Sunday, December 23, 2012

End of the world madness

It appears at times as if the end of the world is an increasingly popular topic. There were, unfortunately, many people frightened by the end of one of the Mayan calendars, even though the meaning was that the calendar was supposed to start over at the beginning. Many others were scared back in 1999 over the year 2000 being an ending, and there was also the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult that happened when the Hale Bopp comet was passing close to the earth. Meanwhile there are many jokes circulating about the Zombie Apocalypse.

Although one can point out various doomsday movements that have occurred throughout history, there seems to be a particular frequency of them as well as an underlying dread that these movements feed upon. Why then are people so concerned with doomsday? The answer is that the average person is not well versed in politics or in economics.

In terms of foreign policy, the most that many people is that the USA is at war because some "terrorists" attacked on 9/11/2001. Any analysis of underlying causes immediately results in the accusation that the analyst wants to blame the USA for the many problems around the world. A full analysis shows that the United States is an empire in decline, following the path recently trod by the British Empire, or possibly by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In either case it is clear that the United States has far less influence than in the past and that the only real remaining influence of the United States is a far overstretched military.

Domestically the people of the United States are losing civil liberties at an accelerating rate. It is quite clear to the informed observer that the United States is a police state, where the law givers and law enforcers are basically above the laws that they are supposed to protect and enforce. The law is instead a weapon to be used against ones enemies when one has power.

Finally the economy of the United States is in a tailspin only partially disguised by repeated and ever increasing doses of various types and modes of stimulus. Great Depression II started in 2007, and ever since the election of Barack Obama the press has been reporting recovery. There has been no recovery. The debate over the Fiscal Cliff shows that either those in congress don’t know how to fix the problem or don’t care to since they are not having a real debate.

None of this is new to someone who follows the issues. Yet all of this is new to those who don't, and most of it is new to those who mistakenly think they are following the issues because they pay attention to what the leader of their major party tells them. Since people are told one thing, but the evidence points in another direction, this causes a certain unease. Since the evidence points to a severe and major decline - economically, politically, and internationally - this causes even more unease.

Nobody wants to face the ugly truth of decline, those who do so only do because of a devotion to the truth overcoming a desire for false comfort. Yet the knowledge, if not appreciated consciously, is still there that there is something fundamentally wrong with the United States and the direction it is going, and much of the rest of the world as well. This creates the feeling of impending doom among those who do not study the issues, and that feeling is what the various doomsday cults feed into. The mess made by the political leaders of the United States and various other countries created this mess as well.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Libertarianism, the Atheism of Politics

Some people look at the full glory and diversity of the environment and come to the conclusion that it cannot have just happened naturally, that there must have been some guiding hand behind it otherwise it could not have happened. Proofs that it can and does happen naturally fail to convince, because the system is just too diverse and complex for these people to accept it as something that happened without a guiding force. These people are Creationists.

Creationists refuse to believe that evolution can happen because there is so much complexity and diversity. It boils down to an argument from incredulity. Although there are Theistic Evolutionists (not to be confused with advocates of Intelligent Design) the arguments from Creationists focus on trying to accuse atheist opponents of supporting evolution as a religious doctrine. They try to paint Darwin as a prophet, and random mutation and natural selection (RM/NS) as divine forces.

Some people, of the more liberal persuasion, look at the full glory and diversity of the economy and come to the conclusion that it cannot have just happened naturally, that there must have been some guiding hand behind it otherwise it could not have happened.

Statists refuse to believe that the economy can simply happen spontaneously because there is so much complexity and diversity. They see that economies can only happen with a central plan. They try to accuse libertarians as having the central market as a mystical central planner and the invisible hand as a divine force, when in fact "invisible hand" and "free market" are only metaphorical representations of what is happening in the market.

Some people, of the more conservative persuasion, look at the full glory and diversity of society and come to the conclusion that it cannot have just happened naturally, that there must have been some guiding hand behind it otherwise it could not have happened.

Statists refuse to believe that society can simply happen spontaneously because there is so much complexity and diversity. Much as theists often ask atheists "what is to stop you from committing crimes without god?" statists often ask libertarians "what is to stop you from committing crimes without government?" Atheists and libertarians both reply "because I choose to be so, I don't depend on an outside agency to tell me right from wrong."

Atheism is simply the lack of a belief in God and a divine morality. Libertarianism is simply the lack of belief in government and a mandated morality.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Theater

As the fiscal cliff looms, there is intense debate in Washington about striking a deal to avert the automatic spending cuts and automatic tax increases that will go into effect otherwise. The debate has boiled down to an increase of a few percentage points of tax on the top two percentage points of income owners. The Republicans claim to want to maintain the current tax rates on all income earners, and the Democrats claim to want to maintain the current tax rates on the bottom ninety eight percent of income earners. The offer from the Democrats is that if this tax increase is granted, then there will be unspecified spending cuts at some future date.

Both sides are lying so badly that it is surprising anyone is able to take their claims seriously. It is even surprising that the major media outlets, paid to believe the claims of politicians, are able to do their job and keep the American public sufficiently worried.

According to Wikipedia for the 2012 Federal budget, the combined federal outlays were $3.795 Trillion and the combined federal revenues were $2.469 Trillion, leaving a deficit total federal deficit of $1.327 Trillion. There appears to include off budget spending. That means that tax revenue accounted for 65% of the total spending.

If the goal is to balance he budget, which is what is being claimed, then there are three options. Using the figures from 2012, analysis of these three options reveals the lies coming from both sides of the debate.

The first option is to raise taxes sufficiently to balance the budget. This means raising taxes by a significant amount on everyone, not just a few percentage points on the rich. Anyone who proposes merely raising taxes on the rich as a solution is lying. Anyone who proposes raising those taxes just a few percentage points as a solution is lying. President Obama is telling the truth about his desire to raise taxes on the top two percent, but lying when he claims that this will have any impact on the budget deficit. The total tax burden would have to be increased by 54% to cover spending. There is no way to increase tax revenue by that amount by increasing taxes only on the rich, even if there is a top rate of 100% on income over $250,000. All taxes would have to go up, which means personal and corporate income taxes and tariffs and excise taxes, and the personal taxes would have to be raised on all brackets. There is some room to try to juggle the burden away from lower incomes and towards higher incomes, but not much, meaning that even lower income earners will feel the effect.

The second option is to cut spending sufficiently to balance the budget. Spending will have to be cut by 35%. This means real cuts, not "Washington cuts." This is where the Republicans are shown to be lying to the American public. Every cut proposed is a reduction in the rate of increase, a “Washington cut”. Moreover, these cuts are delayed in implementation, a second lie by the Republicans. It has often happened in the past that a budget deal would be made with front loaded tax increases and several years later there would be accompanying spending cuts. Every time that deal was allegedly made the spending cuts did not happen. Only one person in the Senate proposed a budget with real cuts, and his cuts only came to $500 billion, and he admitted that his cuts did not go far enough. The rest of the political class thought he was crazy and instead looked at the Ryan budget, with no actual cuts, and talked about what a fiscal hawk Representative Paul Ryan was.

The third option is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Meeting half-way this means increasing tax revenue to 82% of 2012 expenditures and reducing spending to 82% of 2012 expenditures. This would require a total revenue increase of 26%. It will be easier for those who favor taxing the rich for the crime of being rich to be able to adjust the burden away from the lower incomes, but it will still be necessary to increase taxes on the middle class as well as excise taxes and tariffs. Spending cuts also have some interesting implications as this will require a total spending cut of 18%.

Social Security, unemployment, and labor are 34% of the budget. Medicare and health are 24% of the budget. The military is 18% of the budget. Debt financing are 7% of the budget. Food and Agriculture, Veterans Benefits, Transportation, Education, Housing and Community, International Affairs, Energy and Environment, Science, and Government (everything else) are 18%. If a policy of peace were to be adopted, the military budget can be cut in half easily, saving 9% and leaving another 9% to cut. Perhaps a percentage point can be cut from "everything else." That leaves 8% remaining to cut, which means that either Social Security or Medicare will have to be cut, perhaps both. Any plan which doesn’t include cutting Social Security or Medicare is not an honest plan.

Nobody in Washington is discussing anything close to any of those three proposals, except for Senator Rand Paul. Therefore nobody in Washington except for him is doing anything about the crisis that the Fiscal Cliff discussion was supposed to try to avert.