Friday, October 29, 2004

Mental Steroids 

Should We Fear 'Cosmetic Neurology'? No.

Unfair competition in sports hurts the meaning of the game. Given a distributed system of competitive advantage, mental steroids would increase overall productivity, and standard of living, significantly.

If there were a pill with few side effects (unlike anything today) which could raise my IQ by 20 points, I would immediately get it.

This should be incorporated in models of singularities. If knowledge is increasing as a function of current knowledge and human capabilities, and human capabilities begins to increase as a function of knowledge, the differential equation will certainly lend itself to models of singularities.

A plausible example: bio-med researchers develop just such a thinking drug, those researchers take it, and engineer a better drug faster, those working on neural-computer interfaces achieve their goals even faster, distributed SETI-in-brain-like systems start solving the really hard problems. We have a singularity within 20 years.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Marginal Tax Rates 

Punishing the wealthy. If earning $200K gets you a 30% tax rate, and earning $250K gets you a 35% tax rate, what does that mean for your incentives to work harder?

You pay $60K & $87.5K in taxes respectively. This means that the last $50K was taxed $27.5K, or 55%*. This is called a "marginal tax rate".

Studies show that increasing the marginal tax rate has very negative effects on an economy. The incentive to work is lowered, so people take more vacations, work shorter hours, and take pay in warping ways, like lush benefits packages. It lowers investment, lowers the number of goods offered in the market, and also often yields lower tax revenue, because of the incentive to avoid paying taxes.

So what will Kerry's plan on taxes do? First, like a good class warrior, he will raise taxes on those earning more than $200K. This increases marginal tax rates. He will also decrease taxes on the 'middle class'. This will also increase marginal tax rates.

A more flat system is more equitable, and would actually yield higher tax revenue in certain cases.


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Musing The Best Political News of 2004 

"What's that?", you ask, "Good news?" Yes: peaceful, fair Afghan elections, as William Safire points out.

I've thought for some time that it is difficult to defend our system of government and tolerate interactions with corrupt regimes such as China & most countries in the Middle East. Little is done when we need to maintain a stable status quo.

We supported reform in the former Soviet block nations to help bring about that empire's collapse, then did nothing to promote those seeking democracy in the former Yugoslavia, when it didn't serve our interests. We supported Afghan fighters against the USSR, again, when serving our interests. The rise of the Taliban should never have been tolerated.

This makes me wonder about the proper roll of a powerful democratic state in the face of countries that repudiate the ideas. Most will concede that acting to defense makes sense, even in a cold war, where we had interests to spread democracy to stop the spread of communism.

Far fewer would agree that this effort should be pro-active. I would be one of those. The situation in the Middle East, where most nations are not democracies, there is little governmental value in individual freedoms, and corrupt law machines are oiled more by bribes than justice.

I think this is intolerable for humanitarian reasons. It is also intolerable from a security standpoint. I would venture that an open society is explicitly threatened by closed societies, on a long enough timeline. The motivations can be benign: the west has gotten richer as a result of our system, while the ME has degraded, being an emaciated oil-junkie. This is a threat, and we are only coming to realize that. The thought that those systems can exist in they own world, and not metastisize & spread or reach a boiling point like Al Queda, is a myth.

Most describe the current War on Terror as a civil war within Islam. This makes sense, but in order to have the modern side win, we must understand the motivations. There is a medieval side only because the public sectors there are too corrupt to stop it. You can't win a culture war if the incentive system creating the problem doesn't change.

Does this mean I'm advocating more invasions? Not necessarily. It needn't come to that.

It could come in the form of a simple statement that most in this divided country could agree with. For example: "Saudi Arabia, you should hold elections, let women drive, and stop funding fundamentalist schools which breed hatred of the United State."

Will this have an effect? Maybe. If there are business consequences, I think it would be more meaningful. Take China, where anecdotes abound of miscellaneous businessmen mentioning in passing the plight of a political prisoner. While the diplomats and translators insert apologies to water down the sentiment, the statement causes a small ripple, and the prisoner is released to secure the deal.

Apply this to the above statement by appending, "or company XYZ won't get a subsidy to invest in your infrastructure".

At the very least, we'll sleep better at night.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The fixed quantity of wealth fallacy 

Interesting. More people should read this.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Vote Bush 


-- War on Terror --
Bush understands the stakes, Kerry doesn't.
Vision: Bush sees a future where the War on Terror is over because the governments that spawn Islamic Fascists are reformed or smashed. This is the only way to bring an end to the threat. To achieve this goal, Bush is consistent in his efforts to keep on the offensive, work with foreign governments for internal reform, and will never capitulate.

Kerry has claimed that another attack would be followed by a counter attack, forgetting 9/11. He has claimed to be for unilateral pre-emptive action, but claims that there is a global test needed to take that action. Even if figurative, the assertion is ridiculous. He fails to see how a democratic Iraq will change the uniformly corrupt non-democracies in the area, calling it the “wrong war, wrong place, wrong time”. In the face of Jordanian al Qaeda lieutenant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was in Iraq before the war started, Kerry fails to see the connection between corrupt regimes and terrorists.

Bush is working closely with allies & the UN to disarm Iran. Bush is fostering a strong, grass-roots democracy campaign, supporting the millions of students who demand reform there. Kerry’s solution is to GIVE Iran nuclear material, a test which, when failed, we all lose. Kerry has never mentioned any plans to achieve democracy in Iran.

Bush is pressing North Korea, leveraging the influence of China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea. Kerry’s plan is to start bilateral talks, which failed horribly under Clinton. Where is his beloved global test and multilateralism now?

The Kerry plan to get more allies will fail. France and Germany have already declared they will not give troops, even if Kerry wins. Meanwhile, France, German, and Russian government officials and oil & arms traders are all under investigation for violating UN sanctions on Iraq & possible involvement in a corrupt Oil-For-Food program multi-billion dollar bribe scheme to keep Saddam in power. While the United States was trying to ensure its security and free millions of people, our ‘allies’ where bowing to backhanded oil interests of the then corrupt status-quo.

-- Social Security --
Currently, the government does not count what it owes to future seniors as 'debt', though these obligations are very real. Take those into account, and the federal government is TRILLIONS more in debt than can possibly be paid for with the current system.
Bush wants to reform Social Security, to break the pyramid scheme that fails when you have a Baby Boom. Bush has a plan for the nation’s youth, with personal retirement account, which can never be threatened by irresponsible politicians, and don’t depend on anyone else paying into the system.

Kerry ignores the future and suggests cutting benefits to the prudent senior who "don't need" what they are owed, because they saved smartly for retirement. Also, while promising to not raise taxes on "the middle class", Kerry plans on great tax increases, a rollback not to Clinton-era, but pre-Reagan era taxes, by raising the cap on social security taxes.

-- Health Care --
Have you ever wondered why you have “insurance” for something you know you’ll need, like a periodic medical check-up? A third-party payer system is the #1 problem with today's health care system. Tax structures and government price-setting through Medicare warp the free market, and prevent the innovation and cost cutting of a free market.

Bush wants to make tax-free medical savings accounts, so there would be no greater incentive for a company to give you health insurance as to give you cash. You can use this to purchase catastrophic health care, and purchase the rest out-of-pocket. This will revolutionize the system, allowing for a normal market exchange, where you can choose any doctor, and they have an incentive to provide the lowest price and best quality. In today’s system, when you aren’t the one paying, you don’t care about real price, and the payer, either an insurance company or the government, does not care about quality as much as you do.

Excessive regulation is another huge problem, keeping our health care system from innovating and providing low cost health care. Bush supports sane regulations, including tort reform. Kerry wants more regulations, and trial lawyers make up Kerry's #1 paying constituency.

-- Free Trade –
Free trade is the most empowering tool for the world’s poor and the best friend of both working class Americans with limited budgets and employees hoping their company expands into the global market place. Though foreign corporations pay workers in 3rd world nations TWICE the national average, Kerry wants these companies to go against a system that benefits everyone, by warping tax systems to avoid this synergy. I care more about people entrenched in poverty abroad than obsolete workers unwilling to retrain themselves domestically.

For more resources & info:

For social security information:
here and here

For information on medical savings accounts:
here and here

For medical deregulation:

For information on free trade:
here and here
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The great (well, ok) space debate 

Discussion on Kerry-Bush space policies. It has already been said that a Bush re-election would be very, very good for space robotics.
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Monday, October 18, 2004

It's hard work 

BUT, you reap the rewards in America. Read why Americans work more than Europeans. Hint: it isn't some vague excuse about "quality of life".

I never trusted that assertion, if only because immigration to America is always strong, even from European nations. Why else would they come, if not for the quality of life?
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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

"How Tax Bill Gave Business More and More" 

A 'giveaway', according to the New York Times, is when a company is allowed to not give the government more money. The recently passed bill will "shower $137 billion in tax breaks" on numerous corporations.

It was their money to begin with and now will continue to be, and they will choose to allocate it in a far more efficient manner than the government. It most certainly isn't 'given' by the government. Save urgent needs which would not be done well, or at all, by the private sector, such as the military or the courts, I really fail to see how the rhetoric can be supported.

Rhetoric this steep really annoys me, like efforts to garner the "redistribution of wealth': wealth isn't distributed, it's earned!

Tax cuts "for the rich": the top 10% of wage earners pay 68% of all income tax!

Attacking "Benedict Arnold CEOs” who outsource: that's right, you've been betrayed because Dell can service your computers for less money, AND has sold more computers to India than the entire value of American call centers there combined!

'Fair Trade": the jobs we provide abroad are pay usually 2-4 times the local average!

These numbers just can't be ignored.

Of course, this is an election year, and I shouldn't be surprised at all if a candidate commits an "Economic Illiteracy Quadrifecta". Quite impressive.

UPDATE: Cato has some ideas on how to reform corporate tax structure. I remember Milton Friedman had a great idea: account for corporate profits on a per owner basis. Whatever is reinvested in the company is not personal income, what ever is paid in dividends is. The owners then pay on an income tax basis. Not only would this make America the best place in the world to do business, even more so than now, but it would also make the income tax more fair. Currently people complain that most rich folks don't really earn a salary, so it's hard for them to pay an income tax. As a result, the rate graduation is huge. A more fair scheme would be to account for corporations in this way, and then make an income tax associated.

Of course, a government under a constitutional limit on spending at a percentage of the previous year's GDP could simply NOT collect taxes, and it could pass an implicit tax through inflation. This would remove most the dead-weight costs of tax collection (even those associated with inflation, because the rate could be predicted). In addition, anyone with money gets taxed at an unavoidable flat rate, i.e. the inflation rate. I haven't seen a serious economic analysis of this idea, because it is my own, but I hope to hand it off.

One potential problem is the ability of governments to spend more than they collect, i.e. to make inflation too high. Considering unfunded spending usually occurs because there is no stipulation of a funding source, I wouldn’t be surprised if the single source of taxation, which would affect everyone equally, would keep the government in greater check than today.
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Sunday, October 10, 2004

What's next for Iraq... 

Victor Davis Hanson writes for the Nation Review Online in an honest and prudent assessment of the situation in Iraq. An interesting comment on the worst-case scenario of a government hostile to the US being elected in January:
If an aggregate $50 billion in aid to Egypt; billions more to the Palestinians and Jordanians; the removal of the bloodthirsty Saddam Hussein and the Taliban; $87 billion invested in Iraq and an attempt to relieve its international debt; saving the Kuwaitis; protecting the Saudis; stopping the genocide of Muslims in the Balkans; and keeping the Persian Gulf safe gets us sky-high cartel oil prices and poll data showing that 95 percent of the Middle East does not like America, it is time to try something else.
Read the whole thing.
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Saturday, October 09, 2004

Social Security election fantasy 

Fees to manage personal social security accounts are grossly overestimated by the Kerry campaign.
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Just deserts 

The New York Times: "In Canada, an Exile Pleads a Tangled Case for Refuge".

A desserter during a time of war can be put to death. He says:"I just didn't want to shoot anybody." Maybe he should have read the bloody job description. The profile is ficticiously balanced, with a clear message that people like this should get more than one iota of respect which they deserve, as he has "become something of a hero in the peace movement."

You can read a similar story here.
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Friday, October 08, 2004


My dad emails a reminder of Croatia's Independence Day, Oct. 8th. Fighting for autonomy and democracy is a great thing. I only really remember the power outages and shortages on my summer trips to Croatia during the war. That, and the fact that I had relatives fighting, wasn't very comforting. With tourism increasing at a rapid pace, an economy still struggling to transfer to more market based practices, but on one complaining about the government efforts at marginalization of religion and imprisonment for nationalism, it was certainly worth it.

If you have a chance, visit beautiful Croatia. From my dad:
Mary Ann, Fran, Josko and Ivan might wish think of their vacations in Croatia, in the years 1991 - 1995, when you guys went into the war zone for the vacations. Do you remember July 1992, when in a big Cadillac Eldorado we all entered town Zadar and the streets were eerie empty; we wanted to buy some sandwiches and cold drinks.. Then we saw some people in one basement who thought we were lunatics as Zadar was under the bomb alert (alarm sirens were minutes before we entered Zadar). Well, we continued along empty highway further south along the coast. (no cold drinks, as electricity was
totally out.). What the heck.

Not that many teenagers do that.

Have a nice day and a drink for Croatia!

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Monday, October 04, 2004

SpaceShipOne wins X-Prize 

SpaceShipOne soars into history":: MSNBC has a good video of the event. This officially marks the point where private space flight begins to accomplish more than NASA, with 4 orders of magnitude less funding. As space tourism leads to space mining leads to colonization, and the private investment in space grows, you can expect the output to increase accordingly.
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