Archive for April, 2021

What About a Truly Progressive Wealth Gain Tax?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

The idea of a minuscule 1% Wealth tax has been promoted recently, but what I think would be better is a truly progressive tax on all wealth gains regardless of source – whether it be through employment income, capital gains, or gifts and inheritances.

What reasonable objection can there be to a tax regime which says you can keep 1/n of the nth $million of whatever wealth you gain, by any means whatsoever, in any given year?

This would mean (since 1/1=1) that there would be no tax at all on the first million dollars of income.

The second million would be taxed at a rate of 50%

The third at 67%.

And so on.

So an income of $2million (either from employment, capital gains, or inheritance) would yield an after-tax gain of $1000000+$500000=$1500000 for an effective tax rate of 25%

An income of $3million would yield  $1500000+$333333=$1833333 for an effective tax rate of 39%

$4million would yield  $1833333+$250000=$2083333 for a net rate of 48%

And an income of $ten million (either from employment, capital gains, or inheritance) would yield an after-tax gain of $1000000+$500000+$333333+…+$100000=$2,930,000 for an effective tax rate of 71%.

And, yes, the marginal tax rate would be unlimited, so an inheritance of $1billion, if paid all at once, would have a marginal tax rate (on the last million) of 99.9% but the amount the poor exploited child would get to keep would still be almost $7.5 million.

But if the transfer was spread out over several years the tax impact would be a lot less – which might perhaps provide a useful incentive for effective succession planning!

The revenue (and taxpayer impact) of such a system could easily be adjusted by just changing the tax-free amount and step size from a million dollars to some other amount (such as, say, $100k)

What is Murder?

Saturday, April 24th, 2021

It’s in the last minute and a half of this video that the doctor testifying in Chauvin’s defense provides what I consider the most damning evidence for the prosecution. It relates to the difference between the last two videos in my earlier post where, in the color negative version of the Floyd incident, the person who died was immediately placed in a recovery position and subjected to CPR.

It is never possible to really prove the intended outcome of an action, so I guess the legal definition of murder is generally more along the lines of an intended act (or omission?) whose consequence is known to almost certainly be death. In Chauvin’s case we can be reasonably certain that he knew of the possible risk of knee-on-neck restraint, but in my opinion it is not obvious that while Floyd was complaining Chauvin had any good reason to know that what he was doing was almost certain to cause death(*); and since it is often used by police, taking that level of risk is at least sometimes considered not to be murderous even if death does ensue.

But I think we can be almost certain (eg from senior police testimony) that Chauvin knew from his training at least that when Floyd stopped complaining, cardiac arrest was likely to have occurred (albeit very likely largely due to the drugs and panic as much or more than actual airway obstruction). And from that moment on, any interference with prompt attempts at resuscitation does amount to murder.

*- Perhaps it should be more widely known by police that knee-on-neck restraint is very likely to cause death when applied to people in a state of drug-induced panic – to the extent that using it at all in such cases should be prohibited, and should result in an almost automatic conviction for at least manslaughter if death does ensue.

Coleridge’s Theory of Ideas

Monday, April 19th, 2021

Well, I have to admit that I had been completely unaware of Coleridge as a philosopher until coming upon this Aeon Essay. But on reading it  I found much to like about what seems to have been his approach.

In particular I was impressed by the assertion that “seeing polarised debates as revealing an interdependent whole, he tried to embrace the views of his philosophical opponents, rather than simply dismiss them.” If true this would be a refreshing deviation from the impression I often got from reading philosophy that each new school was arguing against a wilfully over-literal interpretation of whatever its predecessor had tried to express in the probably always inadequate words and sentences of human language. Perhaps his poet’s ear gave him a greater understanding of the weakness of propositional language than seems to have been common among those who try to define perfect grand philosophical systems (often with the same effectiveness as the famous blind men studying an elephant without an understanding of the difference between “has” and “is”).

And I also like many aspects of how his ‘polar philosophy’ deals with subjective and objective ideas and how he seems to have thought of the age-old stress between thinking of parts and wholes (the many vs the one) as related to different mental functions (which some might now, perhaps too simplistically, identify with left and right brain hemispheres).

Where does our “Number Sense” come from?

Sunday, April 11th, 2021

Source: Why do humans have numbers: are they cultural or innate? | Aeon Essays

The fact that we can reliably count to 152 and distinguish it from 153 does not mean that we have a “sense” of either of those numbers. In fact I know of no-one who does. But they are not “social constructions” for us either.

Our understanding of the distinct features of 152, while not directly built into our brains, is an inevitable consequence of certain simpler features that are built in  – namely the tendency to clump aspects of our experience together into distinct objects (including the finding of smaller clumps within larger ones and conversely identifying groups of clumps as new bigger clumps), to identify pairs or groups of clumps as being somehow the “same” as one another in various ways (eg as having equivalent elements, as having the same small number of elements, or as having similar structure in space or time, or…), to have some idea of “relationships” between different things with the possibility that a putative such relationship may be “true” or “false”, and to have rules of “logic” that allow us to relate the truth and falsehood of various such relationships. Any entity with these capacities, even if alone in the universe, might well learn to distinguish 152 from 153, to factor both of them, to recognize 151 as prime, and even to prove Fermat’s Theorem and wonder about the Riemann Hypothesis. There is definitely nothing social or cultural about any of that (apart from the names with which we label the various concepts).

Of course that doesn’t make it all a “real” feature of the universe (though I guess it would be real by definition as a feature of our minds if those minds were really capable of implementing it to all levels), as it depends on those inherited means of processing data which may or may not suffice to describe and predict things at all levels of accuracy.

This is basically just a rehash (or messed up complication) of what I said last time, but the second half of Ball’s article brings up another important point.

Although the arithmetic of large numbers can be analyzed in terms of mental tools which only include built in models for very small ones, we do have (and share with other animals) other ways of dealing with quantity. These involve intuition about relative magnitudes which allow us to compare them without the use of discrete numbers. These comparisons often seem based on geometry (and sometimes fail us – especially as children – when the physical scales conflict with the quantities we are asked to compare). They also often seem based on ratios, and so involve a logarithmic relationship to the additive scales we sometimes use for the same quantities (perhaps also related to the physiological structure of some of our sensory apparati).

Whatever the reason, I think it is important to recognize that our built-in mental apparatus for recognizing and comparing quantities may have (at least) two completely distinct components, which may have evolved to meet different environmental pressures, and may be located in different parts of the brain with different types of implementation. A deeper understanding of this may well be extremely useful in mathematics education, and also perhaps in many other situations where quantitative information needs to be communicated to a wide variety of human types.


Are Numbers “Real”?

Saturday, April 10th, 2021

This Aeon Essay about whether numbers are cultural or innate is a rerun from 2017. But I read it again and it strikes me that the claims attributed to cognitive scientist Rafael Núñez are wrong on at least two counts.

Yet whether numbers really exist independently of humans ‘is not a scientific debate, but a philosophical, theological or ideological one’, said Núñez. ‘The claim that, say, five is a prime number independently of humans is not scientifically testable. Such facts are matters of beliefs or faith, and we can have conversations and debates about them but we cannot do science with them.’

This is doubly wrong.

First, I would argue that whether numbers “really exist” independently of humans is indeed a scientific question with little to learn from philosophical, theological or ideological perspectives.

And secondly I would say that, if numbers “really exist”, then the fact that five is a prime number independently of humans is indeed scientifically testable.

But first things first. The question of whether numbers “really exist” is really a question about whether or not our propensity to identify parts of our experience as separate countable things, and the binary logic that we use to relate propositions about them, are in fact capable of providing an optimal means for making predictions about what we will experience – or whether some modified “quantum” logic about not-exactly-countable objects with fuzzy boundaries may eventually do a better job. (Yes, some Philosopher may tell me that’s just one “Ontological Perspective”, but I would just ask them to come back when they have a better one.)

And with respect to the primality of five, I would say that (so long as our conventional rules of logic survive the test of experiment) one kind of scientific test of a proposition is provided by showing its logical relationship to others that have already been established. And the primality of five is indeed a logical consequence of the basic properties of numbers that we already consider well tested. (And, yes, some Philosopher may tell me that’s just one “Epistemological Perspective”, but I would just ask them to come back when they have a better one.)

But the article does raise some interesting questions about how our capacity for inventing and/or understanding numbers evolved – which I think are worthy of a subsequent posting.

The Problem with “Scientism” is the Word

Friday, April 2nd, 2021

This is old enough that I may have already responded to it. And after more than half a century maybe I should admit defeat. But every time I see that word I re-live the indignation I felt as a 17 year old being forced to sit through a course on ‘Scientism, Man, and Religion’ and not being able to focus on anything other than the outrageous etymological dishonesty of introducing that pejorative term with the effect (obviously intended because any literate scholar would see it) of causing confusion in the public mind between the mental attitudes of a scientist (which is what the structure of the word implies) and an uncritical devotion to science as our only source of truth and value (which would have been better referred to as “scienceism”).