Fiscal year to date, total government receipts are up 15.5 percent, the fastest rate of increase on a comparable FYTD basis since 1981. The difference between the growth rate of tax revenues and the growth rate of government spending has widened to 8.4-percentage points, the largest since late 2000 when the budget was in surplus.
Not surprisingly, the recent tidal wave of tax receipts has ignited a furious debate about whether or not the Bush tax cuts are responsible for stimulating economic activity enough to actually boost overall tax-revenue collections. Classical economists refer to this as the Laffer curve, or the revenue-reflow, effect. In simple terms, if a tax cut stimulates the underlying activity being taxed, a revenue reflow will result. The reflow can offset or even surpass the volume of revenues that would have been collected under the higher tax rate and smaller tax base. Pro-growth tax-rate reductions on labor and capital in the 1920s, 1960s, 1980s, and then again in 1997 and 2003 all exhibited revenue-reflow effects, although some were stronger than others.
Despite the avalanche of historical evidence, some economists and policymakers question the validity of incentive-based revenue reflows...
The 2001 tax cuts combined small, glacially phased-in reductions in income-tax rates with credits and rebates designed to “put money in peoples’ pockets.” This traditional Keynesian stimulus technique has an incredibly poor track record. Tax credits and rebates simply shift money from one place to another, which can’t “create demand” and doesn’t stimulate behavior at the margin.Conversely, the tax cuts passed in May 2003 were focused on dropping the top rates of tax on capital. The capital-gains tax (for gains held at least one year) was cut to 15 percent from 20 percent while the maximum tax rate on corporate dividends was slashed to 15 percent from 38.6 percent.
Unfortunately, the finer points of dynamic scoring escape the “logic” of the no-growth neo-Malthusian Democrats and the root-canal contingent in the Republican party. Both would be well advised to look at the record of the Baltic states, some of which have had flat taxes for over a decade. Flat-tax countries have experienced superior macroeconomic performance and rapid tax-revenue growth despite undergoing the same unfavorable demographic trends that have plagued Western Europe and Japan. This is no accident.
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
The economy logged a solid 3.8 percent growth rate in the first quarter of 2005, a performance that was better than previously thought and a fresh sign the expansion is on firm footing.A very sustainable rate of growth. Not too hot, not too cold. Even through stock markets crashing, bubbles popping, and wars, Reagan's gift (his tax cuts and policies) keeps on giving and giving. We haven't had a serious recession since his policies started taking effect over twenty years ago.
The new reading on gross domestic product, released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday, marked an improvement from the 3.5 percent annual rate estimated for the quarter just a month ago and matched the showing registered in the final quarter of 2004. [...]
"It was a solid quarter, particularly in the face of high and rising energy prices," said Mark Zandi, chief analyst at Economy.com. "It illustrates the resilience of the economy and the durability of the current economic expansion."
Monday, June 27, 2005
It seems our math educators no longer believe in the beauty and power of the principles of mathematics. They are continually in search of a fix that will make it easy, relevant, fun and even politically relevant. In the early 1990s, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issued standards that disparaged basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, since all of these could be easily performed on a calculator.
Now mathematics is being nudged into a specifically political direction by educators who call themselves "critical theorists." They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice.
Partisans of social-justice mathematics advocate an explicitly political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization and the unequal distribution of wealth.The need to politicize everything is part of a mindset with totalitarian tendencies!
Teaching history is quite important. This article reminds us why...
What will slip further down a memory hole will be the major reason why it is important for students to study our history: America is an exceptional country in that we were born out of a shared set of ideas--human liberty and opportunity, accompanied by a common set of values. It is often said that while being a Frenchman or German is bound up in ethnicity and ties to the soil, it is possible to become an American by adopting this nation's creed and beliefs.
We are risking something very basic by failing to communicate the basic ideals of America and instead, as historian David McCullough told me, "raising a generation of students who are historically illiterate." But many of those students will eventually become curious, and without a solid grounding in the past, they could easily fall prey to revisionist history, whether it be of the Confederate or Oliver Stone variety.Yale professor David Gelernter says that "ignorance of history is destroying our judgment." He points to Sen. Dick Durbin's ignorant comment comparing the actions of U.S. personnel at Guantanamo Bay to those of Nazis and Soviets.
When Ronald Reagan delivered his 1989 farewell address to the nation, he noted there was "a great tradition of warnings in presidential farewells," and he would make no exception. He told his audience that the "one that's been on my mind for some time" was that the country was failing to adequately teach our children the American story and what it represents in the history of the world. "We've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion, but what's important," he said. "If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit."
Saturday, June 25, 2005
A human is a complex organism. It's a fairly intelligent organism as far as organisms go. However, it's less intelligent than the entity called a society which is comprised of many tens or hundreds of millions of such organisms. The totality of the knowledge and information that a society can support exceeds the capacity of any individual human brain. In addition, that human brain may not even comprehend the extent of the knowledge and information contained in the larger entity of which it is a member.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Friday, June 17, 2005
Please let me know if you have any comments regarding the new commenting system. I'll switch back in a heartbeat if we decide we don't like the new format.
For more than a decade, prime ministers and premiers have boasted about how [Canadian] medicare is the best health care system in the world. In election after election, they have pledged to make it even better.Universal health coverage? Great idea, but doesn't seem to work so well. There is little doubt that some are better off because of Canada's universal healthcare. The price is that so many others are so much worse off. For example, I know of a case where a woman had to wait 6 months to get a biopsy of a tumor. Well, turned out it was malignant and because of the 6 month delay she died. Too bad for her. Apparently, this happens all of the time in Canada.
But in a split decision yesterday, the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada exposed that rhetoric for what it plainly is: A lie, a shallow promise, a political tactic employed by the federal Liberals to gain, and retain, the keys to government. [...]
[T]he judges were unwilling to let governments twiddle their thumbs any longer, while countless Canadians suffer and die while on lengthy wait lists for medical treatment. [...]
The case was brought to the high court by Dr. Jacques Chaoulli and George Zeliotis, a 74-year-old Montreal businessman who contended he waited too long for his hip surgery in the mid-'90s. They said the waiting lists in the publicly funded system have become so long that they violate the Charter of Rights' guarantee of life, liberty and security of the person ...
It's not fair, in my opinion, to screw the median person and the majority to help out the poorest people.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
The title of this post refers to interesting betting patterns noted (spoiler alert) in the Guardian. J.K. Rowling (the author of Harry Potter) has "hinted that a major character would meet their death" in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. This hint spawned betting markets all over the world for the purpose of betting on which character would die. As in any betting pool created by bookies, odds are set up to reflect the betting patterns, such that the bookie always gets a riskless cut, and as such, represents the best known information regarding the subject matter. Through mid-May, a large number of characters had plausible odds.
Suddenly, in the town of Bungay (in Britain), which happens to be one of the towns where Harry Potter books are printed (and they are currently being printed worldwide), a large number of bets were placed on one specific character. The odds then collapsed and no further bets are being taken. In other words, we now know which character is going to die (if we've read the Guardian article above). We can guess that someone at the printing company in Bungay sneaked a peak at the book and leaked the information.
There are (at least) two interesting things about this sequence of events. First, the character who dies in Harry Potter VI was predicted by the odds even prior to the leak. This is yet another example of the Wisdom of Crowds - the ability for the masses to accurately predict unknowable future events.
The second thing of interest, is that it lends plausibility to the concept of terrorism futures and/or betting markets. Just as someone was willing to leak information regarding Harry Potter for a profit, so might associates of terrorists be willing to leak information regarding terrorist activities for a profit. The Pentagon proposed a futures market for just that sort of thing, but it was shot down on "moral" grounds by congressmen, who in my opinion, didn't consider the issue carefully enough.
Perhaps they should reconsider it.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
These facts beg the following questions. Is Arab culture simply not compatible with modernity? If so, should we restrict Arab immigration (this question is being asked very seriously in The Netherlands)? Is spreading democracy to Arabia a lost cause?
I believe that the answer to all these questions is a resounding NO!!! My evidence? Consider the following excerpt from an article in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy:
People of Arab descent living in the United States are doing far better than the average American. That is the surprising conclusion drawn from data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000 and released last March. The census found that U.S. residents who report having Arab ancestors are better educated and wealthier than average Americans.So why do Arab immigrants to the United States do so much better than their counterparts in Europe? Consider "An Immigrant's Tale":
Whereas 24 percent of Americans hold college degrees, 41 percent of Arab Americans are college graduates. The median income for an Arab family living in the United States is $52,300 - 4.6 percent higher than other American families -and more than half of all Arab Americans own their home. Forty-two percent of people of Arab descent in the United States work as managers or professionals, while the same is true for only 34 percent of the general U.S. population. For many, this success has come on quickly: Although about 50 percent of Arab Americans were born in the United States, nearly half of those born abroad did not arrive until the 1990s.
That immigrants do better than their compatriots back home is of course no surprise. What is far less common is for immigrants to perform that much better than the average population of their adopted home.
I arrived in Sweden in 1989 together with my mother and brother. We were refugees from Iran and since we arrived we have depended on welfare and government benefits in one way or another. In a sense I believe that this gives me a much better understanding of the Scandinavian welfare system than most ethnic Swedes have. [...]The Netherlands has a similar system. Not only are the immigrants not encouraged to work, they are not allowed to work until they become citizens (because that might take jobs from natives). By the time they finally get citizenship, their work ethic has "simpered away".
Living in Gotland was an interesting experience. Back in Iran my brother and I went to school six days a week and wrote our homework about two hours each day. A lot of our spare time was spent at the local library. My father worked full-time and my mother had worked first as a teacher and later as a vice president in the kindergartens that we had attended. Later she became a housewife. In the refugee camp nobody did anything. Nobody learned how to speak Swedish. Nobody was integrated in the Swedish society and nobody was allowed to get a job. The strong work ethic that we had brought from our home countries simpered away and we became used to the idea that social security was responsible for our lives.
This particular immigrant goes on to say that the work ethic of native Swedes is also simpering away:
One thing that my up growing has shown me is that there is little incentive to work and educate yourself in the Swedish welfare system. According to the Institute for Labour Policies the average salary of a person who has studied at a university for three years is only five percent higher of somebody who is uneducated. Most Swedish families would have higher income if they lived off government and made some money working in the black market. For a long time the strong work ethics in Sweden has prevented people from exploiting the system. But this seems to be changing. The work ethic has dramatically fallen in Sweden. More and more people are finding ways of living off government as an alternative to working. Between 20 and 25 percent of the working age population does not work. Between 1997 and 2003 the number of people who were on sick leave increased by more than 200,000, a dramatic number for a small country such as Sweden. [...]In summary, Arabs are excellent immigrants to the United States and there's no reason they wouldn't be excellent immigrants to other countries. In addition, the same factors that cause Arab immigrants to be a drain on European societies may eventually cause the European natives to also be a drain on those same societies. They may then reach a tipping point, where the society rapidly disintegrates, requiring the government to intervene in a coercive fashion (no doubt with popular support if things have actually disintegrated) in order to keep things running at all. At that point everybody will essentially be a ward of the State. In other words, they will have followed "The Road to Serfdom" to its logical end.
The European welfare systems have functioned because of strong work ethics that made people reluctant to exploit them. But these work ethics are the product of a society where you had to work in order to provide for yourself and your family. As people adjust to the political systems we have today the ideas of individual responsibility diminishes. This is exactly what has happened among the large number of emigrants who are dependent on social security. What happens when the rest of the population adjusts to the system?
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Sunday, June 12, 2005
No big deal though - just a mild shake.
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - A mild earthquake shook the desert early Sunday and could be felt in Los Angeles and San Diego. There were no immediate reports of any injuries or damage, authorities said.
The magnitude-5.6 quake struck about 8:40 a.m. and was centered 20 miles south of Palm Springs, according to a preliminary report by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Assuming that you have no way of knowing what number Dad is thinking of, clearly the best choice is three. By choosing three you win if Dad was thinking of three to ten and only lose if Dad was thinking of one or two.
But what if Dad plays this game fairly often, Dad's favorite number is nine, and that's what he usually picks? You might as well still pick three since you'll still win even if Dad picks nine.
Now let's say Dad's a bit mischievous and modifies the game. Whoever guesses the closer number still gets the candy, but there's a caveat. You have to wait however many days your number is different from the one Dad is thinking of. In other words, if you pick three and Dad was thinking of nine, you'll still get the candy but Dad won't give it to you for six days (nine minus three).
This makes the decision subjective. If the most important thing in the world is to ensure your annoying sister doesn't get the piece of candy, three is still the best choice. On the other hand, if you actually like your sister and don't mind her getting the candy, and you need instant gratification so you want the candy now or never, and Dad does usually pick nine, then your best guess is nine. Four through eight are also reasonable choices and tradeoff how quickly you get the candy if you win, with winning it in the first place.
Let's switch gears now. Let the choices of one to ten represent the spectrum of pure communism through pure capitalism. In other words, one represents pure communism and ten represents pure capitalism. Picking the optimal number will make your society the strongest possible.
It's 1917 and the communist revolution just occurred in Russia. In other words, the Russians just picked two. You have no knowledge of the future. If you choose wrong and lose, the Russians will become much stronger economically and militarily, and your society will probably end up collapsing.
If the optimal number is two, then you're sunk no matter what you do. The Russians have hit the number dead on, and will quickly become the dominant power. So we just have to hope it's not two.
Dad doesn't exist in this version of the game, but your analysis and intuition tells you the optimal point in the spectrum between communism and capitalism is nine. However, you could be wrong and you know it.
So, what do you pick? If you pick three (very socialist but not as socialist as Russia), your society will have the best shot of winning, but it may take a really long time for that victory to occur. If you pick nine (mostly capitalism, very little socialism), you think you will win and quickly, but you might lose.
During the cold war, the U.S. drifted left through FDR's New Deal, war on poverty, and other social safety nets that didn't exist prior to Russia's communist revolution. That drift was perhaps a "nine" to a "seven." So the U.S. chose seven.
Now, I'm not claiming that I somehow "know" that the self organizing complex system that was the society of the United States during the cold war explicitly chose to become somewhat more like the enemy they were fighting in order to hedge their bets. Nonetheless, it's interesting that we did become a little more like the Soviets than we had been before their revolution. I also think that if you explained the game to people of that era as I explained it above, they might also have picked something less than nine. Quite a coincidence.
Let's switch gears one last time. This time the spectrum is social conservatism to social liberalism. A choice of one indicates extreme conservatism as is found in extreme Islam or any other extremely conservative people. A choice of ten indicates the opposite; no laws against "victimless" crimes, no morality based laws of any kind, everyone can does as they please as long as they don't directly damage anyone else. There are lots of caveats with this spectrum, but you get the idea.
It's September 12, 2001. Islamic terrorists have chosen one. We're at about seven and the average opinion of where we should be on September 10, 2001 was about seven as well. What do we choose now?
Well, once again, the optimal number as far as the strength of our society against this enemy who engages in asymmetric warfare is unknown. If we get it wrong we might very well lose. It could even possibly be unwinnable no matter what we do (in this case the optimal number is one).
But if we become more like the enemy, we increase the odds of survival but our society becomes a worse place in the meantime. If we don't become more like the enemy, we may not survive.
I think this may be a factor, albeit one of many, that's causing the acceleration of the re-adoption of religiosity in America. I'll admit that it is an unprovable conjecture, but nevertheless, it is an interesting coincidence.
Friday, June 10, 2005
We have documented that the use of torture and ill treatment is widespread and that the US government is a leading purveyor and practitioner of this odious human rights violation. [...]Who might those senior officials be? Amnesty International explicitly names George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Alberto Gonzales, and many others.
Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior US officials involved in the torture scandal. And if those investigations support prosecution, the governments should arrest any official who enters their territory and begin legal proceedings against them. The apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera because they may find themselves under arrest as Augusto Pinochet famously did in London in 1998. [...]
Foreign governments that are party to the Geneva Conventions and/or the Convention against Torture - and that is some 190 countries - and countries that have national legislation that authorizes prosecution - and that is at least 125 countries - have a legally binding obligation to exercise what is known as universal jurisdiction over people accused of grave breaches of the Conventions. Governments are required to investigate suspects and, if warranted, to prosecute them or to extradite them to a country that will. Crimes such as torture are so serious that they amount to an offense against all of humanity and require governments to investigate and prosecute people responsible for those crimes - no matter where the crime was committed.
Let's imagine that Bush goes to Europe to visit Chirac in France. And while they're doing the wine and cheese thing, a bunch of French policemen attempt to overpower Bush's secret service contingent and arrest Bush. Given that they're French, they probably wouldn't succeed, but let's say that they did and were able to take Bush into custody. Hmmmm. Let's choose from the following list what might happen:
- Nothing much, nobody likes Bush anyway.
- We grovel at the feet of the French, begging for our President back.
- We sever all ties with France (and perhaps Europe) and expel all French (and perhaps European) people from the United States precipitating a global political and economic crisis.
- We immediately declare war on France.
- We immediately nuke France and turn it into boiling sea of red wine and molten cheese.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.Krugman responded in his usual Krugmanesque way leading to Okrent really opening up on Krugman:
When he [Krugman] says he agreed “reluctantly” to one correction, he gives new meaning to the word “reluctantly”; I can’t come up with an adverb sufficient to encompass his general attitude toward substantive criticism. But I laid off for so long because I also believe that columnists are entitled by their mandate to engage in the unfair use of statistics, the misleading representation of opposing positions, and the conscious withholding of contrary data. But because they’re entitled doesn’t mean I or you have to like it, or think it’s good for the newspaper. [...]Good luck, Barney!
I hate to do this to a decent man like my successor, Barney Calame, but I’m hereby turning the Krugman beat over to him.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
One Truth I hold essential is that all races, ethnicities, and genders have virtually identical distributions of intelligence due to genetic composition (i.e. the nature component). In addition, the distributions of genetic based intelligence are identical for all subjects (science, math, literature, etc.). Now even though this is unprovable with certainty due to interfering factors (such as nurture), it is unarguably True.
However, let's say that in an alternate universe, I held this same belief, but it turned out to be false. In addition, somehow, irrefutable evidence (the “Truth”) was discovered that my belief was false. That evidence would qualify as a “Truth” not worth knowing because of the damage it would cause to society. I would simply choose to ignore it and continue to believe my essential belief regarding intelligence.
Now let's turn to the case of the Kansas School Board and Evolution. Let's say someone holds the following premises as essential:
From these premises it would follow that Evolution is a Truth not worth knowing because it would impede or prevent the adoption of M, a critically important component of society.
- Morality M is a critically important component of society
- The adoption of M by the general public critically depends on Traditions T
- Belief in Religion R is a critically important component of T
- Creation Myth C is a critically important component required for belief in R
- Evolution critically weakens C
Obviously, if one disagrees with any of the premises (1) through (5), then the conclusion that Evolution is a Truth not worth knowing would not follow. I happen to disagree with several of those premises. Unfortunately, the people of Kansas, by and large, firmly believe all of those premises, and, as a result, will do whatever they can to weaken the impact of Evolution when presented to their children. Indeed, if I believed premises (1) through (5), I would do the same.
If parents believe that what is to be taught to their children will greatly damage (their) society, whether or not what is being taught is true, they have a right or even a duty, as parents, to prevent those things from being taught to their children. And if those things such as Evolution must be taught, then such parents have a right or a duty to mitigate the impact of that being taught as much as possible. In this case, they've invented an untrue story called ID for that particular purpose.
So why teach Evolution at all? There are certainly other topics that could be taught during that science slot. Perhaps that is the best solution. Just don't teach it.
However, let's say that you believe premises (1) through (5) but you think that micro-Evolution coupled with other biological sciences are important from the perspective of forward looking technology. Then, perhaps the best approach is to teach Evolution, but use something else such as ID as a method to blunt the historical implications of Evolution. Perhaps that is what the people of Kansas are doing.
At this point, I've firmly concluded that neither I, nor anybody else, will be able to convince the people of Kansas to drop their belief in premises (1) through (5); that Evolution from a historical perspective would rationally be a Truth not worth knowing given those premises and the use of a false pseudo-science such as ID gives them the best of both worlds in that it enables the introduction of an important science to their children while blunting the impact on their religious beliefs. Lastly, I don't think it my place to meddle in the parenting of the people of Kansas.
Friday, June 03, 2005
The grand project of the integration of Europe accelerated with the destruction of the Berlin wall in 1989. It's my opinion, that the elite of Europe smelled an opportunity, not to make Europe a better place, but rather to concentrate their power significantly further.
With the Soviet Union in operation balanced by the United States prior to 1989, the bipolar world limited the opportunities for the power hungry in old Europe. Their best bet was to play the Soviet Union and the United States off of each other, but there was little chance for Europe to have any real power.
But with the fall of the Soviet Union, coupled with playing the anti-American card, the elite was able to whip the European public up into a state of fear regarding having a unipolar world with the crazy Americans leading it. By promising that Europe could be a counter balance to the horrible Americans if only there was adequate political integration of the nations of Europe, the elite hoped that they could do a raw power grab by bypassing the national level democracies and concentrating power in Brussels, capitalizing on the state of fear they created in their electorates.
Indeed, I think George Bush was a godsend to the ruling elite of Europe. It was hard to keep the fires of fear adequately stoked under Clinton because he was too likeable and too European. But George Bush is everything Europeans are taught to fear about the United States. A right wing, religious cowboy, both corrupt and stupid. Add in some crazy military adventures and you have a perfect storm to help push through the consolidation of power for the European ruling elite.
Unfortunately, the elite overplayed their hand. While Iraq (and Afghanistan) have had numerous problems, the vast majority of the constantly predicted catastrophes never materialized. Add in the liberation of Lebanon (for free), the de-nuclearization of Libya, the beginnings of reform in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others, and the elections in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the result is that the European publics' anti-Americanism, while still quite strong, was weakened enough over the last year so that giving up control to beauracrats in Brussels forever suddenly didn't seem like such a good idea after all.
That's what I think has happened. I have no idea what Europe's future, near or long term, holds, but clearly these strong public rejections of the current path chosen by the ruling elite can't be encouraging to those that favor a strong union.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
3. as adults, they are focused on finding mates and that is where the flashing comes in;