Archive for June, 2020

Who’s NOT Wrong About Free Will?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

George Ellis, Emeritus Professor of Complex Systems and Applied Mathematics, co-author of Stephen Hawking, and (IMO less auspiciously) winner of the 2004 Templeton Prize for reconciling science and religion has written a recent Aeon Essay explaining “why so many physicists are wrong about free will”, and has received an unsolicited rebuttal from Jerry Coyne. I haven’t yet read Coyne’s response but here’s my response to Ellis:

I have two comments.
The first is that the top down effect of my thought processes on subsequent mental activities and actions does not preclude the possibility of purely causal and/or random dependence of those thought processes on earlier purely physical factors. (Even if perhaps through a long chicken and egg sequence of immediately prior physical brain factors depending on earlier thoughts depending on earlier physical factors back to the moment of my first awakening – but never with any need to introduce anything other than purely causal and/or random explanations)
The second, and in my opinion more important objection is to your pessimistic conclusion that without something other than deterministic causality and pure randomness “We wouldn’t be accountable in any meaningful way” and “responsibility wouldn’t enter into the picture”. Since you have not established with any certainty that there is anything other than deterministic causality and pure randomness, that would indeed be a devastating conclusion. But fortunately we can be grateful that it is false. Not because we are not largely deterministic, but rather because we are.
The key is in the word “responsibility” which, interpreted on the basis of its structure, suggests ability to respond to a correction. This justifies censure and even maybe punishment, not on the basis of some abstract divine judgement, but because they work. And they work because we do respond to stimuli in some at least partly predictable way.

A Message to Canada’s Economic Recovery Committee 

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Let’s Not be Afraid to Tax the Rich

Dear Ministers Chrystia Freeland, Jonathan Wilkinson, Steven Guilbeault, Navdeep Bains, Melanie Joly, Seamus O’Regan, and Mary Ng,

The high top marginal tax rates that followed the two great world wars of the 20th century led to periods of unprecedented economic growth and improvement in living standards for all, while subsequent reductions led to periods of depression and gross inequity- which have been continuing ever more dramatically since the turn of this century. The current regime of runaway wealth inequality in Canada has left gaping holes in our social safety net — holes that COVID19 exposed, and that our most vulnerable are at risk of falling through. And while the need for social support and other expenditures is increasing to wartime levels, the revenue from taxes on earned income is decreasing.

Billionaires are becoming richer during the pandemic while everyday Canadians struggle to get by — and while those of us who rely on earned income pay more than our fair share in taxes, the wealthy pay little. Whatever taxes are collected fall more heavily on middle class wage earners than on the holders of accumulated capital (which is often inherited rather than earned in any way at all – either by labour, or by sensible risk-taking and wise investment).

It is time now to change the tax system so as to transfer the burden onto those who can most afford it (and who are benefiting most from the production of our economy) – and to ensure that unearned wealth and income are taxed at least as much as any other.

I therefore urge you to raise the marginal income tax rates and include all forms of income including especially unearned income such as gifts and inheritances as taxable income in the year received — and to implement an emergency wealth tax on Canada’s ultra rich to handle the costs of this immediate crisis.


Alan Cooper

Source: Send a message to Canada’s economic recovery committee to demand a wealth tax now |