Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tax Inequity and the Middle Class -- Top Issue for 2012

In an earlier political posting I pointed out that the top federal income tax rate - for earned income - has seldom been lower than it is right now.. and the rate that Mitt Romney pays on dividends is half of that.  Federal taxes, in general, are at one of the lowest points since 1912... suggesting that our current national argument about taxes ought to at least feature commensurately lower rates of anger.  Sure, let's negotiate how to simplify the system and make it more fair. But can we tone down the rage a little?

(Oh, but indignant fury is the whole point.  If it isn’t taxes, it will be something else.)

Above all, effective tax rates on the very wealthy are at their lowest since Teddy Roosevelt was president.

One response was sent in “That’s federal taxes! But state rates have gone up.”  Well, it’s a point that merits answering. So consider: (1) states vary a great deal, hence you are free to move to a low-tax state and I know many folks who have.  (2) Have a look at the Wiki site for “Tax Freedom Day.”

Tax Freedom Day 1971 to 2011 Source: Tax Foundation
Tax Freedom Day is the first day of the year in which a nation as a whole has theoretically earned enough income to fund its annual tax burden. It is annually calculated in the United States by the Tax Foundation—a Washington, D.C.-based tax research organization that is far, far from lefty, let's say. Every dollar that is officially considered income by the government is counted, and every payment to the government that is officially considered a tax is counted.

Taxes at all levels of government—local, state and federal—are included.  Have a look at the site.  Even taking all state and local taxes into account and averaged, the US falls way toward the bottom of tax rates for industrialized nations.  And at rather low rates compared to American history.

Only now have a look at the deadline for a fix that looms ahead of us in January 2013.  The Bush era tax cuts, that were supposed to result in vanished deficits (via Supply Side magic) have instead simply vanished revenue while inflating asset bubbles and rewarding passive types of parasitic income,  Do, by all means, actually read this article in the New York Times.

“We are at a revenue level that is almost the lowest in 60 years as a share of national income, too low to fund the things that are required,” Mr. Conrad said.

In 2011, federal tax revenue as a percentage of the gross domestic product stood at 15.4 percent, the Congressional Budget Office said in January. That is up slightly from the previous two years, but otherwise is the lowest percentage since 1950. Federal spending last year, at 24.1 percent of gross domestic product, was on a par with 2009, but to see such levels before the recent recession, you have to go back to 1946 and the winding-down of World War II.

...and this, from later in the article:

"The Bush tax cuts, which totaled nearly $2 trillion over their first decade, remain highly controversial. Tax cuts in 2001 lowered income tax rates at all levels, to 35 percent from 39.6 percent for the highest income earners, and to 10 percent from 15 percent for the lowest bracket. They also doubled the size of the child tax credit and made it refundable for the working poor, while phasing out the tax on inherited estates and allowing affluent taxpayers to take more deductions and credits. Even Mr. Hubbard acknowledges that in some ways the cuts made the tax code more complex.
Another round of tax cuts in 2003 reduced most capital gains tax rates to 15 percent from 20 percent, while also taxing dividends at 15 percent. Before, dividends were taxed as ordinary income, meaning a 39.6 percent rate for affluent investors.

Mr. Conrad calls the tax cuts “a profound mistake for the country on almost every level.” Still, 2001 started as a heady year, with the Congressional Budget Office projecting a federal budget surplus for the coming decade totaling $5.6 trillion. Alan Greenspan, then the chairman of the Federal Reserve, worried that the federal debt would be eliminated too quickly, leaving the world with nothing to benchmark interest rates against because Treasury bonds would cease to exist."

Really?  How charmingly naive and quaint.  And dismally stupid and an utter repudiation that such people should ever again be listened-to or allowed anywhere near power.

Read the article... and the suggested "reforms" that are being discussed. I am seriously unimpressed with most of them.  See my own suggestion on how the tax code can inarguably be simplified while avoiding the usual political wrangling. My "no losers" approach separates simplification from tax "policy" or who should pay more!  If we did this first, we'd have a sleek, sensible system in no time, and could then make policy adjustments that made sense.

Oh... but it gets worse, way worse.  See these charts revealing the "knee-capping of the U.S. middle class."  And yes, this will be the issue, for the rest of 2012.  Above all, as I suggested last time, use all this as a basis for making real-money wagers with your tea party uncles.  But get them to write it down, first.

== Ultrafast Stock Trading ==

Following up another past-posting, where I touted a Transaction Fee as a way to let humans regain some footing in stock market trading... here’s a relevant recent study. “

Ultrafast Trades Trigger Black Swan Events Every Day, say Econophysicists. The US financial markets have suffered over 18,000 extreme price changes caused by ultrafast trading, according to a new study of market data between 2006 and 2011“

But nothing will convince the mutants of the City and Wall Street. Listen to these religious fanatics spouting fervent and totally un-based incantations about "market efficiency" and "hyper-liquidity" and denouncing "friction"...  then look at the bitter fruit of their tenure at the helm of our economy.  They are mad.  Eloquent!  But loony priesthoods often are. In fact, they are out of their cotton pickin' minds... and sucking at our necks like lampreys. They are the worst enemies of true capitalism.

==  Political Miscellany ==

An interesting... pessimistic... interpretation of why Americans are using a whole lot less gasoline than they used to.

But let's finish with some optimism! My friend Peter Diamandis has an essay in Forbes, foretelling that science, entrepreneurial markets, innovation, startups, amateur enterprise and stunning breakthroughs in technology may soon unleash a tsunami of Abundance on the world, erasing poverty and helping to heal the planet, too!  Peter discusses why we are biologically programmed to view the world through a filter of anxiety, when, in fact:

"What does the world really look like? Turns out it’s not the nightmare most suspect. Violence is at an alltime low, personal freedom at a historic high. During the past century child mortality decreased by 90%, while average human life span increased by 100%. Food is cheaper and more plentiful than ever (groceries cost 13 times less today than in 1870). Poverty has declined more in the past 50 years than the previous 500. In fact, adjusted for inflation, incomes have tripled in the past 50 years. Even Americans living under the poverty line today have access to a telephone, toilet, television, running water, air-conditioning and a car. Go back 150 years and the richest robber barons could have never dreamed of such wealth."

Peter goes on to describe tech wonders looming on the horizon.  I make many of them vivid in Existence (coming in June.) But I think he leaves out one reason for our frenzied waves of anger and fear, nowadays... because rage feels great!  Sanctimony and Self-righteousness are drug highs. They can have their uses.  But when they prevent our fellow citizens from even detecting good news? Or worse, when they turn our neighbors into active obstacles to progress?  Then these sick habits are worse than heroin.


Unknown said...

Dr. Brin you were positing that a Wall St. trading AI would be more fundamentally dangerous (in terms of running amok) than a military AI?

There is a snarky Library AI in the University of China - way less frightening and far more hopeful. There is a sample dialog in this article at Daily Mail talking about an adaptive program for Library research assistance that started getting cheeky. Sad that the management team is going to take corrective action. It would be reassuring to see that the first glimmers of AI are a bit smutty. Article

Paul451 said...

"Every dollar that is officially considered income by the government is counted, and every payment to the government that is officially considered a tax is counted."

Minor quibble, they include capital gains tax in their calculation of the tax burden, but they don't include capital gains/deferred interest/etc in their calculation of income. This makes the "Tax Freedom Day" later than it would otherwise be, and makes the date track stock-market booms/busts more than it would if capital gain was included as income, rather than a true track of the actual mean tax burden.

(jouth: What jou loose when jou get oldses.)

Damien Sullivan said...

While I'd like to be optimistic, and Diamandis is right that various trends have improved, he's rather Panglossian and ignores the stuff people really worry about. Like fossil fuels getting more scarce and expensive, and causing climate change even if they don't. People may have a cognitive bias toward fear and expectation of bad outcomes, but bad outcomes also actually happen.

Carl M. said...

Glad to see you reading Forbes -- the sanest conservative publication out there. I just restarted my subscription after a hiatus. (Not that I expect people here to agree with everything in Forbes, of course. I certainly don't. But at least even the wrong ideas are proposed well.)

I get Mother Jones as well, and find their graphs telling. Too bad the folks at Mother Jones cannot get it through their own "drug" addled heads that the deficit is a major driver of this inequality.

The deficit is holding down the economy down as well. My father in law's employer went belly-up last week despite having orders in the pipeline. Lack of demand was not the problem. They were done in by a reeled in line of credit. The federal deficit and pro-cyclical regulation are drying up working capital.

Damien Sullivan said...

Er, the federal deficit isn't holding down the economy. *Private* debt is holding down the economy, and we're recovering partly due to debt in effect transferring to the government (which pays lower interest rates, natch.) Working capital isn't being forced to buy government bonds at 1.9% for 10 years, it's eagerly forcing itself upon the government at nearly negative real interest rates, for fear of the economy. If it wanted to invest, it would.

Or there's Apple, sitting on a giant mountain of cash. Can't blame the deficit for that.

David Brin said...

Third source of great (if sometimes biased) journalism. Rolling Stone. Who woulda figured?

You are both right. Plunging us from surplus into flaming debt was treason. By Those preaching BOTH supply side voodoo and overseas imperial adventurism.

Creating a tax system that rewards the SLOWEST_Velocity use of money... letting it just sit... is the right thing when there's raging inflation. It is the diametrically wrong thing to do in recession/depression when we need hi velocity. And banks that took our bailouts just to sit on it should have their boards ousted.

Anonymous of England said...

Oh dear. I thought you'd gotten enough pointers in the comments on recent posts to undertsand why an FFT is an especially ropey tax -- indeed, I'd thought you'd got it when a few weeks ago you started ruminating about minimum holding times instead. But, no. You bounce back waving this blunt instrument like it was a magic wand again, rather than thinking on other possibilities.

The trouble is, you seem to have framed a Grand Plan to Save the World -- a state of mind that leads to identification with authority : "If I were King, then I woud do A, because B, with consequence C; and all shall live happily ever after."

As a middle-aged, middle-class guy who hopes that maybe he'll be able to afford to retire one day, my instincts scream distrust of authority on this one. The states that are pondering an FTT are doing it as a revenue generation move (in the face of an EU report saying it will have the opposite effect), not to discourage those trades that David Brin personally disapproves of. And with a smaller pie, with the financiers hanging on to their slice, and the State looking for more, it's the little folk like thee and me who I see getting squeezed.

Paul451 said...

Anonymous of England,
I'm puzzled why you distrust one type of change (David's idea), but you're perfectly happy to have your retirement nest-egg experimented on live by flash-trade algorithms?

Why is one so threatening to you, and the other perfectly okay?

Hypnos said...

This relates to a comment on the previous thread so apologies if it has already been addressed.

Dr. Brin suggested austerity in Greece should be approached by cutting things such as paid vacations.

Greeks already work the longest hours in Europe. They work longer than Americans. In fact, the people who work the least in Europe are those from the countries with the soundest finances - Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany. Germans worked a full 34% less hours than Greeks in 2010.

Arguing that overgenerous benefits are the problem with deficits in Europe is taking the neoliberal bait that this is a welfare state problem. It isn't. PIGS countries have the least generous welfare states in Europe. And the countries with the more generous welfares are those with the lowest deficits and debts.

This is the same as with supply side voodoo. The debt that was created by a reckless financial system will be used to gut the welfare state and destroy livelihoods.

And if our economic model requires those changes - that the welfare state be gutted; vacations cut; benefits eliminated - then it is the economic model that needs changing.

Marino said...


first, I'm Socialist and Keynesian, so I'm the last person to "swallow the neo-liberal bait", I concur on the lack of real universal welfare in countries like mine, Italy, but:
you wrote:

"The debt that was created by a reckless financial system will be used to gut the welfare state and destroy livelihoods."

It wasn't the "reckless financial system", it was the former Greek government (a conservative one, to boot) that cooked the books and got loans at low interest without using them properly, and that mantained a bloated public sector while not enforcing tax collection. Northern Europe has better welfare and doesn't pay for it by debt.
Same here in Italy where our former PM (may he burn in hell) abolished the real estate tax driving local government in deep debt.

The only real thing to blame on the financial system is technically criminal (as in "deserving prosecution of the top management")lack of due diligence in evaluating state debt. Which in fact mirrors the NINJA mortgages given to individuals.

Acacia H. said...

Sorry for the brief tangent, but LarryHart, you mentioned you're still looking for work. I'm not sure if you're in the New England area but if you are, Ebsco Publishing is hiring for a number of positions.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


Too bad the folks at Mother Jones cannot get it through their own "drug" addled heads that the deficit is a major driver of this inequality.

That suggests a solution. Shift more of the tax burden from the poor to the rich. Wouldn't that tackle the problem from both ends--lowering the deficit AND decreasing inequality in a stroke?

LarryHart said...


Sorry for the brief tangent, but LarryHart, you mentioned you're still looking for work. I'm not sure if you're in the New England area...

No, I'm in Chicago. But seriously dude, thanks for thinking of me.

guthrie said...

We have the same problem in the UK - the only reliable (as in regular and mostly correct) criticism of the government and corporations is Private Eye, a satirical magazine. The rest of the media are middling to insanely wrong.

Mind you even the Mail on Sunday has noticed that the ConDem's proposals for the NHS are designed to channel money to certain consultancies and their friends, rather than help the people of this country. So even a hateful rag can actually be correct about something.

sociotard said...

Notably, Rolling Stone is also not owned by a big conglomerate, unlike any of the main newspapers or TV news outlets. I wonder if that might have something to do with its credibility . . .

Also, Chronicle is getting 86% at Rotten Tomatoes, so it could be the first good scifi flick of the year.

Dr. Brin, have you read the Hunger Games series? I was trying to remember if it made your YA list.

Carl M. said...

@LarryHart I actually favor increasing some taxes on the rich: mainly in the form of treating capital gains as ordinary income and closing some gaping loopholes.

But before getting too aggressive here, we need to deal with Paul Graham's objection to high taxes on the rich, as well as Ronald Reagan's original objection. The two are related.

Paul Graham points out that startup founders do a huge amount of concentrate work in return for a chance at financial freedom later. Impose super high taxes on high income earners, and these same smart people will opt for perks and job security over the chance at the big score.

Ronald Reagan noted back when he was a liberal union guy that the high marginal tax rates were brutal to glamour stars (and pro athletes today) in that these people earned most of their income over a few years.

Both situations share something in common: high marginal tax rates clobbering those who concentrate their income over a short time even if their lifetime income isn't gigantic. Also note the locking in of economic class happening here. Once you have a few million in the bank, you can loaf indefinitely while living off an upper middle class stipend.

A few solutions:

1. Treat executive earnings over a certain limit (say 200K/year) as corporate dividends for corporate tax purposes; i.e., not deductible from corporate taxes. This hits caretaker management of established corporations harder than startup founders in the early stages.

2. Have a universal savings plan that replaces IRAs, 401ks, HSAs, etc. Money you put in is not taxed until taken out. You get to deposit some fixed amount per year regardless of income. Deposit allowances not used get carried forward. This way those who work for beans can put a lump sum in when cashing out. (This universal savings plan can be spent for any purpose: home down payment, college, medical expenses, sabbatical, etc. You just treat withdrawals as ordinary income.)

3. Treat several events the same as sales for capital gains purposes: borrowing against an unrealized gain, gifts, leaving the country, mergers. The assets thus taxed get a new cost basis, of course. This is not an extra tax, just a means to make it a bit harder to defer. (And in the case of borrowing against, making it hard to live high tax free and die broke.)

David Brin said...

Dang, I wish Carl M were a top guy in the libertarian movement. The genuine article... a guy who wants competition and a working mixed society... from which we can increment toward smaller govt. All of his ideas here were cool.

== as opposed to our recent visitor from England --

Beyond Anonymous's deliberately insulting demeanor... and the fact that he neglects to paraphrase the views that he demeans, there is the simple fact that he ignores a dozen reasons for the FTT while zeroing in on the one that he feels he can refute.

Alas, his refutation is malarkey. He claims that over vast numbers of trades a 0.1% or one-mill fee would add up to 40% and fails to note that that is the whole point!

That kind of trading can only be done by an insider guild of "members" of stack exchanges who can pounce on gradients or differences in perceived value and grab them before humans outside the guild can possibly do so. ANy outsider who had the computers or speed or algorithms would be ruined by paying commissions to someone with a stock market "seat" to do the trades for him, at VASTLY more than 0.1%. In other words, Anon is screaming "you'll make things the same for seated guild members as they are for everybody else! How terrible!!!!!!"

All right, that wasn't a very palatable attempt at paraphrasing in the mature sense (where your opponent agrees you paraphrased him right). But it WAS accurate in the general essence of what anon defends.

David Brin said...

== Hypnos if what you say is true, then I apologize. We do not get that impression from news reports. We in the US hear all the time about vast vacation benefits, hyper-powerful unions and guilds (like for taxi drivers) that strive to repress open competition. Perhaps there are variations within Europe and those reports are wrong about Greece.

In any event, I agree that the worst threats to freedom and yes to a working version of capitalism, are today coming from the right, from the insane financial caste and their truly religious cult of incantations to justify theft. You have heard me rail against supply side voodoo.

Still, there is plenty of blame to go around. When 1/3 of employees in some European countries are temporary workers, because companies are terrified of the endless obligations to formal staff imposed by law, then the left has a lot to answer for.


David Brin said...

In March, Nigeria’s notorious witch hunter, Helen Ukpabio, is organizing a Deliverance Session March 14-25 at Liberty Gospel Church in Houston Texas. If you support superstition, bigotry, hatred and vampiric parasitism on the gullible, by all means attend!

Damien Sullivan said...

Three articles on Greece, austerity, and the economy today:

Unions don't seem to be the main problem. And in the periphery in general, prices were bid up by capital flooding in from German and elsewhere, looking for more return. Hard to blame anyone for that, other than the people who set up the eurozone despite economists' warnings.

Paul451 said...

You have a standard riff on Red States being poorly run, while Red politicians claim superior moral, social, & economic wisdom.

Krugman has run a slightly different spin on the idea:

Apparently Red States have a noticeably higher level of welfare support versus taxes paid than Blue States. In other words, Red States are the entitlement states, supported by Blue States.

(Krugman also links to a PDF of the slides of a speech by Andrew Gelman that suggest the main difference between the voting patterns in Red and Blue States is how the rich vote. In Red States, the rich vote ultra conservative, in Blue States, they vote ambiguously liberal. )

David Brin said...

A fascinating occasional blog about chemistry in everyday life:

Acacia H. said...

Considering Dr. Brin's ongoing war against Faux News, I thought he'd be tickled by this Politico article concerning growing disdain by conservative viewers over Fox leaning to the Left. It seems Fox is losing out on viewership and his starting to shift toward the center in order to get more people to watch. They've also hired more left-leaning people for commentary and the like. (Likewise, MSNBC has shifted toward the Right to get a larger viewing base.)


It'll be interesting to see how Obama's birth control mandate will play out. Republicans are not backing down after Obama put the onus on insurance companies rather than religious employers. And I must admit I've chatted with one young lady who is quite adamant that birth control is murder and as horrific as abortion. Sad, that. (I've not yet managed to corrupt her belief-system though I've tried. It'll be interesting to see if she pulls the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" bit on me to protect her anti-birth control beliefs... and I've already levied another salvo concerning pacifist tax evaders who are basically shaming Catholics right now.)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I don't believe Fox is doing much more than tweaking. They see the Tea Party and fundies getting out of control and want to remain kingmakers in the GOP.

Re birth control and abortion, you've heard me explain that these are sanctimony bulwarks. Jesus was clearly a socialist hippie, so you need something absolutely pure - a distilled platonic essence dividing absolute good from absolute evil and "killing babies" is the best conceivable way to do that.

One can respond with the outrageously unfounded theological basis... e,g, that abortion is referred to in the Bible... if at ALL... only very obliquely. Even less than the sparse, oblique references to homosexuality.

One could point out that God made life with fuzzy boundaries and non-linear stages and phases and that the activists are trying to impose "digital laws on an analog world."

But none of that will go anywhere. Indignation junkies simply want war. They want their opponents to be purely evil and not fellow citizens to negotiate with.

(And let's be clear, the same exact emotional driver propels some activists on the left, e.g. PETA and some kinds of gayrights activists, who refused to consider the simple compromise of using a different WORD than "marriage! Millions would have gone along with that! "Garriage"?)

Acacia H. said...

On the whole "Garriage" thing... I can understand the refusal to accept this, especially seeing how the Federal Government (*cough*Republican Leadership*cough*) went and passed a law stating marriage is between one man and one woman. In the past we had segregated schools and segregated communities. And the Supreme Court, back when it was more balanced, stated "Separate But Equal is not equal" and forced integration, for society's ultimate benefit.

I do agree that Fox is "tweaking" things to try and bring in a larger audience, due in part to the ongoing boycott. The upper execs have realized they are losing out on money by focusing only on conservatives and are hoping tossing a couple bones to liberals will draw them back in the belief liberals are fat, lazy, and stupid.

What I find interesting is that Fox's embrace of Romney is starting to hurt Fox with conservatives. There are a lot of people who refuse to accept Romney, and I half think they might very well decide "I don't care if Obama gets back in, I'm NOT voting for this shallow snake" no matter what the polls say.

This does make me wonder though what would happen if Santorum gets the Repub nomination. It would make for a fascinating general election, and could do the Republican party a lot of good by decimating the Republican candidates in borderline states that aren't staunch conservatives and vote for Obama in a moment of pure and unadulturated sanity.

Or we can hope, at least. And it depends on if Diabold is used finally to throw an election.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

Paul Graham points out that startup founders do a huge amount of concentrate work in return for a chance at financial freedom later. Impose super high taxes on high income earners, and these same smart people will opt for perks and job security over the chance at the big score.

I understand that argument and have some sympathy for it. But the same holds true when union workers make concessions on salary in exchange for retirement benefits, and then are told after retirement that the company who promised those benefits (in exchange for years of actual labor) now claim they can't remain competitive if they have to make good on their promises, so that lets them off the hook.

If we're going to concern ourselves with discouraging people from bargaining in good faith, let's do so across the board, not just when rich people get screwed.

To address your specific concern (or Graham's), Dr Brin has already pointed out that we need to distinguish between those who actually do the necessary up-front work to CREATE growth in a business, and those who simply buy and sell shares of stock, moving wealth around but creating nothing.

There's perhaps a clue in the method by which capital gains are figured. When you buy and sell stock, you only pay tax on the PROFIT--you get to deduct the basis cost (what you originally paid for the stock) from the sale. Wages for labor, on the other hand, are all considered "profit", even though one could argue that the worker trades something of value (time, effort, experience) for those wages, and there should be some "basis" that he's considered to have put into the transaction just like the stock-purchaser does. So taking this a step further, perhaps wage-earners AND entrepreneurs should be able to claim a "basis" of value that they put into the business they work for/build from scratch. And that basis should be subtracted from what counts as taxable "income".

Exactly how that basis is determined is a future exercise.

Acacia H. said...

Please, Larry, everyone knows that there's nothing wrong with screwing the employees over. They deserve it, greedy little bastards, they should work for minimum wage, 80 hours a week, and kiss the asses of business owners and senior execs for the privilege of letting them work there. And also be fully liable for any mistakes with the mistake taken out of their meager pay... and they can never look for another job but corporations can lay them off at will and force them to do anything they want to keep those jobs.

*shakes head* I never could understand the concept of business ethics in which it's unethical to consider anything outside of maximizing profit at any cost.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I still think if gay activists conceded "we'll take ALL the same rights, but allow our version to be called Garriage they could have sliced several million off their opponents' list.

Reagan used to say "I stop working as soon as I earn enough to enter the top tax bracket!" Hm... back then he was talking a jump from 70% to 90%! So he was willing to work under the 70% bracket? Lesson... always keep an absurd bracket and make it easy for folks to feel smug ducking out of it!

Carl, I am all in favor of favoring breaks for startups. Make them big enough and big corps might choose to become minority investors in startups rather than snuff them.

Rob said...

If Reagan stopped working at the point he would enter the 90% bracket, he did an interesting thing:

He opened opportunity for a different actor to star in a movie. It's almost a self-regulating increase in the employment base, to do that.

It also probably controlled the CEO/worker pay gap. No use taking all that money, if it's just going to go to the inefficient, evil, corrupt government. Best to reinvest it somewhere where there's a modicum of control. Perhaps back into one's own company.


As for the gay marriage thing, Washington State is about to be embroiled in a referendum campaign which will likely fail by a hair, affirming the law that they just passed and signed, legalizing it. I've already been called an unthinking bigot three or four times by supporters!

It's ironic, too, because the State's done precisely what David recommends; they have all the same State-level rights the State can extend, under an alternative name.

All they'd have to do is clearly delineate the State role by calling it "civil marriage". That's all, and all but the most strident religionists will back down.

But they steadfastly *don't do that* and that means that when I sign the referendum, someone's going to FOIA that list, mash it up with maps, and I'm going to end up with an egged house.

So unfortunate.

sociotard said...

The Onion:
New Breeding Program Aimed At Keeping Moderate Republicans From Going Extinct

rewinn said...

@Rob -

"Separate but equal" marriage *is* bigotry, and I am proud that the laws of our state has gotten beyond it.

However, let me put your mind at ease with respect to egging. In Washington State, the "Gays Will Attack Me" argument was made when there was a referendum over civil unions. The argument failed in court, the addresses were made public, and there are no reports of egging campaigns. Indeed, as a matter of history, peaceful civil rights advocates in America have been remarkably nonviolent and we can be proud of our democratic system, however flawed it may be.

I *do* urge you to sign the referendum, however. Based on the results of the civil union referendum and the record have our state not having been smited by God in the interim, the campaign will help defeat McKenna's attempt to slide into the governorship on the strength of his current statewide office.

rewinn said...

@David Brin said...
I still think if gay activists conceded "we'll take ALL the same rights, but allow our version to be called Garriage they could have sliced several million off their opponents' list..."

As a matter of citizenship, we straights owe gays a big "thank-you" for not setting the precedent of being satisfied with codified discrimination.

In Washington State, the gay community did in fact take a stepwise approach, going for civil unions a few years back and only this month getting full equality under the law. This approach had some plusses and minuses, including the reduction in opposition that you mention. The downside is that until the end it still allowed government-approved and government-enforced discrimination, based upon some government bureaucrat asking you what was in your pants.

(Why would a Libertarian think that the Government should set up two different classes of licenses, based on a genetalia inspection? This strikes me as the type specimen of government overreaching.)

Since the stepwise approach worked, I guess it was a good one and at any rate it wasn't my choice to make. Thirty years from now or less, we will look back on this and laugh that it was considered such a problem.

rewinn said...

Now that I've calmed down, let me offer an anecdote in support of the concept that a few years from now we'll laugh at the idea that gay marriage was a big deal.
A nice lesbian I know got married last year and her spouse is pregnant. A 10-year-old associate learned of this and blurted out in horror, "But that means Sarah has been with a man!"
The kid understood that marital fidelity is important and was worried that someone had been cheating. This strikes me as showing that the essential values will survive and even flourish.

David Brin said...

Okay, this is just too cute: Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

or just google

Tony Fisk said...

... all the great man needs now is were-elephants

David Brin said...

Seriously, can anyone see an exit strategy for Assad in Syria? A permanent villa and pension outside of Tehran, I guess... and prayer that the Ayatollah never falls,

Brute force would only work if he broke Syria up and said "Hey you Sunnis can have those cities there, now get out of Damascus." There's a slim chance that might work... but only in a sci fi story.

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DanNearChicago said...

Dr Brin

Didn't I read you once state that it should be (relatively) easy to become wealthy and hard to stay wealthy? Don't the wealthy reduce money velocity, so during recessions shouldn't we be unafraid to tax "hoarded assets" like Apple's cash reserves?

Rob said...

@rewinn, if the worst I have to fear form signing a referendum is a house-egging, I'm actually happy to endure it. It could be so much worse.

But I disagree. "Separate but equal" marriage is not bigotry, bigotry is prejudicial enmity, by definition. The comparison to Jim Crow is equivocation. The government, most especially in Washington, isn't doing precisely that; it's trying to do something far less disingenuous.

(And I voted to affirm R-71, on the issue of "rights". But we see now that "rights" was a lie; activists want something other than the "rights" they claimed were missing from the law.)

And, the law is far from decided, since it's foregone that there will be enough signatures for a referendum.

Still and all, compared to Syria, I'd rather do it the way we're doing it. :-)

TwinBeam said...

You do know that chart of federal revenue as % of GDP is seriously biased, right? Starting with it not being zero based - a common trick to exaggerate a difference. And then the careful selection of the range, taking the peak of the bubble of 2000, to the bottom (hopefully) of this recession.

Of course we've got revenue issues right now, what with the recession and suspension of social security withholding. Lying with statistics when you could just tell the truth just gives the other side ammunition to fire back at you.

David Brin said...

Dan I never said "difficult to stay wealthy"... though it is a pithy phrase. What I feel is that it should get harder, as you rise to extreme wealth, not easier, with ever-rising scrutiny and ever-rising expectations on your behavior. And that it should be very hard to leave us saddled with spoiled billionaire brat-heirs.

There was nothing wrong with separate-but-equal as a proposed theory, in and of itself. It might have worked. The Nation of Islam and Malcolm X wanted to give it a try for real. The problem was that SBE was a damned lie from the start. The barest fig leaf on wretched oppression. The Warren Court rightly ruled that - absent genuinely equal political power - SBE was a sham and obscenity that had to go.

But separation between bickering ethnicities and tribes is sometimes the only way, as happened in the breakup of Yugoslavia.

sociotard said...

The book of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is pretty good. It is oddly well researched. At several points I realized that something in the story really happened, because I'd read it in a nonfiction biography.

It seems to be a bit of a fad or meme or whatever. You can also find "Henry VIII, Werewolf"

Damien Sullivan said...

And AIUI, gay marriage advocates view the "separate but equal" of civil unions as a sham or a fantasy. In reality they tend to not offer the same rights, especially at federal level, or across state lines. Even if you did fully duplicate the legal benefits at all levels, there's a social obstacle of e.g. hospital personnel not recognize it even if they should. "Only spouses or relatives can visit." "I'm his civil union partner." "What's that? Only spouses and relatives can visit."

Yes, in theory you could totally duplicate the rights of marriage in a parallel category, and educate society that there was now this new category that meant exactly the same thing as marriage despite having a separate name...

...but in practice it seems like it'd be a lot simpler, legally and cognitively, to just re-use the existing category, which also avoids the social stigma of a separate category -- people *respond* to different labels and groupings, even arbitrary ones! like random red and green teams at summer camp -- or the linguistic lack of parallels ("will you marry me"/"join me in civil union", "spouse" or "husband" vs. "civil union partner".)

Your "compromise" is actually more work to maybe someday be as effective. Insisting on marriage isn't just "self-righteousness".

duncan cairncross said...

Interesting take on the marriage question,
Here in New Zealand I rarely hear "my wife/husband" - it's normally "my partner"

Rob said...

Well, sure, the federal level is a problem for them. And for anyone.

But at the societal level, at the place where some randomly selected hospital worker is going to be ignorant about the law, there is no enactment of law which can fix that.

So, either way, you're faced with educating society, legally and cognitively, no matter how the change is made.

In the case of civil unions, you enact them, and then you shift new heterosexual registrations onto that registry. No religious person can raise an objection to that, unless he's insistent, somehow that the United States is a "Christian Nation". There just aren't that many of those.

You also create a federal problem which Congress and the Supremes must must must must solve, and quickly, with respect to every defined federal government benefit and right. Otherwise there are hetero pairings in mainstream churches in Washington penalized under the federal DOMA.

If, however, you do what Washington has just done, then you spend a year "offending for a word" ("marriage"), even though all the governmental services and benefits which accrue to any "married" couple already also apply to the domestic partner registry! Meantime, you've done nothing for the federal problem and absolutely nothing to mollify people of conscience who don't agree!

And you still, after all that, have the work of educating the public, but, now, it's *harder*, because you're fighting the tide of an even more stubborn and reactionary faction, empowered by this superficial activism.


Acacia H. said...

To go on a slightly political note... they say that you can take the measure of a man with how he treats his animals. What then does Mitt Romney putting his dog in a dog crate and lashing the crate to the roof of his car to drive to Canada... and making only one unscheduled pit stop to hose off his car after the dog had an accident on the car but keeping the dog in its crate despite that... say about the character of Mitt Romney?

I think if anything sinks Romney's chance of the White House, it's this one story. Because that little phrase I said on judging the character of a man by how he treats his animals? It's something a lot of people can agree with.

Rob H.

Damien Sullivan said...

The idea is that it's easier for the ignorant hospital worker to grasp "this is my spouse", even if the sexes are funny.

Approximately no one in the US has talked about replacing existing civil marriage for hets with civil unions for all. I think that would cause a lot more resistance -- "you're taking away my marriage!" We just get, at best, separate but almost equal parallel tracks.

Even in Washington, say two gays are in a civil union. What's their status in Massachusetts, or in Canada? Are they considered married? Unioned? What? OTOH, I don't think married gays from Massachusetts have any problem being considered married in Canada, or vice versa. (Though US immigration won't consider them married, natch.)

You'd have to create this new civil union status, equally, *everywhere* for it to work. Just using the marriage that already exists seems far simpler.

sociotard said...

What then does Mitt Romney putting his dog in a dog crate and lashing the crate to the roof of his car to drive to Canada

I don't have as much of a problem with this as some seem to.
A) The crate in question had a windscreen on it.
B) I see people with dogs in the beds of pickup trucks all the time. This doesn't seem so different. See also putting dogs in crates on airplanes.
C) I'd have to love the animal a lot before I'd allow an incontinent dog to sit on my lap in a closed space.
D) Dogs aren't people. I do oppose outright abuse, but I don't expect the same safety requirements (kids shouldn't ride in the bed of a pickup, dogs can)

That last one is a sticker. Dogs are still beasts. It's like horses. We have a serious horse overpopulation problem in the US because we need pregnant mares to make certain drugs, but we have no use for all the extra foals. We could use them for pet food, or even people food, but it's illegal. Why? Because people think of them as pets, and we have to love pets as if they were human. Stupid.

Marino said...

Dear Mr. Brin
you wrote
Still, there is plenty of blame to go around. When 1/3 of employees in some European countries are temporary workers, because companies are terrified of the endless obligations to formal staff imposed by law, then the left has a lot to answer for.

I suppose it means Italy and the infamous Article 18 in the labor law... well' it's widely misrepresented. The article protects workers from individual firing based on race, gender, union affiliation or political views.
If the firing is found discriminatory, the worker has to be reinstated in his job. Note that other EU countries have similar laws and low unemployment. Economists argue wether labor protection impairs unenmployment, but empirical evidence is scarce and at some point there is a tradeoff, maybe less employees with higher wage and stable jobs are better than a large number of nickel-and-dimed (dir you know Barbara Ehrenereich?) working poor.

Collective layoffs are more than allowed and the rule applies to firms with more than 15 employees. Now, there is no empirical evidence that firms don't grow or don't hire because of the shift in ruling. And they're using temporary workers paid a pittance because they're concentrated in low productivity sectors.

Palu said...

Damien's comments in combination with this issue of Catholics not wanting to provide contraception coverage for their employees got me thinking.

What is to stop them from going further and saying they don't have to provide spousal health care coverage for the spouses of gays that are in civil unions because it would infringe on their beliefs? And if it was called marriage would they do the same?

I have to leave to go back to work now but I think you can see where I'm going with this.

Acacia H. said...

Oh look... we have an anti-Climate Gate now. The Think Tank Heartland Institute had a whistleblower transmit strategies and policies via a now-defunct GMail account showing their anti-science K-12 education policy. The Huffington Post also commented on this and basically suggested that what Heartland was doing was treasonous as it was pushing Americans away from science education - with science being a top priority for the country's continued dominance in the world.

Though to be honest? I doubt this is going to make a big splash in the news media. After all, who cares about a confirmed conspiracy to destroy the credibility of climate sciences? Just a few environmentalists. The rest of the nation already knows climate science is so much bunk. Though it would be nice if this blew up out of control of the PTB that control the mainstream media...


On a more positive scientific note, a Swiss company is developing a "janitor satellite" to help reduce the amount of space junk in orbit. Though I suspect this would only work with larger items rather than the plethora of small junk that is a significant threat.

Rob H.

Rob said...

Rob H: The only thing I take away from Romney's puppygate story is that his car was full of kids, and he was doing his best to accommodate the dog.

Damien, you brought up the hospital worker, not me.

My larger point was that the State, this month, solved no problem with its act, created new ones for the next year, mollified no member of the 30-45% of us whose conscience won't permit a definition change in the word, insufficiently protected those people from those points of conscience.

Why? Because all the problems your raise are interstate problems. They have to be solved in the Congress. No law in Washington or appeals court construing things for California will remedy *anything*.

David Brin said...

Damien you miss the point. Nothing has to be "reproduced" from scratch and nothing has to be missing. Simply say that when two partners are the same sex all remains the same except it's "garriage." They are garried. And creatively pick another word for gusband and gife. Period.That's it. Everything identical by law.

You miss WHY to do this. That one step would pry loose a million or two (or TEN million) people from your enemy's coalition. Why be so un-accomodating? Why refuse the practical advantage that could bring political success? That's just plain foolish.

It is addiction to war-fighting instead of simply taking the easiest path to victory.

You keep suggesting that this means some kind of "marriage lite". So let me re-emphasize. ALL the rights. Every last one. Just throw the mildly-moderate traditionalists a bone. One bone! Let them cling to their damn word. We're supposed to be the agile, adaptable and inventive ones, right? Geez... the word "Gay" itself was adapted. This is a case where stubbornness simply plays into the hands of the other side.

Robert, the story of Romney and the dog is indeed telling. In Hollywood, if you want the audience to really really hate the villain, have him kick a dog.

Marino, we are glad to have you here questioning our European cliches. Still... I lived a total of four years over there and I recall hearing both sides.

Acacia H. said...

I remember offending a Canadian feminist friend (who kind of isn't my friend any longer - or at least she won't talk to me) when I told her that babysteps were needed bring equal rights for all people. (The irony being now she's big on disabled rights and I'm big on that as well... but hey, offended her and she never responds to e-mails now so... ah well).

The thing is? She was right. Babysteps aren't enough. Garriage will create Separate But Unequal, with private institutions discriminating against allowing gays and lesbians from visiting their non-traditional spouse or children because they find the practice offensive and wave their First Amendment Religious Rights around to get away with the discrimination. And when lawsuits about the discrimination reach the U.S. Supreme Court, I'd not be at all surprised to see it tossed out... or for the "separate marriage" law to be tossed out as Unconstitutional (under the Separate But Equal mandate) and all those "garriages" rendered null and void.

No. The best approach is the one that is being pushed through. For one thing, it's working. A growing number of people are asking "what is the big deal anyway?" and more and more States are allowing gay marriage. And it likewise gives ultra-conservatives something to rail about... and further alienates the Radical Right from the moderate right and moderate left, resulting in an ever-diminishing Republican Party.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

In poor taste perhaps, but take a look at who the Syrian President strongly resembles

Rob said...

Rob H.,

This wearies me. David (and I, separately), are telling you how to win. *Think*, please: Is the "war" over abortion or drugs finished because the Supremes decided it?

"More and more" is a rhetorical whitewash. "More and more" is "six." As compared to the "thirty-one" which are entrenching against it. The judges in Iowa who decided on marriage have since been un-elected. This isn't even close to a trend for your side of the issue, this is something which is gearing up to be another Sectional Crisis.

So, please: if you choose "separate but equal", and mean it, then the courts can eviscerate that when it turns out the people didn't, as they did when they overturned Jim Crow laws. And, of course, that's what's going on in many of the "separate but equal" states, including New Jersey, California, Oregon, etc, etc, etc...

Acacia H. said...

Actually, what I'm doing is picking battles. The outcry over birth control and over gay marriage is polarizing the Republican Party and forcing out the moderate elements. These elements are in turn being forced to turn to the one group that doesn't discriminate against them: Democrats. As a result, the Republican Party is being forced into a minority regional party that is even destroying its regional base by going after immigrants (the South, a bastion for Republicans, is also the primary region where Hispanics are setting up in their northerly migration). If the Republicans do poorly in the 2012 elections (and it seems likely they will lose the House and the White House - the Senate is more iffy) then they will suffer a big defeat which will force them to consider if they want to continue pursuing a failed path... or try to cleanse the poisons from the party and reestablish its moderate roots. Or it can die, and be replaced in turn by a later split in the Democrat party.

In short, my support for gay marriage and free birth control is both because it's right and tactical as it will force change upon Republicans. And if that makes me a cold-hearted bastard for wanting these polarizing issues to be used tactically to destroy the poisonous remains of a once great political party, then I'm a cold-hearted bastard.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Guys, I will soon need to start emailing messages to a couple of thousand folks in my "fan list." Folks who wrote me over the years about fiction etc. I would like to do it efficiently and triggering the fewest spam rejections.

Any advice? I hear of "Mail Chimp." Anyone have experience with that? Or an alternative?

Kelsey said...

David, your argument has a flaw. The "civil union" or "garriage" just isn't politically agile anymore. It might have been, 10 years ago, but people have moved past that.

At nearly 2-to-1, people support gay marriage over civil unions. And the third poll show that if the civil union choice is taken away altogether, a (slim) majority of people support the right of gays legally marrying over keeping it illegal.

Do you think the LGBT community should be satisfied to vote for a lesser term if they know they can have something better? That word means a lot.

Watch this video and tell me:

Do you think this Republican in Washington wants to see her daughter get garried? (larried?) No parent wants anything less than marriage for their kid.

David, you seem to care about what that word marriage means to traditionalists. Don't you care about what it means to modernists and the GLBT community too?

David Brin said...

geez... I do not know what it takes to make "absolutely identical in absolutely all freaking ways except the replacement of one letter of the alphabet" is so hard to understand.

Cramming words and meanings into my mouth and claiming I mean anything other than exactly what lies between those quotation marks is disingenuous at best.

But onward....

Kelsey said...

geez... I do not know what it takes to make "absolutely identical in absolutely all freaking ways except the replacement of one letter of the alphabet" is so hard to understand.


I'm just saying that that even one letter makes a difference to the GLBT community. They want marriage. That's enough for me to defend their fight for it.

But yes, let's move onwards.

Rob said...

Kelsey, it's incontrovertible proof that the activists pushing gay marriage on the basis of "rights" never had "rights" as an end goal. They are after something much wider than government services, and see themselves as a specific and distinct race of mankind.

Kelsey said...

They are after something much wider than government services, and see themselves as a specific and distinct race of mankind.

What? Are you worried about them being some kind of separate but equal race? Are you worried about kind of conspiracy Gayluminati sort of deal here? I don't even.

Hypnos said...

It is obvious that it was never "only" about rights.

It was also about recognition. It might even be primarily about recognition, as I am sure there are plenty of gay couples who fight for marriage yet have no intention of ever getting married.

Being able to marry like anyone else means being finally recognized as an equal member of society. Definition are important. The human mind is not driven by facts and reality, it is driven by words and stories, and the significance attached to them.

If garriage was made fully equal to marriage except for the word difference, it would still be a form of right deprivation and of discrimination.

That is why you can't have "garriage". Separation is an implicit admission of difference. It is the supreme justification for bigotry and prejudice.

Gay couples should marry, not garry, and they will marry, just like interracial couples wanted marriage, not some ridiculous mispelling of the word thereof.

"Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated."

Jumper said...

Google shows more hits than before, I think, to "addiction to anger" in quotes. This one was pretty good

Jumper said...

Fascinating discussion especially because it changed my mind, sort of, about the term "marriage." I was one who thought "civil union" should suffice. I now see it won't so I now agree "marriage" to be fitting.

As a reforming libertarian, I would find some interest in removing unequal treatments awarded to the married and the single. Along the same line of thought, I must note a belief of mine that as a cultural phenomenon marriage arose as a de facto way to protect women from men on a widespread basis in various societies. Rendering it odd, at the least, to apply to same-sex couples. Perhaps an outgrowth of Western chivalry concepts; but pair bonding is certainly omnipresent among societies if not individuals in various societies. I suppose we could tweak that to "protect the weak from the strong" and I'd certainly get into hot water. Perhaps unfairly.

And I'd note marriage's universal aspect of official recognition of possessiveness (ownership?), something many seem to find unacceptable. But social lubricants of long standing probably serve a purpose even if not completely analyzed.

Can it be that the entire concept of marriage is based on sexism? I bet I could find some who would say so.

In our society of laws, I think much of this is unnecessary. But times change and Margaret Atwood gets less unbelievable lately, and who is to predict what form of marriage, employed for any of a set of just protections, might be needed in the future? Not me.

Marriage is a merger. That one I will go along with. And if same-sex couples want to call it that, I have been convinced here today that I should agree.