Buffet Says Tax the Rich

From Warren Buffet’s 14-Aug NY Times Op-Ed “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich:”

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Patents Sword and Shield

I’ve blogged recently (here and here) about businesses that acquire patent portfolios for the sole end of aggressive litigation intended to force royalty deals (as opposed to, say, acquiring patents to exploit their technology). Google’s planned acquisition of Motorola Mobility will give it control of MM’s portfolio of 17,000 patents to, as the Wall Street Journal reports, “defend itself against a rash of lawsuits against its Android software.” The Journal reports that also, “[b]esides countersuing in the event it is attacked, Google could use the Motorola patents to lend a legal hand to Android partners such as HTC Corp., which is entangled in litigation with Apple over Android.”

Why Freakonomics is Such Fun

A Freakonomics podcast about family-owned businesses reports that passing on control of the business to the next generation–what Freakonomics calls “Scionology”–generally diminishes value.  It makes sense that passing control into a talent pool of limited size, whose members are determined by what Warren Buffet calls the “ovarian lottery,” would tend to yield less favorable results than merit-based succession to a larger and more diverse pool.  This is true in all developed countries–except Japan. Why? Because “Japanese families often adopt an adult to take over.”  98%–98%!!!!–of Japanese adoptees are males between the ages of 25 and 30.  Only 2% of Japanese adoptees are children.


I’m not anti-jet ski.  I’ve ridden them before–most memorably a four-hour rental on Rangeley Lake on a cold and stormy late-August day when the boys were young–and I’ll ride them again. They are undeniably fun.  They also sound like the bastard offspring of a dentist’s drill and an aquatic chain saw.  They are annoying when ridden in circles on the same place again and again and again and again.

Like today.  Neighbors were racing out of the neighboring cove, turning in front of our property, and riding in circles about 400 feet off our dock.  For hours, uncharacteristic traffic for our quiet lake.  These aren’t teenage boys but men who appear to be in their 30’s or older.  We were on our dock most of the day, subjected to endless wake-jumping right in front of us.  I would have been content if they’d spread their noise all around the lake, or wake-jumped in front of their own waterfront for hours.  But they didn’t.  Mostly they rode in a 200-yard circle right outside our cove.

It was all worth it, though, after one of the riders fell from his jet ski a few hundred feet from our dock.  He was unharmed, wearing a life vest, and in no physical distress. And it was the aftermath, not his fall, that we enjoyed.  Climbing aboard his top-heavy frame unbalanced and rolled the jet ski, dropping him him in the water.  He moved again to the stern and very carefully pulled his torso onto the seat, but when he pulled his legs aboard the jet ski rolled and he fell in again.  And again. And again. And again. This continued for about 10 minutes. For a while his companion watched from a few feet away on the other jet ski without offering any help. Then rode away, leaving his hapless friend on his own. I met his first dozen attempts with a “serves-you-right=you=boor” attitude, but after a while his pathetic inability to solve his problem became as annoying as his endless wake-jumping.  I was considering swimming out to assist–either counter-balancing the ski or pointing to the shore 60 feet away where he could climb aboard from a rock–when he arrived on his own at the later solution.

August Vacation

In my life August means vacation.  When they were young the boys went to sleep-away camp, which lasted eight weeks and ended two weekends before Labor Day. (Now summer camp sessions are seven weeks.) We would pick them up from camp and spend the next two weeks on a lake in northern New England–Pocasset, Rangeley, or Mooselookmeguntic, certainly the most fun to pronounce.  Late-August vacation means hot dry sunlight, waning daylight, cool nights, and pre-autumn melancholy.

Organ Sale?

Last summer’s Law and Ethics class featured a discussion problem on the ethics of selling kidneys.  Currently transplanted kidneys originate either with voluntary living donors, often the patient’s family members, or from cadavers of those who agreed during life to donate organs.  There is no legal arms-length market for kidneys or other organs in the U.S., although I’ve heard that kidneys can be purchased nonetheless. The National Kidney Foundation states in “25 Facts About Organ Donation and Transplantation” that “[b]ecause of the lack of available donors in this country, 4,573 kidney patients, 1,506 liver patients, 371 heart patients and 234 lung patients died in 2008 while waiting for life-saving organ transplants.”  After debating the issue last year’s class rejected the ethics of an organ market. Recently Sue Rabbit Roff, an academic at Dundee University in Scotland, proposed in the British Medical Journal that college students should be allowed to sell their kidneys for roughly $46,000, which is about the average annual income in the U.K.  Roff wrote “[t]his would be an incentive across most income levels for those who wanted to do a kind deed and make enough money to, for instance, pay off university loans.”  In the linked article Ethics Newsline reports the British Medical Association “is strongly opposed to the idea. Some doctors are concerned about potential abuse while others consider it fundamentally unethical.”

Sovereignty over one’s body and being includes the right to donate organs in certain circumstances.  If I can give my kidney to my sister* then why can’t I sell it to a stranger? The problem is that any such market would be abused, with wealthy purchasers and financially-strapped sellers.  Kazuo Ishiguro explored an extreme version of this in Never Let Me Go, in which a class of humans is cloned and raised solely to be organ donors.  (The book is worth reading.  I don’t know if the recent movie version is worth seeing.) One ethical tenet states that people should be valued as ends in themselves and not be used as means to an end.  An organ market turns that on its head.

However, it would however certainly redefine the meaning of alumni giving.

*This is NOT an invitation, Barbara

Sure Beats Working

Tonight’s flurry of random posts trending towards inanity was brought to you by our sponsors: Final Exam Proctoring, Handy Internet Connection, Short Attention Span, Large Iced Espresso, and Nestle Butterfinger Bar.

Now it’s time to bid the Chelmsford campus adieu for 2011.  See you next year. Maybe.