Category Archives: Economics

GasBuddy: a must-have app for road trips

I don’t generally go out of my way to recommend apps, but when it comes to road travel, there’s one that’s indispensable to saving money: GasBuddy.

When you’re on the road, the app is great for finding the cheapest close gas station. Stations right along the freeway can have a markup of up to 30 cents. In the past, rather than driving around not knowing where I was going, I would just find the nearest Arco or other discount station, and live with it. More often than not, I’d drive for about two miles and pass a significantly cheaper station. In total, this would probably lead to me paying 10-20% more on gas than I needed to.

Those days are over. Now I can find the best gas station along my entire route and plan accordingly. Furthermore, I can try to get one which will allow me to use my credit card (most of the time they’ll state whether price is cash or not) and save me another 3-5% depending on which gas-friendly card I use.

The website is also great because it shows whether prices are falling or rising. During the week, I’ll wait or hurry to get gas based on their local predictions, which are usually pretty accurate.

Road travel ain’t cheap anymore—but this is one simple way to make it more affordable.

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in California, Cars, Economics, Travel



Spanish social commentary

Last year I posted on the plight of the young Spanish mileuristas, the generation forced to live on a 1000 Euro a month salary. Now, I recently came across a cartoon:

The translation of this would be, starting on the left: “A few years ago.” “I am a mileurista.” “Oh, poor thing.” “Exploited. ” “What a pity.” “This salary is miserable.”

And on the right, “Today.” “I am a mileurista.” “So lucky!” “Good connections.” “I’m jealous.” “I wish I had a salary like that.”

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Economics, EU, Spain


Americans need a break from work

Why do we have to work so much? If we’re the richest country in the world, we should be able to relax a little bit more. Overworking, anyway, is not healthy. Sayeth the article, 

It’s typical for Germans to take off three consecutive weeks in August when “most of the country kind of closes down,” Schimkat said. That’s the time for big trips, perhaps to other parts of Europe, or to Australia or North America. Germans might also book a ski holiday in the winter and take a week off during Easter.

Schimkat’s family back in the United States teases her that she’s spoiled. But when she tells Germans that workers in the U.S. usually get two weeks of vacation a year, they cringe.

“They kind of have this idea that Americans work like robots and if that’s the way they want to be, that’s up to them. But they don’t want to be like that,” Schimkat said.

“[Germans] work very hard, but then they take their holiday and really relax. … It’s more than just making money for Germans, it’s about having time for your family and it’s about having time to wind down.”

Weird, because Germans are a little bit less family oriented and traditional than Americans and yet it’s American politicians who always play up the family thing, but at the same time they don’t want to cut any hours and give middle class Americans more time to spend some time with their own. 

But there’s also cultural reasons for this, 

Working more makes Americans happier than Europeans, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies. That may be because Americans believe more than Europeans do that hard work is associated with success, wrote Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, the study’s author and an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

“Americans maximize their… [happiness] by working, and Europeans maximize their [happiness] through leisure,” he found.

Yes, I like that we enjoy doing things… It’s a good attitude. So I think it should be that you get four weeks vacation by law and you can take them if you want to or work more for overtime if your firm allows. That way, we don’t go into six week terrain and scare away people who think we’re getting soft like the Euros and then, if you really want to bust your ass, you still can. 

Besides, it doesn’t do you much good to work too much. And we do need time for our families and to be able to see the world, exercise, explore and get out of the office. 

“There is simply no evidence that working people to death gives you a competitive advantage,” said John de Graaf, the national coordinator for Take Back Your Time, a group that researches the effects of overwork.

He noted that the United States came in fourth in the World Economic Forum’s 2010-2011 rankings of the most competitive economies, but Sweden — a country that by law offers workers five weeks of paid vacation — came in second. …
“You would have had the idea that we were calling for the end of Western civilization. Comments like, ‘Oh, they’re going to make America a 21st-century France,’ as if we were all going to have to eat snails,” de Graaf said.

“I’m in no way anti-capitalist, I think the market does a lot of good things, but the Europeans understand that the market also has its failings and that when simply left completely to its own devices, it doesn’t produce these perfect results.”

You mean the market isn’t always perfect? You mean to say a modicum of government interference might be necessary now and again?

In this case, the producing class should be let off their hamster wheels for a while and allowed to take vacations to enjoy the fruit of their labor a bit. There’s really no point to rush into retirement so that you can hobble around the south of France in the youth of your early 70s. Spread it out, see the world bit by bit, enjoy the freedom of time, probably the biggest freedom of all, and the one which we Americans lack the most.

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Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Career, Culture, Economics, Europe, Germany, USA, Work


Warning to Auxiliares de Conversacion in Spain

NOTE: I haven’t checked in on the status of this in a LONG time. I don’t think there’s much concern about this situation and I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking part in this program.

After looking over the Facebook groups, here and here, for Auxiliares de Conversacion in Spain, I saw mentioned that some Auxiliares are not getting paid, or are getting paid in strange ways. Anybody considering this program should be made aware of this immediately and should take this into consideration.

The problem is mostly regional. The regions worst affected are Murcia and Galicia, whose government coffers have been emptied. Some people have not been paid in several months are running out of money. One girl is apparently down to her last €2.

Madrid is apparently affected too, but I have not had any problems, nor have my friends. Keep in mind though, Madrid is the region with the largest number of Auxiliares. I do know of one girl who had to wait a long time for her check. Also, whenever she was late, they threatened to cut her salary—which is pretty much unthinkable for most funcionarios.

In all regions, there’s another big problem. Often they withhold your first check for a month or two or three until the Autonomous Region deposits your funds into their account. I didn’t have this problem at my school, but I was somewhat lucky. Most people, however, don’t have this problem for more than a month, but some have it until December, which means living off of pasta and margarine and worrying about the rent until Christmastime when you get a lump sum in your account.

Also, some regions don’t pay you monthly. One girl says that she only gets paid twice a year in Pais Vasco, once in November and once in April. It means you have to manage your money better, but at least they pay you early rather than late.

Keep in mind, if you’re considering this program, that you make more money in Madrid, even if Madrid is going broke and has a higher cost of living. At €1000 you make €300 more than all the other regions (including the very pricy Basque Country and Catalonia). The Spanish government, fearing that you’ll take this use this information to your advantage and apply to Madrid, doesn’t tell you this until after your placement, but I think you should know now.

This is still your best bet (if you’re an American, at least) for getting to teach in Spain, but as the economy of Spain worsens you might want to pay attention to any slashes in government spending which could spell the end of this program. As of yet there has been no mention of this. In Madrid, the government is planning to step up its English teaching programs and make the entire Community bilingual. I suppose their intentions for doing this are so that they can enable their youngest and smartest to be able to move abroad for work, because Spain won’t be offering them much any time soon.

Nevertheless, these cases are rare and most people don’t have any problem. The safest regions are probably the central ones surrounding Madrid (Castilla y Leon, Extremadura, Aragon) followed by Madrid, Andalucia, Catalonia and Basque Country, while some of the smaller ones like Galicia, Asturias and Murcia probably have more problems.


Spain’s transition from Franco to Ellis Island

After the 700 year reconquista of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors, modern Spain became a more or less homogenous nation state. In 1492 Ferdinand defeated the last Muslim rulers of Granada and demanded the conversion or departure of all Jewish and Muslim Iberian settlers to Christianity. Those who did not convert were forcibly removed to North Africa, Italy and the then Ottoman Empire. Spain went on to conquer much of the new world and would, up until the 1970s, remain a nation of emigration, with a relatively high fertility rate—about 3.0 per woman in the 60’s and 70’s—that kept its population growing and spreading abroad.

In 1975 Franco, Spain’s dictator of 40 years, died, and in 1977 Spain underwent a transition to democracy. Spanish society and economy were liberalized and the fertility rate of Spaniards began to take a steep dive that would not bottom out until 1997 when it hit 1.15 per woman, the second lowest world-wide at the time and almost half the necessary rate for population stability (2.1). In 1975, foreigners had made up less than one half a percent of the population and still, by 1997, there were only about 600,000 of a total population of 40 million, or 1.5% of the population. At the same time, Spain was undergoing an economic boom and would soon face a shortage of workers and population decline. Spain then began abruptly to pursue an open borders policy begun under the People’s Party, then headed by President Aznar who invited thousands of Ecuadorian workers to work in construction and Moroccans to work in farming. By the year 2000 foreigners grew to 2.28% of the population and numbered less just under 1 million—a significant increase but still much lower than European countries such as France, Germany and Britain. Illegal immigration also began to increase.

The open borders policy would continue, accelerating, along with the property boom, when president Zapatero of the Socialist Worker’s Party was elected in 2004. By the year 2005, the number of foreigners living in Spain had surged to 3.7 million, or 8.5% of the total population. The number of foreigners then leaped to a further 5.7 million in 2010, or 12.2% of the total population, a 500% increase over 10 years. The total population of Spain nearly reached 47 million in 2011, but the number of foreigners showed no significant increase from the following year due to the deepening economic crisis. Without immigration, Spain’s population would have likely gone into decline in the mid 2000s.

Although 12.2% of the population is now made of foreign residents, the total number of non-ethnic Spaniards is estimated to be much higher. Children born in Spain are naturalized as Spanish citizens and non-Spaniards tend to have higher fertility rates; additionally a large number of residents have been naturalized. It’s probable that approximately 8 million Spaniards are foreign resident or foreign-descended, making up 17% of the total population. The largest groups are Romanians, Moroccans, British and Ecuadorians. The majority of the others come from a diverse medley of South American, European and African countries.

Lately, some South Americans and Eastern Europeans have understandably returned home, given that the estimated unemployment rate of foreign residents is now 30%. Spain also embarked on a program of paying some foreigners to leave and not return for three years to help ameliorate their chronic unemployment. And some Spaniards, especially the young, educated and unemployed, are beginning to move abroad in search of opportunity.

Despite the fact that Spain’s immigrant population has leaped from being one of the smallest in Europe to one of the largest, ethnic tensions and xenophobia remain low compared to other European countries and, though they certainly exist, most Spaniards are relaxed and positive about immigration. In a recent poll, 91% of Spaniards under 30 had an overall positive view of immigration and 69% said they had one close friend who was an immigrant. Crime, however, has increased, but less so than in other European countries of mass migration.

Since the beginnings of mass immigration to Spain, the fertility rate has risen from the dismal 1.15 per woman of 1997 to 1.47 in 2011 and the population has continued to grow steadily. At the same time Spain has transformed quite rapidly, especially in the last 10 years, from a strongly Catholic, mostly homogeneous nation to a secular, largely non-religious, multicultural nation. As of yet, there has been no rising anti-immigrant backlash or nativist political parties like those which are growing fast in Northern Europe.


China’s Ghost Cities

China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest manufacturer of goods. Yet, it has a problem: the people there don’t consume enough.

China has a ton of ghost cities that were constructed by its economic planners, which seem to get things wrong from time to time (ha). The government, also, has the price of housing set too high. Since they’re a command economy they could easily change it, responding to demand, but they don’t want to risk ruining their investment. These cities were supposed to boom, never did, and now are mostly uninhabited.

They’re pretty scary. Massive modern apartment buildings just sitting empty. All of this caused by a huge property bubble which is going to burst inevitably. Some people are saying it’s going to be far worse than what happened in America and Europe.

More photos here.

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Posted by on April 24, 2011 in China, Economics


Rise of Euro-skepticism

I recently predicted that Euro-skepticism is going to rise very quickly following the Portugal bail out. I didn’t expect it would happen so soon. In Finland, the True Finns just took in 19% of the vote, compared to the ruling coalition party, which took in 20% of the vote.

If Finland doesn’t agree to bail out Portugal, what happens next?

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Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Economics, EU, Politics