Class Warfare Blog

February 17, 2018

Misuses of Science?

Filed under: Economics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:37 am
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There is a term being bandied about, scientism, to describe the intrusion of science into fields where it is felt to be inappropriate (ethics, for example). I think this “defense” is unnecessary as science is experimental, it either proves useful or it does not. The real problem, I believe, lies in a misunderstanding of what science does and is useful for.

Obviously, science applies well in “scientific” fields: physics, chemistry, biology, etc. So well, in fact, that these areas of study are called “sciences.” The application of scientific methods to other areas is more “iffy” for a good reason. Take the analysis of financial markets, for example. In recent years, college graduates who used to go into scientific fields have been attracted into the financial world. They even have a nickname, “quants,” because of their application of quantitative tools previously only applied in scientific pursuits. The inherent problem here is, even though markets watchers refer to “the market” in phrases like “the market was calm today” or “the market was perturbed today” as if it were some sort of exotic animal, unlike the sciences, there may be no controlling behaviors built into the system. A physicist doing a scientific investigation believes there may well be a fundamental behavior of matter underlying the patterns he/she is studying. That belief is well-founded as such have been found so often in the past. In finance or economics, the belief there is some underlying structure or principles is an open question as such have not been established as fact.

It is a little like Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; the apprentice waves a tool around and mutters incantations hoping to invoke powers he clearly doesn’t understand. He is not even aware what those powers are, except he has seen his master do similar things and get some results. So, in finance, people who mutter incantations and get results are the new masters (by seeming to understand things at a fundamental level others do not) and because it is assumed they have found the underlying structures that create success. Clearly they have not and their results are not attachable to any underlying truths, but they look good to those hoping to find success. (People are still talking nonsense about financial markets as if they were truths.)

Economics is another “science” (it is not) that has adopted the trappings of science without there being much, if any evidence, there are fundamental structures underlying economies. But, by making economics “scientifical,” it has the appearance of being more founded in reality, even though there is no evidence of that.

If the people applying scientific methods to their fields are serious, they need to establish whether there are, indeed, any underlying structures that can be discovered, that help us to understand their fields. Just waving scientific tools around in the air may make one’s studies look more prestigious, but in the end they will just look foolish.

The sad thing is the general populous can’t tell the difference between science rooted in reality and speculative science being employed in the hopes it will work. This, using science speculatively, seems to be a handle that the science deniers are using to discredit solid science. And that will not help us make progress.

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January 31, 2018

What Religion … Trying to Control Us?

I continue to insist that no matter why a religion was created in the first (or second, third, etc.) place, it continues to exist because it controls the great masses of a society to the benefit of the religious and secular elites. The easiest example is Christianity. If Christianity had not supported slavery, it would never have become the state religion of Rome and would have remained an obscure Jewish sect.

Fast forward to today and Ireland is having a referendum on the legality of abortions. In the U.S. there has been a massive anti-abortion campaign being waged for the last thirty years (at least). A primary source of the energy for the “opposed” position on abortion has come from the Catholic Church.

So, what do you think the scriptural basis for this opposition is? For some, the important distinction was of “ensoulment,” the exact moment in time a fetus receives its soul. So, what does the OT have to say about this? While the Hebrew Bible only requires a fine for the loss of a fetus through the actions of another, whatever its stage of development, the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Hebrew text (a pre-Christian translation that the early Christians used and quoted extensively in the NT) introduced a distinction between an Aristotelian “formed” and an “unformed” fetus and treated destruction of the former as murder. The debate was over when the fetus became “formed.” So, the scriptures were distorted to include Greek philosophical distinctions by Greek translators. (The NT is rampant with such things, both segments having their science based upon Aristotle or superstition.)

The “debate” was not settled quickly (nor has it been settled now). In 1679, Pope Innocent XI publicly condemned sixty-five propositions taken chiefly from the writings of Escobar, Suarez and other casuists as “at least scandalous and in practice dangerous.” He forbade anyone to teach them under penalty of excommunication. The condemned propositions included:

  1. It is lawful to procure abortion before ensoulment of the fetus lest a girl, detected as pregnant, be killed or defamed.
  2. It seems probable that the fetus (as long as it is in the uterus) lacks a rational soul and begins to first have one when it is born and consequently it must be said that no abortion is homicide.

That these teachings that were being condemned were of Jesuit Catholics, it can hardly be claimed that scripture is crystal clear on the topic.

Of late, the idea of ensoulment at the moment of conception has become popular, but not because it is supported by scripture, just by the Catholic hierarchy, which means it is political.

Now, why would Christianity in the form of the Catholic Church and many Protestant sects (allies in the anti-abortion movement), have its position “evolve” in this manner? For one, each religion has seen itself involved in a war of attrition. People in general did not tend to lose their faith (it wasn’t healthy) but to dominate, more “believers” were needed, consequently more and more children were favored. The Catholic Church didn’t just oppose abortion, it has opposed all artificial birth control methods. More Catholics means more power and that is the name of the game they are playing.

It is a bit of fun watching the Catholic Church squirm as it is rapidly approaching “majority minority” status. The highest birth rates in Catholicism are in Latin America, Latino Americans, and Africa, etc. Pope Francis may come from Argentina but his parents were Italian and of Italian-extraction, so he is far from being a South American, just another overseas Italian and the church does love them some Italian (aka white) popes. How well that will continue to go down as Catholics become more and more brown and black skinned is what will be interesting to watch.

Still, the name of the religion game is to control the behavior of the masses to the benefit of the religious and secular elites. Since, for example, 96% of Catholic American women have used artificial birth control at some point in their lives, that control seems to be slipping. Ireland has approved gay marriage and may decriminalize abortion.

But the Catholic Church and other churches will continue to have opinions, backed with political muscle in these debates. Be sure, however, that there is no clear guidance from scripture on these and many other issues. (The Catholic Church also extols “tradition” as a basis for their opinions which equates to “the way we have always done things” which, surprise!, puts them in control of their opinions.)

And what do you call someone whose political stance is to preserve the status quo and all its institutions? Answer: a conservative. More and more the “opinions” of churches (for example, on the fitness of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States) is determined by their conservatism rather than their professed faith.

The game is all about power … over us. Are you surprised?

January 8, 2018

Pigs at the Private Trough

I have written before about CEO compensation, mainly that it is being manipulated by the CEOs themselves and their hand-picked boards of governors (often made up of other CEOs). This largess isn’t supported by history in this country and now a major study by Bloomberg researchers has driven a stake into any argument that these overpaid CEO’s are worth what they are paid. A post on OurFuture.org stated: “The Bloomberg researchers looked worldwide at major corporations of similar size and heft. In all, the researchers examined corporate pay records in 22 nations. In not one of these nations, Bloomberg found, do the executives of top-line firms make anything close to the paychecks of America’s corporate execs.

“In fact, America’s top corporate executives are taking home, on average, quadruple the average CEO pay that comparable top execs in the rest of the world are making.

“If this huge pay difference simply reflected a “marketplace” judgment on the sheer talent of America’s top execs, top U.S. corporations would be totally dominating global markets, outselling their foreign rivals by wide margins in everything from cars to computers.

“U.S. corporations are doing no such thing, of course. In one key global market sector after another, foreign corporations that pay their CEOs much less than U.S. CEOs are running neck and neck with their U.S. counterparts — and often leading the pack.”

CEOs and their cohort (business executives) are the largest growing segment of the 1% and are major drivers in the efforts to establish even greater wealth and pay inequality through manipulations of the government. If they were insects we would not hesitate to spray them out of existence for the pests they are.

I have suggested a way to dial back these bloated CEO salaries. It is relatively simple. If you like your current CEO, renegotiate his contract around a salary 50% of whatever they are currently making. If they say that they will “take their ball and go home,” say “fine.” Go to the Vice-CEO and offer them the job at 50% of what you were paying your current CEO. In all likelihood they will jump at the opportunity to improve their resume, but if they do not, go to the next most senior executive and offer him/her the job. You will find a taker and your company will not suffer much if at all. If you are in favor of a “kinder, gentler” process, you can make the reduction to 75% or whatever you deem appropriate. If the subordinates to your current CEO are also making bloated salaries, the same process should be applied to them. We certainly would not want the top executives making less than their subordinates! (Hey, the top guys used this to ratchet their salaries up, we can use it to ratchet the others’ salaries down.)

The fact the foreign companies that are doing as well or better than our companies are “getting by” with CEO pay one fourth of what we are paying says something. Heck, if you can’t find anyone in your corp who will take the job at 50% of current CEO pay, offer it to one of those foreign executives. To them the job will come with a pay raise.

Just Plain, Or Not So Plain, Ignorant

I was reading Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” last night and came upon this. (Despite my occasional cavils, this is a brilliant book, highly recommended.)

The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance.

Shortly after came this:

Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world was already known. The great gods, or the one almighty God, or the wise people of the past possessed all-encompassing wisdom, which they revealed to us in scriptures and oral traditions. Ordinary mortals gained knowledge by delving into ancient texts and traditions  and understanding them properly. It was inconceivable that the Bible, the Qur’an or the Vedas were missing out on a crucial secret of the universe – a secret that might yet be discovered by flesh-and-blood creatures.

If something couldn’t be found in scriptures then it was, by definition, trivial.

So, I have to ask: has anything changed? The power of religions is based upon their traditions and scriptures, so they reinforce that power every chance they get. They weave that power into our cultures and politics to sustain it.

And, it is clear that very, very, very important things were left out of scriptures as they were unknown at the time of their writing.

So, has anything changed?

 

 

January 7, 2018

If the Elites Might Benefit, Then Sure, They are For It

In today’s NY Times an article (Medical Research? Congress Cheers. Medical Care? Congress Brawls by Robert Pear) states that there is some bipartisan support for science in our Congress. Here’s the introduction:

“WASHINGTON — They cannot agree on subsidies for low-income people under the Affordable Care Act or even how to extend funding for the broadly popular Children’s Health Insurance Program — two issues requiring urgent attention as Congress returns to work.

“But a more exotic corner of the medical world has drawn rapturous agreement among Republicans and Democrats: the development of new treatments and cures through taxpayer-funded biomedical research.

“For the third straight year, lawmakers are planning to increase the budget of the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion. In the process, they have summarily rejected cuts proposed by President Trump.

“The push for additional funding reflects a fascination among legislators with advances in fields like molecular biology, genetics and regenerative medicine, even as they wage bitter battles over just how large a role the government should play in financing health care and providing coverage.”

When the shade the politicians have thrown is illuminated, it is clear why this support is bipartisan. New medical procedures, even those which prove to be very costly, will help keep the elites alive longer. The elites have told us over and over that “America affords us the finest medical care in the world.” What we didn’t focus on was the use of the word “us.” They were referring to the elites as only they can afford the finest. The fact that our medical care system only ranks somewhere near the middle of first world countries is irrelevant and they know it. Those results are based upon average health outcomes and the elites are paying for treatments and health outcomes that the top 1% get. They do not care much at all about the poor health outcomes that the poor and middle class can afford as those do not affect them directly. But there are many of us and few of them, which means they are more than willing to take our tax dollars to pay for their cures.

Everything you need to see is right in front of your eyes. We only need to believe what they are saying, what they actually are saying and not what we wish to hear.

January 1, 2018

How Could We Have Known?

Filed under: Business,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:12 am
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I can hear it now, the energy executives who express wonderment at the extent of the damage caused by climate change while looking bewildered for the cameras: “How could we have known?” They will say this.

Well, help me count the ways…. Here is a warning given in 1959, almost 60 years ago, during an institute called by, of all people, the energy executives.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jan/01/on-its-hundredth-birthday-in-1959-edward-teller-warned-the-oil-industry-about-global-warming

December 30, 2017

The Only Way to Less Inequality?

Here is a devastating assessment of the actual cost of the GOP’s recent tax bill. It is by Bill Honig, who I have met and consider to be a smart and honorable man.

http://www.buildingbetterschools.com/2017/12/26/faq-for-gop-trump-tax-bill/

Much of the GOP tax bill has been labeled as “bad news,” so I do not think you will be surprised to find out the news is worse that we thought. I bring this up because a new book has come out that addresses the history of inequality and the only forces that seem to reverse it for even small periods of time. The book is “The Great Leveler” by Walter Scheidel. Here is part of the description of that book (from Amazon.com):

How only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout world history
Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes. Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return. The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality. The “Four Horsemen” of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich. Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century. Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.

This book supports my view that the fundamental purpose of civilization is to create inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity, for the benefit of the elites, both secular and religious, with the costs to be born by everyone else. And I have advocated, sometimes tongue in cheek, that it was time to get out the pitchforks and torches, but if this author is correct only “mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich” we are in quite dire straights. We have been making war on other countries for over 200 years of our existence, and it is a very rare occasion for war to intrude on our shores, and a “mass mobilization” for war means the war has to be very, very large indeed. That is a path, in this age of nuclear weapons, I do not wish to take. State collapse and catastrophic plagues aren’t appealing, so that leaves “transformative revolutions” to us. Such revolutions can be non-violent (rare) or violent and considering the polarization of the U.S. and our massive personal stockpiles of weaponry, it looks like a peaceful revolution will be a very good trick to pull off, indeed.

I do note, however, that the only way to avoid the toxic effects of wealth is to make sure great amounts of it either do not occur or are reduced when they occur. This means that a major function of a democracy is to … wait for it … wait … redistribute wealth away from the wealthy. Unfortunately, our governments have been captured by the wealthy who have been busy redistributing wealth to the wealthy for the past 40 years.

My only hope to avoid large scale violence is that the GOP’s paymasters will so overplay their hand that there will be a quasi-socialist revolution that will give power back to the people and defang the wealthy elites now running the show. My preference is for new political parties (two at least) as the ones we have have failed miserably and have too much baggage to carry into the future.

December 24, 2017

Effing Blundering Humans

What a perfect invention a human is, how noble in his capacity to reason, how unlimited in thinking, how admirable in his shape and movement, how angelic in action, how godlike in understanding! There’s nothing more beautiful. We surpass all other animals. (Hamlet, Shakespeare)

We use the term “civilized” as a complement and “uncivilized” as a criticism. We seem to be fans of civilization and “being civilized.” Unfortunately this is part of the self-propagating control mechanism which is culture. Culture exists so a few can control the many for the benefit of the few.

I was watching a documentary on the Americas before Columbus. I knew much of what they portrayed but to have it all thrust in my face at once made me see the big picture in alarming clarity.

The European conquest of Europe and then the Americas was a blundering, abysmal, staggeringly unenlightened display of brute force. The European’s animals and plants were brought onto this continent and then took over essentially every ecological niche available. Along with the pigs and barley and beer came European weeds and European diseases; smallpox itself was the cause of a majority of the Native Americans being killed. Native species of plants and animals died in front of a wave of horses, pigs, cattle, sheep and staple grains. The plow basically ruined the thin soil in New England that the Native Americans had been nurturing for millennia. Hogs rooted up vast acreage and spread diseases that native species had no ability to fight. Whole forests fell under the axes of the invaders.

Viewed in its entirety, this is a horror show. Genocide alongside ecological imperialism alongside greed alongside culture assassination.

And we call it civilization.

What I see is immense ignorance on display. A complete uncaring for the future of humans and a complete uncaring for anything that does not benefit humans. The definition of a “weed,” for example, is any plant unwanted by humans.

Arrogance, greed, immense ignorance, … aka civilized.

Are we any different now? Are events any different now?

Europeans used up Europe’s resources: cutting its trees, depleting its soils, spoiling its streams, and stripping its oceans of fish. Then they brought “civilization” to the Americas. And now the Americas are quite like Europe when the Americas were discovered.

Have we really learned anything?

I am not talking about academic knowledge, but cultural and political knowledge and actions. Have were learned to the “doing stage” any of the lessons we should have, lessons that will allow us to survive and other species alongside of us? If we have, I sure haven’t noticed that.

 

December 22, 2017

I Wonder … Is This Another GOP “Oops Moment”?

In the recent discussions of business taxes people kept quoting the, now old, marginal business tax rate of 35% when they compared our business taxes with those of other countries. Our marginal rate, that is our highest rate, is indeed higher than most all other comparable countries when you do that comparison. But if you compare our effective tax rates with those countries, the amounts that actually get paid (after all of the loopholes and “special tax credits” and … are factored in) we tend to be lower than most. Under the old system, the rate started at 15% and climbed to 35% as the taxable income rose. (This was exactly parallel to the personal tax bracket structure that also started at 15%, then rose up to 39.5% on income over about a quarter of a million dollars.) But do note that a business was taxed at the 35% rate only on earnings in excess of $10,000,000, so you are not talking about Mom and Pop operations paying anything at that rate. (Constantly referring to small businesses as if they were Mom and Pop businesses (they are not) and only quoting that 35% marginal rate is a form of lying, in my opinion.)

Under the new law, just passed, the business tax rate has been made a flat rate at 21%, that is anything over $1 (one dollar!) will be taxed at the single rate of 21%. I thought they had just reduced the marginal rate to 21% (from 35%) and kept the lower brackets leading up to that, which would mean the 21% only applied to earnings over ten million dollars, but apparently they did not. I am shocked at this because the effective tax rate has been lower than 21% for quite some time. For example, 288 “big and profitable” Fortune 500 corporations paid an average effective federal tax rate of just 19.4% from 2008 to 2012. This new rate of 21% represents a tax increase on those businesses (if there are no other compensating changes).

I wonder if the Repubs made a mistake in framing this that way. I wonder if they think they got a “two fer” in getting a big business tax rate deduction plus a flat tax, two Republican wet dreams of the recent past, and just fucked it up out of good, old fashioned American incompetence.

If this is true, life is good!

 

I’ve Been Dreading This Day

Filed under: The News — Steve Ruis @ 11:23 am
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I just read on BillMoyers.com that Mr. Moyers is retiring his blog. He is now well into his eighties and if anyone deserves a restful retirement it is Bill Moyers!

Thank you, Bill!

Bill Moyers has stood for the highest quality journalism for many decades now and his retirement will be felt. This is a time when journalism is in decline. It has happened before but this time seems particularly critical as plutocrats are actively undermining what democracy we have left. Propagandists seemingly abound on almost every street corner (certainly every intersection of the Internet) and quality journalism is hard to find.

Thank you, Bill!

I find myself reading the NY Times with increasing skepticism, even disgust as they seem to be trolling for dollars in any way they can as respectable journalism is not selling well right now. They also seem to be almost a poster child for what “corporate media” has become. I subscribe to The Guardian (U.S. bureau of a U.K. news organ) and scour blogs for more honest takes on current events. The days of Edward R. Morrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Hundley, Ben Bradlee, and David Brinkley are far behind us. I consider Bill Moyers the last of that long line of inherently respectable and trustworthy journalists. It wasn’t always like that. Journalism may have attracted the likes of Samuel Clemens, but it was hardly a reputable undertaking for many, many years. It seems that the profession is heading back down from the heights of those worthies.

I will miss Bill Moyers, and even though we differed on a number of topics, I respected his opinions as always being well thought out and well said.

Thank you, Bill!

I wish … I dearly wish … that this could be a passing of the torch moment but I see no one in U.S. journalism worthy of such a nod, would that there were.

Thank you, Bill!

PS The BillMoyers.com site will apparently remain as an archive site and for that I am thankful as we will be able to go back and see how many times he and his colleagues were prescient.

 

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