Thursday, October 20, 2011

flat tax bait and switch

Yglesias hits the real motive behind the movement to create a flat tax. Surprise! It's to lower taxes on rich people. Essentially, having marginal tax rates (i.e., the thing that benefits the poor) isn't what makes the tax code complicated. It's the massive array of loopholes and credits (i.e., the thing that benefits the rich) that makes it complicated. If everyone had the same marginal rate but still had to sift through all the possible deductions, the tax code would still feel just as byzantine.

I realize that sounds conspiratorial, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been watching politics since, I dunno, the turn of the 20th century that the Republican party's primary constituency is the rich. Everything they do is done with the ultimate goal of freeing rich people from the fiscal and regulatory bonds of government.

Friday, October 14, 2011

partisanship isn't the problem

Kevin Drum, in smacking around David Brooks (something I always love to watch), makes a very good point. He notes that, for all the talk of how long it's taken to build the new skyscraper at 1 World Trade Center, it's actually almost exactly the same as the length of time it took to build the original two towers.

We have to be wary about romanticizing the past in diagnosing our current government's ills, an annoyingly consistent problem with conservative narratives. It isn't that our government is more rancorous than in the past. You think Vietnam and HUAC weren't rancorous? It isn't that we're less practical or more blinded by ideology as a people. We've always been impractical, and we've always been tossed about and/or frustrated by ideologues.

Drum thinks our government's real core problem right now is structural: "... our political structure has evolved into a weird hybrid that has the tight party discipline of a parliamentary system contained within the institutional framework of a presidential system that was specifically designed to work best without any party machinery at all."

It's not a bad point. I think there are party-specific problems as well (specifically that one party refuses to fight for its own values and regularly rejects its own core constituencies), not to mention one gigantic procedural problem in the Senate that rhymes with "shmilibuster."

Yeah, I'm finally on board, even if it means President Romney privatizes Social Security and sends John Bolton to the Supreme Court. Down with the filibuster! Let the majority party rule!

the brave new world of solar power

A little known but fast-moving trend of the last decade or so has been the drop in cost and rise in efficiency of photovoltaics -- that is, panels that convert solar power into electricity. This guy finds that under now-current technology, one could supply an average European family's energy usage with 30 lb. of silicon -- roughly $700. Not $700/year. $700 to produce the panels that will supply that family's energy by themselves forever. By comparison, it costs $6000 to produce enough energy from coal to supply such a family for 25 years.

Moreover, he forecasts the continuing price drop in photovoltaics out 7 years and finds it to be the cheapest energy option on the planet.

Seven years.

Obviously there are a lot of "if"'s in his picture. If photovoltaic production continues at its current speed, if the price drops at the same speed as now for the next decade, etc. Still, if it takes twice as long as he predicts, we're still only talking about 15 years.

What if it's true?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

rating system fail

Suppose the number 2 team in the country (Alabama) plays the number 20 team (Kansas State). Alabama wins by 2 touchdowns. In the current system, K St. would drop multiple slots in the polls, and likely fall out altogether.

That doesn't actually make any sense though, does it? Would such a score not actually confirm the polls as they currently stand? Shouldn't the no. 20 team lose by about 14 to the number 2 team? In fact, wouldn't that be a pretty good effort on K St.'s part?

What about a couple of weeks from now when no. 2 Alabama plays no. 1 LSU? What is LSU wins in overtime? Wouldn't that actually confirm Alabama's no. 2 status rather than likely costing them a shot at the Mythical National Championship?

And yet, that's the system we have, and it skews scheduling in a way that makes the season more boring. Alabama and Wisconsin and Southern Cal and West Virginia have little incentive to play other good schools, because they lose slots in the polls whether they drop one to the little sisters of the poor or lose in overtime to the number 1 team. Instead, they take the pragmatic route and schedule their out-of-conference games against Florida Atlantic and UAB and Akron.

What if, instead, number 2 Alabama didn't lose any points for playing LSU to overtime? What if Ohio State had more to gain from playing the best teams in the country than to lose, and less to gain from beating Div. II teams into a pulp to the abject boredom of their fans?