Criticism

Experts Maybe Not So Expert-y After All

We talk a lot around here about the people who hold themselves out as financial experts, and how they’re mostly full of bologna. And while we’re on the topic: Donald Trump! Why does anyone think of that dope as a paragon of financial acumen? The dude was born rich and still managed to go bankrupt.

We also dispense a fair bit of advice, or, at least, ponderous suggestions and strongly held opinions, even though none of us is, in any way, a certified expert in matters fiscal. Luckily, that doesn’t matter, because, as a new study reveals, professional mutual fund managers, who presumably would know a thing or two about managing their own money, are just as profligate, impetuous, and generally pound-foolish as the rest of us.

One of the researchers involved suggests that the main takeaway is “average investors might be better off managing their own stock portfolios rather than paying a high-fee mutual-fund managers, because beating the market is rare and very difficult.” That is surely true, but doesn’t go far enough. Average people, who mostly don’t invest in anything beyond groceries, rent, and used cars, should take great solace in knowing that even to the experts, money is basically inscrutable and advantageous decisions are elusive. So go ahead and lace up your fancy sneakers, put your iPhone in your pocket, and go buy a latte. There is a reason they call economics “the dismal science.” There is also probably a reason they call boxing “the sweet science,” but let’s not worry about that just now.

Photo by the author.

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OK, Gentrification is Lousy. Now What?

The problem, ultimately, is capitalism. It is a system designed to channel goods to the people willing and able to pay the most for them, including real estate.

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“Behind Every Jane Jacobs Comes Giuliani with his Nightstick.”

Mueller’s painting with too broad a brush. Not so much a broad brush, even: a flamethrower.

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The Only Thing You Need to Read on National Coffee Day Is This ‘History of the Latte Factor’ by Helaine Olen

[View the story "Helaine Olen on 'The History of the Latte Factor'" on Storify]

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The Liberal Arts Are Not a Luxury: An ‘Excellent Sheep’ Responds to Deresiewicz

Filling our history and literature classes with only affluent students means that we will rarely again turn out a Junot Diaz, an Alice Walker, an Irving Howe or a Sherman Alexie.

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Paying for the Things You Never Fathomed You’d Pay For

I was at lunch with a friend a few months ago when he looked down at his watch and said, “Oh I just got a message from [so-and-so]—I’ll need to dash off in 15 minutes.”

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How a 24-Year-Old Undocumented College Student Does Money

Giancarlo Tello is a 24-year-old New Jersey resident who peppers his Facebook feed with Yu-Gi-Oh! references, Magic the Gathering speak, and other geeky, pop culture talk. Bespectacled and somewhat unassuming at first glance, he comes off as a typical Rutgers University student.

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Everybody Loves Uber!*

Salon.com has a darkly portentous article titled “Why Uber Must Be Stopped,” and in case there’s any doubt about how unscrupulous and even criminal they think the ride-sharing app is, they’ve illustrated it with a picture of Jordan Belfort and Gordon Gekko. Guys, come on. No Mr. Burns?

Defenders of no-holds-barred free-market competition see nothing to be alarmed or concerned about. Riders can only benefit from fierce competition for their services, and the number of cancellations is trivial compared to Lyft’s total volume of rides, explains Timothy Lee at Vox. On the other hand, if you are inclined to see Uber as the acme of ruthless and amoral profit-seeking, then the latest news on Uber’s “deceptive tactics” is just one more confirmation of how the company will do anything to win. Uber’s ambitions are limitless and it has the bankroll to do what it wants.

Indeed, there is some irony to the fact that Uber has so much cash in the bank that it need not comply with the most basic premise of capitalism — the notion that survival is predicated on making more money than you spend. With access to an astonishing $1.5 billion in capital, Uber can simultaneously wage regulatory battles in multiple cities, engage in recruitment wars in which smartphones are distributed like candy, subsidize drivers at below cost, and employ whomever is necessary to achieve long-term goals. The real question we should be asking ourselves is this: What happens when a company with the DNA of Uber ends up winning it all? What happens when the local taxi companies are destroyed and Lyft is crushed? When Uber has dominant market position in every major city on the globe? “UberEverywhere” isn’t a joke. It’s a mantra, a call to arms, a holy ideology.

I have trouble with Salon in its incarnation as a red-faced, bearded, overly earnest dude who gesticulates a lot. It’s hard to nod when you’re getting flecked with his impassioned spittle.

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When Restaurant Workers Can’t Afford to Eat

In July, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of New York, an organization dedicated to improving wages and conditions for people who work in restaurants, released a report called “Food Insecurity of Restaurant Workers.” The report, based on surveys and interviews with people in the restaurant industry in New York and San Francisco, shows the ways in which the employment conditions of restaurant work make it very difficult for workers to feed themselves.

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Point/Counterpoint: Does Empowerment Sell?

POINT, via the New York Times: People are paying lots of positive attention to that new Pantene ad about not apologizing so much and the Under Armour one featuring ballerina Misty Copeland! Perhaps we are finally feeling the winds of change.

Ms. Copeland, standing at 5 feet 2 inches tall, muscular and busty, faced similar criticism as a young dancer, not fitting the willowy mold of the typical ballerina. But she succeeded, making herself the perfect face — or body —  for Under Armour’s empowering tagline “I will what I want.”

“For aspiring dancers (and their teachers) to see that her body — her skin color, her monster glutes, her bust — do look right, that’s just huge,” writes Hana Glasser at Slate, in one of the many articles gushing about the campaign’s inspirational power.

Whereas the straight-up sex ads for places like American Apparel feel tired, retro. Or is that merely the brand?

Maybe Empowerment has the edge these days! Maybe we consumers, especially ladies, want to be feel inspired to part with our money rather than shamed into doing it, out of the fear that otherwise we’ll be insufficiently attractive to men.

COUNTERPOINT, via the Hairpin: I’m sorry, what

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Class Consciousness In Kids’ Books

Last night I read the children’s book Corduroy to babygirl for the 15,000th time. A small bear in green overalls wanders a department store at night looking for his lost button, because that button represents everything that is out of his reach: love and acceptance, family, security, home. He is rescued by a girl, Lisa, who believes in his potential so much that she empties out her piggy bank for him. Once she and Corduroy have settled in her bedroom, she sews on a new button for him, not because he needs it but because he’ll be more comfortable with his strap fastened. And then they share a big hug.

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