Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Moral Wealth of Nations


From C-SPAN January 23, 2015

Edward Kleinbard,  who teaches law and business at the USC Gould school of Law and author of We Are Better Than This How Government Should Spend Our Money, commented that, "...we are under endowed with skeptical members of Congress." He adds, "...government – which is to say, all of us, acting collectively – can make our country healthier, wealthier, and happier, if we put government do useful work..."

He points out that the government should not be competing with private enterprise but complementing it. In other words, the two should work together in a mutually beneficial and cooperative relationship. The situation is not a zero-sum game, with winner take all results. Or at least, it shouldn't be. (This should sound familiar to those who have listened to me in the past.)

As an example of the investment function of the government, he points to a report by David Wessel of the Brookings Institute, "The paper written by some scholars, very careful work, to demonstrate that spending 10% more in public education of kids in  grades K-12...leads to increased wages of about 7.25%. That's a fantastic investment."

He points out that this isn't about taking from the rich to give to the poor. It's about investing in our future. Investment, something every businessman should understand.  In this way the economic pie gets bigger, he continues, not smaller; which benefits all of us.

"It's most remarkable thing. We are by far The biggest bunch of tax whiners in the world today. The United States is not just a low tax country, it is in fact the lowest tax country among the entire club of rich nations in the world.  If you measure our tax burdens, federal, state, and local as a percentage of our national income, our GDP, we are the lowest taxed. At the same time, we have some of the worst poverty data, our poverty rates are substantially higher than virtually every  other country in the OECD, the club of rich countries, and our inequality data is worse, our health statistics are worse. So we are a low tax country that systematically under invests in ourselves, in our own citizens, and that's really a strange place for the richest most successful country in the world…the history of the world."

"What drives me crazy is to discover, when I was researching the book, that the United States is one of four countries of the 34 countries of the OECD Club of rich countries where we systematically do more on the public education of rich kids than poor kids. What a bizarre way to run a country, when we systematically spend more money on rich kids than poor kids 
In terms of educating them!

There are only two places in our budget, two places, where we systematically spend more than other countries. One is the military and the other is in healthcare."

He then goes on to point out that he's not trying to judge how big or powerful the military should be, but he is saying that if we insist on having the largest and most expensive military in the world, then we should  tax ourselves to pay for it ..."we need to have a tax system that is big enough to enable us to be the new Sparta." 

"If you're looking for waste, fraud, and abuse, healthcare is  a nightmare.  We spend close to double what other rich countries spend per capita per person on healthcare."  He points out that we spend huge amounts of public funds on healthcare, and then spend even more out-of-pocket for personal expenses to health insurance companies. The health insurance companies, in effect, are a private  tax we impose on ourselves when we refuse to do the economically efficient thing, have a single-payer system.

When it you was suggested that's what's wrong with our country is that 40% of Americans don't pay any income tax, he responded that this is a red herring. First, most of the Americans who don't pay income tax are either children or the elderly on Social Security.  It is doubtful if the viewer would care to start taxing children and the elderly who are on a very limited income. Most of the rest who do not pay income tax, even while paying many other taxes, are too poor to pay taxes. I add that taxing the poor is stupid.  

If we invested more in our infrastructure and in raising many of our citizens out of poverty instead of pressing them down into it, more of them would have the money to pay taxes. Can this be more obvious?

I also must add that many of the wealthiest corporations in the world not only do not pay their share of taxes, they even get refunds from the US government! Every person in America, even those in that 40%, pays taxes.  Even the incredibly wealthy corporations that get free money instead of paying income tax, pay taxes on their employees and raw materials. Still, I doubt any other rich government in the world allows welfare for the wealthy. We, of course, have corporations which heavily depend upon it.

In other nations, the author points out, higher education is free to the individual. Of course it is paid for in taxes, but that money is paid back in the earnings of the highly educated individual who graduates. In other words, it's not only free, it actually makes a profit! So the next time a conservative tells you nothing is free, tell them it sure as hell is! To put it another way, you won't make money when you won't invest money. We, as a people, as a government, make money when we provide a free education. Not lose it. Make it.

And the idea of that taxes will automatically impede growth? Prof. Kleinbard responds, "Taxes went up on January 1, 2013 for the top earning Americans, went up significantly, and yet the world went on.   Bill O'Reilly showed up for work the next day." Note: Bill O'Reilly is famous for, among other things, having declared that if  taxes go up for him and his wealthy friends, it will no longer be worth his while to go to work.  I guess he's working for free now.  The Professor adds that, "Yet the United States has had two great years of growth over the last two years."  Conclusions: Higher taxes do not necessarily cause rich people to stop working. Higher taxes do not necessarily have a negative impact on growth. It seems they may even have a positive impact in both these areas.

Kleinbard goes on to state that not only do relatively moderate changes in our tax structure not impede growth, "On the contrary, raising tax revenue and using that to fund productive complementary investments like... education..." results in an increase in  economic growth.

A caller asked if the author thought it was fair that people that work hard and earned their wealth should be taxed so that people who have not dedicated themselves to earning money should be rewarded. His response, I think, was off target, referring primarily to luck and the inheritance of intelligence. My response is that the vast majority of the wealthy in America inherited their money. They didn't earn a penny of it. It was handed to them.  Meanwhile, a huge amount of work and labor goes into just getting enough money to feed yourself and your family for  many Americans today. The caller was appallingly ignorant of reality. That is not surprising. She called in on the Republican line.

The professor points out that Adam Smith wrote two books. The first was indeed The Wealth of Nations, referring to the benefits of free enterprise system, but the second was The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Republicans love to refer to the first book, while ignoring the moral obligations specified in the second.

This is the problem conservatives continually bump into today. They forget morality, except when it suits them. For them, as for big business in America, morality has become whatever makes a profit. No wonder we're in so much trouble.














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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Civilization? Not In My America!


-- more than half of students enrolled in U.S. public schools live in poverty --  What's wrong with American schools? Glad you asked! This is what's wrong with American schools. We are wasting billions of dollars on our ineffective, counterproductive, self-destructive standardized test  obsession while we allow this atrocity to occur to our children.
No other civilized nation in the world allows this to happen to its young. Let me correct that. No civilized nation in the world allows this to happen to its children. Civilized people wouldn't.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Never Ever In An America That Never Was...


Dr. Ben Carson, DAA (Doctor of Advanced Asininity) has declared, "A bunch of rag tag militiamen defeated the most powerful and professional military force on the planet. Why? Because they believed in what they were doing. They were willing to die for what they believed in," Carson told a luncheon audience of national committee members. "Fast forward to today. What do we have? You've got ISIS. They've got the wrong philosophy, but they're willing to die for it while we are busily giving away every belief and every value for the sake of political correctness. We have to change that."




Fact check: A bunch of rag tag militiamen defeated the most powerful and professional military force on the planet. Why? Because the equally powerful and professional French Army and French Navy fought on our side.  This is called fact, aka, reality. 

And don't forget the Spanish and Dutch assistance we also got.  

Dr. Carson, I suggest you attend a few fifth grade classes in American History. You will learn a lot.  Among the things you will learn is that American History is not part of the Star Wars series.

Of course, you will need to surrender your right wing political correctness...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

One Day Late


Thoughts on my birthday, one day late

So how do things look? Last year at this time I was in poor shape physically, financially stressed, and very worried about the upcoming year. I hoped it would be better than the one that had just ended, but I wasn't terribly confident.  

This year, I am in poor shape physically, much more financially stressed, and still very worried about the upcoming year. 2014 was much better than 2013, but not as much better as I had hoped.  

But where there was a sense of desperation last year at this time, I have more of a sense that things will somehow be much better this year. I see no clear basis for this assumption, but I feel it very deeply.

Many of us have noted that when things start going bad it seems we must keep on that path until things finally hit bottom. Of course, you never know how far down the bottom is. It is probably a psychological artifact, but it does seem that, at certain times in our lives, things deterministically proceed to get worse and worse until, finally, a certain low level is reached; whereupon things suddenly begin getting better. Right now, I feel as if I have reached that bottom level and am now bouncing back up. 

Again, I don't see any particular reason for believing this, although there are a few indicators that could be so interpreted. Nonetheless, I feel it quite deeply. So this year, I hope that I am correct.

For example, the last few days I've been reexperiencing the sense of wonder and joy that simply come from being alive and enjoying the beauty around me. This is a normal state for me,  but one which has been far too rare in recent years.  Today started sunny and pleasant but as I walked out to the mailbox to return Animatrix to Netflix, it began to rain. A pleasant, gentle, beautiful rain. And in the midst of all the grief and suffering that has come to seem to be so normal in recent years, I feel quite at peace and quite happy right now. 

May this return again to my default state as it is been for most of my life.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Whiny Guy Mutters Aloud


Whiny Guy's back. Okay, so he  never really went away. He's just been keeping  his mouth shut. More or less.

So what's to whine about? Lots.  Racquel's deal to sell her house fell through. The guy who was buying it wanted sex to seal the deal. Obviously the deal fell through. What kind of man would do that to a widow of two weeks who so deeply and dearly loved her husband?

She can't afford to keep living there without Ed's income. So she has to come home, and that's that.

It will be good to have her home, but not like this. I've wished she and Ed would move back to California for a long time.  I didn't want her back as an alternative to being homeless after his death. 

James is going back to bring her home. I'll be paying for it. That's okay. It depletes my savings account and pushes the credit cards to the maximum, but that's what those things are for. For when my my family needs them.

Maybe, if I work hard to to pay some down and get some savings I'll be able to take the family to Disneyland next Christmas. It means so much to my little ones even though I can't ride any of the rides. I'm happy to see their joy when they come off and to take plenty of pictures.

At least some things got done yesterday. Things that have been hanging fire for the last few months of 2014. The problem is now I'm so confused when I tried to do a few things today I only made them worse. For all of you who understand that there's a point when I just have to stop and do nothing or I make things worse because my mind just can't work, focus, or function, you're a blessing from God, even if you don't believe in Him.

For the a few of you who don't understand, who think it must be that I am lazy, or don't care, or like things confused… I hope someday you understand just how wrong you are.  I don't want you to understand because you get confused like I do. Nobody should go through this. I just hope you understand and have the decency to be ashamed that you made things harder for me when you could've made life easier.

Whiny guy is sure at it today, isn't he? Well, I'm confused and so I'm expressing more than I normally do. Also, saying it somehow makes it better. It makes it somehow distanced and objectified if I  put it down on paper instead of just feeling it. That I think everybody understands.

So I'll post this now or I'll think about it tomorrow and won't do it. 

Don't panic, by the way.  We are in this together as a family, and will get through this together as a family. If it weren't for James I don't know what Racquell and I would do. But he is there handling things. He's a real blessing in my life.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's All THEIR Fault!

From the LATimes. -- Police gun deaths surge in 2014; California leads nation --

-- In 2014, 126 law enforcement officers were killed nationwide in the line of duty -- a 24% jump over 2013. Of those, 14 were in California. --


As long as the sense of us vs them dominates the policed and the police, things will grow worse.  Everyone must work to restore a sense of community, in which there is only one side on which everyone works together.  To be policed should mean to be protected, to be an officer should be as respected as being a soldier.

Instead of trying to identify one group upon whom all blame can be affixed, everyone must look to solutions.  The bitter hatred of the military which dominated so much of the mid to late 20th century has transformed into respect; the same change can come to police forces, but  it will not simply happen.  We must work together to attain it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Great Men Make Great History (Sort Of)

Men make history, but rarely as they please -- Karl Marx, quoted by Erin David Miller, author of "The End of Greatness" on Washington journal, in regard to the question of the great man versus great events theories of history.