Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Other Path to a Living Wage

Living Wage.

This seems to be the new socialist bugaboo. I do call it socialist, even though its implementation may be more fascist in appearance. I have said this before: Fascism and Communism are two fingers on the same hand of Socialism, though one may be purer than the other. In the former, the government controls the people through the companies, while in the latter, the government forbids the companies and controls the people directly. There is very little difference; in Fascism, the government forbears the existence of the companies for the time being, while in a free market economy, the government is limited in the ways that it is allowed to control them.

Economics lesson aside, let's break into the actual thought. The usual suspects are now calling for a government-enforced "living wage", the ability of any job to support a spouse and family. They like to claim that this was quite possible and expected back "before all this deregulation", as if the 1950's may as well have been lived under the hammer and sickle or something. Frankly, I'm pretty sure they don't know what they're talking about. But let's take a moment and ask the question: Why are so many jobs no longer offering "a living wage"? There are a few reasons that we can note before stepping into this one. In the 1950's, a "living wage" supported a smaller home with fewer amenities, fewer electronic devices with monthly plans, fewer restaurant meals, and smaller wardrobes. If you were to study the time period and attempt to live only with the amount of stuff and amenities that they had, eating what they ate and owning the clothing that they owned, you might find that a minimum wage job would in fact provide your needs. But let's set that, also, aside for a moment and ask this question:

Are corporations not offering a "living wage" because they are already subsidizing it via government fiat?

A worker costs an employer a great deal. Government-required taxes and benefits alone may increase the cost of an employee a minimum of 25% and maximum (more common in larger businesses, which have additional mandates that small businesses do not) of 40% above the employee's base salary. Many of these 'benefits', like 'health insurance' (itself becoming increasingly expensive and useless), would have been paid by the worker back in the days of the Living Wage.

On the other side, we have corporate and personal income taxes. Why did I say "corporate and personal"? Many companies nowadays are taking advantage of the S-Corp filing status, and filing as if they are persons. That lowers the bewildering complexity of the process and may lower the tax rate. On the other hand, someone who makes $35K/year may be paying taxes on his company's $120K/year profits instead. When we talk about government income from employers, we need to include them. All in all, the top 1% of income earners pay nearly half of personal income taxes, the top 20% pay 85% (the bottom 60% pay 2%), and many, perhaps even most, of those are S-Corps rather than individuals like Elon Musk or Bill Gates. The average S-Corp tax rate is 31%, with a range of 19-35%. (Note: That information is pre-Trump and so is at least slightly out-of-date. But hopefully it gets some thoughts stirring.)

Including all Federal spending, over half goes to social welfare programs, and state spending further adds to the bundle. A cursory look 'round state budget pie charts shows that welfare spending seems to run about the 20-40% range in general. Where am I going with this?

The average low-paying job is indeed already paying a Living Wage.

How can this be? Well, in the 1950's, he would do it by giving you a paycheck with which you could purchase all that you need. Nowadays, he does it the same way the government does for nonworking families. He pays for your health insurance, pays for a fair bit of your tax burden (did you know he pays half your Social Security tax? Try to work for yourself and you'll quickly find that out!), and pays the government to give you food stamps, heating assistance, rent assistance, free school lunches for your children, possibly free medical care for your children as well (CHIP/SCHIP), and, as your salary, a small cash allowance with which to obtain that which he and the government through his taxes have not provided.

Indeed, we see that this provision is sufficient, as there are workers in California under an increased minimum wage who have asked for fewer hours in order to preserve the same Living Wage.

Now's the part where everyone starts accusing me of saying that the poor have it easy, that they are freeloaders, that I don't care if babies starve, yadda yadda. Let's see who can continue to keep an open mind and listen to what I have to say about that. This is not by any means an ideal situation, and the poor do struggle. The reason they struggle, however, is not due to lack of funding. It is because the method of that funding is almost the least efficient and least effective manner possible. I say "almost" only because full-on Communism exists in the world, and it is by far the least useful way to handle wealth.

Raising children has helped me to remember and think about what it was like to be a child. People look back to that time period fondly, thinking of it as being idyllic, because "the world was less complicated and more safe". Indeed, when an adult controls your life, you have less responsibility and you don't have to worry as much about the dangers that still surround you. You still have a chance of being hungry, of being homeless, but in that event the adult will tell you what to do. What people forget is the loss of freedom. Sure, there's a measure of it if you live in a suburban area and own a bicycle. Other than that, though... You still have to ask if you can go to a friend's house. You have to ask if you want to visit a museum. You have to accept the food they give you; your parents determine your diet. You are severely restricted in how you can earn income and how much money you will have. And, of course, your school takes up much more of your life than you would have ever remembered; your precious memories of freedom and fun were most likely snipped out of a plethora of weekends and holidays (the parts that don't involve mandatory visits and customs) and stitched together out of a pair of decades.

Well, the current method of providing a Living Wage is much like being a child. Someone else controls how often/much your house receives to heat, how much you spend on food, which doctors you see, and what your child eats for lunch every school day. This is great, if you live the exact lifestyle that these social programs were optimized for. The problem is that it does narrow you down into a specific form of lifestyle; a purely cash form of a Living Wage allows you to spend more on your housing and less on your cell phone, or more on your clothing and less on your groceries. It can be very, very frustrating to need money for one budget category and be blocked by the Government from simply doing what the middle class takes for granted and transferring it from another category.

What is the answer?

The obvious answer to me is to reduce and reform the welfare system, and with it the tax system. Every reduction in welfare spending must be paired with an equal reduction in employer taxes. I was hesitant to suggest this before, because there must be a time period, I thought, in which wages were still low and people would be hurting. However, the quick responses of businesses in handing out bonuses as they began to raise wages after Trump's tax cut surprised and emboldened me in saying this: As they spend less on the employees through the government, they will spend more on the employees through regular wages.

On top of that, market competition will come into play, this time with a strong emphasis on employee demands rather than employer offers. When you can get a job as a cashier at Walmart and have the government spend tens of thousands of dollars on welfare to make up your Living Wage, you will not have to insist that your employer pays you that wage or you will fight for one of the jobs that pays it. The employment market is indeed a market with customers and 'sellers', and companies that do not offer that wage will have difficult finding people qualified to do the work.

If we do this, I think we will find that the effect of "wages not rising with national wealth", an argument that Liberals tend to use to try to justify actions that depress wages further, will correct itself, and workers will receive their Living Wage as cash instead of an unholy mixture of cash, government-mandated employer spending, and government-mandated welfare spending.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Does "Trickle-Down" exist?

I wrote this up as a comment on another board, and have been asked to make it available as a blog post for easy linking. Someone noted that other people have been arguing that "Trickle Down" doesn't work, leading to the question: "Just what is 'trickle down' and how do we know if it's working?"

This was my answer:

There is a specific economic example of "trickle-down" that basically says that companies under a smaller government-levied financial burden will be more likely to hire new people (provide more jobs) and have a ladder by which people can improve their socio-economic status over time. There are people who seize upon this specific definition, try to find examples where it didn't happen exactly that way, and claim that "it fails" or "it doesn't exist" as a theory *at all* because of it.

But it isn't always going to work exactly like their rigid definition says it should, because, in a free market, companies don't all go on a huge growth stint. In a free market, companies are what they need to be. They go lean when they need to be lean, fat when they need to be fat, and they grow at a natural pace. This rigid definition of "trickle down" happens most obviously when the government is deliberately stunting economic growth (whether intentionally or not) through government policies, in which case removing the artificial limiting factor will result in growth.

The other mistake that they make when insisting that it doesn't work is in looking at living standards compared to the rich, instead of compared to the previous poor. Here's an example. Let's say you have a gym class. Billy starts the year able to do 20 pushups and ends the year able to do 50 pushups. Bob starts the year able to do 2 pushups and ends the year able to do 5. So they start a new exercise program. In next year's class, Jason starts the year able to do 20 pushups and ends the year able to do 100. Jon starts the year able to do 2 pushups and ends the year able to do 10. People claiming that "trickle down doesn't work", by the *same logic*, would claim that the new exercise program has failed in its goal to improve the physical fitness of the lower-performing students.

You guys with me? :) Trying to untwist corkscrews here and lay out their contents clearly!

* * * * * * * * *

Now that's the rigid definition of "trickle down" used to "prove" that "it doesn't work". If you actually look at it as a basic concept being "when the rich are *allowed* to be richer, the poor and middle class do receive the benefits of that", you'll find it all through a free market, profoundly affecting all levels of society. Trickle-down may happen directly, when a rich person can afford a private jet and therefore needs to hire a pilot making $70K/year. Bam, wealth created a job. It may happen the way the rigid definition claims, in which a company has record profits and opens ten new locations in rural markets where they may not have had the infrastructure to serve before, thus opening up a couple hundred new jobs throughout the nation.

It may happen, not through jobs, but through goods and services. Richer people get new furniture and have the old stuff hauled off to Salvation Army to be purchased by lower-class folk. I've seen slightly richer and less 'humble' people who buy a Walmart couch because they refuse to 'take rich people's cast-offs' have to replace a broken couch within a few years; a good quality piece of furniture, even bought used, can last the lifetime of its new owner. As Scott pointed out, the used car market is a prime example of trickle-down. Cash for Clunkers damaged it by focusing mostly on the fairly economical cars that the poorer people buy to replace their gas guzzlers instead of the gas guzzlers themselves, and not rebating enough for the poorer folk to replace their vehicle, thus basically breaking the chain in the middle instead of trimming off the end and arguably causing *more* pollution than if they'd just let the guy making $30K/year junk his '92 Chevy for $200 and buy a '98 Civic for $6K instead.

(A further note on goods: A lot of lower-class families practically depend upon a big circulating wardrobe of free and discounted used clothing, especially for young children, who grow into new sizes very quickly. Toys, books, DVD's... if you can find it sold used and discounted, that means a person who could afford it at its original price bought it new. If they couldn't afford it due to heavier taxes and regulations, they wouldn't have bought it, and you would not have the opportunity to afford it afterwards.)

It may happen through charity. Richer people who aren't hounded into "repaying society" through heavier taxes do often feel a desire to help other people out. Even if they aren't being altruistic, they will still like the good PR and having their names or the names of loved ones on hospital wings and park benches. Food kitchens aren't stocked by the hungry. Our Boy Scout troop and our church periodically have auctions or gift baskets as fundraisers for charities. To get these items, they go to local businesses and ask for, basically, free goodies to 'sell'. That business has to be able to afford to give away a free pedicure, a free pair of movie tickets, a free box of gourmet popcorn, etc.

And finally, it may happen totally indirectly/unconsciously. Have you ever wondered why you can go to Walmart and buy a 55" HDTV for under $500? I learned how it works when I was working at a defense contractor (long story) and listening to the higher-ups complain. Any new fancy appliance or entertainment item (or, for that matter, medical equipment or advancement) has a development cost. Factories also have to spend money to retool for the new item. That cost is factored into the initial price of these items. The only reason why HDTV's aren't still curiosities costing $3000 in the back of Best Buy is because a bunch of rich people bought $3000 HDTV's in the back of Best Buy and basically *paid the cost* of their research and development. Once that's paid off, prices drop sharply, unless another factor intervenes, like scarcity due to other factors. (DVD players are cheaper than VHS players now.)

* * * * * * * * *

Remember back up a few paragraphs where I was talking about opponents/skeptics comparing the rich to the poor over time and claiming that trickle down doesn't happen because of it? The analogy of the kids and the pushups? Part of the reason why I am so content with my own situation is because I compare myself to myself, and I compare my economic status to my economic status. I don't keep up "with the Joneses", and I don't measure success by whether I am richer compared to rich people now than I was compared to rich people then. I do what any *good* school does with classes like Phys Ed and compare myself to myself. As an aside, and to stick with the analogy, my public elementary school was considered to have a poor PE program, in part because the teacher graded students by ability compared to each other; my highschool was considered to have a good program, in part because the teacher graded students by their own improvement. In athletic ability and in economics, that really is the only proper way to do it. And doing so, I come up with this:

My grandparents raised three kids in a 960sqft house. They had one car, one refrigerator, one stove with oven, one washing machine, one television. They saved up and went out for ice cream once a year.

My parents raised five kids (now raising a sixth, adopted) in a 1500(roughly) sqft house. They had two cars, one refrigerator, one dedicated freezer, one stove with oven, a microwave, a washer, a dryer, one television, one VCR, one video game console, one personal computer, and we managed to go out for pizza once every few months or so.

I'm raising three in a 1600sqft house. We had, at the same economic position as parents and grandparents, two cars, one refrigerator with icemaker, one dedicated freezer, one stove with oven, a microwave, washer, dryer, dishwasher, (quality) electric mixer, bread machine, window A/C, two televisions, VCR, DVD player, Blu-Ray player, three video game consoles (Gen 1, Gen 2, Gen 3), two personal computers, two laptops, three tablets, and one cell phone. We also have a monthly eating-out budget.

Am I to believe, then, that I never benefit from the rich being allowed to be rich?

* * * * * * * * *

I'm not going to get into this in detail, but let me offer this thought.

When the government streamlines regulations, lowers regulatory fees, lowers taxes, and doesn't punish wealth accumulation, the poor and middle class benefits in one more way that has nothing whatsoever to do with what the rich do with their money or if they even exist: they are more free to start their own businesses and make their own opportunities, and the social mobility in the country becomes much more fluid. So even if you can't thank the rich for your "new" car, your affordable new market-midrange TV, your kid's scholarship, or your job, you can thank the lower regulatory burden for your ability to afford to start a new business and keep what you earn.

However, this would not actually be part of the specific concept of "trickle down".

Monday, August 14, 2017

What I am not

Back in the 1950's and 1960's, there were two Civil Rights eras.

There are many different epoch's along the path that brought us here. Different people argue about which ones were most important, about which ones "started it", about which moments of history should be focused upon. I am choosing to focus here for several reasons, many of which should become apparent by the end of this post if they were not already.

In the 1950's, Republicans tore down "Jim Crow", series of laws that Democrats had enacted in local areas with the purpose of using the government to keep blacks down. In the 1960's, the Democrats succeeded in beating the Republicans with promises (which were fulfilled) of using the government to advance blacks over whites. At that time, a group of angry Democrats who had thought that the 1950's was about racism joined the Republicans, and they and their descendants are there to this day.

There are a couple of takeaways here. One is that when the Republicans retort that racism against blacks was a Democrat behavior, they are correct; when the Democrats retort that a bunch of those old racists are Republicans, they are also correct.

The big takeaway is that Civil Rights, for the Democrat Party, was never actually about racism. They didn't care if they were elevating or trampling blacks. What mattered was a particular core strategy: Get the populace to accept big government by making them enemies of each other and promising each group that you will use the government to trample their enemies.

Fast-forward to 2008 and Obama's election. He basically campaigned, more or less openly, on this strategy. He was elected by people who believed that he would use the power of the government, all the power they could give him, in order to bludgeon their enemies. They did not, as our founders did, fear the government more than they feared the people with whom they merely disagreed. Under the Obama Administration, we saw the IRS scandal among other incidents. I think the IRS scandal struck the hardest impact, because it showed us that Obama's government was willing to go after ordinary folk for disagreeing with him. Many praised his election as an achievement of the Civil Rights movement in that "people were willing to elect a black man as our President". It was an achievement of the Civil Rights movement in that people were willing to elect a man on promises that he would use government power against their 'enemies'; their fellow citizens.

I did not cast my vote for Trump and did not speak in support of him during the election period. Too many people believe that I agreed with them that he is misogynist, or stupid, or somehow unqualified to be President. Too many other people believed that I was against him because I preferred "the status quo in Washington", because I hated whites, because I wanted to be marginalized as Obama had marginalized me. When he made his "bitter clingers" quote, after all, he was talking about me. When Hillary made her "deplorables" quote, she was talking about me.

This is the real reason I did not cast my vote for Trump.

I saw among his followers too many people who were looking to him to use the government as a bludgeon against the people who had declared this 'war'.

Angry people on one side elected Obama in hopes that he would use the government as a bludgeon against their enemies. Angry people on the other side elected Trump in hopes that he would use the government as a bludgeon against the people who had declared them to be enemies. (Let me offer credit where credit is due. At least to this point, from what I have seen, President Trump has not in fact used his office, as many followers had hoped, to bludgeon the other side, but has contented himself with tearing down regulations and releasing trapped power back into the wild.)

Now I want to go back to the first takeaway that I referenced about the Civil Rights movements. I have come to believe that the people on Trump's side against whom I have set myself are actually the people and their descendants who left the Democrat Party, not because the Democrats were using the government as a bludgeon, but because they were bludgeoning the "wrong" people.

So in this Charlottesville matter, I find myself set against the white supremacists who are anti-Constitution, who march because they want Trump to use the government as a bludgeon against their enemies. I find myself also set against the "antifa" groups who are anti-Constitution, who counter-march because they want the government to be used as a bludgeon against their enemies. Both sides engaged in violence. Both sides insist that we consider their side blameless. Both sides are very eager to assume that I am on the other side if I refuse.

I don't want either of them.

Am I a Conservative Republican? Am I a Conservative Christian? Am I a Christian Libertarian? Am I a Conservative Libertarian? Am I a Conservative Christian Libertarian Republican? I haven't figured that part out yet.

I'm the one who joins with those who don't hate "the other side" more than we fear government control over us.

I'm the one who doesn't want anybody, even myself, to have the power to use the government to bludgeon another group of fellow citizens.

No matter how much I don't like what they have to say.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A new 'autism' theory: Terrestrials and Aerials

Autism. ADHD, in hyperactive, inattentive, and mixed. Synesthesia.


Imagine for a moment that there is a world with two main tribes of sentient beings. They're both the same kind of creature underneath in that they can interact and even breed. There's one main difference between them. The Aerials can fly. The Terrestrials cannot.

Now that's actually not a huge difference on the face of it, but it does result in the development of two different societies. The Aerials don't bother much with roads or sea travel. Why would they? They can fly. The Terrestrials have roads, bridges, ships. If you asked who was more technologically advanced, you'd say the Terrestrials. But the reason the Aerials haven't built as much infrastructure is because their living conditions don't require it. They aren't stupider than the Terrestrials. On the other hand, the Aerials have conventions that Terrestrials don't understand, like "I can come to your party if the winds are favorable." Why would it matter what the winds are doing? It doesn't, to the Terrestrial. The Aerial has to fly down from his home, so for him it does matter. On the other hand, you have a bunch of Terrestrials fully expecting an Aerial to use the ferryboat to get from one side of the river to the other, because 'that's how it is done'. The Aerial is pacing on the deck, frustrated at the slowness of the boat, and not understanding why he can't just spread his wings and glide across. Of course, if he tries to take off right then and there, he's going to rock the boat and make all the Terrestrials uncomfortable.

Now imagine that the Aerials are a small percentage of the population, and the majority are Terrestrials. You are more likely to have rules in place regarding airspace, schools judging you on how well you can swim (something Aerials don't tend to learn, because they were learning to fly instead), and a culture that regards flight as capricious and self-centered.

We could apply the same theory to humankind. The Terrestrials are what autism and ADHD groups call "neurotypical". They are the solid, organized, regimented people who build society by virtue of being in the majority. They have social rules and understandings, which they are practically born able to intuit. They can tell you what the social conventions are, from birthday parties to condolences, and how to perform your part in it properly. The Aerials are people who are wired differently. Terrestrials have struggled for centuries to define Aerials. Just recently, more people who used to be called ADHD are considered to have some form of autism. The term "aspergers" has also merged back into "autism" and spawned another term, "high-functioning". In other times and places they have been "eccentric", "insane but harmless", "shamans" or "witches", dreamers, "highly sensitive individuals", "Age of Aquarians", and so on.

I'd like to insert a disclaimer. I am not saying that "autism doesn't exist" or that it is not a problem. I am aware that there are Aerials who are nonverbal, who can't fight their way outside of their own heads, who engage in violent fits in response to bright lights and whatnot. On the other side, you need only read from the website notalwaysright.com to understand that there are neurotypicals on the extremist side as well. They just demonstrate it differently. However, there is an enormous struggle in the world of psychology and psychiatry to define and deal with the "high functioning" who do not respond to medication (or who can live fairly well without it), with the ones who are not called 'autistic' and then called 'autistic', and then 'aspergers', and then 'not aspergers'... How to differentiate them from the neurotypicals who have learned to be delicate in order to mimic a diagnosis, how to understand ADHD, what to do with a kid who seems very intelligent, but just can't apply it the way Terrestrials do. That's what I would like the term "Aerial" to do for me and others like me.

I also would like to take a moment to explain what "Terrestrials" and "Aerials" is not about. It's not about who is boring and who is artistic. It isn't about who is smart and who is stupid. It isn't about who has a stereotypical interest in engines and who prefers to work with people. It isn't even about fantasy versus reality, although Aerials tend to create fantasy and enjoy it, while Terrestrials may or may not enjoy it at all. For instance, I would say that Batman is an Aerial and Superman is a Terrestrial. Luke Skywalker is an Aerial and Leia is either Terrestrial or a mix. The main character of action-adventure stories is often a Terrestrial. Detectives may be either; Holmes was definitely an Aerial.

Now it gets interesting.

Being that we live in a Terrestrial society, we tend to judge things in terms of Terrestrial thinking. That's natural. In doing so, however, one of the big things that we say about Aerials is that they are socially inept. They don't follow social cues. They don't know how to interact with people the way the people expect to be interacted with. They ask weird questions, reveal more of themselves than they should in some areas, hide parts of themselves they shouldn't in other areas. At least, that's how the Aerial looks from the Terrestrial point of view.

In this area, I have a bit of a unique perspective. Usually, being that Aerials are rare, you will find one of two in a Terrestrial family. Both "Aerial' and 'Terrestrial' are, however, in part genetic. One classic stereotype (which has become a stereotype because it is often true) is that of a black sheep uncle and the nephew or niece who resembles him. That would be a key example of Aerial genetics within a majority Terrestrial family. In my family, however, we have an oddly strong concentration of Aerials. My father's side is strongly Aerial. My mother's is mostly Aerial within the recent generations, and mixed in some family lines as you start to move up a hundred years or more. My parents, my siblings, and I are all Aerials. In my husband's case, however, his Terrestrial father married an Aerial, and at least my husband (and perhaps his sister) is an Aerial. We have three children; all of them are unquestionably Aerials.

With all these Aerials, especially as my side tends to be close-knit and like to live near each other, I am slowly realizing that there is an Aerial social environment with intuited and unspoken rules, conventions, and practices. It is different than a Terrestrial social environment. I do not think it will emerge unless you have enough Aerials in one place. Once you do, however, you will find that they, like Terrestrials, will have ways to give offense, ways to avoid offense, things you are 'expected' to 'know' to do, and all of the other markers of any social environment. A Terrestrial in a group of Aerials who are no longer struggling to associate with each other the way they have been taught by Terrestrials will find himself just as puzzled, just as insecure, just as unable to intuit social graces as an Aerial at a Terrestrial party. Visit a family gathering of the sort that I grew up in, and you will find people asking each other favors that you're "not supposed to ask" and discussing topics that you're "not supposed to discuss" (according to Terrestrial norms), and yet simply intuiting which topics to avoid (which a Terrestrial might "clumsily" attempt) and at which point you simply do not push. A social group of Aerials understand why, to go back to my original fictional analogy, one Aerial cannot come or must return home early "because the winds aren't right".

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Who is rich?

Trump's new declared tax plan has sent out ripples of reaction throughout the media, mainstream and not. Some say that he goes too far. Many say he does not go far enough. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on the specifics of the plan. Memorably, several scattered sources have claimed that the mortgage interest deduction currently causes rich people who pay the AMT to buy larger homes (and people being able to afford larger homes is a problem, for some reason). Others have claimed that some lower-middle class families may pay as much as $100 per year in additional taxes as a result of this "horrible and regressive" plan. (They were notably silent when Obamacare premiums rose by an average of about 25% this year.)

I have seen a theme repeated, though, among rank-and-file commenters on various news sources, that troubles me, because it is linked to a problematic underlying philosophy. They say that this plan is all well and good, but this tweak or that tweak needs to be made to ensure that the rich pay their fair share. Usually in debunking this argument, conservatives and libertarians lean on words like "pay" (does the government have the right to take the money?), "fair" (a higher percentage of their income? A higher percentage of the taxes?), or "share" (What do people owe society as tribute for the shame of being wealthy?). I would like to focus, instead, on the word "Rich".

Terry Pratchett was an economic and political genius, and we are all sadder for his loss. In one of his early books, Guards Guards, he described the mindset of a group of laborers coming together under the leadership of a man who hoped to rule the city by terrorizing it with a dragon that he needed their help to summon.

The Supreme Grand Master listened to this with a slightly lightheaded feeling. It was as if he’d known that there were such things as avalanches, but had never dreamed when he dropped the little snowball on top of the mountain that it could lead to such astonishing results. He was hardly having to egg them on at all.
“I bet a king’d have something to say about landlords,” said Brother Plasterer.
“And he’d outlaw people with showy coaches,” said Brother Watchtower. “Probably bought with stolen money, too, I reckon.”
“I think,” said the Supreme Grand Master, tweaking things a little, “that a wise king would only, as it were, outlaw showy coaches for the undeserving.”
There was a thoughtful pause in the conversation as the assembled Brethren mentally divided the universe into the deserving and the undeserving, and put themselves on the appropriate side.
 This little mental exercise is undergone by each and every person who argues that "the rich" need to pay "their fair share". They celebrate tax cuts for "the middle class", of course, people making only [insert their own income here], but the "really rich people" need to continue to pay more. The definition of "really rich people" differs wildly by example, but it always represents a margin north of the commenter's own income.

If there's one takeaway I'd like my readers to get from this post, it is this, and I'll put it in boldface so that it sticks out despite being probably about halfway through my 'essay' by the time I'm done: You do not want someone else deciding what constitutes "wealth" for the purpose of government confiscation and redistribution of wealth.

This is actually a lesson that I first tried to give people when Obama was running for office in 2008, and many moderates took his speeches about how "the rich need to pay their share" and "we need to have a global mindset" in this exact same way: they mentally divided the universe into the deserving and the undeserving, and put themselves on the appropriate side. All the while, I was trying to pound away, to get people to listen and understand that, on a global perspective, even the poorest people who aren't even on welfare, even the homeless people on the street with no ID, no income, and no government social programs, are wealthy.

When the working-class started seeing their costs rise and their benefits decrease under Obama, I already knew it was coming. They fussed and fretted and felt betrayed, but I had already anticipated this move. The universe had been divided by the people with the power to make the changes, and these folks were not on the side where they expected to be.

The people now talking about the "rich paying their fair share" are mostly speaking against the total removal of the AMT. Don't remove it completely, they say. Just shift it up a bit. A bit further. You know, far enough so that I'm not "rich" anymore. What they miss is that this was the original intent and purpose of the AMT, which at first only targeted about 155 families, but which now reaches well into the middle class.

So let me remind 'my people'... 'ah, my people'... that the average American household in poverty has a large enough home that it would be considered 'wealthy' in most of Western Europe. You could halve the food stamp allotment to the poorest families and they'd still have more to eat than most people in the world. In fact, even in the country with the highest median income per household in the world (Norway, according to Gallup), that income is less than $52K/year... and some people claiming both that we need to keep the AMT and they shouldn't be paying it were claiming a household income in the $70-150K range.

Ditch the AMT. What with the removal of all these tax breaks, Trump would be practically enacting it on everyone anyways. Let the rich have their break. You have your break. Don't be so eager to define whether someone else has "too much" money, "too big" house, "too many" vacations, "too fancy" clothing.

Rest assured that someone else is doing it to you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The FCC's Gated Community

How would you like to live in a gated community?

I've heard they tend to be safer. In a regular neighborhood, anybody is allowed to walk the public streets. They might look at you. They might see your front yard. They might be slovenly, or sing loudly and drunkenly. Of course, you are perfectly able and allowed to lock your door. If they go onto your lawn, they are trespassing and you can call the police. If they break into your house, it is a crime and they can be prosecuted. But there's nothing to stop them from walking the street.

In a gated community, they can't get in. The gate guard has a list of requirements that anybody has to meet before entering. You have to buzz your way in and have him unlock the gate for you. Why doesn't everyone live in a gated community? It's so much safer, isn't it?

Thing is, as people who have left gated communities can tell you, giving someone the authority to prevent people on the street from entering also means giving someone the authority to determine who you can have access to from within the community. If they decide that your own mother looks too much like a redneck, you can only meet with her by leaving the safety of the gate behind. Furthermore, you alone cannot decide who will meet this criteria, when and how often the criteria will change, and how much you will have to pay for it. Hopefully, you have a system in which you at least have to have a majority of the community agree.

Now suppose you were living quietly in your neighborhood when, one morning, the most prominent neighbor decides that it will be a gated community. By lunchtime, the gates are up, and at suppertime, someone goes door to door handing you a pamphlet letting you know who will now be allowed onto your street for your safety. From now on, your neighbor can decide, at any time, who can enter and who cannot. Of course, this means that your neighbor can decide that his stinky party friends can enter and roister until dawn, but yours cannot. There is no guarantee that there will be no parties, or that nobody who enters will break into your house. You can only hope that your prominent neighbor is good-natured and good-willed... as well as all of his descendants, for as long as your family lives there.

When the FCC declared the Internet to be under its command, it basically did just that. The FCC is the government body that decides which radio stations are allowed to broadcast based on whether their content serves "the public interest". The FCC is the government body that decides which television shows are allowed to run during "family hour", and the reason why Die Hard is now linked with the phrase "melon farmer". The FCC created and enforced the Ma Bell monopoly, in which one corporation was allowed to provide all telephone services in the country. That only changed in the mid-90's and, even then, only under the FCC's careful control.

The Republican ruling that is making people scream that you now have no internet privacy left at all merely returns the role of internet safety to the FTC. It does the equivalent of taking down the gated community which was established by your neighbor acting alone. Yes, you may have slovenly people allowed to walk the street again. Yes, your front garden still may be seen from the road. Yes, you can still put up your own fences and lock your own doors. None of that has changed.

But now, your neighbor can't decide that your mother can't enter his gated community.

If you really want to live in a gated community, the answer is to go find one, not to get the government to force everybody to live in one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Ilvermorny: An American Adjustment

So now in the Harry Potter world we have an North American school of wizardry. Rowling's tale is an interesting one, and sets up for what is basically meant as a Bostonian version of Hogwarts. Unfortunately, the houses and their descriptions are vastly oversimplified, and there is no suite of seven books explaining various members of each house in depth to give us something to go by when deciding which House works well with each Harry Potter World fan.

The test is unhelpful, as it is with Hogwarts. The simplified notion of "Sneaky Slytherin", "Brave Gryffindor", "Smart Ravenclaw", and "Helpless Hufflepuff" sorted me into Gryffindor, when I must confess that only my aims could be possibly called Gryffindorian in that they are not evil. It took reading the books and thinking about the ramifications of each house to reluctantly conclude that I am Slytherin.

Unfortunately, there is no such material for the Ilvermorny houses. We appear to have "body, mind, spirit, and heart", wrapped around four descriptions of American Indian legends so surface and uninvolved as to be practically useless. The Pottermore site misplaced me, this time in Thunderbird, and I set out to develop my own understanding of what each house truly means.


Simplified as "wizards of the spirit", Thunderbirds are said to be adventurers. It is no wonder that people think this correlates to Gryffindor. I would say, however, after reading up on the original mythical beast, that Thunderbirds are purpose-seekers. They are not 'adventurers' in the sense of enjoying trips out and back again with loot or knowledge, but 'wanderers' in the sense of flitting from place to place, seeking something that they will never find, and discovering many fine and useful things along the way, which may be discarded for others to more fully appreciate.

These folk are not setting out in bravery and determination to fulfill a specific quest. They are harkening to Thoreau's "Simplify", filling a backpack with all that they need, and setting out for a dream that they are not even sure exists.

Thunderbird attracts not only explorers/adventurers, but also idealists, dreamers, and wanderers. I would expect to find more Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws here and fewer Gryffindors; very few Slytherins.

Horned Serpent

Of course, the relation to Slytherin and the snake is obvious, as is the relation to Ravenclaw in the simplistic description of the Horned Serpent as attracting "wizards of the mind". The old tales of this creature, however, show a rather different side to the wisdom-seeker. There is nothing particularly sneaky or prone to booklearning about the Horned Serpent. It is connected not only to written and remembered knowledge, but also to insight and divination. Headmaster Dumbledore seemed to place little interest or effort into teaching Divination at Hogwarts, but the Horned Serpent seems in American Indian folklore to place a very high value upon it.

Horned Serpent students are likely not so much interested in "knowledge" as in "truth", deep delvers, less concerned about the physical world, seeking the rare treasures. I would expect to find Ravenclaws in either Horned Serpent or Thunderbird depending on whether their search for knowledge is deep or wide. Horned Serpent no doubt attracts some Slytherins, but generally more for the search for power rather than cunning or manipulation. I would be more surprised to see Hufflepuffs or Gryffindors here.


Supposedly this house represents "the heart" and favors "healers". However, it was founded based, not on the actual Pukwudgie, but on the idealized stories of one particular member who acted rather contrary to type. The "historical" mythical pukwudgie isn't exactly Wizarding House Material. Still, we can work out a synthesis that gives us a good solid option for North American young wizards.

The Pukwudgie William decided for unknown reasons to devote himself fully to a particular young woman, the founder of the school, so naturally she would think to cast him in a softened light. This has resulted in a description of 'loyalty' and 'earthiness' that makes this seem like a lock for Hufflepuff. The beings themselves, however, are very unlike Hufflepuff. They are tricksters, dangerous, even evil at times, stealers of babies and livestock, not unlike the British creature known as the Brownie. They use cunning to provoke mischief, and are loyal only under unusual circumstances.

Hence I would see a Pukwudgie student to be openly anti-authoritarian, defiant, independent, willing to experiment and less interested in the kind of idealistic wisdom and morality of the Thunderbird or the Horned Serpent. I picture Pukwudgie House as performing the same service for Ilvermorny as the pranksters do for MIT when they turn the dome into R2D2 or disassemble cars and reassemble them inside offices. I would imagine that they learn by trying. It is likely that many Gryffindors can be found here, along with some Ravenclaws and a fair number of Slytherins.

If there are healers favored here, it is because they are better loved in a House where accidents are far more likely to occur.


Supposedly this house "favors the body and warriors". That sounds very much like a lock for Gryffindor. Again, the lore apart from the world of Harry Potter suggests a very different kind of House. The Harry Potter lore suggests more of an exercise gym than a place of magic, a world of jocks and sword-wielding maniacs, looking to fight. The original mythical Wampus was a panther-cat creature into which a woman disguised herself in order to participate illicitly in a man's world. Some tales say that she listened in on the hunters and was locked into that shape as punishment; others say that she transformed in order to fight a terrible creature that threatened her family. As such, the better word would not be "body", but "real world" (as opposed to divination or spiritual journey) and the better word would be "hunter" rather than "warrior".

The hunter is secretive and sly, but noble and pragmatic. Wampus students would value cunning, trading of information, and seeking knowledge and insight insofar as it helps them reach their goals, rather than seeking either for its own sake. The Wampus is intuitive, rational, and careful, not apt to overplay its hand, not apt to bluff, and most dangerous when cornered or threatened. Warriors they might be, in the service of others, in the taking of territory and protection of their own rather than a drive for conquest or search for knowledge. Slytherins likely flock here, as do Gryffindors who secretly think that they might be Slytherin, plus a few stray Hufflepuffs that lean heavier on the "home base" than the "simple loyalty" aspect of their house.

Simple versions:

Thunderbird: House of wanderers, explorers, dreamers, idealists.

Horned Serpent: House of wisdom-seekers, divinators, and lovers of the esoteric.

Pukwudgie: House of the stubborn, the anti-authoritarians, the pranksters, the experimenters.

Wampus: House of the hunters, the goal-seekers, the protectors, the intuitives.

Based on this, I believe that the test result of "Thunderbird" was wrong, and I belong instead, if I belong anywhere in Ilvermorny, in Wampus.