Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dolphins 2011 Draft Preview

It is an annual tradition for me to try and offer my free, unsolicited advice to the Dolphins, Timberwolves and Jazz on who they should draft. I feel much more confident in my basketball knowledge, but that still doesn't mean I don't get some fun out of doing a draft preview for the NFL. Anyway, if you were curious here is my short 2010 preview for the Dolphins. The Dolphins ended up going with option 1 and trading down. In retrospect I wish they would have gone with option 4 and picked Earl Thomas of Texas.

Option 1: Draft Ryan Mallett of Arkansas. The Dolphins need a quarterback and after watching a few Arkansas games, I came away impressed with Mallett. The character concerns don't bother me much, and I think the potential to get a really good player at a position of need is there.

Option 2: Trade down and draft Ryan Mallett of Arkansas. If the Dolphins want to gamble that he will still be available at the end of the 1st round or even the 2nd round then it makes sense to trade down and get an additional pick. This is risky though.

Option 3: Draft Jake Locker of Washington. I am not sold on him, but he is a good athlete and this article helped convince me that there would be worse picks out there.

Option 4: Draft Mike Pouncey of Florida. When in doubt draft an offensive lineman.

Option 500: Draft Mark Ingram of Alabama. In other words I am not going to be pleased if the Dolphins use their 1st round pick on a slow running back.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taxes and Incentives

Lately, I have been following the budget discussions in DC. I enjoy thinking about financial issues and also the Republican leader (Paul Ryan) on this issue is a Miami University grad. My information gathering has centered around reading the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Star Tribune, Paul Krugman's blog and part of Paul Ryan's The Path to Prosperity. It is an interesting discussion going on in DC and I would like to add my thoughts on a small part of the discussion; taxes. Specifically, I would like to write a little about the incentives in our current tax code.

I was reading this article in the Star Tribune, and what really stuck out to me was "there are breaks for having children, paying a mortgage, going to college, and even paying other taxes." The article then goes on to quote that "the tax code is filled with a total of $1.1 trillion in credits, deductions and exemption." Now, I am sure that that a lot of these deductions are legitimate, but I have a few questions about the logic behind two of them.

Why are we incentivizing Americans to take on a mortgage or have children?

It seems like the American government is trying to influence Americans into buying homes and having children. I find this baffling. There are definitely benefits to having children and owning a home, but I can't say that it without a doubt either benefits the American public. People who rent and don't have children might even benefit the American public more.

Renters generally live in places that are more urban, which according has certain advantages summarized in this Freakonomics article entitled Why Cities Rock. It is based on a book by Edward Glaeser called Triump of a City, which states that urban environments are "actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live" Also, one huge advantage of renting is the flexibility it provides the renters. When you rent you are in a better situation if the job market changes. Instead of being tied down to a certain area, you are able to go where there are jobs. When I was looking for a new job, it was extremely valuable to me that I was able to interview in North Carolina, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. If I owned a home that wouldn't have been nearly as easy.

Based on that above paragraph, it makes zero sense to me why Americans are allowed to deduct the interest they pay on their mortgage. Why are we subsidizing home ownership? The benefits to the public are debatable at best.

As for the child tax break that also seems even more surprising. Maybe there is something I am missing, but wouldn't it better for the public finances to have less children? Children equal higher hospital costs, school costs and more competition for jobs. Of course children also become the next innovaters and job creators, but my guess is that those children probably come from stable families that would have a child regardless of any tax breaks. It seems to make more sense to have a tax break for people that don't have kids. That incentive to not have children might result in that only people who really want to have kids would be the ones procreating. On average I think that the more somebody wants a child then the better parent that person will be.

I am not trying to be flippant about owning a home or having children. Both are two huge life changes that I would like to go through in my life. I look forward to the day of having a lazy weekend breakfast with M and our children in our own home. My main point isn't that I don't like home ownership or children. I do. I just don't think the government should be involved in either decision. The US government has no place tailoring their tax code to effect either behavior.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Living in Minnesota

In the movie The Shawshank Redemption there is a scene where Red is describing how Andy broke out of prison. The secret to tunneling through a prison wall for Andy's escape was "pressure and time." He might as well have been describing the process of trying to make close friends in Minnesota.

There is a lot I like about living in Minnesota. I love the many sporting event options (especially the Twins), the incredible restaurants and generally the pleasant nature of the people. There are many job options (21 Fortune 500 companies), and the people here are normally very hardworking. Also, the state's does a great job of providing for the public with excellent public schools, parks and city services. That is a huge advantage Minnesota has over my home state of Mississippi.

However, there are some things about Minnesota that I could be improved upon. I read this excellent article by Susanna Daniel on slate.com called Living in the Midwest. She was writing about her life in Madison, Wisconsin, but a lot of what she wrote easily could have described my life in Minnesota. I recommend you read the entire thing, but below are some of the highlights:
  • She and her husband have a spreadsheet with "Things We Like" and "Things We Don't Like" about the Midwest. This could easily be M and I.
  • Her line "Midwesterners are, true-to-reputation, kind and friendly, but they aren't particularly warm" was something that I think about often.
  • "Which means they exist comfortably at a certain remove that can take years - and I mean years - to breach." That is what I meant by pressure and time.
  • She talks about how a newspaper article referred to her as a "recent transplant" despite living there for 10 years and having a married someone from Madison. Being considered an outsider is definitely something I can feel despite having lived in Minnesota for 6 years.
The article is something that really resonated with me. I enjoy living in Minnesota. The pros outweigh the cons. I just wish that it would be easier to get closer friends. It isn't that I don't like the people here, but I just don't think they like me as much. In Mississippi if I enjoyed someone's company then I would have no problem spending day after day with the same people. When I go back to Mississippi, it isn't an effort to hang out with these people since I know we will see each other as much as possible. In Minnesota, I feel like I have allocate and rationalize my friendship differently. The idea of spending day after day with the same person here probably would scare off almost all of my local friends.

Right before I moved to Minnesota, I visited Minneapolis on a apartment hunting tour. I vividly remember reading a local magazine about "Minnesota Nice." The article described the unique nature of trying to become friends with Minnesotans that I would like to end this post on:

Minnesotans are extremely nice people. When asked, they will be more than happy to give you directions - to any place expect their their house.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

College Fairs

The past two nights I have attended two college fairs representing Miami University as a volunteer recruiter. I do this partly because I like to help out Miami, and also partly because I have found that I really enjoy the college fair/high school environment. There is something invigorating about advising high school students on one of the biggest decisions of their life. As someone who thought a lot about what college I should attend, I feel like I have a unique perspective on the entire process.

Anyway, I was talking to M last night about the latest college fair, and she informed me that during my monologue I had used the word "interesting"about 7 times. Her advice was to pick another adjective. The point I was trying to make was that the whole college fair environment intrigued (how about that?) me. Below are some of the noteworthy (another one) thoughts I had from the two college fairs:
  • My favorite question from both fairs was one student who asked if their was a Chipotle in Oxford, OH? I joked that she obviously had her priorities straight, but honestly that isn't a bad question. Most of the other questions (ACT score, student population) you can easily get online, but something that specific is something that I can answer and is a valuable piece of information for that high school student.
  • There are many exceptions, but overall it is clear that female students are much more personable than their male counterparts.
  • I finally was able to use my little synchronized skating knowledge with one student. She was wearing a synchronized skating sweatshirt and knew about Miami's national title winning program. I was able to reference Miami's seven straight national titles, which normally impresses no one.
  • One father came up to me and gave me a little fist pump while saying "the MAC." I asked him what school he attend and he told me it was the fellow MAC school Northern Illinois. At this point I could have either taken the MAC pride as it was or talk a little trash about Miami's MAC championship upset over the Huskies back in December. I choose the latter.
  • One of the more funny moments yesterday was when a blonde cheerleader (she was wearing cheerleading shirt) came up to me and started talking about Florida. She quickly realized (maybe it was the banner that had the large text "Oxford, OH" on it) that this Miami was not the one in Florida. Her friends started giggling and making fun of her immediately.
  • I have to hand it to the Inver Hill Community College rep, who despite his college's reputation seemed to have no problem flirting with the Michigan Tech, Holy Cross, Indiana or Iowa State college reps.
  • I never thought I would be impressing prospective college students with the success of Miami's hockey team. I used the fact that Miami has made it to 2 out of the past 3 Frozen Four's and was a #1 seed in the tournament this year many times. I don't know if it is more surprising that Miami is good at hockey or that I actually care about that.
Anyway, those are just some of the thoughts I had from being a college fair rep. It was something that I am glad that I do, and would love to do more of in the future.