UBI, or Something Better?

What’s odd about this discussion on Universal Basic Income below is that nobody successful in Silicon Valley participates in a UBI scheme, nor would they. They rely on risk-taking, equity, and reward. Not sure why they don’t advocate this for everybody – after all, because of the way risk is assigned to asset ownership, labor ends up taking all kinds of risk, yet almost never participates in the rewards to that risk. Instead they get a one-time bonus or profit-sharing.

But Zuckerberg would never accept those terms, either now or before he made his first dollar. It looks to me that Silicon valley tech supports redistribution in order to make their outsized gains from network effects more politically palatable.

Unfortunately, this critic of Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley in general wants to double down on failed tax and redistribution schemes instead of empowering people to participate in the risks and rewards of capitalist entrepreneurial success.

“He (or She) who is without capital in a capitalist society is little more than a wage slave and a captive consumer.” 

Another truism about the future: In a world run by robots, he who owns and controls the robots is king. Make sure you own your robot!

Original article here.

What Mark Zuckerberg Gets Wrong About UBI

New Republic, July 7, 2017

By Clio Chang

It’s no secret that tech bros love universal basic income. Sam Altman of Y Combinator is funding a UBI pilot program in Oakland, California, in part because he was inspired by Star Trek. Tesla’s Elon Musk supports the policy because he realizes that the aggressive automation caused by the tech industry will make UBI “necessary.” This week, as part of his “I’m-not-running-for-president” tour around the country, Mark Zuckerberg visited Homer, Alaska, which resulted in him writing a Facebook post lauding the merits of the state’s Permanent Fund as a model for a national form of basic income.

UBI, a concept that dates back centuries, is the idea that every person should receive some amount of money so that no one dips beneath a basic standard of living. For those on the left, it’s seen as an alternative to our country’s woefully limited cash welfare system. For libertarians, a basic income is lauded as a slimmer, less intrusive way to deliver government benefits. It is the rare utopian idea that people of different political stripes can agree on—Zuckerberg himself made sure to note the “bipartisan” appeal of the policy in his post.

But Zuckerberg reveals exactly why the left should be alarmed that Silicon Valley is taking the lead on this issue.

First, the idea that UBI has bipartisan appeal is disingenuous. The left would have a policy that redistributes wealth by funding UBI through a more progressive tax scheme or the diverting of capital income. But libertarians like Charles Murray argue for a UBI that completely scraps our existing welfare state, including programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and housing subsidies. This would be extremely regressive, since money currently directed towards the poor would instead be spread out for a basic income for all. And certain benefits like health insurance can’t effectively be replaced with cash.

Second, Zuckerberg asserts that Alaska’s Permanent Fund—which uses the state’s oil resources to pay a dividend to each Alaskan and is seen as one of the few examples of an actual UBI-like policy—is advantageous because it “comes from conservative principles of smaller government, rather than progressive principles of a larger safety net.” But a UBI policy can only reflect small government principles if one envisions it eating into the country’s existing welfare state, rather than coming on top of it. In this respect, Zuckerberg’s advocacy of UBI “bipartisanship” starts to look more like a veiled libertarian agenda.

This attitude echoes other pro-UBI tech lords like Altman, who sees basic income as providing a “floor” but not a ceiling. In his ideal scheme, no one will be very poor, but people like Altman will still be free to get “as rich as they fucking want.” The tech vision of the world is one where it can wash its hands of the rising joblessness it will generate through automation, but where those at the top can still wallow in extreme wealth. As Altman told Business Insider, “We need to be ready for a world with trillionaires in it, and that’s always going to feel deeply unfair. It feels unfair to me. But to drive society forward, you’ve got to let that happen.”

This is deeply telling of the tech UBI mentality: driving society forward doesn’t mean reducing inequality, but rather fostering more entrepreneurship. The former is viewed as unnecessary and the latter as an inherent good.

Zuckerberg also compares Alaska’s Permanent Fund to running a business—a very specific one:

Seeing how Alaska put this dividend in place reminded me of a lesson I learned early at Facebook: organizations think profoundly differently when they’re profitable than when they’re in debt. When you’re losing money, your mentality is largely about survival. But when you’re profitable, you’re confident about your future and you look for opportunities to invest and grow further. Alaska’s economy has historically created this winning mentality, which has led to this basic income. That may be a lesson for the rest of the country as well.

The idea that a “winning mentality” is what is going to lead to a basic income in the United States reveals how little Zuckerberg understands about politics. This is a pervasive ideology among tech leaders, who believe the lessons that they have gleaned from their own industry are applicable to all of the country’s problems. But remember the last time a disrupter said he was going to step into the political arena and run our country like a business?

For moguls like Zuckerberg, there is never any deep consideration of, say, the fact that racism, sexism, and classism are deeply intertwined with our country’s policies and are some of the biggest obstacles to implementing a highly redistributive policy like a UBI. Nor is there any attempt to consult with lifelong organizers and activists on the issue.

At the end of his post, Zuckerberg states that the “most effective safety net programs create an incentive or need to work rather than just giving a handout.” This echoes the “personal responsibility” rhetoric that drove workfare policies in the 1990s, which ended up kicking millions of people off of welfare rolls, leaving them in extreme poverty. The line also directly undermines the push for a UBI, which is quite literally a handout that can help liberate people from the “need to work.”

It would appear that Silicon Valley’s support for a basic income comes from self-interest. As Jathan Sadowski writes in the Guardian, “the trouble comes when UBI is used as a way of merely making techno-capitalism more tolerable for people, when it is administered like a painkiller that numbs the pain and masks the symptoms of economic injustice without addressing the root causes of exploitation and inequality.”

Tech moguls may seem like tempting allies for UBI advocates, but their vision of an ideal social safety net does not look anything like the left’s. If it did, they wouldn’t be pushing just for a basic income, but also for things like universal health care, free public education (not just for engineers!), and strong labor unions. For Silicon Valley, UBI is a sleek technological means to a very different end.

Advertisements

Breaking News: Man Bites Dog!

Not really. But this incident got my attention as an even rarer occurrence. Witness rationality and reason applied to taxes and healthcare. Read on. And watch the video of the speech.

Ben Carson for President

The Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon has two big ideas for America.

Whether this weekend finds you blowing two feet of snow off the driveway or counting the hours until “Downton Abbey,” make time to watch the video of Dr. Ben Carson speaking to the White House prayer breakfast this week.

Seated in view to his right are Senator Jeff Sessions and President Obama. One doesn’t look happy. You know something’s coming when Dr. Carson says, “It’s not my intention to offend anyone. But it’s hard not to. The PC police are out in force everywhere.”

Dr. Carson tossed over the PC police years ago. Raised by a single mother in inner-city Detroit, he was as he tells it “a horrible student with a horrible temper.” Today he’s director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins and probably the most renowned specialist in his field.

Late in his talk he dropped two very un-PC ideas. The first is an unusual case for a flat tax: “What we need to do is come up with something simple. And when I pick up my Bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the universe, God, and he’s given us a system. It’s called a tithe.

“We don’t necessarily have to do 10% but it’s the principle. He didn’t say if your crops fail, don’t give me any tithe or if you have a bumper crop, give me triple tithe. So there must be something inherently fair about proportionality. You make $10 billion, you put in a billion. You make $10 you put in one. Of course you’ve got to get rid of the loopholes. Some people say, ‘Well that’s not fair because it doesn’t hurt the guy who made $10 billion as much as the guy who made 10.’ Where does it say you’ve got to hurt the guy? He just put a billion dollars in the pot. We don’t need to hurt him. It’s that kind of thinking that has resulted in 602 banks in the Cayman Islands. That money needs to be back here building our infrastructure and creating jobs.”

Not surprisingly, a practicing physician has un-PC thoughts on health care:

“Here’s my solution: When a person is born, give him a birth certificate, an electronic medical record, and a health savings account to which money can be contributed—pretax—from the time you’re born ’til the time you die. If you die, you can pass it on to your family members, and there’s nobody talking about death panels. We can make contributions for people who are indigent. Instead of sending all this money to some bureaucracy, let’s put it in their HSAs. Now they have some control over their own health care. And very quickly they’re going to learn how to be responsible.” [Editor’s Note: there is absolutely only one way we can fulfill our demands for healthcare over the full course of our lives – by saving for it. HSAs and the correct tax treatment can help us do this. It isn’t rocket science, folks. 85-90% of our healthcare needs can be met this way. Insurance and public subsidies can then manage the remaining unpredictable contingencies, like pre-existing conditions. BTW, death is not a pre-existing condition, it’s more certain than the ACA tax!]

The Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon may not be politically correct, but he’s closer to correct than we’ve heard in years.

Gambling on the Welfare State

State-sponsored gambling is the one acceptable way of raising taxes on lower-income folks to help fund the welfare state. …Dancing in [politicians’] heads are visions of new state-sponsored gambling empires built on online poker, online slot machines and online lottery-ticket sales, with politicians collecting most of the vig.  …With or without federal regulation, legalized online poker is likely coming your way in 2013.

LOL. These are some great quotes from the article cited below. I’ve been waiting for someone to expose this dark secret about one way our politicians seek to fulfill their promises to take care of the poor. A remarkable trend that is probably inevitable, like sin taxes.

In my 2002 article titled CasinoWorld (downloadable pdf), I identified four behavioral types in terms of gaming strategies that explain risk behavior under uncertainty. These four types are explained in the following excerpt from the study:

The two dimensions of risk-taking (odds and stakes) yield four separate categories of agents (see Table 4.1):

  1. High odds/variance + high stakes = gambler
  2. Low odds/variance + high stakes = investor
  3. High odds/variance + low stakes = lottery player
  4. Low odds/variance + low stakes = subsistence/saver

————————

If we run a game of chance with these four strategies employed, eventually we end up with only two types: investors who own all the wealth and lottery players who live a subsistence life. Is this the world our leaders have planned for us? The 1% and 99%? Think about it, carefully. Happy Holidays!

From the WSJ:

D.C. Plays Fizzbin With Online Poker

How to make the poor pay for the welfare state: online gambling.

By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.

Sometimes only a Star Trek metaphor will do. Remember the episode about a primitive people who developed a planet-girdling civilization based on the principles of the Chicago gangs? Many modern economic anthropologists would tell you that the state begins as organized crime, dividing up rackets and controlling turf.

Case in point: anything having to do with Internet poker.

It starts with the enterprising activities of the Justice Department. Seizing on a 2006 law making it illegal to process U.S. payments for online gambling, federal prosecutors last year brought charges against three offshore poker websites. While admitting no wrongdoing, the sites quickly settled and agreed to hand over substantial sums of money to the department.

Some of these funds were supposed to reimburse the “victims,” U.S. poker players who had money in their accounts when the sites were shut down. But so cumbersome and legalistic is the process created by Justice that many lawyers say they don’t expect their clients to find it worth the trouble or legal fees. Justice may end up keeping much of the loot itself under asset-forfeiture rules.

Don’t expect a hue and cry from gambling interests, however. Bigger stakes are up for grabs, not unlike the turf war Captain Kirk found when he beamed down to the gangster planet Sigma Iotia II.

Having cleared the online poker marketplace of its incumbents, Justice decided that under the 1961 Wire Act most Internet gambling isn’t illegal after all. This new “interpretation,” which came at the behest of Illinois and New York, has inspired a new light in the eyes of state officials looking for ways to fund the welfare state. Dancing in their heads are visions of new state-sponsored gambling empires built on online poker, online slot machines and online lottery-ticket sales, with politicians collecting most of the vig.

Not everyone is pleased by the prospect. Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who is retiring this year, doesn’t like gambling; Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, doesn’t like gambling when it’s not controlled by Nevada casinos.

During the lame-duck session, these improbable bedfellows promoted a bill to halt the online gambling stampede, except for online poker. Why the exception? Poker is a great American tradition, say supporters, including former Sen. Al D’Amato, representing something called the Poker Players Alliance.

More to the point, stopping Americans from playing Internet poker is probably impossible. Under the Kyl-Reid proposal, at least players would be pitted against each other, not the house, which is deemed less iniquitous and corrupting.

The bill satisfies Mr. Reid, meanwhile, because Nevada is already pushing ahead with in-state online poker. Nevada’s casinos and Nevada’s gaming regulators see a federal law as a way to give themselves a headstart in marketing a government-endorsed version of the game to the masses nationally and internationally.

The Kyl-Reid bill, as Captain Kirk would quickly suss out (aided by the deductive powers of Mr. Spock), was destined instantly to become a bone of contention among the various gangs jostling for a piece of the online poker action.

The state lottery commissioners and governors opposed the bill because it would prevent them offering an array of tantalizing new online games to suckers, er, citizens of their states.

Convenience-store owners opposed the bill, fearing it would clear the way for online lottery ticket sales, which would cut into their lucrative piece of the over-the-counter lottery racket.

The Nevada casinos naturally favored any law that would give them a leg up in the emerging marketplace for legal online poker.

In hearings before Congress last year, a Native American spokesman argued that tribes must be allowed to offer online poker on grounds that his 101-year-old grandmother had been a reservation schoolteacher fighting to preserve native culture. Therefore, “if anybody deserves to be at the front line in this industry it’s Native American people.”

Captain Kirk, it will be remembered, invented the deliberately convoluted card game “Fizzbin” as a ruse to distract the gambling-mad, gangster inhabitants of Sigma Iotia II. The Reid-Kyl gambit may have run out of time, but the feds aren’t likely to desist from trying to control so profitable a new racket. State-sponsored gambling is the one acceptable way of raising taxes on lower-income folks to help fund the welfare state. With or without federal regulation, legalized online poker is likely coming your way in 2013. Don’t be surprised if one of the games is called Fizzbin.

Romney vs. Obama on Corporate Tax Reform

“A 21st-century business tax policy would recognize the roles of globalization, the side-by-side organizations of corporate and noncorporate business, and double taxation of corporate equity returns.”

Tax policy is fundamental to creating a sustainable, growing economy. The authors make the argument for tax efficiency here, but there is also the distributional issue of capital accumulation. The correct tax policies on individual capital accumulation (i.e., dividends, interest, and capital gains) is crucial for sustainability. Obama doesn’t seem to get this and Santorum thinks distributional equity and job growth will come by favoring domestic manufacturing. Neither position is good economics.

___________

From the WSJ:

By proposing special breaks for manufacturing, Rick Santorum follows the president’s incorrect lead and introduces a significant economic distortion.

By KEVIN HASSETTand GLENN HUBBARD

The one thing on which our political leaders seem to agree is the need for corporate tax reform. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney unveiled new proposals on the same day last month, with President Obama cutting the top corporate tax rate to 28% and Mr. Romney reducing it to 25%. Rick Santorum would cut the rate to 17.5%, and to zero for manufacturing. Congressional action is bubbling below the surface as well.

This flurry of proposals is a result of increased awareness of how out of step America is with the rest of the world. The U.S. is currently an outlier within the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with a combined state and local corporate tax rate that is about 15 percentage points higher than the average of our trading partners.

But amid all of the promising rhetoric there is significant cause for concern. Many proposals, particularly those of Messrs. Obama and Santorum, seem to have unlearned many of the lessons of modern economics.

Three shifts in the economic environment since the 1960s, each recognized by most economists, provide an essential guide to reform.

First, U.S. tax policy can no longer treat the U.S. as a closed economy. Capital and business activity are increasingly mobile across national boundaries and highly responsive to variation in the net tax paid across locations. Second, the word “business” is not synonymous with “corporation”—pass-through (noncorporate) businesses are almost as important in the aggregate as old-fashioned corporations. Third, economic research has stressed that both corporate taxes and investor-level taxes on dividends and capital gains contribute to the tax burden on corporate equity. Investors factor in the total capital tax, both individual and firm level, when making decisions.

A key implication of the first point is that the rapid increase in international capital mobility has significantly altered the calculus of redistributive policies. Conventional analyses of who bears the burden of the corporate tax conclude that the tax is borne by owners of domestic capital.

But an explosion of recent empirical work documents that labor bears much of—and, in some analyses, all of—the burden of the corporate tax. This is because the corporate tax depresses investment in the domestic economy, reducing productivity and ultimately workers’ wages.

The effects even spread to the union sector. A recent study by economists R. Alison Felix and James R. Hines shows that union wage premiums in the U.S. increase sharply when state corporate income tax rates go down.

Mr. Obama’s plan, as if designed by Rip Van Winkle, is blind to this major shift and is thus a weak tonic for the flagging economic recovery. While the president proposes reducing the corporate tax rate, other changes that are portrayed as “loophole closing” on multinational firms make his plan a net increase in corporate taxes collected.

Mr. Obama, ignoring the second reality, would also raise taxes on noncorporate business, in the interest of requiring the “rich” to pay for the “privilege” of being an American, to paraphrase a recent statement by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Noncorporate business accounts for 36% of business receipts, 44% of business taxes, and 54% of private-sector employment.

A unifying characteristic of the many types of noncorporate businesses is that their owners pay taxes at individual rates. A substantial body of economic research has found that changes in individual marginal tax rates clearly impact noncorporate firms’ investment levels, hiring practices and wages.

In addition, Austan Goolsbee, the former chairman of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, did pioneering work in the early 2000s documenting that the organizational form of firms is highly responsive to tax changes, arguing at the time that this significantly increases the likely deadweight loss associated with the corporate tax. Mr. Goolsbee’s work suggests that the Obama proposal would cause costly reorganization.

While cutting corporate tax rates with his left hand, Mr. Obama would increase tax rates with his right by radically increasing tax rates on dividends and capital gains. Modern economic theory and empirical evidence—including a series of papers by one of us (Hassett) and Alan Auerbach of the University of California, Berkeley—show that raising taxes on dividends at the individual level increases the cost of equity capital and lowers asset prices, harming consumers while hindering firms’ ability to hire workers.

The plans of Messrs. Romney and Santorum have significantly more promise. Both would bring down rates on corporate and noncorporate income, though only Mr. Romney would do so in a revenue-neutral way (the Santorum plan adds greatly to federal deficits). According to one study, a top marginal tax rate on individual incomes of 28% as proposed by Mr. Romney, compared with Mr. Obama’s proposed top marginal rate of 39.6%, would increase the wage bill of noncorporate businesses by over 6%, raise investment by 10%, and push business receipts up by 16%.

And by proposing special tax breaks for manufacturing, Mr. Santorum follows Mr. Obama’s incorrect lead and introduces a significant economic distortion. In a world with highly mobile capital, tax policy needs to be neutral toward different forms of business activity and not succumb to the temptation to pick winners and losers. We are aware of no serious economic argument to support such a policy direction.

A 21st-century business tax policy would recognize the roles of globalization, the side-by-side organizations of corporate and noncorporate business, and double taxation of corporate equity returns. Mr. Obama’s tax reform proposal takes a wrong turn in each area and appears motivated by a poor understanding of the impact of capital taxation on business behavior and the welfare of middle-class Americans.

It is reassuring that political leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize the need for corporate tax reform. Let us hope that the reform that eventually becomes law is attentive to the realities of the 21st-century economy.

%d bloggers like this: