Saturday, July 28, 2007

It's official, young people don't think.

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for judgment and skills of comparing and understanding eventual outcomes. It does not, however, fully develop until about the age 25 (a little earlier for females). Perhaps this fact explains the following excerpts from the report Republicans Collapse Among Young Americans [PDF] (courtesy Sully):
The problems with the Republican brand among young people run deeper than Bush. Young people are often cynical about politics, but believe in government. By a 68 – 28 percent margin, voters would rather have a bigger government providing more services over a smaller government providing fewer services. Even Republican young people prefer a larger, more generous government (57 – 40 percent for bigger government with more services). [[GAG!]]

Okay, so young people are idealistic (read: naive) about the benevolence of government and have a preference for the nanny state. I suppose it's because our parents take care of us, and as we grow up we think the government should too.


The leading volunteered issue for the President and the Congress is not the war (19 percent), but the economy and economic issues (39 percent in total). A majority (58 percent) of young people say they are “one paycheck away from having to borrow money from their parents or credit cards.” Two thirds are working for an hourly wage and 60 percent worry a great deal or some about their debt load. Most do not earn a four-year university degree (just a quarter in this survey are currently in a four-year college or have graduated from one). Young people of color, women (especially unmarried women) and the less educated in particular report a real
financial struggle.

So, let me get this straight: we will give all our votes to the party that we think will expand our government and provide with more services, all the while complaining about how little we earn. In the short term that seems to make sense: we're poor, so we need more government services because we can't afford private equivalents. But where do those services come from? TAXES. Of course not our taxes; we're poor so we pay fewer of them to start, and no one will raise our taxes. Instead let's tax our rich, evil employers so they can decide to cut labor and wages (not below that minimum, though!) and either pay us less or not at all. As an added bonus we can curb incentive for investment, thus hindering the creation of new opportunities and productive capital. Yeah, that makes sense. My blood pressure goes up just thinking about it.

Sidebar: I am TIRED of the class warfare slogan "tax cuts for the rich!" First, tax cuts for the rich do not automatically mean tax increases on the poor (in the current climate, they do however mean deficit spending that leads to inflation, which affects the poor more than the rich--but that's a result of spending not tax collection). Second, rich people sign the salary checks at every job I've had, and frankly I'd like them to have more money so they can use it to pay me to do things. Third, how is it fair or moral to impose a bigger burden (via a progressive tax system) on the more productive members of society who use comparatively less of the social programs that the tax revenues pay for? Please explain this to me (and I will reject out-of-hand any argument that is premised on the canard that the rich are only rich because they "stole" from everyone else)!


Andronicus said...

I get so bored with arguments over the income tax because it is a fucked up idea to begin with. America has always had a problem with class at the same time class will never go away. People who work hard, work smart, are creative, etc. deserve to have more and keep more than lazy people. Putting a tax on income at all is a disincentive to work and productivity.

More and more, I favor a consumption tax, like the Fairtax.

In addition, tax cuts in a vacuum don't make sense without corresponding cuts in spending, unless you want to run up a huge debt which you then sell to, oh say, China. Dems want high taxes and high spending (at least Clinton plus a GOP congress balanced the budget) and the 21st C Republicans want lower taxes with high spending.

Neither approach works in the long run. It's time for a more pragmatic approach free of ideology.

Pete said...

It's sad isn't it? Elections have become tax-and-spend auctions with silly, irresponsible politicians ready to fork out whatever is needed of other people's money to get elected.

In my country we currently have the most awful and blatantly cynical prime minister who first governed with the right, limiting immigration and reducing spending, and is now governing with the left, performing u-turns on all the policies he had before. A complete sell-out to party politics and electoral opportunism. The worst thing is that nobody seems to get really angry: the current government is so inactive they won't be unpopular. After all, ideas and policies cause anger: look at Thatcher and Bush.

Anonymous said...
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DanielNL said...

Well, I think progressive taxation is a great an fair thing. And no, not because the rich are stealing...
But somehow I don´t think you will be able to understand what I mean.
You are so convinced of a few simplistic alleged economic "truths". If that was all there is to it, do you really think we would have any economic problems anywhere in the world? It is just not that simple.

Tim in Italy said...

We've done a great job of moving into the technology age, haven't we? And now we are reaping what we sowed. I remember the wonders that we were told awaited us. A paperless society that was better for the environment, 4 day work weeks, more time for family and friends. Instead, companies fired half their staffs and told the other half that if they didn't pick up the slack, they'd be fired, too, and the 6 day work week was born! Forget about more leisure time. The office follows you everywhere, even on vacation. And our land fills are still full of paper, along with toxic toner and junked computer that the whiz kids make sure are obsolete after a year... okay, six months.

And we owe this utopia to a relatively small group of egg heads that have created a technology that very few can grasp beyond what's written in the pictograph instruction book. And let's not forget that aside from being user-unfriendly, nothing is compatable with nearly everything. And you wonder why people drop out and say take care of me? What you are responding to, Pink, is the result of greed, pure and simple. And on the heels of "innovation", nightmares blossomed. Great brands were destroyed so that shareholders could enthusiastically go for the short term gain (Disney is a perfect example of this), CEO's getting paid millions in bonuses as they ran the companies in their charge into the ground; business schools teaching MBA's the "|Enron Model". And Apple, that beacon of consumer friendly excellence, ask anyone's opinion who tried to activate their iPhone and wound up with a $400 911 caller.

I could write a book on the number of great, imaginative, well planned projects that were reduced to mediocre shells once the bean counters got hold of them. "Yeah, that project failed after just 2 years, but, hey!, we shaved an additional 30% off the bottom line!"

When you feed your people constant mediocrity, mediocrity is what you get back. They don't care about business, because business certainly doesn't care about them. and the same is true of government.

So until we clean up our act and put things back in balance, respect peoples private time, bring innovation back into business rather than ham-fisted, unimaginative dictates and not send every unskilled job overseas, this is what you are going to get. I guess the only other solution would be to get a bigger whip.

Andronicus said...

Ok Tim:

Can't let you take a whack at Apple without talking back. I got an iPhone the week after the big weekend. Brilliant product. A bargain for what you get....flawless activation. Customer service better than anyone. Apple is the real deal, designs and makes great products. There is no way they could be pulling down 36 percent margins (against an industry avg. of 6) if they weren't doing something great.

Any activation problems were with ATT, who i will agree, is an enormous greedy corporation whos attitude in encapsulated in their new 21st C death star corporate logo.

Tim in Italy said...

Andronicus, I will give you that Apple has cleaned up its act of late, but for many years every time it came out with a new operating system, you had to buy a new computer. Great technology, but hardly suited to the reality of the common man.

But I will give you Apple for one reason and one reason only...

...because Justin Long is so damn cute!

Icon said...

It's such a shame that AT&T has resurfaced in its current form. In its glory days, it did a great job. I wouldn't portend that it could have or should have kept on going, but certainly the demise of Bell Labs (similar to RCA and Westinghouse) was an intense injury to our technological leadership. Pharmaceuticals face these threats, too, with so much of this innovative industry being forced overseas.

As for our tax policy, I can't for the life of me figure why the government has not promoted personal savings. Why do we continue to see limits on beneficial treatment of money we want to save for retirement?

Andronicus said...


Ditto Justin Long!

Jason said...

So yeah... I'm idealistic and naive... and generally more interested in the theological arguments of equal human dignity and our call to make this world the best for all people... but I'll say this anyway.

The idea that rich people work harder for their money, that they earn it, that they are more productive, better, or more creative than the less fortunate is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever come across... and I can't figure out how so many people fall for it.

We do not live in a classless society. We aren't even close. The upper class is born into all of the money. They have it, they can afford a comfortable life, they get a better education, and they have more and better opportunities. They don't work harder. They don't earn the money they have. They don't do something special that says... wow... this person is better and should have more money. They simply take advantage of all the opportunities they get because they are rich, which is expected.

But the people who are born into poverty, the people who are born into working class families, families that can't afford the best education, families where the kids have to work instead of go to school... these families don't work less, they aren't less productive, they aren't less creative. These people are not less. They were born into a life they were never given a chance to escape.

And then we can add race to this... guess which classes most white people are in and which classes most minorities are in. We are also a very racially divided society. White people have all the money and privilege. And they didn't earn it. They used everyone else as slaves to get it. But that was all they needed... they got the money and the resources... and now they have them... and they deny them to anyone else.

There is very little social mobility in this society. If you're born rich... you're probably going to stay that way. If you're born poor... you're probably going to die that way. You have no chance. We make sure of that. Government aid is never enough. Health care is for the rich. Taxes are too high. Jobs pay too little. You can work three jobs, many do... it's still never going to be enough. You can work twice as hard, twice as much as all the richest people in the world... and it will never matter... you were born poor, you never had opportunities to get a good education or good job opportunities.

That is the reason why the rich should pay more taxes. They are not rich because of themselves. This country is so caught up in the Protestant work ethic... believing that if you work hard... you will be rewarded. More importantly... if you are rich... then you earned it somehow... and if you are poor... you did something wrong or didn't work hard enough. The truth is... that is not how it works. It doesn't matter how hard you work... it matters where you come from and what color your skin is. That is what determines your chances in life. Not your work ethic.

And so comes the need for the rich to pay for what they have. Yes they should pay higher taxes and support social services they don't use... because most didn't earn their money any more than most poor people earn their lack of money. It's the downside of being rich. You get stuck with all the money and resources while other people are given nothing. Maybe they can trade places with poor people if they think it's so unfair. They'll get to pay less in taxes. And surprisingly... they'll probably end up working more.

And thanks for the topic... this was a fun rant.

Pink Elephant said...

Yes, Dan, I have an almost religious belief in the market. Nonetheless I am aware that there is poverty all around the world. But if you look at he un-developed world, what you find are corrupt governments adhereing to rent-seeking and socialist programs that prevent the market from working. Consider than in our own country our impoverished live better than the majority of the world population.

Hi Jason! I'm afraid I am going to have respectfully disagree with you signifcantly. The picture of a caste system that you paint has not been my experience at all. My father, for instance, was born in a very poor rural community. Growing up in a large family, he learned about sacrifice quite early. Even after he left home, there was a time when my father lived in his car for a few months. His circumstances were not the product of drug abuse, but nor were they because soemone richer was keeping him down. Regardless, while working to support a young family (my mom worked too), my father attended community college and earned a bachelor's degree. Because my father has workaholic tendencies, he moved from just above proverty to upper middle class in a course of about 35 years (he's about 50 now). Now, my sister and I have the chance to take what my father has given us and go even further. My father's experience may be anecdotal, but I don't think that it was exceptional. I am not saying that class mobility is necessarily easy (for years my father worked 12+ hour days), but I don't think that it is practically impossible as you suggest.

Also I disagree that the rich don't earn the money that they have. You'll notice that I tend to refrain from saying "hard work is the key," instead I usually talk about productivity. Certainly lower skilled and lower paid workers may work harder, but that's not enough. The work that they do is not valued as much by our society and economy as say investment banking. Why is investment banking valued more? because I banking has huge downstream effects: take a company public, you provide a vehicle for others to invest and (possibly) see a return; at the same time you are raising capital for the business to invest in expansion or efficiency, which allows it to grow, employ more people, and produce more goods and services. The apple picker, hard as he works, only produces an apple. Sure, the apple contributes to the livelihood of many, but in the end the bushel of apples that the apple picker picks in a day is at most going to bring whatever a bushel of apples will fetch in the market. That's got to be split between the apple retailer, the apple tranporters, the owners of the apple trees, AND the apple picker. The apple picker's marginal return to labor is lower, so his employer doesn't have as much room for wages as does the investment bank, whose employees have a much higher marginal return to labor. It's productivity measuered by the value of output on the market that matters. What sense does it make to discourage this producitvity by taxing it more?

Sure those I-bankers tend to have both four year degrees and MBAs, something that may seem out of reach for those at the bottom. But I don't think it really is. I haven't yet paid a cent for my education (my father financed his own, so the deal was I do too). Because of scholarship and loans I will get a graduate degree of my own that will command high earning power, allowing me to pay back the cost of my education from the proceeds of getting it. College admissions offices are bending backwards to make scholarships and other opportunities for the underprivileged and underrepresented. Also, you don't have to go to Harvard to get a good high paying job. Lawyers from fourth tier law schools still get jobs, and after the first job, no one cares much about your alma mater. With these kinds of opportunities for everyone (though I freely admit that the born well have an easier time pursuing them), I find it hard to blame our "system" or "capitalism" for the plight of the poor. Note: I am not saying it is their own fault, though for some it is. However, I do think that many poor folks don't have the information about these opportunities to pursue them. Instead of complaining that it's too hard to move up, I think a more productive (there's that word again) strategy is to give them the information. If you still don't believe me read the biographies of Suze Orman, Oprah Winfrey, and Chris Gardner, just to name a few.

Responding to your rant has made me swell with pride for America and the (moderately) free market.

andronicus said...

I know I am gonna get shit for saying this, but adult poverty is a mental defect....the result of making bad decisions. Sure, kids are born into the poverty of circumstance and the culture of poverty. They have to decide to escape that, and at least in this country that is really not all that hard to do, once one decides to do it.

And race really doesn't matter that much any in point: Blacks in NYC. Huge numbers of Carribean Island blacks immigrated to nyc in the last 15 years or so, got jobs, worked hard, and despite their penniless arrival have built a solid middle class culture of education and achievement. The poor American blacks are still in the same place, if not further behind than they were decades ago---still stuck in a culture of entitlement.

It is not race that makes the difference, it is culture. Rich people aren't given anything....either they earned their money or their ancestors earned it and they are members of the lucky sperm club. Someone earned it somehow at some time, and there is nothing wrong with that.

The sooner poor people understand that poverty is a mental disease, the sooner they can start making the right decisions and have the life they aspire to.

Keep in mind all of this comes from a former hard core liberal who has become a hard core pragmatist. Ideology doesn't mean anything to me...only problems, solutions and results.