Saturday, October 27, 2012

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints and Retrospective (10/26/12)

We had a decent show. Well, maybe Barney Frank sucked but I just skipped him altogether. The panel was well spoken, polite, and reasonably informed. And there were a number of topics worth litigating. So let's get to it.

1. The 90% income tax trope: Democrats love to cite the 50s and 60s, one of the greatest periods of economic growth in American history, as a model that modern America should emulate. And they always point to the top marginal income tax rate (90%) as evidence that we should have higher taxes on the rich. There's a huge problem with this:

The rich during that time period weren't as "rich" when it came to income, but they were extremely rich when it came to wealth. Those were the days of the exorbitant expense account, where an executive could charge anything and everything to the company account. Because the tax code was structured to favor corporations, the rich simply hid their income and spending through companies.

I used to work for a small Belgian based IT company. And my boss at the time said once you reached a certain level of the company, you actually left the official company payroll and incorporated yourself into a business. Since the corporate tax rate in Belgium was much lower than the top individual tax rate, wealthy individuals would create shell companies that would invoice the company they worked for, and then purchased assets and services under their personal shell company to use in the company's name.

That was the exact same dynamic at play in the 50s and 60s. The rich weren't paying anywhere close to 90% of their income in taxes. They simply owned a company and the company paid for their lavish lifestyle.

2 Mutual fund fees:  This was an issue discussed in the Overtime segment, and it's something that I think is a solution in search of a problem. Former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer said he'd go after mutual funds that charge "exorbitant" management fees and cited bad performance, betrayal of fiduciary duty, etc as reasons why. But there are a few problems:

First off, mutual fund managers can easily explain their fiduciary duty. They think they can beat the market. Enough of them do beat the market in any given year (although very few of them can do it consistently over an extended period of time) to lend credence that maybe that particular fund is worthy of its higher expense ratio.

Second, we're already seeing many investors move away from actively managed funds to passively managed funds which have vastly lower expense ratios. The market is already moving in the direction that Spitzer wants them to move, so why do it via government mandate?

3. Racism: The Democrats on the show love to accuse Republican politicians and supporters of being racists. But I don't think it's racism. It's classism. Republicans are quick to denigrate people on welfare, who don't pay income taxes, but it's not because they're black. Although black people are disproportionately reliant on things such as SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, TANF, and other forms of welfare, that doesn't mean that the Republican Party is specifically thinking of a black person when they think of "moochers".

The reason why probably isn't what you think it is. But the American people have never been more segregated by class and color. And color doesn't become a factor unless we get some cross-demographic interaction. For the most part, that doesn't happen. When it does, it's sensationalized, like the Trayvon Martin controversy. So for the TEA partier in a predominantly white suburb, they're not thinking about some black guy on the public dole, they're probably thinking about white trash on the public dole. It's not the most politically correct defense of racial prejudice (seeing as it's instead class prejudice), but that is what I legitimately believe.

4. Nate Silver and 538: For those of you who don't know, Nate Silver runs an excellent blog in the New York Times online portal which aggregates polling data and then spits out the probability of electoral outcomes. He currently has President Obama as a 75% favorite to win the electoral college and that's based on the state-by-state polling that has him as a slight favorite in the pivotal swing states of Ohio, Nevada, and Iowa.

Polling is not an exact science. There is always going to be margin of error. But they are better than anything else we have when it comes to prognosticating the outcome of an election. One thing that always bothered me about the people who criticize polls is that they do it when the polls go against their own preference. It's selective bias at its worst.

5. Abortion:
Recently I've had to reexamine my thoughts on abortion for a reason similar to what Freeland cited: it's hypocritical to say that human life is sacred and should be protected and at the same time grant an exception for something like rape.

I'm still conflicted on abortion. I do believe that people are terminating human life when they undergo abortions, but there is still the issue of the value of human life. And we assign different values to different humans everyday via insurance payments, court judgments, organ transplant committees, etc.

I think I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that abortions done out of economic convenience or rape are wrong. Although rape is a terrible tragedy and should be punished severely, the unborn is completely innocent. As a society, if the person who was raped does not want the child, they can give it up for adoption or have it become a ward of the state. The state can also provide for any expenses incurred while the mother is carrying the child to term.

If it threatens the life of the mother, then the judgment is much more simple. A more fully developed life is more valuable than a less developed one. In which case it makes sense to terminate the pregnancy because there's something more at stake than one's convenience or emotional health.


  1. Jay, you wrote:

    "So for the TEA partier in a predominantly white suburb, they're not thinking about some black guy on the public dole, they're probably thinking about white trash on the public dole. It's not the most politically correct defense of racial prejudice (seeing as it's instead class prejudice), but that is what I legitimately believe."

    While I do believe that there is classism, (and I think the Left are guiltier of using class warfare than the right), I must point out one aspect that you did not address, and that is geography. If the TEA partier is in Massachusetts, (where I live), or Montana, you are right, they are likely picturing "white trash" on the dole. If they are in Alabama, (where I was born), or Tennessee, they are most assuredly thinking of black people. If They are in Texas it is likely to be Latino. While racism may not be the sole or even dominant factor in this, I have no doubt in many parts of the country it plays a significant role.

    1. Doesn't that support my point? If a guy in MA thinks of white trash, a guy in AL thinks of a black guy, and a guy in TX thinks of a Hispanic guy, that suggests the predominant prejudice socioeconomic rather than racial.

      In other words, if 3 different people think of 3 different stereotypes when thinking about those on welfare, they're using what's readily apparent to them and not some preconceived notion on race.

      I don't mean to say that racism plays no factor. But it simply isn't the primary factor.

    2. Not completely. Perhaps it is predominately socioeconomic in MA and even in TX, but I assure you in AL it is predominately about race, with socioeconomic secondary factors. In the part of Alabama I grew up in there is a lot of poverty among whites and blacks, but whites are more likely to assume that a black person gets government assistance simply because of skin color and would be likely to believe that a black person who appears affluent is spending his welfare money on bling instead of supporting his kids. There is a reason those images from the 60's of white cops with hoses and billy clubs beating up blacks are from the South. Racist feelings against blacks is deeply ingrained there. So much so that people don't even realize it, (whites anyway). In Alabama Obama could walk on water, end hunger as we know it, and raise the dead and a large number of white Southerners would not vote for him even then because he is black. So I would still say that, at least in the South, race is the primary factor.

      We like to believe that over time racial prejudice is fading from generation to generation, and perhaps it has, but it is still there and it gets passed on from parent to child. Sad really.

    3. Oh, and just for disclosure, I am white.