Ask the grumpies: Macro 101– why can the US have so much debt?

First Gen American asks:

I don’t get the deficit and printing money in general. Why is the US able to be in such enormous debt and continue to grow it without short term negatives consequences aside from servicing the debt. I just read that something like 70% of foreign countries still use USD as their reserve currency Despite President Obama adding something like 7 trillion to the deficit during his 2 terms and Trump is continuing the spending spree with tax cuts. There are a number of articles in this question and I figured as economics people you may have more of a clue.

At some point it’s not sustainable. Does anyone even know where that cliff is? Does anyone care? Is there a real risk of economic collapse at some point?

The short answer is:  We’re ok so long as enough folks believe we will not renege on our promises.

Longer answer:  We’re ok so long as there’s still decent GDP growth.  We’re better off if that spending is investing in our future and worse off if it’s contributing to widening income inequality.  (This was one reason I loved HRC– she really got that.  Spend on investment.)

Let’s see if I can find a good longer answer somewhere online.  There must be a wikipedia page or something… This investopedia article seems reasonable, laying out all the different arguments.

Basically, some debt is good because it contributes to investment so long as the rest of the world believes in the continued existence of the US as a country (and not one that will refuse to pay).  Too much debt can cause problems.

Here’s a planet money podcast that doesn’t go into too much detail, but is somewhat interesting.

You know you’re getting older when

  • You start recognizing fewer and fewer names and faces on the People magazine covers at the grocery store.
  • The only Lady Gaga song you know is by Lady Gaga is the one that sounds exactly like that Madonna song.  You know it is Lady Gaga once you hear it because you read on CNN (or heard on NPR) that her newest hit single sounds like Express Yourself.
  • you realize that the above bullets were written over 7 years ago(!).
  • none of the students get your jokes anymore.  Any of them.
  • They haven’t even seen Stand and Deliver.  What is up with that?
  • we should have saved the “your good hip hurts” thing for this rboc, not the previous one
  • there are definitely more aches and pains though
  • there’s so much you used to care about that just seems like trivial drama now
    • Though that could be because there’s actual life-at-risk drama and treason and stuff coming at us on a daily basis, which has nothing to do with our ages so much as our cohort…
  • you have 131 unfinished posts in your drafts, but zero under scheduled….

Grumpeteers, how do you know you’re getting older?

What are we getting people for Christmas this year?

DC1:  A set of trick decks for the stocking (DC1 is really into card and coin tricks),

DC2:  Spanish coloring book,  a set of 5 field notebooks and a wellspring flip note (DC2 is really into drawing and list making and notes)

BIL1:  Anti-hero, for the king, and into the breach.  I am told these are steam games.

SIL1:  Usually we get SIL books off her amazon list but this year we only got her Binti:  Home and instead got her the first Timestories game off her wish list because DH really enjoys Timestories.

nephew 1:  A meccano microid and a minecraft plush pig from his amazon wishlist.

niece 1:  We renewed her subscription to the Braille of the Month book club.  Apparently they’ve really been enjoying it.  (The nonprofit provides the books at less than cost, so we also gave them a donation– what a great program.)

BIL2:  We never know what to get for him, so we generally just give an amazon gift card.  This year is no exception.

SIL2:  She had a bunch of stuff for work, mostly craft paper, on her amazon wishlist, so we got that.

nephew 2:  He’s easy to shop for because he’s a similar age to our DC2 and has similar interests, so we got more Magic Treehouse books (our DC2 is not a fan, but our DC1 was, and they were a big hit last year), bad kitty books, and a book of facts that DC2 really enjoyed.

niece 2:  She’s a bit harder because we have to remember what we gave nephew 2 at that age (not to be confused what we gave the other niece and nephew).  Generally we make a list and then ask SIL2 if there are duplicates.  This year we got Go Dog Go, Put me in the Zoo, Big Dog Little Dog,  Sneeches, Green Eggs and Ham, and one fish two fish.

MIL:  Life has gotten easier since she got a wish list!  We got her the Michelle Obama memoir and a non-crisping ninja foodi (so.. basically an instapot?) that is backordered on amazon and may not get there until after January.

FIL:  An instant food thermometer and a gift certificate to Cabela’s.

Sister:  She’s been doing a lot more cooking lately and asked for a bread book, so we got her DH’s current go-do– Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno.  I would call this a recipe book for the advanced beginner.  It has a lot of really good information (with pictures) about different types of bread, ingredients, and multiple techniques before it gets into the recipes.  It’s not a coffee table book with rich histories like Home Baking, nor is it a trendy artisan bread in 5 min a day, but we learned a lot of techniques from it and it’s got a lot of variety and almost all the recipes we’ve tried have been excellent.  (Exception:  DH notes on the soft pretzel recipe:  THESE ARE NOT PRETZELS, need baking soda.)  We don’t know what else to get her– she has said she will think about what she wants.

Mother:  The local bookstore in her town went out of business, so I guess it is back to Amazon gift cards.

Father:  I’ve given up here.

For #2 I got her a bunch of excellent books off her wish list including three for kindle that I sent her right away because Amazon sucks for gift giving via kindle (stuff stays on the wish list so you might end up with two people buying you the same thing).  I got her Deception by Amanda Quick, KJ Charles’ retelling of the Prisoner of Zenda, and Band Sinister.  The other stuff is still a secret.


#2 says:  This year, as with most years, it’s an Icelandic-style bookflood for me.  Though I still have to figure out what to get for DH.

Link Love

Acting attorney general Matthew Whittaker took 900K in salary from a conservative “charity” and has repeatedly updated financial disclosure forms as people find out things he’s hidden.

ICYMI, toss out your romaine.  Again.

Leaning In isn’t necessarily equivalent to doing right

An irony of Facebook’s situation.

Unsurprisingly to anybody except the media stuck on kardashian tropes, congressional women are not cat fighting (indeed, they’re backing Pelosi after Pelosi promises their constituencies will be heard, which is how politics works when it is working).

Republicans want to drug test for unemployment benefits even though all research shows this will cost more money than it saves.  Because they care about hurting people when they’re down, not about fiscal responsibility.

More fascist drama with the census (because they don’t want to count people likely to be served by democrats).

Courtney Milan also makes a great economist.

This story is sweet like pumpkin pie.

oh so cute

this one is cute too

Ask the grumpies: How to eat gluten free frugally

We’re totally stealing this question from delagar.

Delagar asks:

I’ve been sick for about six months now. My PCP has no real idea what’s wrong — she thinks maybe a parasite, though two long courses of antibiotics have not really cleared up the issue. Her next move is to send me for (expensive) tests.

These tests will mean $$$, and that will be $$$ out of my pocket, obviously, since my health insurance has a huge deductible. (It’s something like $5000, though I’ll admit I haven’t checked the exact number yet. I don’t even want to know at this point.)

So before I agree to the expensive tests, I’m think I’ll try other things. According to Doctor Google, one other thing that might be wrong is a gluten allergy. I know going gluten-free is very woo, but I’m trying it. It’s better than putting a couple thousand dollars on the credit cards.

On the other hand, my current diet is very gluten-heavy.

So! Recommendations for gluten-free foods?

Cheap gluten free foods, if possible. (Currently I am living on oatmeal, oranges, and potatoes. I can see that this diet will get old fast, however.)

Here’s a thread from when I was allergic to wheat during pregnancy:

Words of wisdom:
Don’t think of it as you *can’t* have wheat things, think of it as you get to try new things you wouldn’t have had before.  (It’s hard, but… )

Non-wheat versions of things that are normally wheat are generally pretty expensive.  There are a lot of inexpensive foods that aren’t “new-American” that never had wheat to begin with.  Focusing on these feels less like deprivation.  (Much like eating things that are naturally sugar or fat free feels less like deprivation than their artificial versions.)

Arepas are one of those new things you should absolutely try.  They’re wonderful.  If you can do cornmeal there are many amazing inexpensive things you can do with it.  Arepas are my favorite.  Super simple to make from scratch too– easier than pancakes.

Most fancy noodles that mimic Italian noodles are expensive.  Cheaper option:  Chinese rice noodles.  These are usually naturally gluten free and they’re kind of like angel hair (and reasonably priced).  They’re better with Asian food than Italian sauces, but they do help with a noodle craving.

When I wanted Italian, instead of rice noodles, I would often use beans.  This didn’t spark joy, but it also allowed me to eat spaghetti sauce with the rest of the family and wasn’t weird like trying the rice noodles.  Polenta is also a reasonable substitute for putting under Italian sauces.

Rice is great.

Veggies and stews and soups are good.  Just don’t focus on the lack of rolls or crackers.

Corn tortillas are helpful– but make sure you read labels and the ones that have no gluten you usually have to double up on (two tortillas) or they fall apart.

Rice cakes with melted cheese on top are pretty good.

Real labels very carefully– wheat/gluten shows up in the oddest places.  Like Worcestershire sauce.  Or frozen sweet potato fries.  (I would throw said object up and be unable to eat it again for another 12-15 months, even after the pregnancy and allergy had passed.)

There are some pretty good and reasonably priced gluten-free toaster waffles out there.  But most other stuff is expensive or yucky (or both!).  Even the best gluten-free pizza (expensive, small, not as good as real pizza) is only good while it is still hot and turns disgusting as a leftover.

For desserts– things naturally made with oats or rice flour tend to be better (and less expensive) than things made with gluten-free mixes.  Almond flour tends to be a bit more expensive (best price for us is TJ’s in the city), but makes pretty good cookies if you need a cookie fix and like chewy cookies.  If you google gluten free oat bars, there are a lot of options that mix oats and peanut butter.  I liked adding jam and chocolate to these kinds of recipes (or you could just flat out make dump cookies, though they are far too sweet for my palate these days).  And, of course, you still have a wide range of fruit and milk desserts available to you.

Larabars, at around a dollar a piece, are ~200 calories of life saving goodness.  I wanted to kiss my OB after she recommended them and I was full for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Good luck!  Restricted diets are no fun, but once you figure things out they become more bearable.

Do you have any advice for Delagar?  Recipes for cheap, easy, gluten-free goodness?

What is your favorite kind of stuffing?

#1:  Stuffing is one of my favorite foods ever.  LOVE it.  I love all kinds.  We just had an amazing fennel and onion stuffing (with whole wheat bread crumbs) in a fancy pork tenderloin dish.  Amazing.

But my favorite stuffing is homemade cornbread stuffing with lots of butter and celery and onions and carrots and apples and either walnuts or pecans (whichever we have).  Delish!  I have been known to make up to four different kinds of stuffing if we have a lot of people to serve.  Sage wheat bread stuffing made with sage wheat onion bread (a recipe from a show that is no longer on PBS about a monk who baked).  Plantation stuffing that has cornbread and wheat bread and rice and takes a while to make.  I’ll add cranberries to another, and then just have one plain (with the standard onion/celery stuff but no additions) for picky eaters.   When I’m out and about I love seafood stuffing and sausage stuffing even though I don’t generally make them myself.

#2:  um, cornbread and andouille sausage?  I’m not a big stuffing fan, honestly.  Seafood is gross and chestnuts are meh.  (p.s.  I hate cooked celery and also wild rice.)

Mmmmm stuffing.

What’s yours?

Dualing Duel Income Differences

#1:  We have no post for tomorrow

#2:  Do you have some money things to ask me, or say?  Or talk about?  Something something… I like money?

#1:  What’s it like having two incomes now [that your DH has been re-employed for a while]?

#2:  Not any different. Nothing’s really changed?

#1: No? It’s really no different having your DH working vs. not? Why is that? For me there’s a huge difference!

#2: I mean…. he handles most of the bills. Our level of spending hasn’t changed. We’re not really doing anything different in our daily lives.

#1: You don’t have fewer money worries? Or is it that he had enough of a buffer that it was ok?

#2: I mean… some, I guess it’s slightly less worrisome? I didn’t have a whole lot before. We have a big buffer.

#1: Maybe it’s like when I go on leave… like, it’s planned for and expected and stuff. Whereas DH being unemployed is more worrisome because we don’t know if he’s going to be able to find employment again without us all moving.  I guess your DH has better market prospects?

#2: We have enough buffer to not really change anything, I guess.

#1: Is it different when you’re the one unemployed?

#2: If DH stops doing this job, he’ll just get another one. My job is less essential to the financial functioning of this household, but still important. We could afford for both of us to be out of work for a short while, but that would blow the buffer. I mean, we live in an expensive place. But we also have a bunch of money, so….?

#1: We live in an inexpensive place, and we can live on my salary… but for some reason it’s more stressful.  We have to keep an eye on the spending… we can’t just say yes to things, whereas when he’s working we have enough extra we don’t need to sweat the small or medium-sized stuff.  Maybe it’s the kids–they’re more expensive than cats, and needy. Like, they need stuff.

#2: Yes, I think if I had kids that I was worried about their present and future needs… that would be a LOT of stress. If I had kids I would feel stressed ALL the time.

#1: … that’s not even counting when the after school activity teacher tells you that the Hershey’s kisses your DC2 is tantrumming about not getting are only for mommies who participated in their stupid unannounced parent participation day that you would totally have not had DC2 participate in if you’d known it would be happening when DH was out of town… I digress.

#1:  Or maybe it’s just that you’re naturally frugal now and the same naturally frugal when your DH is unemployed and there isn’t a big level jump given how expensive it is to live where you live– you still have to be moderately careful.

#2:  More like naturally medium.  Not very frugal.

#1:  You don’t have enough space to be truly unfrugal.  Unless your DH has a Tesla I don’t know about.

#2:  Nope.  Also I don’t like clothes shopping, and I like to stay at home.

If you’re partnered, how does your life change when one of you is out of work?  What do you think is going on? 

Here’s Mrs. POP talking about her feelings with a FIREd spouse.

link love

Want to help get another Democrat elected?  There are two ways to remind democrats to vote in upcoming runoff elections in a couple of weeks.  The first is via Postcardstovoters (last I checked they still have addresses for Senatorial Candidate Mike Espy) and the second is via VoteFwd (Georgia Secretary of State runoff).

Nancy Pelosi is amazing.  Don’t let the bad guys smear her like they did HRC.

Don’t let the bad guys write a false cat-fight story between Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi either.  It’s not cool when they do it with musicians, and it’s less cool when it’s politicians.

Read this excellent interview from an expert about what groups are best for white women to target (it isn’t the Trump-loving white women).

Facebook reportedly paid for smear campaign against George Soros

What happened in Porter County, Indiana on election day and after.

Casseroles that won’t fix any of this

IPUMS is AWESOME!!!!  I gave them money for their fundraiser.

Yay Linda!

10 things to remove from your resume

Extending the life of your smartphone

Ariana Grande and resilience

She Ra is getting good reviews!

How did this get published in nature?

A parody paper in solid state physics from 1931

I like these

Ask the grumpies: How do I find a good bank?

Susan asks:

We’ll be leaving BofA. What recommendations do you have?

I’ve been googling and what is defined as “ethical” seems confusing (mostly synonymous with green?). I think we need: direct deposit, online/picture deposit, billpay, and ATMs, though we don’t use cash much. We’ll need to link to Vanguard. So, pretty simple, and online only is going to be fine I think, it’s been years since I’ve been to the B&M. We keep ~$10k in checking. We have a Capital One account already (from when it was ING).

I don’t know that I have good recommendations, and #2 and I have very different feelings about credit unions. (I think it’s a good idea to have both a local CU and a national bank, she is very against CU for reasons.) I will say I’m enjoying the interest on our capital one online-only account (that we opened because of a special extra cash offer), but I think people generally prefer Ally.

In terms of ethics, I have no idea, though obviously Bank of America and Wells Fargo have many strikes against them on that front.

There’s some online people who have looked at the question of ethics, as you note, but I’m not sure how trustworthy the sites are.  Here’s the ethical consumer for UK banks and here’s nerdwallet with US banks.

Mr. Millionaire says:

I love Ally (not sponsored). The only drawback is that if I want to deposit cash (side hustle), I have to buy a money order and mail it in.

gasstationwithout pumps says:

When my son and I were both looking for interest-bearing accounts, we ended up with Alliant Credit Union. For us, it is online only, except that we can use any credit-union ATM for deposits and withdrawals. The interest rate is a bit better than Ally or Capital One. It’s early days yet, but the only problem I’ve had was depositing the check for closing out the Wells Fargo account—it exceeded the maximum for ATM transactions, and I had to do a 2-step transfer (first in-person at my local credit union, then electronically from there). It is a good idea to retain one local brick-and-mortar institution in your portfolio.

Maybe the readers will have more suggestions?

My family and WWII

Nazis suck.

My father was a child in one of the countries the Nazis trampled.  He doesn’t talk about it.  He still has an odd fascination with fire that shows itself with birthday cake candles.  And he’s 5’2″ because although he never went hungry, he didn’t get a lot of nutrition either.  His mother and siblings moved to the US after the war.

I found out recently that although my bonmama was Catholic (along with most of my family on both sides), her father was Jewish.  Her husband (I’m not clear if this would be my grandfather or my step-grandfather) moved to Argentina with his mistress after the war (taking all the money, and triggering Bonmama and her children’s migration), and it is thought that he was a Nazi sympathizer.  Funny what one learns when Nazis are in the news again.

My mother’s mother joined the war effort as a nurse.  At her (Catholic, military) funeral, this time period featured prominently as the most important time in her life.  She rose up the ranks in the air force to become a Captain.  When she taught me how to knit, she gifted me with the knitting needles she’d used to while away the time flying towards a battlefield.  On the way back, the needles would be put away while they tended the wounded.

She met my grandfather during the war.  He wasn’t an enlisted man.  I’m not sure why not– whether it was preference or a medical condition.  He was a counselor for the American Red Cross.  While my grandmother treated the physical consequences of war, he treated the mental and emotional consequences.

My maternal grandparents’ commitment to public service filtered down to most of their children (I guess technically my horrible Trump-loving uncle is a forest ranger).  My uncles are veterans, one aunt is a federal judge, the other is a nurse practitioner who ran a hospital system.  My mom, the professor, was elected to our local school board for several terms.

We can’t let Nazi values of hatred and fascism take hold in the US.  We need to honor the ideals of this country that fought against evil in the second WW.  It is true that our own history is full of horrors like slavery and internment and xenophobia.  But we can’t let those forces win.  We must keep fighting.  Concentration camps didn’t start killing people overnight.  Germany didn’t start out evil.  We cannot tolerate injustice.  Keep calling your representatives.  Keep protesting.  Keep recruiting people to vote and donating and encouraging campaigns.  It’s a long slog to freedom.  But the alternative is something our grandparents lived.  They fought with their lives.  We should fight with our time and money and words so that we don’t have to get to that point.

What did your family do in WWII?  How was your family changed by it?