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Posts posted by Pangloss

  1. I'm pretty sure "The US doesn't make stuff anymore" is meant to be figurative, not literal.

    Swansont advocating "figurative" speaking? Fascinating! (chuckle)


    Anyway, I hear people state more definitive versions in the media all the time, e.g. "the US doesn't manufacture anything anymore". IMO it's valid to point out that US manufacturing still exists and still has an impact on the economy.

  2. This sort of thing has come up a couple of times before. Notably a couple of years ago when some Texas legislators fled the state to avoid some redistricting votes that would have cost their party significant representation. They had a valid point of view too -- gerrymandering has gotten out of hand.


    Both sides seem to have legitimate points in this debate as well. Union labor's power over state employees and thus state governance is a valid concern, and the other side has valid concern as well (representation, pension promises, etc).


    My concern with the general issue of "let's lay off some teachers and first responders" thing is that it may have become a cover for deeper budget problems. What I suspect is that the payroll cost of teachers and first responders pales in significance with the cost of entitlement spending that was added during more prosperous recent times. Such spending is mandated by law, so may be easier -- but not necessarily cheaper -- to lay off teachers and first responders. But I can't state that factually -- I haven't read up on it yet.


    Whatever the case turns out to be, state budget cuts is going to be one of the big stories of 2011. I believe I read somewhere that 44 states are in the red now.

  3. ... but 100% of it does not add to the real economy of the country. It's at best overhead costs. You always need a little, but too much can kill you.

    Well as I've said before I believe Defense spending can be cut far more significantly than Congress or the President seem willing to consider. President Obama was raising their budget even before Republicans took over the House, and his new budget, while containing some cuts, raises it even further.


    That successful economy was built in the past, when the USA did not spend the same percentage of its income on the military, on lawyers and lawsuits, on financial institutions or other useless things.

    I was responding to an historical context. I also don't believe that the above statement is true. You may consider most of the $15 trillion economy "useless", but money is money. Most of that economy was built well after the appearance of military spending, massive lawsuits, and gigantic financial institutions. Perhaps there's a connection there, eh?


    That economy was built in the days that the USA actually manufactured things: Detroit made cars, Silicon Valley made computers, Boeing was (and is) the largest airplane manufacturer, etc... And the USA did so for a competitive price with superior technology. That's indeed how you build a strong economy.


    The only way that you can build an economy is that you have an industry that makes something that starts a feedback loop: with every product you make, you can more effectively make more products for less energy and resources. An economy, in the end, is only worth what is physically constructed... So, also a Wall Street adds nothing at all. Wall Street is nothing but a massive group of people who all try to predict which industry will grow the fastest. But the combined accumulation of wealth by such investors must be compensated by a real economy somewhere on earth...


    Or how about the huge legal system the US has? Again, it makes absolutely nothing. Again, it's good to have a few lawyers and a functioning legal system... but too much will be crippling.


    But what's really doing the USA in is that you have all those combined. The American economy is crippled by too many people who do useless jobs.


    ... and when you realize the scale of the problem, it's sad ironic to see that huge groups of lobbyists (also a non-productive workforce) bicker over the best way to reduce spending, while they themselves are actually part of the problem: too many unproductive people.

    Marat's comment was that the US fails to set high enough taxes for a "normal" society to do what he called its "moral duties". He's talking about social justice, not economic power. I was simply pointing out that in building that economic power that he so loathes, the US did in fact accomplish quite a lot of social justice. That oh-so-evil capitalism is HOW most of the people in this world who have escaped poverty have done so. If that statement is inaccurate, I'd love to know where and why. Marat doesn't seem to want to talk about it.


    But in response to the above, I think those are interesting and valid points to consider. Manufacturing has declined, and there is a large school of thought that it takes manufacturing to build and maintain a successful economy. But I wonder if perhaps there's more depth there than that view recognizes, especially in a globalized environment.

  4. I've attended a lecture where a computer science professor demonstrated a simulation of his pet project -- automated computer-controlled traffic junctions. If your cars are computer-controlled, you don't need red lights, so long as the cars can communicate and negotiate an order for proceeding through the junction. This means there's cars executing left turns, right turns, and lane changes all through the intersection, weaving around other cars and dodging through the intersection, mostly without stopping.


    It'd do wonders for traffic, but you'd crap your pants every time you enter an intersection.


    That's interesting. Reminds me a bit of the FAA's free-flight plan, albeit more extreme.

  5. Although Spain was the richest nation in the world in 1580 because of its control over much of South and Central America, it was an impoverished, weak state by 1680 because it spent so much of its wealth adorning churchs with gold leaf and endowing monasteries to recite masses for the dead -- neither of which unproductive investments created much additional wealth.


    America runs into the same problem, as pointed out above, by investing so much of its GDP in unproductive military hardware that is essentially equivalent to Spanish monks' masses for the souls of the dead


    Gold leaf on statues is hardly comparable to defense, which serves a direct practical purpose whether you agree with that purpose or not. (In fact, I'm not sure gold leaf on statues didn't serve a practical purpose at various points in history either, but I guess that's another discussion.)


    By the way, military personnel and operations accounts for 64% of the US Defense budget. Buying the hardware only accounts for about 20%. (source)



    The U.S. fails to realize all these moral duties because it sets taxes too low for no better purpose than to allow the wealthy nearly unlimited enjoyment of luxuries and for the absurd, irrational purpose of buying useless military trinkets to serve a dream of glory long since extinguished.


    ... while establishing both the most successful economy and the greatest example of uplifting-from-poverty in human history, and at the same time establishing a framework that allows even the humblest of its citizens to participate and blazing a trail for even more massive upliftings since and still to come.

  6. America continues to be the laughing-stock of the developed world because of its corn-pone religiousity

    Churches like that persist in Europe because certain institutional funding, government support,


    What an interesting juxtaposition of sentences. :)

  7. Do you mean inter-city or intra-city? Because rail is exceedingly fuel-efficient for long-distance intercity travel, particularly with cargo:




    Pardon me, I meant inter-city (e.g. British Rail). I completely agree with this point. The airlines need some competition. Who wants to fly anymore?



    Intra-city commuter rail, for travel between suburbs and such, is also fuel-efficient and high-capacity if done right, compared to road travel.


    I not quite sure what "between suburbs" means, but if it's something along the lines of medium-distance transit in a large metropolitan region, like "let's go to the zoo this weekend, it's only an hour away, hooray!", I won't argue with that -- I'm sure that's quite possible. Rail-to-the-airport is pretty common in a lot of cities now, and is a nice way to deal with the "where the frack am I going to park the car for the next week" problem.

  8. Also, rail is the most efficient transit method, in terms of fuel costs and safety. It also has exceedingly high throughput if done well.


    Sure, for tightly packed urban areas. Otherwise it's a nightmare of inefficiency.


    I live less than ten minutes from my workplace in a suburban area -- one exit down the freeway from my destination. I drive less than 5,000 miles per year at a fuel efficiency of about 26 miles per gallon. Show me a rail plan that beats my time and fuel efficiency, door to door, and I'll use it.


    That's the funny thing about the expressway system -- it is a model of efficiency, when lifestyle choices and time are taken into consideration. That's why it exists. Those who dread and lament and agonize over the freeway system do so mainly for ideological reasons.


    Intra-city, though, is a different matter:


    Agree Captain - London to Paris is now a complete doddle (when the trains don't get stuck in the snow!) , the actual transit takes longer. But its central London to central Paris rather than god-foresaken holes like heathrow and de gaulle - and much as I love flying , the train is less stressful both mentally and physically.


    This is my hope for America as well -- intra-city transit currently handled by the increasingly inefficient air transportation system. It's bad and getting worse, and people know it. But it's a shared monopoly, much like cable TV in the '80s and '90s -- it's the only game in town. High speed rail connecting cities would be an absolute godsend.


    Too bad we can't afford it. Maybe if we fix the budget we can do something about that. Or perhaps something like a public bond offering -- direct money-raising for the explicit purpose of intra-city high-speed rail.

  9. our spending as a percentage of GDP is so miniscule that it is inadequate for a modern state
    From this it is clear that if the U.S. devoted anything like the percentage of GDP to tax intake that other, 'normal' developed countries do, then the budget deficit and debt would quickly vanish to nothing.

    The fact that other countries have a higher taxation level as a percentage of GDP does not equate to a factual basis for determining "normal". There's no objective right and wrong here.


    the Right knows it can only get the answers it wants if it muddies the waters

    So does the Left. President Obama is downplaying the fact that his budget won't be balanced, and talking about new spending at the same time that he's talking about cutting expenses. Seems pretty murky to me.


    Surely we can at least agree that some Democrats support inappropriate spending programs from time to time.

  10. http://abcnews.go.com/US/american-religion-national-council-churches-reports-pentacostalism-gains/story?id=12931023



    The largest denominations continue to decline. Only 17 million Americans remain in organized Protestant churches. Some smaller churches, including more extreme or dramatic groups, have increased their size, but the overall trend continues its downward trend. One article above says that Americans are still "religious", just no longer enamored with organized forms.


    Sounds about right to me.

  11. The looming budget battle between the White House and the House of Representatives is looking really interesting. The President has attempted to grab some of the moderate mind share by adding huge cuts to his 2012 budget, but Republicans were quick to point out that the proposal doesn't even attempt to balance the budget ten years into the future, at which point the budget would have about the same deficit that it did when Bush left office! Meanwhile another $7.1 trillion would be added to the debt.


    Of course the real problem is that most of the budget isn't even being looked at. The two sides are arguing over a few hundred billion while the deficit this year will top $1.65 trillion. Until the major players are willing to touch that third rail, it's hard to see how anything can really be resolved.


    Some background and recent events here:



    What do you all think?

  12. This follows similar recent rejections from Ohio and Wisconsin. The problem is that the plans call for states to pony up most of the money, and state budgets are hurting. The Florida plan would have put the state on the hook for another $3 billion, at a time when it's trying to eliminate $4.5 billion in spending to balance the budget.


    Couple articles:




    IMO the time for this sort of thing is when we have a surplus to invest, and even then the benefit is questionable. I think there's a place for some HS rail in the US, and intra-city routes are the right idea (giving air travel some competition), but it'll have to wait until we can afford it.

  13. Makes sense.


    There's been a lot of talk lately about how too much money and direct relief has been thrown at Africa over the years and it just ends up making them dependent on aid and even easier to rule by simple authoritarianism. But that doesn't mean they need a Starbucks on every street corner to drag their way out of poverty. They may find a more reasoned and self-sustaining path, bypassing our mistakes, especially if we help, and do so in a sincere manner (as opposed to just seeking franchise licensees).


    The globalized economy and mediasphere may be annoying, but it should also be better at helping people learn from our mistakes.

  14. If you take a random developing-economy family and provide them with a source of clean water and decent food supply, many would live healthier and happier than a developed-economy poor person receiving the same basic necessities

    Or would they just go into debt from buying Playstations? Africa would certainly make a lovely new market for SE Asian electronics. The behavior so commonly identified as "American" isn't really a unique brand, it's just human behavior. There's a Starbucks and Kentucky Fried on every corner in NYC, but only every other corner in Cairo. Give 'em a little time and they'll be the same.

  15. Well I have to say you're right about one thing -- the poor often have trouble buying basic necessities. I have a student who has put off purchasing new eyeglasses and has been struggling to see the whiteboard and projector screen from the front row for the last two quarters. During which time he's purchased three video games on release date, a new laptop, and an iPhone. (chuckle)


    Gotta love the Playstation Poor!


    I was starring at the math trying to figure out how Pangloss was wrong about interpreting the stats to say the average poor person below the poverty line had a car. I wonder if Pangy missed it too...

    Waaay too subtle, man.

  16. Rofl, sure sure, I'm completely wrong. :D


    This is reminding me of pcollins - I think that's his name. Do I have that right Pangloss? He would "hide" the crux of his points with repeated appeals about how someone was wrong and never give away that precious nugget that made it so.

    Yes, I remember them (plural, multiple accounts iirc).

  17. But I'm just always looking at how a politician is going to completely break a mold by going completely against traditions/norms, etc. This worked for Obama in his approach to leveling about issues in ways that were thought to be "not done" by many. This is a negative effect of popular media, imo, where basically anyone who does anything shocking gets viewed as essentially brave and innovative for having done so.



    ... the rebellious stances such politicians take are always relatively mainstream. Imagine a radical politician taking this approach with an extremely unpopular view. They would be branded a terrorist or who knows what. However, when someone takes pretty mainstream ideas and pursues those like a radical extremist, the public eats it up.

    Also interesting. (cof) (<-- embarassed cough at having nothing substantive to add, but wanting to acknowledge the point anyway)


    Conservative candidates don't have the high expectations put on them as democrats do because the democratic party is viewed as a strong government party, so people expect a leader of structural insitutionalism. A conservative/republican candidate, on the other hand, is supposed to be more of a deconstructionist of government, so their main function is to stand up against pro-government politics and represent various aspects of popular thought in order to be criticized for it.

    Hm... okay, I think I see what you're getting at here, and the Palin-as-target angle is (cof) interesting.

  18. By your sweet math skills and the bolded statement, we can say that the average person in this 'poor' category(regardless of whether or not it actually means someone below the poverty line) has no car. So, how do we know if the average is no car or two?


    What we know, thanks to the Census Bureau and it's "sweet" math skills, is that 75% of those who live below the official poverty line have a car, and 31% of them have two.

  19. Here's where I retracted my comment about the flat-screen TVs:



    The statistics on cars said exactly what I said they did.


    According to the Census Bureau:

    - 43% of all "poor" households own an average 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath house

    - Almost 75% of "poor" households own a car; 31% own 2 or more

    - 97% of "poor" households have a color television; over half own 2 or more

    - 78% have a VCR or DVD player; 62% have cable or satellite TV

    - 89% have a microwave oven; over half have a stereo, more than a third have a dishwasher

    - Only 6% of all "poor" households are overcrowded. More than 67% have more than two rooms per person.

    - Average child dietary consumption of poor children is on par with children of middle and upper income parents

    - 89% of poor families have "enough to eat"; only 2% report "often" not having enough

    - 80% of all "poor" households have air conditioning

    - The average American "poor" person has greater living space than the average person in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and many other European cities. (The average citizen there, not the average "poor" citizen.)

  20. I've been predicting the appeal of a republican "soccer mom"-identity presidential candidate as the next step in presidential identity politics. Yes, now she's establishing herself as tough and not too compromising to rally conservatives who favor a strong stance against liberals. Once she begins to emerge from republican competitors, though, she will most likely begin to show her softer mothering side and this will appeal to moderates who are sick of party-standoffs and uncompromising men. Obviously her campaign planners will profit by building up to this point, since it will become her main criticism by the time of high-campaigning that she and conservatives generally are so uncompromising. At that point, she will unveil the secret weapon of bipartisan-appeal with feminine compromise/balance diplomacy.

    Well, my two bits only, but I wouldn't put too much money on that. She has too much partisan baggage to make an appeal to the middle. A politician who goes out of their way to denigrate and demonize is not able to then go back and say they would like to sit down at the table with the same groups they denigrated and demonized and listen to their concerns. It's just not believable. That's why politicians avoid that sort of thing. They tend to leave it to commentators and pundits.


    She made her mistake shortly after Fox News Channel installed a studio in her home. Instead of sitting back and firing away at the left and the "mainstream media", she could have taken that opportunity to find common ground and across-the-board appeal. She's full-on attack, 24/7, that one. There's no half-way. Any question about her comments towards the other side is deflected with an excuse about how she's constantly under attack, followed closely by another attack on the other side.


    In short, it's exactly what people hate about politics. If she were a liberal it would be over already, simply because liberalism isn't as popular as conservatism in this country -- the majority would have already relegated her to the dust heap of history. But because she's conservative and says things the like to hear, they're kinda waiting it out a bit.


    But they won't elected her president.

  21. So, YOUR source was not the Census Bureau.

    No, the source for the statistics I quoted was the US Census Bureau.


    You were completely unable to show that the average person below the poverty had either a flat screen or two cars, let alone both.

    I retracted my comment about the flat screen. Regarding the two cars, I quoted a government source that said exactly that.


    The Census Bureau doesn't define what they mean by poor? o.O


    I doubt they randomly select a portion of the population and declared them poor.

    That's not what I said. What I said is that they define a "poverty line" that includes the statistics I mentioned, including:


    According to the Census Bureau:

    - 43% of all "poor" households own an average 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath house

    - Almost 75% of "poor" households own a car; 31% own 2 or more

    - 97% of "poor" households have a color television; over half own 2 or more

    - 78% have a VCR or DVD player; 62% have cable or satellite TV

    - 89% have a microwave oven; over half have a stereo, more than a third have a dishwasher

    - Only 6% of all "poor" households are overcrowded. More than 67% have more than two rooms per person.

    - Average child dietary consumption of poor children is on par with children of middle and upper income parents

    - 89% of poor families have "enough to eat"; only 2% report "often" not having enough

    - 80% of all "poor" households have air conditioning

    - The average American "poor" person has greater living space than the average person in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and many other European cities. (The average citizen there, not the average "poor" citizen.)

    All of those statistics are directly supported by the US Census Bureau in direct study.


    You were claiming that the poor weren't really poor, but had a great standard of living.

    No, what I said was that I have been given no reason to believe that the Playstation Poor has any difficulty buying food.


    The numbers you provided proved you wrong.

    Prove it. All I know is this data from the United States Census Bureau.

  22. How about we cut the crap, Pangloss? Your source was not the Census Bureau.

    Yes it was. I quoted analysis from a conservative think-tank, but their analysis was based on data straight from the US Census Bureau.


    And I noticed that in all that text you didn't refute a single statistic.



    This is a secondhand source which fails to make the distinction between poor and below the poverty line.

    The Census Bureau doesn't make such a distinction. That's part of the problem. Too many people want the data to suit their ideology. Not enough people want to find out what's really going on.



    What is the average condition of the car

    What difference does that make? You started this thread by complaining about the impact of a flat tax on the cost of food. In my opinion the fact that most families below the poverty line own two cars and all that other stuff suggests that the basic cost of food, for most of those people, is not a major concern. Prove me wrong. Until then I'm calling them the "Playstation Poor".


    I'm not saying there aren't people who struggle with basic needs. I'm saying we don't know how many of those people there are. Which means we have no reason to believe that it's a large number. Which means we have no logical reason to shape major policy direction around that point.


    Don't yell at me, yell at the Census Bureau.



    Now, how does any of this impact what I said about flat taxes disproportionately burdening the poor? Oh, wait, it doesn't. Let's look at some numbers(we'll analyze for a couple at the poverty line):

    Yeah, the poor people don't have as much of a "cushion" as the middle class. So what?


    The real problem is that right now most poor don't pay any annual income/payroll tax. This was discussed in several news stories following the last major tax cycle in 2010. Under a flat tax they would have to pay the same as everyone else. So what you should be doing is hootin' and hollerin' about how they'd face a massive tax increase.


    Mr Skeptic's idea of allowing deductions ahead of a flat tax calculation seems like a reasonable idea. If, for the sake of argument, that allowed the working poor to stay off income tax (after all they still pay sales tax, etc), then that would probably mean a higher flat tax for everyone else.


    The hard part, of course -- the political struggle -- would be deciding where to draw that line.

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