Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On living and dying

Brilliant article about "dwindling". I hope never to be in the

position of Wolff's mother, nor in that of Wolff, but I've seen in my

own mother how easy it is to lie to yourself about an ageing parent,

and how hard it is to accept that they are done. Seeing my granddad

beg for death has made me a staunch believer that medicine has its

priorities entirely wrong. Let's not try to keep each other alive as

though we were chunks of meat. Let's show a genuine love for who we

essentially are.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A quick note on school subsidy

The government here subsidises private schooling quite heavily, and a

recent report urged them to stop. It won't because it's a political

hot potato, which would see it excoriated in the press.

Supporters of the subsidy say that it is fair because people who do

not send their kids to public school deserve the same spending on

education as people who do.

I have no sympathy for that view at all. What governments should be in

the business of is opportunity. They are not money pumps that simply

hand everyone $x for education. They are facilitators of opportunity

for children. So they should not be subsidising children who already

have an advantage over those whose parents could not, subsidy or

otherwise, send them to private school. They should be spending their

education money on improving public schools to equalise opportunity.

These are different ideas of equity. On one side, people who feel that

it's unfair if someone gets "something for nothing" because they have

"worked hard" for everything they have and why can't everyone else?

and on the other, people who feel that society already has plenty of

unfairness and governments can do something to rectify it. You can't

really close the divide because one of the major political parties

relies on the politics of resentment to get themselves elected.

Without it, the Liberals here would simply never acquire power,

because frankly, their policies have always been inimical to the

wellbeing of most citizens. I don't think there are enough people who

hate gays and foreigners enough to win elections based simply on

bigotry, but there are plenty of rugged individualists who don't

understand how society has made their wellbeing possible.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Facts just get in the way

Mitt Romney promises to end the insane spending of the Obama administration.

In fantasy unicornland, that may well be true. Here in reality:

Why don't conservatives like Obama? He's one of the best conservative

presidents we've seen.


People say the national debt is a problem, that we can't afford

welfare because we've "borrowed" too much. The last time the national

debt was this high in the UK, they built a national health service and

expanded welfare to the current system. The outcome? A boom that only

ended when the Arabs pulled the plug in 1973.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A capitalist tells the truth

Nick Hanauer, an investor in Amazon among other businesses, tells the

truth. (Copy shamelessly stolen but I think he wants this idea to

spread, so I don't expect to find myself in intellectual property


"It is astounding how significantly one idea can shape a society and

its policies. Consider this one.

If taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down.

This idea is an article of faith for republicans and seldom challenged

by democrats and has shaped much of today's economic landscape.

But sometimes the ideas that we know to be true are dead wrong. For

thousands of years people were sure that earth was at the center of

the universe. It's not, and an astronomer who still believed that it

was, would do some lousy astronomy.

In the same way, a policy maker who believed that the rich and

businesses are "job creators" and therefore should not be taxed, would

make equally bad policy.

I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially

hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we

had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs

would have evaporated.

That's why I can say with confidence that rich people don't create

jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more

employment is a "circle of life" like feedback loop between customers

and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous

cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary

middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist

like me.

So when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it's a little

like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it's the

other way around.

Anyone who's ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a

capitalists course of last resort, something we do only when

increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling

ourselves job creators isn't just inaccurate, it's disingenuous.

That's why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a

tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates

benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens

is that the rich get richer.

Since 1980 the share of income for the richest Americans has more than

tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.

If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy

would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in

jobs. And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs.

Another reason this idea is so wrong-headed is that there can never be

enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual

earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times

greater than those of the median American, but we don't buy hundreds

or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not

3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like

most American men. Like everyone else, we go out to eat with friends

and family only occasionally.

I can't buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions

of unemployed and underemployed Americans can't buy any new clothes or

cars or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing

consumption of the vast majority of American families that are barely

squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or

declining wages.

Here's an incredible fact. If the typical American family still got

today the same share of income they earned in 1980, they would earn

about 25% more and have an astounding $13,000 more a year. Where would

the economy be if that were the case?

Significant privileges have come to capitalists like me for being

perceived as "job creators" at the center of the economic universe,

and the language and metaphors we use to defend the fairness of the

current social and economic arrangements is telling. For instance, it

is a small step from "job creator" to "The Creator". We did not

accidentally choose this language. It is only honest to admit that

calling oneself a "job creator" is both an assertion about how

economics works and the a claim on status and privileges.

The extraordinary differential between a 15% tax rate on capital

gains, dividends, and carried interest for capitalists, and the 35%

top marginal rate on work for ordinary Americans is a privilege that

is hard to justify without just a touch of deification.

We've had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like

me don't create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an eco-systemic

feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they

thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That's why taxing

the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for

both the middle class and the rich.

So here's an idea worth spreading.

In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the

middle class. And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the

middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle

class, the poor and the rich.

Thank You.

Nick Hanauer"

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Reversal of fortune

Being my passenger when I'm driving can be a bad experience. I suffer

terribly from road rage, an outcome of being in a constant state of

nervous tension, caused by the awful drivers of South-East Queensland.

Each day they try to kill me, or failing that to damage my car as

severely as they can.

Three have succeeded. One was a man who turned right in front of me so

that I couldn't avoid hitting him, writing off my beloved Lady Jane.

He was lucky I'm a cautious, defensive driver, and had slowed down

expecting insanity, because his passenger door was severely dented,

and hurt his side. Had I been doing 60 kph, the limit, he'd likely be

dead or badly injured.

Number two was a guy on his way back from holiday, who was chatting

with his wife, the way people do, turning to talk to her instead of

watching the road. He didn't see that I had stopped and rearended me,

writing off Queen Kate. I spent a lot of money getting her back on the

road, which was not quite covered by the insurance. It just didn't

seem right to have her sent to the wrecker when the damage was only to

the boot and back bar.

Number three was a woman who reversed into me outside my house. I had

reversed into the empty road, as I do every morning, and was just

coming to a stop, ready to take off down Canopus Street when bang,

from out of nowhere, a car ran into my passenger door. Luckily, she

didn't hit me very hard, so Naughtyman, who was sat next to the door,

was not hurt. She jumped out full of apologies. She had not been

looking; she was in a hurry because she was dropping off some kids or

something, and had driven into the wrong driveway. I shrugged and said

shit happens, just call your insurance and no harm is done.

So imagine my shock when her insurance finally contacted me and the

guy says, I'm calling about an accident where you were at fault.

WTF, I said, no I wasn't. Your insured reversed straight into me

without looking. She accepted liability (because what else could she

do? It was her fault after all). She was close to tears because she

was so afraid she had hurt someone. I actually felt sorry for her

because she had so clearly done the wrong thing and it had had a bad


But you were reversing, he said.

So what? I said. I was reversing down the road, side on to her. I

didn't reverse into her. She backed into the SIDE of my car.

Yes, but you were reversing. When people are reversing, it's 50/50.

No it's not, I said. I reversed into an empty road, carefully. She

reversed without looking, straight into my car. It doesn't matter what

direction I was going in, she still caused the accident through no

fault of mine. I was barely even moving and what motion I had was away

from her, not towards her. I mean, duh, my car door was done in, and

she has a small scratch on one side of her back bumper.

B thinks there is a law that the fault is shared when everyone's

reversing, but of course there isn't. That would be stupid. (For

instance, say you drive into someone who is rolling back on a hill

start. You are always liable then even though they rolled back a bit.

Or say you were driving at 80 kph down the wrong side of the road and

hit someone who was reversing to parallel park. You'd clearly be

liable then too.) There's a convention that applies when you reverse

into someone who reverses into you in a car park, and it's difficult

for the insurance companies to sort out. What there is is a law that

you must give way to all traffic when you enter a road. I did that.

The woman didn't.

So I am adding AAMI insurance to my list of bad businesses to deal

with. What I imagine happened is the woman said that she hit someone

backing out of his drive, and she needed to fix up what she had done.

They heard "backing out" and told her they would do it knock for

knock. But I didn't back into her. There's no joint fault. I backed

into an open road. She just drove straight into me. There's no law

that says you get off the hook because I happened to be going

backwards. It's deeply frustrating that they know that I did nothing

to cause the accident and could not avoid it regardless what I did,

yet they expect my insurance (and actually, just me, because my

insurance won't cover it) to pay. I don't intend to go through my

insurance. If she doesn't make it right, I will sue her, and win. I'm

pretty sure the small claims court will not reward her for breaking

the law, whatever AAMI thinks, and I'm sure there's no law that says

that there's no liability in traffic incidents if the person you smash

into happens to be going backwards.


The thing is, it's just wrong and we are expected to put up with so

much that is just wrong in this life. I mean, I will be really pissed

off if I end up having to pay for the damage to my car. This woman

didn't care about other people enough even to bother to look into her

mirror before driving out into the road. She *should* pay for that. I

shouldn't be on the hook for her stupidity. And her insurance company

shouldn't abet her. Fair enough, they can tell her they won't cover

it, but ringing me and suggesting I am at fault because I happened to

be in the road when she careered out into it is just wrong.