The old tax-and-spend slur is laughable in the face of a $10 trillion debt

October 23, 2008

FROM JASON’S TAX STATEMENT — The Anti-Federalists were right in 1780s when they rallied against Big Government.

Since then, they’ve become Republicans.

I used to be one, at least from a fiscal point of view. The Republicans say they believe in limiting the size of government, preventing a nanny state, lowering taxes, protecting privacy, and keeping hands off business.

Good ideas, right?

But while they’re chanting those mantras, and while “Tax-and-Spend-Democrats” is a label used as a slur in Sen. John McCain’s campaign advertisements, the Republicans are spending us all into a black hole of debt.

The National Debt has increased an average of $3.6 billion per day since Sept. 28, 2007, reaching $10 trillion on Sept. 30, 2008. In 2006, the government spent $406 billion paying just the interest on the National Debt.

The total debt has jumped more than $500 billion every year since 2003. Meanwhile, the federal budget for 2008 is the largest ever — with a record $438 billion shortfall.

What could you buy with $10 trillion?

I don’t think people understand how much money we’re talking about. I have a calculator.

With 305 million people in the United States, $10 trillion would be enough to cut a check for $34,000 for every man, woman, and child — including illegal immigrants.

There are 124,000 chronically homeless people in the U.S. With $10 trillion, we could afford to give each of those homeless people $80 million.

The 2009 Honda Civic base model is priced at just over $15,000. You could buy 649 million of the cars with $10 trillion.

The Statue of Liberty cost $530,000 to build in 1886 (the statue and the base included). With $10 trillion, we could build 827,458 of them today, adjusted for inflation.

The Space Shuttle Endeavor cost $1.7 billion to build. With $10 trillion, we could build 5,582 space shuttles.

If we fed every single person in the U.S. a McDonald’s double cheeseburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, with $10 trillion we could feed everyone for almost 30 years. I’m not saying it would be healthy.

Jacob’s Field (now Progressive Field) in Cleveland cost about $176 million to build. You could build 56,818 of them with $10 trillion.

The average teacher for grades K-12 makes $46,752 per year. With $10 trillion, we could afford to hire nearly 214 million teachers.

As of August 2008, the average home in the U.S. cost $203,100. That means with $10 trillion, we could buy a house for everyone living in Atlanta.

Who is spending all this money?

We didn’t used to have  much debt as a nation. From World War II through Vietnam, it held fairly steady at well under $300 billion. It started to seriously spend up under Gerald Ford (R) and continued at a steady clip under Jimmy Carter (D).

The real problems began when Ronald Reagan (R) took office. During his eight years as president, the debt ballooned by $2 trillion, and continued on that line under George H.W. Bush (R). Spending only slowed when Bill Clinton (D) put tight restrictions on budgetary benchmarks.

This chart says it all: Mathematical proof that Republicans have not only outspent Democrats in the past half-century, but they have done so at an incomparable rate.


{CLICK CHART FOR LARGER VIEW]

At the end of the Clinton presidency, the National Debt was nearly flatlining at under $6 trillion. Then George W. Bush was elected, campaigning hard on the old Republican bread and butter of lower taxes, smaller government and more restricting federal spending policies.

“Spending without discipline, spending without priorities, and spending without an end,” he criticized Democratic candidate Al Gore in 2000 during a speech in Minneapolis. “Al Gore’s massive spending would mean slower growth and higher taxes. And it could mean an end to this nation’s prosperity.”

Under Bush II’s leadership since 2001, the debt has increased by $4 trillion — that’s more than 60 percent — and America’s economy has been plunged into chaos. That is not fiscal discipline. That is not small government.

In the first five years of Bush’s administration, while he had the backing of a Republican congress, federal spending exploded by 45 percent. In his final year in office, Bush has asked for $3.1 trillion going into 2009, which is a spending increase of 6 percent over 2008 and 67 percent over 2001.

Cut taxes and spend

Democrats have been labeled as the “tax and spend” party since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. But no president since FDR has orchestrated such blatant expansion of the federal government and its spending as Bush II.

Worse, his initiatives have been riddled with problems. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found $1.1 trillion was spent between 2002 and 2008 on 700 projects that were mismanaged, wasteful, fraudulent, or abusive.

At the same time he was spending recklessly, the Bush congress agreed to lower taxes. So less money has been coming in to feed more programs, which in turn means the country has to borrow even more to stay “solvent,” by which we apparently mean choked on debt but not officially pronounced dead.

The Tax Policy Center has projected the impact of the Bush tax cuts will cost $1.9 trillion in lost revenue between 2008 and 2017. By that same year, the tax cuts will have increased the National Debt by another $3.4 trillion.

Republican fiscal conservatism, according to the math, is a joke. No, it’s a myth. If you want better government, choose a party that won’t lie (as much) about its spending policies. But for the love of your pocketbook, don’t let the Republicans continue to choke us to death while telling us they’re good with money.


Read This: The Forever Formula

June 22, 2008

FROM JASON’S RECENT AMAZON ORDER – Extending the human lifespan sounds like a great achievement, right? A friend of ours recently linked to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about Resveratrol, a drug that significantly prolongs life and eases old-age ailments.

The write-up also hinted that pharmaceutical researchers are on the cusp — as early as two generations away — from making drugs that will push the average life expectancy to 100, or maybe 120, or even higher.

I was immediately reminded of a book titled The Forever Formula, written in 1979 by Frank Bonham. I had to read it again, and Amazon shipped me a copy. Typically labelled juvenile fiction, you could easily breeze through it in four hours.

The novel is set in 2164 and is seen mostly through the eyes of 17-year-old Evan Clark, brought forward in time from 1984 through suspended animation. When he wakes, he learns his father created a drug called Rejuvenal that allows people to live to 250 years old.

But the Rejuvenal treatments have exacted a horrible toll. Most other nations have banned the drug, but the United States gave rise to a Senior Party controlled by the superannuated. The birth rate has fallen, the elderly have stripped most young people of habeas corpus, and the oldest are dying of terminal boredom — a mysterious geriatric disease called the Logardo epidemic.

In a world where 80 is the new 21, overpopulation is a cancer that eats away at the young. Only the truly elderly are allowed to live under plastic domes and breathe purified air. They have the best food. They play croquet, attend eternal gin parties, squabble with their equally old neighbors.

And worst of all, Rejuvenal has warped their bodies, draining skin of its firmness and color. It leaves users with gelatinous, see-through skin stretched over clearly-visible muscle and sinew. The side-effect is called Guppyism.

Meanwhile, with the elderly sapping the best resources, the young live in the moldering wrecks of cities, their air drained of oxygen because ocean plankton are all but extinct. Roaches and rats overrun everything outside the domes and voraciously attack people. Impoverished vendors sell oxygen on the streets and the government has planted miles of cloned tree farms.

In real life, the idea of overpopulation is a ludicrous one because there is so much landmass in the world completely uninhabited. Right now, more than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the East or West coasts.

But as Scott Rubin of Geeknights is so fond of pointing out, the problem isn’t so much overcrowding as it is a) finding ways to distribute food from rural farms to urban population centers, and b) dealing with the byproducts of those centers.

Let’s spin some numbers. The global population in 1950 was about 2.5 billion, and today it’s reached 6.7 billion. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts there will be 7.9 billion people by 2025 and 9.3 billion by 2050.

The US is growing at a faster rate than any other industrialized nation. The country has swelled by about 100 million people in the past 41 years and US census experts estimated that the population hit 300 million in October 2006. If it continues to accelerate at a steady rate, it will top 400 million sometime around 2040.

But let’s say the average lifespan did, as Bonham worries, go from 75 to 250 years. Those numbers would exceed the already-burdened curve we have now between supply of essentials and demand for the same. Things get even worse in The Forever Formula when Evan learns the American president, Charlie Fallon, wants to scan his brain for the recipe of another drug Evan’s father was working on — one that would make Man immortal.

A group called the Juvenile Underground decides that such a formula would mean Seniors would establish a permanent slave underclass among the young and consume all the country’s remaining resources. They help Evan escape his hospital cell and go on the run.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, other than to say it comes close to being great, except for a deus ex machina that leads to a (for some) happy ending. It’s all a little too convenient, and manages to candy-coat some pretty grisly deaths. I think Bonham would have been better served penning the last few chapters bluntly and bloodily.


Does being the economic superpower excuse American self-interest?

March 14, 2008

gdp1.jpg
Click to embiggen.

FROM JASON’S SHREDDED NATIONALISM — This depiction of the US appeared a while ago on the Strange Maps blog, but I colored it in Photoshop and I feel that gives me the right to resurrect it. The map labels states with the names of nations that have similar economic output and I find it fascinating.

Not long ago, a Canadian friend of mine referenced this map and asked whether the data excuses Americans for “being so self-interested… It certainly explains a bit, and makes the rest of us feel a bit small,” he wrote. I’ve been beating that question around in my mind for the past three days and doing stupid amounts of research to satisfy my curiosity.

Let’s deal with the premise first. Americans are self-interested. I’ve complained before about Americans’ xenophobia and ignorance of geography. A survey by the Rand Corporation shows only 14 percent of respondents could give a rough estimate of the global population (about 6 billion people at the time). Only 6 in 10 Americans ages 18 to 24 could find Iraq on a map of the Middle East, a 2006 study by National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs found.

The Pew Research Center said last year that 68 percent of Americans know the US has a trade deficit, but only 32 percent knew that Sunni was a branch of Islam. The best educated Americans got their primary news from The Daily Show, that report said. Another non-partisan research group, Public Agenda, found that most Americans did not know who Yasser Arafat was, and the Harris Poll Group had 57 percent of respondents say they “dislike learning about political issues in other countries.”

Still not convinced? Watch Rick Mercer have his way with clueless Americans (including then-governor Mike Huckabee) on Canada’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes:

So back to my Canadian friend’s question — is that American ignorance justified by our economic superiority? Call it childish if you must, but Andre the Giant’s line from The Princess Bride kept ringing in my head as I thought about it: “It’s not my fault I’m the biggest and strongest. I don’t even exercise.”

We are the biggest and strongest, at least as an individual nation. Take a look at Gross Domestic Product information for some of the most advanced countries via the CIA World Factbook:


GDP by purchasing power
US – $13.86 trillion
China – $7.43 trillion
Japan – $4.35 trillion
Germany – $2.83 trillion
United Kingdom – $2.15 trillion
France – $2.07 trillion
Italy – $1.8 trillion
Russia – $2.08 trillion
India – $2.97 trillion
Canada – $1.27 trillion
Australia – $766.8 billion
GDP per capita
US – $46,000
China – $5,300
Japan – $33,800
Germany – $34,400
United Kingdom – $35,300
France – $33,800
Italy – $31,000
Russia – $14,600
India – $2,700
Canada – $38,200
Australia – $37,500

To be fair, the US is outclassed in terms of per capita GDP by Luxembourg, Qatar, Bermuda, Norway, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore — but that gets into some tricky statistical business.

The US continues to dominate as a production powerhouse, and as a single nation it is the superpower. But the European Union with its 27 member nations has already surpassed the US in cooperative production with a combined GDP of $14.45 trillion in 2007. No wonder the Euro is devaluing the dollar so efficiently. So far, we’ve managed to stay ahead by translating technological advances into corporate productivity, the New York Times argues.

No throne is ever 100 percent secure for life, and this is why the pesistent American attitude of unalterable, isolationist superiority and willful disregard of world affairs has me worried. True, the US continues to profit from huge consumption spending but high trade deficits and federal debt are perched to trump that and destroy our meager 2 percent annual growth rate.

That’s why the value of the US dollar is falling so quickly — and why it should be. One of the things that truly irks me about my fellow Americans is an attitude that the US deserves by the sheer force of its reputation to retain its position as the sole, indefatigable superpower. But as other nations reach post-industrial status, there will have to be a major shift in global economic balance.

Take a quiz

It’s intended for children, but I’m curious how well the blogosphere will perform: Try the GeoNet Game.


YesterGames #3: Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

March 6, 2008

FROM JASON’S GLOBE-TROTTING COMPUTER – My biggest fear, the one paranoia that keeps me awake some nights, is that we’re breeding idiots. The only thing keeping hope alive is Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego (download).

In America, we’re very good at certain things. Geography is not one of them. A 2006 survey conducted by the National Geographic Society found half of young Americans can’t find New York on a map and only 37 percent can find Iraq. The Society gave 510 U.S. citizens a weighted geography test and found that youngsters answered about 54 percent of the questions correctly, while most adults ages 18 to 24 failed.

And we’re not just talking about being able to label state capitals, here, folks. My fellow Americans don’t understand much about foreign culture, language, religion or history. Three-quarters of those tested didn’t know that Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation, and the same number thought English is the most-spoken language in the world (it’s actually Mandarin).

The study also found:

  • 75 percent could not find Israel on a map.
  • 44 percent could not find Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or Iran.
  • 88 percent could not identify Afghanistan on a map.
  • 54 percent did not know Sudan is in Africa.
  • 40 percent did not know Rwanda is in Africa.
  • 35 percent were able to identify Pakistan as the country where 70,000 people died in an earthquake in October 2005.
  • 67 percent were able to find Louisiana on a U.S. map.
  • 52 percent were able to find Mississippi on a U.S. map.
  • 69 percent found China on a map — and it registered as one of the few recognized countries outside of North America.

Public schools keep churning out geographically and historically illiterates, but I credit software developer Broderbund with doing more to further my knowledge of those subjects than any teacher or class.

The Carmen Sandiego series of computer games was born in 1985 with Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego, which would run on ludicrously slow computers and CGA monitors. It had the advantage of being prevalent in a time when edutainment software still had a viable share of the market, and I remember playing it at school and then begging my parents to buy a copy for home on my 286.

The game is little more than a test to see if you know that Indians speak Hindi, that Tokyo is a world electronics capital, that the Aztecs ruled what is now Mexico, that the Niger River is in Africa, that sherpas can be found in Kathmandu, and that Ferdinand Magellan didn’t quite circumnavigate the globe.

But it’s disguised as a crime caper, allowing you to chase down goofy suspects who’ve stolen impossible maguffins — like the Leaning Tower of Pisa — and gone on the lam. Using clues gathered as you fly around the world, you have to stay on the thief’s trail, get a warrant, and make an arrest.

Sure, there are some softball clues lobbed in there (“She was asking what the exchange rate is on the peso.”) but there are also some brain busters. I played this game for two hours Monday and Tuesday and was hooked the whole time, smiling stupidly to myself as I relived a huge part of my childhood and stretched my brain.

I also couldn’t get the theme song from the Carmen Sandiego game show on PBS out of my head. When I was 11, I watched every afternoon at 5 p.m. and was howling pre-adolescent profanity at the screen because the questions were so easy.

You’ve got to watch this. Full episode ahead:

If you have a student age 8 to 13 (or maybe a little older if they aren’t wusses), I can think of no better learning tool than Where In the Wold Is Carmen Sandiego?. The 1990 deluxe edition can be found at Home of the Underdogs, or if you have the scruples it can still be purchased from Broderbund for $10.

HOTU also has downloads for:


You damned kids had better get off my lawn: Video games are unjust victims of generational bias

November 19, 2007

mk.jpgFROM JASON’S ROLLING EYES — As long as there has been popular culture, there have been Luddites to decry it as the source of all violence, pestilence, poverty, and sexual immorality.

Video games are the scapegoat of the moment, following in the proud tradition of television, Elvis’ thrusting hips, comic books, and pinball — all which were attacked by the god-fearing preservers of a patina-colored yesteryear that never really existed.

Public Agenda, a non-partisan research group often tapped by journalists, did a series of years-long studies published in 1999 and 2002, tracking how people in the U.S. feel about newer generations.

The results were hardly surprising. Everything, according to the survey, was better back in the Golden Age, before these young whipper-snappers came along and started perverting it all, people said.

Teens and children were described by respondents as “lazy” and “irresponsible,” (53 percent) with fewer than half of adults and one-third of teens saying the next generation will make America a better place.

A whopping 71 percent of people surveyed had negative labels for teens — and the number grew to 74 percent among parents polled.

Drugs and alcohol, according to 68 percent of those surveyed, are “very serious” problems among today’s kids — but the same percentage said violence and sex on TV and in movies were dangerous. Of those people, 33 percent said the biggest problem among kids is that they simply have no values.

The strange thing is that the two most recent generations — Generation X and the Bridger Generation — seem to be doing better than ever. A quick overview of the numbers shows that mythical concept of Andy Griffith America never really existed.

viort.gif

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, violent crimes dipped significantly in the early 80s, climbed again toward the mid-90s, and since then have plummeted to all-time lows. That’s all-time — including the fanciful daydream of the 1950s.

The data measures all the things that Jack Thompson and his ilk want to convince us are endemic today and of which video games are the root: Assaults, robberies, thefts, burglaries, auto thefts, rapes, and sexual assaults (among U.S. residents ages 12 and up).

prop.gif

Even better is the improvement in generational property crime rates, which have fallen steeply since 1975, with only two slight rises in 1980 and 1990.

As for homicides, people seem to think that a nation awash in school shootings is more deadly than ever before. True, DOJ data does show that there was a major increase in killings in the 1970s and 1980s, but the homicide rate has recently returned to levels unseen since the 1960s.

Even at its peak in 1991, the homicide rate was 9.8 per 100,000 people or 1/100th of a percent of the population. Today, there are about 16,000 homicides a year as opposed to about 7,500 in 1950, according to the DOJ. But in that span, the population haas nearly doubled from 150 million to about 285 million — which means the homicide rate has only risen a small percentage.

Since 1993, however — the era where the most violent video games have been introduced, the murder rate among the prime vidjagame demographic (14- to 17-year-olds) is the same as it was in 1973-1976.

Forget for a moment about Manhunt 2 and Mortal Kombat, about Grand Theft Auto and Doom.

The truth is that long before Columbine, conservatives were claiming that many pop culture staples were responsible for perceived generational fire and brimstone. Parents crusaded against the corrupting influence of jazz as soon as the term was invented at a Chicago night club in 1915. They were angered in 1953 when Elvis had the indecency to sing “black music” and again when Chuck Berry played the devil’s music in the form of rock & roll.

Copies of Voltaire’s Candide were seized and destroyed by U.S. Customs agents in 1930, and The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights were banned for decades. John Scopes was convicted of teaching Origin of Species in his high school classroom in 1925. The Grapes of Wrath was banned from several libraries in 1939 because of “vulgar language” and The Catcher In the Rye was banned in Columbus, Ohio schools in 1963 because of its “anti-white” message.

Pinball was the next to draw overzealous attention. In the 1940s, parents claimed that the machines themselves were immoral; they were even linked to gambling and the Mafia. New York City seized and destroyed about 3,000 pinball machines in the late 30s and early 40s, and a ban remained in effect until 1976. Even jukeboxes were held in suspicion because the newfangled gadgets had a strange draw for the youth of the day.

A book by Dr. Fredric Wertham convinced Congress in the 1950s to place the comic book industry under scrutiny — eventually leading to the instatement of the Comic Book Code as a means of self-policing. Wertham said Batman and Robin promoted homosexuality, claimed comics were laden with subliminal female nudity, caused children to emulate violence, glorified bondage, and traumatized young children with horrific and demonic villains.

In the 1970s and 1980s, American Protestant groups targeted another pop-culture iteration, saying Dungeons & Dragons was a game based on Satanic rituals. Church camps across the nation showed cheesy videos saying that the devil was behind fantasy books and games, waging “spiritual warfare” on the faithful.

The same groups had another battlefront with television and film, saying Looney Tunes was too violent, The Smurfs taught kids about witchcraft, E.T. was a sacrilegious perversion of the Christ story, pink Teletubbies promoted homosexuality, and South Park… well, they still don’t understand that Matt Stone and Trey Parker are fairly libertarian themselves.

All of those allegations against new forms of media and distribution are just non causa pro causa arguments that lack even the benefit of statistical validation. Video games are the latest to be attacked.


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