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Voters may have to do job of lawmakers

When you watch the dimes, the dollars take care of themselves. The problem for California taxpayers is that we are powerless when it comes to watching the dimes unless we bludgeon our Legislature with the fiscal sledgehammer of the initiative process. If Proposition 13 is any indication, it creates terrible law but serves an immediate need when the political process has collapsed in abject failure.

Butler: Main Street takes over Wall Street

Thinking about the Ayn Rand novel "Atlas Shrugged," I found myself wondering if we 401(k) investors are propping up Wall Street. Are we to be the unsung heroes of an economic turnabout? Do American workers and taxpayers effectively own Corporate America? What happens if we decide to shrug?

If the stock market, depending on the month, has a total value of somewhere between $10 and $20 trillion, how much of that value is attributable to the steady march of 401(k) contributions and all the 401(k) money that has subsequently been rolled into IRA accounts?

Consider tax value of savings

Are your kids around the house for the holidays? What a great time for sharing some financial wisdom while you have them as a captive audience. Who needs HDTV's, IPOD's or laptops when making this "Advice for Kids" column one of your "favorites" or "bookmarks" is as handy as the nearest pair of scissors? Clip it out and use a few magnets to slap it on the refrigerator door. The kids can check it out every time they go for more food. There are times when print media has no substitute.

A young person curious about how the world works financially should be asking:

Gas tax could pay off country's debt

Sooner or later, the amount of money we'll be spending on bailouts will begin to impact the quality of life for retirees. Those of us who would otherwise have received lower income taxes, higher social security, better healthcare, cheaper drugs, more community programs, and even cheaper greens fees at public golf courses will feel like we're being "nickled-and-dimed" to death... literally.

Time may be right for thinking small

The term "diminishing returns to scale" comes to mind when I think about the extent to which huge financial institutions have been wiped off the map. Their management teams, at every layer, just couldn't resist the amounts of money they made by looking the other way. The size of huge companies, like Merrill Lynch and Citibank, make it too tempting for too many people to always be thinking, "What's in this for me?" There's no incentive to waste mental bandwidth over concerns about the future of the organization. Less than 400 people brought down the 83,000 employees of Lehman Brothers.

Don't give up on 401(k) plans

Here's another solution looking for a problem. Teresa Ghilarducci, an economics professor, has managed to get some traction for her new retirement savings concept that would call for doing away with the tax benefits of 401(k) plans. Her book, "Now We're 64" has been touted by various shows on National Public Radio. As if that weren't enough, the New York Times published her op-ed piece on the subject. Now, it's been reported that Congressmen are taking the concept seriously.

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