Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Scary Words

I am saddened when some fixate upon the words "democratic socialism," and are scared by it.  For it is merely what we use in this age to describe the governments of our closest allies in the world. Though in past ages, the essential principles have been called by other names. 

In 1792, James Madison wrote... (And if anyone doesn't know that name, he was the author of about half of the Federalist Papers, and who took part in drafting the Constitution and Bill of Rights) ...anyway, James Madison wrote a piece for the National Gazette[1] in which he listed some essential principles of what he called "republicanism" to clarify the differences between such a philosophy and the unfortunate events that were taking place in France at the time, under the same name.

"The great object should be to combat the evil" he began, firstly "By establishing a political equality among all"

And yet, today a few are allowed to use unlimited funds to buy some politicians, and to threaten others with slander, even though the natural sensibilities of almost every American tells us there must be a remedy to such madness [2]

Second on Madison's list: "By witholding unnecessary opportunities from a few to increase the inequality of property by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited, accumulation of riches" 

Oh my, such controversy!

Thirdly; "By the silent operation of laws which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort"

By what name might we call this by today?

"4. By abstaining from measures which operate differently on different interests, and particularly such as favor one interest at the expense of another" 

And yet today, the Donald Trumps of the world are allowed to steal your land, kick you out on the street, and call you a slob to boot.

Now some may argue that what some rich old white guy wrote 224 years ago is of little importance today. And while there may be merit to such an argument, it cannot then be argued that his ideas are too forward-thinking--too optimistic--I dare say, TOO RADICAL for us to embrace in the year 2016.

No! Far from discarding these ideas, we must try to universalize them, to benefit every woman and man, of every ethnicity and creed, of whatever gender or orientation, and regardless the circumstances of one's birth. 

I've seen enough hearings and legislative sessions on C-Span to know that Senator Sanders stands for such principles tirelessly, unabashedly, and without regard for the direction that the political winds have blown. This is why I believe he has earned our vote. 

If we don't accept the opportunity for a peaceful revolution today--and instead--allow the rich to become more powerful, while the rest of us are pressed more deeply into subservience, it seems rather inevitable that our children and grandchildren can expect tumults more like what the French faced in 1792 instead.


Footnotes:

[1] http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch15s50.html

[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Runaway Inflation"

We've all heard this absurd myth regarding the presidency of Barack Obama.  In 2009, the far-right media pundits mentioned it at least once per hour.  Even on the mainstream media, there were no shortage of idiotic pundits spewing nonsense about how we'd all be having to buy bread with wheelbarrows full of cash.  After 7 years however, the results are incontrovertible, and so, the lunatic fringe seldom talks about runaway inflation anymore. Here is how the last four two-term presidents have performed on the issue at hand:

click image to increase size

In case the reader is curious as to how one-term president George H. W. Bush fared in this regard, inflation was more than double during the four years he was president, than what it was during 7 years of Obama:

click image to increase size

In fact, the last president who served a full term, to preside over a smaller rate of inflation, was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who left office 65 years ago:


As such, it is safe to assume that those pundits who warned of hyperinflation have a complete absence of credibility on any subject whatsoever.


Monday, February 18, 2013

"God Wants a Flat Tax"

I heard recently about a neurosurgeon named Ben Carson giving some remarks at a prayer breakfast about how God thinks our tax code should be a flat rate, because that's how the Israelites in the Old Testament supported their priestly caste.  Of course this is a position to the far right even of economist Adam Smith, who in  Book V, Chap. II, paragraph 59, of his 'Wealth of Nations' stated:

"It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."

Of course some might insist that the laws given in God's name, through an intermediary, should over-trump the ideas of a capitalist economist.  It shall be shown shortly how impolitic this would be if we should take the principal any farther.  In addition to the wholly impractical manner of deciding whether a rape victim was to be stoned to death or not (and we wonder why religionists can't give a straight answer on that subject...), there are even many economic laws in the ancient scriptures that would scandalize.  Take for instance:

"If you enter your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket." -- Deuteronomy 23:24

and
 
"But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property." -- Leviticus 25:28

And if laws given through an intermediary between God and the people are authoritative over our civil laws and policy, how much more must be the direct guidance of Holy Spirit, as the early Christian Church is said to have been under:

"And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." -- Acts 4:32-35

So, it would seem that the application of religionism to economic policy is but a step away from outright socialism.  Excellent work, Doctor!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Conservatism"

If you are familiar with this blog's format, you may be wondering why this post's title seems to be a simple examination of a subject, rather than being in the form of a myth like the others.  But no, that is not the case.  The myth in question here IS "conservatism"--or rather that what is called the "conservative movement"-- in America in this day and age..  Now don't get me wrong, there was once a conservative side to the political debate here.  One which acknowledged our history, and held a nuanced view of what was practicable as opposed to what might be ideal.  It was one which held a somewhat pessimistic view of human nature, but nonetheless believed in a social contract, in which all had certain responsibilities, and in return that all were entitled to certain rights, privileges and most importantly an equality before the law--that is, that regardless of station, each person was of equal value.  There was suspicion of the common rabble acting as a mob, but there was no talk of people being a "waste of oxygen" as Rush Limbaugh is known to call some. In fact, the difference between this classical conservatism and the more liberal or democratic sentiments of any given age was far less than that radical and strident difference between the modern pseudo-conservatism and either of the above. 

In the America's revolutionary generation, there were more traditional individuals, and there were more liberal individuals, but there were no modern "conservatives." That generation drew upon the philosophy of John Locke:

 "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that... being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master... there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another's uses" 

Whether religious or secular. our founding generation was united in a revolution for the cause of Humanism, pure and simple.  After the war that accompanied this revolution, there were differences in how best to achieve the Lockean ideal.  As well many of the disloyal wealthy returned from their expatriation and formed one of the two interest groups (along with the Slave Power) who corrupted the politics of the following generations.  But if we are to look at foundational principals modern "conservatism" is absent from them.  the elements didn't really come together as a cohesive ideology until the 20th Century.  This process began in Italy during the 1920's with something that sounded rather like the modern Tea Party movement or perhaps a bit like the Libertarian Party platform:

“The State must have a police, a judiciary, an army, and a foreign policy. All other things, and I do not exclude secondary education, must go back to the private activity of individuals. If one wants to save the State, the Collectivist State must be abolished.”  -- Benito Mussolini

And indeed the founder of what is now called libertarianism said in 1929 that Fascism was "at least the lesser evil" to Bolshevism. Unfortunately the Neoliberal movement later would adopt the view with Pinochet other such stooges, that Fascism was preferable to democracy... but I digress...

The next development into the modern right came in Germany during the early 1930's as the Wiemar Republic fell victim to crushing war reparation debt.  The Hindenburg government appointed 'Liberal' Hjalmar Schacht as minister of finance, and an enterprising member of the Nazi party as Chancellor due to his perceived ability to sell austerity to the working classes. Chancellor Hitler went to work appealing to the 'job creators' as well, telling the Dusseldorf Industry Club:

"Let no one say that the picture produced as a first impression of human civilization is the impression of its achievement as a whole. This whole edifice of civilization is in its foundations and in all its stones nothing else than the result of the creative capacity, the achievement, the intelligence, the industry, of individuals: in its greatest triumphs it represents the great crowning achievement of individual God-favored geniuses."[1]

For the rabble that he dismissed so readily to these "God-favored geniuses" he stooped to appeal to their most simplistic prejudices, such as:

"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life"[2]

and...

"Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith"[3]

and even...

"Whereas previously the programs of the liberal, intellectualist women's movements contained many points, the program of our National Socialist Women's movement has in reality but one single point, and that point is the child, that tiny creation which must be born and grow strong and which alone gives meaning to the whole life-struggle"[4]

And having set this foundation, the troglodyte factions were easily bent to a system of privatization of social services to the churches and civic organizations (like the coercive NGO known as the Nazi Winter Help), the subsidizing of industry through 'tax remissions', reducing the power of unions to almost nothing and even the   heartless dismissal of the victims of misfortune:

"We have founded a system based on the most sincere foundation there is, namely: Form your life yourself! Work for your existence! Help yourself and God will help you!"[5]

If there are those who think that this is all very conservative, I dare say it is not.  It is only Fascist.  For our founders believed in better things, like:

"Government is instituted for the common good, for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people, and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government, and to reform, alter, or totally change the same when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it."
-- from Declaration of Rights of Massachusetts (1780) 


"We must not conclude merely upon a man's haranguing upon liberty, and using the charming sound, that he is fit to be trusted with the liberties of his country. It is not unfrequent to hear men declaim loudly upon liberty, who, if we may judge by the whole tenor of their actions, mean nothing else by it but their own liberty, — to oppress without control or the restraint of laws all who are poorer or weaker than themselves"
-- Samuel Adams; from an untitled essay in the Independent Advertiser (1748)


"if my Countrymen should ever wish for the Honour of having among them a Gentry enormously wealthy, let them sell their Farms and pay rack'd Rents; the Scale of the Landlords will rise as that of the Tenants is depress'd who will soon become poor, tattered, dirty, and abject in Spirit...  And the Effect of this kind of Civil Society seems only to be, the depressing Multitudes below the Savage State that a few may be rais'd above it"
-- Benjamin Franklin; from letter to Joshua Babcock (Jan. 13. 1772)


"MANKIND being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance: the distinctions of rich and poor may in a great measure be accounted for and that without having recourse to the harsh ill-sounding names of oppression and avarice" 
-- Thomas Paine; from 'Common Sense' (1776)


"legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise." 
-- Thomas Jefferson; from letter to James Madison, (Oct. 28, 1785)


"The great object should be to combat the evil: 1. By establishing a political equality among all; 2. By witholding unnecessary opportunities from a few to increase the inequality of property by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited, accumulation of riches; 3. By the silent operation of laws which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort; 4. By abstaining from measures which operate differently on different interests, and particularly such as favor one interest at the expense of another; 5. By making one party a check on the other so far as the existence of parties cannot be prevented nor their views accommodated. If this is not the language of reason, it is that of republicanism."
-- James Madison; from 'Parties' (1792)

and...

"All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God."
--Thomas Jefferson (to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826)

If only the eyes could be so opened in this generation :(


_____________________________________________________________________

[1] --  Adolf Hitler; from speech to Dusseldorf Industry Club (Jan. 27, 1932)
[2] -- Adolf Hitler; from national proclamation (February 1, 1933)
[3] -- Adolf Hitler; at Nazi-Vatican Concordat (April 26, 1933)
[4] -- Adolf Hitler; from speech to the National Socialist Women’s League (September 8, 1934) 
[5]  -- Adolph Hitler; from speech in Wilhelmshaven (Apr. 1, 1939)

further reading:
http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/12319/RSCAS_2009_46.pdf?sequence=2
http://www.ub.edu/graap/nazi.pdf

Monday, September 24, 2012

"The Laffer Curve"

The myth goes something like this; "If you lower taxes revenue will increase, counter-intuitively." If we doubt our intuition, we need only look at the facts and figures. 

The thing about this myth is that it isn't historically demonstrable.  Following the Kemp-Roth tax cuts in the early 1980's the revenue fell and didn't surpass (in CONSTANT dollars) the level of fiscal year 1981 (Carter's last) until FY1986,[1] even as population grew by 10.7 million during that time. Obviously, the early 80's recession had some effect on this (though it was largely over by mid FY1984) after this, revenues grew gradually until FY1987 when the income tax code was flattened while payroll taxes were raised.[2]

To illustrate more clearly, I put together a Top 25 list of all-time yearly individual income tax receipts (in millions) [3] all converted to constant 2005 dollars[4]:

2000: 1,145,731

2001: 1,106,296

2007: 1,093,694

2008: 1,038,661

1999: 1,028,151

2006: 1,008,022

1998:   982,202

2011:   947,048

2002:   939,622

2005:   927,222

1997:   882,559

2003:   846,612

2004:   838,821

1996:   802,074

2010:   800,989

1995:   738,519

1994:   698,014

1990:   682,579

1989:   671,827

1993:   667,382

1991:   650,121

1992:   640,081

1987:   632,137

1988:   627,041

1981:   597,029

Note that fiscal year1981 was under Jimmy Carter's tax policies, and surpassed the revenue of 5 of Reagan's fiscal years. Considering that there is practically an entire ideology built around this one myth, the subject is deadly serious.  But if it wasn't, I'd consider it a laugher, for sure! :-P


[1] [4] http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=200

[2] http://www.ssa.gov/oact/progdata/taxRates.html

[3] http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=203

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"47 percent of Americans are entitled victims"

"There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.  All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it... These are people who pay no income tax." -- Mitt Romney




This hot story is nothing so shocking to those who follow politics.  After all, numerous right-wing talking heads have regurgitated this number, apparently citing a study that predicted that 47% of "tax units" would pay no income taxes in 2010.  That prediction did not however come to pass.  According to IRS data there were 144,002,309 tax returns filed in 2010, and 93,798,331 of those paid some income tax.  The number of "tax units" not paying any tax (and presumably, most getting something back from Uncle Sam) then came to just under 35%.[1]

Now it may be posited that the above remarks were supposed to refer to potential voters.  Even assuming that voter participation was as high as in 2008, that would calculate to only around 140 million voters, so we are back to a similar calculation of percentages as before.

But beyond the wanton recklessness with facts, Mitt reveals something ugly that could hurt him in this election and perhaps even in more personal ways.  You see, demographics are not as cut and dried as he seems to believe.  In fact the wealthy and the upwardly mobile are not demonstrably more conservative than the poor or the mediocre.  People of all strata are drawn toward ideologies based on the values they perceive there, more than by self-interest.  And there is a considerable block of the conservative base that is not terribly wealthy and may have considerable deductions that they may write off on their taxes.

To demonstrate this, I picked a solidly Republican state with a very white population, that ranks highest in charitable giving at 10.6% of their Adjusted Gross Income [2] and has a larger than average household size. That state is Utah.  It seems that when we examine the IRS date for that same year of 2010, we find that of the 1,134,626 tax returns filed by Utahns, only 699,598 payed any income tax.[3]  That comes to 38.3%, or 3.4% more "entitled victims" than the national average.

Now this latest mouth-dump won't flip Utah to the democratic side, but if it could have a chilling effect on the Santorum crowd.  And then there are the neighboring swing states of Colorado and Nevada...


[1][3] http://apps2.irs.gov/taxstats/article/0,,id=171535,00.html

[2] http://abcnews.go.com/Business/generous-states-charities-lean-republican/story?id=17030246#.UFjS9qDu1xU

Saturday, September 1, 2012

83% of doctors will quit because of ObamaCare

So, a right-wing medical association ( http://www.doctorsandpatients.org/who-we-are ) run by this lady



...SPAMed the fax machines of 16,227 doctors with this survey:

http://www.doctorsandpatients.org/images/files/DPMA_SurveyResults.pdf

Unsurprisingly, of the 699 who took the time to respond "Most are in solo or small group practice (81%) and office-based (89%) versus hospital-based." and "2 out of 3 say they are JUST SQUEAKING BY OR IN THE RED financially" which explains why they have time to take a spam fax survey.

 83% answered the question "How do current changes in the medical system affect your desire to practice
medicine?"  with "Makes me think about quitting" rather than "I'm re-energized" or "Unsure/no opinion"

But, when it came to assessing blame for "current problems" by choosing THREE out of ten choices...

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