Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Maximum wage

There is an interesting juxtaposition of articles in the New York Times: this one, about how "Chicago may become the first city in the nation to require big box retailers like Wal-Mart or Home Depot to pay employees a living wage of at least $10 an hour plus $3 an hour in benefits"; and this one, about concern over Home Depot's CEO's compensation package, which was $245 million over the last 5 years.

I think that it's unjust both that our minimum wages are so low, and that people like Robert Nardelli make $50 million a year. I just don't know what to do about either. A living wage should be paid by all companies, but it should be paid by those companies voluntarily; no one should make $50 million a year, but no one should be forced not to make $50 million a year. What I'd like to point out is that situations like Home Depot's, in which the compensation committee is stocked with cronies, contribute to the fact that cities like Chicago feel they have to take steps to effectively double the federal minimum wage. If you argue that Chicago is driving away business by doing so, I'd respond that Robert Nardelli is driving away business as well, in his own way.

jackscolon will hopefully tell me how to fix both these problems.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Christians, contingency and crisis

Stephen Jay Gould on Freud:

"Sigmund Freud often remarked that great revolutions in the history of science have but one common, and ironic, feature: they knock human arrogance off one pedestal after another of our previous conviction about our own self-importance. In Freud's three examples, Copernicus moved our home from center to periphery, Darwin then relegated us to ‘descent from an animal world’; and, finally Freud himself discovered the unconscious and exploded the myth of a fully rational mind."

One of the nice things about pragmatism is that it knocks the arrogance of statements like this off their own pedestal. I don't know if Gould is paying any attention to the way that people continue to operate in 2006, but as far as I can tell, these revolutions have limited bearing on the average person's life: what they do have the most bearing on is the people who spend all day thinking about them, like Gould or Freud. To say that human arrogance has been knocked off its pedestal has to involve a claim about the way the entirety of humanity operated in the past--so you'd have to assert that in the 12th century, say, every single person alive was arrogant about their own self-importance, and now they're not. On the contrary--despite the fact that past thinkers might have insisted on some cosmic silliness, like that the earth was at the center of the universe, this was still a belief that was dictated to them by the ruling class. Whether to live in the universe of the South American tribes, whose harvests were arbitrarily forced on them by capricious gods demanding human sacrifice, or that of Gould's mechanistic loneliness: what a choice! I'll take neither, thanks. The victims of the black plague in the 14th century were offered no comfort by their or the clergy's cosmology, and neither is Gould offered any by his view of the universe. Luther was terrified by God; Pascal was terrified by the beginning of science.

I made the point here that beliefs are flexible creatures. That we live on a planet orbiting the sun, and that we most likely evolved, has about as much bearing on how most people keep doing the things they love as any. Gould thinks he's being purely scientific, but he's not: he's offering normative claims about how people should live disguised as pure empiricism. How we put beliefs and scientific statements into practice is largely but not completely up to us, as Rorty points out.

Maybe Gould could have gotten Kim Jong-Il to set North Korea free by telling him that our self-importance has been irrevocably shattered by the advance of science.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thanks, Bill Frist.

I can't wait to get my $47.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I shred an Ann Coulter argument

In her latest column, Ann Coulter writes the following:

"The Democrats' only objection to current gas prices is that the federal government's cut is a mere 18.4 cents a gallon. States like New York get another 44 cents per gallon in taxes. The Democratic brain processes the fact that "big oil companies" get nearly 9 cents a gallon and thinks: WE SHOULD HAVE ALL THAT MONEY!"

Her point is that this current situation is unjust: oil companies get only 9 cents on every dollar of gas that's sold, while the federal government gets 18.4 cents.

This is total BS.

First, that 9 cents is the oil companies' PROFIT per dollar. I don't know what amount they "get" (we call this revenue), which then goes back for R&D, salaries, paying for equipment, etc. Ann Coulter doesn't know either. It's a complicated equation. Second, everybody acts these days like tax money just evaporates. This is not the case. I will be the first to admit that the tax system today is ridiculously complicated and unjust, but this doesn't mean that tax money just goes away. As I've argued before, how much your taxes benefit you is nearly 100% determined by WHAT YOU DO and not HOW MUCH YOU MAKE. Neither I nor Ann Coulter knows how much of that 18.4 cents per gallon goes right back to the oil companies in deferred taxes, subsidies, uncollected royalties, and money in the pocket of consumers who can then buy more gas.

The clear example I gave in the past is as follows: taxes that pay for education benefit software companies greatly, because such taxes give schools and colleges more money to spend on software and computers. Microsoft benefits enormously from property taxes. Other people don't. To figure out exactly who benefits from what tax is time-consuming, difficult, and requires lots of research.

That's why Ann Coulter writes columns like the above.

Democrats (or our lack thereof)

Lately, Democrats are criticized endlessly in newspapers and in blogs, by the very people who vote for them. In a column the other day, Ted Rall said this:

"As usual, Democrats don't have much to say at all."

On the Daily Show the other night, Jon Stewart said that when it comes to immigration, the Democrats are hiding in a corner praying that no one asks them what they think.

It's all true--from the New Republic to the Village Voice to the New York Times to this blog to Harry and Maude in Wisconsin, you hear the same thing: the Republicans are badong on nearly everything; and the Democrats are an empty shell of a party with no agenda (on the federal level.)

My question: why? And I don't mean why, as in

redhurtmachine: the democrats are stupid liberals

I mean why, as in, what do Harry Reid and Barack Obama talk about with their wives at night? What are they thinking? Are they cleverly triangulating? Are they trying to block even more damage by a Republican administration, and then move in when it's their turn? What?

What do you all think?

In the meantime, keep "tragic Target shoppers" going. There's got to be more to say.

Monday, May 01, 2006

J. Morgan and Foucault: tragic Target shoppers.

J. morgan's definition of a post-modernist is someone who lives in a post-modern society, and his definition of a post-modern society is, roughly, where there are Targets, and one can "shop" for metanarratives.

What the hell's a metanarrative?

Wikipedia defines it as "a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience." I'll localize that and say that it's a psychological construct which dictates decisions--from who you can marry, to where you can live or travel, to what you do for a living, to whether the bread and wine are really the body of Christ, etc.

It matters less for j. morgan than it does for me how fully people still operate under metanarratives. The fact, for him, is that we don't have to be psychologically bound the way that people in other societies are, or the way people in past societies were. That's what's important. That's what's post-modern. QED. The consequences of this shift (what we've lost and what we've gained) are still up for grabs.

In discussing this j. morgan and I divided everyone on the planet into 3 camps: post-moderns, Papua New Guineans, and Scrantonites. (Note: these camps are not made to be definitive and final; there are exceptions; this is just a framework for discussion.)

Post-moderns are those like J. morgan and Foucault who have stood under the bright lights of Target and appropriated modernism properly: recognizing the signs of the age, like Pascal, Nietzsche, Henry Adams, or Lyotard. Papua New Guineans are those who still manage, in 2006, to have an honest-to-goodness metanarrative. (We're referring to tribal groups.) Scrantonites, the most problematic of the 3 camps, are those on whom metanarratives still have a grip. They might be promiscuous; they might have a MySpace page; they might shop at Walmart; they might live in a Penthouse in Manhattan; they might cut you from their bloated budgets like sharpened knives through Chicken McNuggets. When it comes down to it, though, many if not all of their decisions are still dictated by a metanarrative, like Catholicism, or being a West Virginia coal miner, or Buddhism, or neofascism, or the 1980s.

My objection: how do you fit the Scrantonites into J. morgan's structuralist approach?