hudebnik: (Default)
It was Thursday of a week-long music workshop, and I'd just taken a long, fairly difficult exam. I stepped out of the second-floor exam room onto the outdoor staircase down to the ground, and immediately stepped in an inch of water. In fact, the entire staircase below was under water. I looked up and realized that the flood waters -- fortunately fairly calm, with no visible current -- stretched to the horizon. But I needed to get to my dorm room, on the second floor of a different building, so I started swimming.
hudebnik: (Default)
I was hiking through the woods with a woman about my own age -- not recognizable post-dream as anybody in particular, but with a "potential girlfriend" emotional overlay -- and reached a large stream that we needed to cross on stepping stones. She was dubious. I started across, picking the left-hand route rather than the right-hand, and getting one foot soaked when one of my chosen stones moved under my foot, but there were no major mishaps. And in the second or two as I recovered from the moving-stone incident, I saw a glint of metal under the water, reached down and pulled up a flugelhorn. A decidedly odd thing to find in a stream in the middle of the woods, I mused aloud. It didn't have a mouthpiece, but rather a flared opening where one presumed a mouthpiece would be inserted -- a "flugelhorn muto", if you will. Anyway, I put it to my lips and was surprised to find it played pretty well, once the water drained out. And, even more surprising, that I played pretty well, out of practice as I was. Maynard Ferguson echoed throughout the woods....
hudebnik: (Default)
I think the first sign I noticed was that the LIRR train schedules were all slightly different from what I remembered, and on asking around I learned that this wasn't a recent change. The obvious conclusion was that we're in a parallel universe to the one I was in yesterday. Further investigation revealed that the United States currency is backed by salt and the expected output of salt mines, and that there are under a million people living in Southern California, but somewhat more people in the Northeast commuting by ferry than I would have expected. At length I hypothesized that in this universe, some near-extinction event thousands of years ago had left the human race slightly more risk-averse and survival-oriented on average than in the world where I grew up.

We started visiting other parallel universes. In one, as we took off on a commercial flight from LaGuardia, the pilot pointed out the "famous New York lagoons", of which there were dozens or hundreds just inland from the Long Island and New Jersey shores. Some of the differences were innocuous, while others (like the world resembling The Handmaid's Tale) horrified me. I tried to explain the differences to our friendly host family, who were of course utterly bewildered, and somewhat offended, that I saw anything wrong with their society. I started plotting ways to cure some of these societies of their horrifying characteristics, and every strategy I came up with turned out to have negative unintended consequences. My cultural-relativist mind got preachy, pointing out that a parallel me in any one of these worlds, on visiting my own, could be developing similar schemes to "cure" it of what I considered good qualities, and overlooking what I considered problems in my own world.

New hound

Aug. 29th, 2017 06:40 am
hudebnik: (Default)
New dog slept in crate in bedroom (as opposed to crate in dining room, previous night), and there was minimal whistling and crying. It's a wire crate, and she seemed alarmed looking up at the ceiling fan, so I put a blanket over the top so she couldn't see the ceiling fan, and she seemed happier. She hasn't learned to climb stairs yet (beyond the three or four at the front door of the house), so I had to carry her up to the bedroom.

New hound

Aug. 28th, 2017 08:09 am
hudebnik: (Default)
Yesterday we went to a Greyhound Friends New Jersey adoption event and came home with... Miss Bailey, a beautiful red brindle two-year-old female. The car ride home was uneventful -- no snarling or quarreling between the two hounds in the back -- albeit longer than expected due to traffic. And by and large, Moongrrl has been remarkably patient with this new, young interloper.

When we first started adopting greyhounds, we were advised that they feel most secure in a crate or kennel, and will probably want to retreat there. After six other greyhounds, Bailey is the first one for whom that's been true: as soon as I assembled the Vari-Kennel in the dining room, she walked in and curled up inside. Haven't been able to get her to eat in the kitchen, but if I put the food dish just in front of the crate, she's willing to step outside with her front two feet to eat. At bedtime, I closed the crate door (so she didn't get out in the middle of the night and damage herself or something else), and she was fine until about a bout of crying around 4:30 AM. I came downstairs, opened the crate door, scritched her a bit, and went to sleep on the couch, and she was fine. We'll try to expand her horizons gradually, teach her to climb stairs, and eventually get the Vari-Kennel out of the dining room once she feels secure enough in the house.

Bailey seems jumpy about loud noises. Which could be a problem: we're in a fairly quiet residential neighborhood, but it is New York City, and noises happen. Lo que será, será.
hudebnik: (Default)
Like most civilized Americans, I'm outraged and saddened by the violence in Charlottesville last weekend, and by the President's bizarre insistence on treating heavily-armed, overtly and proudly racist right-wing protesters waving Nazi flags as morally equivalent to the mostly unarmed left-wing counter-protesters who were the victims of a deadly automotive assault. And today, the President doubled down on his original tone-deaf statement, saying "before I make a statement, I like to know the facts" (as though facts had ever stopped him before).

However, much as it pains me to say it, he has a point when he says "This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next?"

Let's compare Robert E. Lee with George Washington. Both lived in Virginia. Both owned slaves. Both were considered by their contemporaries to be men of great personal honor. Both were talented generals who led their poorly-trained, poorly-supplied armies to surprising victories. Both committed treason by lending their military talents to an armed rebellion by a region that wanted to declare itself an independent nation. But Robert E. Lee lost, and George Washington won. Is that, by itself, sufficient reason to put up statues of one, and tear down statues of the other?

Of course not: people want to tear down statues of Confederate generals because they fought to defend slavery.

I'm not a Civil War historian, and I have no idea how strong a part slavery played in Lee's thought process when he decided to work for the Confederacy rather than the Union (I gather both courted him at the start of the war). In the murky depths of my memory is a possibly-apocryphal quote from Lee to the effect that "a country that can't stay together without war doesn't deserve to stay together". For that matter, I don't know whether Washington was thinking about slavery when he took his job leading the Continental Army. At any rate, let's suppose hypothetically that historians were to find solid evidence that defending slavery was not a significant part of Lee's reasoning, or even that he opposed slavery but chose the Confederacy for other reasons. Would that suddenly make Robert E. Lee worthy of statues again? I doubt it: anything that memorializes the Confederacy and its leaders would still be viewed as a reminder of black slavery and white domination, and a rallying point for people who would prefer to return to that world.

But we must remember black slavery and white domination, or be condemned to repeat them. I see tearing down statues as rewriting history. The fact is, these people were important historical figures, and were at one point considered great enough to put up a statue of. If our opinions of their greatness have changed, let's discuss the new context and new information that have led us to that change of mind. Even a statue of Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler serves to remind us that they ruled their respective countries for years, during which they did despicable things (and presumably some good things); removing their statues makes it easier to forget both their rule and their despicable acts. Sure, move the statue to a site not of honor but of historical context -- in fact, I think that's what Charlottesville was trying to do with Lee -- but don't just erase it.

(For those readers in the SCA, I'm also bothered when the list of Kings of the East is read aloud omitting Angus. The historical fact is that he served as King twice, and his subsequent conviction for murder doesn't change that.)

For a contrary point of view, see Talking Points Memo.
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I read in the newspaper that one of the high-tech entrepreneurs (like Elon Musk) was planning a humanned mission to Callisto, within four years. I thought this was quite ambitious, and wondered why specifically Callisto and what possible business model they had in mind to make the project pay for itself. A subsequent newspaper article indicated significant competition among high-tech entrepreneurs to get to Callisto first. Yet another newspaper article informed me that they had actually gotten there, with a four-person crew, and found native life that looked remarkably like humans, right down to the clothing.
hudebnik: (Default)
I was grocery shopping with somebody -- either [profile] marchforth2 or [personal profile] shalmestere. The grocery store had recently renovated, changing what had been the in-and-out door to out-only and adding a separate in door that also provided a convenient default configuration file for those who came in that way. We got everything we needed, paid at the checkout counter, and headed for the car. I looked at the receipt to make sure we'd been charged for the right things, and there were things on the receipt that I didn't see in the grocery bag. So while my companion went to the car, I went back into the store to get the missing items. I had some difficulty matching up the receipt with the stuff in the shopping bag, but eventually concluded that we DID have the right number of boxes of tomato puree, and were just short a package of olives (and for some reason we had a bag of olives which was already open). Then I noticed some really bizarre things on the receipt, for which we didn't seem to have actually been charged: tens of thousands of photographs, "2 AFRICAN SLAVES" itemized at $100,000 but not actually affecting the total, etc. I concluded that the programmers had decided to throw in some random stuff to see whether anybody was actually reading their receipts, but I thought the bit about African slaves was in poor taste and would probably get them sued.

Da Weekend

Jul. 9th, 2017 09:18 pm
hudebnik: (Default)
So Friday evening we flew to Roanoke, VA, the nearest airport to the farm where my brother [profile] mankoeponymous was getting married. The wedding had a "burning" theme: part Burning Man, part fire-dancers (which has been a good deal of my brother's social circle for the past ten years or more), and since [personal profile] shalmestere and I are old fuddy-duddies who have never been to Burning Man OR (intentionally) danced while carrying or wearing anything that was on fire, we were a little dubious. But everybody was very welcoming, and it was a good chance to see a bunch of my family: my mother, two aunts, an uncle, my step-sister, a step-nephew, my half-brother, and my father. My mother and father, I gather, were halfway through introductions before they recognized one another; I guess they hadn't seen one another since my wedding, exactly 22 years before.

The bride had been in a pep band in college, so a marching band playing Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" accompanied the bride and groom to the space where the ceremony was to take place. (I played pipe-and-tabor, while [personal profile] shalmestere played sopranino recorder; I don't think anybody heard either of us. There was some confusion over what key to play the piece in: my brother sent out sheet music, but it was band score in which all the instruments are in different transpositions. Anyway, it was very spirited and peppy.) The vows were largely about recognizing that both parties are fallible human beings, that it's better to argue fairly and constructively than to not argue at all, that the only certainty in life is that things won't go exactly according to plan, etc. etc. During dinner, about a dozen twenty-and-thirty-somethings testified, passionately, in alternation about how wonderful the bride and the groom are. After dinner, we bid farewell to a bunch of relatives, watched a slide show of alternating kiddie pictures of the bride and the groom, and returned to our hotel before it got dark enough for fire-dancing (see "old fuddy-duddies", above).

Between Saturday morning and Sunday morning, we got to drink some good milkshakes, eat some good barbecue and Southern biscuits-and-gravy, and visit the Roanoke city zoo, which is on top of the mountain in the middle of the city (nice views of the other mountains that surround the city on all sides). It's a small zoo, where one can see pretty much everything in an hour, so it fit nicely between brunch with my mother, step-sister, and step-nephew and our afternoon flight home.

A bizarre but enjoyable weekend.
hudebnik: (Default)
After eight years of a President with class, tact, moderation, intellectual achievement, self control, a core of decency, and a commitment to public service, the American people decided they were tired of that, and elected the exact opposite. They knew what they were getting: Trump in the White House is pretty much the same as Trump on the campaign trail.

Indeed, as better-known bloggers have pointed out, the single most coherent thing about Trump's policies is that, right or wrong, right or left, they are the opposite of Obama's. Except when other people (e.g. the Pentagon) get to make the policies, in which case they're pretty similar to Obama's.
hudebnik: (Default)
A number of our favorite early-music recording artists (e.g. Ciaramella, Ex Umbris) have recently been slumming in the 17th century, playing ornamentation or improvisation over grounds such as Chaconne, La Folia, Passamezzo (of whatever age), etc. So after listening to some of these on CD this evening, I went to Home Depot looking for late-night cup-hooks and sand, still whistling variations on the Chaconne, and suddenly over the loudspeaker come the first notes of... "Bodyguard".
hudebnik: (Default)
Robert Reich's blog today makes several criticisms of Donald Trump's much-touted "$1 trillion infrastructure plan".

  1. It's not really $1 trillion in Federal infrastructure spending; it's $200 billion in Federal infrastructure spending and $800 billion in tax breaks to private developers.

  2. It's not really a plan; it's "a page of talking points".

  3. It's "a giant public subsidy to developers and investors".

  4. The projects to be built would charge tolls to the public.

  5. The projects to be built would be "the wrong kind of infrastructure": new construction, not maintenance, and where they're most profitable, rather than where they're most needed.



#1: I don't see the distinction. In either case, it's $1 trillion of taxpayer dollars being spent on infrastructure. There's no obvious, inherent reason (but see later points) that having the Federal government do it directly is more efficient than having private developers do it and be paid by the Federal government, and no obvious, inherent reason that paying Federal developers as "contractors" is more efficient than paying them through tax breaks. Nor (Republican ideology notwithstanding) vice versa: the fact that it's being done by private industry and paid for through tax breaks doesn't inherently make it more efficient.

#2: True: the plan is pretty vague. Which on its own doesn't mean it's a good approach or a bad approach, just that it's too early to analyze it. I think this has become Trump's strategy for policy development: announce something vague, see which parts of it draw the most applause, and those parts become the actual policy, whether they work together coherently or not.

#3: The fact that private developers and investors get rich off it doesn't inherently mean it's not in the public interest (although it increases the risk of capture and rent-seeking, as developers spend a good deal of their tax breaks bribing lobbying Federal officials for more tax breaks rather than building things).

#4: True: the actual cost to taxpayers is not only the $1 trillion mentioned above but what they spend subsequently in tolls, and if the latter cost is "hidden", the plan looks more fiscally sound than it is. There are situations in which a toll bridge or road makes good economic sense: they have to get enough traffic that the tolls more-than-cover the cost of toll collection, and they have to be sufficiently better than non-toll alternatives that the toll doesn't have the effect of diverting much of that traffic onto non-toll alternatives. If these conditions aren't met, a toll bridge or road doesn't make economic sense. Which brings us to...

#5: ... what Reich calls "worst of all". The tax break dramatically reduces the cost to developers of a project, but they still won't do it unless it generates revenue, i.e. tolls. You can't put tolls on a local residential street, so local residential streets won't see a penny of the money. You can't make much on tolls in low-traffic rural areas, so low-traffic rural areas won't see much of the money. You (probably) don't earn the right to charge tolls by fixing a few potholes, only by building something big and new, so repairs and maintenance won't see much of the money. In short, projects would be picked based almost entirely on how much revenue they generate, rather than holistic cost/benefit calculations. Which has been Trump's business strategy for decades: build things for which other people pay most of the costs and you get most of the revenues.

If you want private industry to do things voluntarily that are in the public interest, you have to align their costs and benefits with the public's costs and benefits. If there's a substantial externalized benefit (say, decreased time wasted in traffic jams, or decreased air pollution), you need to estimate that and pay private industry in proportion to it. If there's a substantial externalized cost (say, the traffic-and-parking burden of a new residential or office building, or the impact on schools of a new housing development), you need to estimate that and charge private industry in proportion to it.
hudebnik: (Default)
In today's "Your 1600 Daily", the White House's daily e-letter about all the wonderful things Donald Trump is doing for America, is a section entitled "What We're Reading" ("we" presumably doesn't include the President himself, as reading isn't his strong point). The first item is the quotation "Rural areas would get federal dollars to rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects under a plan President Donald Trump will announce..." and a link to this article, which does indeed start with that sentence. The next sentence is

After facing criticism for a budget proposal that hung his rural voters out to dry with huge cuts to crop insurance, Medicaid, rural loan programs and air services, Trump will release details of the infrastructure plan in a speech on Wednesday that White House officials say will stress his commitment to rural communities.


Three sentences later:

A bill to allocate the funds, however, still does not exist. White House officials couldn’t say when such legislation might appear, or exactly how the president proposed to pay for his investment in rural infrastructure.
hudebnik: (Default)
Well, a mommy staircase and a daddy staircase love one another very much, and...
hudebnik: (rant)
Special Prosecutor Mueller is charged with investigating “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as other matters that “may arise directly from the investigation.” He's attached to the Justice Department, which primarily conducts criminal investigations (although they also do counterterrorism investigations, which are different in legal ways I don't understand). This is necessary, but not sufficient.

It is entirely possible that a thorough criminal investigation will end, a year or three from now, with no prosecutable evidence of any crimes being committed, other than the ones we already know about (Flynn's failure to report his foreign-government income, campaign donations from Trump's non-profit foundation to people who were deciding whether to prosecute him, and things like that). At which point Donald Trump will say "See, I told you so: no crimes committed, nothing wrong, just a bunch of sore-loser Democrats (and did I mention I won 306 electoral votes?)"

Of course, we wouldn't be out of the woods. There are still two big categories of things that might not be criminal, but which can and should be investigated concurrently with Mueller's criminal investigation.

Trump has said many times "The election is over. I won. Get over it and let's move on." Which (in typical "it's all about me" fashion) misses the point that a foreign government tried to pick our President, and succeeded. (We don't know for sure that he wouldn't have won without Russian help, but we know that the Russians got what they wanted.) That election is over, but there will be others, and if a foreign government was able to get its preferred candidate elected in 2016, they'll try to do it again in every future election. Next time it might be Russia again, or China, or Iran, or North Korea, or all of them at once.... That's a problem for any patriotic American, regardless of party: I think we can all agree that we want the American President to be chosen by the American people, not by a foreign government. We need a thoroughly bipartisan investigation into how Russia attacked our democracy, how they or others might attack it in the future, and how to deflect those attacks. Donald Trump doesn't want to see that investigation, of course, probably for the innocent reason that questioning the legitimacy of his glorious election bruises his ego. This category, on its own, wouldn't produce charges (impeachment or criminal) against the President, but could lead to electoral reforms, journalistic reforms, etc. and make American democracy stronger.

The other category is Trump's own abuses of power to enrich himself and his family. Every time he spends a weekend at one of his own resorts, Secret Service and other government officials have to stay there too, at taxpayer expense, which means hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars going into Trump's pocket. Every time a foreign delegation comes to Washington, DC or New York, they expect to be treated more favorably because they're staying in a Trump hotel, thus funneling hundreds of thousands of other countries' taxpayer dollars into Trump's pocket; meanwhile, he has every incentive to carry out Presidential policies in the interest of his loyal customers, not necessarily the interest of the American people. He's likely to sign massive tax cuts for billionaires, with no way for the American people to see how much he and his family would personally benefit, because his own finances are secret. Businesses owned by him, his daughter, in-laws, and sons have suddenly gotten much more favorable treatment by governments around the world that want to ingratiate themselves with the President of the United States, but we don't know exactly what they own and what they owe to whom in what countries, because their own finances are secret. And I don't think Trump sees anything wrong with any of this: business is about powerful men scratching one another's backs to maintain a personal trust relationship. This category covers a variety of impeachable offenses, even if they're not criminal. (As a New York Times op-ed pointed out recently, the phrase "High crimes and Misdemeanors", in the 18th century, would have been understood to mean political misdeeds and abuse of power rather than violations of the criminal code, as would be the literal meaning of those words today.)

So, three different investigations:

  • One into possibly criminal collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, together with attempts to cover it up.

  • One into activity by Russia that might not be criminal or involve Trump but is definitely an assault on democracy.

  • And one into activity by Trump that might not be criminal or involve Russia but is definitely an assault on democracy.


All three are important, but I think the first is actually the least important in the long run.
hudebnik: (Default)
My late stepfather worked for the CIA for many years. Not sweeping the floors, not sitting in an office reading magazine articles and writing reports about their national-security implications (as I would have been doing if I'd gotten that internship), but "real" spy-craft, running spies in foreign countries. He had retired before my mother met him, so his career had little effect on my life, but he brought a very different and well-informed perspective to discussions of global affairs.

One day, in a discussion of security clearances, I asked "Who clears the President?", to which he replied "The President is cleared by the voters on the second Tuesday in November." Then went on to explain that, in practice, if there were a Presidential candidate who couldn't be trusted with classified information or was actually compromised, the intelligence community would find a way to get that fact out to voters, and such a candidate wouldn't get elected.

My stepfather, fortunately, didn't live to see that last sentence proven false.
hudebnik: (Default)
So, our beloved President considers it hypocritical of Democrats to be "outraged" at Comey's firing, when they've spent the past six months criticizing him for throwing the election to Trump.

He's partly right: that would indeed be hypocritical and dishonest, if one divides the world into friends who deserve everything good and enemies for whom no misfortune or punishment is too great.

But part of the difficult genius of democracy is that one can honestly desire due process even for people one has criticized, honestly desire freedom of speech even for speech one disagrees with, honestly critique invalid reasoning even if it leads to conclusions one likes, honestly desire obedience to the law even for people whose goals one agrees with, honestly desire the truth to be discovered and known even if it doesn't serve one's own purposes or if it is discovered by the "wrong" person. Democracy, integrity, and the rule of law come before either your interests or mine.

James Comey quite possibly should have been fired, on a number of occasions. He could reasonably have been fired last summer, and again last fall, for violating FBI norms by talking publicly about an ongoing investigation, by talking publicly about both his recommendation not to prosecute and Hillary's serious errors in judgment, etc. But that would have looked like a political move by Obama, silencing a critic of his chosen successor, and I can see why Obama didn't do that. Trump, of course, has no concerns about how things look politically, or the appearance of silencing a critic, because who in a position of power wouldn't silence his critics? (Certainly none of his idols -- Putin, Erdogan, Sisi, Duterte, etc.) Comey could reasonably have been fired the day Trump took office, but I think at that point, based on the pre-election letter, Trump still had him in the "friend" category, with hope that he would be "loyal" to the President -- why would anybody do something that benefits a particular candidate if one didn't support that candidate? He must have expected that, since Comey was on his side, any subsequent "investigation" of his campaign would be pro forma and predetermined to exonerate him and everyone close to him (like Chris Christie's "investigation" of Bridgegate, taxpayer funded but privately commissioned from his favorite law firm); finding that Comey was actually leading a real investigation would have been interpreted as Comey switching sides, showing disloyalty and untrustworthiness.

To someone who believes in the rule of law above individual interests, by contrast, Comey's actions were completely consistent and loyal: he sought the truth, no matter who happened to be in the White House or whom it benefited. And he was inappropriately public about the truth he had found, no matter who happened to be in the White House or whom it benefited.

Firing Comey was indisputably within the President's powers, and was perhaps the right thing to do for other reasons, in other circumstances. The problem isn't what it does to Comey personally, but what it does to the expectation that the Justice Department and the FBI -- or anybody at all -- are above partisan politics and personal advantage. That's what "makes America great" in my mind, and in the minds of some (mostly older) members of Congress. It seems that almost everything this President does to "make America great again" is a direct assault on what actually makes America great.
hudebnik: (Default)
I watched a video of somebody rolling a marble down a particular sloped street in Manhattan. It took 3 minutes to get from one end to the other. Then the same thing, with a slightly-powered vehicle: it took 1-1/2 minutes. No great surprise. Anyway, I went to the street in question for some reason, saw a couple of suspicious-looking vans without license plates, concluded (somehow) that they were associated with the Bill Frist political campaign, whose office was right there, and climbed up the stairs to ask the campaign about it. The campaign office didn't appear to have a door, but only a window, so I had to climb around from the top of the stairs in through the window (hanging on by my fingers two stories above a busy Manhattan street). But I got inside without incident, and with some trepidation asked about the vans. The friendly-looking fellow sitting inside the cluttered office immediately guessed I was concerned about the lack of license plates and said "Oh, yes, those are 'adorned', a legal alternative to license plates" for some reason I don't remember. So I climbed back out the window, down the stairs, and took some photos of the vans just to make sure.
hudebnik: (Default)
[personal profile] shalmestere and I had some sort of mid-day performing gig upstate in the Hudson Valley, then drove back in a hurry, arriving just in time to be seated in the auditorium for some other show. Except, as we realized at the last minute, I was supposed to be performing a brief historical-dance bit in this one too -- fortunately not until the second act. So at the intermission, [personal profile] shalmestere drove home to get something I would need, while I went backstage and found Mrs. Odorizzi [my high school drama teacher, who was directing this thing] to make sure she knew I was there, and make sure the music for my performance was ready. Mrs. O. looked distracted, but said "Talk to Tori about the music. And where's your shirt? I must be going now," and wandered outside to talk to somebody else. My shirt? Oh, right: I'm still wearing a bathrobe, which really isn't right for this performance. So I ran outside to find [personal profile] shalmestere and ask her to pick up a shirt along with whatever else she was retrieving from home. I saw her heading for the car, but couldn't catch up with her. I needed to get her the message, so I started writing it in large letters on one cuff of my pants with tailor's chalk [yes, at least I was wearing pants], then realized that I needed the pants, too, for the performance, and having "GET MY SHIRT" written around the cuff might not add to my performance, so I stopped and tried to brush off the tailor's chalk. Besides, I had a cell phone, which on second thought seemed like a much better way to send [personal profile] shalmestere a time-critical message.
hudebnik: (teacher-mode)
So, one vague part of Da Trump's vague plan to come up with a tax plan is "reducing the number of personal income tax brackets", from seven to three. That sounds like a simplification, right? And a simpler tax system has to be good, right?

Well, no. Most Americans figure out how much tax they owe by looking up their taxable income in a table; it makes no difference to them whether the table was generated from three brackets or three hundred. But if you have complicated taxes and a paid tax preparer on speed-dial, it makes a big difference. Tax brackets are discontinuities, thresholds, and every place there's a discontinuity, there's an opportunity to get on the more favorable side of the discontinuity by fudging some numbers, reclassifying one kind of income as another, etc. The bigger the discontinuities, the more incentive there is for people to game the system in these ways, and the more money rent-seeking tax professionals will make by finding opportunities to do so.

Gaming the system not only deprives the government of revenue (which some see as a feature), it also makes the economy as a whole less efficient. If you actually believe in free markets, you want people to put their money where it will be the most productive, which (under certain assumptions that dyed-in-the-wool capitalists believe) is where it earns them the highest return. Discontinuities in tax policy encourage people to put their money where it will earn them the highest after-tax return, which may not be at all where it would be most productive in any other sense.

If we want a tax system that distorts the economy as little as possible, it should treat income as income, no matter whether it comes from interest, dividends, salary, consulting, short-term capital gains, long-term capital gains, inheritance, royalties, etc. And tax rates should be as smooth and continuous a function as possible -- infinitely many tax brackets, ideally, with each "discontinuity" being so small as to not influence behavior. That way people have little incentive to "reclassify" their income from personal to business, to move their stock sales from one fiscal year to another, etc. just to avoid taxes.

Naturally, that's the opposite of what the Trump plan-to-write-a-plan does: it makes the discontinuities bigger, and in particular encourages ultra-wealthy individuals like Trump to reclassify their personal income as business income -- not because it's any less their personal property, not because it's any more productive as business income than as personal income, but just in order to cut their tax rates by more than half.

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