February 24th, 2009


A few more SCA financial observations

Some comments from learnedax led me to take a slightly closer look at the Society's numbers. A few observations:

He had wondered about how NMS income is doing. If you take a look at the budget, it's actually fairly clear: it's doing badly. It was up at $170k in the first full year accounted for (2004), but has been drifting downwards ever since, more or less steadily. Last year, it was only $121k, a fall of almost 30% in only 4 years.

That's a terribly interesting and terribly scary number, and frankly it bolsters my arguments a lot. I see two plausible explanations for the fall in NMS income:
  • A significant fraction of the Society is resistant to current membership policies, and has begun deliberately circumventing them;

  • SCA participation is falling significantly, especially among non-members.
I would guess that both are at least somewhat true, but given that the dislike of the membership policies is *supposedly* mostly confined to the East and West (and, frankly, the rules hacking started right from the beginning), I believe it's probably mostly the latter.

That's pretty frightening. One of the Society's virtues has always been its openness, and the way that people can drift in and out of it. Current paid members have always been the tip of the iceberg -- at least as important are the number of people who are either flirting with joining the Society, or have gafiated part way but may come back. Both tend to show up in the NMS, as occasional attendees at events. They are crucial for our long-term health, because they provide the turnover, joining and becoming more active as older members drift out for one reason or another. So if that fringe is reducing quickly and dramatically, it speaks poorly of the Society's long-term prospects. Something's going quite wrong.

Less crucial but interesting: I note that TI and the Stock Clerk have, if you believe these numbers, tended to operate at a loss. Not always, but pretty frequently. This means that I'm less sanguine about the prospects of raising money by expanding their operations. (Not that I was optimistic about it in the first place.) CA's numbers are all over the place, but you have to take them with a grain of salt, because the publication schedule's been erratic.

It's also notable that 2009 will be the third year in the row operating at an overall loss, even with optimistic numbers, so I can see why the Board is starting to pay serious attention to the problem. I really wish I knew what the Corporate bank account looked like. The most recent 990 I can find online is the 2006 statement, and even that is fairly hard to parse. In particular, while it's clear that, at the end of 2006, the Society had about $6 million in the bank, it isn't clear how much of that is local accounts and how much is Corporate. Given that the comparison of the 990 makes it pretty clear that the considerable majority of income and outgo is local (total revenue of about $4.6 million, whereas the Corporate budget only shows about $1.1 million), I suspect the majority of the bank money is as well.

So the Society probably has a good deal of money in theory, assuming those bank accounts have been held reasonably steady. (And given how much local branches dislike losing money, I would guess they mostly have.) The question is, how long can Corporate run at a loss before it has to start raiding local money? My guess is a while (probably at least a few years), but not by any means forever, and the Society pretty much explodes into controversy when that happens. So there is a real deadline for fixing the financial hole, but it's less about the club going bankrupt, and more about Corporate doing so, because there will (I believe) be widespread revolt if they ever try to touch local money...

Speech-watching on CSPAN

Assorted impressions, amidst the applause:

Amusing to realize where the power lies in the chamber. Obama can't get the members to shut up -- but Pelosi can do so almost instantly. Subtle detail of protocol.

It's fascinating to watch which sentences get the Republican butts out of seats and which don't. Minority Leader looks like he's sucking a lemon, but knows he has to stand.

I'm happy that he's talking about America leading in industry -- I just hope that isn't coded protectionism. (Really, I suspect it isn't, at least not unsubtly: the next battles are more going to be over subsidies rather than tariffs, I'd bet.)

*Boy*, some of the members are unenthused about being asked to deal with cap-and-trade.

Calling for health care reform is easy: now to see if they can manage to produce on the hard bits. SCHIP was the easy part, politically. At least he admits that it's going to be hard. Wow -- he specifically said it won't wait another year. That's going to be a hard marker to pay.

Hmm. Calling for *real* education reform? Be interesting to see what the nuts and bolts look like there.

Fascinating tack: calling on the citizens to improve their own education. That's a novel way to phrase it: if they can manage to make it work financially, it could have more lasting effects than anything else on the list. It would be a fine change if education can be made more of a cultural priority.

Heh -- calling for the end of earmarks gets a much more restrained applause, especially from the Democrats. Oooh, he's goring *everybody's* oxen. Nicely even-handed: the relative quiet in the chambers tells me that he's onto something here.

Predictably, the Democrats are lapping up the tax plans, and the Republicans are conspicuously hating them.

Calling for tax-free savings accounts for everybody. Lovely thing from my 401k-free viewpoint.

Ah, good: putting the cost of the wars into the budget. That's been one of the bigger problems for years now.

The Republicans *shoot* up for the warhawk talk about Pakistan.

Nothing quite like being a businessman cited by the President for conspicuous decency. I suspect he'll have a hundred requests for interviews by tomorrow morning.

Summary: By Obama's standards, the rhetoric was fairly ordinary. OTOH, workaday Obama is still better than most Presidential speeches of the past 30 years, so it was still pleasant to listen to. And as effectively the vision statement for the administration, it was good stuff, if almost dauntingly ambitious. The next year should be fascinating to watch...

And the other side

On to the first speech of Bobby Jindal's presidential election campaign...

I have to admit, the combination of face and accent takes a little getting used to.

I *think* he's misread the tone of the times. He's staying admirably on-message, parroting the Republican party line exactly, but that message hasn't been convincing people lately, and it's not clear that they're going to start doing so now.

Moreover, he's making a tactical mistake: while he is talking "bipartisanship", he's conspicuously attacking the Democrats by name, exactly as Obama *didn't* attack the Republicans. The result comes across as -- I dunno, disrespectful. Even a little smarmy. It'll play well to the Republican base, but I suspect it'll play weakly with the independents.

Oh, I am *not* liking the coding behind his health care message. He's trying to duck the hard problems in health care reform, exactly the ones that Obama is showing some signs of maybe wrestling with. I'm not surprised, but I'm increasingly annoyed by the Republican cant that trying to make health care efficient is all about taking choice away from people. (I mean, let's be real: it *is* partly about that. But there is no way to reform health care without making those choices more rational.)

Indeed, the biggest problem is that his tone comes across as generally patronizing, surprisingly so. I suppose it's what I should expect from The Daddy Party, but I find it grating.

The line he's drawing is quite explicit: Government Bad, People Good. It's not a terrible strategy, but it's an increasingly dangerous one. *If* the Democrats manage to govern responsibly for just a few years, it could break the back of that message. I'm not quite sure they understand the high-stakes gamble they're taking, by sticking so rigorously to a single ideological point.

Summary: Surprisingly weak rebuttal, especially coming from the man who has been touted as "the Republican Obama" so often over the past six months. Vague, adequate-but-unremarkable rhetoric, and not a single new word in the whole thing. The result comes across as simply rehashed and written by committee. In a word, stale...