Ask the grumpies: How does a Gay woman in her mid forties date?

Anoninmass asks:

How does a Gay woman in her mid forties date….when only a small part of her wants to date in the first place?

Great question.  We’re both introverted, and near our mid-forties.  But neither one of us is gay and neither one of us has dated for a long, looonnnnnng time.  None of our lesbian friends have dated in a loooong time either (and yay marriage for those who want it!).  Hetero people we know seem to mostly be using dating apps and going on lots of dates of various levels of fun vs. terrible (or have decided that they don’t want to date at all).

You might find some wisdom over at Captain Awkward.

Here’s a blog post that we did not write.  Everything else google is giving me is either about people realizing they’re gay in their 40s or webpages for dating apps.

Do any grumpy readers have better advice for Anoninmass?

Ask the grumpies: How to subvert the Tragedy of the Commons

Leah asks:

Is there any way to subvert the tragedy of the commons, or are we doomed to that fate? I seem to remember learning some examples way back when I took environmental economics but they all escape me . . .

I just happen to teach a class on this!

The first way we learn about is with government setting property rights and facilitating costless Coasian bargaining.  In the canonical example, there’s a river and a factory and a fisherperson.  The factory pollutes the river which kills some fish.  If the factory owner owns the river, then the fisher can pay it to pollute less.  If the fisher owns the river, then the factory owner can pay them to allow some pollution.  There’s problems with this solution when there’s not costless bargaining, when there’s multiple fishers (that can cause a holdout problem) or multiple factory owners (and they don’t know which ones are causing the pollution), but that’s the “preferred” government intervention when it works because it leads to the least amount of deadweight loss.

Fancier versions of this solution include things like the government setting a specific number of pollution credits and allowing firms to bargain over them.  That’s the idea behind Cap and Trade.

When the Coasian solution is difficult to implement, generally because of bargaining problems or informational aysmmetry, the government can step in a bigger way.

First:  The government can mandate that firms not be allowed to pollute more than a certain amount or fish more than a certain amount or hunt more than a certain amount.  Associations can also take the role of government in order to say, prevent over-fishing, though it’s often harder for a non governmental association to enforce these kinds of mandates.  Mandates are most enforceable when there’s jailtime associated (not just a shell company going bankrupt), though that tends to be unpopular.

Second:  The government can tax things like pollution or things that cause pollution.  Think gasoline taxes or hunting fees.

Third:  The government can subsidize companies to not pollute or to not fish etc.  This option tends to be the most popular with industry.

All of these methods have situations in which they work better or worse than the other solutions.  With nuclear waste, you want a mandate because even a little bit of waste is bad.  With air pollution you might want a tax or subsidy or cap and trade system.  The government can make money with taxes or by selling property rights in a Coasian situation.  Companies tend to lobby for subsidies which makes them more politically feasible.

So the short answer is:  yes, government can subvert the tragedy of the commons.  Market failure is why there is an economic role for government and the tragedy of the commons is one of the causes of a main source of market failure (negative spillovers).  But we need political will for it to work.

Ask the grumpies: If you could only sit on one piece of furniture for a year…

Leah asks:

If you could pick one of the following pieces of furniture to be the only one you sit in for a year, which would you choose? Rocking chair, chaise lounge, office chair, glider, or wingback

Given how much time I spent at the computer, it would have to be the office chair.

Is bed an option?  I like beds…

Grumpy Nation, what would you pick?

Ask the Grumpies: I moved into a rich subdivision and my neighbors gave me way too much

Moved to the Southern US asks:

My husband and I (immigrants from [an Asian country]) have done very well for ourselves lately, and after living in a 2200 sq ft house in a standard subdivision with mostly people affiliated with the local university, we saved up and built our own house where the minimum allowed house size is 3,500 sq feet and there are plenty of trees and lots of land between houses.  Lot sizes are big.  According our HOA, we could have horses if we wanted, but nobody does.  On one side of us lives a surgeon and his younger SAHM wife with their two children (neither of whom are close to my children’s ages).  On the other side are a couple of older lawyers (we think) whose children are grown (we think).

We moved here mid-September, so this is our first holiday season here.

Recently the SAHM gave us an enormous box of homemade cookies.  Along with the box she provided a holiday card and a lengthy very personal holiday letter with pictures and information about their “magical” summer vacation.  There were also a lot of bible verses.

The cookies were, sadly, not very good.  Neither my toddler nor my growing pre-teen ate more than one, which is saying something.  (Our builder also gave us a tin of cookies as a holiday gift, but there were a lot fewer cookies and they were good!)  We ended up throwing them out and sending a thank-you note.  My DH initially wanted to invite the family over for tea, but thought better of it.  We thought about reciprocating, but… it seemed weird and we don’t want to encourage such gifts.

This morning [a Saturday] around 7am while we were all still in bed, we got a knock on the door and it was our other neighbor, the lawyer husband, with a box from honeybaked ham for us.  My husband groggily thanked him and took it inside.  When we opened it later, it had an entire ham in it with a price tag for almost $60(!) along with a Christmas card saying, “Hello neighbor, have a wonderful Christmas!” with the word “Christmas” underlined twice.  I’ve never met the lawyer couple and know very little about them.  My husband has not talked with either of them much either.  (We’d at least seen the cookie neighbor around the neighborhood while walking our dog, though we couldn’t tell you the names of her kids.)

Is this normal?  Do we write a thank-you note?  Are we expected to reciprocate in kind?  I don’t want to spend $60 on someone whose name I don’t even know.

We are Christian and we do like ham, so we will be eating it, but we would still have preferred not to have gotten this gift.

That definitely sounds WEIRD!  It is so tacky to leave a price tag on a gift!  What is up with that?

And who gives a HAM?  And who gives a ham 4 days before Christmas?  I may be biased a bit because I don’t like ham and we’re about to leave to visit relatives (and there is usually a lot of ham at Christmas dinner but without pineapple which is the only thing I like about baked ham so I can’t imagine coming back to an entire ham after that).  There’s so many people who can’t eat ham, not just for religious or vegetarian reasons, but also for reasons of cholesterol and salt content.  That’s just so WEIRD.  (Also, not a fan of Honeybaked ham– they somehow seem even saltier than normal.)

Let’s assume that there’s nothing overtly racist about either of these neighbors, they just can’t imagine a world where anybody wouldn’t be Christian.  It’s just easier to live that way.

I find people over the age of 25 who proselytize to not be very interesting to talk with, so I think not having tea and just sending a thank-you note was the right call there.  (My students often outgrow the proselytizing as they meet more new people–it’s just how they were raised.)

My guess with the holiday letter and cookies is that they had a bunch leftover from their friends and family giving and decided the neighbors would get the overflow.  Possibly she went to a cookie party (where people make and trade huge batches of cookies), though if that were the case *some* of the cookies would have been good because they’d have been made by other people.  So you got the letter because she had some extras printed out, not because she really wants you to know about her vacation.

As for the ham… I was completely mystified about that too until I talked with one of my friends who knows more rich people than I do.  (Technically we know a lot of Silicon Valley rich people, but Northern California rich is a lot more like upper middle class most places, and most of them are only first generation rich because of the dot com boom.)  She said he’s probably giving said hams to everyone on his list without really thinking about it.  $60 seems like a lot to most of us, but it’s like that arrested development clip with the banana.  They don’t see it as extravagant because they can’t.

Image result for how much does a banana cost meme

[This, grumpy nation, is but one reason that we need higher marginal tax rates.  Wealthy people should not be gifting each other bad hams!  What a waste!  (Personally, I’d try to give it to our local food pantry, but I don’t know they’d even accept it and they’re impossible to get on the phone.)]

So, Moved to the Southern US, eat the ham as you wish and write a thank you note as you did with the cookies.  Either they’re giving you outsized gifts because you’re new to the neighborhood and they’ll scale down next year, or these gifts are such a small part of their lawyerly budget that it just doesn’t seem over the top (and maybe you’ll just come to expect your annual ham until it’s time to move to a nursing home).  Send a thank you card and move on.  You do not need to reciprocate!

Makes me glad that the only gifts we get from our neighbors are the occasional much appreciated overflow summer tomatoes!  Oh, and when DC1 was little a number of our neighbors used us as an opportunity to get rid of outgrown toys and clothes, which was also appreciated.  Also, several years ago we did get into a banana bread war with one of our neighbors– she ran into DH doing yardwork one evening and they got talking and she mentioned she had lots of extra bananas from her work and somehow that ended up with him getting a bunch of very ripe bananas, which he turned into several loaves of banana bread.  So he gave one to their family…  And then she gave us another loaf of banana bread in return.  At which point I’m fairly sure we realized we needed to stop, but it might have gone another round.

Grumpy nation– Do you get holiday (or other) gifts from your neighbors?  Have you ever lived in an upper-class neighborhood and is it different from where those who barely qualify as having mcmansions live?  Do you know rich people and do they give you hams?

Ask the grumpies: What is your favorite travel destination?

Leah asks:

What is your favorite travel destination?

#1:  This may seem kind of weak, but if I’m being completely honest, I think my current favorite travel destination is West LA.  I love the weather.  I love the hotels I stay in.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the food.  I wish I had more West coast conferences and fewer East coast ones (though thankfully the food has gotten better in the main place I go on the East Coast).  LA just makes me happy.  And West LA is surprisingly walkable.  I’m sure there are places in Europe that are lovely, but I have not presented at several overseas conferences because I just don’t want to spend all that time on the plane.  Flights to LA are much more reasonable.  Plus my favorite bakery in the part of Northern California where I conference the most went out of business.  :(

#2:  Italy

Grumpy nation, where you do like to travel best?

Ask the grumpies: Vaccine delayers… do they deserve our contempt (spoiler: yes, but not as much as deniers)

Jenny F. Scientist asks:

How to be less contemptuous of, say, vaccine delayers, or do they deserve it.

Vaccine delayers are an interesting group. They tend to argue that vaccines are given too early because doctors want to make sure kids get vaccines so they give them at the first chance or on rigid schedules that coincide with things like daycare or elementary school requirements.  The argument is that some vaccination is better than no vaccination, so doctors give them too early.  A conscientious parent who believes in vaccines and has the means to get them done will get them done but “optimally”.  Now… why is delaying optimal?  One (refuted) argument (made by a son of the original Dr. Sears who has since been censured –– the original Dr. Sears was very much in favor of the regular vaccination schedule) is that too many vaccines at once overtax a child’s system, which is silly because the vaccines don’t work that way and even if they did, kids are exposed to more taxing things just crawling around the house.  Similarly there’s an argument about metals, but most vaccines don’t have the metals/chemicals that parents are afraid of anymore, and the metals they do have are in low amounts (one study says babies get more aluminum from breastmilk than from a vaccine).  Then there’s the argument that babies do sometimes get reactions to vaccines, things like allergic reactions or swelling and redness around the injection site, and an older child might be better able to tolerate the side effects.  (Moms who subscribed to this philosophy just wanted to delay vaccines, not spread them out.)

Another argument is that some moms just want to feel special and working out a special snowflake schedule for their kid helps.  This argument is unlikely to make you feel less contemptuous.

A more likely argument is that a lot of white dude MD doctors are exploiting women’s fears for their children in order to sell them products.  There’s a lot of evidence for this latter argument.  When white dudes with medical degrees are pushing something and they’re put on talk shows, how is a parent without a science (or other advanced) degree supposed to know if she should listen to him or to her own pediatrician?  You know and I know how to read articles in PubMed and how to evaluate evidence and when correlation is not causation… but most people don’t.  I have graduate students I teach this stuff to.  Instead of feeling contemptuous of the vaccine delayer women, perhaps the contempt should be saved for the men who are exploiting them and their children to sell their stuff.

When I was on a mommy forum vaccine delayers tended to be less stupid (…and less narcissistic) than deniers– one was even a microbiology PhD student.  She would try to talk deniers into getting vaccines later.  I think it worked on some of the mommies, though I think she also convinced some mommies who would have gotten vaccines on schedule to delay, so I’m not sure that there was a net positive.

Usually delaying isn’t going to be a problem.  Except when it is.

What, of course, worked to get more moms on that forum to vaccinate on time was a measles outbreak nearby.  Terrifying!

In an ideal world, enough people would vaccinate their kids on schedule that people who didn’t get vaccinated would have herd immunity.  In an ideal world, many of these diseases would be completely eradicated.  But we don’t live in an ideal world, so delaying vaccines carries risks that it shouldn’t.  It’s still safest to vaccinate your kids on schedule unless there is evidence of a known allergy.

Ask the grumpies: Is chasing credit card rewards worth it?

Leah asks:

Are rewards credit cards overrated? Should I be chasing rewards, or is it not really worth my effort?

We don’t think it’s worth it for us other than the initial picking of some decent card (DH has one that gives 2% cash back and has no annual fee which seems to be as good as it gets without any hassle) to use as your primary card.

If you’re into travel, then maybe there’s some credit card rewards that are worth it– a lot of bloggers seem to believe so and post about their travel hacks.

(Of course, credit cards also pay handsomely for recommending their card to other people, so there’s an incentive for bloggers to recommend specific cards.)

But that still doesn’t mean that churning is necessarily worth your time and effort– that’s an individual decision.  It may be still in your best interest just to pick a single travel card and accumulate points on that.

So, I guess it’s best to figure out how much you get from signing up or whatever it is for if you see a deal.  Or maybe just read about someone’s travel hack on a blog.  Then take that number and think about how that compares to the effort of following the rules of the card to get the bonus and of remembering to cancel on the right date (and the risk and cost of forgetting to cancel or not spending enough or spending too much) and what you’re forgoing from your previous card.  Then think about the cost of looking for these kinds of deals.  Maybe that money saved/earned is worth it to you, maybe it’s not.

For me, our primary card is DH’s 2% cash back card.  He has a backup card that I think is also 2% but in points, which I find annoying since the value of points could change at any time.  My primary card is 1.5% cash back but has no foreign transaction fees.  My secondary card is 1% cash back but has 5% back on selected purchases up to $300/year (currently that’s been spent because of our kitchen renovation corresponding with 5% back from Home Depot).  None of these have annual fees.  We don’t do much vacationing (though we’ve started doing more), but with our travel plans it generally seems like paying cash six months in advance is a better deal than using points when all four of us are going somewhere (this is especially true around Christmas).  We get enough points from work travel to fly DH’s mother in whenever we need emergency childcare because we’re both out of town for work.

So… is credit card churning worth it?  That’s a personal decision that depends on how much you hate hassle and what your opportunity costs from the next best no-hassle alternative are.  For us, it’s a no-brainer.  For someone who does a personal finance blog, perhaps a no-brainer in the other direction.

So… do some chasing at the beginning to pick a good card for your needs and wants.  Maybe re-evaluate every few years to see if there’s something better out there.  But in general, unless you enjoy chasing rewards (or get rewarded for blogging about them), the potential benefits may not outweigh the hassle.

What kind of credit card rewards do you all use?  Do you find chasing rewards to be worth it?