Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Blog Anniversary. Third Take. On The Angle of Our Inquiries. And Free Lunch, Which Does Not Exist.

The planned series of post about the blogiversary has been delayed by my exhaustion and existential ennui.  A year of Trump is exhausting, as all of you probably know, and life's ordinary punches will not help.  So I have been taking time off, reading fun books about history, physics and astronomy, and eating a lot of chocolate.

Still, I want to extend this series into December, so that I can address a long-term issue that I have wrestled with:  The meaning of feminism.  I finally got a few workable models of what differentiates and unites various current feminist streams.  Those who share my predilection for analytical thought over other types of equally valuable thought forms might like my planned posts on that topic.

For today, I want to talk about something different:  The angle we adopt when trying to understand some political or economic event.  The choice of that angle is crucial, and because of that, the powers-that-be try to force one particular angle on us.*

Take the Republican tax reform plans.  They can be evaluated by choosing the angle of calendar time and income levels.  Thus, the results on various income groups' tax liabilities can be calculated for the near future and for later years, and if we do so we find the results to vary, with the lower income groups seeing their taxes rise earlier.

Or we can openly evaluate those proposals with our main angle the focus on increasing income and wealth inequality in this country.  This angle focuses on the reasons why the reform plans would remove the federal estate tax which only the wealthiest of heirs currently pay, and it would also focus on the kinds of deductions that would no longer be allowed:  Those for extraordinary high medical costs (adding insult to injury in my opinion) and those for uncompensated employee expenses (such as the cost of textbooks teachers buy for their poorest students).

A third angle would combine the impact of both the planned tax cuts and the resulting spending cuts on various income classes and over time.  Using that angle shows even more clearly why the proposed reforms shift money up the income distribution.

A fourth angle is to compare the treatment of corporations and flesh individuals in the plans.  Corporations are so far beating flesh people to the winner's podium, though it's worth pointing out that what goes to corporations often ends up in the bank accounts of the very rich real individuals.

Many other angles could be useful.  As an example, ask yourselves why the Republican plans appear to want to hurt graduate students**.  Is this an unintended outcome, in raising the cost of graduate education,  or does it have something to do with the great hatred of universities that seems to have overtaken the rank-and-file Republicans?  Or is this just another attempt at keeping the rich rich by guaranteeing that other people's children cannot compete equally with their children in graduate education?

Finally, note how some aspects of the Republican plans seem to be specially tailored to hurt the blue states more, the ones who voted for Democrats in 2016.  Is this intentional?  If so, is this revenge?


Was that too boring?  Probably.  But there is no free lunch, my friends.  If you read a blog where the proprietress doesn't get properly paid (donations, however, are welcome),  you get what you pay for.

The statement "there is no free lunch" can be interpreted in at least two ways.  It could mean that someone giving you something for free expects something back from you. 

Or it could mean, in economic terminology, the fact that the real (opportunity) costs of the lunch you just had without paying for it were not zero.  Someone grew the ingredients,  someone brought them to a kitchen, someone spent time cooking the meal and used that kitchen,  and someone cleaned up after the meal.  The meal may have cost you nothing, but its costs to the society at large are nonzero, and the payment for it probably came out of someone else's wallet.

Let's apply this concept to the impact of online technology on industries such as journalism and music and on occupations such as writing fiction. 

The online world offers opportunities for those who don't mind taking advantage of them to "steal" articles, fiction and music by not paying for what they consume.  That doesn't look like a free lunch; it looks like a life-long smorgasbord!

The snag is the same as with free lunches more generally:  Someone had to spend resources to create those "free" products.  Once only a few people can be made to pay for them, the creators will not get paid very much. 

Some of them can diversify and invent different ways of earning online income, but others cannot.  In the longer-run fewer people will enter industries and occupations which will not allow a person to make a living.  That, in turn, means fewer well-researched journalistic articles, less enchanting music and fewer books to educate, enlighten and entrance us.


* And our own upbringing in our respective cultures ossifies some thought angles so that we don't even see what we don't see.  When those scales fall off our eyes, wow!  I love that experience.  It's the kind where you keep asking yourself why you didn't spot something obvious until that "Eureka" moment.

** Compared to the current practice, that is, which does not regard the value of waived tuition as income:

Universities often waive graduation tuition in exchange for students’ work as teaching assistants and researchers. The House bill views that tuition as income.
 This is probably not the place to address the tricky question of how desirable tax waivers or large allowed deductions are if they end up benefiting those whose incomes are ultimately going to be quite high or at least fail to benefit those whose ultimate incomes are quite low. 

Think of the home mortgage deduction, which is only available for those with enough money (and good credit histories) to buy a house or an apartment.  Tuition waivers may have this characteristic, too, at least for students who end up working in the profitable STEM fields.

But it's clear from the rest of the Republicans' tax plans that correcting for any regressivity in the tax code is not their primary goal.  Thus, the crucial aspect of this proposed change is, indeed, that it makes postgraduate education much more expensive for most.