Ask the grumpies: How to grow jobs in an area and general entrepreneurship

First Gen American asks:

My latest interest is around how to grow jobs in an area and general entrepreneurship. Anything around that topic would be interesting.

How to identify unmet needs
How to make a business plan
How to decide what to do
How to do the quick back of the envelope calculation on roi. (I’d have to sell how many ice cream cones to just cover rent!?)
How to take a risk without putting it all on the line and if that is even possible. (Many of my customers emptied their retirement savings to start their businesses. It was rough going for a while for many of them and I am only talking to the ones who made it.)
How to determine if a market is saturated. (I.e. Microbreweries)
Where to find businesses for sale.
How to assess the numbers and make sure they are real and not just lipstick on a pig.
Places to find resources for research. Like tax incentives for a region or female owned businesses, grants, etc.

Since my company, one of the major employers, is leaving the area, I also would like to focus on non service type ventures. (I.e. Jobs that don’t rely on the health of the local economy….a product that can be shipped outside of the region.)

Unfortunately this is all completely out of our wheelhouse.  We’re not even sure where we’d start asking to find out the answers to these questions (maybe Paula at Afford Anything, but she’s pretty focused on real estate, still, she might be able to 6 degrees of separation you to a good answer).

Grumpy Nation, any ideas?

Ask the grumpies: If you were a supercommittee with superpowers where would you start reducing the federal government budget?

chacha1 asks

If you were the supercommittee, with actual governmental superpowers, where would you start with reducing the federal government’s budget so that we could actually start reducing the national debt without condemning the nation’s poor to starvation, homelessness, and/or death from preventable illnesses and workplace injuries?

Well, the answer to this would depend a lot on how much power said supercommittee had.  Like, does what we say become law?  Does it have to be voted on?  What happens when people protest?  And so on.

Here I’m going to assume that the committee has the power to force through legislation and people just have to lump it, but doesn’t have supernatural powers to change the hearts and behaviors of people.  We make the laws, they try to get around them.  They can’t vote us out.  In any case, some really easy cuts would be to go with evidence-based policy.

Note:  We may not actually *want* to reduce spending when times are bad because even just throwing money out of a plane over a city is better than reducing spending.  So I’ll assume that in those situations the money saved goes to feed kids, fix infrastructure, fund education, stimulate important research, and otherwise fix the economy in ways that are good for our long-term growth.

So easy things:

  1. Phase out the mortgage benefit– this benefit does not encourage homeownership, only overconsumption of houses
  2. Phase out the SS tax cap
  3. Completely eliminate ridiculous agricultural subsidies that are making us fat.
  4. Examine the corporate tax code– this is hard because there’s a lot to be cut, but there is a real worry that corporations will move things overseas, so it’s not just a slam-dunk.  I’m sure more educated folks than I have better ideas.
  5. Go with the Poterba policy recommendations for stream-lining the tax code so that there are fewer loopholes for extremely high earners (this is essentially expanding the alternative minimum tax system)
  6. Make stock earnings taxed as income (or otherwise make it so the Buffett tax hits people who own American stocks)
  7. Cut inefficient military spending, replace it with efficient military spending or infrastructure spending so as not to hurt communities dependent on the industry (possibly phasing out plants)
  8. I’m not so good at foreign policy, but there’s a lot that can be done to decrease our spending in this arena without jeopardizing our national security.  We need more focus on doing things with coalitions rather than unilaterally.  And we do need to help out more like with the Syrian refugee crisis.
  9. Cut foreign policy aid to Israel and possibly to Egypt.
  10. Cut some Medicare spending– allow Medicare better bargaining power, allow outcomes from experiments to influence policy, cut some doctor reimbursement (but not to Medicaid levels)
  11. Allow federal funds to fund abortions.
  12. Add a public option to health care with an eye towards eventually transitioning to single payer health care (this will actually cost money and we’ll have to pay more taxes but it is good for efficiency).

There’s probably a lot I’m forgetting.  In my work office I have a chart of government spending, but I don’t have one off the top of my head here.

Ask the grumpies: Have you ever liked a dog?

Leah asks:

You both seem to be cat people. Are there any dogs in your lives that you love/have loved?

#1:  @#$#@ NO.  Sorry, dogs.

#2:  Sure.  My grandma used to have a ginormous loving dog that I used to ride as a toddler when we went over to visit.  I think puppies are absolutely adorbs and love to play with them.  I was also the recognized alpha in the family for my sister’s dog because nobody else bothered to train her.  She was an adorable puppy but only behaved when I was around.  Personally I prefer cats because they’re so much less work and their spit seems more hygienic or at least there’s less of it.

Tell us about your dog experiences!

Ask the grumpies: Favorite cracker for enjoying with cheese

Leah asks:

 What is your preferred cracker with cheese? I only like certain crackers and will shun my non-preferred brand; are you similar?

#1: I’m not sure I have a favorite cracker. I will eat lots of different kinds, especially with cheese. I have to say, crackers are not an area where I have deep conversational depths. But if I have to say something, I like crackers with herbs in them.

#2:  I have passed through life (since beginning to ttc) with so many obnoxious food restrictions that I have thought much more about the subject of crackers.  (Though I have *never* liked Ritz crackers.  Yuck.  Well maybe when I was a really little kid I did, but I also liked cheeze wiz back then.)

These ak mak sesame crackers are really good with lemon quark.

These La Panzanella crackers are not good for me glycemically but they are really really tasty, especially the rosemary version.  They pair well with sharp cheeses.

I mainly like wheaty crackers and triscuits because they don’t make me feel like crap later (except when I was allergic to wheat and I couldn’t eat them).  I used to like kashi but now they’re too sweet.  Not a huge fan of oat biscuits.  I like dipping wheat thins into pub cheese or queso.  Wasa wafers are pretty good in pub cheese and queso too.  I like rice cakes with cream cheese.

So I guess I like a lot of different crackers, but mostly obscure brands other than like triscuits and wheat thins.

Ask the grumpies: Favorite class outside your major?

Leah asks:

What was your favorite class outside of your major and why?

#1  German, choral conducting, maybe that one English class where we read mystery novels.

#2  History, probably the British monarchs class because the prof for that one was especially awesome. (I would have been a history major, except the prof that I had for the required freshman seminar was a total a@#$@# and he taught a bunch of required classes, so screw that, and thus I ended up on a more potentially lucrative path.)

How about the rest of Grumpy Nation?

Ask the grumpies: Writing an external tenure letter

Tenured economist asks:

I was asked to write an external letter for a tenure case. Do you have any advice to share? We don’t use these in our tenure cases so I have never even seen an example! How long/detailed are they usually?

The following is based on external letters we’ve gotten in the tenure cases I’ve sat on so far.  We’d love to hear from the Grumpy Nation for people with more extensive experience and with experience in different fields.

There’s a lot of variation in these letters even from economists.

Usually they’re 1-3 pages long (single spaced with extra spaces between paragraphs, 12 point font, TNR, etc. give or take). Here’s what I’ve seen generally:

You don’t have to give a recommendation yes/no if you don’t want to. If you do, it can either be based on, “They would get tenure at [my university]” or “They should get tenure at their university”

You start by saying if you’re aware of the person’s work if you are aware of it, and if so whether or not you know the person personally and in what context. If you’re not aware of the person’s work you can choose to say that or to not say that.

Then you talk about the different strands of literature and put them in context for the committee. Talk about their quality and how they fit into the broader literature.

If there’s other items they ask you to address like teaching or service, then address those as well. We specifically ask for it to be focused on research and fit within the broader community (so potentially service to the profession if they have any) because we’re an R1.  SLACs, policy schools, and business schools might have different things they care about so if there’s something that the specific type of institution cares about you might address that.  Ex. teaching, media visibility, etc.  If there are potential things you might think would be concerning, like lack of single authored papers, you can talk about that as well and why that may or may not be a concern in this specific case.

That’s really about all there is to it.  The hard part is reading through the articles and figuring out their worthiness, especially you don’t have a helpful overview letter written by the applicant that puts it into perspective for you.

Ask the grumpies: Important questions about ice cream preferences

Leah asks:

Ice cream: vanilla or chocolate base? Lots of stuff added or little? Any additions you hate?

#1:  There’s this ice cream place in Houston near Rice University that I think is my favorite ice cream place in the entire country and I kind of wish I could go back to Houston just to visit it.   (There’s gelato places that I like more, but not ice cream.  And my favorite hot chocolate place is in Boston in Harvard Square.  And my favorite coffee place is in Los Angeles, in or near Santa Monica.  One benefit of lots of travel for work…)   Basically all they sell is different kinds of chocolate ice cream with different chunky things in them, lots and lots of chunky things added.  OMG, so wonderful.  They have this one with nuts that is out of this world, but they give you two little scoops with a small so you can get that on bottom and like chocolate orange or the girl scout cookie one (which I don’t see as one of their regular choices– I must have just gotten lucky) on top.  SO GOOD.  One addition I dislike is a weird one– I love maraschino cherries and I love fresh/frozen real cherries, but sometimes you order a cherry ice cream and you end up with like the cherries that they use in fruit-cake and it’s just so wrong.

#2:  chocolate with things added

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