Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"No Religion" Largest Single Religious Affiliation


I haven't been able to blog not nearly as often as in the past due to more important obligations, so I have a quicky here. The 2018 General Social Survey (GSS), which tracks, among other things, religious adherence indicated that the number of "nones," or Americans with no religion has risen above all religious denominations. The nones are now at 23.1%, higher than the number of Evangelical Protestants—long America's dominant religious group—who have fallen in recent decades to 22.8% (though statistically within the margin of error.) The below image is courtesy of Ryan Burge's tweet:



Judging from the trends, it appears that most of the surge among the nones is coming from the Mainline Protestant denominations, with slightly less coming from Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. I've been listening to many arguments from conservatives about how the decline in religion is having and will continue to have major unintended social and political consequences. In recent years I've become open to the possibility of there being some positive social effects religion has on populations that may be lost once traditional religion declines as an unintended consequence.

If it really is the case that the religious give more to charity than the secular, for example, this potentially could be a problem. The secular, who tend to lean left in their politics, usually see government as a solution to helping those in need through programs like tuition free college, universal healthcare, and universal basic income (which I just wrote about). Conservatives, who tend to lean more religious, think this should be handled in the private sector through the churches or synagogues, as it had in the past. This is one salient reason why conservatives tend to hate the idea of government providing social and economic safety nets: it reduces the need for organized religion.

I personally think it's a horrible idea to promote religion as a means to provide social and economic safety nets on large scales. Sure, locally it may work. But as a solution to our nation's ever worsening healthcare and economic plights, it would be catastrophic. I don't want to have to be guilt tripped into paying for my next door neighbor's medical bills when he can't, and neither, I'd argue, would most Americans. Conservatives have to face the reality that America is rapidly secularizing and it's never going back. Our job now is to figure out what unintended problems this will bring, and how they should be solved without a nod to religion.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

What Would I Do With An Extra $1000 A Month?


The 2020 presidential race is nearing full swing and in my opinion there is no shortage of good candidates to choose from on the Democratic side. A little less than a year ago I came across Andrew Yang, an Asian American entrepreneur running for president in a campaign centered around UBI: universal basic income.

His idea of UBI is you'd give every American citizen between the ages of 18 and 64 $1,000 per month, no questions asked. I've been warming up to the idea over the past few months and I'm basically at the point of supporting it, although I stop short of an enthusiastic consent.

The "freedom dividend" as Yang calls it, would be paid for by a 10% value added tax or VAT that would make corporations pay a larger share of the tax burden and hinder the offshoring of their revenues that many larger businesses like Apple use to pay a much lower share of taxes. All other developed countries use a VAT and it's argued by some that it's time the US does the same. I generally support the idea even though I've heard criticisms of how a VAT tax introduces a disincentive to consumers, since the costs are eventually passed on to consumers.

Setting aside any issues with the tax increases of a VAT, the pay off would be in the dividend. So I've been asking myself what I'd do with an extra thousand dollars in my bank account?

Well I could think of a few things:
  • Help pay my rent
  • Go on better vacations every year
  • Consume more goods and services (eat out more, and at more expensive restaurants, buy more clothes, electronics, etc.)
  • Save it for retirement
  • Spend it towards further education
Here's what I would not do:
  • Quit my job
  • Stop working or stop being motivated to work

When I saw Tim Pool in person earlier this month, he spoke out against UBI because he said his teenage self would have been lazy with a thousand dollars every month. We'll that may have been true of him, but does it characterize what most people would do with a no-questions-asked thousand dollars a month? I'd say probably not. UBI is not supposed to resolve all problems, it's supposed to keep people afloat and give them a supplemental income as automation starts taking away our jobs.

Before I commit myself to big policy ideas I like to hear multiple perspectives so I'm still open to good criticisms of UBI before I fully commit. Right now, I think it is a promising idea and would be revolutionary in its practice for the US.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Quote Of The Day: The Realities Of Dating Inequality


I just read an excellent article over on the free thought online magazine Quillitte about how the new dating economy creates differing levels of inequalities between men and women, with (no surprise) men having more inequality than women. In other words, male attraction to females is much more spread out based on women's appearances, whereas female attraction to males is much more concentrated to the top fifth of attractive men.

Applying the Gini coefficient to men and women using the number of swipes on dating apps like tinder, the Gini coefficient of males is 0.542, whereas it's a much more egalitarian 0.324 for females. Towards the very end of the article the author, Bradford Tuckfield, makes a slight critique of the progressives who cheer on the end of religion (which would include people like me) in how they're reacting in apparent dismay to the unintended consequences that come along with shattering traditional institutions of sexual regulation, like marriage and monogamy, usually grounded in the authority of the church:

The result of these cultural changes is that the highly unequal social structures of the prehistoric savanna homo sapiens are reasserting themselves, and with them the dissatisfactions of the unattractive “sexually underprivileged” majority are coming back. It is ironic that the progressives who cheer on the decline of religion and the weakening of “outdated” institutions like monogamy are actually acting as the ultimate reactionaries, returning us to the oldest and most barbaric, unequal animal social structures that have ever existed. In this case it is the conservatives who are cheering for the progressive ideal of “sexual income redistribution” through a novel invention: monogamy.

If you read this blog, you know I take strong comfort responding to criticism of secularism and atheism. But this is a new one for me I haven't considered. The dismantling of religion and the values it stands for comes with the unintended consequences of what a free market dating landscape looks like, where the bottom 80 percent of men who are largely unattractive to the majority of women end up struggling in the dating economy in a manner similar to how the bottom 80 percent of people in our economy are. This phenomena gives rise to the "incels" — the involuntary celibates, who for various reasons haven't been able to secure any success in the free market dating economy, and who often yearn for the "enforced monogamy" of the past.

This got me thinking. I'm not a fan on marriage, though I wouldn't argue that no one should get married. I think for many people — perhaps a majority — marriage is the best option for them. Most people are naturally monogamous and prefer to have one long term romantic partner in their life. A minority of people are naturally polyamorous, or are serial daters who prefer frequent, short term, mostly sexual, relationships. Marriage is declining, especially among the poor, and this is due to a variety of reason I won't dive deep into here. But am I unknowingly championing the fall of the dating and sexual realities of the bottom 80 percent of men? I might be, and I'm not crazy about that reality because I might be in the bottom 80 percent of men in terms of attraction. So what should I do? Well, I don't have all the answers now, so I might have to write another blog post about that in the future.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Munchhausen's Trilemma — What Every Atheist Should Know


So you're an atheist and you find yourself in a debate with a theist or an agnostic on some issue relevant to being godless. It could be about morality, or why the universe exists, or how did we all get here, or why our universe happens to be the particular way it is, or a similarly related issue. Perhaps the other person is even another atheist who's just curious and asking questions.

And as witty and as intelligent as you are, for every question of theirs that you answer, they keep asking "Why?" until you've eventually exhausted your explanatory capability, much to your chagrin. This is inevitable, even if you're the world's authority in every field of science and philosophy. At that point, they express doubt that atheism is a coherent position. After all, to them it can't ground the most basic questions about reality in an all-encompassing explanatory framework. Atheism as an explainer just seems to lead to a dead end.

But here's where the clever atheist, who's learned in philosophy comes back. If this were me in such a predicament, I would remind my interlocutor that it is logically impossible to have an all-encompassing explanatory framework. And that's because of a little known trilemma in epistemology known as Munchhausen's trilemma:


Monday, February 11, 2019

"Socialized Medicine" Vs Free Market Healthcare: A Critique — Part 2


This is part 2 of a critique of Chuck Braman's argument for pro-capitalist healthcare, The Real Right to Medical Care vs. Socialized Medicine. To read part 1 click here.


About halfway through the section of his blog post entitled The Right to Medical Care and the Causes of the Medical Crisis, he turns on Medicare and Medicaid:

These programs were instituted to make the increasingly expensive medical care more affordable to the poor and the elderly. However, since such programs represent an even further collectivization of costs than collectivized insurance, drawing their funding as they do from the entire body of taxpayers rather than from a smaller body of insurance holders, they have lead to the pricing of medical care beyond the reach of the uninsured middle class. As a result, their implementation has lead to the current call for complete socialized medicine.

As per the investopedia article I cited in part 1, it is not Medicaid and Medicare that are primarily driving up the cost of healthcare, it's other factors that are the result of a for-profit system. There are arguments however, that Medicaid and Medicare contribute to rising healthcare costs by settings prices too high for services which the private market then is influenced by. Chuck's view is that this is what makes many people think the solution is to have the government pay for all insurance. I argue that this misses the point.

Private healthcare costs are going up because of price gouging by the hospitals and medical equipment providers mainly because with healthcare—especially emergency healthcare—you don't have the option of shopping around. You don't know what tests are needed or how much they will cost. You're in a state of panic, pain, fear, and ignorance. You're not a doctor. You're not in a position to be negotiating the cost of things with doctors and nurses. You're not in a position to be shopping around for the best deal. This is a completely different kind of market from buying shoes or a new TV. And people like Chuck do not realize that. Or if they do, they foolishly think it doesn't make a difference.

Chuck then machine guns through eight different reasons why he thinks socialized medicine fails and why past implementations of socialized medicine are the reasons why the existing system is failing. Let's break them down one by one.

First, of course, is the increase in prices which necessarily follows when one is able to bid on a limited supply of goods and then pass the expense off to an anonymous group. Such bidding on government-supplied goods leads inevitably to government-imposed price controls and rationing as the only possible means of controlling costs, followed thereafter by the government's further refusal to allow anyone to bid the price up any further even using their own money.

Limited supply of goods? Are we talking about the limited supply of doctors due to medical licensing? There will always be a limited supply of goods. Does Chuck think that the supply is artificially limited due to licensing? Would it be fixed by allowing anyone to practice medicine? Chuck doesn't define socialized medicine, and he makes no acknowledgment that it's different from single payer. On single payer, the doctors, nurses, hospitals, device and drug makers are still privatized. But without cost controls in place, they can jack up the prices to as high as can be. That's why in the US you see cases of $629 band aids. And this is why the cost of prescription drugs, as well as almost every kind of test costs more in the US than other counties, and this makes healthcare costs about twice that of all other developed countries as a percentage of GDP.

Source: Mother Jones

Sunday, February 3, 2019

"Socialized Medicine" Vs Free Market Healthcare: A Critique — Part 1


I really, really love debunking viewpoints and arguments that I think are wrong. I mean like really love it. I'd write critiques of views all day long if I could and had the time, but I have this pesky thing called a job which sucks out the day's prime hours.

But on par with my love of critique, here I want to begin a series of posts critiquing a free-market libertarian's defense of market based healthcare. This will also be a learning experience for me. I use critique as a way to better familiarize myself with opposing viewpoints, and I'd highly recommend others strongly consider debate as a form of learning as well.


There's a lengthy blog post called The Real Right to Medical Care vs. Socialized Medicine by Chuck Braman, who's a giant fan of Ayn Rand's views on markets and economics. In it he tries to argue that socialized medicine leads to a crisis and that the best way to fix this ailing problem is "pro-capitalist reform" in the healthcare industry. I'm going to be breaking this down in a series of posts section by section where ever I think it's incorrect (which will be most of it). So here it goes.

Chuck starts out:

For decades the cost of health care, unlike the cost of other economic goods, has risen relative to prices in general and to people's incomes. The cost of health care is now so high that a radical reform is necessary. The current type of reform being advanced by the Clinton administration, however, is an anachronism. It is, to be exact, the enactment of a full system of socialized medicine, a system based on the mistaken and discredited tenets of Marxism, which will aim to reduce the cost of our partially socialized medical system by means of its full socialization accompanied by price controls and rationing.

It's definitely true that the cost of healthcare has gone up far faster than inflation and the cost of other services. But according to an article on investopedia, healthcare costs are going up rapidly because of six primary reasons: (1) skyrocketing administration costs, which by the way "socialized medicine" wouldn't require, (2) not negotiating drug costs, which would save hundreds of billions and which every other developed country does, (3) defensive medicine whereby doctors order unnecessary tests even when they know the diagnosis so they won't get sued, (4) using expensive mix of treatments like mammograms, MRIs and Caesarean sections more often than other developed countries plus an over reliance on more expensive specialists instead of primary care physicians, (5) the wages and work rules that enable high pay-commanding specialists, and (6) branding, which results in an industry where the prices are made up and set as high as they can be.

Having universal healthcare can solve many of these problems because they're caused by for-profit incentives.

Image via halbertwealth.com

Saturday, February 2, 2019

"God: Eternity, Free Will, and the World" Refuted — Part 5


A few months ago over at the Catholic apologist's site Strange Notions, where I sometimes debate theists (but am now banned from), a post was written by Catholic philosopher Dr. Dennis Bonnette that was almost entirely addressed at some criticisms I've made on the site in the past year.

This is the final response of my series of that rebuts his post. For parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 click here, here, here, and here.


How God's Eternity Relates to the Temporal World


In the final section of Dr Bonnette's post he attempts to logically reconcile the existence of an unchanging, timeless god with a changing dynamic universe, and as before we will see his attempts fail at nearly every step. He writes,

Some argue that every change in the temporal world requires a change in God to initiate that new causation that changes the world. For, how can one thing initiate new motion in another without itself changing in the very act of “sending forth” its causal influence to the world?
Such reasoning may make perfect sense to a mentality mired in philosophical materialism. But, it makes no sense at all in existential metaphysics. Physical agents change as they cause effects. But to think that this also applies to spiritual agents is absurd and illogical.

This is flat out wrong. In my criticisms of the impossibility of an unchanging being doing things that require time (which requires change) I pressed its logical impossibility. That is to say, nothing in my view depends on materialism being true. The theist has a logical problem, not a material problem. When I argue that:

P1. It is logically impossible to do something without doing something.
P2. It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).
P3. It is logically impossible for change to exist without time.
C. As such, a timeless, changeless being cannot do anything.

I am stressing the fact that logical impossibilities hold true regardless of metaphysical materialism or immaterialism. No amount of hand-waving can wiggle you out of this, as we will see. He continues,

Since whatever is in motion or is changed must be moved or changed by another, maintaining that a cause cannot cause change without itself changing would entail an infinite regress among simultaneous caused causes and make impossible an Uncaused First Cause. This is because it would mean that every cause would be an intermediate cause in need of a prior proper cause. If every cause has a prior cause, any causal regress among proper causes would have to regress to infinity. But, I have shown elsewhere that an infinite regress among simultaneous proper causes is metaphysically impossible. For one thing, the sufficient reason for the final effect would never be fulfilled. Therefore, it is manifestly false to claim that every cause must itself change in order to cause a change in another.

Regarding the infinite regress issue, his argument presupposes the principle of sufficient reason, which I've argued is self-contradictory on the Scholastic view. Without the PSR, Bonnette's argument cannot be made plausible. It's assuming a first principle that can easily be challenged, which is a recurring theme in most if not all the arguments made in his post. Bonnette's assuming the PSR, showing a supposed problem that an infinite regress of causes entails given the PSR, and then is deducing from this that there must be an unchanging cause. If your conclusion is incoherent, it cannot be true, and so something must be wrong with your premises or assumptions, or both. And that's exactly what we have here. Bonnette makes no attempt to actually demonstrate the logical coherency of a timeless god who does things which would require change and therefore time. He just assumes such a being must exist given a deduction from the first principles he adheres to.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Quote Of The Day: High Tax Rates And Growth Unique Only To The Post-War US?


Continuing on from my recent QOTD post from economist Paul Krugman on high marginal tax rates for the rich, another New York Times OpEd by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman provides a counter argument to a popular critique proponents of higher tax rates often receive.

When one argues that higher marginal tax rates do not hinder growth and point to post-war United States as an example of that, a common rebuttal is that the US was in a unique circumstance at the time: it could afford higher tax rates because the rest of the world was effectively destroyed. Saez and Zucman use post-war Japan as a counter example of that. Post-war Japan was destroyed and poor by modern standards. It had the US and Europe as competition, and yet it grew rapidly from 1946 to the 1960s and 70s, while it had a top marginal tax rate as high as 85% during those years:

A common objection to elevated top marginal income tax rates is that they hurt economic growth. But let’s look at the empirical evidence. The United States grew more strongly — and much more equitably — from 1946 to 1980 than it has ever since. But maybe in those years the United States, as the hegemon of the post-World War II decades, could afford “bad” tax policy? Let’s look then at Japan in 1945, a poor and war-devastated country. The United States, which occupied Japan after the war, imposed democracy and a top marginal tax rate of 85 percent on it (almost the same rate as at home — 86 percent in 1947). The goal was obviously not to generate much revenue. It was to prevent, from that tabula rasa, the formation of a new oligarchy. This policy was applied for decades: In 1982, the top rate was still 75 percent. Yet between 1950 and 1982, Japan grew at one of the fastest rates ever recorded (5.1 percent a year per adult on average), one of the most striking economic success stories of all time.

Their source comes from a paper by Chiaki Moriguchi and Emmanuel Saez (same author as the OpEd), on the evolution of income concentration in Japan from 1886 to 2005. A graph from that paper shows Japan's marginal tax rate during those years. This provides an interesting counter argument to the popular rebuttal that only the US could afford higher marginal tax rates due to its unique circumstance as the only unscathed country after World War II, and I'd love to hear a rebuttal to Saez and Zucman's argument in the comments if anyone wishes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Survey: Few Americans Find Meaning In Faith


An interesting survey from Pew came out recently that detailed where Americans find meaning in life and it showed a relatively small number mention spirituality or faith.

A hot topic in the debate between atheists and theists is where millions of people will find meaning, once they've left religion for atheism. It is argued, mostly by social conservatives, but even by some liberals, that religion is the largest provider of meaning in life and that in the absence of traditional religion the void left by that absence of meaning will be filled by anti-social elements, like drug addiction, and radical ideologies, be they far Right or far Left.

Well, Pew's survey seems to challenge that perspective, at least somewhat. Despite Americas being seen as a highly religious population among the Western nations, only 20% of the respondents in the survey even mentioned spirituality and faith as something that provides them with a sense of meaning. Family by far topped the list, with nearly 70% mentioning it, followed much lower by career and money, at 34% and 23% respectively.

Americans most likely to mention family when describing what provides them with a sense of meaning

Despite the fact that when the survey is measured by what is the most important source of meaning, faith comes in second, I am positive that these numbers will be decreasing in the next few decades due to the ongoing rapid secularization of the US.

Religion second to family as ‘most important’ source of meaning in lives of American adults

And not surprising, black Americans mention spirituality the highest of 3 racial groups, corresponding with the known high levels of religiosity among them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An Argument Demonstrating Why Arcane Knowledge Is Wrong About Special Relativity And Eternalism


There's a website called Arcane Knowledge written by a Catholic named Daniel J. Castellano that includes several articles on Special Relativity that try to argue that the theory doesn't entail eternalism (the view that all moments of time have equal existence). Now if you've read my blog at any length, you know I'm a big proponent of the view that Special Relativity does necessitate eternalism. So naturally, I disagree with much of what is written on the site.

Many of the theists I've debating eternalism with have cited this website and its arguments against the reality of a 4 dimensional spacetime block universe. (Not surprisingly, they've all been Catholics subscribing to Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics).

Through a year long debate with a Catholic who frequently cited Arcane Knowledge in an attempt to deny Special Relativity entails eternalism, I've constructed an argument below showing how the arguments used on Arcane Knowledge to deny eternalism forces one into a dilemma: either (a) affirm you are the only thing that exists at any given present moment for you (literally deny the existence of everything else), or (b) be forced to agree events in the past and future exist (effectively affirming eternalism).

Over on the site, Daniel argues that from any event considered present, no events in the absolute future or past will have any objective ontological status, but any events in "elsewhere" could physically exist. In Special Relativity, "elsewhere" is a term given to all the places not in an event's absolute future or past (which are its future and past light cones, respectively). In other words, elsewhere is the totality of spacelike separated events. According to Daniel, one cannot say whether any events in elsewhere exist when one is at the present moment, seen below in the spacetime diagram as a green dot (the coordinates of this dot at (0,0) on the X and Y axis). It is physically possible, according to this view, that any set of events can possibly exist in elsewhere.


This interpretation of Special Relativity is problematic in several ways, and I will show how. If an event's absolute future and past objectively doesn't exist, this would have to apply to all other events that exist, since there's nothing special about any given event we make the center of a spacetime diagram. Given this rule, no other events can exist in elsewhere that are in the absolute futures or pasts of any other events in elsewhere. For example, in the diagram below, it is possible events A and B can exist, since they're not in each other's absolute future or past.

But in this diagram below, it cannot be the case that both events A and B exist, since event A is in the absolute past of event B, and event B is in the absolute future of event A.
A quick side note of what is meant by the absolute future and past: The absolute future and past of an event are all the areas relative to that event's location where all inertial frames would agree are objectively in the future or in the past if they were all in that event's location, even if they're moving relative to each other. They are the future and past light cones.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Quote Of The Day: Paul Krugman On High Tax Rates For The Rich


Happy New Year! As we embrace a new year amidst the ongoing government shutdown (which isn't affecting me at all), newly sworn in congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview with 60 minutes that top tax rates on the super rich for income above $10 million should be 70%! The conservative blogosphere predicatbly blew up.

This all got me thinking about tax rates again. Back in May of 2017 I proposed a tax plan with a rate of 45% for income above $10 million, far lower than Cortez's 70%. Many have claimed that her rate is far too high. Too "radical" as Anderson Cooper described it. It definitely seems radical, even when you consider that the highest marginal tax rates in the 1940s and 50s were as high as 94%.

Enter Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman. In a recent New York Times OpEd, he writes on how many other economists (even some Nobel prize winning ones) calculate the optimal top tax rate to be over 70%:

Peter Diamond, Nobel laureate in economics and arguably the world’s leading expert on public finance. (Although Republicans blocked him from an appointment to the Federal Reserve Board with claims that he was unqualified. Really.) And it’s a policy nobody has ever implemented, aside from … the United States, for 35 years after World War II — including the most successful period of economic growth in our history.
To be more specific, Diamond, in work with Emmanuel Saez — one of our leading experts on inequality — estimated the optimal top tax rate to be 73 percent. Some put it higher: Christina Romer, top macroeconomist and former head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, estimates it at more than 80 percent.

Krugman continues on how the top tax rates is based on two primary factors: Diminishing marginal utility and competitive markets, [emphasis mine]

Diminishing marginal utility is the common-sense notion that an extra dollar is worth a lot less in satisfaction to people with very high incomes than to those with low incomes. Give a family with an annual income of $20,000 an extra $1,000 and it will make a big difference to their lives. Give a guy who makes $1 million an extra thousand and he’ll barely notice it. 
What this implies for economic policy is that we shouldn’t care what a policy does to the incomes of the very rich. A policy that makes the rich a bit poorer will affect only a handful of people, and will barely affect their life satisfaction, since they will still be able to buy whatever they want. 
So why not tax them at 100 percent? The answer is that this would eliminate any incentive to do whatever it is they do to earn that much money, which would hurt the economy. In other words, tax policy toward the rich should have nothing to do with the interests of the rich, per se, but should only be concerned with how incentive effects change the behavior of the rich, and how this affects the rest of the population. 

Seems reasonable. Tax the rich too high, Krugman argues, like at 100%, and you'll stifle all incentive to work any harder resulting in diminishing returns. But what's "too high" is a threshold beyond an optimal top tax rate that would drive the largest tax revenue, that experts argue is much higher than the top tax rates that currently exist. He continues, [emphasis mine]

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