Archives for November 2011

What to Be Thankful For? Start With Your Life

Thanksgiving Day, 2011. This holiday, like every holiday, everyone should take a few minutes to reflect on and appreciate what the day stands for.

The first thing that comes to my mind is life. Be thankful that you were born. Especially considering that you had an infinitely remote chance of ever being conceived.

As pointed out here, it’s an amazing feat to be conceived. But once you get that far, you still had to run quite a gauntlet in order to be delivered nine months later. Thirty to fifty percent of embryos are lost early on – often without the mother’s knowledge that she even was briefly pregnant. Of the known pregnancies, some 10 to 20 percent of humans in the womb die due to miscarriage. Of the humans who manage to get past that hurdle, in the United States 1 out of 5 of them are intentionally killed; in Russia more than half of them are. (Can you imagine beating infinite odds to make it so far – so close to being able to experience the world outside of the womb – and then someone cutting short your life?)

So, adding up the above numbers, once you beat the infinitely remote odds of ever being conceived, there was still a 60 to 90 percent chance that you’d die within the next nine months. (Pre-Roe v. Wade you had a 40 to 70 percent chance of dying.)

But in America and other developed countries, once you make it to the delivery room, you’re practically home free. (Of course not everyone is, but statistically, your chances are pretty good.) Thanks to the hard work, intelligence, creativity, and dedication of millions of Americans alive now and who came before us – who helped set up and run a pretty awesome society compared with the rest of the world and compared with the past (especially pre-20th century), your chances of living a full lifespan are pretty high.

Not only that, but there’s a very good chance that you’re in the top 1 percent of the world, income-wise. Even if you’re at the official poverty line in America – which isn’t poverty compared with most other countries and compared with past times (poverty is a relative term) – you’re still in the top 15 percent of the world.

Now that you’re alive and living pretty comfortably – and aware enough to realize how exceedingly low  your chances were of ever being born – savor the moment. To borrow from something I wrote previously,

Feast your eyes on the sky, the grass, the trees, the animals, the people. Listen to the sounds of nature. Feel the breeze on your skin. Or the warmth of the sun. Do it knowing that you were so extremely close to never experiencing any of it at all.

The mundane is the extraordinary – like waking up in the morning, eating breakfast, looking out your window, or driving down your street.  You had an extremely close brush with never existing at all, so you should have a strong thankfulness for life – on this Thanksgiving Day and every day – and live your life with vigor.

Of course, you should be thankful for our tiny corner (or spec on a spec on a spec) of the universe, where our sun got formed, and then our planet got formed, which just happened to be the right size and the right distance from the sun in order to support life. And once that was in place, you should be thankful for everything else that happened astronomically and geologically and biologically in order for humans to get started. (Read the book What if the Moon Didn’t Exist? for examples.) Even thank the asteroid that is said to have wiped out (or contributed to wiping out) the dinosaurs; that paved the way for the rise of the mammals, and then you.

So in considering what to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, there are an innumerable number of things, and I’m sure you have your own list. But Life is one thing that can go at the top of that list.

Further Insight on Why the Rich Get Richer

You’ll never believe who presented a good explanation of why the top 1 percent’s income has risen faster than that of other groups: Bill Moyers.

Moyers cited one Dieter Braeuninger, who points out that rapid technological change is resulting in a shift to more technology-intensive production methods, i.e. automation, and thus higher demand – and higher pay – for for highly-skilled workers who are able to operate such technology. Those smart enough to invest in such technology enjoy a higher payoff as well. Braeuninger adds, “The supply of basic labor has increased enormously… As long as less-skilled workers cannot shift to more productive tasks, increasing income inequality remains a threat.”

In other words, it’s differences in education levels, and an oversupply of low-skilled labor, that explain inequality, not sinister plots by the rich.

And even then, in the U.S. the lower-income groups’ incomes have risen over the past few decades – just not as fast as the higher-income groups. If people are all bent out of shape over the poor getting richer while the rich get richer faster, then your problem is an oversupply of envy. The solution isn’t taxation, but education – not only educating people to acquire the skills of the modern technological world, but also educating the enviers on why they should let go of such a destructive and useless emotion.

Moreover, the rich have been getting richer at least since the dawn of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago. Since then, and especially in the past few hundred years, humans have been continuously adopting more technology-intensive methods requiring higher skill levels. We’ve gone from hunter-gatherer societies where people’s incomes were more equal than today – and equally poverty-stricken – to a highly complex economy requiring an immense differentiation of tasks and skill levels (and thus pay levels).

That said, Moyers also turned to a usual suspect, Robert Reich, who preposterously implied that the rich get richer at the expense of everyone else – by taking away the money of the nonrich. Reich writes, “Now, when they’re taking home that much, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy growing.” Of course he doesn’t explain how such a process would work. The absence of such explanations is a common occurrence among the left. It’s one of the things the prompted me to abandon them long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acumen Courtesy of Thomas Sowell

From “Democracy Vs. Mob Rule”

“Greed” says how much you want. But you can become the greediest person on earth and that will not increase your pay in the slightest. It is what other people pay you that increases your income.

…Maybe some of the bankers or financiers should have turned down the millions and billions that politicians were offering them. But sainthood is no more common in Wall Street than on Pennsylvania Avenue — or in the media or academia, for that matter.

Actually, some banks did try to refuse the government bailout money, to avoid the interference with their business that they knew would come with it. But the feds insisted — and federal regulators’ power to create big financial problems for banks made it hard to say no. The feds made them an offer they couldn’t refuse…

…As for the “top one percent” in income that attract so much attention, angst and denunciation, there is always going to be a top one percent, unless everybody has the same income. That top one percent has no more monopoly on sainthood or villainy than people in any other bracket…

Moreover, this is not an enduring class of people. Nor are people in other income brackets. Most of the people in the top one percent at any given time are there for only one year. Anyone who sells an average home in San Francisco can get into the top one percent in income — for that year. Other one-time spikes in income account for most of the people in that top one percent.

You May Be In the Top 1 Percent of the World

I have a confession to make.

If you’re a fan of Occupy Wall Street, I hope you’ll cut me some slack, once you learn of my status.

Here goes (takes a deep breath):

I’m in the top 1 percent of income earners – of the world.

Yes, we’re talking about the big leagues, here. When I set my sights on something, I aim for the world. None of this USA-only stuff.

I bet you’re thinking, “Tax the heck out of him.”

But actually, you may be a 1 percenter, too.

You definitely are, if you take into account all the people who’ve ever lived.

For the scoop, click here.

 

The New Demagogues

Have you ever come across people who trumpet statistics saying that Jews have a disproportionate share of the wealth? Those statistics may be right, but usually the person spouting them is prejudiced against Jews.

What they do is tout certain statistics without providing the right context or explanation, such as the fact that Jewish parents really emphasize education more so than people of other religions, resulting in their children having higher incomes when they become adults. They should be admired, not vilified. It’s a similar situation with Asian-Americans.

Now, media outlets, as well as President Obama and many others, are trumpeting statistics showing that in recent decades, the top 1 percent’s income has risen much faster than that of the other 99 percent.

To tout statistics like this without providing the right context is like anti-Semitic people touting statistics showing that Jews have a disproportionate share of the wealth. The people in the media and the President are prejudiced against the rich.

Just as the demagogues of old whipped up envy, prejudice, and hate against the Jews, President Obama and his enablers are doing the same against the rich.

(For context regarding the top 1 percent statistics, click here.)

 

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Richer

Here’s a comment I posted in response to an article in The Economist, “The 99 Percent”:

It’s surprising, and encouraging, to see that the income of even the lowest quintile rose over the past 30 years. You’d think with the millions of low-skilled, non-English-speaking immigrants pouring in, the income of the lowest quintile would have declined, since income inequality is mainly a function of differences in education/skill level. The question is, will rising incomes of even the lowest quintile be a thing of the future, as it was of the past?

If it doesn’t last, it certainly wouldn’t be the fault of the top 1 percent. If wages of the lowest-income groups decline, the culprit would be an oversupply of low-skilled (many of whom are non-English-speaking) labor.

Meantime, if everyone’s incomes go up – as has happened over the past 30 years – then that’s a good thing. Only the envious are troubled by the fact that the incomes of the rich have risen faster than everyone else.

If you earn $20,000 a year, and your real income goes up to $25,000 a year, that’s good, right? But what if you hear that someone else’s income goes from $100K to $150K? If you’re the envious and resentful type, you’d be troubled. If you’re emotionally mature, you wouldn’t be troubled.

Moreover, rising incomes of the rich isn’t happening at the expense of everyone else (except perhaps in the case of those who get their wealth through wealth coercion as opposed to wealth creation, such as certain members of the legal profession). It isn’t a zero-sum economy. It’s a positive-sum economy where many wealth creators get rich themselves, and in the process make everyone else’s life better through life-enhancing products (software, electronics, appliances, foods, etc.) and services. So the top 1 percent not only provide the jobs to the 99 percent, but also the life-enhancing products.

Factors causing the 1 percent to get richer faster include globalization, where markets are now much bigger than they were in the past and where one can therefore sell many more products than before. Another factor is population growth – now there are 7 billion of us. If you make an inexpensive product costing $1 and sell it to just one-seventh of the population, you’re a multi-millionaire, perhaps a billionaire if your costs are low.

Is it the top 1 percent’s fault that powerful forces such as globalization and population growth are changing the income dynamics?

The enviers want to raise taxes on the rich in order to try reverse the income inequality statistics. But the rich provide the jobs. They provide the products that enhance our lives. They provide the money so that we can get loans to by cars, homes, and education.

Punish the rich, and you punish us all.

For more on this topic, click here.