Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tax Inequality

This is going to be a shorter post. I was at my cousin's wedding all weekend long, and I didn't come close to finishing the essay am working on. However, I do have some not-so-polished thoughts I want to share.

In theory, I don't mind paying taxes. I like roads, judges, public schools, national parks, firemen, policewomen, and social service workers. I even appreciate the FBI and at least some of our 11 active aircraft carriers.

What I don't like is tax inequality. I don't mean this in the sense that I think a flat tax would be a good idea. At present, I don't want to get into a discussion of the graduated income tax, a policy toward which I have much more complicated feelings.

The tax inequality I want to discuss relate to two other federal taxes (state taxes are too varied to discuss here): Capital Gains tax and the Social Security tax.

The (long-term) capital gains tax is the tax on incomes gained from the investment of money. When someone sells stock that has been held for at least 18 months for a profit, that profit is currently taxed at a rate of 15%, though it is even lower for people who earn less than $32,550 a year.

The Social Security tax is 6.2% on all wages up not exceeding $102,000 per year (for 2008). Employers are also expected to chip in 6.2%, bringing the total tax rate to 12.4%. Even though the employer portion isn't normally included in what we think of as wages, it is part of the compensation because it counts toward what the employee will theoretically get back when they hit retirement age. In addition, the self-employed have to pay the full 12.4%. For all earnings over $102,000, no social security tax is applied.

All of the money collected as social security payments goes into a trust fund, out of which retirees are paid. When workers reach the age of 65 (67 if they were born after 1960, with a sliding scale before that), they may receive full benefits based on what they earned through their life.

My problem with these two taxes are that they are unfair to people with wages below $102,000, and especially to those who also earn more than $32,550 a year. Warren Buffet has calculated that because of these inequities, he pays an average of 18% in taxes on his earnings, while his secretary pays about 33%. Based on my own taxes, I doubt this includes the employee paid half of the SS tax.

Even if social security doesn't turn out to be a pyramid scheme and and Buffet's secretary gets SS checks when when he hits retirement age, he is still taking home a much smaller percentage than Buffet.

Even if one doesn't believe in a progressive income tax in which the rich are required to pay more, how can this regressive tax system be justified?

Proponents of a low capital gains tax argue that a high capital gains tax will scare investors away from investing their money, which will hurt the economy. However, I have yet to see an explanation of what investors will do with their money instead of investing it. Even with a higher tax rate, those with capital to invest will still reap many more benefits from investing their money than hording it.

Proponents also point to statistics that many "middle-class" Americans own stock and would therefore suffer from an increase in the capital gains tax. While it is true that many people own stock, the VAST majority of capital gains is paid by the rich. As of 1998 (and I have read it has become worse), the richest one percent of Americans owned 52 percent of the wealth. The richest 20% collectively owned 82% of the wealth. I would venture an educated guess that the richest people in the U.S. owned an even larger percent of investments subject to capital gains, since many people in the middle class (the poor include those in the bottom twentieth percentile, while the rich are the top twentieth percentile) have most of their "wealth" invested in things like homes and cars. Thus even though many middle-class Americans own stock, they own very little of it.

If I were to do something more than just raise the capital gains tax, I would revert to a tax structure like we had before the 1980's. Under this system, a small proportion of the capital gains were excluded from taxation, while the remaining were taxed at standard amounts.

While I appreciate what the Social Security system is trying to do, I do not like the way it has evolved (or more precisely, not evolved) over the years. When the Social Security trust fund began, the retirement age was 65. However, the average life expectancy in 1935 was about 65 (more for women, less for men). Its now about 77 or 78. The SS retirement age, on the other hand, has only been raised to 67.

At the time of its inception, the U.S.'s oldest citizens were also some of its poorest, and the Social Security benefits were designed to help them out when they became too old or unhealthy to work. Thus, I would gradually raise the age of retirement. I would also raise the cap on the social security tax. If I were to redesign the system, it would not be in the form of a trust fund, and there would be no cap (though the percent would be lowered).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Response

I received two very thoughtful and long comments in response to my post on user-generated truth from Landon and Dan. Since this weekend is fairly busy with Reed’s graduation, I will be replying to their comments for this week’s installment.

First, let me say that I tried my best to keep the “User-Generated Truth” focused on the question of what truth was for the “Google Generation.” Thus, as both Landon and Dan seem to have noticed, I skimped quite a bit on my explanation of truth and Truth. This subject is VERY complicated and I do not have a 100% clear idea of what I think. I tried to say enough so my ideas would be somewhat understandable. But I did want to focus on Keen and truth on the internet.

Response to Landon

Landon talks a lot about Wikipedia. I think its important to recognize that Wikipedia is not just a repository of community-generated truth. It is a community-generated encyclopedia, and it seems to me that the community strives to stick to this genre. Thus, I don’t think it is likely that Wikipedia “could come to say that the dominant theory of truth is that true statements are the ones found on Wikipedia.”

Encyclopedias are designed as compendia of information, of facts. In my experience, encyclopedias don’t say what theories the author(s) believe are correct, but what theories assert. Disagreements on Wikipedia tend to be about whether or not something can be considered a fact, and whether or not those facts are presented in the narrative in a way that expresses truth as generally recognized by the outside community. It is my understanding that a theory is a different beast than fact, not just because there might be outstanding disagreement, but because there is still a sense of communal doubt. Even if the communal doubt surrounding the philosophical theory of truth is not permanent, I believe it will be the non-Wikipedia community who declares a winner, not the Wikipedians.

I think your comments about community-based truth are very important, and I wish I had thought to mention this:

“In other words, truth varies from person to person and also varies for each person as they move from community to community (a sentence could be true for a deeply religious scientist when he is in church and false when he is talking to his colleagues — and this could be so without any self deception or contradiction on the part of the scientist; the sentence is true-in-community-x and not true-in-community-y, and these two facts are not contradictory any more that ‘it is hot here today’ being true at the equator in summer and false at the North pole in winter).”

On the other hand, there are some parts about your Wittgensteinean truth that I am unsure about. There are types of truth in some communities that don’t, at least within the community, require language. For example, in many of the so-called mystic traditions, the whole point is that truth cannot be described with words, because words distort the truth and therefore must be transcended. This isn't a subject I have thought a great deal about, but I remember that Dan was, at least at one point, a skeptic that all truth is language based. I’m having a hard time thinking about this right now – the true nature of truth is always difficult for me to think about and discuss.

As for my view of objectivity being Nietzschean, I must say that I think both of your readings are correct, and I do not see them as unrelated. Landon says, “I initially read you as saying that the finite time and finite experience of a human life means that we can only receive so many facts, only come to know a limited number of true things, which isn’t really very worrisome.” Landon then said,

“On further reflection, though, it seems that you are adopting a rather Nietzschean view of objectivity, where objective truth would be the view from everywhere... Thus true objectivity would be to view everything throughout time from every possible perspective, and on this view of objectivity the finiteness of a human life — in terms of time, location, the way our eyes and brain divide up the world into objects, and our finite systems of values — are very serious concerns to our attempts to acquire truth. These concerns are deeply related to my linguistic worries because language not only is limited in its perspective it is also perspective limiting because language reinforces certain worldviews, making value systems and ways of dividing the world seem so natural that it is hard to imagine different ones.”

As for linguistic worries, I also share them, but did not address them in the article partly because my understanding of the issue is limited, but mostly because I felt my other argument was sufficient to make the point. I should have been more clear that I believe the creation of truth is, for the most part, a creation of narrative. Which, it so happens, is much harder to define and discuss, so again I left it out because that wasn’t my focus. And like the linguistic problems, I have yet to work out all the kinks in my thoughts on the subject.

On second thought, it is hard for me to explain why I think both of your readings – especially the first – are correct and important without getting into a much more detailed conversation of narrative. I’ll file this away as an article to write in the future.

Response to Dan

I also thought it was odd how Keen could champion the market-based economy while not seeing Web 2.0 as a competing, alternative market. If there isn’t enough money to be made, it somehow doesn’t qualify as a real participant in the market system. In other parts of the book’s introduction, he basically equates the new Internet market with communism because things are free, which I believe shows a very poor understanding of the real difference between capitalist and communist economic systems.

Dan wrote: “I think that you owe us an explanation or at least some stronger hints at the relationship between truth and Truth. I think that while the number of truths are infinite and are all quite subjective, I cannot help but think that some truths have a closer relation to Truth than others.”

For the purpose of this article, I was mostly thinking of truths as things often thought of as objective or verifiable truth. Truths that can be fact-checked, or subjected to experiments. I leaned this way subconsciously, probably because this is what Keen and Hesse were generally referring to.

My belief in Truth is roughly equivalent to how a devout but somewhat skeptical Christian might believe in God. I see evidence of it all around, I act as if it is right, it is comforting to me – but I can never be completely sure that it is there as a firebrand evangelical might claim they are SURE God exists and the Bible is his Word.

I specifically designated Truth to be a physical Truth, probably because of biases and the nature of the discussion. Because I made Truth physical, then yes, some truths (those more often considered subjective) are further away from Truth than assertions about physical states.

However, I see now that this is a problem. I am unsure how to deal with it at this point, and I might be wrong. I might have made a mistake when I concentrated on truth vs. Truth, etc. I should have focused more on the role of narrative and its relationship to truth, which I see now was the actual topic on my mind.

Dan referred to “culturally-defined modes of processing,” and correctly pointed out that I ignored this complex subject. Understanding this phenomenon is incredibly important for understanding how we create truth and how this affects our inter-cultural relationships. The reason I didn’t discuss this is because by acknowledging that there are different cultural modes of truth creation, and that cultural pre-disposition affects what the individual will hold true and what they will not, the point I was trying to make (that truth is already “user-created”) is assumed.

Dan also said: “Talking about humans and events that take place on a human scale [or community of humans scale] is particularly prone to considerations of subjective truth because all human action is defined using a system of intentionality that, while helpful in discussing such things, inevitably distorts them and because human action can be understood equally well in various ways depending upon the narrative structure into which the action is placed (this is why our actions appear different to us in the moment than they do upon reflection after some hours, a year, many years...).”

Wow. I didn’t even think to address the role of memory and collective memory in narrative creation. My mind was focused on truth in the present. Dan’s point that “human action can be understood equally well in various ways depending upon the narrative structure into which the action is placed” is something I was driving at but didn’t pronounce clearly enough. Finite existence demands a narrative. While the selection of truths is critical and required, the structure into which they are placed is undeniably important as well.

The question I am thinking of now is, can any truths or physical “facts” be separated from the narrative in which they are placed? I’m not sure. The issues Dan and Landon brought up have nicely complicated the simple system I formulated. While I knew I was simplifying it, I hadn’t thought of how many complexities there are.

“I am also extremely wary of this new version, this free-for-all of information creation and dissemination,” said Dan. In some ways, I am too. In the long term, I believe that there will always be a place for professional journalism, even if their hold on information is no longer dominant and business models change. I believe that the Internet will improve overall news coverage, especially if viewed from the global perspective. What it will do to music, literature, etc... I have no idea.

Finally, Dan ended by saying that, “If this piece of your wasn't inaccessible because of its own length and complexity, then Landon's comment made it so; and if Landon's comment didn't make it so, mine will certainly help...” One of my goals for this blog is to establish a small group of people, whom I know or do not know, who are interested in discussing topics that I am interested in.

As a general rule, internet blogs that I am familiar with are dominated by short posts, most of which have two elements: 1) A link or extended quote to a primary text and 2) a comment on the material. And this is a fine format, one I enjoy greatly and learn a great deal from. However, I wanted to make Every Week Essay different, if only just longer and slightly more considered. We’ll see where it ends up, but these are some of my current goals.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

User Created Truth

In a recent Washington Post article, “Truth: Can You Handle It?”, author Monica Hesse poses the question, “For the Google generation, what happens to the concepts of truth and knowledge in a user-generated world of information saturation?” Though the article focuses on how the internet has made it easier for students to rely on easily-accessible information instead of the more difficult (and vaguely described) “knowledge,” it’s not so much a discussion of epistemology, as it is lamenting the laziness of youth.

But what, if anything, does the internet do to the concept of truth? In my opinion, it doesn’t really change anything about truth. Instead, it lays bare some of the mechanisms of how truth is created for all to see. More importantly, it gives a greater number of people control over how truth is shaped.

“Truth” and “truth”

In general, I distinguish between two types of truth – truth and Truth. Truth with a large ‘T’ is the theoretical physical truth of the world that would, theoretically, remain unaltered if humans were to suddenly disappear from existence. Truth is infinite.

The nature of Truth and its relationship to human reality is something I am still unsure of and a topic for another day. In this essay, I will concentrate on the idea of small ‘t’ truth.

Small ‘t’ truth is the truth normally conceived of, and includes scientific truth, religious truth, economic truth... just about every type of truth one can imagine. The difference between truth, and Truth, is that truth is a human notion, a human conception.

I also talk about “Truth,” which is a truth that is treated as True.

Since truth is a human conception, it is inherently finite. Not only is human perception limited in ability and accuracy, but we are limited by our mortality. The amount of truth we have access to is limited. If the facts available to us are limited, then how can we be sure we are privy to the correct truth? In short, I don’t think we can – this would be Truth.

Small ‘t’ truth, then, is constructed from perceived facts, notions, or other truths strung together in a narrative. Since the number of possible facts or truth is infinite, truth must be composed of a select set of facts, notions, truths, etc. The specific array of these that we are exposed to and how we judge them (true, untrue, true but unworthy of attention, etc.) determines what is true.

Andrew Keen’s "Great Seduction"

This brings me back to the original question – what happens to concepts of truth in a “user-generated” world? In his book, “The Cult of the Amateur,” Andrew Keen presents this view on the question (emphasis added):

“I call it the great seduction. The Web 2.0 revolution has peddled the promise of bringing more truth to more people – more depth of information, more global perspective, more unbiased opinion from dispassionate observers. But this is all a smokescreen. What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves.

Moreover, the free, user-generated content spawned and extolled by the Web 2.0 revolution is decimating the ranks of our cultural gatekeepers, as professional critics, journalists, editors, musicians, moviemakers, and other purveyors of expert information are being replaced by amateur bloggers, hack reviewers, homespun moviemakers, and attic recording artists. Meanwhile, the radically new business models based on user-generated material suck the economic value out of traditional media and cultural content.

We – those of us who want to know more about the world, those of us who are consumers of mainstream culture – are being seduced by the empty promise of “democratized” media. For the real consequence of the Web 2.0 revolution is less cultural, less reliable news, and a chaos of useless information. One chilling reality in this brave new digital epoch is the blurring, obfuscation, and even disappearance of truth.

Truth, to paraphrase Tom Friedman, is being ‘flattened,’ as we create an on-demand, personalized version that reflects our own individual myopia. One person’s truth becomes as “true” as anyone else’s. Today’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalized truths, each seemingly valid and worthwhile. Richard Edelman, the founder, president, and CEO of Edelman PR, the world’s largest privately owned public relations company: “In this era of exploding media technologies there is no truth except the truth you create for yourself.”

This underlying truth is threatening the quality of civic public discourse, encouraging plagiarism and intellectual property theft, and stifling creativity. When advertising and public relations are disguised as news, the line between fact and fiction becomes blurred. Instead of more community, knowledge, or culture, all that Web 2.0 really delivers is more dubious content from anonymous sources, hijacking our time and playing to our gullibility.

Before proceeding, I want to put two caveats on this discussion: 1) Full disclosure: I have only read the book’s introduction, so if he develops some highly nuanced opinion in the later chapters that I’ve ignored, please let me know. However, given the nature of his rhetoric, I doubt it changes much.

2) There are lots of things Keen says in regards to the economics of “Web 2.0” (a term I dislike, but will use anyways) that don’t have any direct relation to the main topic at hand: the creation of truth. For a short discussion of these topics, see the “Afterward” at the end of the post.

Constructing truth

For Keen, truth=Truth. This is a common mistake, and I do not fault him for it. The problem is that Keen’s faith that truth=Truth blinds him to the mechanisms that create and control truth. The (or perhaps “my”) truth of things is no different in a user-generated world because truth is always “user-generated,” so to speak. The internet merely exposes this ugly and difficult process for all to see.

How is truth “user-generated”? Remember that there is an unlimited number of truth statements or notions. Since it is neither possible nor desirable to deal with an infinite number of truths, we are limited to a finite selection. From this selection is born truth.

Take a look at this video of Fox News doing its thing (summary of video’s content after the jump):

“Truth” as presented by Fox’s Steve Doocy:

  1. Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground (WU).
  2. The WU was a terrorist organization.
  3. The WU tried to blow up the U.S. Capitol and “killed some people.”
  4. (With dismissive voice) Ayers was never prosecuted.
  5. Bill Ayers posed standing on an American flag in 2001 for a Chicago magazine.
  6. Desecration of the flag is protected by U.S. Constitution.
  7. Ayers has been a long-time associate of Barack Obama.
  8. Ayers is a “troubling guy.” (This is presented as an opinion)
  9. “As soon as the picture came out,” says the “interlocutor” hostess, Obama stated that, (Posted on screen) “Senator Obama is appalled by this disrespect of a flag we love and that so many have fought and died for. There is no excuse for anyone to treat that which we hold so dear with so little regard.” (Read quickly out-loud) “But the politics of association required to link Obama to this picture in any way is ridiculous and a silly distraction (Mr. Doocy interrupts here with, “It’s not ridiculous”) from the challenges facing the American people.”
  10. Barack Obama had his first fundraising meeting at Ayers’ house.
  11. Bill Ayers and Obama worked together on a foundation and some other stuff. (To which hostess and host respond: But that was in 1995, when he was running for state Senate. Doocy brushes it off.)
  12. Ayers was a “domestic underground terrorist,” and this reality was clear to Obama.
  13. This is a big deal, according to Karl Rove.
  14. Obama also linked to Tony Rezko, who is on trial.

The truth Mr. Doocy presents is that Mr. Obama doesn’t respect the U.S. because he associates with a known terrorist who doesn’t like America. The truth is constructed by a finite number of “Truths.” Doocy leaves out quite a few “Truths” he might have otherwise included – including that those killed by the WU were its own members, who died when a bomb detonated prematurely. He also might have mentioned that the WU explicitly tried not to kill people, that Obama was aged 8-14 during the WU’s main operating tenure, that Obama says the Pledge of Allegiance with his hand over his heart, and that he has been a practicing Christian for over 15 years and has attended hundreds of fundraising parties held for him by people who have never stood on an American flag.

Of course, the “Truths” I just presented were equally arbitrary, but I think the alternative narrative is clear. It is created by the “Truths” presented, and the truth of the situation for the individual is based on how they accept or reject the narrative created by the selection of “Truths.”

Amateur vs. Professional

Keen complains that in the editor-free world of Web 2.0, no one is being paid to check credentials and facts. He views professional “purveyors of expert information” as the “gatekeepers” to our culture and the truth it accepts. Trust the man who is paid, argues Keen, but not the amateur.

But what does it mean to be an “amateur”? In a capitalist society, we are all amateurs until someone buys our work. Then, ***POOF*** - we are professionals. This is the only difference, and quality plays no necessary part of the equation. Even though I am paid to write about superconductors, this blog is an amateur venture. Even if I were a professional philosopher and commentator, Keen would still consider me a threat because I could be lying about my identity, which would invalidate my writing. Money and professionalism, Keen believes, are needed for legitimate truth creation. Or as Keen might prefer it, discovering “Truth.”

Keen ignores the fact that the professional media have not always done such a hot job at spreading the “Truth.” Ranging from faked WMD’s, to “objective” military analysts on cable news, and doctors shilling for drug companies on NPR, the traditional gatekeepers of truth have not been doing so well.

Perhaps Keen’s trust in the powers that be should not come as such a big surprise from a man who talks about our “trust in conventional advertising.” He reminds me of a boss I used to have, who wouldn’t let us turn the radio station during commercials because he felt he would miss “important information.” Call me a cynic, but I’d rather take my chances with the scan button.

Nor does Keen mention cases when the “professional” gatekeepers to information are governments who are intent on retaining power and using the media to their own ends, and not the end of “Truth.” Take for example the very professional Tokyo War Museum, which describes how Japanese troops severely disciplined soldiers disguised as civilians after seizing the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1937. Many other historians, professional and amateur alike, have shown that this is anything but the truth.

I do not mean to criticize professional content producers or any other type of professional. Trained and experienced professionals are essential in all fields – including truth-making. They are not, however, the only legitimate purveyors of truth. In my estimation, the amateur is as irreplaceably important in a healthy democracy as the professional. They are not rivals, but part of the same stream of truth creation.

Often, Keen criticizes Web 2.0 because it is stealing from artists and making it impossible for good, old-fashioned capitalistic ventures to survive. “By stealing away our eyeballs,” says Keen, “the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music, and news-gathering industries that created the original content those websites ‘aggregate.’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave. Can that be the new business model of the twenty-first century?”

But when it comes to preserving the “Truth,” Keen neglects to mention that “Truth” is not always a profitable commodity.

Keen also ignores the many successful websites with successful business models. One is Talking Points Memo (TMP), which won the 2008 Polk Award for Legal Reporting for its work on the U.S. attorney scandal. Though TMP’s owner, Josh Marshall, was a professional journalist before launching the site, TMP began as a purely amateur venture. TPM now employs seven staff, including editors and reporters.

At the heart of it, Keen is angry that control over the mechanism of truth-creation is being pulled by amateurs from the hands of the powerful. Any Joe Shmoe with a computer and internet connection can become part of the truth creating mechanism that previously took more resources and more power.

When Keen asserts: “Today’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalized truths, each seemingly valid and worthwhile,” I can only ask, when has it ever been different? Personal truth has always been varied, with links and commonalities between truth-holders forged by our communal bonds. As with life, the Internet is an inherently social environment.

The Internet and “Web 2.0” demand an ability to evaluate information and not swallow things wholesale. Keen doesn’t believe people should be creating their own “Truth.”
The truth is that people have always constructed their own truths, and the Internet gives curious minds the tools to create their own truths without relying on professionally constructed narratives.

As Andrew Sullivan said (albeit in the context of the web and politics), “the web does not reward obedience, submission, or authoritarianism.”


Keen claims that the free, amateur produced content of the internet will hurt professional content producers:

“Every visit to Wikipedia’s free information hive means one less customer for a professionally researched and edited encyclopedia, such as Britannica. Every free music or video upload is one less sale of a CD or DVD, meaning one less royalty for the artist who created it.”

There are occasions where this is true. To say that every download or wiki page view means business for the professionals is ludicrous. From a classical economic view à la Adam Smith, the new media is not bad – it’s better. Some artists and content-producers will suffer, it’s true. In the end, I believe that a solution will be found that incorporates the new reality of the Internet.

Radiohead’s In Rainbows is a good example. Since they had completed their contract with EMI, the band decided to sell In Rainbows for whatever price the customer wanted to pay – from ~$0-198 (the actual prices were in British Pounds). Radiohead simply asked its fans to pay what they thought the music was worth. According to admittedly non-scientific but large internet surveys, a third of downloaders paid no money, and of those who paid, the average price was ~$8.

According to this article, the typical artists makes “$1 in royalties for each full-priced ($16.98) CD sold through normal retail channels.” Obviously it depends on the artists’ contracts, and other estimates I’ve seen vary from $0.75-$1.50. In either case, Radiohead probably made at least as much money from their give-aways as they would have from traditional sales.

And despite distributing the album in this manner for a few months at the end of 2007, the CD still hit #1 on the Billboard 200 and UK Album Chart when it was finally released in early 2008.

Granted, a group with a less fervent fan base might not have been able to pull this off. But the possibility of savvy artists selling digital albums for far lower prices than record labels sell them for while making more money themselves is, I think, a good thing.

Keen also seems to think that talent must be identified and nurtured by publishing houses and record labels. But this ignores much of how these industries actually operate. (see 36-37) (Discuss how his notion of “nurturing” is kinda strange and also how plenty of internet-based self-promoters distribute their own content and then translate this into financial success. Maddox’s The Best Page in the Universe is a great example. Started as a pet project in 1996 by George Ouzounian, (a.k.a Maddox), The Best Page In the Universe has itself not made any money (Maddox does not sell advertising for his site, even though it has had well over 200 million hits). Instead, Maddox has written a book, The Alphabet of Manliness, which climbed to #2 on the New York Times Best sellers list and was #1 on Amazon.

The idea that talent must be found and nurtured by middlemen ignores many tenets of a competition based economy. The whole point of talent scouts, agents, etc., is to try to find things that will be attractive to consumers. Things people want to buy. The internet allows talented and persistent content-producers to reach their market without approval from the Man, so to speak.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Morality and "Free" Money

So, it turns out that writing a solid essay a week is quite a substantial task. Especially the week of Renn Fayre. That said, I wanted to post something as to stay in the habit. Come hell or high water, there will be an actual essay next week.

As you may or may not have heard, Americans who earned more than $3000 last year will be getting at least $300 as their share of the $150 billion (with a B) "stimulus package." The purpose of the bill is to rescue our economy from a recession by giving everyone who doesn't plan on dieing in the next few years a credit card. We spend, then pay it off over the next 30 odd years in the form of 1) higher taxes or 2) reduced services. Unless the government were to default on its debts, these are the only two options. As Michael Kinsely, one of my favorite political writers, says, "telling Americans they need to borrow and spend just a little bit more to get us past this recession—and then reform their ways—is like telling an alcoholic he needs one more drink before sobering up." In the coming months, I plan on writing more on this and related issues, so I will instead turn to the moral question at hand:

Despite my complete dislike of the bill, I expect to receive a check none-the-less. Should I burn it publicly, as Gandhi burned his racial I.D. card in South Africa, or plunge right in and go buy a shiny new iPod as the President and Congress beg me to?

At the present, I would still consider a public burning if I could find some others to join me (let me know). Otherwise, I'm planning to donate the money to a charity doing some work I think the government should be doing. Like taking care of Iraq and Afganistan veterans, who are killing themselves faster than the terrorists kill do. Or promoting a non-petroleum based economy. Or rebuilding New Orleans. Or providing health care to children without insurance. Or maintaining our nation's infrastructure. Or [fill in your pet project].

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think the government should be spending our money on iPods.