We lucky duckies

i-fd3ab065f2d9365ca93f70141a3e3684-luckyducky.jpg

While we're delving into the right wing fever swamps, take a look at this unintentionally funny post by Indian Cowboy. I was astounded: I thought Lucky Ducky was only a joke found in the comic strips and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, yet there the concept lies, taken seriously by someone.

The post is full of graphs and charts, but it's really an overwrought attempt to explain a very simple concept. In a system where people pay in different amounts of money to a central pool, like the federal government, and in which those revenues are disbursed more or less equally to all, on average the people who pay in less than the average sum will get back more in goods and services than they paid. Obvious, right? You don't need Excel to figure it out.

It's an exercise to justify this claim:

Personally, I'm of the opinion that you're only a 'taxpayer' if the amount you pay in taxes approximates per capita government expenditure (Which is being charitable, considering that close to 40% of our budget goes toward various forms of social welfare). In other words, you put in about as much as you take out. Any less and you're a tax recipient, any more and you're a tax donor.

That's a bit peculiar, but OK. I'd say they're paying what they can towards common services, but true enough: we poor people don't pay in as much as we gain (I'm not really poor, but he estimates that if you earn less than $77K, you're one of those lucky ducky tax leeches.)

Now just what is wrong with that? It seems reasonable to me. Those who are disproportionately lucky, skilled, or hardworking bear a disproportionate responsibility to contribute to the public weal. I like it. We should try to guarantee that everyone in society has access to good public education, transportation, basic health care, adequate nutrition, and reasonable housing, whether they make $100 per year or $1,000,000 per year. Obviously, the only way that's going to happen is if the wealthy pay more.

Oh. Here's the problem:

But there is one thing that cannot be denied. This is a socialist system, this IS a wealth redistribution system, just one concealed by processing through government expenditure in non-welfare areas. I'll leave it to others to pontificate about this, whether it be spittle-flecked Marxism or neo-Randian alike. In my old age, I'm skeptical that anyone would be reasoned and principled about it.

It's socialism. Oh, my. There's a word to throw the righties into flustered twitterpation.

Yes, it is a weak form of socialism (very weak—it takes a real stretch of the imagination to call the US a socialist country, and it shows how far off into the crazed imaginations of the conservatives we are here.) So what? I think we ought to be more socialist, then, since promoting the welfare of every citizen of the country* ought to be our goal. He seems to be arguing that this argues that we shouldn't tax the wealthy more, but I don't see it. That requires complete neglect of the principle that we are all equal members of our society in favor of the idea that the wealthier you are, the more equal you are.

I'm afraid the only non-socialist solution would be a flat tax. He estimates that the average tax payout is somewhere around $15,000—so let's just tell everyone that their April 15 tax bill is $15,000. Dick Cheney will chortle with glee. I'm not sure what we propose to do with the waitress who is making $18,000 per year—debtor's prison, perhaps? Shall we work out a scheme of debt slavery and put those people to work maintaining common resources? Locking up the poor and removing their pathetic contribution entirely, though, will mean the average tax load on the wealthy will rise a little bit more…those lucky duckies! They gotcha again!

*What do you know, it's even in our Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare of those who make over $77,000 per year, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Oh, wait…have the Republicans been dicking with the Constitution again?

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I'm not sure what we propose to do with the waitress who is making $18,000 per year--debtor's prison, perhaps? Shall we work out a scheme of debt slavery and put those people to work maintaining common resources?

Of course! People like that will be urgently needed to pick the crops once all the Mexican immigrants are driven out!

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Personally, I'm of the opinion that you're only a 'taxpayer' if the amount you pay in taxes approximates per capita government expenditure (Which is being charitable, considering that close to 40% of our budget goes toward various forms of social welfare). In other words, you put in about as much as you take out. Any less and you're a tax recipient, any more and you're a tax donor.

I'm of the opinion that if you pay taxes, you are a taxpayer. Its right there in the damn word. And how do you even measure what people get from the military, NASA, etc?

It might be worth asking, too, What sort of society do the wealthy wish to live in? One where they have to step over the bodies of poor people to enjoy an evening at the opera? Where the sound of the caddy's tubercular hacking disrupts one's golf game? Mewling children in rags smearing your Lexus's windows begging for hand-outs? People fricking ROBBING your ass?

Also, there are simply more poor people than there are rich people. That is our power--numbers. The rich's power comes from economics, and ours comes from demographics. In a democracy, that's a balancing effect that helps prevent a permanent aristocracy--which the Founding Fathers certainly would have opposed. The majority simply uses the power of its numbers to vote in such a way as to maintain some equilibrium and mitigate a rigidly stratified culture. It's almost like...compromise or something.

By Greg Peterson (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

"In other words, you put in about as much as you take out. Any less and you're a tax recipient, any more and you're a tax donor."

How do we calculate the value of the services provided for the common good? If the police force is protecting two houses, one valued at $500,000 and the other at $50,000, who has received more value from the government?

The justification for a progressive tax rate is that richer people receive greater benefit from having the government than poorer people do.

The idea proposed, that the tax bill should not be a constant rate, but in fact _constant_ for each taxpayer, is utterly ludicrous. In such a framework, the budget of the government would be constrained by how much the poorest person could afford to pay in taxes. Since that answer is usually "nothing", we'd either end up with no government or debtor's prisons.

I wonder whether Mr. Cowboy lives in one of those parasitical red states, and if he would also agree to apply this idea at that level.

Bets?

By minimalist (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Since when do all Americans benefit equally from gov. spending? The mega bajillons spent on DoD are certainly worth far more to the Bill Gates / Warren Buffett types. They and their fortunes benefit far more in dollar terms from the maintenance of national and global security than I do.

Secondly, why the fluster about "socialism"?? I guess we should tear up all the publicly funded highways in this country in favor of privately owned roads. The interstate highway system (a program initiated by the Repug, Ike), by his definition is about as socialist as you can get. I suppose it hasn't benefited the free market capitalists in this country one bit since since the first mile was laid.

IndianCowboy goes in the "simple arguments from simple minds" folder.

That's not a flat tax, a flat tax would be if everyone paid 10% of their income in taxes.

A better plan is to have a little card with the amount you've paid in tax, and then the amount you've used. So after the police come by, they'd swipe your card. They could check the odometers of cars and charge you per mile (public transit, rental cars and taxis would up their costs to cover this). They'd measure your sewage use, too.

I'm not sure how they'd prevent you from using a toilet once your tax dollars ran out.

A couple of quick observations:

First, Hayek's definition of a "socialist" economy is one that is planned. Redistribution of wealth, even of tax wealth, is not such planning. The key point is that our economy is planned in almost no regard -- while both Congress and the White House make income projections, and while the Federal Reserve Board pays careful attention to actual economic activity, there is almost no direct intervention into any facet of our economy. The government does not control coal or oil prices, nor electrical prices. The government does almost nothing about steel. All of what Lenin called the "commanding heights" of the economy in the U.S. are in private hands, with only a semi-public, grossly underfunded corporation running AmTrak as an almost exception -- and that's nothing in a nation that shuns rails for passenger traffic.* Use of tax monies does not make the U.S. a socialist nation.

Second, Indian Cowboy assumes without evidence nor even a reasonable claim that a rich guy gets only $14,000 benefit from the federal government. That's absurd. The federal share of locally-governed fire and police protection would probably come close to $14,000 annually, especially for the rich guy with a big home, a business place, who uses roads, rails, ports and airports. There is really a wealth of benefits that the rich guy gets that the poor guy can only read about -- from special regulations that govern communication devices, broadband cable and internet, mail, shipping, etc., etc. Plus, really big business are represented by the State Department in foreign negotiations, and major industries have entire bureaucracies in the Commerce and Agriculture departments that do nothing but shill for big money guys ("Got Milk?"; "Beef -- it's what's for dinner"; 'Buy American tobacco products'; steel quotas, garment regulations, etc.).

Indian Cowboy is simply confused, as his handle indicates.

* Commanding Heights is also the title of a very good, happily and explicitly pro-capitalist book and television series by Daniel Yergin.

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

It takes a special brand of stupid not to realize that in a system that taxes income, those who make almost all of the income are going to pay most of the taxes, and that there is nothing odd about that.

Until we find some way to tax and run the government off of, say, feces, which most people produce in equal abundance, we'll be stuck having to run it on plain old money. So, yes, those with all the money will end up paying the most.

But then, special brands of stupid is what the right-wing blogosphere prides itself on.

Indian Cowboy is simply confused, as his handle indicates.

Time to book that skiing vacation in Hell, I guess, since I actually find myself defending Indian Cowboy. Native American cowboys have a long history and tradition.

I thought, though, he had said he was Indian from India, but I may be mistaken about that, so it may be a case of being so wrong that it's right. Anyway, his handle is the most reasonable thing I've read from him.

Capitalism is also a wealth redistribution system. Anything beyond family subsistence farming involves trade and therefore a redistribution of wealth. We consider trade equitable because it resulted from a voluntary negotiation, but this is kind of leap of faith that ignores relative bargaining power.

The idea that a wealthy person pays 40% of income, dividends, capital gains, rent, etc. presupposes that they are intrinsically entitled to these things. That presupposition is largely a social construct.

While it's difficult to do the precise accounting, I would say that contrary to Indian Cowboy, and even contrary to PZ Myers, who still suggests there is some kind of charity for the underprivileged going on, it is really the very rich who receive proceeds in extreme excess of their actual economic value added, once you make an effort to take all costs into account. Taxation is indeed wealth redistribution, but wealth redistribution is not an obscenity to me; it's a direct consequence of any economic network.

Bill Gates or say, the Walton heirs, have more than 100000 times as much wealth as I do. I accept this because I adhere to the social contract as currently established, I believe in rule of law, and I also believe that in practice wholesale confiscation of private wealth has detrimental effects on incentives. I also believe that Gates at least (let's ignore the Walton babies) is entitled to something for his business acumen (not because he contributed anything to computer science), and that history has shown a net public benefit from rewarding entrepreneurship.

Do I honestly believe that Bill Gates personally has added 100000 times the value to the economy than I have? Not a chance. Possibly Microsoft has done this, but absent Bill Gates, some other entrepreneur would have filled the gap. In fact, there are obvious existing competitors that would have done. To gauge what Gates is really worth, ask what's the replacement cost. Could 100 competent people, each content to have only 100 (not 1000) times my assets, marshalled enough software engineers to replace Windows, Office, Flight Simulator, etc? In short, Bill Gates is mind-bogglingly rich because we as a society think this is an efficacious way to set incentives taking human psychology into account, not because it's his God-given right.

The actual economic value added by any corporation is a collaborative effort. The proceeds of this effort are distributed based on an implicit bargaining for salary. Any company has to pay an employee less than the economic value added by that employee or it won't stay in business for long. How much they actually pay is the result of a supply and demand relationship.

All this guarantees is that the employee feels that their work for salary trade is better than other options, none of which may be very good: a similarly lousy job or worse, simply being unemployed. The difference between value added and salary is to some extend a risk-reduction premium. A job is a safer bet than free-lancing. But there's no reason to think this is the God-given optimal premium. It's just one possible equilibrium solution to a complex game. The larger it is, the better the deal for the employer.

Moreover, some of the seeming efficiencies exploited by business are really negative externalities. The shareholders in industry are drawing on public infrastructure to an extent that increases with their assets, which is why it makes sense to tax them more than a flat per capita fee. But they are also drawing directly on the commons through pollution and other environmental damage. The negative externalities even disproportionately effect those with lower income.

E.g., the people affected most by coal plant emissions are usually the ones paying the least income tax. But they're also paying a direct subsidy to power companies by accepting the burden of worse air than under historically normal conditions. Most people in the present day are also forcibly prevented from living as hunter gatherers even if they would so choose. The commons has been taken for other purposes.

I'm not a Marxist, and don't even play one on TV. I think that market economies often set useful incentives. But this is purely a pragmatic, not an ethical issue. The reason we allow billionaire entrepreneurs to behave as if Lockean property rights could extend to absurd levels is because in practice when we try to tell them otherwise, they get all sulky and make lousy milk-cows for the rest of us. In practice, the good ones actually create some benefit as the stewards of all that wealth by using it to create more. If they want to call themselves "owners" and not "stewards" I won't make big deal about it as long as they behave nice.

But suppose Bill Gates were to go off his gourd one day and start converting Redmond headquarter's into a fortified compound with daily sortees by his corporate fighter jets and so forth. Some loony libertarian might say that he's entitled to do that. In practice, we'd come up with a way to stop him, which would just magically turn out to be ideologically consistent with everyone in power from left to right. The reality is that for all the wealth an individual supposedly has, that amount is a convenient fiction that is revealed as such as soon as society deems it an inconvenient fiction.

The funny thing is, that upon closer examination, Indian Cowboy is actually not really proposing anything. I just reread it, and it seems that the closest he comes to a 'suggestion' is where he rhetorically asks why any kind of tax cuts should be directed toward people making under $77K/year. So for all his graphs and pompous number crunching, he's really doing very little except bitching about how unfair it is that poor people have equal access to things that taxes pay for. This neatly absolves him from proposing a better way of doing things, or addressing the consequences of the possible 'solutions' that his bitching suggests.

In other words, he's useless. I think he just wanted an excuse to throw around the word 'socialist'. Conservatives seem to really miss the simple certainties of the Cold War.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Indian Cowboy:
"In other words, you put in about as much as you take out. Any less and you're a tax recipient, any more and you're a tax donor."

atari24:
"And how do you even measure what people get from the military, NASA, etc?"

Not only that, but what about the people who actually work for the government? Every penny that they get from there government salary is leeched from the American People! Forget about Mexican immigrants stealing your jobs and leeching your hard-earned cash in the form of taxes! Government employees are taking much, much, much more from you than they could ever even hope to!

George Cauldron:

he rhetorically asks why any kind of tax cuts should be directed toward people making under $77K/year.

I am entirely in favor of the GOP adopting this as an explicit plank in their platform. Can anyone think of a reason why they don't?

Yeah, to sorta paraphase PaulC's massive post, the problem here is that in this uber-capitalist country, we're bred to believe that wealth is some direct measure of someone's worth, and value to society. Wealthiness is godliness; those who are weathly "deserve" it, are somehow more moral than the rest of us.

How truely absurd. It reflects a complete lack of any ethical values. Scientists who contribute years of education, hard work, and creative thinking to advance us as a people make middling salaries; blue collar workers, whose backs our infastructure is build upon, make a pittance for their 8 hours of hard labor each day. And the rich are the sleezy businessmen, lucky, or the descendents thereof. And we praise them, and we never question that they are our superiors. And it's from this that the whole "I'm getting ripped off because I have to pay more taxes" thing comes from - it's build upon nothing, upon a complete lack of any philosophical basis...

If you'd really like to see something socialistic (or more accurately democratic) in the way of income redistribution, here's an article from the halcyon days of budget surpluses (remember those?) It's a piece on the idea of a UBI (Universal Basic Income) as the best form of "promote the general welfare" compatible with democracy. It was published in the October 2000 issue of the Boston Review, an ironic date as it turned out. Philippe Van Parijs makes a stunning case for the idea that not only is a UBI best for basic social support and giving all citizens true personal autonomy, but that it's also good for (regulated) capitalism. The style is not overly academic (and I say that as an academic historian) and the approach as practical as I've ever seen from an economic thinker.

And the rich are the sleezy businessmen, lucky, or the descendents thereof. And we praise them, and we never question that they are our superiors.

Yeah, if you really want to link wealth with merit, you'd start by getting rid of inheritance.

Yeah, to sorta paraphase PaulC's massive post, the problem here is that in this uber-capitalist country, we're bred to believe that wealth is some direct measure of someone's worth, and value to society. Wealthiness is godliness; those who are weathly "deserve" it, are somehow more moral than the rest of us.

The funny thing is, that in order to get around all the rather negative things Jesus said about rich people and the accumulation of wealth, conservative American Christians now have coined a NEW term to make rich, selfish Christians look good. They now call themselves "Productive Christians".

See here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0930464044/qid=1147971347/sr=1-1/ref=s…

Of course, this implies that the nonwealthy are 'unproductive', but that's another issue.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Buried deep in my screed:

they're also paying a direct subsidy to power companies by accepting the burden of worse air than under historically normal conditions. Most people in the present day are also forcibly prevented from living as hunter gatherers even if they would so choose. The commons has been taken for other purposes.

Am I alone in thinking this is obvious: anyone who happens to be born in modern industrial society could reasonably claim compensation for the lost opportunity to forage over a fairly large territory. I'm not sure of the economic value. It would not include current market values (residential, agriculture, mineral rights) that only make sense in post-hunter gatherer society. But it would conceivably include a sufficient stipend to make up the equivalent food and shelter that pre-agriculture humans could provide for themselves if they lived under historically normal conditions (averaged over the last 100000 years, say).

The government of a locality is the major dealer in interpersonl violence in that locality (definition). Anyone on the taxpayers' payroll (e.g., a State university professor) is a net tax recipient. Whether this makes him/her a leech depends on whether taxpayers could pay less for the same service, or want to pay for it at all. The education business in not a natural monopoly. Beyond a very low level there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education business. Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term, and the "public goods" argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State operation of an industry.
If school is not a jobs program for government employees, a source of padded contracts for politically-connected construction contractors and textbook publishers, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination, why cannot any student take any course required for graduation credit-by-exam, at the marginal cost of test administration? If it is fraud for a mechanic to charge for the repair of a functional motor, and if it is fraud for a physician to charge for the treatment of a healthy patient, then it is fraud for a teacher to charge for the instruction of a student who does not need our help.

of course those that make most of the money are going to pay most of the taxes. And I certainly don't think that everyone should be paying the same dollar amount of taxes (government would be pretty pathetic if we did). But I think it's pretty funny that people bitch when the people who pay the largest amount of taxes get the largest amount of tax cuts.

Also, PZ you in your great wisdom do know the difference between classical liberalism and conservatism, right?

It means you and I tend to agree on a lot of social issues (how many conservatives advocate for drug legalization exactly?). It's just that whereas you see the state in an enabling role, I just can't see it that way.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick:

Beyond a very low level there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education business.

Universities have significant economies of scale. Students study the same topics in close proximity and can share a library. They can in principle seek advice from several different professors by taking a short walk (in practice, it depends on availability and student willingness). If you tried to replace this with a widely distributed network of tutors, for instance, you'd reduce the amount of student-to-student discussion, and you would probably have to make due with far inferior libraries.

Some of this may be less relevant now with the availability of the Internet, but I'll believe it when I see the evidence. It takes a lot of self-motivation to study a topic without being immersed in a social environment that rewards your effort. I have trouble believing that we will ever create that kind of environment through teleconferencing technology.

All of the above is even more important to universities as research institutions. Given a mature field with a set curriculum, you might be able to replicate introductory courses in a tech-school setting. If you expect any new research to emerge, though, you need direct human interaction. Again, maybe you can do that with teleconferencing but I'll believe it when I see it.

I haven't had time to read everything here or there..(damn capitalist work! ;-) ), but I guess the short of the libertarian take is that:
You cannot use government to help others.

daenku32

but I guess the short of the libertarian take is that: You cannot use government to help others.

Close. It's "You cannot use government to help yourselves."

Recall that we are the government, as anyone who can make it three words into the constitution should be aware.

Recall that we are the government, as anyone who can make it three words into the constitution should be aware.

It's called "The People's Republic", PaulC. But what does the government of China have to do with the people? The Constitution is just a bunch of words on parchment.

the problem here is that in this uber-capitalist country, we're bred to believe that wealth is some direct measure of someone's worth, and value to society. Wealthiness is godliness; those who are weathly "deserve" it, are somehow more moral than the rest of us.

How truely absurd. It reflects a complete lack of any ethical values.

And speaking of using words without meaning... That's entirely ethical, by a set of ethical values that you reject. State that you're rejecting them, and if you can, why -- pretending that your ethical principles are objective and eternal truths is shoddy thinking.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Caledonian:

The Constitution is just a bunch of words on parchment.

It is exactly what we as a nation make it to be, no more or less. Obviously the US government in practice consists of individuals who often behave as if they stand beyond all public accountability. But it's a government founded on the principles that they are our representatives, subject to our discipline. We are our own masters even if we delegate some of the administrative work to specific individuals.

The US constitution is more than a slogan like "People's Republic" because at varying times in the past it has been used effectively to require some level of accountability. Chic cynicism makes it less effective, not more effective. Anyone who thinks of government as an external force beyond their influence is missing the point of what it's supposed to be.

We are our own masters even if we delegate some of the administrative work to specific individuals.

That's nonsense, PaulC, and I think you already know that. We are our own masters only to the degree that we have the power to resist those that would enslave us. Very little actual power is in our hands in this system.

Anyone who confuses what the government is supposed to be with what the government actually IS is deeply deluded... which is just what the people controlling government want.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Caledonian:

which is just what the people controlling government want.

A widespread sense of disempowerment serves them just as well if not better.

Politicians jump to attention when any sizeable number of people merely begin to start sending them letters about anything--even if it's as stupid as complaining about what they saw on TV the night before. The majority of US citizens really do dismiss the constitution as empty words on parchment, but that's why small, organized groups who actually demand some accountability can often get results from their elected representatives even when their demands are at odds with most of the public.

I like the phrase "chic cynicism." It's a good term for everyone saying "The government doesn't give us any power, we have no influence", thereby enabling exactly the system that they complain about. If there were more people attempting to exert some control over their government, then more people WOULD control government. The best way to achieve that is to participate in government the way it is supposed to be.

IndianCowboy, everyone here knows what "classical liberalism" is -- it's one of those Humpty Dumpty words that conservatives use, like "Darwinism" or "Islamofascism" or "idiotarian."

for my full thoughts head here:

http://www.indiancowboy.net/blog/?p=179

I said nothing about changing the system or how to change the system. I made no claims about the morality of those below the break even point. All that was done by PZ. All I did was point out a situation that exists, like it or not.

HP, I don't even have words for you if you don't know the difference between the two.

George Cauldron came closest to understanding what I was trying to say. Although when he gets into the 'it's so unfair to rich people' garbage he once again falls off the cliff of assumption. I see an ugly situation waiting to happen a "screw the rich people, those bastards" and then taxing ourselves into a stagnant economy.

And again, we are not talking about the 'very rich' here, we are talking about the top 30% of wage earners. The 'very rich' do gain ENORMOUS benefits from government. Your averag person making 77,000-110,000 doesn't. Dissembling and nothing more.

about my handle: I'm an Indian from India. I grew up in West Texas. I can ride a horse (badly), wrestle a hog (also badly...but I don't think anyone can wrestle them well), shoot a gun (pretty well), play with power tools (very well), build a fire from scratch (when I'm lucky), and occasionally I can lasso what I'm aiming for instead of my own two feet.

When I went to college in the northeast my friends picked up on this, and gave me the nickname "Indian Cowboy". Hence my handle. Nice and memorable. Like the blog title says, I'm not really a cowboy, but it works.

I see a couple of people think I'm confused because I call myself that. In your worship of diversity and multiculturalism are you unable to fathom that a man can be and East Indian as well as something of a hick? Children.

IndianCowboy:

In your worship of diversity and multiculturalism are you unable to fathom that a man can be and East Indian as well as something of a hick?

FWIW, I thought your handle was fairly self-explanatory, though I didn't guess all the details (West Texas, etc.)

Someone already said it, if you pay taxes, you area "taxpayer". Duh. As for his made up categories "tax donor" and "tax recipient", they do not change the fact of being a taxpayer. So, since he has made up the new category of "tax donor", why does he say the existing word "taxpayer" must now be reinterpreted to match his new phrase? I mean, isn't that why he made up the new phrase, to cover this new concept?

But then, don't rich people benefit more from those tax-funded services? They need nice roads to drive their Mercedes and Hummers on, and public education keeps the poor children in school, instead of being on the street where they will beat up the rich person's child out of resentment.

Not to mention those rich people who benefit fairly directly from tax-funded government policies because they sell weapons or oil.

HP, I don't even have words for you

Yay! I win!!!!!!!!!

I think it's commendable that you aren't judging the system, Indian Cowboy, but are merely describing the obvious in excruciating detail.

So I take it you're now much more appreciative of socialism and can see its virtues?

as I think I've said before in comments here, Marx got a lot right in what he observed. It's just that he got a lot wrong when it came to implementation. I see the virtues in what he saw (plutocracy) but no virtues in the system he wanted to create. Sorry, as I've said before, socialism only makes sense if group selection would have been shown to be true. Without group selection you can't ahve a collective. And if you don't have a collective, but pretend you do, you'll have nothing but cheaters of one kind or another.

And if by 'appreciative of socialism' you mean that I understand and acknowledge that self-interested individuals will not always produce what is necessary for maintenance of a healthy nation, then yes. If I understand that the welfare of our children is something that the state must (unfortunately) take a role in, then yes. If that's being 'appreciative of socialism' however, then everyone except 'big L' Libertarians and Anarchists fall under that banner.

I've been listening to conservatives whine about taxes for years, and it occurred to me that the only tax conservatives will ever truly approve of is one where we all pay a flat fee to be American. No, not a percentage of earnings, but a flat fee.

I don't know... $20,000 per family member, or something like that.

This post you found (and how the heck did you find it, PZ?) is, I think, living proof of that.

IC: Sorry, as I've said before, socialism only makes sense if group selection would have been shown to be true. Without group selection you can't ahve a collective.

I assume you are thinking about social insects. But it's not really group selection that shapes their collective, it's kin selection.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's symbiosis. The buggers don't even have to be the same species to co-operate. Human relations are somewhere in the middle - quite nepotistic, but capable of lots of types of co-operation with non-kin.

And if you don't have a collective, but pretend you do, you'll have nothing but cheaters of one kind or another.

All of society is not a zero sum game. Why have humans apparently evolved to detect cheaters, if not to deal with the complex social situations arising from the co-operation that's natural to our species?

But suppose Bill Gates were to go off his gourd one day and start converting Redmond headquarter's into a fortified compound with daily sortees by his corporate fighter jets and so forth. Some loony libertarian might say that he's entitled to do that.

The scary thing is, I know a loony libertarian who would think that. He would argue that you could always sue Gates in court for any damages his corporate fighter jets caused you. This guy thinks privatizing the police is a good idea.

He also thinks government laws preventing people from owning personal nuclear weapons is too much government intrusion. Anyone else know a 37 year old who's still obsessed with Ayn Rand novels?

"of course those that make most of the money are going to pay most of the taxes."

It took you 6 graphs and hundreds of words to figure this out, including a basically made up methodology on how to calculate benefit and so on?

I suppose then that tossing a amusingly hysterical misunderstanding of what "socialism" is is par for the course.

But suppose Bill Gates were to go off his gourd one day and start converting Redmond headquarter's into a fortified compound with daily sortees by his corporate fighter jets and so forth.

There was a whole Simpsons episode based on just that premise.

Some obsessive compulsive has documented it HERE: http://www.frinky.com/globex/

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Socialism CAN work, IF the following statements are true:

1) Your society has an effective way of punishing those who act parasitically upon the system within its parameters,

2) your society has an effective way of preventing people from taking over the government and skewing its parameters to their own benefit,

3) you're willing to accept that selection will then operate upon the whole society instead of smaller subsections.

Superorganisms can thrive only because their constituent elements have goals that can only be fulfilled by working with the system AND all elements of the system are essentially identical. Humans do not fulfill these criteria.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Stavro, your libertarian buddy wouldn't be named Robert Meza by chance? Doesn't quite sound like ole Bobby, but he's definitely a Rand fanboy.

Stavro, your libertarian buddy wouldn't be named Robert Meza by chance?

No. But this guy is otherwise completely rational and even an atheist. He just can't articulate a coherent picture of how his ideal military-defense-only government would operate and still prevent total social chaos domestically.

No. But this guy is otherwise completely rational and even an atheist. He just can't articulate a coherent picture of how his ideal military-defense-only government would operate and still prevent total social chaos domestically.

That's the fascinating thing about hard libertarianism. It has such passionate adherents despite a total lack of evidence that it could ever work. It's enough that people just really like the idea.

By George Cauldron (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Caledonian wrote: Superorganisms can thrive only because their constituent elements have goals that can only be fulfilled by working with the system AND all elements of the system are essentially identical. Humans do not fulfill these criteria.

Perhaps not, but symbiosis and endosymbiosis are definitely out the window by those criteria, too. I'd like to keep my mitochondria and gut bacteria, does that make me a commie?

Symbiosis isn't ruled out, but there needs to be something that prevents one partner from turning into a parasite and taking advantage of the other -- a deep valley in evolutionspace, autoregulative mechanisms, whatever.

Symbiosis is the logical outcome of equally-matched organisms coexisting, but it is not the inevitable outcome of all such coexistence. We see this with bacteria -- harmless or even beneficial bacteria can turn pathogenic if a new niche that rewards such behavior opens up.

It takes more than wishful thinking to structure viable human societies and economies. Market forces, which like all evolutionary feedback systems are both potent and dangerous, represent a powerful tool that the Left doesn't appreciate, even while it intuitively senses the incorrect assumptions hidden within ideologies like Free-Market Capitalism.

Start thinking of economics as a subset of ecology.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 18 May 2006 #permalink

Good grief, everybody wants something for nothing.

Private property is a government service, and the more private property you have, the more you should pay to the government. In fact, you can tell if something is a government by the fact that it implements ownership in varying degrees. The United States, despite recent decisions on eminent domain, has excellent real estate ownership by world standards. The United States dollar is an impressively stable currency when compared with most others. In general, laws against theft and fraud are enforced, and there is a court system that can give you a fair hearing more often than not.

All of this is based on the government's ability to force people to do things under the old "you and what army" principle. Overextended and ill used, the United States army is still one of the most powerful armies in the world, and we've got a range police forces for internal matters.

This takes money. We could have a government deal where you don't pay taxes, but if someone steals your car or takes over your house, well, you're on your own. Or, we could have a limit on taxation, but only protect the first $100,000 in assets, like the FDIC. If you do happen to have a lot of money, the current tax system is a great deal, and when the Democrats are in office, they pump money into creating consumers so that rich people can make even more money. After all, there is a word for rich people who invest in products that no one can afford to buy, poor.

Damn Caledonian. Very on point your last few comments.

It takes more than wishful thinking to structure viable human societies and economies. Market forces, which like all evolutionary feedback systems are both potent and dangerous, represent a powerful tool that the Left doesn't appreciate, even while it intuitively senses the incorrect assumptions hidden within ideologies like Free-Market Capitalism.

Start thinking of economics as a subset of ecology.

This is exactly what I've been trying to articulate. It was reading Hardin's work and interviews that introduced me to that idea, and it's one that I've found ever so powerful. Hardin was more or less a small l libertarian by all accounts. Yet his most influential paper was about the breakdown of what is essentially the free market and the need for intervention.

The market works a lot of the time, more of the time than anyone on the left is willing to give it credit for. It doesn't work all the time, as big L Libertarians pretend it does. The key is to strike a compromise, to recognize

IndianCowboy:

The market works a lot of the time, more of the time than anyone on the left is willing to give it credit for. It doesn't work all the time, as big L Libertarians pretend it does. The key is to strike a compromise, to recognize

Spare me your strawman "left." The above has been the premise of mainstream economic liberals since Keynes and you'll see it regularly repeated by economists such as Paul Krugman or Brad DeLong in his blog.

The reason many regulations are not popular in certain circles (e.g. Reagan fanboys) is because dysfunctional markets help the rich disproportionately and the wealthy like it that way. However, harnessing market forces with regulations to handle the excesses has been the standard liberal position for decades.

Symbiosis isn't ruled out, but there needs to be something that prevents one partner from turning into a parasite and taking advantage of the other -- a deep valley in evolutionspace, autoregulative mechanisms, whatever.

It's those mutual interests you were talking about. Nothing unusual about that. Symbiosis can turn into parasitism, but parasitism can also turn into symbiosis.

PaulC, this would be the same Krugman that deifies the European 'mixed model' right? Which is anything but reasonable in its regulation or degree of 'social protection'.

PaulC, this would be the same Krugman that deifies the European 'mixed model' right?

Must be some other guy. I have never noticed Krugman "deifying" anything (maybe some deity, but I doubt it).

The Paul Krugman I'm aware of has regularly written in praise of free markets (lately global markets especially) as well as the need to step in and intervene sometimes--a typical instance is his popularization of the "babysitter coop" example http://www.pkarchive.org/theory/baby.html an actual case study in which what looked like an intractable problem with no hope of a market solution was solved simply by printing more money (analogous to monetary policy).

You might want to read some of Krugman's earlier popularizations such as Peddling Prosperity before spouting off on what you think he thinks about markets. I admit I'm a big fan of his NYT columns, but these are overtly political and not indicative of Krugman the economist.

I see a couple of people think I'm confused because I call myself that. In your worship of diversity and multiculturalism are you unable to fathom that a man can be and East Indian as well as something of a hick? Children.

Er, not exactly. I presume that most everybody who parses your handle finds that it calls to mind, as it did to me, the childhood game of "Cowboys and Indians", where you had cowboys on one side and indians on the other. Since it was a team vs team game, it wasn't possible to be on both sides simultaneously. Another way to put it - "Cowboys" and "Indians" are mutually exclusive sets.

Now, I get it that you're a cowboy who is Indian-from-India. And that's not really that weird. But you shouldn't be surprised when most people read your handle and view that as oxymoronic, like "an odd multiple of 2" or "tiny giant" or the like. And you definately shouldn't use that view as a cover to assert that people are racist or immature or whatever, particularly since your friends who dubbed you thus surely had that oxymoronic quality in mind all along.

Like the blog title says, I'm not really a cowboy, but it works. I see a couple of people think I'm confused because I call myself that. In your worship of diversity and multiculturalism are you unable to fathom that a man can be and East Indian as well as something of a hick?

No, I got that perfectly well. Growing up in Alabama, I had a friend who was third-generation Japanese-American, who got all kinds of dumb questions about where she was from. No problem on that score. I just think using the name of a group of people with a whole history and tradition (Native American cowboys) as your handle when you're not really one of them (neither Native American, nor a cowboy, as you write above) is kind of dubious at best.

This whole thing wouldn't have come up, except that Ed seemed to think they were mutually exclusive sets, in Chet's words. If he hadn't raised that issue, I probably never would have bothered to comment on your handle. Since he did, I then expressed my opinion of it.

Children.

OK. Poser.

But that's the beauty of freedom of speech, isn't it--you can take whatever handle you want to, I can express whatever opinion I want to about it, you can call me whatever name you want to, and I can call you whatever name I want to right back.

i'm 'not really one of them'? Poser? The title of my blog is 'ok so i'm not really a cowboy' Never claimed to be a native american who herded cattle across the great plains. Don't even claim to be a cowboy.

I'm an Indian, unlike the indigenous peoples who were already on this continent before Colombus got here. I am of 100% dravidian stock. I speak a language native to a certain subcontinent. I practice a religion known as Hinduism. Hinduism...India notice the shared letters? It's not my fault that a European couldn't figure out the circumference of the globe. It's not my fault that more than 500 years later, a lot of Americans still make the same semantic mistake.

Furthermore, I actually happen to come from a long line of people who raised milk cattle and water buffalo back in India.

I never claimed to be what apparently people thought I was implying. But I did put up a picture of myself and a short bio on my blog so maybe now I won't be seen as some kind of 'poser'.

Chet, Ed, i see what you mean now. That never even occurred to me. Sorry.

Honestly, that never occurred to my friends or me until just now, and I've had this handle for nigh on 5 years now. They literally meant that I was an Indian-from-India who was a hick.

You might want to read some of Krugman's earlier popularizations such as Peddling Prosperity before spouting off on what you think he thinks about markets. I admit I'm a big fan of his NYT columns, but these are overtly political and not indicative of Krugman the economist.

Aye to that. Krugman is a rather notable economist, and a person that economists in other countries pay attention to. IndianCowboy have some rather simplistic ideas of economy, and economic theories, which is quite acceptable, however it is a bit annoying that he misrepresents other peoples' stances, as he does with Krugman.

Not that it's really relevant to neither this post or the original post that PZ comments on, but for people who wants to look into the actual tax-model of the US, I would recommend this paper:
Progressive and Regressive Taxation in the United States: Who's Really Paying (and Not Paying) their Fair Share? (pdf)

I have recommended it before, so some people might have taken a look at it before.

By Kristjan Wager (not verified) on 20 May 2006 #permalink

I never claimed to be what apparently people thought I was implying.

Like I said, it's my opinion. That plus $3 will get you a latte, for what it's worth.

But why would you even care what I think? I'm one of those feminist pro-choice leftists whose views you've consistently been misrepresenting ever since you began posting here. You accused me of "worshipping" multiculturalism and diversity, not getting that an Asian-American can have grown up in the rural South, and of being a "child". After all that misrepresentation and vilification, all of a sudden you start caring what one of us thinks?

Since you feel free to speak your opinion, so do I.

Superorganisms can thrive only because their constituent elements have goals that can only be fulfilled by working with the system AND all elements of the system are essentially identical. Humans do not fulfill these criteria.

Interesting. Why are superorganisms different from regular organisms?

The neurons in my brain are rather different from, say, my liver.

And yet I, as an individual, thrive.

Why? Because, as you correctly noted, working with the system (me) is to the advantage of all the parts thereof. That is the only requirement: that the good of the system be the good of all in the system.

Now ... explain how that isn't the case in America?

The neurons in my brain are rather different from, say, my liver.

And yet I, as an individual, thrive.

The neurons in your brain contain the same instructions as the cells in your liver. Even more importantly, those cells live by the instructions, and they die by them -- whether it's to form a structure by killing off all of the unneeded tissue, or self-destructing on command due to wear and tear, or even being devoured by white blood cells to eliminate the threat of an infective agent.

Cells that do NOT obey the instructions and cease being responsive to the commands to grow and die have a name: cancer. People riddled with cancers generally do not thrive.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 20 May 2006 #permalink

Working with the system (me) is to the advantage of all the parts thereof. That is the only requirement: that the good of the system be the good of all in the system.

Now ... explain how that isn't the case in America?
Do the names Halliburton, Enron and Exxon Valdez ring a bell? And lest someone think I'm unfairly slamming corporations here, let's throw in Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh, too.

In human societies, parts can have interests of their own that are different from, and even opposed to, the interests of other parts or of the whole. Your liver doesn't (as far as I know).

Also, your liver isn't capable of formulating its own plan to pursue its own separate interests, even if it had them Let's say it "wanted" to be transplanted into someone younger to increase its own life expectancy; how exactly would it go about doing so? The question is absurd because your liver isn't even capable of holding a desire like that, let alone acting on it.

But humans *do* have their own agendas, and that's why the body fails as an analogy for society, and "head of state" will never be more than a figure of speech.

The social insects are likewise a poor analogy, because they don't have the same diversity of agendas that humans do. Picture a group of worker ants starting a revolution to take over the colony and depose their queen and you'll see why the human-derived terms don't really work as descriptions of the social insects - or vice versa.