Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The G-Word, and Why We Should All Just Drop It

Maybe it's short-sighted of me to say this, or maybe it exposes my Americentric viewpoint, but for the love of God, why does 1) Turkey and 2) the United States Congress care so much about this resolution that labels the deaths of a million Armenians in the time of World War I as "genocide"?

1. We'll start with you, Turkey. The alleged genocide happened 90 years ago, so there can't be more than a few hundred Armenian survivors still left, so it's not like there will be altogether too many petitions for reparations, if that is even legal in your system. The resolution is "non-binding", according to CNN.com, even though I don't even know what that means in this context. I guess there will be no sanctions against the Ottoman Empire then. Good news for Mehmed VI.

Plus, rather than stonewalling and denial of past wrongdoings, admitting past genocide can help out with your admission into the EU. If Germany can be in there, so can you, Turkey. Their genocide was much more recent than yours. Repent now, and ye shall be allowed into the secret EU club, which gets ye half off admission to Tivoli Gardens and a free pass to steal jobs away from hard-working Britons.

Additionally, so what if the United States calls your actions against the Armenians genocide? They don't own the world. They have nothing to do with any of these 90 year old killings. If it makes you feel better, you can try to edit out any reference to genocide in your Wikipedia entry and let bygones be bygones.

2. Moving on to you, United States Congress. Think about military bases, and go find a globe. Now point to the best location for a potential base that could respond to a threat from and is located really close to Iran and Syria, and Iraq too, should it become a full-fledged puppet state of Iran within the next decade. Now, get rid of any location inside a country that A) supports terrorism, or B) is under the thumb of Vladimir Putin. Why look, you're left with Turkey! Hey, good news. We already have two bases there. Let's try and keep our access to them.

Okay, so we know Turkey is serious about this resolution for some reason. How do we know this? After France's parliament made a similar resolution last year, Turkey severred military ties with France. Even though they really shouldn't care, Turkey sees this kind of thing as a punch in the geopolitical nads. The United States would have a lot more to lose than to gain if it tried to excoriate the most important secular Muslim pro-democratic nation in the Middle East, both now (our need for stability in northern Iraq; 70% of our wartime supplies for Iraq come through Turkey) and in the future (Iran? Possibly Russia?).

And hey, maybe it wasn't genocide anyways. Turkey has acknowledged all those Armenian deaths, but they claim it was all part of the horrors of many millions of worldwide war deaths, more specifically a part of the power struggle between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Most regimes don't often take credit for killing millions of people, but Turkey already has. They just don't like the term "genocide".

And who gave you, the United States Congress, the power to non-bindingly define conflicts as "genocide"? The United Nations? NATO?

Look, I know Bush is all against this resolution, and normally that would be enough reason for anyone to be for said resolution, but in this matter, he's got a point. It's best not to butt our noses into something that happened 90 years ago, especially when the issue has nothing at all to do with us, and especially when it all boils down to a war of terminology rather than substance.

Having said that, let us now stick it to the Chinese by welcoming the Dalai Lama with open arms.

- QP

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Obligatory Debunking of Supply Side Economics by Liberal Blogger

Jacob mentioned something last week that I had never heard of before: the Laffer Curve. Alas, if only I had been taught economics by Ben Stein, like Ferris Bueller was. The Laffer Curve theorizes that at some rate of taxation, the revenue from taxation will reach a maximum. It is derived from this information:

1. Going up from a tax rate of 0%, the revenue from taxation will increase.
2. Going down from a tax rate of 100%, the revenue from taxation will increase (people will actually have a reason to work and invest).
3. The rest of the function is a continuous, second order equation with one and only one maximum (this is probably not true).

Those emphasizing supply-side trickle-down economics always assume that our nation operates on the high side of the curve. This was the rationale for the series of tax cuts that Ronald Reagan proposed in the early '80's, and you can still hear echos of this sort of thinking from conservative presidential candidates like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

Unfortunately, they say it is impossible in real life to empirically determine this magic tax rate, if it even exists (many think it does not). The position of the maximum revenue will be at a different rate depending on the state of the economy and government involved. But assuming the Laffer Curve is an appropriate model, we can see where on the Laffer curve we are by tracking the years where income taxes are cut and seeing if income tax revenue goes up or down as a function of gross domestic product (in order to normalize the data for good and bad economic periods). Or at least, that's what I'm going to try to do right now, with data from my favorite source as of recent, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Tax Foundation.

Methodology: I identified 8 times since 1962 where the tax policy changed from one year to the next. I tried to look at all statuses and all incomes to determine if the intent of the policy was to generally raise taxes or generally lower taxes. I then compared the income tax slash or hike with the change in income tax revenue from the effective policy year to the next.

  • Bush had two tax cut bills, in '01 and '03, effective in '02 and '04. In both '02 and '04, income tax revenue went down, by 1.6% and 0.3% of the GDP, respectively.
  • In '90 and '93, Elder-Bush and Clinton raised taxes. Income tax revenue went up in '94 0.1% of GDP, but went down in '91 by 0.2%.
  • Reagan slashed taxes seemingly every year from '81 to '84, which resulted in a 1.5% decrease in GDP-normalized revenue from '82 to '84.
  • In '78, taxes were raised, and the revenue increased 0.5% the following year.
  • In '69, taxes were lowered, and the revenue decreased 0.3% the following year.
  • In '64, taxes were lowered quite a bit, and revenue decreased 0.5%.
Thus, in every event (except for Elder-Bush's tax hike on the rich in 1990), economic data showed that we were in fact operating on the low side of the Laffer Curve, since tax rate increases always yielded more revenue, and tax rate decreases always yielded less revenue. This even occurred in '64, when those in the top tax bracket were taxed at an astounding 91%. Why is this important? If any presidential candidate tries to insist that they can pay for their tax cuts by the economic gains created for businesses, we should all know now that this is hog-wallop.

- QP

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Solution for Iraq: Lots and Lots of Sick Kids

President George W. Bush decided it would be much too expensive to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, designed to provide insurance to children who live in households with incomes higher than Medicaid levels but lower than middle class levels. So he used his fourth veto in office to keep a bipartisan health insurance bill from becoming law, because he wants everyone to know how fiscally responsible he is. In January, our hypocrite-in-chief will once again ask for more money to continue funding the war in Iraq. Would we save enough money by denying expansion of SCHIP to be able to spend another year killing Iraqi thugs and miscreants at will? Can we just consider this a way for our children be able to sacrifice a part of themselves for the good of our nation's security?

Sadly, no. Far from it, in fact. According to the CBO, the plan that Bush vetoed would have cost on average $7 billion extra per year on top of existing coverage until 2012 in order to make sure that 3.8 million children who were previously uninsured could become insured, an average of 760,000 children a year. Also according to the CBO, the U.S. government will spend $113 billion this year on the war in Iraq. In other words, by denying health care coverage to 760,000 American children, our government is able to buy 22 days of gun battles and IED's in Iraq. That's not nearly enough to win the global war on terror. We are going to need a lot more uninsured children in order to pay for this thing. At this rate, the only way we could win in Iraq is if our government could figure out a way to deny health insurance coverage to 12.3 million children a year. We're going to need a lot more vetoes.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Oklahomans Can Start Working Again; Our Income Taxes are Low

Recently former U.S. Senator and current University of Oklahoma president David Boren made a statement calling for a halt to attempts by the Oklahoma state legislature to cut taxes even further. His reasoning was that the existing tax cuts have already eaten into the budget so much that funding for public institutions like the University of Oklahoma has suffered. He went on to use an economic rationale, saying that more investment in higher education creates a knowledge-based economy that will produce long term benefits including new business and good jobs. Which is sort-of true, but also so obviously self-serving.

If the comments were directed at anyone, they were directed at representative Randy Terrill, the Republican chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Terrill thinks the state income tax is still too high, although currently there are no proposals to lower it further after the already-passed legislation takes effect in 2008, but there are proposals that would repeal state taxes on overtime pay and groceries. Last Thursday, state representatives heard from advocates on both sides of the issue; David Blatt, a public policy analyst from Tulsa, argued against further income tax cuts, and Phil Kerpen, national policy director for the conservative tax-slashing organization Americans for Prosperity, argued for further income tax cuts. It was Kerpen who made an absolutely terrible analogy between cigarette taxes and income tax.

States tax tobacco heavily because they want to discourage its use, and the income tax rate can work in the same way.

"It makes perfect sense: If you tax people more, then they have less reward for working, saving and investing, so they'll do less of those things,” Kerpen said.

I don't understand the analogy at all. I don't think the tax rate factors into anyone's decision on whether or not to work. I dare Phil Kerpen to show me the gentleman who chose to wait until the state lowered their income tax rate by half a percent in order to take that job at Starbucks, or the lady who quit her job at Wal-Mart when the state decided to impose a tax hike to fund roads and bridges. People are going to have to work to earn a living, whether the state income tax is at 5% or 15%. People, however, don't have to smoke.

One final note: according to this chart on MSN, Oklahoma has the 40th highest state taxes in the nation, on average. So it's not like our taxes are outrageous or anything. Plus our oil-rich state economy has been doing really well recently due to high energy prices.

- QP