Skin In The Game

Due to a complex series of misunderstandings and coincidences, I once found myself spending a long time in a small boat on the ocean in bad weather. I was forced to do it because the people on shore responsible for arranging the paperwork and landing details couldn’t be bothered. I learned a very important rule of thumb on that voyage which has been of great value to me ever since, viz:

Avoid putting your fate in the hands of someone with no skin in the game.

You see, at the same moment that I was slipping around the foredeck in a fifty-knot gale hoping to avoid going overboard, the people whose inaction kept me from landing were having a hot dinner and getting ready for bed. They wouldn’t have lost anything if I had missed a step and gone for a final swim. Oh, they would have been sad, they would have sent condolences, but they had no skin in the game.

Here’s another example. The remote control of aircraft is rapidly becoming just as good as having a pilot on board. We have US pilots in Topeka, Kansas flying drones halfway around the planet. That’s why we use remote-controlled aircraft, to save the lives of pilots.

And it is certainly possible to fly passenger aircraft remotely in the same fashion, saving the lives of commercial pilots …

So … assuming perfect remote control technology, which way would you feel safer—with a real pilot in the front seat, or with the same real pilot seated on the ground?

Me, I figure the important point is that onboard board pilot will likely be the first one to die in a crash. As a result, she’ll pay a whole lot more attention than if she were seated in a comfortable chair in Topeka, Kansas.

skin in the game II

There is a curious corollary to that rule of thumb, which is:

I’ll believe something is a problem when the people who say it is a problem start to act like it’s a problem.

The  textbook example of this is Leonardo DiCaprio leaving his diesel-guzzling mega-yacht in the Mediterranean and taking a private jet half way around the planet to lecture us on the horrors of emitting too much carbon dioxide … when Leo starts acting like it’s a problem I’ll reconsider my opinion on the issue.

I got to thinking about this while listening to the radio this morning. I like to hear both the liberal and the conservative points of view. On PBS, the generally liberal Public Broadcasting System, there was an interview with U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat. She represents a district in California about a hundred miles south of where I live.

She was talking about a bill she authored to require the President to release his tax returns. So I looked it up. Representative Eshoo and Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, are 100% for the bill … but guess what?

Neither one of them has released their own tax returns.

Here’s what I think. If Americans decide that releasing tax returns is necessary for public service, the rule should apply to everyone from your local City Mayor on up. State senators and congressmen. Governors. US Members of Congress. If our representatives claim that not releasing tax returns is a problem, then they should act like it is a problem and require that they release their own tax returns.

Me, I don’t think that releasing your tax returns should be a requirement for public office, neither for the President, the Mayor, nor anyone in between. The country worked fine for hundreds of years without requiring that politicians release their tax returns. Theoretically it is supposed to reduce the opportunity for conflicts of interest. However, I’ve not seen any evidence of that, and even if it were occasionally true, to me it doesn’t justify the invasion of privacy.

Finally, I think that these issues are more than adequately covered by the required Financial Disclosure Forms that our Federal Representatives have to fill out. But hey, that’s just me, YMMV.

However, I do think that the laws we pass should apply equally to everyone, especially our elected representatives. We need for our representatives to have skin in the game. As one example among far too many, our representatives pass laws that affect Social Security … but those laws won’t affect their own retirement. They have fat government pensions, so they have no skin in the Social Security game.

Here, sun followed rain, now rain follows sun. The cat is outside sheltering under the roof overhand and looking at the garden. I’m packing my bags to leave Saturday for surfing in Fiji. Hey, the waves won’t surf themselves, so someone has to do it. Now the cat is back at the door. I let him in. He shakes his head. Life is good.

Best wishes to everyone,


27 thoughts on “Skin In The Game

  1. The country worked fine for hundreds of years without requiring that politicians release their tax returns.

    Well for most of that time (up to 1913) the US didn’t have an income tax so there were no returns to release.

    On the one hand I’m a big believer in precedent: if the convention has been that presidential candidates release their tax returns, then absent special circumstances Trump should do likewise.

    On the other hand, the assumption is that anyone running for President has been in public service for many years and it’s relevant to know that someone supposedly serving the public trust has significant income other than his public salary. Trump has never before held a position of public trust, so his prior returns arguably remain private matters.

    I doubt anything above a tiny fraction of reporters would have a decent grasp of a tax return as complex as Trump’s must be. And I am certain that most of the rest would invest no energy trying to understand, but instead would look for anything that could be portrayed in an unfavorable way.

    However, next year’s return reflecting his first year in office should be released.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree Willis. Its been several years now that I have thought an amendment to the constitution was required to explicitly state that congress shall pass no law that they are exempt from, along with all laws having to be written in plain English at the high school level and no more than 2 pages, 12 point font, single spaced. with the current state of affairs most laws aren’t even understandable by seasoned lawyers, which I think is part of the point of them doing it… the law can and does mean whatever they want it to at the time they are wanting it to mean what they want…



    Wishing you a great trip to Fiji!


    • “…congress shall pass no law that they are exempt from…” I agree.

      I just finished filling out our taxes. I doubt I need to get into the details of the pain involved, but I now think that your statement above should be extended to include a requirement that:

      Before any legislator can vote on any law related to taxation or government funding he/she must have filled out and filed his/her own tax return for at least the prior two years with assistance from no one other than the IRS help line. And if audited they must be required to represent them self without legal assistance.

      I doubt it would take long before no tax return would be larger than a post card.


    • Tax law has nothing to do with the Constitution, and no, there should be no meaningless amendments made to the Constitution,. Furthermore, I would like everyone to stop thinking in terms of amendments to the Constitution, and start thinking in terms of amending the Code of the Federal Register. Realize one thing, if nothing else. The Constitution is very brief and to the point on what it covers, regardless of what the Supreme court has said in the past 60 years. It was written by intelligent people to be understandable to the average American citizen. Take a look at the Patriot Act, the Affordable Care Act, and every other “act” passed in the last 40 or 50 years, and ask yourself, can these be understood by the average American citizen, and should they be able to? The answer to the first part is not only no, but hell no by intention, and the second half should be not only yes, but hell yes.

      When people talk about the Constitution, the next words that tend to come out of their mouths are “new Constitutional Convention” so we can add term limits, etc. Remember this if nothing else. The Constitution, all 20 or so pages or if and its amendments, are completely understandable to any person with a moderate education, and cover the backbone of government. Can you imagine what the lawyerspeak version of that would be if it was rewritten by todays political pundents and their army of lawyers? The CFRs run to millions of pages, the new and revised Constitution would probably put it to shame, would be unintelligible to the entire population and every sentence in it would be able to be interpreted in at least a dozen ways. Leave the Constitution alone, and correct the CFRs, preferably by burning them and replacing them with intelligible language that could help promote legal literacy.

      And one last thing – we already have term limits, it is called the ballot box. And if some segment of the population believes that their Representative or Senator is the best possible person in that job, even after 40 years, then they should have the right to re-elect that person. If enough people feel that that person should not be in office, then move to that area and register to vote. In the meantime, remember also that there are only so many “good people” willing to give up their own lives to serve their peers, but there are a lot of scoundrels more than willing to steal what they can. Once you have voted your good people out of office by term limits, you only have the rest left. Term limits won’t solve any real problem, but they will create a lot more opportunities to be screwed.


      • Hi Tom,
        I wasn’t thinking of a meaningless amendment and if it could be done without an amendment that would most likely be better. The 2 things I specifically mentioned are:
        1) Congress shall pass no law that they are exempt from,
        2) All laws having to be written in plain English at the high school level and no more than 2 pages, 12 point font, single spaced.

        I completely agree with you on term limits, I also agree that the constitution is a clearly written and well thought out document that should be more closely adhered to rather than “interpreted”. Item number 2 addresses the complexity of which you spoke, and the 1st one speaks to the “skin in the game” or perhaps more the “do as I say not as I do” that we currently have.



        • “2) All laws having to be written in plain English at the high school level and no more than 2 pages, 12 point font, single spaced.”

          Absolutely not! Much of our current troubles stem from Congress being lazy and writing laws that are only outlines leaving the agencies to fill in the details. So now we have an army of unelected, unfireable bureaucrats writing our laws. That way gets you absurd social costs of carbon and endangerment findings as well as many more rules to perpetuate the fiefdoms of the unaccountable.

          Congress should spell out every detail, leaving nothing to the agencies. I don’t care if it cuts their productivity by a factor of 10.


          • Disagree. What you want is an encyclopedia to take the place of a comic book. When something is short and simple, there is no interpreting it. That is the point. You’re saying a piece of crap legislation that runs 2400 pages giving exacting details is the best thing that congress should do. Not. That is why the code is millions of pages, and no one knows what to hell it really is BECAUSE one 2400 page document refers to the same things that another 2400 page document does, and says it differently.

            And federal employees can easily be terminated. It isn’t a case of employed for life like so many people keep saying. Here are two examples – 3 write ups in a 12 month period can bring termination if that is what the supervisor wants. example two, got an employee you can’t find a good reason for firing? You cancel the job. Not particularly difficult to do as long as you justifying the action. You may have that employee in a different role, but the employee is no longer an issue.

            Bureaucrats can’t “write the laws” to start with. Congress writes laws, and oversight committees are there to insure that they are interpreted correctly. If Congress isn’t doing the job, fire them via the ballot box and hire some that will. Adding verbiage to the law to guarantee there can be no mistakes only leaves places for lawyers to hide unintended consequences. Why to hell do you think we are in the position that we are? “Lawyerspeak” laws of minutiae so long that no one reads them, and a citizenry that is too lazy to do its part and insure proper oversight, or too pressed for time to read all the details of the “lawyerspeak” laws.


          • Hi Svensk,
            I am not in anyway suggesting to make it brief and vague I am saying make it complete and to the point in plain easy to understand language! The overly complex wording and vagueness allow for most of the corruption of the law and this endless “reinterpretation” that keeps lawyers and politicians deep in the money and citizens staring blankly on as their pockets are emptied into the “tax coffers.”




          • keeping it brief won’t stop lawyers from arguing over it.

            “it all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”


          • Correct. That is what the baseball bat beatings are for. Lawyers are the problem, until they get the absolute, living sh*t punished out of them they will continue to be the problem. Clear. Concise. Direct. Easily understood by ANY common citizen. These are the simple principles America was founded on and lawyers fight tooth&nail to destroy.


  3. I used to follow an investment guru who only invested in companies in which the CEO/president had to be and owner/operator – he/she owned a substantial number of shares, i.e. they had “skin in the game”. There were other criteria as well, of course. He also “ate his own cooking”, i.e., he bought shares in the companies that he recommended (after giving his readers time to buy first, even if his advice caused a spike in share price). He was very good at what he did. So much so that he ended that relatively cheap newsletter and started one that was far more expensive (and too rich for my blood).

    Sometimes I will ask a salesperson “which one would you buy?” Not the same as having skin in the game, but they usually will tell you the truth. It’s pretty obvious that most of them are never asked this question.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If we had a constitutional amendment that prohibited elected officials and their senior staff from exempting themselves from any otherwise generally-applicable statutes, we could probably go a long way towards fixing what ails our government. Throw in a provision that blocks targeted exemptions, and we’d be golden.


  5. I always get a chuckle when the news media reports the pilot was a hero for saving his passengers. The media tend to miss the part when reporting an aircraft incident, the pilot will generally be the first to arrive at the incident. His skin is literally in the game, his passengers are only along for the ride. I have never heard of a pilot with no initiative to save his own skin. Now if you see a pilot nonchalantly heading for the door with a parachute that would be a whole new ballgame.

    I believe the president and vice president do not have to separate them selves from their business interests when entering office.. Trump did so voluntarily even though not required.


  6. Given the choice between having a cold beer and reading anyone’s tax returns -I’ll gladly pay for my own drinks; and
    Someone would have to pay me a bundle to look at a long tax report.

    In fact, if Trump’s tax return is made public there will be hundreds of well paid folks reading every line — looking for the good parts. A collection of all those wages could do great good, and if sent to me, I will see to their wise use.


  7. “They wouldn’t have lost anything if I had missed a step and gone for a final swim. Oh, they would have been sad, they would have sent condolences, but they had no skin in the game.”

    Reminds me of some politicians. Good rule. I’d phrase it differently, because even those with skin in the game can take a CYA approach. I’d say: never deal with anyone who could care less, who couldn’t be bothered. Customer service is more than saying sorry. The trick is to find this out before the sale. Sometimes you can turn a sale down just to see how they treat you then. Other times, you pay your money and take your chances. It’s all in the attitude.

    “She was talking about a bill she authored to require the President to release his tax returns.”

    Partisan stuff. In the banana republics, the incoming regime arrests the outgoing regime for corruption or homosexuality or whatever and puts them in jail. That kind of stuff.

    Tax returns, that’s the best they could think of? This from the people who prevented us from seeing Obama’s birth certificate and university transcripts? (aside: I think Obama wants to hide who his real father is. I don’t care where he was born; more important is where he grew up, the values he absorbed in his impressionable youth. Do I need a sarc?)

    nc: “I have never heard of a pilot with no initiative to save his own skin.” I have. They happened to be Muslim suicides. That’s not counting MH370.

    “news media reports the pilot was a hero for saving his passengers”

    ‘hero’ is the wrong word choice. Especially if you are thinking of “Sully”. The movie is worth watching, although I understand they altered the truth a bit.

    “And it is certainly possible to fly passenger aircraft remotely in the same fashion”

    The big jets are pretty much mostly on autopilot now. With the pilots along in case something goes wrong (psst, don’t tell the pilots). I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that…


  8. Pingback: Skin In The Game | Skating Under The Ice | Cranky Old Crow

  9. I can think immediately of two problems with remote piloting. First is the delayed reaction time where it takes maybe 10 or 15 seconds for a local problem to be detected, the information transmitted to the remote pilot, the pilot to react, his response transmitted back to the plane and the plane then to execute that response. Second is the reliability and security of the computer code necessary to implement remote piloting. I spent over thirty five years in system architecture, development, testing and support and from that experience two laws of system design are: 1) there is no such thing as zero defect code, and 2) the only secure system is one that provides no function.


    • there’s no reason for long delays in the communications (using geosync satellites would only be about a second of delay)

      but when things go wrong, the lack of the ‘seat of the pants’ feedback would cause problems.

      I see this as a situation similar to driverless cars, 99.9% of the time it would be better than humans at the controls, but that other 0.1% of the time a human will do better.

      now, tell me which is going to be better overall????? When you get down to the extremely unusual cases, things get _really_ messy to try and calculate, the numbers get so small that the calculations/statistics become very suspect.


      • Yes, I think end-to-end response time using geosync satellites is about 1.2 seconds. But, for reliable transmission that could easily be simplex for every ‘packet’ of information. It could add up pretty fast. If I remember correctly a TV show I saw a few months ago on UAVs over Afghanistan mentoned that their response time was on the order of 15 seconds, but I may have miss interpreted.


  10. If these people want to see DJT’s tax data they need to petition the IRS and the taxing authorities of the states in which he has businesses/residences to release them. Until the various and ongoing audits of DJT are concluded he can not release anything covered under these various and ongoing audits. Or is that their ultimate aim? Badger DJT into releasing documents under audit and then file charges against him? That is just the kind of sh*t Democrat Party f*ckbags excel at.

    Oh, and no, I will not be traveling in any remote controlled vehicle. Period. Full stop.


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