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Tax the bastards

Teeing off my prior post, we need to forget progressive taxation as simply a moral issue (those who can afford the most, pay the most). Progressive taxes, taxes that even get seemingly punitive on the high end, should be viewed as critical to democracy itself.

Why?

In the same way that we have “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” encoded into our Constitution to protect against the subversion of the state by one branch, we need taxes to protect against subversion of the state by monied interests. What the combination of the post war years and the relaxation of taxation starting in the 80’s have proved, is that money and power go hand in hand. If too much money is collected in some hands, the balance of power leans, creating a slope in one direction – to those already with money.

Subsequently, it is critical to enforce, artificially if necessary through taxes, a more level playing field. It is true this may stymie innovation, but lets face it – what makes people happier in the end: a roof over their head or an iPhone?

Having grown up in the turmoil of the 70’s, as bad as it was, it wasn’t nearly as bad as today (that is, Americans for the most part were happier). We may have more toys and infinite “entertainment”, but in reality most of us both lack any assets or in many cases our dignity. The dog-eat-dog, winner take all, materialism of modern society has bankrupted not only our bank accounts, but in many cases, our souls.

Changing goals

When Reagan came to power the argument behind his “supply side” (tinkle down) economy was that it would benefit the middle-class the most. Whether this was cynical from the start (ie: those proposing it knew it was a load of crap), I don’t know. However it was at least a fair argument.

However, as the policies (particularly tax) consistently have favored those with power/money, so has power/money shifted their way, definitively answering the question of whether these policies benefit the middle class the most – they do not.

However in light of these obvious failures, the original argument has been forgotten. It is no longer what benefits the middle class the most, but instead now what is “most moral”, where “most moral” is now said to be “who deserves it the most”. Of course curiously the “most deserving” are those who have the most (in fact, by definition those who have the most, deserve it the most, otherwise they wouldn’t have it!)(conversely if you don’t have it, you must not be deserving – Catch 22!).

If one really wants to get into morality (and I think a certain man/deity who died on a cross would agree), the obvious answer to the argument of what is “most moral” is what benefits the most people. That is, what policies will ensure the most people will be fed, have a roof over their head, have reasonable health care, and be able to retire/die with dignity. Maybe those policies are to be found in Reaganomics or Libertarianism or Objectivism, but from what I can see not only in practice, but even in theory, that is not the aim of these policies (ideologies?).

So, if we want to have the argument again about what is best for the middle class, I’d be happy. It would be a huge step forward. In the meantime we seem to be having separate arguments but viewing them as the same. The liberals are looking for policies that benefit the most numbers, the conservatives, the most deserving. Those are two very different ends and are not ultimately interchangeable.

Impossible to justify

I have spent considerable effort in conversations and otherwise to remind people that insurgents, “terrorists”, and other militants are in fact humans like we are. That while their tactics are often unjustifiable, their grievances are based more in reality than just, “They hate out freedoms”. An example, to very selectively quote members of the Pakistani Taliban in the NYT:

“because the government is targeting our families and females”

While I disagree strongly with their, and most other religious ideologies, I do still hold at some level many of the horrors we see done in the world are at some level backlash if not blowback from our policies and actions (whether direct or indirectly through our proxies). That does not of course justify the methods, but when when faced by the most powerful armies in the world in regimes offering no political recourse, we should not be surprised that tactics become unconventional.

However, it is very, very, very hard to paint anyone who does this as human, this time giving the full quote:

“We selected that army’s school for attack because the government is targeting our families and females”

Or more specifically:

“With the slaughter of at least 145 schoolchildren and teachers at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan … Many of the children reportedly were killed by a gunshot to the head. A teacher was burned alive in front of the students.”

While I agree that we, or our proxies in the Pakistani government, are grievously wrong for targeting “families and females” (or anyone innocent), there is no justification for intentionally killing children period. Anyone who is capable of doing such, or encouraging others to do such, does lack at some level the very basis of what makes us human – compassion. It is in fact hard, nigh impossible, to label anyone who could look a child in the eye and kill them with the moniker, “human”. This is true of both “terrorist” or state sponsored organized militia, no matter what evil it is intended to avenge.

One might I suppose be so jaded (sick) as to see this as having political value, but even that seems remarkably iffy. How this can possibly help anyone’s cause I cannot imagine, and is likely to provide ample justification for ratcheting down further on Muslims throughout the world. Maybe the hope is such ratcheting will create a powder keg where Muslims finally explode, massacring their so-called Western oppressors, but more likely it will just make the lives of millions, if not billions, of Muslims that much harder.

No, this is not a win for anyone, particularly (a massive understatement) the 145 or more school children, who were entirely innocent of the sins of their fathers. Those who did this need to get this right – they did not punish the parents or society (though yes, there will be grieving), they vilely punished 145 innocent school children who died in what was most certainly horrific circumstances.

Moreover, they have made it near impossible for any from the West to sustain their position that Fundamentalist Islam is made up of humans who should be treated as such. And, as Westerners already find it difficult to disambiguate a “good Muslim” from a “bad Muslim”, they have made it worse for an entire culture. This will not lead to any outcome that the twisted sponsors may hope, it will only lead to more and more death. It is lose, lose.

I am not a religious man, but I do truly hope these children went to a better place, one that can heal them of the terrors of the last moments of their lives. I also pray for the families, for no one should lose a child intentionally, even if they might judged complicit in the killing of other children.

Conversely, while it is tempting to hope that those responsible end up in a very bad place, I do not wish this. At worst I wish oblivion on them, however more ideally a place where they can learn the horrific error of their ways. Where, in fact, they can learn that every child’s life is equally precious. Where they can learn to become human again.

The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On…

“If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me.  I’d been working at daily papers for seventeen years at that point, doing no-holds barred investigative reporting for the bulk of that time.  As far as I could tell, the beneficial powers the press theoretically exercised in our society weren’t theoretical in the least.

So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn’t work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite?  Hell, the system worked just fine, as far as I could tell.  It encouraged  enterprise.  It rewarded muckraking.

And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been.  The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job.  It turned out to have nothing to do with it.  The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.”

- Gary Web, The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On

Good Stiglitz quote…

And I think a good response to those Rand-y Galts:

“Regardless of how fast GDP grows, an economic system that fails to deliver gains for most of its citizens, and in which a rising share of the population faces increasing insecurity, is, in a fundamental sense, a failed economic system.”

From this Project Syndicate post.

I’ll have to remember this one…

It’s a good phrase

Play the ball not the man

or, perhaps more correctly:

Playing the man, not the ball

Sadly describes the vast majority of blog responses, or frankly argument, these days.

A “football”, or as some say, “soccer” quote.

The harassed…

Via my best friend we find that rats are being harassed:

“Experiments on different groups of rats of different ages showed that the most effective means of instilling depression (measured by overall listlessness) was to constantly harass young rats, and then intermittently harass them again when they got older, and that doing this is likely a better overall model for depression than other methods. So that’s good news for drug testing, and bad news for lab rats.”

Which, forgetting the ethics (or lack thereof) of harassing rats brings me to the question:

Is it better to spend the money on experiments to harass rats to in turn make drugs to help harassed depressed people *or* to identify the people doing the harassing depressing and nail them to trees?

I’ve got a lot of nails in my garage that are voting on the later, not to mention it would be more fun to watch.

Oh, if only it were so simple. Still, I’ve got to say, it definitely shows that we are treating the symptom, not the cause. The only way to truly make the world a better place is if we humans are just, well, better.

Responding on “merit”…

Responding to a quote in Sean McElwee’s excellent screed on the topic of why Americans seem to be so complacent:

“The Waltons and Kochs, parasites living off their parent’s work rather than creating their own fortunes, are examples of how the old story of the “self-made man” is increasingly out of date.”

My cross-posted comment:

But even if they had “created” their own fortunes would it really be fair anyway? Did Bill Gates will himself to be smart? Did Warren Buffet will himself to be ambitious?

The answer is “no”. They can except credit for their God given (or universe given, or whatever) talents as the farmer can take credit for the rain watering his crops. Their success is at least as attributable to luck as any self-derived talent. Sure, maybe Lloyd Blanfein works harder than I do, but the fact that he wants that and is able to sustain that has less to do with a choice, than the hand that he was dealt by genetics and upbringing. That someone is the CEO of a corporation is not because they choose to try harder, it’s because trying harder is literally easier for them. They are wired to try hard – the “trying hard” they do, unlike most of us, isn’t “work” (or at least as much work) for them.

I am better at computers than many people I know, but while I can claim I have worked harder on computers than others, the reason I worked harder is ironically because it was easier for me. I may have struggled with this or that, but it sure as hell wasn’t as much of a struggle as most. While I will allow myself to be proud of my accomplishments, objectively I cannot claim to be the source of my talents. I was just lucky to be wired the right way at the right time.

So, why should the Wal*Mart employee be punished because he’s not wired like Lloyd Blankfein (or me the lucky computer guy)? Why should Lloyd Blankfein (or me the computer guy) get all the spoils of his good luck rather than effort?

Sure, we want to incentivize certain traits to encourage those with and without luck to aspire to them, but it’s a matter of degrees. Even “meritocracy” can be taken too far (and that of course even forgets your well put arguments, the fact that we confuse “merit” with hubris/assholedom, and that claims of merit are often remarkably exaggerated or even false).

Obviously there are limitations to this philosophy and one could easily end up in trouble should you go too far down this road, however we find ourselves in the trouble we are in currently because conversely we have gone too far down some other roads.

One problem we have as humans is we want everything to fit in a nice tidy box, when the truth of creating a better world will probably be an ugly and ever-changing mish-mash of ideas and methods. It would be nice to say, “Everyone who believes X will go to Hell and everyone who believes in Y will go to Heaven,” but we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work that well. In the end, just because you need water to live, doesn’t mean that holding you underwater will be double-plus-good.

But going to extremes is as American as apple pie or rather, the Big Gulp (though to give us Americans credit, we do seem to do a better job than our European brethren at stepping back from the brink).

UPDATE:

Incidentally, I am not the first one to question the idea of “merit” as being a good metric:

O.M.: The merits of the metal machine would be far above those of the stone one?

Y.M.: Of course.

O.M.: Personal merits?

Y.M.: PERSONAL merits? How do you mean?

O.M.: It would be personally entitled to the credit of its own performance?

Y.M.: The engine? Certainly not.

O.M.: Why not?

Y.M.: Because its performance is not personal. It is the result of the law of construction. It is not a MERIT that it does the things which it is set to do–it can’t HELP doing them.

O.M.: And it is not a personal demerit in the stone machine that it does so little?

Y.M.: Certainly not. It does no more and no less than the law of its make permits and compels it to do. There is nothing PERSONAL about it; it cannot choose. In this process of “working up to the matter” is it your idea to work up to the proposition that man and a machine are about the same thing, and that there is no personal merit in the performance of either?

Of course you do risk getting back to this:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

But as I said, “mish-mash”, the Libertarians aren’t all wrong, nor were the Marxists (and besides, putting down the Marxists is a bit of “hippie-bashing“, a way to say, “We’re not one of those people.”).

 

Why Ukraine is not a joke…

And why we should not be encouraging further unnecessary discord:

2014-05-14_8-31-54

As told to friends…

Here’s a reply I sent to some friends some time back and thought worth putting here. As western civilization seems to continue it’s steady decline, I think it’s topical:

I do not care what system we choose, whether it be capitalism, socialism, communism, libertarianism, plutocracy, democracy, dictatorship, Ryand-i-ism, a mix an match of all, whatever. I do not even care if it leaves some filthy rich while others are just “satisfied” as long as it at least addresses the following:

  • It is sustainable long term, whether that be political or environmental.
  • It ensures everyone gets food and shelter.
  • It ensures the greatest level of comfort and prosperity for all humans, regardless of divisions.

I would note that “comfort” goes beyond simple material comfort, but also spiritual comfort in the sense of addressing the need for “freedom”, the insults of things like “relative deprivation”, the general need for fairness, and other “human rights” that are often generally accepted.  Health would also be included. That is, the vast majority of people cannot be miserable whether from physical need or spiritual (emotional) need.

Whether any system can provide that (particularly ones that insist on ideological consistency), I do not know. However I do know the current system is failing miserably on all 3 bullets and I do know we have in our very lifetime seen better.

So if Tedd Cruz can pull that shit off,  he can have at it, but from what I can see not only is his viewpoint a total failure, so is that of the so-called opposition.