Government that Works

As discussed earlier, ideal capitalism, while allowing personal freedom, compounds the suffering of the poor and destitute. Ideal socialism, on the other hand, saves the economic welfare of the poor at the expense of everyone’s privacy and diversity. Any worthwhile economic governmental system, if one exists, must solve both problems.

In addition, no government idea that requires everyone, or even most people, to follow a particular mindset or carry out a series of specified actions will work — people are just too different for such a system to function.

So what could work? Here are some ideas:

  • Government as Business. In this system, the central government itself employs people, like any other business, in for-profit ventures. This would provide a much higher rate of employment and even decrease the need for taxes, due to the earnings of the business. However, this could be considered unfair, because the government also has the power of economic regulation.
  • Welfare Capitalism. The government is obligated to provide amenities, like food, clothing, and shelter, or simply flat sums of money, to everyone who does not or cannot make the sufficient amount by themselves. Theoretically unassailable, this scenario is marred by its huge expense.
  • The patron-client system. Known foremost as the mechanism of Ancient Rome’s social stability, this involves the rich, or patrons, being directly responsible for the welfare of their poorer clients and supporting them in their endeavors. For such an idea to re-emerge, it would have to be modernized and strictly enforced.

All of these ideas, to some extent, do exist in modern-day America. The public sector employs over two million citizens. Examples of welfare such as food stamps and Medicare do form a safety net, if not an airtight one. And though the benefits are not enforced in any way, the doctrines of supply-side economics pays lip service to the idea of the rich and corporations supporting the poor.

Most of these programs are steps in the right direction. But over 43 million Americans live in poverty — what is being done is not nearly enough. #


Recognizing Pseudoscience

I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.

Carl Sagan

Four and a half centuries ago, a boy was born in Pisa, Italy. He soon became a prominent inventor, professor, merchant, philosopher, and (in the modern usage of the term) the very first scientist on Earth. Almost having become a priest, this man instead laid the groundwork for an objective study of the universe. His name was Galileo Galilei.

Using the telescopes he constructed for himself, Galileo The Galilean Moonsdiscovered Jupiter’s four largest moons, Saturn’s rings, and topological variance on the Moon’s surface. But more importantly for science as a whole, he used the observational evidence he gathered to champion the theory of heliocentrism, that the Earth and other celestial bodies revolved around the Sun, to a point where the reactionary Catholic Church could no longer ignore it.

Heliocentrism contradicts Scripture, the church authorities maintained, so Galileo was denounced, vilified, insulted, and eventually put under indefinite house arrest for his heresy. But ideas are not so easy to imprison. Eventually, of course, his ideas withstood objective tests and were accepted by the scientific and religious alike.

However, Galileo’s work is not yet over. For as long as pseudoscience crouches in the shadows of society’s discourse, it can do harm to actual science as well as the practical realms of technology and medicine.

So how can we recognize pseudoscience in the wild?

There are several useful approaches of deciding whether a theory, hypothesis, or medical treatment is pseudoscientific. (Note: some items may appear in more than one category.)

  • Lack of definitive evidence. Examples of this category are regarded as truth by some without any rigorous experimental evidence, so they should be disregarded by a scientific mind.
    • The paranormal, defined by some as lying “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” Ghosts and psychic powers fall into this category.
    • Beliefs in an afterlife or reincarnation. Any scientific proof of either of these would grab world headlines.
    • Alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, unproven herbal remedies, and faith healing. “Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.” – Tim Minchin
    • Modern mysticism. Astrology, feng shui, tarot, numerology, and general superstition make definite predictions that have never seen success in the laboratory.
  • Conflicting evidence. Items here predict outcomes specifically at odds with reality.
  • Unfalsifiability. When there is literally no evidence that can even hypothetically shed doubt on a claim, it is unfalsifiable and thus its veracity cannot be determined from evidence alone. Like the claim that the world is filled with invisible and inaudible ghosts that cannot be detected by anything whatsoever, the following are unscientific and meaningless in a rational world.
    • Religion. Almost all hypotheses and tenets of major religions, such as the existence of an omnipotent being, an afterlife or reincarnation, creationism, and a “soul” or dual component of the human body, proudly depend on faith rather than reason, and so cannot be proven or disproven.
    • Conspiracy theories. There is no fact or evidence that could make proponents of the “moon landing hoax” hypothesis or the New World Order stop doubting the Establishment.
  • The anthropocentric fallacy.This is the conviction that in some manner, the laws of the universe treat humans differently than anything else. Somewhat of a litmus test for pseudoscience, the presence of this fallacy has never been found empirically in the real world. From the Catholic Church in Galileo’s time to the telepaths and zealots of today, some have never been able to accept that fact.
    • The paranormal. If humans had souls or could read minds, that would necessitate new laws of the universe dealing with just people, for which evidence has never been found.
    • Religion. Always the domain solely of humans, or humans and the animals on the same planet as humans, all major religions postulate specific beliefs pertaining to humans alone, the most characteristic and hubristic of which is “Man was made in God’s image.”
    • Mysticism. The best example of the anthropocentric fallacy is astrology, which posits that the stars, in all their universal glory, are mere vessels for predicting human events.

While unscientific claims may be topical in churches or at parties, they have no place in our schools, laboratories, and hospitals. #


Lies All The Way Down

Today, let us mourn for Wisconsin.

Today, let us stand in unison and decry the appalling torrent of falsehood condemning so many public workers to financial ruin, an unmatched reduction in their voice in democracy, and an abhorrent status as Wisconsin’s new second-class citizens.

Today, this despicable maelstrom of political and social warfare has barreled through Madison’s statehouse, claiming yet another casualty: collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public workers. In a move founded on extreme cynicism and utter disregard for their own talking points, the Republican-dominated State Senate separated the collective bargaining measure from other sections of Senate Bill 11 and passed it on a reduced non-financial quorum, despite Governor Walker’s past incongruous assertions that the bill is somehow about Wisconsin’s budget. This was on the same day that Walker’s staff sent multiple e-mails pretending to be open for negotiations with the 14 Democratic state senators.

But we must realize that this is not the extent of the dishonesty which has culminated in such an attack on workers’ rights. Almost every premise used to arrive at this conclusion, even those accepted in conventional wisdom, is assuredly incorrect.

  • Public sector workers do not ‘deserve’ any budget cuts and are in fact under-compensated.
  • Wisconsin is not in a ‘financial crisis’. Wisconsin’s budget woes, while substantial, are absolutely no cause for apocalyptic alarm or immediate action for Wisconsin citizens. With a 7.4% unemployment rate and substantial tax revenue, Wisconsin was in solid economic shape, especially compared to other states across America.
  • Neither the budget repair bill or layoffs are necessary to balance the budget. Walker would definitely agree with the statement that “everyone should contribute their fair share” to eking out gains in Wisconsin’s budget. But there is no reason for these new measures — there’s already a time-honored, universally effective way of increasing governmental revenue. It’s called ‘taxes’. Best of all, it even ensures that everyone contributes proportional amounts based on their income. Indeed, Wisconsin’s budget deficit could most likely be erased without even raising individual income taxes — currently, two-thirds of Wisconsin corporations do not pay state taxes.
  • America is in no financial danger. The proposed cuts in Wisconsin are part of a national, sobering mood that America’s “fiscal house” is not “in order” and that we need to fix this by heaping abuse on our most downtrodden citizens. But the United States deficit is less than 10% of GDP. An actual financial crisis, the one seen in Greece, involved a worldwide financial crunch exacerbating a deficit over 100% of GDP for fifteen straight years. To quote Harvard economist Larry Summers, “[a]nyone who takes seriously the idea that the debt limit could not be extended and there could be a default even for a nanosecond on U.S. debt is a child with a mach in a dynamite storeroom.”
  • Even if financial doom was assured for the world, we should not take such measures. The very raison d’être of the modern government is to assure a certain minimum quality of life for its citizens. Disregarding such obligations is at once reckless, irresponsible, and dangerous — absolutely nothing should be as important to the United States and Wisconsin governments as the well-being of all of their citizens. Arbitrarily deeming the United States and Wisconsin deficits, mere projections of abstract financial goals, as more important than the very lives of untold millions is one of the most disturbing and destructive mainstream legislative opinions held in America today.

To Governor Walker: your days in office are numbered. To Representative John Boehner, Senator Mitch McConnell, Michelle Bachmann, Koch Industries, and all those who would favor green on a balance sheet over food in someone else’s stomach: your utter disregard for humanity itself is appalling. You are the problem with America today. #


Taxes, part three

Before the injustices in taxation systems can be remedied, we must analyze not just taxation itself, but also its motivation, spending. Government spending can be divided into four major categories.

  • Primary spending – government spending directed towards specific persons or groups of persons due to a stated purpose of financial need. (e.g. food stamps, free/reduced lunch in schools, Medicaid, etc.)
  • Secondary spending – government spending directed towards specific persons or groups of persons, but not because of financial need. (e.g. government grants or contracts, earmarks, Medicare, Social Security, etc.)
  • Tertiary spending – government spending directed towards “the general Welfare” or society in general, not towards any particular person or group. (e.g. road building, consumer protection, police force funding, etc.) This is the type of spending, in general, that is used to guarantee rights for the people.
  • Quaternary spending – government spending used for the government itself. (i.e. administrative costs) This is necessary in any government, to keep the system afloat and provide for the other purposes of government.

Again, many conservatives and libertarians have corrupted the debate on government spending. Instead of an issue of scale, whether the government should spend any money at all is apparently being contested. The magnitude of government spending may be debated, but its existence is morally sacrosanct, for the same reasons I outlined in Taxes, part one – spending is necessary to guarantee rights. Right-wing ideologues cry “No more government spending!”, searching for the moral high ground, without admitting the simple truth: under every government, even a conservative one, government spending is necessary. The differences are simply ones of scale. #