The Debt Ceiling Debacle: A Manufactured Crisis

In The New Yorker this week, James Surowiecki makes a cogent argument that any problems that may arise from the failure of Congress to raise the debt ceiling limit would be a self-inflicted wound.

Surowiecki maintains that the debt ceiling is superfluous because "if Congress really wants to hold down government debt, it already has a way to do so that doesn't risk economic chaos – namely, the annual budget process. The only reason we need to lift the debt ceiling, after all, is to pay for spending that Congress has already authorized."  

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Please Ignore This Article on Email Disclaimers

Nothing in this article should be relied upon as being of any value.  If you find any tax advice contained in this article, then you do not have to pay taxes in 2011.  This article is meant solely for the intended recipient, his or her family, and their friends, co-workers, and heirs. 

Such is the inanity of many disclaimers tacked onto the bottom of emails in an apparently vain effort to limit liability or impose confidentiality.  One online wag describes disclaimers as poorly worded legal gibberish written by overzealous lawyers in a futile effort to enforce binding contracts to protect their careless mistakes.

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Forgetting History with LinkedIn?

While we do not seek to ignore the lessons of history, it is not unusual for us to forget them.  The recent initial public offering of LinkedIn, a social networking web site for professionals, may be yet another example of memory loss.

As the financial newspaper Barron's pointed out, LinkedIn stock traded at astronomically high valuations after its initial public offering -- 35 times its 2010 revenue and 550 times its 2010 profits.  At that time, by comparison, Google was valued at 5 times revenue and 20 times its trailing profits. 

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The Confusing State of Municipal Bonds

Over time, some people have feared that California may slide into the Pacific Ocean due to an earthquake.  A more immediate concern is whether California will descend into an abyss due to its financial problems.  Many states and municipalities face similar difficulties, causing the safety of municipal bonds to be questioned.

Hopefully, we won't revisit the debt crisis of 1835, when the "United States succumbed to a craze for building railroads, canals, and turnpikes, all backed by state credit."  As Ron Chernow describes in the book "The House of Morgan," the state debt had been largely marketed in London to British and European investors.  Some states chose to stop making interest payments as "American legislators found it easier to pander to the hatred of foreign bankers rather than to raise new taxes to service the debt."  No wonder "British investors cursed America as a land of cheats, rascals, and ingrates."

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What Lawyers, Farmers, and Factory Workers Have in Common

Try to imagine a group of aging rock stars putting on a benefit concert to assist lawyers who have lost their jobs. Admittedly, this is not a likely scenario. Yet it seems that even lawyers are feeling the consequences of technology-based efficiency gains, just like farmers and factory workers before them.

With respect to lawyers (for those who still respect them), new, advanced software can review thousands of documents infinitely faster and much cheaper than their human counterparts. As the New York Times described in a recent article, law firms can dispense with highly-paid lawyers poring through files in large litigation and use "e-discovery" at a fraction of the cost.

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