One common theme pushed by folks on the right is that corporations are taxed too much. When making a case for this, people point to the fact (and it is a fact) that the corporate tax rate is 35%. From a sensible view point, that does seem rather high. After all, having the state skim 35% off the top would make it much harder for business to hire people, re-invest and do all those other things that are rather important to keeping the balloon of capitalism expanding. As such, the call to cut corporate taxes often has significant appeal. However, there is on rather obvious problem with the argument: some corporations pay no taxes and the average is around 12%.
This lower actual rate is due to the fact that corporations are able to take advantage of various tax laws (often created at their behest or via heavily lobbied deals). This laws allow corporations to use loop holes and other means to lower their taxes significantly. Lest I be accused of ignoring the obvious, the tax laws also allow individuals to also lower their taxes through various deductions and exemptions.
One reason why the facts are important in this situation is that much of the rhetoric and (limited) arguments for lowering corporates taxes are not based on what corporations actually pay. To use the obvious example, when someone rails against the high corporate tax rate, they do not say that the average tax rate for American corporations is 12.1% and they most certainly do not mention that some companies (most infamously GE) are able to avoid having any tax obligations. After all, a 12% tax on what are often massive profits would not strike most people (especially those of us who work for a living) as particularly onerous. In fact, given the significant benefits enjoyed by corporations (corporate subsidies, use of infrastructure, military and diplomatic operations on their behalf and so on), this seems like an excellent deal.
Another reason why the facts are important is that they are rather important to having a rational discussion of what corporate tax rates should be. As noted above, the stock line is that corporations are being harshly taxed and these taxes need to be lowered. When the tax percentage is presented as 35%, that does seem rather harsh and lowering it seems reasonable. However, this claim has the obvious problem of not being what corporations actually pay. The average is, as noted above, 12.1% and this seems like a rather low figure already relative to corporate earnings. Also, if someone where to argue that the tax rate for corporations should be 15% (the cap for capital gains taxes), then the obvious response is that corporations already pay a smaller percentage, thus eliminating the need for such a reduction.
But perhaps the people who point to the 35% and call for lower taxes do not mean that they think that 35% is too high. Perhaps they are well aware of the real percentage but merely use 35% as a rhetorical trick because they think that the percentage that corporations pay on profits should be even lower than 12.1%. Of course, that would seem to be rather low, given what wage earners pay in terms of a percentage of their income. After all, corporations already tend to pay a lower % than many folks who work for a living. This might, of course, mean that the taxes on the working people are too high as well.
But, if they are, then we must explain the deficit entirely in terms of needless overspending. After all, if the state is taking in too much money, then the most plausible explanation for a deficit would be that we are spending too much on needless programs. This could very well be the case and should be duly considered. Of course, the key word here is “needless”-if we actually do need to spend tax dollars, then the tax rates should be devised so that they enable us to meet our legitimate expenses. The challenge, which is a very serious one, is sorting out the needless spending from what we should be spending. Naturally, everyone tends to hold that what the think benefits them is essential and what they think does not benefit them is needless. Unfortunately, there seems to be little tendency to address this matter in a rational way and the “discussion” seems to be based mainly on rhetoric, partisan ideology and unrestrained emotion.
Who said the following?
I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
The Virginia state legislature is on track to pass a law requiring women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before being permitted to have an abortion. As might be imagined, there is considerable opposition to this law. Some critics have even argued that forcing women to undergo an invasive procedure could actually be a sex crime under Virginia law. As might be imagined, this matter raises numerous moral concerns.
One point of concern is that, as presented in comedic fashion on the 2/21/2012 Daily Show, some of the folks supporting the bill seem to be directly violating their own professed principles regarding the appropriate role of the state. For example, the woman who put forth the bill previously argued against “Obamacare” on the grounds that the state should not make such an imposition on liberty. As another example, the governor of the state was critical of the TSA “pat downs” as being too invasive. He has, however, expressed his intent to sign the bill into law.
As might be imagined, forcing women to undergo such an invasive procedure seems to be rather inconsistent with the past arguments by these folks regarding individual liberty and the appropriate role of the state. After all, if it is unacceptable for the state to force people to buy health insurance because it violates their liberty, forcing a woman to undergo penetration against her will seems to be even more unacceptable.
Naturally, I am not claiming that these people are wrong now because their current view seems to be inconsistent with their past views. After all, doing this would be a fallacy (ad hominem tu quoque). However, it is fair to simply take the reasons they presented against forcing people to buy health insurance and apply them to their own view on the forced ultrasounds. As such, if they were right then, then they would seem to be rather wrong now. Naturally, people tend to not be very big on consistency-as Mill noted in his discussion of liberty, people generally take the view that the state should do what they want and do not base this on a consistent principle regarding what is fit and unfit for the state to do (or not do).
The most important point of concern is, obviously enough, whether or not it is right for the state to mandate such a procedure. While, as noted above, proponents of this bill seem to have railed against state imposition in other matters,I will accept that there are cases in which the state can justly impose. The question then is whether or not this is such a case.
The most common basis for justifying state imposition is the prevention of harm. To use an obvious example, the state justly forbids people from stealing. In the case of the ultrasound, the assumption seems to be that this law will help reduce the number of abortions and this will, as some folks see it, combat a harm. However, the evidence seems to be that this will not be the case. Dr. Jen Gunter has a rather thoughtful analysis of this matter that addresses this point. As she notes, sex education,access to medical care and contraception have the greatest impact on reducing abortion rates. These are, oddly enough, often opposed by the same folks who are vehemently opposed to abortion. As such, the law makes no sense as an abortion reducer even if it is assumed that the state has the right to make impositions with the goal of reducing abortions. In light of this, it would seem clear that the law is morally unjustified.
Even if the law would, contrary to fact, reduce the number of abortions, there is still the question of whether or not the state has the right to make such an imposition. After all, there are appealing arguments for individual liberty and keeping the government out of peoples’ business-often made by the very same people who back this particular intrusion into liberty (as noted above). My general principle is that the burden of proof rests on those who would make such impositions into law. That is, they have to provide a sufficient reason to warrant impinging on personal liberty and choice. As its stands, the proponents of this law have not made such a case. After all, it will not even achieve its apparent goal of reducing the number of abortions. There are also no legitimate medical reasons for making such an imposition and, as such, it seems to be an unwarranted and needless attempt to legalize the violation of the rights and bodies of women.
I’ve heard “shovel ready” thrown around for a few years and finally decided to determine the best meaning for the phrase. Here are my contenders:
1. “Ready to be hit by a shovel.” For example, “that guy is such an ass that he is totally shovel ready.”
2. “Ready to be buried by a shovel, perhaps after being hit by a shovel.” For example, “that guy I hit with the shovel is now shovel ready.”
Feel free to add your own definitions. Winner might get a shovel. Or not. It depends on how ready the shovel is.
In our society people tend to stay up later and sleep less than in the past. As historians have noted, part of this is due to electricity. Of course, there are other factors that have caused people to sleep even less these days. One likely factor is the increase in work (at least for Americans-though we are often cast as lazy, we work more than other Westerners and take less vacation time). Children also are apparently sleeping less, perhaps due to the impact of electronic gadgets and the internet.
Because of the lack of sleep, it is hardly a shock that people have been increasingly turning to energy drinks. While coffee has been around for a long time, recent years have seen the proliferation of high energy drinks. Some of these were combined with alcohol, thus allowing sleepy folks to party all night (and drink themselves into the hospital). Apparently consuming a drink now takes too much time and a new product, AeroShot, is available.
AeroShot is more or less a small plastic tube loaded with caffeine powder. The user inhales it and gets the equivalent of a large cup of coffee in one huff, nicely avoiding all that tedious drinking. Currently it is available in the US and France.
In the United States the AeroShot was able to bypass FDA testing because it was classified as a dietary supplement. Some critics see this as a dangerous loophole that allows products to get on the market without testing. Others see it as a legitimate category that allows companies to get products on the market without onerous government testing.
In the light of Four Loko (or “blackout in a can” as people called it) it is hardly surprising that Senator Schumer pushed the FDA to review the product. His concern is that kids will abuse the product by taking hit after hit while partying. As might be imagined, this raises the usual moral concerns about testing and limiting products.
On the one hand, the state does have a legitimate moral role in testing products so as to protect citizens from harm. After all, protecting citizens from harm is one of the basic functions of the state-whether that harm comes from foreign invaders, domestic criminals or dangerous products.
If AeroShot does present a health risk, then it would seem to be morally correct for the state to take action, based on the state’s obligation to protect citizens. Naturally, a utilitarian argument can also be made that the state should act in this way to protect the citizens so as to avoid said harms.
On the other hand, caffeine is already an established and accepted (legally and morally) product. As such, concerns about AeroShot’s ingredient would thus seem to also extend to all forms of caffeine. Thus, if it is morally acceptable for people to have access to coffee, then the same would seem to hold true of AeroShot. After all, if the kids want to stay up all night partying, they can legally buy all the coffee they might care to consume and this would seem to make any attempts to limit AeroShots pointless.
One reply is, of course, that the AeroShot makes it easy to rapidly dose oneself with caffeine. As noted above, a quick huff of AeroShot is like drinking a large cup of coffee. In the case of a large cup of coffee, the time to consume it will be longer and there is also the rather important fact that the coffee will fill up the drinker’s stomach, thus limiting the dosage. Thus, the concern about AeroShot is not so much that it contains a lot of caffeine but that it provides a very rapid and efficient means of delivering caffeine.
The obvious counter to this is that kids can go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of caffeine tablets quite legally. These tablets have 200 mg of caffeine (twice that of the dose in the AeroShot) and usually sell for $5-1o per 100 tablets (AeroShot sells for $2.99 a dose). Taking a tablet is far quicker than drinking a cup of coffee and tablets are rather small relative to the volume of a cup of coffee. As such, these tablets would seem to be as dangerous as AeroShot (if not more so, since they are cheaper and have more caffeine per dose). As such, if these tablets are morally and legally acceptable, than AeroShot would seem to be just as acceptable.
One final counter is that perhaps AeroShot poses a special threat because it is “cool.” That is, kids will be more inclined to overuse AeroShots because of the novelty of inhaling caffeine relative to drinking it or taking a tablet. While this is a point of concern, there is the obvious worry that restricting such a product on the basis of its “coolness” rather than its contents would be rather problematic. After all, how would labs test for “coolness” and how would such a standard be established in a principled way?
People more cynical than I might suspect that the “attack” on AeroShot was motivated by some factors other than concern for the youth, such as the desire to get media attention or to get the makers of AeroShot to cough up lobbying money to ensure that they can keep selling their product (that is, a political shakedown). But, of course, I am not that cynical.
The United States and other countries face the rather odd problem of having a significant portion of the population both overweight and malnourished. One factor that contributes to this is that calorie dense and nutritionally empty foods are cheap and accessible while foods that are nutritionally rich tend to be more expensive and less accessible.
To anticipate a likely response, a person’s diet is also obviously also a matter of choice-people are not forced to down Twinkies, burgers, chips and cola at gun point. However, a person’s choices are obviously impacted by factors like cost and accessibility (as well as marketing). As such, it is hardly surprising that people tend to choose the food that is cheaper are more readily accessible over the food that is more expensive and takes more effort to acquire.
While calorie dense and nutritionally lacking food tends to be cheaper than more nutritionally rich food for a variety of reasons, one reason for price differences lies in differences in state subsidies. In an interesting irony, the federal nutrition recommendations are a reverse of the federal food subsides. This is nicely illustrated by the following pyramids:
This, as might be imagined, raises some interesting moral concerns in the area of food ethics. The most obvious concern is that the United States government’s subsidies impacts the pricing of food in a way that food that we should (by the government’s own recommendations) eat less of will tend to be cheaper than the food that we should be eating more off. As such, as the heading says, a salad will tend to be more expensive than a fast food burger, despite the fact that the salad is better for a person nutritionally.
To focus directly on the ethics, by making less healthy food cheaper through subsidies, the state is making it more likely that people will make harmful dietary choices. That is, that they will pick the calories rich and nutritionally lacking foods (such as fast food and junk food) over the nutritionally rich food. In short, the folks who make these decisions are contributing to harming people, which certainly seems to be wrong (if only on utilitarian grounds).
If the state is going to subsidize foods, then the rational and ethical approach would be to subsidize foods based on legitimate scientific recommendations. That is, the food that is better for people should be subsidized and food that tends to not be good for people (or is actually harmful) should either not be subsidized or should be subsidized proportional to its nutritional value.
The reality is, of course, that subsidies are not based on concerns of health or food ethics, but rather based on political influence. As such, the subsidies help create a situation in which unhealthy food is cheap and hence tends to be consumed more than healthy foods. This in turn contributes to health problems (obesity, for example) which costs us even more. Thus, we are paying to eat poorly and then paying again for the effects of these poor diets. This seems to be something we should not be doing, both from a practical and a moral standpoint.
The Tea Party made a lot of noise about our being Taxed Enough Already. While I am sometimes cast as a liberal, I am actually a fiscal conservative and I agree that many of us are taxed enough-if not too much. However, I also contend that some of us are under-taxed in a way that causes the rest of us to be over-taxed, which is probably one reason I get branded as a liberal.
A typical person, say a teacher, who makes $50,000 a year gets taxed at an effective rate of 17.2%. Mitt Romney gets taxed a bit under 15%, mainly because he and his lobbyist cohorts saw to it that the tax laws benefit his sort of people rather than the folks who earn a paycheck. Of course, even Mitt is paying a modest piece of his income compared to some others.
According to the IRS and Citizens for Tax Justice certain industries have managed to get rather desirable tax rates. Aerospace and defense companies are doing very well, having an average tax rate of 1.6%. The telecommunication folks are worse off at 7.5% and the often vilified folks in petroleum and pipelines are taxed at an effective rate of 13.1%. Above that are the utilities who are hit hardest at 14.4%. Of course, some clever folks at the top companies have worked out the means of paying no taxes (most famously GE).
A rational, objective look at the numbers shows that the claim that companies are overtaxed seems to be untrue. After all, they are taxed at a rate less than a person who earns $50,000 by working. Of course, it could be contended that everyone is being overtaxed and that the people who work for a living and do not have armies of well paid lobbyists and lawyers are being brutally overtaxed. If so, it would seem that the focus should be shifted from trying to rescue the corporations from the cruelty of their relatively low effective tax rate to rescuing the working people from their much higher tax rates. After all, corporations have been enjoying record profits and CEO compensation is most excellent while the middle class is generally struggling or sinking into the lower class.
Naturally, there has been some talk about helping out the middle class. However, while politicians have bent over backwards after being slathered with cash from the corporate lobbyists, little has been done for the middle class. Given that the middle class lacks the unified cash to hire lobbyists and lawyers, this is hardly a surprise. However, the pain of the middle class can be cleverly exploited. After all, if we feel hurt by our taxes, it is usually easy to get some of us to shed tears for the corporations on the assumption that if we are being cruelly taxed, then so are they. Of course, this is not true-they are doing quite well.
As far as what to do, the usual call from conservatives has been to lower spending to address the problem of deficits. While that is a reasonable idea, there is the obvious question of whether or not these cuts will be best for the country. After all, we could also address the deficit by increasing the taxes paid by the very wealthy to match those paid by the middle class in terms of percentages. That is, if folks like Buffet were taxed at the same rate as their secretaries, then there would be considerably more revenue while the rich would still remain rich.
It might be objected that taxing the rich at this rate would be harmful. However, the obvious reply is that if someone who makes $50,000 a year can manage to survive while being taxed at 17.2%, someone who makes $ 50 million a year can also survive at that tax rate or even higher.
Back in 1914 Margaret Sanger included information about birth control in the June issue of her magazine, The Woman Rebel. She was arrested under the Comstock Law and her ally, the anarchist Emma Goldman, was soon after arrested for the same crime. Fast forward to 2012 and another battle over birth control is brewing (or, rather, being brewed).
Rick Santorum has made it clear that he is against contraception and Obama and the Catholic Church recently locked horns over one aspect of the health reform law. This law requires that health insurance plans offer free birth control. Since this would include Catholic affiliated hospitals and schools, the Catholic Church has been pushing back against the law.
Not surprisingly, this is being portrayed as an attack on religious liberty and the values of Catholicism. However, it is rather important to note that the law does not apply to churches, but rather only to institutions, such as hospitals and schools, that serve a large number of non-Catholics and also receive federal money.
As such, it is rather tempting to say that this is actually a manufactured issue. After all, the law simply requires that these institutions follow the same laws as everyone else and these institutions can presumably elect to refuse the federal money an thus avoid the requirement they regard as onerous. Also, churches are exempt from this and there is no requirement that they change their religious doctrines.
It might be replied that this requirement still violates the ethical views of the church by requiring institutions affiliated with the church to provide services and products the church rejects. One obvious reply is that if churches are entitled to be exempt from such laws based on their doctrines, then they could, for example, adopt the view that medical care is against God’s will and thus not be required to provide any medical insurance coverage at all. This, obviously enough, seems rather absurd.
The obvious reply is that the Catholic doctrine is well-established and hence they are opposed to this requirement on established moral grounds rather than merely trying to weasel out of paying for some service. This raises two questions.
The first is whether or not churches (or any groups) should be granted exemption from laws based on their moral beliefs. The second is whether or not the rejection of contraception is, in fact, a Catholic moral position.
In regards to the first question, there are good reasons for allowing said exemptions and others against it. In terms of allowing such exemptions, it does seem correct for the state to endeavor to avoid imposing on the conscience of people when possible. For example, conscientious objectors have been recognized during the time of war. Allowing the Catholic Church a contraception exception would thus seem to fall within this realm of legitimacy.
That said, there are clearly cases in which such exemptions would be absurd. For example, a group that regarded murder as morally correct would not thus be granted a murder exemption. As such, there is the challenge of determining what sort of exemptions would be acceptable, which would not and which would be absurd.
One standard (among many) that seems reasonable would be to require that the group in question actually holds to the principle and is not, for example, merely trying to get an exemption to avoid paying for legally a required service or to simply to get away with something. After all, to grant an exemption on moral grounds to a group that does not actually hold to that moral principle would seem rather unwarranted. This, of course, does raise the question about who determines the moral principles of the group. This takes me to the matter of birth control and Catholicism.
In my own experience, most Catholics have been fine with using birth control (or letting their partner use it). While my own observations over the years could be unusual, this is completely consistent with the polls showing that 98% of Catholics use some form of birth control. This certainly suggests that Obama’s view is in line with 98% of Catholics. Assuming that the Catholics do not regard their actions as immoral, it would seem that Obama’s view is thus consistent with the moral view of the majority of the Catholics and the folks who oppose this law on the basis of an alleged moral concern are the ones that are in the wrong.
It can, of course, be replied that these birth control using Catholics are immoral and that the true morality of Catholicism is against birth control. If so, the Catholic church needs to get its flocks back into the right pasture and off birth control. The obvious reply to this is that it seems to make little sense for a tiny minority of a group to define the values of the group against the beliefs and actions of the majority.
This does not, of course, address the issue of whether or not birth control is immoral. If it is, then a case could certainly be made against it. This would, of course, require arguments that address such moral concerns as the fact that the use of birth control lowers the number of abortions, the fact that its availability allows women greater control over reproduction, the fact that its availability can provide protection against disease and so on. Presumably this could be done.
Of course, God does not seem to have much of a problem with birth control. While it does fail sometimes, He could easily make it fail 100% of the time. If it was that big of a deal to Him, surely He would do things like smite holes into all condoms.