Can we use technology to decode nonsense from public policy makers?
By Chris Baecker - Guest Column
Nov. 23, 2017 at 3:36 p.m.
For a while now, I've been telling people "don't fear the robots. If we don't have jobs and income, robot-made products will have no customers." After some thought, though, maybe some caution is in order.
Perhaps we should be wary of the robots that create misleading headlines and flimsy stories, or those programmed to manufacture self-righteousness. Worst of all are the cyborgs empowered to create burdensome taxing and spending policy.
As if on cue, the politically cynical concern about the federal budget deficit has returned. Who is concerned at the moment depends on who is in power. These days, it's Democrats because Republicans now have control. A few years back, it was Republicans, and a few years before that it was the Democrats.
Republicans unfortunately can't be taken seriously when it comes to curtailing spending - the real problem. Not only do many of them favor more, but they're not even willing to rein in the bloat during the last century. Never mind President Trump's campaign pledge not to touch the entitlement state.
As for Democrats, no party that seriously thinks "the rich" can fund the vast majority of government, or that characterizes slowing the growth rate of spending as a cut, could possibly know enough to care about budget deficits.
Watching these two parties compete to show the most concern about the deficit is like watching a Democrat leech and a Republican leech arguing who's responsible for the American patient's deficit of blood.
Meanwhile, as predictable as politicians' and pundits' positions are on the current direction of tax reform (the right, yay; the left, nay), the general media has itched to exert its influence.
Before detailed plans were even released, they had all they needed with the president's nine-page guideline. One story that came to my attention was from National Public Radio. It had the clickbait headline cautioning Americans not to pin their hopes on the "promised $4,000 raise from the GOP tax plan."
The story reinforced the notion that we live in a static society. In this case, a report by the president's Council of Economic Advisers regarding the proposed reduction of corporate income taxes was implied to predict an exact effect on individuals.
Nothing can be forecasted perfectly in a relatively free economy subject to so many exogenous influences: new discoveries/inventions, business creation/closure, regulatory/trade policy, etc. Most people know raises will continue to be based on the same core principles: work ethic, value added to your company, company/industry/economic conditions, etc. These kinds of things aren't as easy to predict as a government handout.
Another attention-grabber was ABC News' reporting that "60 percent of Americans say Trump tax plan will benefit wealthy." Duh; they pay more! However, some wealthy want no part of it for their cohort.
Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer pled, "I'm a billionaire. Please raise my taxes," while Morris Pearl, head of Patriotic Millionaires, said only the "poorest among us ... should have tax cuts."
Apparently, Mr. Pearl is unaware that they pay little-to-no net income taxes thanks to deductions and other various breaks. Yet, according to Mr. Steyer, it has been "at the expense of working families" that folks like him have done "disproportionately well." I struggle to remember the last time I personally felt "taken advantage of by the richest Americans."
Surely Mr. Steyer, who holds degrees in political science and economics from Yale, isn't referring to cuts in government programs. We spend more than $4 trillion, we're $20 trillion in debt, and have $109 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Uncle Sam's operations continue apace.
If they are so eager to pay more taxes, why not pass on all those loopholes? Failing that, the Bureau of the Fiscal Service accepts "donations" on behalf of the federal government.
In a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Christoph Koch explained the research he's been leading to "enhance the brain" in response to robots in the hopes that humans could create "precise and error-free ... digital code ... at the speed of thought."
Hopefully, the general public figures out how to use such technology in order to better decode the nonsense fed to us by the automatons disguised as public policymakers and spinners.
Christopher E. Baecker manages fixed assets for Pioneer Energy Services and teaches economics at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. He graduated from Victoria High School in 1990. He may be reached via chrisbaecker.com, @chrisbaecker71 and LinkedIn.com.