Monday, December 02, 2013

Religious knowledge

I am slightly embarrassed that I got 32 out of 32 on this quiz of religious knowledge.  Most people get only about half right.  What is an atheist doing with religious knowledge?  You would think it would be useless!


Boris Johnson encounters Leftist hate

Boris is the Conservative Mayor of London, known for his outspokenness

Last week I pointed out that the rich paid a much greater share of income tax than they used to.

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, they faced a top marginal tax rate of 98 per cent, and the top 1 per cent of earners contributed 11 per cent of the government’s total revenues from income tax.

Today, when taxes have been cut substantially, the top 1 per cent contributes almost 30 per cent of income tax; and, indeed, the top 0.1 per cent — just 29,000 people — contribute fully 14 per cent of all taxation.

That is an awful lot of schools and roads and hospitals being paid for by the super-rich. So why, I asked innocently, are they so despicable in the eyes of decent British people?

Surely they should be hailed like the Stakhanovites of Stalin’s Russia who half-killed themselves, in the name of the people, by mining record tonnages of coal?

I proposed that we should fete very rich taxpayers and decorate them and inaugurate a new class of tax hero, with automatic knighthoods for the top 10 per cent.

Hardly ever have I produced so frenzied and hate-filled a response.

People aren’t remotely interested in how much tax these characters pay. That does nothing to palliate their primary offence, which is to be so stonkingly rich.

After five years of recession, people rightly or wrongly care about inequality and pay disparity.

It seems to me, therefore that though it would be wrong to persecute the rich, and madness to try and stifle wealth creation, and futile to try to stamp out inequality, we should only tolerate this wealth gap on two conditions: one, that we help those who genuinely cannot compete; and, two, that we provide opportunity for those who can.



Welcome to the Kludgeocracy

How is it possible that Barack Obama did not know that his beloved website was a botch? That's a question many thoughtful people (including thoughtful Democrats) are asking.
We heard him say that he wouldn't have boasted that it would be as easy to use as or had he known that it wouldn't. I'm not "stupid enough," he said at his Nov. 14 press conference. Most Americans agree that's true.

One thing we do know is that this is a chief executive who does not want to hear bad news, or at least effectively discourages his subordinates from bringing it to him.

He made a decision to take the question of intervention in Syria to Congress after consulting, on a walk in the White House lawn, with his chief of staff. Any staffer with knowledge of congressional opinion on the issue could have told him that he didn't come close to having the votes.

And it's known that his White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, learned the week of April 22 from Treasury lawyers that the Internal Revenue Service had, in her words, "improperly scrutinized several ... organizations by using words like 'Tea Party' and 'patriot.'"

Evidently, she didn't tell the president, who said he learned about the scandal only when it was made public by IRS official Lois Lerner May 10. Counsels to former presidents of both parties say they would have informed their bosses immediately.

Effective executives take special pains to ferret out bad news from the organizations they command. They know that most underlings like to tell their superiors that things are going fine.

"A culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news isn't well equipped to try new things," writes Internet pioneer Clay Shirky on his eponymous blog. As Shirky explains, in developing software there is a "a tradeoff between features, quality and time."

"If you want certain features at a certain level of quality, you'd better be able to move the deadline," he writes. "If you want overall quality by a certain deadline, you'd better be able to simply delay or drop features. And if you have a fixed feature list and deadline, quality will suffer."

You find out what works by testing, "even if that means contradicting management's deeply held assumptions and goals." But the testing of the Obamacare website was, he says, "late and desultory."

Government doesn't have to work this badly. The Obama administration had 42 months from the passage of Obamacare to the scheduled rollout of The Pentagon, still the world's largest office building after more than 70 years, was built in 18 months.

But that was accomplished by men who knew that the Commander-in-Chief, Franklin Roosevelt, expected results. Roosevelt could be an inspiring orator. But he also showed a gift for selecting the right men (and, occasionally, women) to reach goals that he thought were really important.

Barack Obama seems to lack that knack. He has advanced to the highest position in government without having demonstrated the ability to get results outside a political campaign.

He is the product, as the Hoover Institution's Peter Berkowitz writes, "of the same progressive version of higher education that simultaneously excises politics from the study of government and public policy while politicizing education."

"This higher education," Berkowitz continues, "denigrates experience; exalts rational administration; reveres abstract moral reasoning; confidently counts on the mainstream press to play for the progressive political team; accords to words fabulous abilities to remake reality; and believes itself to speak for the people while haughtily despising their way of life."

Or to put it more pithily, Obama knows how to use words well. But he doesn't seem to understand how the world works. "We're also discovering," he said at that press conference, "that insurance is complicated to buy." Yup.

There is a reason public policy in industrial age America (and other democratic countries) moved toward greater regimentation and standardization. Centralized command and control was a good way to run assembly lines.

There is a reason also that public policy in the information age, elsewhere and here until 2008, moved toward more market mechanisms. Central planners have a hard time anticipating how IT systems and consumers will respond.

That's especially true when chief executive doesn't want to hear -- and perhaps cannot imagine that there will be -- bad news. Welcome to the kludgeocracy



Hands Off: Will the Feds Keep You From Your Money in Another Crisis?

Americans are rightly angered right now by the disastrous impacts of the Obamacare implementation, but consider what else may lie ahead for our lives, our households, and our livelihoods.

For one, there was the November 25th report in the Financial Times indicating that the U.S. Federal Reserve is considering the possibility of arbitrarily cutting the amount of interest it pays on money that it borrows from private commercial banks. The interest that the government pays when it borrows money from private banks is, understandably, a big revenue stream for those banks. If the Federal Reserve makes this move, banks say they will in turn need to make up for the lost revenue by charging private individuals, households and businesses for depositing money in their accounts.

Let’s be clear about what is under consideration here. Customarily when an individual or an organization puts its money in a bank account, the bank will pay their customer at least some nominal level of interest in exchange for the privilege of possessing the customer’s money for a period of time. In the scenario that the Financial Times reported, some banks would completely reverse this historic bank-customer relationship and charge private individuals and businesses for the privilege of “parking” their money in an account for a time.

Could that create a bit of a backlash against banks? Recall that in March of this year, the dreadfully overspent government of Cyprus arbitrarily chose to impose a tax on all private bank deposits as a means of feeding the government’s never-ending hunger for money. This created a “run” on banks with private citizens rushing to clear out their accounts, which in turn led the government to force private banks to close for about ten days. When the banks re-opened, citizens were only permitted to withdrawal about $383 of their own money each day – a quick-fix that Nobel laureate economist Christopher Pissarides said was “extremely unfair to the little guy.”

The Cyprus crisis – as well as the meltdown of financial systems in Spain and Greece, among other places – may be what led one of President Obama’s appointees to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s board of Governors to propose a means of stopping “bank runs” here in America. According to a November report from Reuters news agency, Dan Tarullo, whose specialty is “financial regulation,” has proposed that banking regulators (like him) need to “supplement prudential banking regulation” with more “policy tools” – i.e., the ability to order banks closed. Tarullo and the other fed Governors are working on a new set of such “policy tools” to be unveiled in 2014.

So is the American financial system a safe place to keep one’s private assets? Bloomberg news reported one year ago that the U.S. Federal Reserve was weighing the possibility of trying to force foreign banking institutions to play by the U.S. government’s rules. Today that process has already begun, with Federal Reserve authorities notifying foreign banking institutions that they must report all American-owned assets and enforce American banking rules.

In economic terms, this is called “capital controls” – an effort by the U.S. federal government to control private peoples’ money as much as possible, and prevent it from leaving the country. Over the past six months private banks in Canada and New Zealand have become increasingly stringent with their willingness to hold deposits from Americans, and within the last two days the British territory of the Cayman Islands acquiesced to U.S. pressure and signed a controversial agreement that, for the first time, will require banks there to report all deposits from American citizens to American governmental authorities.

Why is this happening? Officials from the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Department of the Treasury it’s all precautionary. In case another 2008 type financial “meltdown” ever occurs again, so the reasoning goes, the U.S. will have as much control as possible over the global financial system.

But fundamentally, and philosophically, there is an undercurrent to all of these policies and proposals: it is the belief that the wellbeing of the institutions of government is more important that the wellbeing of individual persons, and an individual’s right to possess their own money.

Here’s hoping your team won this weekend. Now let’s figure out how to enable the American citizen to be a winner, once again.



Family health insurance to cost more

Many employers are betting that the Affordable Care Act's requirement that all Americans have health insurance starting in 2014 will bring more people into their plans who have previously opted out. That, along with other rising expenses, is prompting companies to raise workers' premium contributions, steer them toward high-deductible plans and charge them more to cover family members.

The changes as companies roll out their health plans for 2014 aren't solely the result of the ACA. Employers have been pushing more of the cost of providing health insurance on to their workers for years, and firms that aren't booking much sales growth due to the sluggish economy are under heavy pressure to keep expenses down.

Some are dealing with rising expenses by making employees pick up a bigger share of the premiums for coverage of family members. Employees this year are responsible for an average 18% of the cost of individual coverage, but 29% of the cost of family coverage, according to a survey of employee health plans by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


No comments: