July 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


The Garden of Our Neglect:  How Humans Shape the Evolution of Other Species: As humans have come to dominate the planet, they have modified not only their own evolutionary course but also that of fellow species. (Rob Dunn, July 5, 2012, Scientific American)

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


The Most Sensible Tax of All (YORAM BAUMAN and SHI-LING HSU, July 4, 2012, NY Times)

ON Sunday, the best climate policy in the world got even better: British Columbia's carbon tax -- a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province -- increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.

This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia, because the carbon tax is used to reduce taxes for individuals and businesses. Thanks to this tax swap, British Columbia has lowered its corporate income tax rate to 10 percent from 12 percent, a rate that is among the lowest in the Group of 8 wealthy nations. Personal income taxes for people earning less than $119,000 per year are now the lowest in Canada, and there are targeted rebates for low-income and rural households.

The only bad news is that this is the last increase scheduled in British Columbia. In our view, the reason is simple: the province is waiting for the rest of North America to catch up so that its tax system will not become unbalanced or put energy-intensive industries at a competitive disadvantage.

The United States should jump at the chance to adopt a similar revenue-neutral tax swap. It's an opportunity to reduce existing taxes, clean up the environment and increase personal freedom and energy security.

Let's start with the economics. Substituting a carbon tax for some of our current taxes -- on payroll, on investment, on businesses and on workers -- is a no-brainer. Why tax good things when you can tax bad things, like emissions? The idea has support from economists across the political spectrum, from Arthur B. Laffer and N. Gregory Mankiw on the right to Peter Orszag and Joseph E. Stiglitz on the left. That's because economists know that a carbon tax swap can reduce the economic drag created by our current tax system and increase long-run growth by nudging the economy away from consumption and borrowing and toward saving and investment. [...]

What would a British Columbia-style carbon tax look like in the United States? According to our calculations, a British Columbia-style $30 carbon tax would generate about $145 billion a year in the United States. That could be used to reduce individual and corporate income taxes by 10 percent, and afterward there would still be $35 billion left over.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


The 'Busy' Trap (TIM KREIDER, 6/29/12, NY Times)

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn't allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d'être was obviated when "menu" buttons appeared on remotes, so it's hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn't performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I'm not sure I believe it's necessary. I can't help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn't a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn't matter.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Why Americans should work less - the way Germans do: There is a solution to unemployment: if we worked the same shorter hours as Germany, we'd eliminate joblessness overnight (Dean Baker, 3 July 2012, The Guardian)

The most important point to realize is that the problem facing wealthy countries at the moment is not that we are poor, as the stern proponents of austerity insist. The problem is that we are wealthy. We have tens of millions of people unemployed precisely because we can meet current demand without needing their labor.

This was the incredible absurdity of the misery that we and other countries endured during the Great Depression, and which Keynes sought to explain in The General Theory. The world did not suddenly turn poor in 1929, following the collapse of the stock market. Our workers had the ability to produce just as many goods and services the day after the collapse as the day before; the problem was that after the crash, there was a lack of demand for these goods and services.

The result of this lack of demand was a decade of double-digit unemployment in the United States. The spending programs of the New Deal helped to alleviate the impact of the downturn, but because of the deficit hawks of that era, Roosevelt never could spend enough to bring the economy back to full employment - at least until the second world war made deficits irrelevant.

This is the same story we face today. The US and European economies were close to full employment in 2007 due to demand created by housing bubbles in the United States and across much of Europe. These bubbles then burst, substantially reducing demand. As Krugman and Layard point out in their statement, one remedy for this loss of demand is for government to fill the gap. If the private sector is not prepared to spend enough to bring the economy to full employment, then the government can engage in deficit spending to make up the shortfall.

But there is another dimension to this issue. It's great for the government to generate demand insofar as it can productively employ people. This means either providing immediate services, like healthcare and education, or in investing in areas that will provide future dividends, such as modernizing the infrastructure or retrofitting buildings to increase their energy efficiency.

However, it can also employ people by encouraging employers to divide work among more workers. There is nothing natural about the length of the average work week or work year and there are, in fact, large variations across countries. The average worker in Germany and the Netherlands puts in 20% fewer hours in a year than the average worker in the United States. This means that if the US adopted Germany's work patterns tomorrow, it would immediately eliminate unemployment.

Given that we know that people are only productive for about two hours of their workday, the question is why we would only cut the workday to 6 hours.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


America: Number One In Wealth, Richer Than The Next Four Nations Combined (ELEAZAR DAVID MELÉNDEZ, July 3, 2012, IB Times)

Here's something to stoke some patriotism ahead of Independence Day. America remains the world's richest country, with more wealth than the combined treasures of the next four richest nations -- Japan, China, Germany and the UK. And most of its wealth comes from the potential of its people.

While that might sound like the kind of platitude a politician might claim behind a flag-draped podium this Fourth of July, it's actuallys the assessment of a recent United Nations study. The 336-page "Inclusive Wealth Report," put together by the U.N. University and the U.N. Environmental Programme, tabulated the wealth of nations by including not just the economic output potential and asset capital bases of various countries, but also their mineral wealth and human capital. The report, which applied the methodology to dozens of countries, also looked at other hard-to-measure assets that are rarely taken into account when the national riches are considered, like quality of ecosystems and water resources.

It tabulated the "inclusive wealth index" of the U.S at around $117.8 trillion in 2008. That number exceeds the combined figures for Japan, China, Germany and the UK, ranked respectively at $55.1 trillion, $19.9 trillion, $19.5 trillion and $13.4 trillion. It fell just shy of also being able to incorporate the wealth of the next-richest country, France's $12.9 trillion. About 75 percent of America's wealth was deemed as coming from its "human capital," a high percentage that was exceeded only by a few highly developed European nations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


A Tax Is a Tax Is a Tax (STEPHEN F. HAYES, 7/03/12, Weekly Standard)
One of the few bright spots in last week's Supreme Court ruling on President Obama's health care overhaul was a political one: The opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts argues that Obamacare is constitutional under the taxing powers of Congress. The Obama administration's advocate before the Court, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, made this case during oral arguments, and Roberts bought it. The decision, in a sense, formalized what many conservatives had long argued: The Obamacare tax is a tax.

IRS Geared Up For Obamacare Individual Mandate Tax (Jim Kouri, July 3, 2012, Eurasia Review)

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obamacare's individual mandate on Thursday -- and in fact dubbed it a tax in spite of the Obama administration's denials -- no one was more jubilant this past weekend than the recently hired agents at the Internal Revenue Service who get to keep their jobs, according to a law enforcement official in Washington, D.C. Their jobs are now safe and secure.

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama's minions swarmed the Sunday morning news shows arguing that Americans were not going to be taxed to raise money for Obamacare, yet reporters failed to point out that it will be tax collectors, who will be responsible for gathering the cash to pay for the largest government expansion in U.S. history, according to economists and political strategists.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) executives are witnessing the largest manpower expansion -- at least since withholding taxes were first introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II -- to enforce the new tax mandates and penalties included in the health care law, according to Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX).

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


Andy Griffith: 'It Was All About Love': Mourning the loss of an American icon, and remembering why we all want to live in Mayberry. (Frank Smith, 7/4/2012, Christianity Today)

Why do we so desperately long to live in Mayberry? Why do we listen, ponder, laugh and even shed a few tears over episodes we've seen so many times before?

Perhaps the simplest and best answer comes from Griffith himself, given several years ago at the unveiling of a statue of Andy and Opie in Mount Airy, North Carolina, the actor's home town. When asked why TAGS remained so popular for so many years, and why it served as a vehicle of blessing to so many still, Griffith replied, "It was all about love."

True words. Mayberry was a collection of oddballs and homebodies, little old lady bootleggers and bluegrass playing farmers and a frantic deputy who kept his one bullet in his shirt pocket. There was the barber who couldn't see straight and the rock-throwing wild man whose sidelines included escaping jail and reciting poetry. Aunt Bee made pickles of such pungent renown that their nickname, "kerosene cucumbers," has essentially entered into the public domain. Gomer the gas station jockey was as sweet as a five-year-old, and just about as gullible. And his cousin Goober had, if anything, even less worldly wisdom than Gomer.

Yet as offbeat as these characters were, they were human. They were never shorn of their dignity, never ridiculed or made fun of. Other sitcoms of the time--and all too many today--have contempt for their characters, sometimes thinly veiled, often not. We laugh at them from the height of our supposed superiority, or mock them for their failures or excesses. But in Mayberry, we are made privy to a more intimate understanding of these beloved characters.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Inside the Bureaucracy That Crippled Microsoft (Rebecca Greenfield, 7/03/12, Atlantic)

The once dominant tech company is just now playing catch-up to the hip forward-thinking Apple and now we know what took it so long: bureaucracy. In company emails obtained by Vanity Fair's Kurt Eichenwald, he details the top-down culture called "stack ranking" that not only stifled overall innovation, but killed both an early 1998 tablet, e-reader deal and a pre-Facebook social network. Under this "stack ranking" system, which this Vanity Fair preview of Eichenwald's article describes as "a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor," employees were more concerned with impressing bosses than creating things. So we get situations where people like former Microsoft engineer Brian Cody have no incentive to innovate. "It was always much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about my need to improve my visibility among other managers," Cody told Eichenwald.