but it never really gives up that conclusion; German factories mostly ceased production when there was a Sherman, Churchill, or T-34 sitting atop their ruins.
- At Ford, where he was hired by Ernie Breech to instill some numeric discipline (and make up for the late Henry Ford’s practice of firing all the accountants every time he found them), MacNamara redlighted the Mustang. He did, however, greenlight the Edsel, because the numbers looked good. He was proudest, though, of the Falcon, designed by the numbers to be a minimalist car. As a numbers guy, he never understood how any car buyer would be motivated to want more than basic transportation; as a retired Ford top executive, he was entitled to a new lease every year of any Ford product. The others so blessed chose luxurious Lincolns or exotic GTs; MacNamara always chose the most basic transportation, with the minimum options. He was consistent, we’ll give him that, and at least he wasn’t innumerate — quite the contrary.
- After Ford, of course, he became Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense. Before we get to Vietnam, let’s look at where the numbers led Mac: to try to get the Navy and Air Force to share the same fighter planes. He didn’t think he needed to understand the different missons of at-sea Combat Air Patrol and deep interdiction; he was a Harvard man after all. The result was two separate disasters: the large one of the TFX, which the Navy finally escaped after the prototype killed their test pilots, and the Air Force finally whipped into a combat plane in 15 or 20 years of staggering expenditures (where it was saved by Moore’s Law and new electronically-enabled armaments like smart bombs). The small one was inflicting the gunless F4 on the Air Force, who ultimately learned to fight the airplane successfully.
- Then there was Vietnam, in which Mac gave us MacNamara’s 100,000 (which was more like 200,000, low-fuctioning recruits and draftees, or, to be blunt, retards). Then proceeded to project onto the Nort Vietnamese his own obsession with numbers, and send them “messages” that were irrelevant to DRV war aims; then came up with the whole Igloo White, etc. MacNamara Line to prevent and interdict enemy border infiltration. Then in his memoirs he admits he knew the US was losing, but just kept shoveling troops in, because, what the hey, they were just numbers anyway. In retirement, LBJ, who kept all of Kennedy’s Cabinet except RFK who insisted on quitting, despite the fact that none of the Harvard men respected him at all, mused that he, “should have fired the sonofabitch.” You don’t say.
- MacNamara still wasn’t done failing upward. After his fiasco-rich stint as Secretary of Defense, MacNamara headed the World Bank, and continued to torture numbers, in this instance to allow the Bank to continue to make loans to collapsing economies. Default followed default and the Bank nearly collapsed.
Despite all that, and despite being a numbers guy, he still didn’t wind up as rich as Lois Lerner. But then, she didn’t kill tens of thousands of American troops with bad decisions. So that’s a data point in her favor.
When the Mustang was introduced, MacNamara, then Secretary of Defense, sniffed that it wouldn’t outsell his baby — the Falcon. When it did, Mustang proponent Lee Iacocca sent a rather rude message to Mac. Can you blame him?
Tomorrow, back to guns… so many ideas, so little time, and we need to earn the money we paid the jeezly government.