Sunday, July 06, 2008

Four Reflections On Patriotism

Are we really 232 years old? Already? Why, it seems only yesterday...

Reflecting on the meaning of July Fourth, I joined millions wondering how we found ourselves in national crisis. Only a decade ago, it seemed that America was at a pinnacle and still rising. Aside from a few grumbles in Moscow, Beijing and Paris, the world seemed happy to accept a “unipolar” world, led (gently) by a consensus-seeking but also overwhelmingly powerful Pax Americana. Our alliances and popularity (the underpinnings of real international strength) were unsurpassed. Our technology, economy, finances and science, appeared unparalleled.

Even from a conservative perspective, it took real contortions to find things to get vexed about, during the 1990s. (Though that did not keep the lurid, livid rationalizations from flowing).

Military readiness was at an all-time high. (Every U.S. Army brigade was prepared to defend us... vs. none (zero) today.) The economy boomed, small business startups surged as never before, deficits turned into surpluses, crime plummeted along with teen pregnancy rates, secrecy declined and the government’s share of GDP dropped, for the first time since the Great Depression. Note that all of the examples that I chose should appeal to conservatives -- that is, those who aren't hypocrites.

Moreover, after a century in which our triumphs - over fascism, communism, racism, outer space and our own inner devils - seemed so vast compared to our (also extravagant) mistakes, it seemed that America held a high and near permanent status on the world's moral high ground. If patriotism is more than just a reflexive rush of righteous hormones, chanting worshipfully at your tribal totem, then it flourishes best when your country is truly different. When it stands for something new and powerful for good.

How things change in a few short years. Our status as unquestioned leader of a unipolar world is shriveled to the point of ridicule. Our strengths have been spent and frittered. Worst of all, here in Phase Three of the U.S. Civil War, there now appear to be two Americas and one of them wallows in deep denial that their beloved cause has wrought all this terrible harm. The “red” half nods, entranced, as Sean Hannity stakes his outrageous personal claim as ultimate arbiter of patriotism - by waving the flag harder and louder than anybody else - while he continues aiding and abetting those who have betrayed the republic far more than Benedict Arnold ever did.


Fortunately, there are better voices, urging a more mature version of patriotism. Columnist Robert Scheer offers the following excerpt from Washington's "Farewell Address" - a declaration of our first president’s high expectations for a republic of free men:

"In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism. ..."

(Scheer goes on to offer much wisdom... but lamentably falls for the most common, Michael Moore delusion of the left, that our invasion of Iraq was about “getting Iraqi oil.” This flies in the face of blatant facts, e.g. that only NOW, after five years, is that oil starting to flow (and yes, corruptly to some US oilco interests.) Indeed, one can argue that keeping Iraqi oil OFF of world markets may have been a core objective, all along.

(Looking at actual effects of the Iraq Imbroglio, one sees a better case for the use of “emergency” overrides so that multi-billion dollar, no-bid crony contracts could be handed over to Bush friends for “war zone services” by Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater, etc, making the old Military Industrial Complex (Boeing etc) look like absolute angels, by comparison. One could get even more paranoid by tallying the actual results of this insane adventure - all converging upon the demolition of Pax Americana, the one thing the neocons claimed to be fighting for! Why do even opponents of the Bushite Cabal reflexively refuse to consider the parsimonious explanation? That results, so relentlessly and consistently achieved, might have been the aim, all along?)

Of even greater resonance and importance, at this point, is Barack Obama’s speech about this matter, on June 30.

It is a deeply articulate, passionate and yet intelligently nuanced essay that we all ought to read, even opponents, so that we can get some of the measure of this man.

This line was special: "For a young man of mixed race, without firm anchor in any particular community, without even a father's steadying hand, it is this essential American idea – that we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will – that has defined my life, just as it has defined the life of so many other Americans."

Oh, and later on, amid many fine insights, he speaks for those of us who remember the future, when he calls for rediscovering our role as a scientific nation. It is the first time I have heard any candidate in this election cycle refer to science unsolicited. (Along these lines, see “Questions For the Candidates About Science and America’s Future.”)

Do read it all the way through. I still have many questions about him. But this is an unusual fellow.

Obama and States Rights.

I’ve made a habit of offering jiu jitsu moves that Barack Obama and the democrats might use to shatter the standard, partisan strawmen that Fox-Rove&co have used, to foment Culture War. (And some of my suggestions would do good, even if they were used, effectively, by John McCain!) The “Stipulation Gambit” -- and a vow to Honor the Losers -- would surprise and woo many fence-sitters, while transforming American politics forever.

Obama has already shown a level of agility that bodes well Now another suggestion -- that he should embrace States Rights as an important modern cause. Dave Rickey wrote in to say: “We all know that only Nixon could go to China’. So if Obama stood up and made an honest appeal for "State's Rights," against the wave of federal power-usurpation by the Cheney Cabal, it would have special resonance.”

With jiu jitsu in mind, think about States Rights. The term carries an old-timey feel of connection to Dixiecrats fighting for Jim Crow, so nobody uses it anymore. But that makes the term available, to be snatched up by a new and agile leader! Imagine how it would rock back those who assume one pattern “typical” of liberalism, for the liberal standard bearer to demand a good version of states rights... one that will allow innovative regions like California to pursue paths toward energy independence, environmentalism, health reform, and so on, without being bludgeoned by a heavy-handed presidency. Could anything better show Obama’s contrast vs a power-mad imperial Bush Cabal, that has betrayed everything decent conservatism ought to stand for?

Obama did something similar when he said he would seek a reform of the U.S. tax code if elected in November, saying the current tax system is a "10,000-page monstrosity." But that promise lacks power simply because it has been made so many times before. (In fact though, I have a simple way that the tax code could be trimmed by 70% without much political pain or obstructionism! It is a method that is mostly politically neutral, gores very few sacred cows, is cheap and easy to implement, and is almost guaranteed to work! Yet, to the best of my knowledge it has never been tried, or even proposed! Alas.)

---See also: American Exceptionalism vs What has Made America Exceptional

Final Note: osama bin laden: mission accomplished?

''[Osama bin Laden] said at one point that he wants oil to be $144 a barrel'' -- about six times what it sells for now." Roger Diwan, a managing director, Petroleum Finance Company, New York Times October 14, 2001

Ten years ago, back in the awful Clinton years, the price of a barrel of oil was just $11. Heading into this holiday weekend, the price of a barrel of oil rested at $144 — a thirteen-fold increase.


Rob Perkins said...

Drop the other shoe, David. Propose the 70% reduction!

Boot said...

The only 70% simplification I can think of is going to the Sales/Transaction Tax. This non-progressive tax could be made pseudo-progressive by an absolute dollar amount tax refund to each American.

So everyone pays 40% on everything, but everyone gets a ~$5k check back in the mail. The 5k or whatever figure it turned out to be ends up negating the 40% tax on the poorest while having a lessing effect on the middle to high individuals.

(I don't know which taxation style I support to be honest.)

David Brin said...

Nope! I said 70% reduction in complexity & paperwork... NOT in the general sweep of the income tax or how it impacts the pocket book.

In fact, the latter is essential in order to get anything passed. "Simplification" must NOT alter any large number of citizens' tax burdens. In fact, "no losers" is the absolute and fundamental boundary condition that will allow major interest groups to see their favorite deductions and escape clauses removed. If that happens with NO NET LOSS to their type of taxpayer, then the heat will go out of their opposition.

The scheme is simple.

1. Define 100 stereotypical taxpayer types, such that at most 1% of the population is less than 90% represented by one of the types.

2. Assign a variable to every quirk and idiosyncrasy in the tax code.

3. Set a boundary condition of "no losers." All 100 taxpayer types must do at least 95% as well under the new regime.

4. Set a computer to work zeroing out as many variables as possible, while still maintaining No Losers.

Boot said...

I 'believe' that every tax break element creates a winner (in the person who receives it) and a loser (in the rest who now share the tax burden avoided by the first).

I think we just need to target and remove tax shelters which are not appropriate. The only idea I have for accomplishing this is to shine the light on every Tax Break put forth by our elected officials.

Which books did you read or people did you talk to? I'll revise my opinion after checking into them.

Anonymous said...

You want to capture the old school conservatives like myself. Go back to the wisedom of Adam Smith. A 15% tax on every dollar. Tax every church, business and individual, 15% flat tax and no exceptions. If the federal government can't get all it's revenue out of that then do it the old fashion way, 10% tariffs on all imports except for strategic resources, bonds, and resource ventures with businesses.

Boot said...

Well the US GDP was 13,841.3 Billion in 2007. Government spending was 2,983.4 Billion in 2007 while the total government spending was 4,632.5 Billion. If we taxed the total GDP available 9208.8 (Non-government spending) by 15% you get 1.4 Trillion dollars to cover the 4.6 Trillion tab. So we've covered 30% of Government Spending. You need at minimum a 50.3% tax to cover everything.

Additionally the problem
with using a Sales/Transaction tax of any significant level is the growth of ~hidden market~ sells. This will increase significantly once we start depending on sales/transaction style taxes.

You didn't address the importance of a Progressive Style Tax. This is very important if you want to address quality of life for the people of the United States.

A straight tax simply isn't humane and will not be until people can sustain themselves indefinitely without income. (No cost of living.) Read up on it. Adam Smith supported Progressive Taxes.

Come back with a plan to cut 3.1 Trillion in spending or find another source of income.

Anonymous said...


You ask "Why do even opponents of the Bushite Cabal reflexively refuse to consider the parsimonious explanation?" - i.e. why not consider your conspiracy theory.

But anytime anyone asks you why you won't believe in their 911 conspiracy theory, you always respond that they seem to believe the Bush administration could be utterly incompetent at everything except executing the 911 attacks.

But that can be flipped backwards - if you believe the Bush administration *may* be a fully knowing and competent conspiracy to destroy the US, why don't you equally believe they *may* have been involved in the extraordinary show of coincidence and incompetence around the events of September 11, 2001? Wouldnt *that* be the parsimonious assumption?

No, I am not a 911 conspiracy true believer, just noting the apparent inconsistency. I'd assign about a 5% probability to either your or their conspiracy theories. But if, against all odds, real evidence were forth-coming that there has been a conspiracy, I'd tend to believe that the same people were ultimately behind both 911 and the use of those events to destroy so much of America.

Anonymous said...

Boot - I'm certainly no economist, but public and private spending both turn into income for someone, and it's income that gets taxed, not spending.

For example, government employees get paid, and have to pay taxes on that income.

So I think the 15% would come out of the full GDP, not just the non-government-spending portion. Still falls short, of course.

I'd put tax simplification where it matters most. Eliminate even the need to file tax forms for those earning less than some net income per family member, and inflation adjust that amount yearly.

Why make the working poor suffer through the complexity and worries and legal risks of tax filing for the tiny amount of taxes they'll contribute?

Craig Comments said...

The last time the congress “simplified” the tax code – it was mere window dressing. I have little hope – I wont hold my breath - but it needs to be done.

DB: Thanks for reminding us again of the massive (read “negative”) changes since Bush “won” the presidency back in 2000. I think America needs these reminders – again and again.

“States Rights” has such a negative connotation from the past that your idea is intriguing. Clearly no Republican will use it. This could be especially powerful when put into the framework of the states stepping in to do the right thing where the Bush administration has failed or refused.


David Brin said...

Boot & Grayburst, you guys are obstinate. Your favorite daydream of how to fix the tax code was not the topic. MINE was! ;-)

Also, you miss the point utterly. Your apporaches WILL have losers, hence, winners/losers will be the main topic, NOT simplification. My method takes all that and sets it aside. It says simplify now. Re-allocate separately.

Graybust, I am sorry, but the entire flat tax movement has long ago been exposed as supported, on the sly, by our New Lords, the aristocrats who would benefit from it most.

The aesthetic appeal in undeniable... and YOU are in denial about one, basic fact. No civilization ever did better than the USA from 1950 through 1990. Ever. No society saw more business startups, social mobility, progress... or a social class order so flat that we got out of the age-old habit of even THINKING about class. (All other generations obsessed on it! As we will soon go back to obsessing over it.)

Whatever those New Dealers + Ike +JFK and etc did... it worked BETTER than any other system, ever created. Oh, we can keep tweaking and improving. But the sheer arrogance of those who have (lately) said “FDR was all wrong! Give the rich everything and it will trickle down!” Excuse me, but there’s a steep burden of proof, and the low-tax-on-lords supply-siders have been failing that proof test. Hugely.

You are buying into a scam, by those who want to be dukes and earls.

Twinbeam, there is a vast difference between a conspiracy that can be pursued by three guys and one that would require the recruitment, vigor and silence of hundreds of skilled people. Think....

George W. Bush, Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are openly hand-holding, kissing bosombuddies of a regime that finances all of the radical mullahs on the planet who are calling for the total destruction of America and Western civilization. They were the three men who had the power to send American troops wherever they wanted. Now add the hundreds of billions of DIRECT corruption, in emergency-override crony contracts to Halliburton etc. Now add the use of American military power to systematically remove competing oil sources from the market, so Saudi oil can go up by a factor of TEN. Now add the blatant fact that no Saudi interest has ever been stymied by these guys, ever. And now just get a BIT more lurid by imagining a motive beyond corruption and coziness... e.g. plausible blackmail (given W’s party past on Banndarr’s yachts)... and what’s implausible?

The significant point here: the vast damage that these three men did to Pax Americana was entirely within their power to achieve. They needed cooperation from tens of thousands of fellow travelers who were NOT part of the core conspiracy, of course. For that, they used ideology. Rightwing fuindamentalism for some, and Straussian neoconservative mantras for others. But somebody had to be above those hypnotic trances, guiding the actual policies. Policies that did NOT advance Christian values in the world or American strength, one scintilla. Policies that, in fact, demolished Pax Americana, down to the bone.

Again… what’s implausible? Again, I ain’t saying this is so. I am saying it is psychotic, at this point, for the millions of those who hate these guys to NEVER – at all or even remotely – ponder the possibility that what they’ve done was intentional.

On the other hand, the “Loose Change” paranoid fantasies are simply loony. They depend upon recruiting HUNDREDS of sworn officers of the United States and getting them to deliberately, and with wide open eyes, forsake their oaths, their loyalties, their codes of honor, without even a fig leaf veneer of rationalization. To organize extremely complex operations, relying on split second timing and utter lack of ANY stray observers or cameras... or any guilt-ridded whistle blowers... it is complete, cosmic looniness, of a romantic, comic book mentality, beneath contempt. There is no credible evidence of any kind, at any level. Just nonsense.

Dig it. My conspiracy theory does not demand any altered or missing facts. It merely looks at an utterly consistent pattern and asks if something so perfectly consistent might actually have been deliberate! What is so bizarre about that?

What is bizarre is positing that a bunch of guys who were smart enough to defeat us smarty-pants guys with grad degrees over and over – crushing the half of America that pays the most taxes, knows the most and supposedly is smart - men who have proved their corruption and venality, were also, somehow sincere dingbats! But if they were, would they not have stumbled, by accident, JUST ONCE, into a policy that actually benefited the United States of America?

TWinbeam, there is a big reason to make the poor pay some taxes. To make them feel like taxpayers.

Unknown said...

Once again the lack of sophistication of discussion of economics here makes itself apparent in the superficiality of the discussion of the tax system.

The issue is not the complexity of the system, or lack thereof, and the issue is not the marginal tax rate. In fact, a marginal tax rate of 100% on the wealthy would make no difference under present circumstances, because the real issue is what gets taxed.

...you¹re framing the tax problem too narrowly. At issue is not simply the tax rate on the income that's being taxed ­ at present, mainly wages, followed by profits. Classical economists focused first and foremost on WHAT should be taxed. From the Physiocrats through Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill to socialists such as Ferdinand Lasalle and America's Progressive Era reformers, they concluded that the main source of taxation should be unearned income, defined as land rent, monopoly rent, other forms of economic rent (income extracted without playing a necessary role in production) and capital gains on these rent-yielding assets, mainly land sites.

As matters stand today, you could raise the income tax to 100% and still not capture the actual cash-flow revenue of real estate, monopolies, and multinationals who use transfer pricing to manipulate their income and expense statements to show no reportable taxable income at all. So the first concern should be what kind of revenue to tax. Owning a real estate rental property is like owning an oil well in the days of the depletion allowance. In addition to charging off interest as a tax-deductible expense (rather than a financing choice), owners pretend that their buildings are depreciating, despite the fact that property prices have risen almost steadily.

So in most years no taxable income is reported at all. Real estate owners don't even have to pay a tax on capital gains ­what Mill called the unearned increment if they plow back their sales proceeds into buying even more assets. And this is just what the great majority of wealth-holders do. They keep on trading and accumulating, tax-free. The situation is much the same with companies taken over by corporate raiders. Paying interest to junk bond holders absorbs what formerly were taxable earnings paid out as dividends. This is what really is crippling the U.S. tax system and de-industrializing the economy.

When Kennedy became president, one of the first things he did was to pass the Investment Tax Credit. This gave industrial companies a credit for making tangible capital investment. Real estate got in on the ride too, but the idea was to use the tax system as an incentive to spur investment and employment so as to keep industrializing America.

Fast forward to today. The tax system favors speculative gains and absentee ownership. Ironic as it may sound, really wealthy people prefer not to make any income at all. They prefer to focus on total returns, which they take in the form of capital gains. This is why hedge fund billionaires pay a much lower tax than their secretaries. Real estate is still our largest sector ­most of its market price consisting of the land's site value ­ rather than industry and other means of production. Given the existing loopholes, I would prefer not to tax corporate profits or even income at all, if the government could tax the free lunch of economic rent at its source. The discussion of WHAT to tax therefore should take precedence over how highly to tax the scant income that wealthy people are obliged to declare from the FIRE sector ­ finance, insurance and real estate.

Perhaps the best way to frame the issue is to call this a re-industrialization discussion. Obviously, the more regressive the tax system is, the more poverty and inequality there will be. And as Aristotle said, democracy is the political stage immediately preceding oligarchy. That's what the economy is now evolving into.

- Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist specializing in the balance of payments and real estate at the Chase Manhattan Bank (now JPMorgan Chase & Co.), Arthur Anderson, and later at the Hudson Institute (no relation). In 1990 he helped establish the world’s first sovereign debt fund for Scudder Stevens & Clark.

When it comes to physics, Dr. Brin is an authority. When it comes to economics...not so much. Dr. Brin prefers to cite crackpot newsletter writers rather than Noebl-prize-winning economists like Joseph Stiglitz, who served as head of the world bank and has a lot of very harsh things to say about the system of international robber barony dishonestly foisted off as "free trade." What's laughably misnamed "global free trade" today is actually a rigged Ponzi scheme designed for restraint of trade by the giant multinational corporations, which wrote the laws governing global unfree trade -- laws like the region-coding on DVDs which allow monopolistic restraints on global trade such as charging $25 for the exact same DVD in America that costs $1 in China, but which makes it illegal to import the $1 DVD sold legally in China for re-sale in the U.S. market; or the obscene laws which let Monsanto patent "terminator" seeds which bankrupt the world's poorest farmers while making Monsanto immensely wealthy because it makes it illegal for poor farmers to save use any of their crops as seed for the next season and instead forces 'em to buy new seed every year from Monsanto at asburdly inflated prices; or the laws which make it legal for U.S. agribusiness to get vast billion-dollar subisidies from the U.S. government and drive poor third-world farmers out of business because it's illegal for them to get any subsidies from their governments. Joseph Stiglitz's book Globalization and its Discontents goes into this in detail, but of course Dr. Brin would rather cite newsletter-writing kooks than Nobel-prize-winning economists when he discusses global economics. Ditto his startlingly inadequate discussion of the U.S. tax system, a system now working full-tilt to transfer massive amounts of capital from the poor and the middle-class to to the super-rich, creating a rentier society in which people with unearned income pay little or no tax, while people who work for a living get soaked.

Incidentally, globalization is now breaking down for blue-collar workers because of oil prices...yet globalization remains in full swing for white-collar workers. It remains to be seen how this will play out as American factories revive and U.S. blue-collar workers watch their jobs return, but the much higher-paid and higher-educated U.S. programmers and biologists and engineers and PhDs in the sciences and technology watch their jobs get outsourced to China. For years, U.S. workers were told that the more education they got, the better off they'd be -- now, with sky-high oil prices crushing shipping from China, lower-educated U.S. blue collar workers are getting jobs in droves frm revived U.S. factories, while highly-educated U.S. engineers and scientists are getting their jobs shipped overseas at an exponentially increasing rate. This isn't a campaign issue...yet. But in 8 or 10 years, it will be.

The great oil shock of 2008 is bad enough for us. It poses a mortal threat to the whole economic strategy of emerging Asia.

Oil price shock means China is at risk of blowing up.

The manufacturing revolution of China and her satellites has been built on cheap transport over the past decade. At a stroke, the trade model looks obsolete.

No surprise that Shanghai's bourse is down 56% since October, one of the world's most spectacular bear markets in half a century.


And by the way...if you think the oil shortage is serious, wait till you see the rare metals shortage.

Travc said...

Ooh... tax code simplification ;)

Dr Brin has an interesting idea. The key is realizing that a large portion of the code is special rules which effect a very small number of people. Having only 100 (maybe 1000 would be better) 'taxpayer types' which are evaluated for no-winners/no-losers is a sort of low-pass filter, meaning it is ok to create winners and losers in rare cases.

I can see some possible pitfalls. Also, the recent history of the estate tax shows pretty clearly that there is a lot of political power in some of those vanishingly rare groups.

Two huge thumbs up for dividing up simplification and change/reform. Flat-tax is not simplification!!! It is a proposal for sweeping reform, and not a very good one IMO. When the big flat-tax advocates get boxed into actually answering the 'why is it better' question, they always get into touting how the current (aka progressive) taxation distorts markets... as if somehow magically an undistorted market is perfect. This is just free-market-uberalis fantasy. (BTW: 'Distorting' the market is the point of some of the tax code... capturing externalities, promoting activities with public good, ect.)

I still like Wes Clark's tax simplification proposal from 2004. His idea was that the vast majority of people shouldn't need to fill out yearly tax forms at all. The IRS keeps track of a few extra bits of information (number of dependents for example) and sends you a short notice every year of what your tax burden is (and what value they have for key variables). It also automatically adjusts your withholding rate to pay off any extra you may owe or sends you a refund. You could still do the tax forms if you wish... which is how they are ensured to be honest.

One final thing... there is something ugly about tax brackets. No, I don't want a flat tax, progressive taxation is a very very good thing. What I want is a continuous function! Come on, it isn't exactly hard.

David Brin said...

Zorgon is always a delightful mix of insightful, informative, indignant, insulting, and spectacularly irrelevant.

By citing one angle on things, from an influential newsletter writer... I suddenly become someone who never heeds nobelist economists. By focusing a discussion on a clever way to simplify the present tax code... I obviously have declared that I know nothing and care nothing about the trend toward oligarchy that is driven by rent-based distortions of our economic system...

...even though, in my very latest bit of feedback, I spoke about precisely that issue. And nobody has been more upfront about the need for liberals to re-embrace Adam Smith.

Sigh. Do read over Z's screed (above). Twice. It's about 50% important stuff. A high ratio.

Look past the spectacular levels of immaturity that guarantee he'll never have any influence.

Boot said...

I tried to clear that I didn't support such a Tax. I am unsophisticated to be sure. I'll repeat my most important point... "Which books did you read or people did you talk to?" I'll be getting "Globalization and its Discontents" and giving it a read. I will also check out the articles/books anyone else recommends.

Acacia H. said...

I saw something interesting on Daily Kos today about Senator McCain's hidden gambling habit. Primarily, craps. It's hidden because he doesn't report wins or losses in his taxes, which is rather curious since it's almost impossible to manage a zero sum game in gambling, especially over the long term.

The more I'm seeing of both candidates, the less I'm liking either one. There are several things about Senator Obama that I am less than happy about (including recent hints he might be trying to court the pro-life crowd; I might be anti-abortion in my personal ethics, but I want the laws and courts to be pro-choice because it's better to have a choice you do not utilize than one forbidden to you but needed badly). However, I must say that McCain's negatives still outweigh Obama's. For now.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

Robert, you (and millions of others) seem eager to find the slimmest and most vague excuses to dislike BHO.

It's a "flipflop" to be willing to adjust a fundamentally the-same plan to withdraw most troops from Iraq, because of details he might learn from experts.

He promises to listen to sincere anti-abortion people who may be willing to work with others to reduce the incidence of abortion through better knowledge and health care? Betrayal!

Have you actually been tracking some of these lame excuses?

He worked for a faith-based community organization for years. So now he's willing to modify but keep one Bush endeavor, using some (of the most honest and effective) faith-based programs. Hypocrisy and betrayal of principles!

Look, I have my eyes open. I know he's gonna let me down. But He's gonna have to work a lot harder than that. Will you PLEASE read his actual words and consider the (hope/possibility) that he actually means them? Tentatively?

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, I am an equal opportunity cynic. I expect both sides to disappoint me. For all of my qualms about Senator Obama, I still want him to win, for three reasons.

First, the alternative is Senator McCain, who I have a really bad feeling about (one of those gut feelings of mine that I listen to because they tend to be right more often than not).

Second, and much more importantly, I want Obama to win because he will inspire a new generation of young politicians who will go into politics without the ties and debts to special interests that the current group of polis do. I want Obama to inspire this group to move in and drive out the current band of bandits.

Third, I want the Republican Party to lose, and lose big. I want them to realize that the Neocons and the Evangelists are paths that will lead to failure, and to instead return to their roots: the party of smaller government and less spending. Ever since President Reagan the Republican Party has lost its way. Only by losing massively will they cast out the corrupt elements of the party and become something useful for the American People once more.

I distrust Obama. Don't get me wrong, I distrust all politicians. But I see Obama as a catalyst. With his help, the face of politics in America may very well change for the better.

Rob H.

Unknown said...

Dr. Brin remarked:
By citing one angle on things, from an influential newsletter writer... I suddenly become someone who never heeds nobelist economists.

This is the straw man fallacy, combined with the well-known fallacy of the excluded middle. I didn't say you never heed Nobelist economists, only that you don't seem to cite any Nobelist critics of globalization. Also, note that inadequate citation of critics of globalization is just as bad as "never" citing them, and that's what I'm pointing out.

(As for Brin's assertion of my alleged "immaturity," we need not discuss that at all, since it's nothing more than the lowest form of ad hominem personal attack. Ad hominem attacks always offer the weakest form of debating strategy, since they ignore the real issues to concentrate on irrelevancies, as Dr. Brin has done here.)

If you've ever cited Joseph Stiglitz or Lester Thurow or any of the other prestigious and highly-awarded critics of globalizatin as it currently exists, please show us evidence. I've been reading your blog for quite a while, and the only economists I've heard you cite are Adam Smith and cranks like Friedrich Hayek (the available scientific evidence from published peer-reviewed studies shows that Hayek was wrong) and a scattering of unqualified newsletter writers. Does Dr. Brin have any evidence to back up his claim that he cites economists critical of globalization?

Given Dr. Brin's infamous post urging us all to shop at Wal Mart after he returned from China, despite the fact that Wal Mart is criminal corporation which a judge just ruled to have violated labor laws more than 2 million times in the state of Minnesota alone and whose behavior toward workers the judge described in his ruling as "dehumanizing," the evidence would seem to show that Dr. Brin does not cite Nobel economists critical of globalization, and that he instead prefers to praise criminal monopsonies like Wal Mart.

Dr. Brin continues:
By focusing a discussion on a clever way to simplify the present tax code... I obviously have declared that I know nothing and care nothing about the trend toward oligarchy that is driven by rent-based distortions of our economic system...
...even though, in my very latest bit of feedback, I spoke about precisely that issue.

Let's go into a little more detail about the glaring inadequancies of Dr. Brin's suggestion that we let a computer decide our tax code for us. It won't work, and it's obvious it won't work, for a bunch of reasons.

[1] What does "winners" and "losers" mean? Brin hasn't defined it. If we define as a tax system with the most "winners" one in which the number of people who must pay tax is minimized, this is recipe for confiscatory taxing of the rich -- which is a bad idea. But if we define as optimum minimizing the total tax recipts, then the computer program will simply zero out most of expenditures of the federal government, slashing social security and medicare to zero, zeroing out HUD and welfare, and so on. That's obviously just as bad (and just as impractical) as taxing the top 0.1% of earners 99.9999999999% of their income.

What I'm trying to make clear here is that tax policy is really social policy. You cannot hand it over to a computer and say "optimize it" because social policy involves ethical and moral decisions about social values, it's not just a matter of plugging numbers into equations and optimizing 'em.

American tax policy is not about being fair, which Dr. Brin's proposal seems to imply -- U.S. tax policy has nothing to do with fairness. U.S. tax policy has always been about setting ethical and social values for American society, ever since 1913 when the income tax was instituted -- it's all about putting a handbrake on the tremendous accumulation of wealth caused by compound interest. Because without a tax system that acts to brake our cannibalistic form of stand-on-a-drowning-man's-shoulders-to-keep-your-head-above-water form of American capitalism, we'd quickly wind up with a society like Mexico...democratic in name, but not in reality, where 35 superwealthy families own or control the entire country, and politics represents nothing more than a disputes between these ultrawealthy oligarchs.
That makes Dr. Brin's compuer-optimization suggestion meaningless and pointless.

[2] Dr. Brin puts great emphasis on simplification of our tax policy. Once again, there's no evidence that simplifying our tax code is something we want to do.

In fact, past evidence shows that the most progressive any tax is, the more complex it's likely to become because of all the loopholes and exceptions for people at the bottom. Let's take one example: Earned Income Credits. This is essentially a negative income tax that gives money to the working poor. This is a progressive measure, but it adds complexity to the tax code.
Brin's entire goal of simplifying the tax code seems wrong-headed and pointless. If anything, we want to add complexity to the tax code to close up the loopholes at the top, and exempt more working poor at the bottom, don't we?

[3] There are just too many variables to make Brin's suggestion workable. What I mean is that the choice of what to tax exponentially expands the number of possible alternatives, to the point where you've got a Travelling Salesman Problem with so many trillions of routes that no possible computer program could ever optimize it in the lifetime of the universe.

Example: do we tax consumption with a VAT tax? If so, at what expenditure level do we cut off at the low end? Do we tax assets? If so, at what level? Do we tax options at current value? Or at purchase value? Do we choose to preferentially tax Chapter 9 Delaware corporations (since most one-person companies use a Delaware corporation to shield their income from personal income tax and instead get dishonestly low corporate rates)? If so, at what income level is the cutoff?
There are just too many variables to let a computer sort it all out unaided -- we must make assumptions. Viz., that we will or won't have a VAT tax, etc. But as soon as we make these crucial assumptions, we've already decided important aspects of social policy, and Brin's vaunted computer-optimization becomes deceptive window-dressing.

Dr. Brin's heart is surely in the right place, and he's spoken out against the current trend toward a rentier society, but in all honesty his computer-optimization suggestion for the U.S. tax code is neither clever nor judicious nor even workable.

It sounds, frankly, like just the sort of thing a physicist naive in the ways of politics would suggest solving an essentially social, political problem. It's reminiscent of Leibniz's startlingly naive suggestion that to solve all human disputes, we need only devise the ideal logical language which reduces all human values to numerical variables, and then announce, "Gentlemen, let us calculate!"

It is left as an exercise to the skeptical reader to decide how well this would work in solving a dispute between, say, a wahabi Jihadist and a Christian fundamentalist. :-)

Erdmut said...

Tax simplification should be simpler than now, not more obtuse. If you need massive computer power to figure it out, it is not simple. Simple is a VAT on all exchange of money for goods or services. A flat tax is simple. But, if I understand correctly, DB's tax plan calls for maintaining much of the current system only codified via computers to accurately reflect what? No losers? Then what's the point? "To assign a variable to every quirk ...." Not even the main branch of the Galactic Library could manage that before all humanity was dead and gone. I don't mean any disrespect, but I don't think DB understands how byzantine our tax code is.

On top of that, those who are gaming the system now will still benefit. Once the system of loopholes is codified, then every bright lawyer, banker, investor, you name it, will start finding new ways to distort the system. Wasn't there something about evolutionary simulations about the middle of June. Some sim created a long board and when it fell over it became the fastest mover by the rules of the sim. Gamers will game any complex system faster even than honest people can codify new corrections. My point is if you have any interest in a fair system it must be transparently simple.

Even an unfair flat tax coupled with NO deductions, NO allowances, NO nothing, would be fairer than a graduated tax with all of the hocus pocus of special interest tax law. (Yes, your home deduction is a special interest tax law.)

Al Capone was put away for tax evasion. Hey, Al, you have a million dollar home, you paid for it. Were is your tax return? Oh, no million reported. Tax evasion, bye.

You want a simple tax system. Just make it simple. You received goods or services worth $nnn this year, give us 15%.

If you want to buy a house for $100,000 and you need to borrow the money, then you need a loan for $115,000. Sounds stiff, but it is simple. The more money you save for a down payment, the better off you are. (This would also make a housing collapse such as we have now unlikely, and generally reward people who worked and planned knowing all the rules.)

If you need computers to do it, if the average high school graduate cannot explain it to you, it is not simple. It's that simple. Simplification will of necessity alter painfully, many people's taxes. It will cause huge unemployment among lawyers and tax accountants. It would take what Robert wants, a complete destruction of the GOP, the worst possible outcome of BHO's presidency and a newly reconstituted Libertarian Party sweeping into all elected offices in 2016 and carrying out massive reform legislation. Uplifting dolphins will be easier. No, I don't have a Nobel prize. Why do you ask?

Unknown said...

One quick note: it also behooves me to point out another logical fallacy when Dr. Brin claims:

No civilization ever did better than the USA from 1950 through 1990. Ever. No society saw more business startups, social mobility, progress... or a social class order so flat that we got out of the age-old habit of even THINKING about class. (All other generations obsessed on it! As we will soon go back to obsessing over it.)

Whatever those New Dealers + Ike +JFK and etc did... it worked BETTER than any other system, ever created.

It's true that the U.S. economy & middle class did great from around 1950 onward, but there's real reason to doubt that it's due to FDR or the New Deal. The manufacturing capacity of the rest of the world was essentially destroyed in WW II and Japan and Europe largely lay in ruins. American accounted for 50% of world GDP in the 1950s because the rest of the world was blown up. This is not a normalizable test case for an economic policy. To put it bluntly, America's economy would've done great regardless of our economic or tax or social policy in the 1950s, because if you wanted a tractor or a car or a radio or a washing machine, you had to buy it from America in those years or do without since the rest of the world's mfring capacity was trashed. As Lester Thurow points out, American management during the 50s and 60s was irrelevant to our success because even a baboon could've run Sears Roebuck or IBM and made a roaring profit during those golden years -- after all, where else could you even buy a mainframe computer in the 1960s? Of course IBM did great, of course Detroit did great. That's not indicative.

Likewise, America's middle class was bound to do well in the 1950s for the same reasons. In the 1950s Britain was still rationing food & petrol (!) and Europe and Japan had a middle class still digging themselves out of rubble, so their middle class had no purchasing power. With America almost the sole producer of capital goods in the 50s and the American middle class the only one in the world with significant purchasing power, it would've been a miracle if the American class hadn't become flatter during the 50s and 60s.

So it's a logical fallacy to attribute these good trends to FDR/The New Deal using the evidence Dr. Brin cites. I believe, personally, that these good trends can be traced back to FDR & the New Deal, but the evidence Dr. Brin has cited here isn't adequate.

Moreover, the period from 1973 to the present offers a much more problematic case for the alleged "success" of the New Deal in the American economy. All surveys by reputable economists show a progressive breakdown in the U.S. middle class starting in 1970. The American middle class has actually shrunk by 5% since 1970.

Most of this shrinkage has occurred for reasons having nothing to do with politics or social policy or tax policy. One reason the American middle class has shrunk is that modern technology has created a "winner take all" economy global in reach, with disproportionate gains going to high-skilled workers. Another reason for the shrinkage of the U.S. middle class involves the speed-up of global capital flows, which encourages offshoring. Once again, these trends are technological in nature, and are not the confection of conspiring oligarchs. There's no doubt that the sociopaths in the White House have exacerbated these bad trends, but they didn't start them -- automation began to destroy high-paid steel mill and auto plant jobs starting in the late 1970s, long before the kleptocrat patrons of Newt Gingrich or Karl Rove ever got into power.

At present, demographics and geography play a much greater role in wrecking the middle class than tax policy.

The claim from the elites has traditionally been that these displaced workers need to get a college education (preferably an advanced degree) and their income will rise again. This bizarre claim ignores the stark reality that 75% of Americans never make it through a 4-year college degree; only 25% of Americans ever wind up with even a bachelors sheepskin. Moreover, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that most Americans aren't suited for and can't make it through four years of college.

These are all structural social trends primarily driven by technology, and in part by demographics. It's tempting to lay them at the feet of the corrupt kleptocrats currently misruling America, but the evidence doesn't support that. The kleptocrats are making things worse, but they didn't start these trends, and booting 'em out of power in the next election won't fix this systemic erosion of the American middle class.

As strange as it may seem, I have to partially defend people like t and panzerjensen and other rabid far-right-wingers to some extent, because their rage and their ultraconservative sense of victimization has some basis in fact. People throughout the entire middle of the United States are watching their towns die, their mom & pop stores go broke, their kids move away to both coasts, and these hundreds of millions of people are filled with resentment at the destruction of their way of life. They worked hard all their lives and played by the rules, and now they're living in ghost towns, they're going broke, their entire way of life is disappearing. I think these hundreds of millions of people who live in Red State America are the real basis of the Republican party's power and they're the heart of the bizarrely twisted "conservative" movement in America today. These people are lashing out at the wrong targets -- educated elites, liberals, the east & west coast social values -- but there is a huge crisis afflicting much of the American economy and the entire American heartland, and nobody is talking about it. Read that Christian Science Monitor article about disappearing small towns in the American heartland, and you'll get a sense of just how serious this economic onslaught is in the non-coastal areas of the U.S. Once again, these problems can't be solved by reforming the tax code. They're technological and demographic in nature. To that extent, talking about "reforming the tax code" merely represents a phony form of kabuki theater that will only fuel the rage and resentment of these middle-america people who are watching their entire way of life get destroyed by forces outside their control, and who now reflexively vote Repub as a form of instinctive backlash.

Travc said...

Zorg, you are being far to personal in general. I wouldn't exactly call it immature, but you are very quickly jumping way beyond the substance being discussed into the motivations and qualities of the people doing the discussing. I'd much prefer it if you cut that out.

For example, instead of insulting everyone here and accusing us all of being superficial, you could have opened your first post on the topic with something like "Instead of worrying about the complexity of the tax code, we should be much more interested in *what is taxed*".

I'm not the only one here who basically agrees with your point, but your rhetoric is greatly weakened by stupidly insulting us. We are fully aware that we were discussing an admittedly fairly superficial aspect of tax policy.

It is also notable that you totally missed the cleverness Dr Brin's idea. No, we don't hand design of the tax code over to computers... the idea is merely to tweak the existing code to simplify it in a mostly neutral (policy wise) way.

As for simplicity not being a worthy goal... I do beg to differ. Simplicity isn't exactly the proper term, comprehensibility is better. If the tax code is not comprehensible as a whole then it is very difficult to assess how it is actually doing at the goals it is tasked with. Hell, it is even neigh impossible to figure out what those goals are. Simplicity as a fetish isn't good, but a tax code that actually makes sense is very much desirable in the same way an open government is.

Anyways, just stop guessing what motivates, informs, or is running though the minds of other people. You are particularly bad at it. However, you do make good points... so why not just point them out instead?

David Brin said...

Now Zorgon has gone off the deep end. He has crammed words and meanings and outright deliberate lies into my mouth.

I would act on this, except in this community I know the rest of you can tell he's gone off the deep end and is torching his credibility.

Kind of a shame, really, since his ratio of interesting to absurd remains about 50% and the interesting stuff really is.

So, decision time. I will allow his long, silly posts and even urge others to put on hip waders and slog through. But remember folks, you are scooping diamonds out of shit.

But that's just a recommendation. Me? I think I'll ignore him for a while.

Travc said...

Zorg, one more thing. Leibniz's idea about an ethical calculus (really not originally his even) is perfectly reasonable before the incompleteness theorem. Don't go knocking folks for not having anachronistic insights ;)

BTW: It is my opinion that the overwhelming majority of actually useful economics is fairly easily derived from first principles. There are many great insights which have been made by experts, but I can't think of a single one which doesn't look obvious in retrospect (not that they were easy to come by, but they are easy to explain).

Appeals to authority of economists are exceedingly weak IMO... even Nobel winners. They almost always hide a bullshit argument being made for ulterior motives. Quite simply, if an idea in economics can't be fairly easily explained to a relatively savvy non-expert, it is probably bunk.

I'm not making a specific dig at Zorg with this, he tends to actually explain things eventually. No, just a general observation... and no I'm not an economist, but I have spent some time on the cutting edge of economics research. One of my favorite and most influential professors as an undergrad taught computational economics... really, it is why I'm in biology... which really does make sense, trust me ;)

Travc said...

Wow, a lot of people really do seem to be missing Dr Brin's idea on tax simplification. I shouldn't be presumptuous and assume I "get it" while others don't... but here is generally what the idea is in my view.

The *narrow* problem:
There are many many little rules (tax credits, specialized deductions, ect) in the current tax code. Many if not most of these only effect a very small number of people, and are ripe (sometimes by design) for what is generally considered unfair exploitation.

Proposed solution (just to the narrow problem):

Create or pick a set of archetypal taxpayers (Brin suggests 100, I'd go higher) who each represent a class of taxpayers. These archetypes should cover a broad range, but exclude very rare cases such as the Heinz family sorts or hedge fund managers.

Possible changes to the tax code only involve striking specific rules (deductions, credits, whatnot) from the code, and possibly shifting the marginal rates incrementally.

We algorithmically go through an evaluate the effects of each possible change on the entire set of archetypal taxpayers assuming they properly paid their taxes and didn't seek shelters, hide income, or whatnot.

If striking a rule (or possibly an incremental marginal rate change) did not significantly increase or decrease any of the tax burdens, then that change should be implemented.

Computationally, this isn't a very hard problem... well it is 'hard' in the technical sense of being NP complete, but the sizes are small. If we allow for combination of modifications, it may get hariy. I really don't know just how complex the current tax code is... but it may still be in the brute force realm of computability. If not, various cool methods could be applied to search the space, but I won't go off into that despite being very tempted ;) A simple successive method (find one rule to strike, do so, then find another rule) would probably even work ok, though at each step epistatic interactions need to be assessed.

In short, if you think the idea would take a huge supercomputer executing a complicated program or would fundamentally change the nature of the tax code.... well, you are thinking about something very different than what is in my mind. (The program itself may get a bit complicated, but only in the part which 'fills out' the archetypal taxpayer's returns... the actual tax code modification, search, and evaluation for winners/losers is trivial and easily understood. Conceptually, a bunch of accountants grinding through filling out the returns and an abacus could do the job.)

Travc said...

A note about 'flat tax' (at least the proposals in the US) or a VAT tax in general. It is just a Trojan Horse.

What the overwhelming majority of people pushing a flat tax want is to codify and forever exclude "no taxes on investment income". Or as Zorg (and I assume many people who are more read than I) might say, "rental income is not taxed".

It really is that simple. If the tax code is based on a VAT, then income from investments and merely owning stuff is automatically completely excluded from taxation.

Please, don't be a stooge. If you want to argue for a VAT tax, think hard and skeptically about it first.

BTW: There are a few (insane IMO) people who make arguments about a VAT tax being the least distorting of market efficiency. It is an insane argument because you have to assume that real world markets are efficient. Except for obvious extreme cases and cases where distortion is the goal of the tax in the first place, taxation is low second order effect on market efficiency... there are many other much more important factors, and specific taxes are usually actually used to make markets more efficient.

Travc said...

Zorg @10:35pm.... What have you done with the other Zorg ;) Ie, nice post IMO, though you do still miss the fact that Dr Brin's tax code idea was never meant to address any of this. It is a good thing to discuss, but it is like you walked into a group of folks discussing Iron Man and started to berate us for not understanding the ills of the military industrial complex.

Anyways, the argument that the destruction wrought by WWII on rest of the world setup the US for economic prosperity isn't so simple. A hurricane can be an economic boon, but only if people have the resources to rebuild (and only sustainable if they can rebuild better than they had). With respect to WWII, it isn't obvious this was the case.

A more persuasive (to me at least) argument centers around the velocity of the economy and a virtuous circle. The US actually funded a lot of the overseas demand that boosted the domestic economy after all.

I'm also enamored by a technological innovation argument. Vast amounts of R&D was done during the war (not the least of which was improvements in manufacturing efficiency and automation) but was held back from civilian use. When the factories were retooled for civilian good, the new chemicals and processes applied to making consumer products, ect... well there was a big jump. Couple that with the classic 'pent up demand' and the needs of reconstruction overseas, and a golden era isn't hard to imagine.

Of course, it was a combination of effects.

BTW: The plight of 'small town' America is pretty grim. But the fixes most people talk about make no sense. There are fundamental irreversible reasons manufacturing jobs dry up... and one of the biggest is one we shouldn't even want to reverse or slow, increasing efficiency. What we could do, however, is provide an actual social safety net and fair trade and tax policies which would make setting up businesses big and small in these blighted places much more feasible.

Anonymous said...

Travc wrote:
"One final thing... there is something ugly about tax brackets. No, I don't want a flat tax, progressive taxation is a very very good thing. What I want is a continuous function! Come on, it isn't exactly hard."

David S:
What we currently have is a continuous function. It is piecewise linear. Each "bracket" is linear with a different slope, but there are no discontinuities in a graph of taxes paid vs. taxable income. The limit from the left equals the limit from the right at the edge of each bracket.

I think what you are asking for is a smooth function (has no discontinuities in slope). This might have some psychological effects (i.e., eliminate the "I don't want to earn more because it will put me in a higher bracket" mind set), but with an increased difficulty in calculating marginal tax rates. Marginal tax rates are useful in making financial decisions such as evaluating whether the tax is progressive or not.

David Brin said...

Travc gets it -- the aim is to prune down the size and wordage, complexity and sheer number of tax codes & exceptions. One benefit will be that, thereafter, there will be something much more clear and tractable for subsequent arguments over other matters -- actually changing the way taxes are apportioned and “what is taxed.”

Indeed, this is probably one reason for the obscurity of the code, in order to make such re apportionments seem too complex to even consider.

On thing, Travc. The computerized optimization depends on sliding all the variables at the same time, not one at a time. There already exist software regimes that can do that with many (thousands) of variables at once. Zeroing out as many as possible while keeping “no losers.”

Travc, there are countless factors in the post-WWII boom (which took economists and govt by surprise; they worried about falling back into a Depression.) One huge factor. Our troops and factory workers were PAID during the war. Not just pocket change. They had nothing to do with the money but save it. Hence, in 1945, there was a vast pool of built-up savings that coincided with vast demand and a huge pool of available labor to be hired to fill it. A recipe for the Virtuous Cycle side of capitalism. Also, many potential unemployed dived into college.

The postWWII that lefties and EUros Never ever ever allow themselves to perceive is that Marshall and Truman did the exact opposite of what every other Pax empire ever did. Instead of setting up a world trade pattern that favored home industries (mercantilism) they created reverse mercantalist flows to Japan and Europe and Korea and Taiwan... and later others. The second half of the 20th century follows PRECISELY the success trail of those nations that benefited from globalization by taking advantage of this, while the American consumer saved the world.

This concept is viscerally loathed, with fountains of bile, not only by the left and Europeans, but by anyone imbued in the Cult of Guilt. Indeed, it is a hard pill to swallow. Despite Z’s railings, I am no fan of WalMart and I feel today’s consumer society is not best for America. Indeed, the ecological costs of saving the world this way are immense.

But no other world-saving approach ever came close to 1% of the effectiveness of this one. And the cause-effect relationship is so clear that only a blithering psycho could fail to trace the pattern, from Europe and Japan to Taiwan & Korea, to Malaysia/Singapore and China today. The power of delusional denial is impressive.

Acacia H. said...

I thought you might enjoy this article over at Daily Kos, Dr. Brin, seeing that it's on a topic near and dear to your heart: the Christianization of the U.S. Military. Well, the Atheists are fighting back it seems, for their religious freedom to not have a religion. It'll be interesting to see how the courts respond... and how the administration ignores the court mandates.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

DB: "there is a big reason to make the poor pay some taxes. To make them feel like taxpayers."

If you make such terse statements you have to expect that people will try to interpret it.

So - here's your chance - before I "put words in your mouth", what did you mean by that?

And you DID say it's a "big reason", so clearly you think it's important that people "feel like taxpayers".

Anyone who feels good about paying our current income taxes, "because it supports the government", is deceived.

Yes, *some* government is good, and yes, we do have to pay for it, and yes, that does mean taxes, and yes, supporting good government should be something to feel good about.

But that is not a moral license for government to take as much as it can within the Laffer limit, in an intrusive manner, to do anything and everything it collectively wants to.

The typical Washington compromise is "Ok, I'll give in and let you spend more if you'll let me spend more." Or "OK, I'll let you abuse the 4th Ammendment if you let me spend $95 billion more domestically".

The federal government was paid for by taxes before 1862 and income taxes. From what I can tell, people already felt a sense of participation in and "ownership" of government back then. Income taxes aren't necessary for that.

Even if paying taxes were necessary, people pay many taxes other than income taxes, including taxes passed through to them in the price of products. Don't any of those count for "feeling like a taxpayer"?

So - just why is it so important that people pay income taxes in order to feel like taxpayers?

For now, I'll stick with my position - given the government we've got, the fewer who have to pay, and the less the rest have to pay, the better - and the right way to do that is to free people from the bottom up.

David Brin said...

I am hearing the latest mantra from the aristocracy. They wave away the rising income and wealth disparities and point instead to the fact that the top five % pay 60% of the taxes to support our government.

You can easily see how that stokes a feeling that "we're taxed enough"... even though of course the reason is that their incomes have skyrocketed. STill, their claim to be carrying civilization on their backs, while 40% don't pay any taxes at all -- and thus have no sense of involvement in how the money is spent -- is an important rationalization for us to understand.

People who ignore their opponents' rationalizations and do not spend some time trying them on for size, walking around in their opponents' shoes, are doing exactly what stupid humans have always done, screaming at strawmen, instead of pragmatically figuring out how to win.

Liberalism saved America and the World in fifty different ways, yet the word is despised. Why? Blame Fox and Rove if you like, but the real reason is a smug unwillingness to actually listen and study. In this case, we need to grasp the rationalizations that the New Lords are conjuring, and rob them of their potency.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with asking every American to chip in at least a token amount, in order to feel a sense of "where's my money going?" In fact, I would give everyone a form to choose where the first $100 of their taxes will go. THAT would sure encourage 5 minutes of thought.

And maybe an increased propensity to vote.

Re choosing where your taxes go... the idea has been bandied for generations. There are obvious reasons not to... and the politicos hate it. But consider this win-win proposal.

Calculate your regular taxes. Now, for every dollar that you ADD to your payment, TWO dollars of your taxes will go to whatever programs you choose. If you pay double, then ALL of it goes where you wish.

Not many would do it. So? The few who did would chip away at the deficit, paying extra for the privilege of bypassing Congress and deciding for themselves.

Cliff said...

How about, instead of asking Americans to pay extra (because I feel that will get you roughly zero extra dollars), you give taxpayers a choice of where 10% of their tax money goes.

I'm sure there are flaws with this, but it seems like 10% of everyone's taxes would go a long way to emphasize people's priorities - highways, debt reduction, military spending, etc.

It could be an interesting statistical tool, too - what percentage of the population actually want their money going to the drug war, or to rich, dead farmers?
And at 10%, the necessary expenditures (eg IRS accountant wages) that no one wants to pay for would not get completely throttled.

Dave Rickey said...

Just another Chicken Little Update: USS Abraham Lincoln shifted from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea. This one is a little more ambiguous than most of what I've pointed to, but there have been no public indications the Afghan theater has been short on air support (the reason given for the shift), and this does get it out of the bathtub and make it less exposed, while complicating Iranian air defense plans (since they could have planes coming from the east, west, or south).

It's consistant with a redeployment aimed at Iran, but not dispositive of one. In other news, Iran shot off a whole bunch of (probably old) IRBM's, demonstrating a capability to volley-fire their inventory and potentially overwhelm the defenses in Qatar or Israel.

Iran's not going to back down, Israel's not going to back down, and it looks like we're going to be along for the ride, with Cheney and McCain cheerleading.


Anonymous said...

Letting people direct a small part of their tax money will have zero effect after the first year, because the politicans will learn where people direct money, and budget to put things back the way they want it. An empty, feels-good-only-if-you-fool-them gesture.

The bottom 50% of taxpayers pay personal income taxes amounting to under 1.5% of total government revenues.

Making half the population file and pay income taxes (that don't feel "token" to them), for that amount of revenue, just because you find it annoying that the rich brag/complain that they pay most of the taxes - it's just not worth it. Get some perspective.

Besides - the bottom 50% already pays something like 15% of total federal revenues through social security and corporate taxes passed through to them in product pricing. Then there's state taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes if they're lucky enough to own their own home or if they rent, property taxes passed through to them in their rent. Give them a break!

Heck, why not turn it into an Obama jiu-jitsu? "When I am elected president, I will ask Congress to completely eliminate income taxes for more than half of all US families." Beat THAT for cutting taxes, Republicans!

Anonymous said...

Completely off topic, but it would be a crying shame if Holocene continued to be excluded from "experts" in this (allegedly) new endeavor:,7211,45257,00.html

If industry analysts are only now deciding to bless collaborative representational arenas, it may be time to bang that drum again.

David Brin said...

praxcelis, that link failed. Try again?

Trying to tilt at windmills of many sorts has left my family in (relative) upper-middle class poverty and my career in quicksand. Stefan has for years been urging me to to shut up and write. He's not alone.

Holocene would have transformed the Web utterly, ten years ago, for maybe half a million dollars. Even today, it's desperately needed. And a guy has to learn when society just doesn't want to hear a thing.

There's even a chance that I am the crazy-deluded one. And not society.

Travc said...

@David S
Good catch, I meant differentiable. And yeah, it is mostly about psychological effects... though there may be some reduction of gaming the system to end up in the next lower bracket.

Travc said...


Very good point about the 'other' taxes like Soc Sec and sales taxes.

How about this for a 'simplification', just eliminate payroll taxes and paying those programs out of the general income tax?

Cliff said...

My thoughts on redirecting taxes run along these lines:

Everything in America is determined by money.
We get to vote on our politicians, but, as we've seen with FISA, Iraq, and deficit spending, we get little to no say in how the government is run.
So I feel it's worth looking at some way of allowing the American public to vote with their cash. One thing's for sure: you'd get 100% voter turnout that way.

But yes, twinbeam, my mad scheme does depend on consistent politicians and the rule of law, so it all falls apart.

Anonymous said...

travc - Payroll taxes are pretty simple for the taxpayer.

Moving them under general income taxes would create complex new questions.

Do you boost tax rates on the working class to bring their income taxes up enough to cover the lost payroll taxes? What about someone who is self-employed and didn't previously contribute?

Do you still try to figure out who will get how much at retirement? Do you flatten retirement payments (some losers, some winners), uncap the maximum, what?

Nope, I think that'd have to be called tax "complification".

Travc said...


Good points, though somewhat missing my (admittedly unstated) point.

Soc Sec should be an 'all in' system that every contributes to and everyone receives exactly the same benefits from. The social insurance model as opposed to the 'retirement fund' model which is horrible in many many ways. No reason Soc Sec contributions shouldn't be scaled exactly the same way the general tax burden is... so just pay for it out of general funds.

I generally have an aversion to programs which have their own dedicated taxes or some other 'pay for itself' scheme. They are almost always regressive and end up wasting resources with yet another collection system.

A simplified example would be public transit, say buses. Instead of pretending that the bus system should pay for itself (despite having to subsidize it) and charge passengers, which requires all the toll collection infrastructure, discourages ridership, and generally is a pain in the ass for riders and operators... why not just outright publicly fund them out of general tax revenue (sales and property taxes in this local case).

Why should we pay specifically for passports, of driver's licenses, or gun registration? There are specific fees and taxes that do make sense, incentivising or deincentivising behaviour, internalizing externalites, or whatnot... but a lot of it is BS IMO. It is just a lingering effect of most often dumb 'will pay for itself' political promises.

Travc said...

correction: Soc Sec contributions *should* be scaled the same as general tax burden.

Sorry, exactly the opposite of what I wrote. I shouldn't decide to change sentence structure mid stream.

sociotard said...

I think praxcelis was trying to link to:

sociotard said...

In other news: When life gives you rising ocean levels, divert the ocean into canals to irrigate salt-loving plants?,0,3389394.story

Actually, I'm cynical as to how valuable this idea is (and how damaging it could be), but it is interesting. I'd never heard of salicornia before. And hey, maybe they can start farming it at sea. Just think of all those unused acres!

Unknown said...

Not remotely on topic...

Latest evidence that a massive wave of irrationality currently inundates the first world, as well as the middle east:

Actually, according to strict Christian lore, a eucharist once consecrated gets transubstantiated into the body of Christ. This means that Christians claim to be engaging in cannibalism. And, since Christians worship a dead guy who came back to life, they're zombie worshippers.

Cannibal zombie worshippers are not people you want to mess with.

Dr. Brin will retort that this offers yet another example of how folks like us with Enlightenment values act all superior and snotty toward those who do not share our views. Not true. Personally I have no problem with cannibal zombie worshippers, even if they conduct their rituals in public. I only comment on the antics of the cannibal zombie worshippers when they begin to act like lunatics in public and try to impose their cannibal-zombie-worshipping beliefs on me or on other people who are not impressed with cannibal zombie-worship.

That's not being snotty. It's telling people to get a grip.

Anonymous said...

Zorgon, with due respect, you're wrong. The correct term should be "zombie-worshiping cannibals", not "cannibal zombie worshipers".

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting excerpt as well, but not the one I was aiming for. In case I still cannot get this posting system to recognize a link, the abstract for the article I was trying to put up goes:

The Internet is on the cusp of its next major evolution: Web3D. Within five to seven years, Web3D will deliver an interactive, immersive experience much richer than the static, text-oriented or even interactive graphical interfaces of today's Web. In the new world of work that Web3D will enable, people will be represented visually by avatars that can move in space and will be able communicate with others and interact with objects and information -- making the digital world seem more like the real world. Yet Web3D won't leave the old world behind; it will integrate with the Web technologies we use today as well as existing and not-yet-invented business applications. Workers will use Web3D to teach and learn, innovate collaboratively, communicate and network, interact with and present information, and manage real-world systems.

Here's the link to the article, with luck:

Web3D: The Next Major Internet Wave

It seems like they're still looking for what Holocene could be. I understand the feeling--if you've been knocked down, dusted off, knocked down again over and over, pretty soon you begin to gauge whether it's worth it. But if the industry suddenly declared it time for collaborative representation technologies and they do it wrong, that would compound the regret just a bit.

sociotard said...

With all due respect Zorgon, no. This wasn't just a guy smuggling a cracker. This was an insult.

Put another way, if this was just a cracker, then the N-word is just a word.

Anonymous said...

Sorry -- no can do. America has now officially jumped the shark, with the telecom immunity bill. No, don't you dare go interpreting that as a blow for transparency; it's quite the opposite, in fact, as it will stifle any investigation into the surveillance. Inability to watchdog the watchers is as anti-transparency as it gets.

And you can quit backing Obama. He voted "yes" to the telecom immunity bill. McCain's no better; just savvy enough to abstain from voting either way.

It's revolution time.

"...let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

* He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
* He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
* He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
* He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
* He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
* He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
* He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
o For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury
o For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
o For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
o For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments"

- Excerpt charges against King George from the Declaration of Independence

Time to send King George II packing, doncha think?

sociotard said...

I don't feel oppressed enough to risk the civilization I have on the roulette table of revolution. You'll get no argument from me that many of those charges may be applicable to George Bush (but you may want to be careful how you phrase things, because I thought you were talking about Obama till the end of your post and couldn't figure out how you thought those charges applied to him)

David Brin said...

As usual, Z tries to cram a simplistic, strawman reflex into my mouth, when this thing has as many dimensions as a twisted N-space wormhole.

Level One: The guy was an asshole for deliberately insulting people without reason.

Level two: The Cannibalism aspect is a valid theological point, especially as Jesus himself would have abhorred the concept of ritual cannibalism, which is absolutely forbidden to Jews. So, by the way, is human sacrifice and the Creator made clear that he would never ask for it, back in the days of Abraham and Isaac. These doctrines clearly came from the Cult of Mithras, in Greece, where Paul adopted them whole cloth.

In any event, at the last supper, anyone can tell that Jesus was speaking metaphorically, of having been used up or consumed by his followers.

And yet, Judaism does its own theological exaggerations - extrapolating "do not boil a calf in its mother's milk" - clearly a preaching never to add insult to injury -- into a blanket ban on mixing meat and dairy products. Still, the human sacrifice and cannibalism stuff Jesus would NOT have gone for.

Level three: These are things that people used to kill each other over. The rage that Z is actinic over is a pale shadow of what it would have been 40 years ago. Self-righteousness has its uses... in fighting racism, for example. But SR junkies have been JUST as responsible for the disemboweling of liberalism as a populist force in america, by getting in-your-face over PC or personal matters that were entirely unnecessary.

Level Four. Don't you frigging DARE to tell a man whose ancestors were murdered over eucharist-related Blood Libels, what to feel about this issue. Z doesn't have a clue and never will. Bright $%$# dopes.

Unknown said...

The flood of good news continues:

New robot learns to use tools by shoving 'em around on a table. The robot literally learns on the fly, it doesn't know what the tools are until it starts fiddling with them.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope discovers a galaxy 12.3 billion light-years away that seems to be pumping out 40 times as many new stars as the typical galaxy does today. Since the universe was only 1.3 billion years old when we view a galaxy that far away, this has upset lots of theories about star formation in the early universe.

FCC announces sanctions against Comcast for its selective blocking of P2P applications (remember that P2P does not serve only to pirate software -- P2P offers the maximally efficient distribution method for popular free open source software, including Firefox 3, the latest Ubuntu linux distro, or a free open-source movie like Elephant's Dream.).

Drs. Currie and Mapel have found a way to make solar cells 10 times more efficient (though Dr. Brin is as usual correct that a large parabolic solar mirror aimed at an efficient Stirling engine is 3x more efficient than any other current solar technology. The net efficiency of Sandia's new solar-electric Stirling powerplant testbed is expected to reach 30%. Since the solar flux on the earth is 1400 watts/meter^2, the Sandia setup could theoretically harvest 420 watts/meter^2. It doesn't take a lotta square meters to get some serious wattage out of that kind of power plant, assuming it scales cost-effectively.).

The automobile industry, in the main, has not embraced disruptive technology. It has been waiting instead for batteries to improve until they can allow electric cars to enter the marketplace with the same driving range as gasoline-fueled cars. Battery developers, in turn, have been waiting for demand from the automobile industry to develop before fully committing the resources required to do the job. The generation and transmission infrastructures have not been built up to service the potentially explosive demand from transportation. The wait has gone on for some time. (..)
We must accelerate conversion to electricity in a major way. (..)
Estimates show that Estimates show that converting [SUVs, pickups and vans] to dual-fuel operation, even with electricity providing no more than 50 miles of driving range between daily recharging, could cut petroleum imports by 50 to 60 percent—a stunning opportunity.

"Our Electric Future," The American, A Magazine Of Ideas

Top GOPer concedes that Party has NO Safe Senate Seats
Let's hope this November sees such an historic rout of the Repubs that the culture war ends and the Repubs find themselves forced to return to the "reality-based" community.

An increasing number of conservative commentators are talking about how America's military-industrial complex has warped our foreign policy and our society out of all recognition.
Prisoners of Our Own Delusion

By the way, for enlightened conservatives who've stopped drinking the neocon Kool-Aid and started a ferocious fight to return their party its modern Goldwater-Eisenhower roots, I highly recommend these sites:
Defense In the National Interest
Balloon Juice, run by John Cole, who voted for the lunatic in the Oval Office not once, but twice, but has since come to his senses with a vengeance;
The American Conservative, a print magazine launched by (of all people!) ueber-polarizing far-right ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan, who designed Nixon's "positive polarization" campaign on the Viet Nam war and who also wrote Spiro Agnew's most venomous speeches.

Excellent article about American's bizarre foreign policy stance toward Iran.
At a moment of serious challenge, battered by two wars, ballooning debt, and a faltering economy, the United States appears to have lost its capacity to think clearly.
"Iran: The Threat" in The New York Times Review Of Books

"The McCain campaign has not only failed to enthuse Republicans, but left many conservatives depressed and ready for a November defeat, said Richard A. Viguerie, Chairman of"

Of course, we need to remember that at this point in the 1988 campaign, Michael Dukakis was up 15 points over his Republican it ain't over till it's over.

Largest-ever flash mobs in South Korea offer new model for public protests and direct democracy.
Protesters equipped with laptops and videos cameras have been often witnessed during the rallies over a month. Some of them even donning headsets with microphones to anchor their coverage.

They sometimes work in teams of two to four, allotting each other different tasks; one in charge of gaining footage, the other sending it out via the internet.


Plenty of bad news, too, involving the destruction of the constitution and the abandonment of the rule of law in America, but everyone knows about that stuff, so no point in dwelling on it.

Unknown said...

Violent revolution is not the answer to the direct assault on the constitution or to the rule of law. That would involve answering the abandonment of the rule of law with concomitant abandonment of the rule of law; far better to answer with satyagraha.

Non-violent direct action has seldom been tried in America, but when it has been tried (sufragettes chaining themselves to the front gates of major newspapers, MLK's peaceful marches) the results have proven spectacular.

If tens or hundreds of thousands of people simply surrounded the homes of every congressman and senator who voted for the FISA sellout, and blocked their path until they changed their position and voted to repeal it, things would change very rapidly. No violence; no outrage -- no verbal attacks or threats. Just people standing or sitting or lying down. And the congressmen wouldn't be able to drive their cars because people would be in the way. And the congressmen wouldn't be able to get into their chambers because people would line the hallways. And the more people capitol hill police arrested, the more would appear, quietly, non-violently refusing to move and refusing to leave.

There are also a lot of other simple practical alternatives to violent revolution. Obama has asked for public participation in creating the Democratic platform. Everyone on this forum should chip in -- make plank Number One the repeal of this disgraceful FISA sellout, with plank #2 a "truth and reconciliation" commission to investigate and publicize the full range of crimes committed by this maladministration, with amnesty for any White House insiders who come clean and provide hard documentary or eyewitness evidence of felonies or violation of the constitution.

Then there's the awesome power of the vote. Simply vote against every senator and every congresscritter who voted for the FISA abomination.

As well, talk to young people. 70% of people over the age of 45 vote in presidential elections...but in the 2006 election, which saw recording-breaking numbers of young people voting, only 34% of people under the age of 25 voted at all. If 70% of young people voted, America would be transformed overnight into a progressive highly enlightened society. Talk to every young person you know and stress the crucial importance of their vote in November.

Too, there's the matter of convincing disillusioned conservatives to vote in their own self-interst and throw the neocons & theocons out. Use classic conservative values and right-wing language to point out how thoroughly the neocons & theocons have betrayed true conservatism, as Dr. Brin has repeatedly suggested.

All these options promise far more impact than a revolution, violent or otherwise.

Travc said...

The eucharist taken outside the context of the ritual is just a cracker (no, blessing it does not magically transform it in any observable way.) The original 'insult' was an asshole thing to do... but the ridiculous outraged response is so worthy of ridicule, derision, and more insults.

People have received death threats for goodness sake... that totally unjustified. And the delusional idiots who think it is a reasonable response should be called out and shown the utter insanity of it, or else put in an institution with nice padded walls.

On a bit of a lighter angle... I imagine a nice work of art, 'the symbol of the body of Christ' constructed entirely of eucharist crackers. A companion piece 'the actual body of Christ?' would be a bit more difficult to make, since it would have to be constructed from the feces resulting from attending a whole bunch of masses.

Yeah, the entire transubstiation thing is completely bat-shit insane... but apparently a large number of people actually think it is reality in some important way.


On punishing the congress-critters who vote for the FISA abomination... Damn straight! Though voting against them in Nov isn't (in many cases at least) a wise move. Much better to vote against them (or even better, run against them) in the next round of primaries. The 'lesser of two evils' difference is far to big. And anyone who thinks all the candidate options are 'the same' should dunk their heads in ice-water and get a grip on reality.

Tony Fisk said...

I'm weighing into this conversation late, but a couple of things...

Zorg, wrt Sandia estimate of 30% efficiency, it's good news for Stirling engines, but the PV's are fighting back: Green and Gold Energy's Solarcube has measured 30.1% efficiency in March (and is estimated to deliver DC 700-750 KwH per m2 per year in Adelaide)

They're in production too!

I can live with this type of competition!

Speaking of which, who's interested in Jamais' little dinner proposition?

Unknown said...

Hey, looka here! If it's wacked-out alternate-reality pseudo-science fiction you're looking for, check out this story in which Al Gore wins the 2000 prez election and Cheney and Dubya cook up a crazy sci fi conspiracy to worm their way into power anyway. In this alternate-reality 2008, Rush Limbaugh OD'd on painkillers, Al Gore foiled the 8/11 plot, Karl Rove wound up in prison, and Cheney got shot by his hunting partner instead of the other way around, and nobody watches Faux Noose. This stuff is a scream!

I betcha even Dr. Brin will get a giggle from this one.

Unknown said...

Tony -- remember the solar cell produces DC power. You have to feed it to an inverter to get usable AC. I betcha the loss in the inverter runs around 20%. 0.8 * 750 watts is in the ballpark of the 420 watts from the Sandia Stirling-engine solar electric setup. You're right, though, fun to see this kinda horse race. Didja know acoustic Stirling engines with no moving parts can also be used to run acoustic refrigerators?

David Brin said...

Z is at his best right now. A good netizen and bright guy. Attaboy. Positive reinforcement. Bzzzzz

Hancock was weird. Highly uneven. But Akiva Goldsman is one of the better scenarists around and this one was at least original. Not a remake of any damned thing.


Discover Magazine Exec. Editor Corey Powell is asking for ideas to advance science in america:

>"So I would like to put to you a crucial,
> straightforward question: What
> > are the three most important things the next
> president can do to
> > positively impact scientific research in the
> United States?*

Here are suggestions I just sent in.

1) Restore the independent scientific panels that used to advise Congress on scientific and technological matters.

Going much further, let each member of Congress select one scientifically or technologically qualified person, to serve both as an advisor and as his or her representative on a "shadow scientific Congress" to thrash out complex matters of fact -- so that Congress itself can concentrate on policy solutions.

2) While pushing for better science education and more research funding, don't forget the rising trend of the 21st Century -- amateur science. More and more fields of professional research have found use for part-timers, who are sometimes knowledgeable, skilled and surprisingly well-equipped. This trend will advance with or without encouragement from government or academe. Some investment should be given to endeavors like the Society of Amateur Scientists. Nothing else is more likely to help generate the excitement among young people that leads, ultimately, to many of them choosing scientific careers.

3) Develop trustbuilding tools... methods for assessing risk and reducing unpleasant consequences, so that we again become a people willing to take on big and daring projects. So long as much of the political right despises science, and the far-left despises engineering, the pragmatic heart of America will keep being stymied.

Dave Rickey said...

The downside of a Stirling-based system is that it requires a lot of moving parts (not just for the engine itself, but a gimbal system and controls to track the sun). It's also much more visually intrusive than panels, I think it would tend to draw complaints from the neighbors. My local Homeowners Association won't allow satellite dishes larger than 18 inches, and they have to be mounted below the roof line. They would flip right the hell out if I started putting up a dish farm with a total area of 10+ M^2.

For people in more rural areas, certainly an option. But since the price of fuel is probably going to drive a flight back to urban centers and "walkable" planned communities, this may simply be a generation too late. Which is too bad, since this technology has been feasible since the 80's (the control circuitry having been the problem before then).


Alfred Differ said...

The tax simplification idea sounds like a big linear algebra problem. It shouldn't be too hard once someone assigns the variables meaningfully.

My problem with this is that we use some of those variables to provide incentives for certain behaviors. Don't we remove that incentive when we zero it out? I think we do, so the 'no losers' boundary condition is a bit too simple for me.

Dave Rickey said...

Back to Chicken Little: I've gotten some information I consider credible that indicates that we may be looking at a timetable of weeks. But I'm unable to verify it absolutely, only to establish that it is possible.

If it's true, it would be impossible to keep concealed after the end of this month/beginning of the next. So we would be looking at something big happening in the next 2-3 weeks or so.

Travc said...

The more clever solar power techs coming of age now are cool, no doubt. SunCube looks like a good commercialization.

However, what gets me excited is the less efficient but much much cheaper (and simpler) technology suitable for small scale (distributed) installations. Right now printed solar photovoltaic tech is quickly becoming way cool. I don't think it is long before we have PV paints... more precisely, the ability to paint 3 or 4 different layers of paint onto a surface which collectively form a PV.

I'd be happy with 10% efficiency so long as it is very cheap and very easy to apply. If the material is cheap enough (and durable, which is a bit of an open question right now), there is no reason for it not become ubiquitous. (Win on scale even with relatively low efficiency.)

Tony Fisk said...

Cost is, indeed, a major driver for the uptake of solar power (and the rest)

Not having a huge amount of home space available for mounting solar panels, I was mulling the prospect of owning a few cubes in a 'farm' in the remote outback, but being able to paint a few shingles has some definite attractions.

Still, why not dream of a cheap PV paint with 100% efficiency?

Whilst we're dreaming of turning every artificial surface into a powerhouse, another question which occurs to me is: how exotic and toxic are the component materials?

Anonymous said...

Imagine windows that not only provide a clear view and illuminate rooms, but also use sunlight to efficiently help power the building they are part of. MIT engineers report a new approach to harnessing the sun's energy that could allow just that.

Researchers open new 'window' on solar energy: Cost effective devices expected on market soon

Unknown said...

Some thoughts on patriotism and 4GW:

The militarization of America appears to be progressively corrupting our society, creating an "us against them" mentality which filters down to the lowest small-town level of police who get grants to use military technology (like the new LRAD sonic crowd-control weaponry and the military "active denial system" microwave pain ray) and military tactics (SWAT) against civilians. When civilians get treated by their government as the enemy, they begin to think of themselves that way.

This ironically plays into the very trend Martin Van Creveld and William S. Lind have remarked upon, namely, that the 21st century is the era of the loss of legitimacy of the modern nation-state. A citizen on a bike tackled, tasered, handcuffed and arrested by a police officer for a non-working bicycle light becomes a citizen with growing doubts in the legitimacy of state authority.

That's just one example. More to the point, when drug asset forfeiture (which legally sieze a citizen's money or property without requiring police to file criminal charges or produce evidence of wrongdoing) become the sole source of funding of a police organization, the line twixt highway robbers and cops gets blurry. And when you get extreme examples of injustice, like the DEA using asset forfeiture laws to confiscate a grandmother's house because her grandson hid a couple of marijuana plants in the basement, citizens start to lose faith in their government entirely.

Nowadays I like to play a little game and take the latest announcements of Pentagon technology, like UAVs armed with remote-controlled sniper rifles, or active denial pain rays, or shaped-charge antitank weapons designed to take out reactive ablative armor on modern tanks, and ask myself: What happens when this stuff gets used on the street by the Crips and the Bloods against the LAPD? Or by the Mexican drug cartels against the border patrol?

You know it's coming. There's nothing exotic about a UAV -- it's just a cheap lightweight fuselage with easily-available remote controls built in. Putting a remote controlled camera and gun in it isn't that hard, given today's technology.

So what happens when the Mexican drug cartels start assassinating DEA administrators using UAVs? What happens when the MS-13 gang starts taking out police cars and SWAT tanks with shaped-charge antitank IEDs as retaliation for gang crackdowns? What happens when street protesters aim teraherz pain rays back at the police who are trying to shove the protesters into a caged-in designated free speech zone?

Nobody seems to be asking these questions. Especially the armchair warriors calling for more militarization of American society.

A bloated military budget accelerates the militarization of all aspects of society, as REAL ID and other Orwellian laws have shown, leading to incidents like this and this. This in turn only serves to accelerate the collapse of legitimacy of the American government, as increasingly defiant local laws which contravene federal edicts have shown.

What's especially striking to me is the remarkable fact that the 3 tactics William S. Lind identifies for 4GW groups, namely, (1) destroying infrastructure, (2) chronic crime and coercion, and (3) government destablization by means of decimation of the national guard & intimidation of anyone critical of the guerillas, are all now being done by the U.S. state and federal government domestically.

Think about it: U.S. state and federal governments are destroying our infrastructure by letting it fall apart. U.S. government agencies now routinely break the law and violate the constitution, acting like criminals themselves. Meanwhile, the Iraq war is destroying the U.S. national guard. And any American citizens who protest get brutalized or intimidated and forced into caged areas out of public view. It's almost as though the U.S. government has decided to act like 4GW guerillas against its own citizenry, albeit in a kinder gentler way.

Almost enough to make you believe in Brin's Manchurian Candidate scenario.

Anonymous said...

As I said, it's jumped the shark. I hope that Zorgon and others are right, and peaceful direct action will suffice, but I suspect that it's going to come down to a fight, and quite soon.