Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Another Systemic Problem: Correlation of Consequence

This is another installment of "big picture ideas", aka political philosophical exploration...

Democratic society, at its fundamental level, works on the basis of automatic self-correction, as do many other systems (evolution, various computerized automatic organization algorithms, neural networks, etc.). The basic idea is that you have some direct input into the results of the system (in the case of democracy, that's voting), and to that extent you somewhat control the outcomes. By observing the outcomes, and evaluating their benefit/harm to yourself, you adjust your inputs in the future, so as to influence the system to produce more beneficial results. These systems work fairly well... with some rather large caveats.

One problem is timing: change is slow, and there can be painful missteps along the way. To compensate, many of these systems allow/encourage biasing the input based on the expectations of results; ie: voting for a politician because of campaign promises, etc. Participants also consider similar previous inputs, based on the supposition that similarity in input qualities will, at least in some cases, carry through to similarities in output events (eg: favoring political parties). These mechanisms can work, but they rely on the accuracy of the information and suppositions, both of which are very tenuous at best in the political work (campaign promises, in particular, are suspect to the point of being well-understood to be laughable). Fortunately, these "input bias" methods don't have to be accurate; as long as the feedback loop works well, eventually the system will produce inputs which lead to beneficial outputs regardless.

This brings us to the larger problem: ensuring the feedback loop works correctly, which is vital to long-term success for the system. To this end, participants need to be able to evaluate the consequences (results) of the actions of the system given their inputs (elected officials), and correlate those consequences to the inputs accurately. This is where there's a huge problem in many democratic societies, and the US in particular. As examples, how many voters would accurately attribute the higher level of perceived inflation than that which is officially reported to Bill Clinton's manipulation of the CPI? The huge unfunded social network liabilities to FDR's establishing of a government-sanctioned pyramid scheme? The housing bubble (at least in part) to the change in tax treatment for capital gains from sales of primary residences? There are many other examples, some obvious and others less clear, but most not well understood.

How, then, are voters to adjust their voting to benefit themselves when they cannot accurately assess the results of previous votes, and correlate them to their own actions? Let me state something, and let it sink in: there are voters in this country who think the health care takeover bill is about providing universal health care for people. Or this: there are voters who think the government needs to be doing more to prop up the housing market. Or even this: we have voters who think the government should be doing more to regulate businesses to help create jobs. Think about how stupid any of those premises are, how bad they would be for the country, and yet how benign they might sounds to the average non-thinking individual, and how even purportedly "smart" people hold some of the beliefs. How can we reasonably expect the feedback loop system to function when we have active participants who are pushing the system in the complete wrong direction?

We need a system whereby the voters can really experience the effects of their efforts in isolation from the people who think differently, and visa-versa. We need a system where the capitalists and the socialists can co-exist, rather than trying to pull one country in two polar opposite directions. We need a system where when the socialist part inevitably collapses under the weight of its inherent failure, it can be removed like the malignant sociological tumor it is, and keep the rest of the host alive (preferably without giving the tumorous cells voting rights in the remaining healthy political organism, so as to not encourage more tumorous growths). We need a system where people can directly experience the correlation of consequences for their own actions, so we can evolve into a better overall society.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tax time: my tax plan

I've blogged about this before, but since it's tax time once again, and in light of the ever increasing spending and wealth redistribution programs of the Obama administration, as well as the ballooning unfunded long-term entitlement programs we're actually growing in total asinine willful ignorance of long-term national solvency, I'd like to revisit my thought/plan for taxes in the US. It might be overly optimistic to wish that someone with real political power would grasp onto this plan, but I still consider it one of the best political ideas I've blogged about, and one which, if somehow enacted, would be a great contribution to the long-term health of the country and the people (for example, I'd consider it more worthwhile a goal than any of the stated short-sighted Tea Party pledge objectives).

In short, the plan would be to cap the maximum amount the government collected in taxes from every individual in the country to a fixed percentage of their income; my current thinking is around 20%, but I'd be more happy with something like 10% (although that would require a drastic decrease in government spending). Note that this limit would be aggregate across all tax schemes, all programs, all income types, and all collection methodologies. As part of enacting the plan, government would be required to allow a taxpayer to refuse to pay any portion of any tax, provided they could document how they had already paid the maximum limit for that year. Optionally, government could provide a centralized mechanism for paying one's taxes (eg: standard payroll deduction), and then distribute the money to all branches of government and programs as appropriate. I'd prefer for the limit to apply for all levels of government, but just for the federal government would be a good start.

Notes on the plan:

- Government would still be free to preserve all existing tax codes, deductions, favors, loopholes, preferences, and the entire gargantuan mess which is the current tax code. This maximum would simply be a cap on total taxes paid. Many people would still pay less than the cap, and government could still redistribute wealth and give preferential treatment through taxation as it does now, just subject to the cap. This plan/change would not institute a flat tax.

- Government should provide a mechanism for someone to pay the maximum, and not file any further tax documentation or have any standard deductions withheld (and provide evidence of max payment, to submit in lieu of any other tax demands). This would save taxpayers and government a tremendous amount of money. Government could (and probably should) provide a streamlined mechanism for determining if you will be paying the maximum, and to allow payroll deduction of the maximum automatically.

- In the longer term, it would be very good if "income" could be computed using a stable currency, rather than the US dollar which might be rapidly depreciating in the future. This is another problem, though, and one which would plague both the current tax system and this new plan, and thus would be worth tackling separately (as I have proposed elsewhere in previous blog posts).

Anyway, that's the recap, with my current thoughts. I welcome comments, as usual.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Fundamental, Pervasive Misunderstanding of Government

I've been thinking a lot more recently about the problems with governments in general, and the government of the US in particular. I'm sure that's largely motivated by the huge expansion of socialist government control recently, but the problem is not confined to just the Socialist party currently in power; there were many issues with the previous Republican party as well, and with the government in general. It would certainly behoove the American people to address the recent egregious government abuses (and throw out as many of the responsible Congress-scum as possible), but it's also worthwhile to look at the bigger picture, and see what can be done to address the more systemic problems.

For example, one of the challenges in a representative democracy is that the leadership, and by extension the actions of the leadership, are limited by how intelligent and informed the voting populace is. In an ideal world, you get direct representation, and a government which works for the benefit of the people, and is accountable to their wishes and the betterment of the country; in the real world, you get the Obamanation, where everything is for sale, corruption is rampant, and the government takes advantage of the gullibility of the people to operate directly against the interests of the country, and for their own collective advantage. Clearly the current system is badly broken, and if it is allowed to continue to operate as it currently functions, America as a free country experiment is doomed to failure. It's less clear, however, how to fix it; as long as the people are allowed to elect the "representatives", and do so in an idiotic, uninformed, misguided, or selfish (ie: own interests above the country's) manner, America will still be dismantled by those who would take advantage of the collective stupidity of the masses.

Now, something which I have long understood, and clearly the founding fathers understood, is evidently sorely lacking from the collective consciousness of the voting populace. That is, the idea that government is a necessary evil: it exists to serve several vital social roles which cannot (as far as anyone has devised) be effectively served by any other mechanism (such as national defense, and the other principles spelled out in America's Declaration of Independence). However, government is inefficient and dangerous doing even its vital roles, and even more so for any other responsibilities and powers it assumes. The concept that "the government should/will do more to improve this" shouldn't really have a place in intelligent discussion, as virtually any time the government expands its actions and/or scope of power, it does so to the detriment of the people. Moreover, the idea that a bigger or more involved government is somehow better for the people is possibly one of the biggest, most dangerous, and most implausible myths ever propagated by Socialist and their complacent or unwitting supporters. If we, the people, could somehow abolish one lie from the consciousness of the voting population, we could do worse than getting rid of the idea that government is anything more than a necessary evil, which needs to be kept in check, lest it consume everything good about the country.

Unfortunately, I don't have any good answers for how to better educate the voting populace, and I'm not sure that's the answer anyway. It's clear, though, that our current system is very broken, and getting more so with each passing year, and if we the people don't manage to enact some systemic fixes, we soon may not be able to at all.

The Party of No

A random thought I had recently:

The liberal media has been relentless in their portrayal of anyone opposed to the massive influx of socialist agenda propagated by the Obamanation and the rest of the Socialist party (regardless of affiliation, but predominantly Republicans) as members of the Party of No. Their thinking, if I can speculate, is that the American people want change and reform, and by labeling the opposition as standing in the way of that change, ie: the people saying 'no', they can galvanize opposition to their overhaul of the concept of the US into their socialist ideal.

I think the Republicans, and their "enemy of our enemy" friends, should turn the tables a bit, so to speak, and adopt the Party of No as the unofficial moniker for the Tea Party movement. After all, what is the Tea Party if not the Party of No to socialist takeovers? ... of No to putting up with backroom deals, corruption, and Washington politics as usual? ... of No to out-of-control government spending bankrupting our children and future generations? No to more massive unfunded entitlement programs? No to big government, no to losing more freedoms, no to everything the government is trying to do?

Ask yourself this: would a politician voting 'no' on every single bill presented by the repugnant corrupt Congress we have now be any worse than your average Congress-scum? Why must the voters choose between big-government neocons and big-government socialists? We need a Party of No More, and it seems like the media, as an extension of the liberal political propaganda machine, has created the opening, and the American people just need capable trustworthy representatives to step into it, and pledge their support for the people, the country, and the Constitution, and be the Party of No.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bunning deserves props; media comparison

Sen Jim Bunning (Kentucky) deserves some thanks today; he's temporarily stalling the Obamanation from wasting more of our money ($10,000,000,000 this time) on extending various government support programs, which, although popular, are the continuing bane of America's long-term well-being (being as the largest long-term problem America has is the culture of entitlement, and nothing feeds the culture of entitlement as much as more government spending on entitlement programs). Granted, it's only a temporary setback; the money will be printed/spent soon anyway; and the objection is not to spending the money, but rather a statement about the blatant hypocrisy of Congress proposing the unfunded waste just days after approving "pay as you go" rules for new spending (which this clearly violates in concept, although not in letter). Still, I have to approve of someone in the cesspool of Congress doing the right thing for the country, since it's such a rarity these days.

On a related note, here are some representative samples of the story (and some reader comments), from the [colloquial] conservative and liberal press outlets:
- Fox News
- AP

Feel free to decide for yourself which one gives you the better, more complete picture of what's actually going on, and extrapolate about which side of the political spectrum contains the bulk of the intelligent and informed participants.