Reader Mailbag: National Novel Writing Month Begins

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What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Trust fund family problems
2. New job, retirement issues
3. Long term care insurance
4. How do CDs work?
5. Book on blogging
6. Paying ahead on mortgage
7. Books on fatherhood
8. Roll over my TSP?
9. World Series redux
10. Voting

As I mentioned before, I’m going to publicly write and share a rough draft of a novel during the month of November. It’s going to be a rough draft, so expect it to be rough. Having said that, I also think it’s going to be a solid read. More details on Wednesday, as I should have a few thousand words uploaded by then.

Q1: Trust fund family problems
My sister-in-law suddenly and unexpectedly passed away this summer. She named her youngest sister, Mary, as the sole beneficiary of her life insurance. Mary has made a lot of poor choices in her life. She has no job, no education, no money, and no sense of responsibility. Now suddenly she has $200,000.

My sister-in-law also left behind an 8-year-old son, Bobby, who now lives with his dad. (They divorced several years ago.) His dad recently remarried, and they have a baby on the way. With Bobby to take care of too, money is extremely tight.

The family believes my sister-in-law wanted to give Mary one last chance to set her life straight and learn responsibility. Mary has promised to set aside money for Bobby, but so far all she has done is go on a spending spree and show off to her friends. The family is concerned that she will just blow through the money. Is this where a trust fund would be helpful? How can the family make sure there is money left to take care of Bobby?
- Katie

If you’re asking for my opinion, she’s probably going to blow through the money. If she were serious about setting aside money for the boy, that would have happened before anything else.

Now, what should you do about it? You can’t make her do anything, but you can make it as easy as possible for her to commit some portion of the money to a trust for Bobby. Assume that a relatively small portion of the money will go into the trust ($20K to $50K is what I’d assume), then get the paperwork drawn up yourself and make it so that all she has to do is sign on the dotted line and transfer the cash.

Make all of the decisions about the trust yourself. Should it allow a certain percentage to be withdrawn each year for Bobby’s care? Should it just sit until he reaches adulthood? Who should be the trustee? That’s a personal decision within your family.

Having said that, I would not be shocked if she refuses to sign it, at which point I would assume Bobby won’t get a dime of it.

Q2: New job, retirement issues
I’m 23 and have been working in medical sales for 17 months (I was one of the lucky few to get a job right out of college). I just bought an engagement ring so after I propose (and hopefully she says yes) I’ll have to start looking at the cost of a wedding and also a place of our own. My girlfriend and I are each living with our parents still (nice of them to invite us back after college, eh?) so with no living expenses, low food expenses, and overall wise spending habits I save around 70-80% of my post-tax salary. She’s going to school for her MSW so she has no income (but her parents have taken care of school payments so very few expenses too).

I currently put 10% towards my company’s 401k, but they don’t match. I have about $6,000 there, $10,000 in a Citibank money market, $15,000 in an Ally savings account, and around $5,000 in bonds (birthday/bar mitzvah gifts) that have not yet matured.

I just got offered another job that I’ll be starting in January and they are a 1099 company, so they don’t offer any sort of retirement investment options. What should I do with the 401k from my current job? Keep it and open something else? Roll it into a Roth IRA? They seem to be all the rage nowadays. Also, should I continue contributing to the 401k for the next 2 months or take the money that would’ve gone towards that and invest it another way?

As far as the rest of my financial situation, is there anything you would change about where I have my money? I feel like having $25,000 in 2 accounts that are only gaining roughly 1.3% isn’t wise if there’s something I could be doing to increase my return.
- Sam

I say you should do this, for two reasons.

First, rolling into a Roth you control gives you much more freedom over what investments are chosen, which means you have the capacity to choose lower-cost investments with better returns.

Second, rolling over now means you’ll pay taxes on that money now, which is a period of rather low income tax rates compared to historical numbers.

As for how to do it, this post at Good Financial Cents offers a very nice, simple description.

Q3: Long term care insurance
So my question today is, what’s your opinion of investing in long term care? I’m 54, in very good health, and have an opportunity to get $450,000 LTC if I sign up now and pay about $3700 a year in premiums. Part of me thinks it’s a wise investment, another part swallows hard when I think of how that money will add up over the years. Any thoughts?

- Lisa

Long term care insurance does patch up a potential risk for a person’s future, I’ll agree with that.

However, compared to the cost of the insurance, the risk is small, and for most people with reasonable incomes in the United States, the cost as a portion of their annual income adds too much risk in other aspects of life to be worth it. In other words, if you’re buying that insurance on an “average” income, you’re giving up and/or risking too much in other avenues of life.

I think it’s a great idea if you have an exceptional income or accumulated wealth, but without that, this is a risk I’d put on the back burner.

Q4: How do CDs work?
How do CD’s work? Pros and Cons? Short term = Long Term??

- Sherry

The best way to think of a CD is that you’re promising to give a certain amount of money to a bank for a certain amount of time. In exchange for that money for that period of time, the bank offers to pay you a better interest rate on that money than they’re offering in their basic savings accounts.

So, for example, a bank might have a basic savings account that pays 0.5%. They might also offer a 12 month CD that pays 1.5%. So, if you put $10,000 into the savings account, you’d earn only $50 in interest over a year, but if you bought a CD with that money, you’d earn $150.

What’s the drawback? That money is locked down for whatever term you agree to, and if you want the money before then, you’ll lose most of the interest earned, making it worse than a savings account (usually).

Right now, I don’t think CDs are worth it. Their rates are barely better than a savings account and, to me, it’s not worth the lock box you have to put your money into.

Q5: Book on blogging
What book would you recommend for someone that wants to start a blog and website? I need something easy to understand. I am not necessarily wanting to host my own website and would consider someone hosting it for me but am just not sure which way to go.

- Bobbi

Most of the information on how to blog is spread out across a ton of websites on the internet. There really haven’t been that many good books on blogging available to date.

My recommendation of the ones available is Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income. It’s probably the best all-around starter guide for someone who wants to take it to a professional level.

I would definitely pair that book with a lot of online reading from blogs like Copyblogger.

Q6: Paying ahead on mortgage
I know it’s good to pay the mortgage every two weeks as you end up paying an extra month a year as well as saving interest. How does paying a month in advance stack up next to this method?

- Millie

These two methods end up being very, very close to each other over the course of a calendar year, with the “pay a month in advance” method coming out on top by just a bit.

Of course, in order to keep on top with the “pay a month in advance” method, you have to make an annual extra payment on your mortgage. It is easier for most people just to make a half payment every two weeks.

In either case, the real advantage is getting in an extra full mortgage payment each year, regardless of how you do it. Simply making that payment is far more important than stressing about which way to do it.

Q7: Books on fatherhood
Trent, my wife and I are expecting our first baby in May. I assume that you applied the same level of research and study to fatherhood that you have applied money decisions, buying a car, etc. Did you come across any particularly good books about pregnancy/fatherhood?

- Geoff

The single most valuable book I read on being a parent was The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. The focus of the book was on how to best read books and other materials aloud to your children, but it branched into other topics of parenting very effectively as well. For me, that book had the most impact.

Another book that had a big impact on me was Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters by Joann Deak. I grew up in a household with only brothers around me, so I was very uncertain about having a daughter. This one helped a lot.

A final book that’s helping a lot now with my four year old and three year old is Mindset by Carol Dweck. Why this one? I want my children to always have a mindset that they can pretty much do anything that they put their mind and effort towards, and that’s the sole focus of this book.

Q8: Roll over my TSP?
I was employed by the Federal government for only 9 months, but fully funded my TSP to the tune of about $3700. I’ve just become eligible at my new employer to enroll in their Roth 401k plan and am wondering if I should roll over my TSP. I plan on funding my new retirement account to the max that they’ll match (plus a little extra if I can). I haven’t read about any penalties to keeping my TSP which is invested 72% in the 2040 L fund, 24% in the G fund, and 4% in the 2030 L fund. If you think it wouldn’t hurt to keep it, are there any redistribution changes you’d suggest?

- Bill

It depends on what you’re rolling it over into, but I’d lean towards the Roth simply because that would make the money be after-tax, which would mean it will grow without tax implications and you can withdraw it at retirement without paying taxes.

One thing I would do first is to sit down and look at the investment options available for the Roth 401(k) as well as detailed information on the TSP plans. Which ones have a better history? Which ones charge more in fees? You’re trying to tease out the best investment here.

If they’re roughly equal, I’d convert to the Roth 401(k), simply because if I have a roughly equal choice between pre-tax retirement savings and post-tax retirement savings, I’ll choose the post-tax.

Q9: World Series redux
Care to retract your World Series prediction (Rangers in 7)?

- John in SF

It feels to me like the Rangers gave it all they had to beat the Yankees and they just have nothing left in the tank for the World Series.

They looked so sharp in the ALCS and look so incredibly tired and lethargic in the World Series. It’s almost painful to watch.

I’d guess Giants in 6 at this point.

Q10: Voting
Could you remind your readers to vote on Tuesday?

- Shawn

If you’re a United States citizen, spend a few moments right now studying up on what races are going on in your district, then spend a few moments tomorrow voting.

The midterm elections are just as important as the presidential elections. In most states, governors are being elected. Every seat in the House of Representatives is up for grabs, as is a third of the Senate. Here in Iowa, we also have a key vote with regards to our state Supreme Court justices that’s been intense to say the least.

I’ll go so far as to say that voting tomorrow is probably more impactful on your day to day life than your vote in the presidential election of 2008 was. Add on top of that the fact that voter turnout will probably be lower and not only is the election more important than in 2008, but your vote will have more weight than in 2008.

Hit the website of your best local newspaper. Find out what’s going to be on your ballot and learn about the major races on it. Then take a few minutes and vote tomorrow.

As one of my best friends always says sarcastically before Election Day, “vote early and vote often!”

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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50 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag: National Novel Writing Month Begins

  1. Re: Trust Fund — Katie — Someone needs to speak to a lawyer ASAP about the child’s rights. I don’t know what the laws will be exactly where you live, but it is certainly possible that the child has a legal claim to an inheritance from his mother. Where I live, if I died and tried to cut off either my spouse or my children from my estate, they could have the will overturned as their rights are legally protected. Since it is the proceeds from a life insurance policy (and thus presumably did not pass through the estate), that will probably make a difference as to how the law applies.

    However, if you are ticked off that the aunt is not providing for the child (which is certainly how I would feel), you might be able to rein SIL in a bit by warning her that it’s possilbe that when the child turns 18, he could argue that the funds were supposed to be held in trust for him and demand an accounting of how they were used and get a judgement against her for the full amount plus interest. Might not be the case, but it might at least make her think.

    For what it’s worth, my in laws are in almost exactly the same situation — BIL died, left a valuable annuity to his sister, NOT WORDED AS A TRUST, and just told her to take care of his kids. In my opinion, a really really stupid way to handle it. However, at least in our case, the SIL is very responsible and I imagine that she will use the funds as he requested (but still — what if she dies without a will and her husband doesn’t feel the same way?). Also, she has always made it clear that her brother told her about this arrangement and asked her to take care of the kids, so if it were to become a court battle, there is a very strong argument that a trust was intended. I would sure be looking closely through the deceased SIL’s papers for any indication that she intended this money to go to her sister IN TRUST for her child.

    If you have some kind of public or court trustee, you might also consult that person, as they might have some information or resources on what the situation is here. I find it hard to believe that an intelligent adult would intend to leave her life insurance to her sister outright instead of IN TRUST to her sister for the benefit of her child. I could see her mistakenly thinking it was a good way to handle things so that the dad didn’t have control of the money, but seriously, who cuts off their 8 year old child?

  2. Trent, I believe you’re mistaken about the NaNo’s word counter. All it does is verify that you’ve written 50,000 words by the end of November. We will not actually be able to see what you write, unless you make a separate page/blog for it. This is because some people (myself being one of them) might want to publish their NaNo novel at some point and having it publicly available online can affect this. That being said, I am also toying with the idea of launching a writing blog, featuring exerpts from my NaNo novel and other writings as well.

  3. Regarding Long Term Care Insurance- I have to disagree with Trent. The earlier you contract for long term care, the lower the payments. It’s a good investment for your future. With more than 50% of the American public being affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s, are you willing to take your chances? And what about if you need more than 100 days of care? Medicare only pays for 100 days in a long term care facility. My husband works as an investigator for Senior Protective Services in our state, and the majority of the cases he deals with are either self-neglect (mostly due to poverty or dementia-Alzheimer’s) or neglect by others (due to the same reasons) If you have to rely on Social Security, Medicare and all your assets being confiscated and then finally the state paying for care, you will get the bare minimum…or rely on a spouse or family member to take care of you. Too many people are neglected because family members are either jerks (like the irresponsible SIL in the above comments) or don’t have the ability to help. Sorry, but if I am incapacitated or have dementia or Alzheimer’s, I want quality care and I don’t want my family to be impoverished, exhausted or overwhelmed taking care of me.

  4. Sign up for vote by mail. You’ll get to vote early from the comfort of your own home and you can do online research on each issue with the ballot right there in front of you.

  5. The novel for NaNoWriMo isn’t visible, but you can post excerpts of it online.

    I signed up to do this just now. I’ve decided to bite the bullet and do it.

  6. #3 Michelle – “With more than 50% of the American public being affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s, are you willing to take your chances?” 50%? I think you’re exaggerating quite a bit with that number. Maybe 50% of people over 90 fall into that category, but a more realistic number is 20% of people over age 65.

  7. With nursing homes costing thousands of dollars a month, if you don’t get LTC insurance, you should definitely have another plan of how to pay for a stay (or assisted living, or a home health aide) if needed. The gov’t won’t chip in until your assets are reduced to a pitanance, and then your choices are limited, and often aren’t the best places. (Just went through this with my grandfather….)

    From a 2007 USA Today article (which does state that the number of senior needing nursing care has gone down…) “The average cost of nursing home care is more than $67,000 a year and tops $100,000 in some urban areas, according to the 2006 MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Home and Home Care Costs….

    “The average nursing home patient runs out of money within six months and must go on Medicaid, Markwood says. That, she adds, “will not only bankrupt individuals but also the Medicaid system.”

  8. LTC Insurance,

    We carry it because my wife works in long term care facilities and she wanted it. There is a huge difference in quality if you have private insurance verses medicaid. In the late stages of Alzheimer where they need to be fully taken care of can cost 8k/month. She says it is common for a stroke to take out the husband, the long term care to empty out their life savings and leaving the widow destitute.
    We started the insurance when we where 35 so it only cost $60/month can not be raised and we can continue it if we leave this company.

  9. I’m an attorney with some experience with estate planning, probate, etc. in my state. In bold and all caps: What Margaret said! Especially in the first paragraph. Particularly if making the life insurance beneficiary designation pre-dated birth of the child or the date of divorce, the child may have rights.

  10. Q2 Sam: Yes you should probably roll your 401k into a IRA or Roth IRA. 401k’s usually have higher fees and fewer investment options.

    A Roth may or may not be right for you. It depends on whether or not your in a high or low tax bracket. What is your income level? If your income is relatively high then I would not go with a Roth. You don’t want to lock in relatively high tax rate today. If your income isn’t that high then Roths are good. But you’d have to pay the taxes NOW to roll from a 401k to a Roth. Do not roll the 401k into the Roth IRA unless you have cash to pay the taxes on the money out of pocket.

    Q3 re: LTC Trent says “the risk is small” but 40% of Americans end up in nursing homes. I don’t think that is “small” risk. But I do agree with Trent that LTC is only something I’d buy if you can easily afford it. Do you have $3700 extra cash/year to spend on LTC and still leave you with discretionary spending? If that LTC policy will stretch your budget or otherwise make it hard for you to cover your expenses then skip it. But if you can afford it relatively easily with your income then its a good idea.

  11. @Matt (#7) – from the Medicare website: “A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that people who reach age 65 will likely have a 40 percent chance of entering a nursing home. About 10 percent of the people who enter a nursing home will stay there five years or more.” Other statistics I found cited 50-60% of those who live to 85 will use a nursing home.

  12. On voting–yes, this mid term election is still important. There are such significant and complex issues facing us… please do vote, and also please do try to look past the twisting and smearing (on every political side.) And please balance impatience too–for example, the economy didn’t fall apart in a moment, and it’s not going to rebound. I’m hoping we elect smart, thoughtful leaders with integrity. (Yah, I’m a bit of an optimist. I’ll keep hoping…)

  13. #12 michelle. the quote you had in your comment said 50% of the american public. not 50% of people 85+. Quite a bit of a difference

  14. Just for kicks and giggles, I’m going to throw this one out there: voting is irrational.

    True, a vote in your local elections will have a higher possibility of impact than your vote in the presidential election of 2008, but it will still be an extremely small, almost zero, possibility. The only way your vote actually makes a difference is if it’s a tiebreaker. Otherwise it makes no difference how you vote, or even IF you vote.

    So, we can actually fit this theory into personal finance. Take your expected costs of voting (gas, time, wear and tear on your vehicle, maybe time away from work, and, if you’re a good citizen, time you spent researching issues/candidates), and weigh that against the expected benefit of your vote changing the outcome (which, for a congressional seat, is probably pretty small) times the probability that your vote will actually change the outcome (practically zero, as noted above). So you end up with some actual cost for an extremely small expected benefit.

    Of course, voting may give you the warm fuzzies, which may be worth a trip to the polls for you. But remember, that’s all you’re really getting when you vote.

    Have fun, commenters.

  15. #17- What if everyone took this same approach to voting as you? Yes your single vote may not really count but majority rules, if 8000 people don’t feel their vote counts and they all so happen to be for the same issue than that issue could lose all because you were too lazy to fill in a few circles. We are a free country with the right to vote, so why not use your rights and spend 30 minutes voting? At the very least if you see voting as a waste of time than please don’t complain about the countrys politics and how you disagree because you didn’t spend any time trying to make a difference.

  16. Hi Anna!

    I haven’t complained about politics. And besides, I’m not making so much of an actual argument as a philisophical instigation. It really makes people ask the question: “Why do I vote?” In that sense, my comments spur democracy into action.

    That said, if everyone took the same approach as me to voting, then Wes, of course, would be President. Since we live in this magical “Wes World,” where everyone plays follow the leader, and Wes is the leader, we would all write in “Wes” for every elected position. Yay!

    But seriously, your “what if” scenario is silly because that simply isn’t how the world works. What if the sky was green? What if I was a bajillionaire? What if there was no gravity? None of that matters.

  17. Wes, in some ways your vote can have a major impact. In 2008, California had prop 8. That one issue brought out thousands of extra voters who felt “it wasn’t worth the time or money.” That was also the closest race in California that year.

    Those thousands of people made a huge difference in the vote. Maybe your personal vote doesn’t count for much, but Anna’s right, your vote combined with those who think like you do can change things in a major way. For some counties, like Riverside and San Diego, the vote was so close that it basically did come down to the single voter.

  18. Was prop 8 decided by one vote? And in those counties where it was close, was it actually a matter of 1 vote or just very close (if it was 1 vote, pleasse give a reference). If not, then any person who didn’t vote would not have made a difference if they had voted.

    I don’t contest that a few thousand people together can make a difference. However, I only have control over myself. I can only make myslef vote. And even if I convinced 10,000 other people to vote who otherwise wouldn’t have voted, the cost-benifit analysis still says it would be irrational for me to vote.

  19. Sometimes things that have a negative cost benefit are still worthwhile. It costs me money to eat (dumpster diving and other options aside), but the benefit I get from consuming food is worth the expense.

    It might cost me time and money to vote, and my impact might be minimal, but I live in a country where I am able to chose my leaders. This is such an important right that history is riddled with people who were willing to die for it. In other nations they still do. My one voice might not be very loud, but the alternative, it being silenced and counting for nothing, comes at one of the highest prices I can imagine.

  20. Michelle, I don’t think you understand the concept of cost benefit analysis. You claim that negative cost transactions are benificial, and then go on to use an example (eating) which you say is positive. I’ve already stated that, for some people, the “warm fuzzies” of voting will be worth the cost of voting to them. That’s dandy. My point is that there is no political or actual benefit to voting, just emotional benefits.

    Also, what distinguishes our country from many others is that we don’t only have the freedom to vote, but we also have the freedom NOT to vote. People died for that, too.

  21. Wes, you may be correct, I’ve never been formally educated in cost benefit analysis, I have come to understand it only as it’s used in common business discussion, so I believe you when you say my application is faulty.

    Regardless, I was expressing an opinion about voting, that regardless of the cost it is valuable to me, and for more than a “warm fuzzy.” If you choose not to vote, that certainly that is your right. It saddens me that people don’t participate, but that is my problem, not yours (assuming you truly do not complain later…) I’ll look at it this way, for everyone who doesn’t vote, mine carries more weight!

  22. You’re exactly right, Michelle. Most people find the benefit of voting in the principle of the matter rather than the possibility that they may actually change the outcome (even if they don’t conciously recognize it). Even academics who will teach the exact cost-benefit analysis of voting I’ve been posting here will end that lecture with the requisite: “So, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to vote… but you should still vote.” And they leave it at that, without any real explination as to why we should vote.

    And just for the record, I did vote absentee this election. :-)

  23. I think the reason why it matters is in an analogy of rain. It doesn’t matter if one drop of rain falls, or if one drop doesn’t fall. But if too many drops “opted out,” we’d have a problem.

    When too many people opt out of self-government, when they are not paying attention, something will fill that void and it’s usually not in our best interest.

  24. Wow! #1 is sad. I hope you get your situation with your nephew taken care of.

    It makes me angry to hear of stories like this. Someone handed a fresh start and blowing it. Is it only “responsible” people like myself that would use it to buy a home and vehicle outright to be able to get to work?

    It makes me jealous. I work so hard to stay out of debt. If I could just have a fraction of that $200,000 my life would be so much easier!

    But, I’ve got to think positive. I have a great life and I have good self-worth knowing I can stay out of debt and live a productive life. I guess I should feel sorry for the SIL that’s blowing the money too. I just can’t bring myself that far!

  25. I believe long term care insurance is important but I question the quote pf $3700 per year. I pay around $500 quarterly. Look for a plan offered by a nonprofit. There are many options, and it should be less expensive if purchased at such a young age.

  26. I’m with Wes on this.

    Your vote will not turn an election. The real question is if you get utility from the act of voting. I don’t particularly feel like standing in line today and don’t get any warm fuzzy feeling from getting those little “I Voted!” stickers. My choice to vote or abstain has no ripple effect on other people’s choices, so I’m not discounting the value of a single vote. This makes my decision not to vote today a perfectly rational act.

    (This is coming from the wife of a vet, and a former campaign worker / voter registration drive organizer.)

  27. In addition to the strictly political races, in my county we have a bond election for the school district. Mostly it is for building repairs, but the amount is outrageous and there seems to be little or no accountability for the spending. I am all for education, but this goes a little too far.

  28. “As one of my best friends always says sarcastically before Election Day, “vote early and vote often!” He must be a Democrat! As to “The family is concerned that she will just blow through the money.” maybe the family ought to consider giving some of THEIR money to support this child, put THEIR money where their mouths are. The deceased made a decision to give her profligate sister a large sum of money, which she will no doubt blow down to the last penny and end up in debt. There will be no money to “go after” very shortly, so whether there is eventually a judgment against the sister or not, NO ONE WILL COLLECT ANY MONEY FROM THIS CASE EXCEPT THE LAWYER THE FAMILY HIRES TO CHASE THE SISTER WHO GOT THE INSURANCE. “Follow the money!” If you go to a lawyer and he says, “Give me a retainer and I will represent you.” it is lawyer speak for “You haven’t a chance in Hell but I want your money and I will take your money on this loser of a case until you smarten up or run out of cash.” Always look at the end result before embarking on a legal action. Most lawyers will not flat out lie to you, but they will not point out that the case you want to open is dead in the water before you start. The lawyer’s first job is to take your money. If you get any legal satisfaction at the end, that’s gravy for you. Remember the phrase, “I will represent you, my retainer is $….” Notice a lawyer will not volunteer what your chances of WINNING the case are unless you pry it out of him. It’s not in the lawyer’s financial interest to tell you the case you want to open is a non starter.

  29. Wow deRuiter – you must have been involved in quite a lot of legal entanglements to have such intimate knowledge of how all lawyers operate.

  30. On voting:

    First, the notion that it’s even possible for an election of any substantial size to be decided by one vote is pretty much a myth, because vote-counting technology just isn’t that precise. Remember Florida in 2000, or Minnesota in 2008? Those elections came down to mere hundreds of votes, and the counts and recounts dragged on forever. If a statewide election did come down to one vote, we would never, ever know – it would be indistinguishable from an election decided by a few hundred votes.

    Second, the idea that voting takes more time and effort than it’s worth holds more sway on one side of the political spectrum than on the other, and *that’s* what affects elections. There have been a couple of polls released lately that show that among all *registered* voters, people prefer Democrats to Republicans by a decent-sized margin (4-5 points, from what I’ve seen). But people who actually plan to vote prefer Republicans to Democrats by about the same amount. If more registered voters took the time to actually vote, we could have a very different outcome today.

    From what Wes has revealed of his political leanings in the past, I think it’s clear what he’s trying to do by bringing up the “voting is irrational and a waste of time” argument now. Go out and vote, y’all.

  31. For question #8, just wanted to clarify. I agree that the individual should roll over the TSP. However, the TSP could only be rolled into a Roth IRA. Roth 401(k)s can only have other Roth 401(k)s rolled into them by law at this time.

  32. On voting:

    My feeling has always been if you don’t vote, you have no right to gripe, moan, complain, or similarly gloat, cheer, or preen.

    The point for me is that if you abstain, the fanatics at either end of the spectrum who are motivated to vote win. Their voices are those that are really paid attention to, because they become the ones that count. The politicians pander to them, because they vote. If more of the silent majority voted, maybe the screaming minority would be less catered to by both the politicians and the media.

    So maybe my one vote doesn’t swing an election. But my vote adds to a chorus. Even if who I voted for loses, if the margin is much smaller than hoped for, that could give the politician pause in their decisions. They always claim a big victory, voice of the people and all that, but they and their staffers know.

    And I do reserve my right to gripe, moan, and complain, or similarly gloat, cheer, or preen :-).

  33. Thanks #35 for articulating the point about extreme points of view.

    Personally, I take the trouble to vote for these reasons, and also because I am aware and want to respect the people who gave their lives for us to have the privilege to vote. The suffragette movement really wasn’t that long ago… Would I risk imprisonment for this right? Maybe not, but at least I can honor those who did.

  34. Come on, Johanna. What you’re saying about my intentions is unfounded and false. You didn’t have to go there.

  35. Johanna, I never said you were dumb, I just don’t think it’s appropriate to accuse me of trying to get people not to vote for political reasons.

    As I stated above (#19), I didn’t put this theory on the table to convince people not to vote, but rather to encourage everyone to think deeply about why they choose to vote.

    This isn’t some crack-pot theory of my own, either, but a serious point of investigation on the part of political scientists, economists, and other academics who study government and public policy. I don’t think it’s rational to assume that, just because someone brings up the theory in a discussion about voting, that the person is actually trying to undermine democracy and change the outcome of elections by convincing the couple hundred people who read the post not to vote.

  36. Well, I don’t think it’s rational to assume that anyone who’s publicly telling people not to vote deserves the benefit of the doubt.

  37. Never in my life have I heard anyone say “I voted because it might come down to my specific, single, vote”. Most rational people understand that, as a previous commenter said, they are adding their votes to other similarly minded votes so that, as a GROUP, we can vote our leaders into office. It never ceases to amaze me that people can’t understand that if every 5th person said “meh, my vote doesn’t matter, whatever” then the CUMULATIVE effect of that apathy is an impact on the outcome of an election. Johanna actually gave a very good example of that, when she referenced the fact the Democrats, in general, are preferred by a few points, but in the end the Republicans are the ones getting out the vote. And as another commenter said, if you don’t vote then don’t complain or gloat.

  38. Courtney,

    How does one person’s choice not to vote affect anyone elses? A single person’s choice to vote will not sway the decision of any other person, much less a group of people. I understand that votes count in aggregate, but one person’s choice not to vote will only decrease the number of total votes by 1. Thus, the only possible way for someone’s decision to vote (or who to vote for) to make a difference is if, otherwise, the election would have ended in a tie. That is extremely unlikely.

    I’ve already made this point above, but you must have missed it.

    Johanna, if that’s all you have to say, then I guess we can leave it at that.

  39. @Wes: Well, there’s always peer pressure – if all your friends are talking about voting, you’ll be more likely to vote too.

    If you assume that nobody has any friends (and nobody talks about voting with anyone), then what you basically have is a multiplayer Prisoners’ Dilemma. And academics have written theory about that, too.

  40. Talking about voting and actually voting are two different things. Even if you talked to and convinced 100,000 of your closest friends to vote, you would still have the same CBA where costs are likely greater than expected benefits.

  41. No, not really. Because if you say you’re going to vote, and then you don’t vote, that’s called “lying.” Which I think would be an additional cost for most people with a conscience.

  42. Ah, I knew it wouldn’t be long before you turned back to inflammatory comments. So I’m done with this, but I’ll spell things out for those of you who didn’t quite understand my last posts:

    If you look at the costs of voting, weighed against the expected benefit of voting, then voting is irrational. Your vote will make absolutely no difference in the outcome of the election. However, the benefit you attach to the unquantifiable aspects of voting (what I’ve called the warm fuzzies, that being a sense of civic duty for most people, or something similar) may be what tips the scale to make voting worth your while.

    And that’s what you should reflect on when you consider why you vote (or who you vote for). If voting for you is simply going to the polls and checking the box next to everyone with a particular letter next to their name, then you may be wasting your time without realizing it. But when you embrace the issues and pick the candidates you feel are best for the job (even if they actually do all fall under the same political party), then your vote may have more value to yourself, if not to the greater political process. Even so, someone who has informed themselves of the issues and has a true opinion about them, but still decides not to vote, has done a greater civic good than anyone who votes for who the talking heads tell them to.

  43. Wes, I did read all of your points. And I understand them and what you are doing in this debate. I have a masters degree in international business and trust me I understand CBA. But thank you for trying to turn my disagreement with your conclusions into my simply not being intelligent enough to understand them. I too am done with this back and forth.

  44. Wow, Wes. If you thought *that* was inflammatory, you should see…the whole rest of the internet, maybe.

    And for a topic that you brought up “for kicks and giggles” and “to encourage people to think deeply about why they choose to vote,” you seem to have gotten awfully emotionally invested in it.

    But voting is over for this year, so maybe we should put this discussion on hold until 2012.

  45. Do you do every single vote on the same day? Will there be no civic elections until 2012 as well? Interesting.

    If you vote, then you have done the basic amount that you are able to do to influence events in the direction you desire. If you do not vote, then you have no right to complain when the outcome is different from what you would have liked. If you truly care not a stitch about your leaders, go ahead and stay home – then keep your mouth shut. If you think it matters, then do your part, even when it doesn’t feel like it will make a difference.

  46. @Kai: I know you’re using “right” in the colloquial sense rather than the legal sense, but actually, people who don’t vote do have the right to complain. First Amendment, and all.

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