Sunday, September 18, 2011

Absolutely

Here's the thing, conservatives: let's say we take US$1 more in taxes per year from every millionaire in the country. Do you honestly think they would change their job-creatin' investments in any way whatsoever? Surely not, since even middle-class people would not really complain (or even notice) losing a dollar a year. Some of us lose more than that just miscalculating a tip for a waitress, or just forget to take it out of our pants before washing.

Guess what? There are actually ten million millionaires in the US, and we've just cut the deficit by US$10 million. You care about the deficit, right? If so, you should be intrigued by my idea of reducing the deficit with no pain whatsoever.

Now, the other extreme is obviously bad. If we took most of what rich people earn, indeed they'll find some way to avoid it, perhaps by moving elsewhere. But surely there's some small amount that we could increase their taxes to help reduce the deficit, without them even really noticing? We can reduce the deficit by a billion dollars by taxing each millionaire a mere US$100 more. That's a bit over US$8 a month, not even three fancy coffees. Do you really think that would stop them from "creating jobs"?

The opposite in the political spectrum is true: if we paid a dollar less per recipient of Social Security, we'd save a good chunk of money (about US$60 million). If we cut too much, they'll be endangered.

Now, you might say that a billion here or there isn't a lot of money, compared to the trillions in debt. That's right, and the debt needs to be addressed by big (and probably painful) solutions, but why not cut a billion here or there anyway?

So let's stop saying that taxes absolutely cannot be raised, and benefits absolutely cannot be reduced, and instead find a balance that shares the burden like a united country should.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dumberest

Close on the heels of my earlier post about conservatives who refuse to think more than a little, here are some recent examples of mind-numbingly simple logical errors they make.

As Dahlia Lithwick points out in her Slate article, conservatives believe that government can't do anything right. Not health care, not social safety nets, not protecting the environment. She also points out that despite all that, they believe that government can administer the death penalty just fine. Governor Perry of Texas claims to have never lost any sleep over the executions of 234 people. Whether or not any of them have been wrongly put to death is one thing, the more and immediately obvious problem is the total lack of doubt. How can the government be so inevitably bureaucratic and inefficient, yet make no mistakes on death penalty cases?

The other exception that she didn't write about is Defense. Somehow there isn't even a penny that should be cut from the over six hundred billion dollars spent on Defense. How can it be that the Pentagon runs with perfect efficiency, while no other department can run with even just an acceptable level of inefficiency?

If you think that's bad, their blind faith in tax cuts goes all the way into lunacy. The actual cost of the Bush tax cuts is not easy to calculate accurately, but suffice to say we're talking trillion. The tax cuts took effect in 2001, and completely failed to prevent the economic meltdown in 2009. The US$787-billion stimulus that conservatives called a failure? About a third of that was in tax cuts, so if the stimulus was a total failure, clearly tax cuts are a big part of that failure. More than a trillion in tax cuts failed to prevent the meltdown, and another US$218B in tax cuts "failed" to revive the economy. The latest round of tax cuts from the inane debt limit deal? Well, the first thing it failed to prevent was the downgrade of the US credit rating. When exactly are these tax cuts supposed to do anything?

You think corporations need cash? Apple Inc. alone is sitting on over US$76 billion in cash (or cash equivalents). If it's not spending that money, why would giving Apple another few more billion dollars change anything? If you understand anything at all about how banks work, you'll understand that the reason your savings account pays about 1% right now is because they have plenty of deposits compared to loans. There's plenty of money ready to be invested, if only there was something worthwhile to invest in.

The same Governor Perry also said that the verdict is still out on human causes of climate change. Ignoring the broad consensus among scientists for a moment, Perry's stance is foolish. Government leaders must act on incomplete information all the time. If he had some information the day before that terrorists were planning to hijack planes on 9/11, is he going to take no action until he gets complete and irrefutable intelligence on which buildings they plan to crash into? Of course not, he should do what he can with the best available information. Remember this is also a person who wants to dramatically cut social security now, even though it can probably still pay out 75% of benefits until 2085. Why is that verdict somehow "in"?

But Michele Bachmann takes this to her own level. She actually retold the story of a girl apparently suffered mental retardation after receiving a vaccine. Even the most cursory understanding of science should tell you that an anecdote has no meaning, because just because one happened after another does not mean there's any relationship between the two events. (In fact, it's quite hard to conclusively prove that one thing caused another.) Yet this woman - who has some non-zero chance of becoming president - believes this anecdote told by some random person she doesn't even know. She is completely unqualified for any position requiring judgement, because she has no way of telling what is reliable information and what isn't.

So, no, while I'm not at all pleased with many of his policies, President Obama doesn't really have to worry about losing my vote.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Dumb and Dumber

Two companies notorious for their lack of direction want to get together. They are not without talent. During my short stint at Yahoo! I gained respect for the mundane task of serving bytes, because when you have six hundred million customers, even the easy is hard. I've been a client-side developer for much of my career, and we scaled by selling more units of phones or iPods or whatever. The server side of things is complex, and people who can do it well (by virtue of you not hearing of disasters) are not to be sneered at. Apple has been a juggernaut this decade in seemingly all things, but many of its few failures have involved building servers.

Saving Yahoo! and AOL is actually simple: Decide a direction, brutally remove everything that doesn't fit along that direction, and concentrate your remaining resources on being the best at it. That is, simple to say, not simple to do.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Thinking Ahead

I don't actually have a problem with conservatism per se. In many ways, I believe government should be minimal. My problem with conservatism in its modern incarnation is that it seems filled with people who are unable to think even a little bit ahead.

For example, they want to kill Social Security. Yes, it's flawed by design, requiring a base of workers to support retirees, and can fail spectacularly when demographics shift wildly such as when the baby boomers retire. However, killing Social Security does not make the seniors vanish in a puff of smoke, they just become poor. Some of them may be forced to sell their homes and move in with adult children. That means housing prices will plummet, and your spouse's mental health (and perhaps marriages) may be at risk due to increased stress. Some of them might sacrifice luxuries like travel, but some of them might have to sacrifice necessities like medicine. So it's one thing to say we should kill Social Security, but you should think a step ahead, and about the kind of country we want to have.

Medicare, Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance all require similar thought. Would a poor person whose kids are sick just watch them die, or would he perhaps try to make that money any way he can? If enough of them do, would we need to build more prisons and hire more prison guards, at public expense? When they can no longer afford to live in a house, where will they live? That's right, they'll be on a street, perhaps even on your street. We would need more police officers to shoo them away. And unless we change our laws, emergency rooms still have to treat them, which happens to be the most expensive and least effective way of dealing with disease.

Conservative sacred cows like Defense are no different. If we shrink our standing army as the liberals want, that means a lot of young men and women will have to look for other jobs. Many of them carry trauma from wars, many of them are not highly educated. What jobs do we offer them, with an unemployment rate of consistently over 9%?

This isn't to say we can't or shouldn't cut government. This is to say that doing it drastically will have many side effects that are easily predicted, if we actually thought before we acted. Compared to the effects of raising taxes on the rich, it's downright unbelievable that Republicans still have any support.