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Discussion: doma

in: PG; PG > 2012-02-12

Feb 12, 2012 11:59 PM # 
When I did my taxes (poorly - I hope I get audited, as I'm sure they'll find more refunds), I was shocked to see that NY same sex married couples have to file separately on the federal return. Seems to break a certain 'equal protection' clause....
Feb 13, 2012 12:48 AM # 
Unfortunately, in so many ways, it's the current law of the land.
Feb 13, 2012 1:03 AM # 
Welcome to our world.

When we were interviewed for our resident visas in Croatia this fall, we were asked if we were married and had no idea what to say. It's not a simple question to answer, since the marriage is recognized at the state level but not at the federal level....

I love reading these little glimpses of other people's lives. And I think you are so right about the whole idea that people are commuting father to find jobs. It's unfortunate, since it wastes both time and money to have to drive so much.
Feb 13, 2012 8:45 PM # 
...people are commuting father to find jobs. It's unfortunate, since it wastes both time and money to have to drive so much....

Not to mention the environmental effect of all that extra driving. And with so many additional cars crowding those country roads, more pressure from the highway lobby to expand roads and highways. A vicious circle.
Feb 13, 2012 10:39 PM # 
"highway lobby" sounds so sinister. The folks who want a less congested commute are not sinister, but don't have the time or energy to be a "lobby".
Feb 13, 2012 11:31 PM # 
Well the Highway Lobby is real...and paid for by the auto, oil, tire and cement industries, to name a few. But as we discovered long ago, expanding the highway system rarely results in "a less congested commute," because of "induced demand" -- when a new highway is built, it attracts more cars than its capacity, because it induces more people to drive more cars. And ALL roads become just a bit more crowded than they were.
Feb 14, 2012 7:29 AM # 
I have just found myself 100% in agreement with chitownclark. I think we need a moment of silence to mourn the passing of an era.

Building more highways to ease congestion is another example of politicians ignoring research and doing something stupid instead.

Also, DOMA is a case of politicians just plain being stupid.
Feb 14, 2012 7:39 AM # 
Building more highways to ease congestion is another example of politicians ignoring research and doing something stupid instead.

Please enlighten me about this research that is being ignored.

As for DOMA, it was and still is a mistake that needs correction, either by repeal (yeah, right, with this Congress) or by court action.
Feb 14, 2012 8:01 AM # 
I will use teh google for you. If you are interested in finding more, try searching for 'fundamental law of highway congestion'.

Here's one article about a research paper to get you started. And here's the actual paper if you want the nitty gritty. Note that the authors cite stuff from the '60s. You could even say people have known about this since the 20's - build more roads, people will always be able to fill them.
Feb 14, 2012 1:48 PM # 
Just so you know the background of who you're up against here, Guy is a highway engineer.
Feb 14, 2012 2:02 PM # 
Haha, I forgot about that. Guess I'll go down looking like a jerk here... but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of evidence that building new roads doesn't help with congestion, even really well-engineered ones. ;-)
Feb 15, 2012 5:19 AM # 
Actually, I am a traffic engineer. I'm more about analysis and forecasting than design. However, I do review designs proposed by land developers, for parking, circulation, and -- chitown, you might want to sit down for this -- pedestrian safety.

Often upon hearing that I do this, people like to ask why intersection X or highway Y are screwed up. The answer often comes down to lack of money and/or lack of will. Can't leave out incompetence, unfortunately. I am also happy to clear up common misconceptions.

Speaking of which, I will not comment further on the congestion topic, until I get around to reading the article that Cristina found. But I highly doubt doing so will result in her looking like a jerk.
Feb 15, 2012 5:21 AM # 
Sorry for the wrong career title -- I've never discussed it with you, I had just heard what you do from others. (In the context of your typical driving speed, I think.)
Feb 15, 2012 5:37 AM # 
I'm curious to hear what Guy has to say - I have heard and seen references to research about this so often that I thought it was fairly common knowledge. It also seems intuitive. However, I am aware that my sources are self-selected (often for lefty-ness) and thus probably have an anti-sprawl bias.
Feb 15, 2012 7:16 AM # 
All I'll say for now -- and isn't this true of so many things? -- is that "it's not that simple"
Feb 15, 2012 12:38 PM # 
I realise the seriousness of the other subjects discussed - but I´ll take a typical AP approach and ask the obvious question anyway:

What has DOMA got to do with tax returns?
Feb 15, 2012 12:58 PM # 
I used to have a client, since passed on, who was an engineer for Mass Highway, and he would come in for my last appointment of the day and usually stay an extra hour while we talked about highway design and construction in the local area. At the time, they were rebuilding the main intersection in Sunderland, plus redoing the traffic signals at the two other intersections across the river that I go through every day.

So I heard a good bit about what the process was. Not simple.

But I will say that for these threes intersections they got it exactly right, especially the timing of the lights, all controlled by sensors under the pavement. I can't tell you how many times since then I have had brief moments of pleasure in seeing how well the intersections worked.

If only such design were the norm.

As far as bubo's question, just that I often have to remind people that donations to Mats are not deductible. Not that that's a reason not to make them.
Feb 15, 2012 3:25 PM # 
It wouldn't hurt anyone interested in the topic (the one we've partially wandered to, not DOMA, may it go down in flames sooner rather than later) who doesn't want to wade into the nitty gritty of the literature to read Tom Vanderbilt's "Traffic". Lots of interesting stuff in there beyond just the stuff touching on whether traffic inevitably increases to congest new roads.
Feb 15, 2012 3:56 PM # 
I thought Traffic is a rock band.
Feb 15, 2012 5:17 PM # 
Hi Jagge! No Finns don't know what traffic is! I always thought the traffic patterns in Helsinki made it an easy city to visit on foot: no expressways (in green) enter the city for the most part. And you've been very intelligent in the manner in which you've expanded your main thoroughfares (yellow) and kept them entirely out of the very oldest part of the city. But your excellent rail system serves the entire city from a central location. So it is easy to get around, and even go orienteering, by walking and using transit.

I'm sure American traffic engineers would dispute it, but as a frequent visitor, I find Helsinki to be a perfectly designed modern city. It is only the rapid development of the large shopping malls and big box stores out near the airport that concerns me; I hope the downtown commercial areas remain viable.
Feb 21, 2012 3:57 PM # 
Sorry to continue the thread highjack but I couldn't resist.

@GuyO- Here's a different question for you-
How long until we have "smart" traffic signals which can sense such things as the volume of traffic traveling on roads and adjust the red-green signal length accordingly? Nothing worse than 10 cars having to stop for the one car that just arrived at the opposite red light. Aside from my pet-peeve, I'm sure the energy use equation and/or the reduction in emissons would certainly justify it.
Feb 22, 2012 4:59 AM # 
Nothing worse than 10 cars having to stop for the one car that just arrived at the opposite red light.

Here's something worse: Having those same 10 cars stop on the main street for ZERO cars on the side street -- and stay stopped for 20-30 seconds.

That is what happens when vehicle detection -- which has been around in some form for over 50 years -- stops functioning, and the signal goes to its default timing pattern, aka "recall".

A typical signalized intersection of a major street and a lesser street, has detection on all lanes of the side street. If there is a turn phase (eg, left arrow), the turn lanes of the major street will also have detection. The thru lanes of the major street do not have detection unless the intersection is part of an interconnected network with a centralized controller that can adjust timing patterns on-the-fly.

So "smart' signals do exist, and they have also been around for a long time, but they are hardly universal. Also, if they are not properly maintained, they can become really stupid, as in the example above.

The ability of a signal system to move platoons of vehicles through multiple signals with zero-few stops is called progression. And a "smart" system is not needed to achieve this. Controllers at individual intersections can be coordinated -- even if not connected -- with each other, simply on a time-of-day basis. Again, though, without proper maintenance, it's like giving the signal's brain a lobotomy.

Okay, I spent 15 minutes writing this. Where's my $25??

Feb 22, 2012 12:12 PM # 
You type slowly...
Feb 22, 2012 1:20 PM # 
$100 an hour?!?!
Feb 22, 2012 1:40 PM # 
...and that's just the tip of the subsidized cost of our car-culture that many don't see, or ignore. Meanwhile transit funding is being cut right and left...

...At issue is a Republican-drafted transportation bill that the full House is about to consider. One component would eliminate a guaranteed source of funds for public transit through a federal tax on gasoline. This money, part of the Highway Trust Fund, has been around for three decades under a law signed in 1983 by that wild-eyed socialist, Ronald Reagan....
Feb 22, 2012 1:42 PM # 
Thanks for the info. I can reciprocate if you ever have questions about how a fuel injector is manufactured.... :-)
Feb 22, 2012 3:39 PM # 
An argument could be made that the best thing for the environment is to make driving as unpleasant and expensive as possible. In other words, no jobs for guys like GuyO. I nominate Clark for the head position.
Feb 23, 2012 7:10 AM # 
You type slowly...

Thinking + typing + editing slowly

$100 an hour?!?!

Well, I never got paid that much, but that is what my former employer charged clients for my time. It is also but a fraction of what lawyers charge.

..and that's just the tip of the subsidized cost of our car-culture...
...the best thing for the environment is to make driving as unpleasant and expensive as possible

Interesting, since what I described above ("smart" signal systems) -- when properly mainitained -- reduce emissions and fuel consumption, along with travel time; and reduced travel time benefits buses as well as car and trucks.

In other words, no jobs for guys like GuyO

In other words, right now.
Feb 23, 2012 8:50 AM # 
Yes, the idea is that if you reduce travel time and gas consumption then people drive more. If you've done a good job making the travel flow smoothly, then driving is pleasant. Hopping in to the car multiple times per day to run simple errands becomes no big deal. Driving a long way to do something recreational is affordable and pleasant. But if there's a lot of traffic, or if gas is expensive, or if your car is a guzzler, you may tend to keep your trips shorter or combine them, or avoid them altogether. That's the theory, at least. It's why having a fleet of Priuses isn't necessarily great for reducing emissions - high efficiency just means you can do more of it.
Feb 23, 2012 1:29 PM # 
Gas is expensive is a very fine solution.
Feb 23, 2012 2:12 PM # 
....perhaps momentarily. But during the 1970's gas prices increased 1000%, from $0.35/gallon to $3.50 per gallon in two OPEC shocks. Demand for oil declined for a few years, and then resumed its upward trend line.

And my father-in-law in Finland, where gas costs nearly $9/gal, loves to drive all over the countryside. I've never heard him, or any other Finn, complain that their gas is too expensive, or curtail their driving because of the cost of gas. Drivers seem to be able to get used to any price, just to be able to continue driving.

How many a/p'ers have ever pulled out their bike to make a 40-mile trip, after realizing that they could save $8 on a couple of gallons of gas? No? If the savings were $18, would you then bike 40 miles?
Feb 23, 2012 7:01 PM # 
...if you reduce travel time and gas consumption then people drive more.

But do they drive more to the extent that there is a net increase in overall travel time, fuel consumption and emissions, versus having done nothing to improve them? If not, then the issue becomes one of getting the most positive results for the dollars spent.
Feb 23, 2012 7:12 PM # 
Reducing fuel consumption is a worth goal. Reducing travel itself is not, at least, not obviously so.
Feb 23, 2012 11:23 PM # 
@ Clark. Well, for the second orienteering meet I ever went to I pulled out my bike and rode 65 miles each way to get there. But I would confess that I probably wasn't thinking about the gas price, but rather about how much nicer it is to get in a bike ride (if you have the time) in preference to using the car. Much the same reason that most days I commute by bike about 9 miles each way to work rather than carpooling in with my wife (who is rather more of a workaholic than I am, and wants to get in the extra hour and a bit of extra work each day). In a rural area like this it IS nice to have more roads as a selection to bike in on--it avoids the heavier traffic that tends to mostly stick to the "big" state highway (one lane each direction) on which I live, and on which I could ride in directly to work, saving about a mile and a half of distance in each direction. Whereas I may suffer some guilt pangs about burning up fossil fuels by traveling to O-meets by car or plane, which may well double my annual private (as opposed to work-related) carbon footprint, energy costs are currently so low that direct economic pressure certainly isn't going to play much of a role in my planning.
Feb 24, 2012 1:08 PM # 
chitownclark: costs are currently so low that direct economic pressure certainly isn't going to play much of a role in my planning.

Well that's because you've never taken it to the next level...getting RID of that car entirely. You may never have "done the numbers," but the savings become significant:

I sold my car in 1979 when I moved to Chicago and began riding my bike 100%...33 years ago. AAA estimates that it costs Americans $6k - $8k per year to own a car. So if you compound $7k/yr @8% (average stock market return; Dow has gone from 1000 to 13000 during that time) you get $1.1million that you guys have squandered on owing a car.

Nevertheless I doubt that this realization will motivate a single a/p'er who reads this to go car-less any time soon. Hence my assertion: the cost of driving IS significant...but no cost is too great to pry drivers out of their cars.
Feb 24, 2012 1:23 PM # 
It's not how much you could have if you didn't spend the money that's important, it's whether or not you can afford to spend it and are willing to do it for the convenience. Most people are, because life without a car in most places in the US is very difficult. The handful of smug people attempting to make environmentally noble choices on their own aren't going to make a lick of difference in, for instance, global CO2 emissions. There's no use pretending I'm better than everyone else because just because I'm lucky enough to live somewhere where I don't need a car. It's better to work to get the right politicians elected and the right policies pushed, and the scientists and developers funded.
Feb 24, 2012 1:42 PM # 
...because life without a car in most places in the US is very difficult. The handful of smug people...

Very true. But you can MOVE...back to a low-cost underpopulated urban area near you...that was DESIGNED for life without a car.

And coming home last night after dark, on my bike, crowded into the gutter by heavy rush-hour traffic, in the cold drizzle, after clearing a tenant's tub drain...I was anything but smug.
Feb 24, 2012 7:36 PM # 
Well, Clark, there are some pretty interesting assumptions built into your analysis of how I could have had an extra million dollars in my bank account right now if I just didn't own a car for the last 33 years (and for about half that time, I have had two).

First is the assumption that it costs me $7000 a year to maintain my car. Second is the issue of inflation. Looking at gas purchases, amortized price over ten years of the used cars that I have purchased, insurance, maintenance, it is hard to see how I am going to get as high as $4000 in current dollars. And a lot harder to see how I would have spent that much per year in 1980, when gas prices were around 80 cents a gallon and I might have been spending about $3,000 for a two-year-old car with moderately decent gas mileage. If you are going to use compound interest based on today's costs, you are going to need to use a compounding rate that is looking at the difference between investment yield and inflation, that is presumably more like 3 or 4% than 8%. Thus the decision to own the car has suddenly become more like a quarter million issue rather than a million for your "average" car, and half that for an economy version. Also, once you eventually make the decision to cash in on your long-term investment, you are going to have to pay capital gains tax on the profit (and there is no allowance for inflation on that tax). So you will lose at least 15% of that yield to the IRS, and presumably another few % to the state. So that knocks the investment value down to 80% of the pre-tax value that you were thinking about if you actually want to go out at some point and spend this accumulated wealth, which you have already overvalued by a factor of five or ten.

Also you are neglecting some other consequences of the move. What are the costs of housing in a big city compared to living in the outskirts of Ithaca? This may not be a negative for you operating as a landlord in Chicago, so the high cost of rentals of many apartments to tenants may well outweigh the high cost of living in one of the units yourself, but if I would prefer to continue to make my living as an academic physicist rather than as a slumlord, it would have a big economic impact for me. Judging from the experience of my kids renting apartments in Boston, one of the downsides of living in a big city is that the annual cost of housing is probably rather more than $7000 above the cost of living where I do.

Further, living where I do allows me to perform most of my daily travel by bike, generally without being shoved into the gutter by heavy rush-hour traffic, and affords quick access to pleasant outdoor recreation areas (the bike ride to my first two O-meets was less than 5 miles each way--and it was actually the third one that required the much longer trip). It is also nicer to have a canoeable stream running through the back yard rather than looking out the back window at another building.

It is the travel to out-of-town events that provides at least two thirds of the mileage on our vehicles and that is discretionary. To travel to most A-meets in the northeast is several hours of driving time, and actually for two people going to the meet in one vehicle it is usually both cheaper and faster than trying to use public transportation. My greater addiction is rogaining, and quite typically about four events a year involve flying across the country or perhaps internationally, costing in sum up to several thousand dollars a year for two people for a combination of plane tickets and a rental car. From a strictly financial perspective, it seems a quite reasonable thing to me to spend this amount of money on things that give me pleasure. I can understand that in our society with an ever greater spread of resources between the rich and the poor that many people might feel that it is completely unreasonable to spend more per year on recreation than on the combined outlay for housing, heat, food and clothing which are the real necessities of life. However, in our capitalist society I guess that I just keep on doing things I enjoy and try not to spend too much time in agonized guilt about the consequences.
Feb 24, 2012 7:42 PM # 
Somebody owes Eric at least $25, I think...
Feb 25, 2012 3:55 AM # 
Nah, he's gets paid for physics.
Feb 25, 2012 3:58 AM # 
If you put a dollar value to each extra minute spent as a result of not having a car, I suspect the savings drop off dramatically.
Feb 25, 2012 10:47 AM # 
Somebody owes Eric at least $25...Nah, he's gets paid for physics...

...and it's all bluster anyway; can't argue with facts. The true average annual cost of car ownership, according to AAA last April, ranges from $6700 to $11 300...and overall averages $9 000 per year! And as far as buying a used beater, any car expert such as Edmunds will tell you that buying a cheaper car is actually more expensive in the long run

...the purchase price is only the tip of the iceberg. What you may find by reviewing Edmunds' True Cost of Ownership figures is that, over five years, the cheaper car to buy is actually more expensive to own...

In 1979, since I was taking a momentous step by going car-less for the first time, I know this annual cost figure was in the $5000-$6000 range. So I think my $7000/yr over the last 33 years is conservative. And so is my 8% stock market return, according to some:

The average annual stock market return for the past twenty-five calendar years, was 10.5% (7.7% appreciation, plus 2.7% in dividends)...

And gas prices in 1980 were a bit higher than 80's a chart showing gas prices since 1920 in current and constant dollars. Pretty interesting.

I've had heated discussions with car owners before about these facts. Just like global warming issues, there's a lot of deniers out there. :-)
Feb 25, 2012 7:13 PM # 
Okay, I added up the numbers for my current car. I've owned it for nine years, and it's near the end of its life, with over 314000 miles at this point (I drive a lot). Counting the cost of the car, plus insurance, taxes, fuel, oil changes, tires, parts, accessories, repairs, registration, inspection, speeding tickets, and AAA membership (but not tolls, too hard to look that up), the total is $63,576.78, so that's just over $7000/year, or about $0.20/mile.

Note that a decent chunk of this is business mileage, which is subsidized in the form of a tax deduction (currently over $0.50 per mile, I believe). Also note that if I had chosen to live within range of Boston's public transportation and take the subway, at the current rates the train fare for commuting would run about $2700/year, not counting whatever other places I might need to go. If I wanted to do things like orienteer, I would presumably need to rent cars for those trips (as well as other trips outside of public transportation range). My other hobby, hang gliding, would be essentially impossible.

(I do also use non-motorized transportation. The last couple of times I picked up a car at the repair garage, I either ran or biked about 8 miles. If I'm just going down to town hall for a meeting, I'll often unicycle, weather permitting. And the furthest place I've ever gone by bicycle was San Francisco (from Connecticut).)
Feb 25, 2012 8:56 PM # 
I'm sure the amount I spend per year per car is quite a bit higher than J-J's result, and I have four of them. Still, all my car expense is more or less a rounding error compared to the other expenses I get myself involved in. And I really would be stuck without a car here.
Feb 25, 2012 11:50 PM # 
I think that the central point that Clark is missing is the issue of inflation. A dollar today doesn't buy what it used to in 1979. At that time the median price of a new car was about $5000, not the current $25,000, and the cost of a gallon of gas was about 80 cents, not the current $4.00. The other main expenses of owning a car, such as insurance, tires, mechanical repairs, etc. were also roughly a factor of 5 lower at that time. I don't think I can believe that there has only been a 25% increase between 1979 and last April! I will allow him 20% of $9000, his currently preferred present day figure. This would give him about $1800 to invest in 1979, which over the next 33 years would have yielded him his factor of 13 increase of value from the 8% average yield on the stock market that he cited earlier (I can't quite give him the 10.5% that he is now claiming including the dividends, because the dividends come in annually and get taxed before they can be re-invested). Unfortunately they just get counted as regular income, not a long-term capital gain, so they may get severely truncated by federal and state income taxes if the overall income is high--quite possibly nearly half if they are considered as the marginal income on somebody in a high tax bracket--so I would be willing to allow up to 9% for the calculation. Then 1980 comes along, and the dollar is no longer worth quite as much as it was in 1979. On the average over the 33 years, about 5% less, since 1.05 compounded over 33 years gives about the factor of 5 decrease in the dollar purchasing power that has happened in the intervening period. So this year Clark has a $1890 savings to invest, but only compounds his interest over 32 years to reach the present. It is perfectly OK for him to do things this way if he wants, rather than to just subtract off the inflation rate from the average market return. Either way he does it, his portfolio in 2012 isn't worth a million dollars, because at the beginning of things he wasn't putting in $7000 a year.

On the present cost of car ownership, I expect I can put my finger on a couple of differences between my situation and what the AAA is figuring on. One really big item is collision insurance, which surprisingly costs a lot more than liability insurance, probably well more than $1000/year for most cars. Maybe I've just been lucky over the past 46 years, but all that I've lost by not having that coverage is about $3000 of remaining value on a car that got totaled 15 or 20 years ago. Another item is mileage. As JJ pointed out, he is putting in nearly 35000 miles a year on his car to come up with his $7000/year operating costs. Gas, tires, and maintenance all go up pretty proportionally with mileage! Gas alone (25mpg, $4/g) comes to about $1600 for ten thousand miles. I am sure that AAA is figuring an average that is somewhere between 10K and 35K miles, but JJ's per year cost would clearly drop a really long way below that $7000 figure if he were only driving 10K miles/year (probably not $4000 less because my suspicion is that he gets more than 25mpg and has averaged a lot less than $4/gallon over the last 9 years).

I guess I trust my own numbers and experience a bit more than averages that are computed by someone else, or than generalized statements about the greater real costs of buying older junkers. I think my best value per year was probably an old Morris that we bought during a sabbatical leave in Lancaster about 20 years ago. We paid $600 for it (bought it on our credit card), and sold it a year later on our departure for $400 with no repairs needed, just gasoline (it got 50 miles/gallon, but a British gallon is quite a bit bigger than a US gallon) and the occasional quart of oil. And we were pleasantly surprised that the insurance was cheaper in the UK than the US, as long as we had a statement from our previous insurance company of no claims within the previous eight years (a form that we knew in advance that we should have with us from previous years spent in Europe). Even with the price of gasoline being twice what it was at home, it made a really cheap year on the car front. Another pleasant experience with an older car was our Plymouth Voyager which we bought used with about 80,000 miles on it seven years ago for $3000 and sold it 5 years later with an additional 40,000 miles added mileage, for $500. It was still running nicely, but was getting a bit rusty on the body, and we were worried about the reliability for longer trips. Again, other than lube and oil changes every 6000 miles or so and annual inspection, a set of new brakes, one set of replacement tires and a couple of wiper blades, no problems. It is my impression that in striking contrast to the cars around in my youth, the drive train usually works without difficulties long after the body has disintegrated into rust in our environment. Physical inspection of the body may be the most important thing in purchasing an older vehicle. The current experiment is with a couple of more recent vintage used car purchases, only a couple of years and 20,000 initial miles. A bit higher initial cost, but I still expect that it will work out well on a 10 year time scale. If not, and the annual cost as totaled up on my own actual expenditures comes up to more like $5000, I'll still be able to live with it!
Feb 26, 2012 12:35 AM # 
A slightly more detailed breakdown:
purchase cost with financing: $18411.36
insurance: $6326.00 (for most of the time, I had collision and comprehensive)
fuel: $22822.25 (34.4 mpg over the life of the car)
oil changes: $1245.79
repairs: $9040.51
tires: 2164.40
The "repairs" item includes some additional oil changes that I had done when I brought it in for, e.g., brake work. It also includes replacing the transmission twice, but does not include the body work when somebody hit my car or the windshield replacement, both of which were covered by insurance. There's no question that my numbers would be lower if I drove less, or if I had carried less insurance. On the other hand, it's a pretty inexpensive car (albeit one purchased new), and it does get pretty good gas mileage. Note that I did not deduct anything for resale/trade-in value, as I sold my previous one for a pittance, and I don't expect to get anything for this one either.

(The car I was driving in 1979 cost $875 (used), and the annual operating costs were pretty low.)
Feb 26, 2012 3:33 AM # 
Eric has laid the veritable smackdown.
Feb 26, 2012 1:34 PM # 
...Clark is missing is the issue of brakes..wiper blades....the veritable smackdown

All I know is that over the long-term stocks are APPRECIATING assets, and a car DEPRECIATES. The magic of compounding works FOR you in the first case; and AGAINST you when you own a car.

To live without a car requires a LIFESTYLE change...just as PG's Lost&Found program required for some of us last year. But the rewards of living without a car ARE significant over 20-30 years...on AVERAGE over $1 million will pile up in your brokerage account, because with that extra $500-$800 each month you might have bought a few dozen shares of Apple, Caterpiller, or McDonalds along the way...or just piled up money in an S&P Index mutual fund and been satisfied with the 10.5% annual return for the past 25 years.

It is too late for most of you middle-aged folks...but why not acquaint the next generation about this easy, fun way to become millionaires? And reduce their environmental footprint at the same time. Wouldn't that offer our kids a win-win future?
Feb 26, 2012 3:14 PM # 
I wouldn't share this with the IRS.....deducting $.50/mile but your actual costs are about $.20/mile.....maybe you're better off keeping less precise records.
Feb 26, 2012 3:14 PM # 
One could also save quite a bit of money by forswearing all forms of beverage except tap water.Treat those brew-pubs like gasoline stations. I'm sure there are some other good ideas like that around.

I knew a guy quite a few years ago who was of a frugal mind, and who decided that he would save a lot of money by eating only rice. Bought it in a huge bag someplace. He figured out it was not going to work even before he got sick from lack of proper nutrition.

Also, if I had been prescient enough to buy shares in Apple, Caterpillar and McDonalds, it probably wouldn't have mattered how many cars I bought.
Feb 26, 2012 3:15 PM # 
oops! J-J has just posted this on the AP tax forum.
Feb 26, 2012 5:27 PM # 
Possibly the expert taxman himself will weigh in on this question, but I BELIEVE (but I'm not expert) that the taxpayer has the option of using either the standard mileage deduction (of 55 centers per mile, as of 2009), OR the actual costs. So hopefully there is no problem with using the standard deduction, even though the actual costs are (very) well documented and less than the standard deduction!
Feb 26, 2012 5:50 PM # 
My first car when I got out of college had operating costs that were (I'm pretty sure) less than the commuter rail fare would have been if I had taken the train to work. And if I hadn't gone to work, I would have been earning this money that supposedly would have compounded into a million dollars.
Feb 26, 2012 6:22 PM # 
...Treat those brew-pubs like gasoline stations.

One of the advantages of living in the city is the CULTURE all around us...and craft-brewed beers are only one part of our current culture...there's many others. For instance this weekend I've seen five of the "Best Picture" nominees up for Oscars tonight at various theaters in town.

Ratlum Mtn may offer an abundance of bucolic pleasures...but how far do you have to travel to enjoy some culture...for instance, a craft-brewed IPA on draught? Or a screening of "The Tree of Life."

Fortunately, I enjoyed those two cultural items in that order.
Feb 26, 2012 6:45 PM # 
RLShadow has it just about right (other than that the standard mileage rate keeps changing, sometimes yearly, sometimes every 6 months). JJ is actually on very solid ground because he keeps such good records.

Interesting that Clark, who seems to spend most of his time playing golf and drinking beer, somehow seems to feel superior to the rest of us. I would not have drawn the same conclusions from the same set of data.
Feb 26, 2012 7:27 PM # 
...somehow seems to feel superior...

Well this is your training log, so I accept your characterization. But it isn't true. Living car-less in America, sharing a bus seat or road side with the detritus of our society, is a constantly humbling experience.
Feb 26, 2012 7:40 PM # 
All I know is that over the long-term stocks are APPRECIATING assets, and beer, golf, and movie tickets DEPRECIATE. The magic of compounding works FOR you in the first case; and AGAINST you when you buy a beer, pay to play golf, or buy a movie ticket.

Therefore, if I were Clark, I would give up those three as well. Just imagine how rich he could be on his deathbed if he just cut out all consumption except bread and water!
Feb 26, 2012 7:56 PM # 
I would prefer to live across the street from a forest than across the street from a place that serves beer, hands down. If that's the advantage of city culture, you're welcome to it (you can have my entire allotment of beer). (Looks like The Tree of Life is available from Netflix, which is how I saw The Help. I saw The Descendants in a movie theater.)
Feb 26, 2012 8:30 PM # 
Fortunately by 1979 I was making enough money so that it is harder to demonstrate that I couldn't possibly have been expending $7000 a year on car expenses. However, a decade earlier that's not the case, and it should serve to make the same point, possibly even to Clark. From the fall of 1965 until the end of 1971 I was living on $2400 to $2600 per year as a research assistant. The last two and a half years of that time I was married, so supporting two of us (Mary was still a vet student, so what she earned in part-time work just covered fees at the university--tuition was free because of being a faculty child). I was using a car most of the time. The first year I had a loan of an old car (book value $200) from my parents, who were spending a sabbatical leave in Europe and weren't driving it. All I had to do was pay registration, gas, insurance and maintenance on it. Because that first year of grad school I was living in a college dorm, rent was $40 a month, but food was also about $60 a month because of no cooking facilities and a lot of eating out. Additional major expenses were about $200 on textbooks for the year (they were a lot cheaper back then!) and $100 for a new bicycle, since it hadn't seemed worth it to cart my 12-year-old 3-speed out from California when I was driving out. And because I had worked fewer weeks than usual that summer before taking a rather extended route back east through Bryce and Zion parks prior to meeting some college friends for some climbing first in the Tetons, then up further north for a while in the Bugaboos, and finally for another couple of days in the Black Hills to help break up the drive back east with one of these friends who had driven west with a couple of the others who were heading to the west coast for grad school, then to NY City to help a friend move her possessions up to Boston for a few years of med school before continuing on to Cornell, I hadn't had a lot of extra funds left on hand when I first arrived in Ithaca. So with 1700 of my 2400 already spent on food, housing and major purchases, plus probably a bit more on car expenses, by the end of that first year I didn't have quite enough on hand to buy a satisfactory replacement car right away. But I had moved out of the dorm with a couple of friends, the room cost was about the same, but food was a lot cheaper and my friends had cars so there wasn't immediate need for me to buy one. But I quickly discovered that it was an inconvenience not having a car from the standpoint of outing club trips (a lot more students wanting to head up to the Adirondacks for camping or to the Albany area for caving or the Gunks for climbing every weekend than cars available for transportation), so by spring I had gathered together $1400 to buy a two-year-old Falcon station wagon that served me faithfully for the rest of grad school. It ended up getting about 20,000 miles a year of use for that next 5 years. Fortunately over that next 5 years I had been able to save up enough of that roughly $1000 a year not explicitly being used for food and housing so that I was able to take advantage of the chance to sell my old Ford for $300 and buy for $1600 a very nice VW squareback from a post-doc in our lab who was about to depart for several years in Germany. So it seems pretty clear to me that just from the total supply of money that I had available to me in the late 60's that I was spending less than $1000/year on all car expenses. In fact, because I was squandering money on some other things such as clothes and camping equipment, I think I was spending considerably less than $1000/year on the car-related things.

What Clark says about cars depreciating with age is correct. But if you buy a car that is relatively cheap to begin with, it doesn't have a long way to go downhill, and there is no need to worry about collision coverage. Depreciation on cars is very non-linear--they lose a lot of their value in the first couple of years. Many people trade in their new cars every couple of years because of the peace of mind and the minimal amount of needed maintenance in this initial period. They pay quite a lot for this sense of security, as shown in the AAA figures. If Clark wants us to consider a lifestyle change, it seems to me that it is reasonable in addition to considering going car free, consider the alternative of going car cheap.

If there were a place to look at where I could in fact have made a lot more in the way of lifetime earnings, I suspect that the place to look would not be my choice of car ownership, but my decision to go to graduate school and get a PhD. Or perhaps even my decision to go to college. Taking a job at the best pay level I could have achieved either at the end of high school or at the end of college would have given a huge amount of leverage initially in earning power, which with proper investment might well have outweighed the greater future salary which I could expect with the higher education level. This might be particularly true in view of the career path I have taken toward academia, which pays noticeably less than industry. A fair number of the recent PhD's from our department go out and get starting salaries directly upon graduation which are as high as I have gotten up to in the intervening 40 years. On the other hand, I find my present job highly satisfying, and one that pays me several times what I really need to live on, so I am quite content to have followed both the educational track and career path that I did! And it is nice to have learned enough math along the way to have some confidence that I understand something about both compound interest and inflation. Also it is nice to have considerable practice in analyzing specific experimental data rather than having to rely on generalized summaries of studies with unspecified assumptions and methodology that may or may not be applicable to a given particular case.

While I haven't been enthusiastic about the details of Clark's economics, the point that Cristina brought up originally, and that Clark tried to reinforce with economic arguments, is that urban sprawl is a serious problem. And this is a point of view with which I am wholly in agreement, and certainly at some level at least a contributor to the problem. About six years before Clark was deciding to go urban, we were deciding whether to expand from our compact bedroom, living room, bath and kitchen on the third floor of our landlady's house within walking distance of Cornell into a separate house in celebration of having a pair of long-term jobs. Looking at the local housing market, it quickly became evident that buying a house within walking distance of work was at a minimum three times more expensive than buying something seven or eight miles away--a factor of three that was definitely the difference between our being able to buy or not be able to buy a house at that time. While I only feel limited guilt about moving out into the rural outskirts (the house was already built, so somebody was going to be living in it), obviously that pushed the boundary out just a little further for someone else looking, and made it a little more attractive for somebody to build new construction inside the circle between Cornell and where we had moved to. On the other hand, it makes it very easy for me to understand why it is that none of the custodial workers in our building lives within 25 miles of Cornell. At $10/hour, one simply can't find housing for a family of 4 or 5 much closer to Ithaca than that with a $20,000/year total income, and still buy food and clothes. 25 miles out it is still marginally possible, maybe even more than marginally possibly if there are two members of the family working. Because cheap gasoline and subsidized roads make driving a much smaller contribution to total living costs than housing does, the working poor drive a long way to work. Not having $9000/year to spare for their automotive expenditures, they somehow manage to make do with less. In the meantime, the affluent keep building more houses in close to Ithaca! There is minimal additional road building involved, because the surrounding area all used to be dairy farms, with a road network roughly on a one-mile grid (roughly, because quite a few local gorges, etc. keep the road spacing a lot less uniform near the finger lakes than would be typical in the midwest). Now instead of one or two farmhouses on each side of each road between intersections, there are gradually getting to be more and more residences growing up along the roads as dairy farmers go out of business and sell off their land a bit at a time. The new houses range from modular homes or house trailer up to pretty impressive mansions. So my bike rides that used to look really rural as long as I headed away from Ithaca look gradually less so over the years (though mostly still very nice). Unless something gets done to make urban housing more affordable, and driving less so, I think we will continue to see the effective perimeter of cities slowly spreading out.
Feb 26, 2012 8:57 PM # 
If the alternative is craft-brewed beer and Oscar-nominated movies, I think I'd rather go for a drive. If I want to see a movie that interests me, I drive down to Trinity, or get it on Netflix. I try to stay out of the multiplexes. Besides, I have been studying Italian in the last few months, and my car makes an excellent language lab. I can jabber away without bothering anybody. Not feasible on the subway or the bus.

I suspect I have spent a lot more on tuition than I have on cars. Lucky I have been able to do it.
Feb 26, 2012 11:19 PM # 
My car costs are <6000$/year (assuming I can sell a 2001 Golf GTi in August for a reasonable sum). I could save 6000$ a year in accommodation costs by living somewhere else nearby, but I am on one of the best orienteering maps I know, and can walk to good bars/restaurants and to a train station. I am apparently incapable of wisely investing my savings, so I wouldn't become a millionaire anyway.

Thanks for the posts Eric. I'll charge 25$ for reading them, though.
Feb 26, 2012 11:42 PM # 
Thanks for the posts Eric. I'll charge 25$ for reading them, though.

Hey, just occurred to me, shouldn't I be getting a hosting fee? Or do I have to settle for enjoying the discussion? :-)
Feb 26, 2012 11:47 PM # 
hosting fee
If you would get paid (eg. $1.00) for each of the hits on your log - 250.247 to date - you´d be a quarter millionaire by now ;-)
Feb 27, 2012 1:00 AM # 
The simplest way for me to have cranked up my net worth would have been to have not bought my house seven or so years ago. I could have lived in my car and put the cash I've spent on mortgage, insurance, and property taxes in a pillowcase. Even with that unproductive "investment", I would now have enough to buy my house outright, instead of having zero equity.
Feb 27, 2012 2:11 PM # 
...the point that Cristina brought up that urban sprawl is a serious problem...

Yes...Cristina had a good point. And she has recently changed to a car-free lifestyle herself, after living in one of the most car-happy states I know of. Now she has XC skiing, orienteering, running paths, and transit within a short walk from her front door. Doesn't that beat any living arrangement the rest of us orienteers have in the US?

The Nordic countries have worked hard for 60 years to make a car-free lifestyle fun and possible, by investing in modern transit and building planned new communities at transit hubs, leaving vast tracts of natural land perfect for these sports close to urban centers. Visiting over there is an amazing experience for an American, particularly if you acquire some local knowledge by dating a resident as I did. Most of us quickly realize that the US is no longer the "greatest" country in the world, but rather trapped too long in an outdated, unsustainable lifestyle...squandering our capital on cars, gas, and wiper blades.

I'd hope that by the time Cristina leaves Norway she might secretly agree with this assessment.
Feb 27, 2012 2:30 PM # 
A very interesting interpretation of my views. And wrong, since I'm not exactly an "America! Fuck yeah!" kind of person.

I'm not sure why you think I disagree with your comments about the US and the unsustainable lifestyle essentially required of most of its inhabitants. That's exactly my view and you illustrated why yourself with "The Nordic countries have worked hard for 60 years to make a car-free lifestyle fun and possible..."

Perhaps this will make me seem like a bad, bad person in your eyes, but I did not virtuously "decide to go car-free". I moved someplace where it didn't make much sense to buy a car and so I haven't yet. I do think it's great (I do! Really!) that I can live here and do 98% of what I want to do without having a car. We clearly agree on that. Of course, it's not like Norwegians live sustainably, either, so I wouldn't say that we should emulate them completely, but that's another issue for another day.

The difference between our views is that I realize that most people cannot do the same and, even more importantly, I do not think that my lifesteyle here makes me a better person. I am not special, I will not run around telling people how foolish they are for not doing things my way. My (mostly) carless lifestyle has been made possible (or necessary, really) by smart urban planning and the existence of high taxes on autos and fuel.

While we do need to reduce our consumption, and some of this can be in the form of individual choices (which should be commended but not flaunted), the overall solution involves better urban planning and policy changes. You know this because you illustrated it in your last post. Norwegians aren't individually more virtuous than Americans, they just have smarter and more environmentally conscious policies that force them to be a little better about driving. That's where our effort should go, towards policies and politics, not towards berating people on the internet about how they could have bought a few NASCAR teams if only they'd suffered enough in their early adulthood.
Feb 27, 2012 2:44 PM # 
I will say, the summer I spent in Europe in 1991, I really enjoyed being able to get everywhere I need to go by train (and a few bus and ferry rides here and there, once a cab). (There were a couple of stretches when I was with friends who had rented cars.)
Feb 27, 2012 2:59 PM # 
There are a lot of Norwegians with big cars.

Cristina, Norwegians might possibly be a little "more virtuous than Americans" *on average*. Or, probably.
Feb 27, 2012 3:06 PM # 
Okay, probably on average. They are virtuous enough to have elected officials who are smart about many policies. But, if you want to compare, say, ecological footprints, neither Norwegians nor Americans would receive passing marks.
Feb 27, 2012 8:05 PM # 
. . . dating a resident . . .

That would not be a smart move for me at all!
Feb 27, 2012 8:29 PM # 
Ah, but didn't that get you some local knowledge of Texas?
Feb 28, 2012 9:29 AM # 
So my bike rides that used to look really rural as long as I headed away from Ithaca look gradually less so over the years.

And to think, Ithaca is growing despite being almost 30 miles from the nearest freeway. (and, no, I am not counting that short stretch of 13 that goes down to / up from the lake)

Unless something gets done to make urban housing more affordable, and driving less so, I think we will continue to see the effective perimeter of cities slowly spreading out.

So, if the latter happens, but the former does not, some folks couldn't afford to worki?

This discussion thread is closed.