Thursday, April 27, 2006

Intermission: gas price insanity!

Every other news story right now is about how high gas prices are, how upset this is making people, and how much our politicians are going to do to help us. As Jacob Weisberg points out at Slate (the link behind "other" in the previous sentence), the politicians are having a stupid idea contest, and everyone's winning. From sending every American taxpayer a $100 check for gas money to imposing a windfall tax on oil companies to drilling in Alaska, there's no shortage of ideas--just sense. Unfortunately, those ideas are, respectively, a ridiculously stupid waste of money; a catastrophically misguigded abuse of government power over corporations functioning just like corporations should; and an attack on one of the last wild places left in the world.

A commodity doubling in price doesn't mean jack. Politicans should get back to making the country's laws and quit screwing with something they have no business touching. There is one solution to this problem: taking the country's infrastructure off of oil.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Postmodernism: psychology or structure

When people say "postmodernism is" or "postmodernism requires that" I'm generally skeptical, and move to argue. I did that in this post, from which the following is an excerpt:

"We've had some great discussions lately touching on post-modernism, and I'd encourage everyone to check out the books that started this whole debacle. Mair would be rightly all up on if you said "Sociology is" without doing the reading, thinking and discussing to back up your pronouncement of the essence of a discipline, and there are grad students in ivory towers around the globe whose heads would explode if they read some of what passes for posting in the blogosophere. Don't be satisfied with some book by James W. Sire that devotes 3 pages to the godless scourge of post-modernism--go ad fontes, my friends."

Now, it is certainly not the case that you have to have read everything Derrida or Rorty wrote to be PM, or to speak in a PM manner--I'd never argue that. (But you definitely can't get your ideas about PM from youth group.) I've heard several speakers and authors use phrases like "in these post-modern times" or "in our post-modern world." When challenged, they back up such proclamations by talking about how and what people think and what they take to be authority, and how back in the day it was so much better and so much easier to keep people in line, and everyone was a Christian, etc. Conversations like this can quickly devolve into shouting matches about who's a relativist, and so that's why I always take what I'll provisionally call the psychological approach to conversations about PM: dealing with PM in terms of people's beliefs.

Recently j. morgan put forth to me the argument that being in the post-modern condition has little to do with one's own beliefs (see this post for some of the conversation so far) and much more to do with the structure of one's society. He would argue that most of us in America in 2006 lack a metanarrative that dictates our decisions and social structures (which I grant), and that post modernism simply is living in a society that has Walmarts and Targets. This turns the debate upside down, and makes sense of comments from j. morgan like these:

"I think that most of us, while acknowledging some problems with Modernity, aren’t honest about how radical that shift has been."

"The problem is that the only consistent way to shop at Target is to be Foucault. For those of us who cannot bear to be consistent, we are forced to bear being inconsistent."

For j. morgan, Foucault stands in the same position to post-modernity as Henry Adams did to modernity: as a prophet who correctly read the signs.

I have objections to this position, which I will provisionally call the structural approach, though they are less strenuous since j. morgan and I seem to agree on at least the nature if not the extent of the psychological issues involved. I'll deal with those in my next post. So, to summarize:

Papua New Guinea tribesmen have metanarratives and hunt and are not PM. Americans have multiple competing metanarratives available, which they can shop online for. They're PM.

Any questions?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The ACLU: they're probably fighting for freedom.

In this article the ACLU defends the right of an American teenager to display an American flag.

People love to hate the ACLU; the bottom line is that they're consistent. If your civil liberties are violated, you call them. If Jerry Falwell calls them, they'll get his back.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Data on wealth and taxes

This New York Times article has all sorts of information about the effects of the Bush tax cuts on income, and some sweet accompanying graphics. Here's a summary of what the tax cuts did:

"There have been three tax cuts for individuals under President Bush.

The top tax rate on compensation was trimmed twice and is now 35 percent, from 39.6 percent when President Bush took office. Most compensation also faces a 1.45 percent Medicare tax, which is matched by the employer, making the effective federal tax rate on high earners 37.9 percent.

Then, the top rate for most investment income was reduced to 15 percent in 2003, from the 39.6 percent for dividends and 20 percent for profits on asset sales that were in effect when Mr. Bush took office.

A result is that the wealthiest Americans now pay much higher direct taxes on money they work for than on money that works for them."

The most interesting figure in the graphics is the "effective tax rate," which is as follows:

Income in 2003/Effective Tax Rate:

Less than $50,000: 2%
$50,000 to $100,000: 9%
$100,000 to $200,000: 14%
$200,000 to $500,000: 21%
$500,000 to $1,000,000: 25%
$1,000,000 to $10,000,000: 26%
$10,000,000+: 22%

This is NOT income tax--this is the overall tax rate on everything, including income, property, stocks, bonds, investments, asset sales, etc.

Is this fair? What should the top income tax rate be? Should the tax on dividends and asset sales be the same, more than, or less than the income tax rate?

Taking these numbers as gospel, here's another chart I made from the data:

Income group/Total Tax Paid to Government:

Less than $50,000: $43,652,296,248
$50,000 to $100,000: $172,714,138,947
$100,000 to $200,000: $162,310,472,683
$200,000 to $500,000: $120,868,503,424
$500,000 to $1,000,000: $60,214,014,360
$1,000,000 to $10,000,000: $97,087,072,902
$10,000,000+: $35,413,952,676

The 6,236 members of the elite $10 million+ income group paid the government $35 billion in 2003, nearly as much as the 92 million members of the less than $50,000 group.

Total tax paid: $692 billion.

Unfortunately, the data don't break up tax bills by type, so I can't vary investment tax rates against income tax rates to see what we would come up with if, say, we made income tax flat at 20% and investment taxes flat at 30%.

So, if we go to a flat tax of 15% on everything, we get $931 billion in revenue. Good. Now, it seems grossly immoral to me to tax households making less than $50,000 at all, so let's drop them. Without them, we still have $661 billion in revenue, $31 billion less than our revenue from the convoluted mess above. Awesome, right? Much more fair, right? A few cuts here and there, and we have a fairer system and a balanced budget! Well, yes, except that the effective tax rate on the 30 million tax payers who make between $50,000 and $100,000 a year just DOUBLED.