Did I miss my calling as a government bureaucrat?

by WCE

Room for Debate:  Is VW Proof That Businesses Can’t Regulate Themselves?

I enjoyed this “Room for Debate” article on the necessity of regulation and strongly disagreed with Ian Adams. Companies are NOT going to regulate themselves well. The safety and environmental practices of oil companies in the late ’80’s and ’90’s, when oil prices were at an inflation-adjusted low, convinced me of that. No (Almost no?) company will lose money in order to comply with expensive regulations

However, compared to some countries, the US politicizes its regulation and forces particular geographic areas to bear the costs of federal regulation. (If we would allow removal of dead trees and/or limited logging on public lands, forest fires in the West might be less severe.) In China, the bureaucrats are all from one party, so they can focus on the technical, economic and social effects of their policies, rather than whether a particular policy will appeal to a party’s base.

In addition to understanding technical aspects of policies, regulators also need to be knowledgeable and to understand unintended consequences. In my opinion, they should be non-partisan. I can imagine an appropriate role for academics in drafting regulation, since they are less vulnerable to corporate volatility and profit demands than people employed by companies in competition with one another.

What skills would it take to become a good regulator? Would you have any interest in this type of career, or is regulatory policy so convoluted and partisan that real improvement is virtually hopeless?


79 thoughts on “Did I miss my calling as a government bureaucrat?

  1. In my previous life, I was a bureaucrat.

    “In addition to understanding technical aspects of policies, regulators also need to be knowledgeable and to understand unintended consequences. In my opinion, they should be non-partisan. I can imagine an appropriate role for academics in drafting regulation, since they are less vulnerable to corporate volatility and profit demands than people employed by companies in competition with one another.”

    These people were not my colleagues, nor are academics free from partisanship, petty ambition, and all the other frailties humans are subject to.

    Responding to the profit incentive means that companies/people make products that other people will willingly buy.

    Closed societies (e.g. China, the Soviet Union) tend to have worse environmental outcomes than open societies.

    Regulation has a cost-benefit analysis associated with compliance rather than a moral one. There is a moral imperative not to kill or steal from other human beings. There is no moral imperative for me to use a different gas can for my lawn mower than the ATV. And, given no moral imperative, the only reason to follow regulation is that the cost of noncompliance is higher than the cost of compliance.

    And, being a Westerner, this past summer, we very well saw the unintended (or perhaps intended) consequence of environmental regulations.

  2. Two election changes might address some of the issues you bring up:

    -Non-partisan elections. We have those here at the county level, and IMO they do reduce the partisanship within government, even though we know the party affiliations of the officeholders.

    -Single elections without primaries. There are a number of ways to do this, e.g., MVP-type voting where you make 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place choices. IMO, this would lead to the electing of more centrist politicians, and less polarization among the elected officials.

  3. WCE, rank-and-file government officials are hired on a nonpartisan basis. That was the purpose of creating civil service protections way back when, because government jobs were being treated as favors the newly elected person could give out to supporters. You still see that dynamic with jobs that are appointed positions (by mayor/governor/president) but given that the agencies are supposed to be reflecting the policy aims of the head of the executive branch, you can’t really avoid letting the head of the executive branch put his/her own people in the top jobs to direct how the agencies execute the laws. (And make no mistake, even with a nonpartisan election for mayor a newly elected mayor is still going to have a distinct platform.)

  4. I work for a government regulatory agency. Regulation is not done in a vaccuum.

    First, laws have to be passed to allow a government agency to regulate something. That law provides at least broad boundaries to the regulating agency to follow AND lays out the penalties and process for assessing penalties for violations. Yes, politics plays a huge role in getting the law passed and what it contains.

    Second, the entity passing the law has to fund the regulation by appropriating money to the government agency that will carry out the regulation.

    Third, the regulating agency has to adopt “rules” that further clarifies the who, how, where, and when the regulation will happen that also has to work with in the money its been appropriated. Regulatory agencies hire appropriately educated people who have knowledge of the technical side of the “thing” being regulated.

    The rules proposal/adoption process has a public comment process built into it. This is often dominated by lobby groups on both sides of the issue, but Joe Public can comment as well. All that comment has to be reviewed and the agency has to determine what to do with it – modify the proposal, ignore the comment, etc. Then, if major changes are made, posting it to the public again. Then finally adopting the rule. The lobby groups hire people with appropriate credentials to support their points of view as well. When it is complex and technical, these are likely people with PHDs.

    Politics also plays a role here as the policy making individuals or bodies (depends on how that level of government is structured) are usually appointed by the president, governor, etc. So, a policy making body appointed by a pro-business president or governor will likely lean their regulation to be pro-business.

    Fourth, the regulatory agency has to finalize (usually developed in tandem) its internal processes and procedures that follow the rules and begin implementing.

    This goes along for a while as everyone gets used to the process or change in process. If it is too painful for those regulated (in their opinion) or has no significant results (those who want it regulated), those groups will either approach the regulatory agency for a rule change – if they think the problem is with how the agency implemented in or the entitiy that passed the law to get it changed. This is going on almost constantly, but it appears very behind the scenes to most of the public.

    As a regulator, no one likes you. They tolerate you. I once had a boss who said that any major public policy – regulatory or otherwise – is good balanced public policy when as many people like it as hate it.

    And, people with public policy, public affairs and/or public administration do learn about regulation in college.

  5. WCE – I can’t see how an academic would necessarily be better than someone else. Maybe pure engineers or actuaries would not let any preconceptions interfere with running the numbers, but there is an old adage about not seeing the forest for the trees and sometimes a wider view is required, or there are tradeoffs that can’t be reduced to numerical analysis. But academics are notorious for being slanted in their views, and there is ample evidence throughout history that even in pure science each generation clings to its notions and has to die off before better science can be fully accepted. The regional impact of nationwide regulations is clearly an issue, and there is an argument for allowing regional variations in laws and regulations at a wider level than state by state where legislative politics could make for unsustainable inconsistencies along common borders.

  6. In my engineering discipline, college students are taught about policy and regulation. I had an environmental law course and another class that basically taught the ethics of being a professional engineer, putting public safety above all else. Within technical courses, we also learned about regulations – for example a class about water resources management included discussion of the Clean Water Act and the history behind it. In a course that I helped to design, we included a section on the local & state agencies that have some jurisdiction over land development and how that authority is derived from federal statutes. Once you’re in the profession, you have to take continuing education to keep current on regulations to maintain a license to practice.

    Anon has a good description of how regulations & rules to apply them come about. As always, the devil is in the details. Academic research might indicate that a certain method is the “best” way to manage pollution, but if it is technically and economically unfeasible, there must be a compromise for implementation that will reduce pollution “good enough” until newer systems are optimized. I have seen this happen over the course of my career in stormwater management. At times, the regulations have been too far ahead of industry, but then industry catches up with new products and construction methods. This is one of the issues that drove me out of the field – clients were slow to adopt stormwater systems into their budgeting protocols and wanted to skimp, while regulators were forcing us to over-design systems because there wasn’t enough research on how effective the systems were.

  7. I second Anon for This’ comment — the problem starts with Congress. It’s not the bureaucrats who get to decide what and how to regulate, based on their own political preferences; even the heads of the federal agencies have only so much sway over the direction they go in. I hear clients all the time complaining about the number and complexity of the rules they need to deal with, which is 100% true — but Congress is the one telling the agency what they need to regulate, Congress and the President all have to agree on the budget to support those new regulations, and then the courts tell the agency how it needs to do that.

    Also agree that academics would be a very, very poor choice. IME, academics are more likely to take ideologically “pure” positions, partly because that’s how they make their names in academia, and partly because most of them have never worked in the real world and so have no idea what happens when those ideologically pure positions are deployed in practice. I think the best regulators would be engineers.

    The biggest ongoing issue I have with regulators is the lack of internal checks and balances. I deal with a fair number of people on the enforcement side, and they get rewarded based on how much they get in fines, etc. I have had situations where the enforcement guys were going after someone for not doing something that the regulatory side had just said they didn’t have to do; I’ve had cases where the agency came after someone for doing something that that very agency said several years before was ok; etc. But there’s no incentive for these guys to back off, other than the very minor risk of losing in court (which never happens, both because it costs too much to go to court and because the courts defer to the agency’s interpretation unless hell is about to freeze over).

  8. Again, policies and politics vary by agency and state. In my state, agencies are not allowed to “keep” the penalties they assess, instead they go to the general fund. This prevents them from assessing fines to give themselves more money to spend. The larger the organization the harder to get cross-departmental communication. As LfB says, licensing said OK to this approach in January, but when enforcement comes in July they aren’t aware and cite them for non-compliance anyway. At the state level that happens less and is usually more easily resolved. The problem generally lies when licensing didn’t really have the authority to OK the approach or didn’t follow the appropriate process to give the entity a “waiver”.

    I am not an attorney, but we were taught that government regulation is “most properly” placed on activities where customers cannot on their own make an informed choice or where an entity has no incentive to place long term benefit over short term gain. For example, a typical patient cannot determine if a physician has the appropriate knowledge, skills, abilities to treat them, therefore we regulate them to ensure at least a baseline of ability to prevent harm to patients. Or, coal companies without government regulation have no incentive to avoid low cost, high environmental surface mining techniques.

  9. DD cut her paralegal teeth on a multiyear regulatory criminal fraud prosecution of individuals – from the defense side of one entirely innocent consultant (not employee) who had the sense and funds to sever his case from the others. Her current govt job is at a major agency, in the criminal fraud not the enforcement or registration division.

  10. “government regulation is “most properly” placed on activities where customers cannot on their own make an informed choice or where an entity has no incentive to place long term benefit over short term gain.”

    I love this.

    In my world, it’s a combination of the latter (I work in corporate compliance, not consumer stuff), and the highly geeky implementation. Typically, Congress passes a law that contains the outlines of a new requirement, but then it’s up to the agency to spell out what that really means in practice and the specific steps people need to follow to comply. And the courts provide oversight if the agency strays too far from its congressional mandate.

    Background for any non-lawyers who may be interested: The Administrative Procedures Act (APA) spells out how the agencies have to do all of this (the federal APA applies to federal agencies; most states have their own version that applies to state agencies). The first part of this is they have to propose rules for public notice and comment. They do this by publishing the proposed rules in the Federal Register, along with an explanation of their thinking (the statutory background, any existing court cases that limit what they can do, the logic of how they came up with the proposed rules, etc.; there may also be various background documents that support aspects of the rule, like an economic analysis). The Federal Register notice will also explain how and when people can submit comments — there’s always at least a 30-day period. So any interested person can comment on any part of the new rule, including providing any data they think the agency should consider. All of this documentation is available on FDSYS, which is a website run by the federal government — if you know the docket number, you can pull up the proposal, any background documents, etc., and submit your own comments.

    After the comment period closes, the agency then has to review and digest all of the comments and decide if they should change the rule in response. They will then publish a final rule that explains what they did and didn’t change and why. Along with the final rule, they will usually publish a “Response to Comments” document, which addresses each and every comment that was filed and sometimes gives more detail on the thinking.

    Once the final rule is published, the authorizing statute or the APA usually gives you a certain period of time to challenge it, like 30-90 days. Usually, you would file a challenge in whatever court is listed in the authorizing statute — sometimes this can be in the Federal District Court (the trial court level), but frequently it can also be in the Court of Appeals (the appellate court). The important limitations are:

    — You can appeal only if you filed comments, and only on an issue that you or someone else commented on

    — Any appeal is limited to the record before the agency.

    — The standard of review is whether the agency’s action was arbitrary and capricious or beyond the scope of its statutory authority — again, based on the record before the agency (because an agency can’t be arbitrary and capricious if it ignores information that was never presented to it). In this evaluation, there is a lot of deference to the agency’s interpretation of the statute.

  11. In my world we are still waiting for the IRS to issue proposed regulations on tax laws that were passed 5-15 years ago! Understaffing can seriously mess with an agency’s ability to get s*** done. We are also seeing many fewer audits on the gift and estate tax side than we used to.

  12. Thanks for the comments. One of my engineering acquaintances became a utilities cost regulator and one of the unwritten goals of her agency is to keep people’s utility bills from fluctuating too much with natural gas prices. Thus, when natural gas prices are low, more system maintenance gets funded and when natural gas prices are high, less system maintenance gets funded, within safety limits.

    I once lived in a county where “coroner” was a partisan position. I wondered how a Democrat certified someone was dead differently than a Republican.

  13. We will know the non-partisan people because they are the ones riding on their unicorns.

    I think most people, the vast majority in fact, are non-partisan. By that I mean that most people have a set of beliefs and opinions that don’t often line up entirely with the received wisdom of a given party. Those who I’d call partisans are those who would, as an example, be very leery of GMO’s, Syrian intervention, financial regulation, etc. but because Team Red/Blue has a different opinion they switch theirs.

  14. I once interviewed for a job at the Fed. I was just a few years out of college. It was so quiet in the office, and the work seemed boring. I used their offer to get a higher salary at my bank.

    Fast forward 25+ years, and so many of my friends would love a job at the Fed or SEC. It is seen as a cushy way to spend the last 5 – 15 years of a career in finance. Great benes, vacation and hours. There is a decent amount of flexibility too. I just had drinks with someone that jumped to the SEC after 35 years at different investment banks. She works two days from home, and she said they leave each day at 5. I know she finds the bureaucracy insane, but she said it is a way to pay for college for her two kids. the interview process for the Fed or SEC can take months. It is all slow compared to the financial banks and investment banks.

    I hear a ton of regulatory information from my mom and other relatives about hospitals and insurance. That is a great example of where I think the regulators (or Congress) really doesn’t understand the impact of their rules. This is even before obama care. Some of the rules just create so much work in appeals for the medical professionals and patients.

  15. I just released Murphy’s comment at 10:25 that was somehow caught up in the spam filter. Please let me know if anyone else is having a similar problem because I might not be automatically notified in these cases.

  16. In my previous world, which seems to be similar to L’s current world, we also had to advise clients how to proceed in the face of very vague statutory tax language with no final or even proposed regulations for guidance. Not sure how it works in other fields, but in tax law the devil was in the details, which were in the regulations (and the revenue rulings, and revenue procedures, and private letter rulings, etc) promulgated by wonks at the IRS, not in what was often bare bones statutory language passed by Congress. And, more often than not, members of Congress rely on the wonks serving the Joint Committee on Taxation for that statutory language. The “revolving door” definitely exists in that world, with wonks moving seamlessly from law or accounting firms to Treasury and the Joint Committee, academia, think tanks, and then back to the law/accounting firm to rake in the big bucks. The result was often very good guidance, written with the help of smart people who know how the business world works, but finalized by career government tax wonks who know how the business world should work.

    Then, in knee-jerk response to media reports about US businesses taking full advantage of some part of the Tax Code passed by Congress, Congress passes new laws saying “don’t do that” and the process starts all over again, with endless rounds of comments on what “don’t” and “do” and “that” actually mean.

  17. Rhett, I thought a couple of the people commenting on the article had a good point. Some folks just quit going to the high-calorie restaurants altogether. At least a couple of people seemed to run screaming from Starbucks when they finally found out how high-calorie the baked goods are. So the people remaining obviously don’t care as much.

  18. I think the most onerous regulations I have to deal with are from the insurance industry. My understanding is that the way we chart is mostly driven by reimbursement (which I suppose is also Medicare/aid related). I don’t feel that politics plays too much into the burden.

    I could probably see 2-3 times the number of patients if I could one-sentence chart on them. (For example: “8 year old boy with no sig medical history fell 4 feet, has pain in left wrist and xray shows rad/ulna fracture. Splinted, follow up with ortho 3-5 days). In reality, that chart is 2-3 pages long.

  19. “Policy makers continue to believe that the problem is people’s lack of knowledge that they are wolfing down calorie-rich foods. It is assumed that once Americans know what they are eating, they will eat less, or at least with health in mind.”

    Policy makers take the same approach with contraception. They don’t seem to understand that many low-income, single women actually WANT to have kids. Just as they don’t seem to understand that many people WANT to eat large portions of sub-optimal food at an affordable price. The people who line up at Golden Corral for the all-you-can-eat-buffet aren’t going to head for Seasons 52 when they find out how many calories and how much fat they are ingesting.

    Policy makers are the kind of people who eat at Seasons 52. They have probably never set foot in a Golden Corral.

  20. I think the calorie thing does help some people. I know we make different choices at the cheesecake factory or CPK when we were able to see the calories for some of the entrees. We never have dessert in these places unless 3 or 4 people share one dessert due to the calorie amounts. I think that DD and her friends are starting to make certain choices in Starbucks based on calories. They still get frappucinos/snacks. but they make different choices about size or amount of cookies.

    I guess we are policy maker types. I haven’t been to a Golden Corral, but I’ve been to Wendys and McDonalds in the last two weeks.

  21. @Rhett – I saw that article too. I look at calorie counts. Those have moved me from a low calorie baked good to an even lower calorie oatmeal. I knew that oatmeal was better before but actually seeing the the numbers made the difference. I feel that people are moving to lower calorie items compared to what they ate before. However the rate of change is slow for adults. The lifestyle change will be much more with the younger generations.

  22. I looked at Mémé’s link. One arm of the government bureaucracy wants children to have more exercise outside. One arm of the government bureaucracy wants children to be within a parent or caregiver’s sight at all times. Letting children outside also requires helmets and sunscreen, which is another adult obligation.

    I am hopeful that free-range parenting is becoming sufficiently popular that these types of cases will start being rejected by CPS. Maybe that involves legislation.

  23. I know we make different choices at the cheesecake factory or CPK when we were able to see the calories for some of the entrees.

    I assume if I was taking you to 11 Madison Park or the French Laundry you’r order whatever you wanted. You might even order the highest calorie dessert as a matter of principle. I think those doing the analysis might not fully appreciate the degree to which the average American views The Cheesecake Factory or even Chili’s as a special treat.

  24. My boys remember the excitement of going to Red Robin and finding out we were expecting Baby WCE. I have never been to the Cheesecake Factory.

  25. Awesome story Honolulu!

    I’ve sworn off of Starbuck’s baked goods now that they put calorie labels on their food.

  26. HM – that story cracked me up!

    Another hijack – I know it’s been covered in the past, but what kinds of gifts do you give elementary teachers at the holidays? First kid is in school, and I want to give a meaningful gift. My sister, a teacher, said no cash and anything over $25 is too much. I’m in MN. I was surprised as that seems too little. I had originally planned on $100 cash but now am trying to think of what else to do. I am not crafty so other than a nice note, nothing hand made.

    Suggestions on appropriate gift/amount? Or should I just give $100 as originally planned?

  27. Tcmama: Give a gift card to somewhere general like Target or Amazon and a nice note. They will both be appreciated.

  28. On teacher gifts — room parents, if you have them, often organize contributions to a group gift. You might check with other parents before you plan an individual gift. I agree that $100 is too much and an all-purpose gift card is better than cash. And second the nice note, especially if you can pass along some specific examples of the teacher’s positive impact on your child.

  29. tcm– We never gave that much. In elementary school, we gave gifts worth about $10 to $15, and tried to find something appropriate. E.g., DD told us that her 1st grade teacher always got to school very early, and then made some coffee for herself, so we bought her a bag of coffee.

    As the kids got older, and had more teachers but spent less time with each teacher, we got smaller gifts, and now are giving more like a bunch of $5 to $8 gifts.

  30. For elementary school, we did $25 target gift cards. That way they could get something for themselves or the classroom, and it was enough they could get something reasonable with it.

  31. Somewhat related to the calorie counts is this: http://www.labmanager.com/news/2015/11/-everything-in-moderation-diet-advice-may-lead-to-poor-metabolic-health-in-us-adults#.Vl0jV0b-WmA

    “An unexpected finding was that participants with greater diversity in their diets, as measured by dissimilarity, actually had worse diet quality. They were eating less healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and more unhealthy foods, such as processed meats, desserts and soda,” said Otto. “This may help explain the relationship between greater food dissimilarity and increased waist circumference.”

    I’m not sure how it was unexpected that people who ate more unhealthy foods have a worse diet quality than people who eat mostly healthy foods, and that results in them having larger waist circumferences.

  32. Tcmama – when it is a group gift, I often contribute to that. I say “often” because my interactions with the teachers have differed from year to year. Sometimes I bypass the group gift and give a $50 Amazon gift card or I don’t give at Christmas but do an individual gift for their birthday or at the end of the year. If you want to buy a gift, Vera Bradley wallets were a big hit with my kids’ teachers.

  33. Our district has a “no teacher gifts” policy, with which I am happy to comply. I usually give $20 to the classroom fund at the beginning of the year and then another $10-$20 to the teacher gift pool (organized by someone other than me).

  34. Above was unclear – group gifts are OK (given by the whole class) but individual ones are not.

    Also, Wired is reporting that more people shopped online than in person this weekend. Woohooo! I bought a nice Theory dress online yesterday at 40% off. :)

  35. Re: the discussion a while back on Acura MDX vs. Honda Pilot – I read yesterday that the Pilot is going to have an option for captain’s chairs in the 2nd row, giving easy access to the third row seat. That would seal the deal for me if I were looking at those 2 cars. Captain’s chairs make life so much easier. Also I parked next to a new Pilot yesterday – I didn’t peek inside but was impressed with the new style. I never much liked the older boxy style.

  36. “I think those doing the analysis might not fully appreciate the degree to which the average American views The Cheesecake Factory or even Chili’s as a special treat.”

    Jah. I may be the only other person here who has actually eaten at Golden Corral — that or Ponderosa were my Granny and Granddad’s special treat meal. Calorie counts would have been irrelevant — it was steak! With an all-you-can-eat salad bar! And that salad bar had pudding!!!

    But that also frames up the huge societal changes. Back then, they ate out maybe twice a month, at most; the rest of the time, they ate fairly small portions of meat and a lot of veggies from the garden and fruit (either in season from the pick-your-own place or what Granny had canned herself). Not super healthy — bacon grease for the veggies and pies for the fruit — but mostly real foods in reasonable portions, and no snacks (and a lot of outdoor activity — even after she left the farm, they always had the trailer on a few acres, and it seems like they were always chopping wood or picking berries or gardening or doing something to maintain the land).

    Now I think even people at her same socioeconomic level eat out a lot more — whether that’s at Chili’s or McDonald’s or a microwave burrito from the Stop-N-Rob — and don’t garden to the same degree. Plus those restaurant portions are a lot bigger, and there’s just food everywhere.

  37. @TCMama: $100 seems way high. Remember, they are getting gifts from at least 20 other parents! If there isn’t a class gift, I usually do a $20 gift card to somewhere the teacher likes (or Target if all else fails); for the aftercare teachers/aids, who tend to be college kids, I do Starbucks or our local bread/pastry/coffee shop cards in the $10-15 range.

  38. Our district has the pay, give, gift and keep giving policy.
    We pay taxes, give to a class fund (for parties and extra supplies), give to group gift at holidays (10-15), and another gift at the end of the year. The whole year includes PTA and education foundation fundraisers. Gifts for the “special” teachers etc etc. I know they work really hard, but I am down on my schools this week. I worked on the #Givingtuesday campaign and videos for the foundation so I just hope that people donate today.

    As for online shopping, and shopping in the past 7 days – we went a little crazy. It wasn’t for gifts because we don’t have a lot of gift shopping to do this year. It was for stuff that we still needed from the reno. For example, we didn’t have a TV or computer in the new office. We were waiting for price drops and sales on towels too.

  39. That is very interesting about the Captain’s chairs. I would love to see those in the MDX too. It would be so much easier with older kids. I was behind a new Pilot this morning, and the shape does remind me of the MDX. I am really surprised at how much I love my heated steering wheel. I’ve never had one before, and I really like this feature in the morning.

  40. I may be the only other person here who has actually eaten at Golden Corral

    Pfft. Doesn’t hold a candle to Country Buffet, though.

  41. @Rocky — Not even close. Steak! With grill marks! And did I mention the pudding?

    Though I do like Country Buffet’s green beans.

    @Captain’s chairs — big part of the decision to get the Enclave over some alternatives was the captain’s chairs. Mostly because it kept the kids separate when they were going through their constantly-hissy-at-each-other phase. But also because it was *so* much easier when we were ferrying the friends around as well.

  42. Thanks everyone for the feedback. I’ll just go with a $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble or Target.

    I think I had gotten holiday tipping advice here before and used that as a guide for daycare gifts. I started with the rough guideline of give one week’s daycare pay as gifts, which was roughly $100 a teacher. I gave each teacher a card with $100 in it the first year and then kid 2 came along and Christmas gifts to daycare are our biggest holiday expense. I found out over time that our gift was WAY more than what others give, but I feel sort of stuck in giving the same amount. I also know that the extra money is hugely appreciated by the teachers, and it makes me feel good to know that it helps them during the holidays. One teacher told me she cried when she opened her card. So I’m used to giving $100 a teacher and thought that would continue on into school.

  43. Golden Corral / Old Country / Ponderosa

    Funny how things change. We I was a kid, we went to all those places; the one we usually went to happened to be called Smorgasbord and wasn’t Scandinavian at all lest you be misled by the name. Maybe 3-4x/year. And, like LfB says, eating out was a pretty infrequent occurrence: pizza maybe 1/x month, Chinese with grandmom + my great aunt and uncle, maybe once every couple of months, burgers out sometimes. And it was always a weekend event, NEVER during the week.

    Yes, my/our SES is higher than what I had growing up, so we can afford to eat out more often and even during the week if we want, but honestly unless I’m just in the mood for Red Robin or 5 Guys or the local burger place, I only want to eat out if it’s food I can’t either get or make just as well at home. e.g. Having made lobster bisque from scratch one Christmas, I now leave that to the professionals. Ours was really good, could have been a little thicker, but the labor involved makes it worth paying for at a restaurant. Pizza, too, honestly.

  44. Fred, was there a Fjord’s Smorgette near you? We used to go there occasionally. All the jello salads you could want and so many more!

  45. There was a AYCE restaurant called Smorgastyle in our community but our cruel parents never took us there. There was some dusty plastic food in the window. Maybe that was why. But eating out was a very rare event.

  46. We also didn’t go out to eat much when I was a kid. I think the biggest special treat was the Sizzler that opened when I was about 12. It was too fancy for the town, though, since it closed about 4 years later.

  47. I didn’t peek inside but was impressed with the new style. I never much liked the older boxy style.

    That’s what got me interested in the Pilot – I hate the look of the older style.

    I’m with RMS – Country Buffet blows away Golden Corral. Plus the setup at CB is much better – you don’t have to go through that line to get you drinks when you go in, the drink station is much more accessible.

  48. My parents were like the Totebaggers of today. We rarely went out to eat on a weekday but did go out to eat fairly frequently on weekends and holidays. I didn’t realize that this wasn’t the norm in the time and place I grew up. I also was taken to fancy restaurants by my aunts (who were engaged but couldn’t be seen alone in public with their fiances). I enjoyed some very good lobster, steak, fish and wonderful desserts. My parents still like to go out but now they have to be watchful of what they order.

  49. I remember my teenage brothers going through the dessert bar at a buffet place. They courteously offered to let the middle aged lady behind them go in front because it “took them awhile to get through.” She said that she preferred to wait behind them because it was so much fun to see how much food they could get in one trip.

  50. We rarely go out to eat now with the kids (just too much work), although we’ll order pizza once or twice a month. I would never look at calorie counts on a menu because we go out so infrequently it probably doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. DH and I go out to a nice dinner once every month or two.

    DH ate at Golden Corral once about ten years ago when he was golfing south of Atlanta in the middle of nowhere with friends. He got food poisoning so I’ve never been inclined to try it myself.

  51. When my kids were in daycare, we gave $100 for the main teacher and $25-50 for each assistant teacher. They did so much for the kids. When the kids were in elementary school, we gave $25 for the class gift fund, and bought the teachers an extra $25 gift card for classroom supplies.

    In middle and high school, we don’t give gifts to the teachers. However, we’ve given $20 gift cards to the bus driver and crossing guard.

  52. All of our teacher gifts are class gifts. About $20 per class in daycare and then in ES, it’s about $50 to cover teacher birthday and holiday gift and the room moms take care of everything. When DD took the bus we contributed to a neighborhood bus driver gift as well.

  53. We have an MDX, but when it dies, we are thinking about downsizing to an RDX or a Honda CRV. I love the RDX. The CRV is cheaper, but I hate the current body design. I’m hoping that the MDX can make it through to the next body design.

  54. We rarely go out to eat now with the kids (just too much work), although we’ll order pizza once or twice a month.

    You’re making a from scratch dinner 28 nights a month?

  55. Rhett – probably so but we enjoy cooking.

    I’m just rather shocked that people at the totebag income level would have the time and inclination to cook more than 15 nights a month. Newly opened supermarkets in the affluent suburbs around here have nearly 50% of the square footage dedicated to prepared food so I has assumed scratch cooking by affluent families was fairly rare.

  56. We also have an MDX but I would actually love to upsize to a Suburban (after our recent ride in one). Those things are swank now!

  57. Those things are swank now!

    I get Suburbans as Ubers a lot. It’s amazing how much nicer the current generation is that the last generation. It’s like night and day.

  58. “I started with the rough guideline of give one week’s daycare pay as gifts, which was roughly $100 a teacher.”

    @TCM — I assumed that guide was for private care, i.e., your nanny, when you’re the only one contributing. I think classroom teachers do much better on gifts just because of the number of kids. But far be it from me to discourage generosity, especially toward the underpaid. :-)

  59. Rhett – I also work part time so I’m home at 4:00 every day giving me plenty of time to cook dinner. My husband cooks on the weekends so neither of us are individually cooking 28 meals per month (probably works out to 20/8).

  60. That’s funny. Actually I loooooved then older boxy style and hate the new style on Pilot. It feels like the soul of pilot is gone.

    If you want that van styling and captains seats, might as well go for the van! Why the pretend SUV?

    My kiddos daycare room has three teachers doing shifts. I will just do $5 starbucks card for each and a box of chocolates for the room. My kid does not attend full time.

  61. I like the look of the Pilot, but it wasn’t big enough, so we went with another Sequoia. It took a long time to get one with bench seats in the middle, but I can fit the whole debate team when it’s my turn to drive.

  62. @LFB – I guess I read the tipping wrong then because that’s what I did for the daycare center we went to. Nobody organized a class gift and I think a lot of parents don’t give gifts. I had also been giving $50 a teacher when we switched rooms as a thank you goodbye gift, but I have forgotten the last 2 times my kid switched, so now I think I’ll just not worry about giving that gift and just do the Christmas gift for the current teachers. Man – my Christmas gift giving expenses are going down a lot now!

  63. The reason that caused many of my friends to stop eating out as frequently is not cost. It is because their kids have allergies. They are women/men that don’t like to cook, but they started sharing recipes, and stores for food sources. They all seem to cook most of their weeknight meals at home. Most desserts for all meals and class parties are prepared from scratch. These are for the kids with peanut, tree nut and gluten issues. They will order the gluten free pizza from certain restaurants, but they prefer to et at home in a safe environment.

  64. Rhett — you’re forgetting about leftover nights in your count. Of course we know how you feel about leftovers.

  65. “You’re making a from scratch dinner 28 nights a month?”

    Not necessarily. When I cook, I rarely cook just enough for one meal. E.g., if I cook a pot of chili, that probably takes care of 4 or 5 dinners.

    Not going out can also mean nuking a frozen dinner from Costco.

  66. “I can fit the whole debate team when it’s my turn to drive.”

    I guess the debate team is pretty small.

    I went with DS’ debate team on a trip last year (the visiting teams had to bring judges too). A lot of the team members didn’t go, but we still needed about 6 vans.

  67. I probably don’t cook 28 nights/month, but I bet 25 or so. We rarely go out to dinner. If we do go out with the kids, we go to lunch. I don’t like leftovers for dinner, so sometimes it is something really simple like roasting some chicken, making rice and heating a frozen vegetable or if I am really desperate, breakfast for dinner.

    I think we are headed the way of the Suburban. I am not sure I can drive it without hitting things regularly, so it is going to have to be my husband’s car. I am sure he will be thrilled. ;)

  68. or if I am really desperate, breakfast for dinner.

    Why not ordering Thai, Indian, big salads, etc?

  69. We get takeout about once a week, but it often takes longer to do that than to just make some omelettes and cut up fruit. More expensive, too.

  70. Thanks RMS – it has been heavily represented in my fb feed, but still makes me smile. Related: had a little old lady with dizzy spells the other day (well past predicted life expectancy) who had just given up gluten because dr. Oz told her too – and she was so sad about all the food she was missing.

  71. If you want that van styling and captains seats, might as well go for the van! Why the pretend SUV?

    All wheel drive and higher ground clearance.

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