Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints (10/11/13)

I know I'm late with this. Had a real busy weekend and only just got around to watching it. That was followed immediately by gnawing regret over having done so, because I knew what kind of show I was getting into (Chris Matthews was on the panel) and proceeded to have my expectations met. But there were plenty of talking points that need to be addressed.

Maya Wiley: You either need higher minimum wages or welfare to combat poverty.

A high minimum wage doesn't combat poverty at all. It actually pushes more people into poverty because it pushes unskilled labor out of the workforce as labor gets replaced by automated processes and machines. Many restaurants are already switching over to tablet interfaces to handle ordering, displacing a job that could have gone to a live person operating a cash register.

There is a clear, substantive impact on teen and black employment rates when you raise the minimum wage. It's clearly bad economics, but because people try to conflate the statutory minimum wage with the moralistic concept of a living wage, it gets traction in progressive circles as a real policy proposal. The origin of the minimum wage actually goes back to a time when unionized labor sought to shut blacks and non-unionized laborers out of the workforce.

Sidebar: Welfare is important.

Wiley rightly took the Michigan Legislature to task when she criticized a law that rolled back funding for the EITC. I'm in favor of the EITC because it's a market oriented policy solution that does address the issue of poverty and combines it with a work requirement. If you don't work, you don't get any EITC.

There are real issues with the EITC, most notably the steep effective marginal tax rates that people on the EITC face when they're close to the phaseout levels. For hourly wage workers, there is a huge incentive not to put in extra hours because effective marginal rates can approach 90%. But fixes for that issue are relatively trivial.

Conditional welfare attached to socially/economically productive activities is the best kind of welfare. And welfare is necessary in a modern country. Therefore we should have more programs structured like the EITC.

Maya Wiley: Corporations should pay their fair share in taxes. Verizon made over 40 billion in profit and paid zero taxes!

The Verizon example is actually completely false. You can go on their website and look at their financial statements and see that, actually, last year, they made about 10 billion in profit and netted a net 660 million dollar benefit in taxes. But the year before, they paid 285 million in income taxes and the year before that they paid 2.47 billion in taxes. Tax liabilities swing wildly for huge companies because they can claim losses in one year as a credit in another. Other things like certain capital investments are also favored by the tax code and can even result in a net positive benefit.

Wiley is trying to sound authoritative on an issue which she knows nothing about. That 40 billion figure was thrown out to make her sound smarter (the corollary to the Kelvin principle: "when you cannot express [your argument] in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind") and the tax argument is only true for the most recent annual report.

Corporations are a perennial punching bag on the left, but it'd be better if they could cite real examples of corporate abuse instead of attacking legitimate actions just because they disagree with the tax code.

Bill Maher: The sequester cut Federal spending across the board by 5%. The President has done nothing but cut spending.

Actually, that 5% "cleaver" only applied to Federal discretionary spending, which only accounts for 34% of the Federal budget. So in actuality, the sequester cut total spending by just 1.7%. And almost all of that spending "cut" is actually a cut in the baseline spending increase. From 2012 to 2013, total spending increased by 95 billion dollars.

The continuing resolutions that fund the government operate by perpetuating the last budget forward, which has a statutory requirement to grow every fiscal year to account for population and economic growth. So even if we cut spending by 50 billion dollars a year, the Federal government will still spend more this year than it will last year.

Bill Maher: The Republicans are eerily calm. If the debt and budget deal don't go through, we're sunk.

The Republicans are calm because markets are calm. The 1 month Treasury bill has skyrocketed in yield, but the 3 month is absolutely tranquil. If markets sense that a deal won't actually get made, they'll panic and the Republicans will panic right alongside them as they start getting deluged by angry citizens demanding to know why they didn't get their Social Security check.

Oliver Stone: The bomb didn't need to be dropped over Japan.

Well, LeMay could have continued firebombing Japan (which killed vastly more Japanese than the two bombs combined) for weeks on end in preparation for a ground invasion that was estimated to have hundreds of thousands of American casualties (seriously, the US military actually made hundreds of thousands of Purple Hearts in advance; the current ones we give out now are out of that stash that was made in WWII). But we had the bomb and that turned out to be a much better call for all parties involved.


1. Chris Matthews continues to bulldoze over the rest of the panel. I really wish he'd stop coming on the show, because he's rude, obnoxious, loud, and utterly smug. It's bad enough that he has a daily show, he doesn't need to pollute another show.

2. That Jim Glassman dude looked and talked exactly like a GOP doppelganger of Joe Biden. And I'm not saying that just because they're both two old white males.

3. Carol Roth needs to improve her on-the-fly debate skills, because she's obviously an intelligent and knowledgeable person with a lot to say. She couldn't effectively contribute to the conversation because she's too busy trying to craft an argument in her head. You could literally see the gears whirring.

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