Friday, May 15, 2009

Facebook makes me nuts

I have been obsessing over this since I read a Facebook exchange this morning between two friends. I have been trying to stay out of political debates with real humans because I am actually no good at them. I need to be able to look things up and verify sources. I need time to work out my thoughts.

First of all, I read people's source material when they post links, and I read that material critically. Then I track down the source material's source material. I try to suss out opinions expressed as fact, look for nuance, and consider where an article is getting its information. Is it trying to scare or playing on emotion? Is it quoting reliable sources? Is it saying what the orginal post-er seems to think it says?

See, I am guilty of many of these things. Politics makes me emotional. I am also very judgmental. I have to watch myself. Practicing taking a step back and invoking critical thinking skills are two things on which I need to concentrate. Usually, when I internally accuse someone of being one-sided or partisan, it's because that's how I can be. That's why it's so recognizable.

So what am I talking about?

It's an economic argument. It's about regulation vs. free market. And, really, it's about interpretation of information based on one's own background, which often helps to determine one's political views. And in the USA, politics and economics are happily married, when you agree with the interpertation.

For Instance:

Definition: Marginal Tax Rate: the rate of tax payable on a person's income after business expenses have been deducted.

(My Observation: This rate has fluctuated in the United States for decades, and is currently at a comparatively low average, having been as high as 91% for some individuals or families.)

An Opinion: A 100% marginal tax rate is a cap on earnings.

My questions:
Is there such a thing as a 100% in the United States, and is anyone proposing it?

No, and not that I could find.

Does putting a cap on executive pay for those companies who are taking public funds mean that eventually all executive pay and then all pay will be capped?

No. This kind of extrapolation seems to me to be like saying that if a man can marry a man, then people will want to marry sheep. I think it's fear mongering.

Is someone putting a cap on all executive pay in the financial sector?


Is it under discussion?

According to a Wall Street Journal article, "according to people familiar with the matter," yes, it is.

It appears to me, from further reading of the article, that there are already Federal Reserve supervisory powers and SEC powers that have been exercised over the years:

"Regulators have long had the power to sanction a bank for excessive pay structures, but have rarely used it. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last year quietly pressed an unidentified large bank to make changes 'pertaining to compensation incentives for bank personnel responsible for assigning risk ratings,' a spokesman said. Since 2007, it has privately directed 15 banks to change their executive compensation practices."

And, accorging to un-named "government officials," "their effort...isn't aimed at setting pay or establishing detailed rules."


"'This is not going to be about capping compensation or micro-management,' said an administration official. 'It will be about understanding what is the best way to align compensation with sound risk management and long-term value creation.'"

You know what, you can't just skim, and when you start to look for answers to tax questions, what you get back is mostly colored in some way by politics, in that it is inevitably colored by people's political opinions on taxation as well as their misunderstandings regarding taxation.

Another question:

How does one compare economic data between the USA and the EU?

Seriously. I am just doing some hand held poking around research, which barely counts as research, while the baby nurses and naps, and it seems to me that it would be pretty tough to make a lot of assertions about who is doing better or has historically done better without some pretty serious number crunching and accounting for societal and historical differences. In that crunching, I further assert that it would be practically impossible to keep one's personal economic and political opinions out of it. I propose that it would be better for everyone to keep the EU out of discussions either as a positive or negative example. While I understand that we are currently living in a global financial market, its implications for individual countries and regions vary.

We are talking about one country with a 233 year history as a declared independent nation, comprising what is now 50 states, and possessing a colonial history going back 402 years, plus generations of indigenous cultures preceding that. The other is a political and economic union going back 59 years to an embryonic form as the "European Coal and Steel Community" of 6 countries to its current manifestation of a single currency (for the most part) union of 27 democratic countries, each with its own language, culture, and history going back centuries, through world wars and religious conquests.

I like apples and oranges, but it's not fair to put them in competition with each other. Nor is it useful.

When it comes to economic theory, you can find data to support whichever position you hold, rather like the bible. If you are a disciple of Mr. Friedman, it us pretty easy to predict the arguments. Likewise for followers of Mr. Krugman.

One can only hope that we all would like to get to the same place, my place being a world of peace, justice, freedom, and self-reliance. Thing is, we don't agree on what those terms mean, nor do we agree on how to get there. These issues are fraught with politics, and therefore, emotion.

In any case, I don't think it's helpful to bandy about terms like "USSA," "socialism," "fascism," or "communism." It distracts, it misleads, and it does injustice to those who have suffered under actual communist, socialist, or fascist regimes.

After all, this is America. No one will ever be able to take away the guns or turn this into a country in which the state owns the means of production or personal property has been abolished. I just don't see it happening. Being alarmist gets you attention, but it does little else.

People can say they are trying to make a point by using such terms, or using them for "effect," but really, the only point they are making is one of ignorance and the only effect it has is to turn off any possibility for common ground or thoughtful discussion.

In the same vein, referring to people as, for example, "Bama" or "Don Corleone Geithner" is neither constructive nor mature, and such things should be confined to discussions involving people with whom you agree. Now, I have been known to toss out a "Prince Dumbass" in the past, but I have long tried to stick to respectful terms of address such as "President," "Senator," "Ms.," and "Mr." because I want people to listen to me, not immediately shut down. I want, above all, to be thoughtful and reasonable.

Do I like what is going on in the United States right now? Yes and no. The economic mess is just that: it's a mess. There are no simple answers, and there is no single villain. President Bush did not manage to flush America down the toilet, and I doubt that President Obama will, either. I have a knee-jerk reaction to public funds being directed to private firms who previously wanted the government out of their pants, but it may well be necessary, unlike new baseball stadiums. I do think that there needs to be oversight, and the myth of a free market is just that. Economics in America are not conducted on a level playing field, human behavior tends toward the self-serving, and I believe that capitalism leads to short-term thinking. That's me. What do I have to back up my opinions? Observation, acecdote, data, statistics, and my interpretation of all the above through my bleeding heart lefty lens.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I just saw this quote on the New York Times:

"Banking should not be exciting. If banking is exciting there is something wrong with it."-CLAY EWING, president of German American Bancorp., a community bank in Jasper, Ind.

It's just so Monty Python. I can see Eric Idle and Michael Palin now:

"Why did you get into Chartered Accountancy?"
"The thrills."

But it does point something out. You are handling people's money. It should be a sobering, serious business. It should not be the world's scariest rollercoaster. That's what theme parks and skydiving are for.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Empathy: Look it up.

I think that it's time that some gracious and charitable person sent the Grand Old Party a nice dictionary. Perhaps they could make it a package deal and throw in a thesaurus.

Then they can look up words like "socialist," "communist," and "fascist," as well as a new one: empathy.

I did not know that empathy was a bad thing, but apparently, looking for an "empathetic" judge is just President Obama sending out code to all the subversive liberals that he's looking for an "activist" judge.

I had better get my resume together.

Hmm. Conservatives seem to think that there is a looming liberal conspiracy to seat judges who have an "agenda". Instead of deciding cases based purely on the law, these judges will be trying to legislate from the bench and affect policy. The great thing about humans is that we don't think deeply about things, so we hear something like that, and we think "Yeah, judges should not do that!" and we don't question whether or not it is actually happening or what the words mean, if they even mean anything.

It's as if conservatives are not at all interested in seating judges who have an "agenda." Of course they aren't. They just need to have their agenda. But what we have to remember is that in their minds, the presence of a conservative agenda equals no agenda.