Showing posts with label social responsibility. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social responsibility. Show all posts

Thursday, March 10, 2022

un Civil un War

January brought news that a second civil war might be in store for America. On January 6, Michelle Goldberg wrote about two books predicting civil war in the near future. She notes, however, that not all scholars agree. Goldberg quotes Josh Kertser tweeting that few civil war scholars believe the United States is on the verge of civil war. Goldberg adds, "yet even some who push back on civil war talk tend to acknowledge what a perilous place America is in."

On January 11, Ron Elving wrote that a number of polls show civil war is on peoples' minds. While animosity remains between north and south states, the main division is between "metro and non-metro" citizens. How would the battle lines in such a civil war be drawn? Throw out history — we're in new territory here.

I divide Republicans into two camps, pragmatists and die-hard Trump followers. I believe it's the  die-hard Trump followers who are most likely to rebel. I estimate these constitute about a third of voting Americans. Clearly not a majority, albeit a meaningful minority. These voters are angry. If our society addressed their anger it could move foreword, and by doing so we would address shared societal needs. However American voters differ in their approach to meeting our societal needs. One approach allows Trump die-hards to continue embracing The Big Lie even as Trump and his allies face legal scrutiny. This third of voters lives in an alternate reality, in denial or unaware of what the majority accepts as fact.

Some label Trump die-hards Low Information Voters. Traditional news sources (fake news to some) reported overwhelming evidence of a fraud-free 2020 election. Big Lie supporters failed to provide evidence of election fraud. Instead of evidence they provided only unsubstantiated claims. For these voters trusting a personality matters more than trusting information.

Personality cults are the nemesis of democracies. The Trump Cult is destroying what's left of ours. Democracy demands cooperation while personality cults and partisanship drive selfish ambitions. Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. Americans should eliminate parties entirely and minimize the influence any one politician can have. Political discourse should be issue driven instead of limited to party chestnuts.

Discourse driven politics, however, is not possible under our current system. We address too few issues, not always factually, with slogans rather than dialogue. One reason we're this way is that we are influenced by blame-fueled partisan radio and cable programing and by hate-fueled social media. Such media couldn't behave this way before the Fairness Doctrine was toppled. The cost of unrestricted free speech is that it allows people to lie without consequences. Before we can meaningfully address issues we must first agree upon facts. We need renewed standards and laws that would ensure falsehoods would rise no further than exaggerations. Under such laws, severe exaggerations would face consequences. Such a society would require enough education to suss out facts and meaningful arguments, but it wouldn't require geniuses. It would only require that people respected the rules of polite discussion. Facebook or its imitators would not exist in a dialog driven society. Useful discussion would replace the current troll fest.

But changing the rules of dialog is not sufficient to rebuild our democracy. We must also eliminate political parties and the ability of the wealthy to spend unrestricted amounts to influence political opinion.

In other words, we must become a democracy again. The idea of corporations as persons allows a few wealthy individuals the ability to buy voters' opinions at the expense of corporate employees. In a true democracy everyone's opinion matters. But to make that work, informed polite discussion must occur. We need to eliminate parties and partisanship and to do so candidates must become more issue driven, and parties need to be replaced with issue-centered coalitions. Eliminating congressional districts would not only eliminate gerrymandering, but would force candidates to choose among a number of state wide issues.

While every state has two senators, states have varied populations. Both California's millions and Wyoming's' thousands are represented by two senators. This is inherently undemocratic because it favors the few over the many. However nothing in the Constitution says we must elect senators at the state level. Why not elect them nationally instead?

Maybe my ideas seem goofy. That's okay, we don't have to use them. But we do need to start thinking outside the box, because the democracy we've got isn't working well anymore. Lying partisans are destroying our country. Let's keep what works, build around commonalities and dump the damaging bullshit.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Poisons and profundities

When We Cease to Understand the World

Benjamin Labatut
Historical Fiction, 191 pages

The book begins with mustard gas and cyanide — mustard gas caused death in the trenches in the first world war, while cyanide exterminated captive Jews and suiciding Nazis in the second. Between those two wars a scientific revolution occurred. At the 1927 Solvay Conference quantum physics theory came into being. While that theory makes sense mathematically, it defies sensibility when described in words. That's as true today as it was in 1927.

Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1915, ten years after his theory of special relativity. At the time, Europe was at war. Einstein made no attempt to solve the equation backing his theory. Shortly before his death, a German soldier sent a letter containing the equation's solution from the trenches to Einstein. This soldier-mathematician was Karl Schwarzschild whose solution implied the possibility of singularities, the oddities at the centers of black holes. Mustard gas, in part, caused Schwarzschild's death.

Benjamin Labatut writes of two other mathematicians, Shinichi Mochizuki and Alexander Grothendieck. As yet, no other mathematicians understand Shinichi Mochizuki's proof of a basic mathematical concept and he withdrew its publication. Alexander Grothendieck realized that humanity wasn't ready to understand the "heart of the heart" of mathematics and became a recluse. The heart of Labatut's book, however is the emergence of quantum theory, one that like Einstein's, challenges human understanding. 

This historical fiction is a brief and elegant explanation of the persons and ideas that resulted in quantum physics. But the fictional bits, while entertaining, are unnecessary, and add little to the story. The same can be said about the section following the epilogue. That section, "The Night Gardner," only adds extra pages and could have been skipped entirely.

While quantum physics and relativity theories both played parts in our losing our understanding of the world, Labatut missed a third theory which played a part in that loss. However Darwin's theory of evolution didn't cause that lost understanding. Rather, it was some peoples' response to that theory which caused our loss. Prior to Darwin, the new science of geology caused many Christian theologians to accept that the earth couldn't have been created in the six thousand years of Biblical time. It had to be far older. The Bible, therefore had to be read figuratively rather than literally. Darwin's theory was generally well received by his religious contemporaries. It wasn't until shortly after World War I that evolution was rejected by North American religionists. Throwing out evolution also means throwing out geology and archaeology. some have argued that dinosaur fossils must have been planted by God or Satan to test believers' faith or deceive us. Other explanations that pit the Bible against science strike me as equally far-fetched. In my view, faith must be guided by science and reason lest religion become superstition. Once one builds ones beliefs on blind faith rather than on faith tempered by science and reason, it becomes possible to ignore politicians' lies and vote on faith alone. We cease to understand the world at our peril.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The only sure thing is climate change and taxes


U.S. tax rates change over time. In 1913 the highest earners paid only 7 percent, but in 1918 they paid 77 percent to pay for the first world. During the early 1920s, top tax rates remained higher than today, but in 1925 the highest tax rate dropped to 25 percent. It stayed within a point of that rate until 1932 when it rose to 63 percent. The tax rate continued to climb during the Great Depression and beyond, reaching a high of 94 percent during the final two years of World War II. The rate dropped into the 80s after the war, but was generally around 91 percent between 1950 and 1963. The top rate then moved to 77 percent and began to fall after that, reaching a low of 35 percent in 2003. It remained at that rate until 2013 when it jumped to 39.6 percent.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) reduced the top rate to 37 percent.

Corporate tax rates fluctuate as well. From 1946 through 1949 corporate profits were taxed at a maximum rate of 53 percent. This rate applied to profits over $25,000 and under $50,ooo. The rate fell to 38 percent on profits over $50,000.

Between 1993 and 2017 the highest corporate tax rate was 39 percent on profits between $100,000 and $335,000. Above that amount, the rate dropped to 34 or 35 percent on profits below 15 million dollars. Between 15 and 18.33 million dollars profit the rate returned to 38 percent, before falling back to a top rate of 35 percent. Progressive tax rates increase as income grows, while regressive taxes take a larger bite of income from those with smaller incomes. This period’s tax rates are generally progressive, but don’t entirely follow a straight progressive increase.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) sets a flat tax of 21 percent on corporate profits. Flat taxes are usually considered to be regressive. Large corporations must love TCJA since it forces smaller ones to pay 21 percent instead of 15 percent on their first $50,000 in profits.

During its history, the United States has held debt at various times, but in 2001, it held a surplus. That didn’t last long. Today the national debt is an enormous three trillion dollars. Higher taxes can lower a nation’s debt. The rationale behind TCJA was that lower taxes would pay for themselves by growing the economy. Did it work? The economy did grow a bit, but not as much as predicted. Our nation’s high deficit grew instead of decreased as predicted. According to the Economic Policy Institute, TCJA “did not increase wages for working people, failed to spur business investments, decreased corporate tax revenues, and boosted stock buybacks in its wake.” No surprise here — taxes are paid on profits taken after employees are paid and R&D costs accounted for. There was never any logic to its boosters’ claim that TCJA would increase business investment and benefit workers. Who lobbied for this lie?  The usual suspects,  including among others, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers. These same organizations plan to lobby against the 3.5 trillion dollar economic plan.

If that economic plan isn’t implemented, there could be a long wait before climate change is meaningfully addressed. The poor also suffer when the wealthy don’t pay their fair share. During the mid-twentieth century when taxes were high the middle class was broader and more affluent than today. Taxing wealth to repair the climate would also benefit the bottom 90 percent of U.S. citizens. Speak loudly Citizen and shame the greedy into social responsibility.