Sunday, March 26, 2017
I just saw Lawrence Krauss speak about his new book, The Greatest Story Every Told — So Far, with Alan Alda at the New York Public Library. And during the event Krauss reiterated a point I want to drive home here because I think it's really important.
It has to do with how we understand scientific theories and their relationship with one another. Many people have the mistaken impression that each new scientific idea disproves all the previous ideas of a particular area. For example, before Einstein we had Newtonian physics where we had Newton's laws of motion. However, Einstein's Special and General Theory of Relativity superseded Newton's laws of motion, giving us a more accurate mathematical description of the way large objects behave.
But Einstein didn't disprove Newtonian physics, as if to say, Newton's equations fail to give us any predictive power. Newton's equations got us to the moon after all. Einstein's equations just show us where Newton's equations break down. That is, Newton's equations are a close approximation to the more accurate equations Einstein gave us, and they're accurate in a certain regime, but they break down dramatically at really fast speeds, like near the speed of light.
And where Special Relativity breaks down, General Relativity takes over. Special Relativity doesn't take into account accelerating reference frames, nor does it take into account gravity. But General Relativity didn't falsify Special Relativity. Special Relativity is still accurate in it's regime — that is to say, in it's domain of applicability. It's a description of reality at a certain level, within a certain range of circumstances. In other words, we need to think of scientific explanations as containers within other containers. Each theory or explanation is accurate within its container but not accurate outside of it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the internal containers are false or disproven because a wider ranging theory eclipsed it.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
Would a graduated sales tax work in lieu of an income tax? Like say 8% on sales under $1,000 and 12% on sales between $1,000 and $10,000, 16% on sales between $10,000 and $100,000, and 20% on sales between $100,000 and $250,000, and 25% on sales between $250,000 and $500,000, and 30% on sales above $500,000.
This would make it impossible to find loopholes around it and to put corporations overseas to avoid paying US taxes, ensuring everyone and every corporation pays taxes whenever they spend money. Now if a corporation buys products overseas to sell in the US perhaps a matching graduated import tax could work as well.
Monday, March 20, 2017
I've been a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson for years now and had the chance to meet him a few years ago at a bar. One thing I didn't like about him was his ambiguity towards the issue of free will. It wasn't clear that he acknowledged that we don't have it in his many talks. But recently he did acknowledge that we don't have free will and that it's an illusion when talking about time in a video by Vsause3. And he acknowledges the illusion of free will due to eternalism by recognizing that our worldtubes are complete and locked into the block universe! He says this towards the end of the video below. It's definitely worth a watch.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Much has been said about the fact that most Americans—slightly more than 50%—make less than $30k a year. That's more than 80 million Americans. It's amazing that for so many workers, so much of them make barely enough money to survive. It's hard for me to accept the idea that "middle class" in 2015 means making around $29,930.
I never realized that I'd be in the top quintile of earners. In other words, I make more money than about 80% of workers in America. I don't feel privileged because I live in New York City, where the median wage is closer to $55k.
But one thing that confuses people is average income vs median income. The average is the mean; it's the total amount of income divided by the number of people. This can give misleading results because a few high income earners can off-set the average for the group. Say you want to measure the average height of 10 men. 8 of the ten men are 5'2" and 2 are 7'6". The average height of the group becomes 5'6" when in reality 80% of the men are below that height. The median will be 5'2", which is much closer to where most people in the group are. The average income in the US is about $44.5k, even though 66% of workers make less than $45k a year.
If we rose the minimum wage to $15 an hour that would increase wages for half the country. And we'd lift all workers out of poverty. But with Trump's new budget and proposals, it looks like he's going to continue a modified trickle down approach.
See the wage index for yourself on the SSA's website.
my original post a week ago on whether or not government has a duty to educate its citizens. I originally wrote a critique of the speech made by the first speaker, Chuck Braman, and now I'm going to write a line-by-line critique of the arguments the second speaker gave, Roberto Guzman. He writes at the blog Capitalism and Ideas and his blog post, written here, is inspired by his arguments in the debate. So without further ado:
Larry Elder makes the point that government education is similar to an item on a restaurant menu that not even the waitress would order.
Yeah, unless they can't afford private education, especially if a "free market" Republican governor like Scott Walker tries to destroy the teacher's unions.
Roughly 11% of Americans send their kids to private school, but nearly 30% of parents who work in public schools do so. In urban areas such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati it hovers closer to 40%. To reiterate, these are government education providers choosing to send their kids to the competing private schools.
I couldn't corroborate that 30% claim and Roberto does not include a source. The number I see is 19% of public school teachers send their kids of private schools, though 28% have tried alternatives to public schools at some point. This is definitely higher than the national average, but why are so many public educators sending their kids to private schools, especially in urban centers? Well, it's because many urban schools suck and teachers who work there know this. So if they can afford to send their kids to private schools, they will. The median high school teacher salary is $57,200, for middle school it's $55,860, and for elementary school it's $54,890. But the vast majority of Americans won't be able to afford this option, not when the national average for private school tuition is $10,003 a year. Even if it was half that, most Americans still wouldn't be able to afford it, not with 50% of Americans making less than $30,000 a year.
What about the government officials themselves? 37% of Representatives send their kids to private school. For US senators, that number is a staggering 45%. President Obama, himself a product of private education, made a big show of vetting DC public schools when he was elected. After all of the hullabaloo, he sent his daughters to the most elite private school in the capital. If government education is so great, why do its biggest advocates avoid it like tap water in Mexico?
Most members of congress are far wealthier than your average American. In 2012 the base salary for all members of the US House and Senate was $174,000 a year. Few than 3% of Americans earn that much. And this doesn't even count additional income from book selling, speeches, and gifts from lobbyists. People will always be able to pay for better private education than what the public system can offer. Nobody denies that. But this is not an argument to privatize all public education.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
A year ago a study by UC Berkeley of New York state's plan to gradually raise its minimum wage from its current $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2021 determined that the raise would result in a mostly positive outcome. With the raise signed into law by Governor Cuomo, we're going to see the effects over the next few years. So I hope the report is right. Key findings include:
- As Cooper (2016) reports, increasing the state minimum wage from $9 to $15 will increase earnings for 3.16 million workers, or 36.6 percent of the statewide workforce.
- As Cooper (2016) also reports, among those getting raises, annual pay will increase 23.4 percent, or $4,900 (in 2015 dollars) on average. These estimates include a ripple effect in which some workers who already earn $15 will also receive an increase.
- Three industries account for nearly half of the private sector workers getting increases: retail trade (17.6 percent), health care and social assistance (18 percent), and restaurants (13.5 percent).
- 79.6 percent of workers in the restaurant industry in the private sector will receive a wage increase, compared to 19.6 percent in finance, insurance and real estate
Effects on businesses and consumers by mid-2021
- Payroll cost increases will average 3.2 percent over the entire for-profit economy. This increase is much smaller than the minimum wage increase because many businesses already pay over $15 and many workers who will get pay increases are already paid over $9, the current minimum wage.
- Employee turnover reductions, automation, and increases in worker productivity will offset some of these payroll cost increases.
- Businesses could absorb the remaining payroll cost increases by increasing prices slightly—by 0.14 percent per year over the phase-in period. This price increase is well below annual inflation of nearly 2 percent over the past five years.
- Price increases will be much smaller than labor cost increases because labor costs average about onefourth of operating costs.
- The consumers who would pay these increased prices range across the entire income distribution.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
Last week I attended a public debate on the proposition: It is the duty of government to educate its citizens. I was and am for the proposition, but the side arguing against the motion definitely made the better case for their point of view. It was a two-on-two debate, just like my recent debate over open source information, Thankfully, Chuck, one of the two debaters arguing against the motion, whom I know and spar with regularly, put up his opening speech on his site and what I want to do here is offer my critique of it.
Chuck begins his speech arguing that "duty" only applies to individuals:
To begin, I'd like to bring some clarity to the meaning of the proposition that we’re arguing against, which is that it's the duty of the government to educate its citizens. Regarding that proposition generally, it's important to note at the outset that the term “duty” is essentially a moral term that applies to individuals. Only in a metaphorical sense can the term be applied to the government.
With the crux of the debate over "duty" it is indeed important to say what we mean by the term. I'm skeptical of objective moral duties, but as I've written in the past, I think moral obligations and duties stem from one's self in adherence to principles, in addition to our various social contracts. But this means that it's important to identify what is the purpose of government. So what is it?
The purpose of government is to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected and defended by providing a police and military force, and a judicial system to adjudicate the law. Libertarians like Chuck would agree with that. But I think governments exist for more than that. In addition to police, military, and law, the purpose of the government is to protect its citizens against the harmful natural forces of unregulated markets. If a market is like a river, you need dams to regulate against droughts and floods that naturally happen in boom and bust cycles. A completely unregulated free market will inevitably result in increased concentrated wealth in the hands of a relatively few, and will leave millions at the bottom with little ability to climb the economic ladder. Government's purpose is to recognize that and provide the necessary regulations to prevent it. This isn't to go full on socialism. This is to allow the river to flow, but implement some common sense, rational checks and balances to ensure the river flows smoothly for the largest possible number of people. The US Constitution's preamble says one of the purposes of the US government is to "promote the general Welfare". This is to ensure the society runs smoothly.