Category: Politics

Tax the Rich

I never really “got” the ideology of screwing over today-me on the off chance future-me started making bank. Forbes counted 735 billionaires in the US in 2023 — over 300 million people in the US. That means there’s a 0.000245% chance of someone being a billionaire.
The probability of any one person becoming the next multi-billionaire is, logically, lower than that (some billionaires start out in the 1%). Low enough that I don’t want to structure all of society around making billionaires’ lives cherry just in case I ever become one.
I mean, me personally, I’d happily fork over a couple hundred mil in taxes if I was netting a billion a year because I know I’d be using a lot of publicly funded resources for this hypothetical business, and funding those resources seems practical. But, yeah, probably not something I’m ever gonna have to worry about.

Musing on natural resources

“Any natural resource not used was wealth wasted” — it’s a quote I read in a book, and both a phrase and an ideology that I’ve been musing on. It’s an intersection of capitalism and empirical science — whilst it is difficult to ascribe a value to a “resource at rest”, there is an empirical measurement of that resources value once it is extracted and sold.


Banning ARs?

The local paper had a reader poll asking if “the AR-15” should be banned — with a decent number (especially in our heavily Republican area) saying yes.

There are a number of things I don’t get about this proposal. Firstly, I am willing to assume they mean any AR-style weapon because banning Colt’s AR-15 but allowing all of the derivatives seems particularly pointless. But … what is the point of banning that one style semi-automatic rifle? From the police pictures, it looks like Tennessee shooter had a KelTec SUB2000 Carbine Rifle, a LSA Grunt .300 Blackout Rifle, and a Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ. Only one of those would be banned if AR-style weapons were banned, but any could kill a lot of people quickly. Even if the ban encompassed all high-capacity weapons, the Shield — with its 8 round magazine instead of the higher capacity magazines normally found in the two rifles … you can buy ten mags. Fill ’em up, and quickly eject the empty one & reload a full magazine. If we ban X, then Y will become the weapon of choice. OK, ban Y! Now it’s Z. Or A. Or L.

And that doesn’t take into account what’s already out there today. In 2020, the firearm industry trade association said there were 19.8 million “modern sporting rifles” in circulation since 1990. Stopping the sale of new guns of a particular style seems like theater — an ineffective non-answer to the question. Even a far more effective idea like limiting all production weapons to five seconds per round still encounters the “what is out there is out there” problem. The idea of banning a style of weapon makes me think of the ineffective “fix” to the student debt problem — university is incredibly expensive. Forgiving the debt of a time-slice of students doesn’t fix the fundamental problem.

It is not a “witch hunt” if there are really witches

Our local paper had a political cartoon today with a dude exclaiming to his wife:

“Just think — if Donald Trump can be indited for misappropriating funds to pay hush money to a porn star he slept with while his wife was home with their newborn baby … WHAT’S TO PREVENT THAT FROM HAPPENING TO *ME*?”

And the cartoon answer? “Me, dear. Me, and the second amendment.”

But that skips the reality of the potential charge — what’s to stop that from happening to you? Are you running for office and getting undocumented campaign contributions to pay someone off? Are you misappropriating business funds (and falsifying records to cover up the misappropriated funds)? If not … then you CANNOT misappropriate funds (and lie about it) full stop. For the small percentage of Americans for whom the answer is “why, yes I am running for office”? Then the answer is YOU. Make your bribe and extortion payments from YOUR money. Dude isn’t being investigated for making a hush money payment. He’s being investigated for falsifying business records so he could use that for a hush money payment. He is being investigated for receiving illegal campaign contributions.

On a similar thought, I am certain Republican governors (attorney generals, district attorneys) are going to start threatening to prosecute former Democratic presidents. And, if they have jurisdiction and a real crime? Good for them! If Arkansas wants to finally investigate things like Clinton using the state cops to cover up his affairs? It’s about time! Because, unlike the quippy comments about unjustified political persecutions want you to think … Trump lived in New York for a very long time. If he committed crimes there, it’s reasonable for law enforcement in that area to investigate it. Just like it’s reasonable for the state of Arkansas to investigate things Clinton did while he lived there. It is, however, not reasonable for, say, the state of Texas to try arresting Biden for federal laws that they don’t like or things he did in Delaware. That would be political persecution.

The hush money thing reminds me of an experience I had early in my career — the company had a lot of rules around spending money, and there were employees who decided to exploit those rules. There were some things you could “expense” — basically use the corporate AmEx to cover & never have to account for. A local manager had an agreement with a supplier to submit invoices for items that qualified for expense purchasing — “LAN Cables”, “CD-R Media” — in spite of the fact he was actually picking something else up. I was sent to pick up the handheld radios he ordered, and I couldn’t because the invoice they wanted me to sign was for cat6 cables. I wasn’t trying to make a moral stand (at the time, I didn’t realize there was a moral stand to take) … I just didn’t see how I could submit an expense report with a receipt that didn’t match up with what we were purchasing. The manager explained it to me … and, yeah, I refused to partake in that scheme. I’m sure he sent someone else to subvert company purchasing policies for him. But he wasn’t the manager for long after the lies were discussed with his manager — a new site manager was brought in & they discovered that the office had purchased tens of thousands of dollars of “fun stuff” — pool table, big screen TV, sofas, alcohol — and outfitted a hidden room in the warehouse. Employees were taking computers, TVs, etc home too. None of those people were fired for buying a TV or computer — they were fired for stealing from their employer and falsifying purchase records. And it might have been possible for an over-zealous prosecutor to attempt to charge the company (or the company execs) with falsifying business records. There were falsified business records. But the company, and it’s executive team, didn’t know the records were false. The individuals who did the lying were punished, and the victims of the lies were left to clean up the mess. And that’s what seems to be happening to Trump — except he appears to be one of the “in the know” people and not an innocent employer who hired scammers and cheats.

Privatizing Social Security, redux, redux

I saw Paul Ryan on CNN gleefully floating privitizing social security — and, just like when the idea was proposed five years ago and fifteen years ago, the rational is that the stock market in some random time delta has greatly outperformed the investments social security makes.

I remember attending a protest when the second President Bush proposed this at the onset of his first term. One of the local news stations had a reporter milling around the protest looking for individuals to interview for the evening news. She asked me leading questions — are you worried about your parent’s retirement if people start investing their social security money in the stock market — and she was surprised that my objection wasn’t anything so specific. The senseless thing about investing social security funds in stocks (or, more likely, in stock funds that also direct a decent chunk of money toward fund managers and investment firms that create those funds) — the whole social security system came into place because people dropped their savings into the stock market, it crashed, and they were broke. It is historically ignorant to avoid mentioning this fact. Social security forces people to make *some* safe investment choices. Yes, those have lower yields … but they also don’t LOSE money. If you earn enough money to have extra and want to invest it in DWAC or bitcoin or stuff it under your mattress … rock on! But don’t pretend that we’re not getting any benefit of the lower yield investments made with the social security trust money. Also, how in the world is our government funded after all this social security money starts flooding the stock market … the social security trust money is going into special Treasury bonds. Even if 20% of those funds got redirected into investment funds (and that’s a HUGE boon to fund managers, just like 401k’s were a huge boon to fund managers), that’s a lot of money *not* going into US Treasuries anymore.

I will note, too — directing a large pool of money into the stock market would, in the short term, re-inflate stock prices and allow current investors to make a lot of money.

Replacing the IRS

The “fair tax plan would replace federal income tax with a national sales tax. I can see the appeal if you don’t spend any time doing math. I mean, who *likes* filling out their taxes each year? A simple way that eliminates all of the IRS overhead sounds awesome. Make sure actual numbers get as much air time as the nice sounding “you wouldn’t have to fill out the tax form” and “no more wasting money on agents [to collect money people cheat the government out of]”. How much would you have to spend in a year to match your current tax load? Simple — take the amount of federal income taxes you paid and divide it by 0.3 (because the proposed rate I’ve seen is 30%). Do you spend more than that a year on taxable stuff? If so, you are seeing a tax increase!

Someone making minimum wage makes ~about~ $30,000 a year. And, with absolutely no deductions of any sort and as a single filer, they pay $3,394.50 in federal income taxes (they don’t; no one I’ve encountered who makes minimum wage actually pays the full “rack rate” for income tax because they qualify for some deductions). That would mean $11,315 a year in taxable purchases to reach their *WORST CASE* federal tax bill. Fifty bucks a week for groceries is $2,600 right there. Need to buy clothing/shoes? That’s taxed. Need to buy furniture? More taxes.

On the other hand, I pay about $15,000 in federal income tax. At 30%, that would require 50,000$ of taxable purchases *each year*. Maybe if there were some “get out of sales tax free” card that they handed out to anyone making under 40k a year, this would be an interesting way to discourage wasteful consumerism. But (1) that’s hardly the plan and (2) there’s a huge difference between taxing a new Birken bag and taxing *dinner*. The one good point I could see (well, other than there being absolutely no way any of this nonsense goes anywhere in the Senate nonetheless gets a presidential signature) is that, if the sales tax is only on new purchases, it would be a huge boon to resale and repair businesses.

Worse still, the more you make? The easier it is to reduce your overall tax burden. With land and solar, I could go this year without spending money on anything other than homeowners insurance, car insurance, property taxes, and probably new tires for the car. Even if all of these are subject to federal sales tax, that’s maybe $3,000 in tax for the year. More likely, though, only the tires are taxed.

Understanding Scale

There’s all sorts of bad advice about how people just aren’t trying hard enough to not be poor — if only you saved more money like there is a surfeit of money around to save. Work more like you can add a couple of extra hours to each day or just jam another day into the week. And this guy … who evidently thinks the whole problem is that people don’t understand … scale?

The funniest part to me? This dude wants to start with “you don’t understand scale, I’m gonna educate you …” and then proceeds to not understand scale. Small scale purchases will yield the highest price per pound — someone who is buying tomatoes by the tonne certainly isn’t paying a buck a tomato or even fifty cents a tomato. What’s the price for a tonne of tomatoes? The tomato price per tonne data I’ve found are a little outdated, but lets say $100 a tonne for easy mental math. Even if these tomatoes weigh a pound each (unlikely), then every 2k tomatoes gets you $100. He has about 4 million tomatoes … so 2,000 tonnes of tomatoes @ $100 a tonne grosses $200,000. In addition to not understanding scale, he is not understanding gross v/s net income. And, well, tomatoes.

Even if we ignore the required land (which wouldn’t be trivial — planting 150k tomato plants with adequate spacing is going to be 10+ acres), equipment, and labor required to produce and harvest all of those tomatoes. Say they ripen over a 90 day period (which is super generous in my part of the world, but again pretending it’s reasonable for the sake of argument), you need to move some 44,000 tomatoes A DAY for 90 days. Where are these things going as they get picked? How to I transport them to these hypothetical customers? And who are these customers? Even if every customer buys ten tomatoes a week, I need over 30,000 unique customers (every single one of whom repeats their ten tomato a week purchase for three months straight). Are there actually 30,000 people willing to buy a $10/week tomato subscription for the entire harvest season?

This guy’s hypothetical tomatoes aren’t an example of scale, they’re an example of generational wealth. If you inherited a few thousand acres of land (probably complete with an irrigation system and greenhouses), equipment, warehouses, and a fleet of trucks to move ’em … then maybe you could employ a lot of people for planting, harvesting, and selling at farm markets where you might hope to get something even approaching a buck a tomato. Even then, you aren’t netting hundreds of millions of dollars — you’ve got electrical, transportation, and labor expenses to pay. That’s not building a tomato empire from fifty bucks and a handful of tomato plants — that’s millions of dollars in inherited assets to net maybe a million bucks a year.

Reverse Electrification

Back when federal law phased out the sale of incandescent light bulbs, people stockpiled these bulbs instead of buying more energy efficient bulbs in the future. As I see California approve Advanced Clean Cars II — and Washington and New York looking to follow in California’s path — I wonder if de-electrification is going to become an industry.

Basically the reverse of buying a petrol vehicle with a blown motor and converting it to an EV … buying an EV (because that’s all that is available to be purchased as a new vehicle), buying a crate motor (also legal), and swapping the electric propulsion system for a petrol one. Eventually, reduced demand may well turn gasoline into an expensive, niche product produced in some small-batch refinery. Until then, I can absolutely see the incandescent bulb hording types going for re-petroliumed vehicles.