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Revisiting Past Columns: How'd I Do?


In the interest of transparency and accountability, two things this world is very short on, here are some follow-ups on previous columns and ruminations. Was I right, wrong, incomplete, or just wandering in the fog? Like everything in life, it's probably a mélange of all of the above, so let's see.

In the interest of transparency and accountability, two things this world is very short on, here are some follow-ups on previous columns and ruminations. Was I right, wrong, incomplete, or just wandering in the fog? Like everything in life, it's probably a mélange of all of the above, so let's see.

The very night I submitted a column about the economic necessity of medical school curriculum reform to include an awareness of teamwork, organizational and business concepts, a drum that I have been pounding regularly in these pages, I attended a conjoint presentation of the Deans of the Schools of Medicine and Engineering at Dartmouth College, my alma mater. I was happy to see they agreed in substance with my basic point of overdue need, and surprised to see how far they had leap-frogged my ideas. I cannot say how far or fast most of the other 100-plus medical schools are changing, but I was encouraged to hear specific evidence of movement well beyond Abraham Flexner's 100-year-old innovations to just make each doc a better self-sufficient island.

I have noted in several columns that the speculative spike in gold prices could not stand indefinitely. I think my words were, "I can't say when, or by how much, but the last time that I looked, the Law of Gravity has not been repealed." These things are always cyclical. At that time, gold was about $1,200 an ounce; it has now inflated to $1,500 an ounce. Was I wrong? I stand by that bubble assessment, although as of this writing it has not yet come to pass.

Just wait. When the deficits are reduced and interest rates go up, people will take their profits and leave the entirely psychologically-based world of gold speculation. Lewis Bernstein, the noted economist, has wryly stated that the "Greater Fool Theory" -- essentially, it's the "musical chairs" of investing, where the last man standing and holding gold takes the biggest hit -- is not a convincing argument for investing in gold. Stay tuned.

A few supplements to my column on "Words That Can Cost You Money" have occurred to me. They include: "It's not my job"; "That decision is above my pay grade"; and, "If we did it for you, then we'd have to do it for everyone." Hah! If you hear any of those, watch your wallets.

More evidence has come in on the actual monetary value of long-term planning from the Journal of Consumer Research. It seems that you long-term planners tend to have a higher-than-average FICO credit score, and therefore you qualify for cheaper interest rates on loans. For instance, if you buy a $500,000 house, your interest payments may be as much as $50,000 less than non-planners with lower FICO scores. Incidentally, for those who have learned to carefully tend their FICO garden, the first missed payment on any loan may cost you between 70 to 100 FICO points. Ouch. To make matters worse, you can't get FICO back up very quickly. It will take an extended period with on-time payments after that.

I've written a good deal about budgets and splurge spending in the past. It seems that Cornell University researchers have just again proven that we tend to overdo luxury purchases when we are feeling low in order to perk up our feelings. I hope that they didn't spend too much on that study.

Also on the subject of budgets and the utility of "spring housecleaning," such as my recent column about the value of ruthlessly cleaning out your closet, it occurs to me that paying for commercial storage space for unused items is exactly the same as paying for them twice. It's a version of the old "sunk cost" fallacy; I've put money into this, so I should put more into it to avoid taking a loss. Huh?

I wrote a column on the nature of luck and I recently saw a different spin that appeals: "Luck finds the doers."

I recently reviewed some essays by high-achieving, high-school seniors nominated for a scholarship that I sponsor, and I saw something from one young lady that gave me pause: "My version of the Golden Rule is to Be like I want others to Be." Wow. At the annual presentation ceremony I always say the same thing: "As long as we are turning out kids like this, we'll probably be all right."

I've also written about the jargon that often identifies a profession. It can be a shortcut to communication among the cogniscenti and sometimes serves as an off-putting guild marker. But I heard a phrase for doctor-speak that resonates -- the language we speak among ourselves was coined "Terms of Art."

As a follow-up to my February tax column, I want to cite some interesting data, useful for benchmarking, from the Internal Revenue Service. This year, 45% of all U.S. households will owe no tax, not a good thing for the health of the civic polity, in my view. The average refund last year was $3,000, an interest-free loan to the government, as I have pointed out. The ideal goal for withheld taxes should be zero additionally owed and zero refunded. Lastly, 60% of returns were done professionally and 29% were done by taxpayers on software. There's a large industry built entirely on the bulk and foolishness inherent in our Rube Goldberg tax code. No wonder tax preparers, accountants, tax attorneys, estate-tax planners, etc., lobby against tax reform.

Lastly, the American Medical Association just published new data on the economic impact of the office-based physician in the U.S. In toto, we contribute $1.4 trillion, or $2.2 million each, on average. That accounts for 4 million jobs, generating $63 billion in taxes, or roughly $100,000 for each doctor. It's a shame that we are not individually and collectively smarter about managing this part of our economy. At Physician's Money Digest, we do what we can to help. Keep writing! We'd love to hear your throughts.

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