Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Magical Thinking

Stage magic is very cool. For me, though, it gets even more interesting when I find out how the tricks are done. I'm not the only one - Penn & Teller, among others, frequently include the secrets behind (some of) their tricks right in the act, which tells me that a lot of other people like knowing about the reality behind the magic.

But the secrets are only cool when the trick works. Learning how to force a card is just not that interesting when the person teaching you can't shuffle without sending cards flying around the room. And finding out the trick of sawing a woman in half is much less impressive when it involves burying the assistant later - in two coffins. There has to be something real to go with the explanation.

Scientific theories are much the same, doubled and redoubled. A good theory not only tells us how and why something happens in nature, it lets us use that knowledge to make predictions, develop technology, and make our lives better. In science, the term "theory" is the highest accolade a concept can achieve, and the value we gain from them is hard to overestimate.

But the basis for any scientific theory is careful observations. You have to know what is happening before you can even try to explain why and how. A detailed theory of how sheep fly could lead to new concepts in aerodynamics, improved aircraft, maybe even a step towards anti-gravity - except for the indisputable fact that sheep don't fly so much as they plummet. Once again, there has to be something real to go with the explanation.

For the last few decades, conservatives have been championing an economic "theory" - in essence, that low taxes improve the economy, raise tax revenues, and create jobs. It's an attractive idea, fairly simple, and easy to see how it should work. After all, the people who own businesses are the ones who create the jobs and fund the paychecks - so if they have more money, they can do more of that. Makes perfect sense. There's only one problem - it doesn't appear to work. Ever. I can't find any evidence that lowering taxes provides those benefits - in fact, what little evidence I've seen seems to point the other way. It appears to me that the conservatives have ignored step one in creating their theory - observing what actually happens.

I mean, let's look at our current situation.
  • The top tax rates for both corporate and personal income are nearly the lowest they've been since World War II, and they've both been that way for several years - and there are no jobs.
  • Exxon-Mobil set new records for annual earnings in four of their last six years, and are on track to beat their second-best this year - and there are no jobs.
  • A company that makes expensive tech-toys for wealthy people now has more cash on hand than the U.S. government - and there are no jobs.
  • The top 1% of the nation's wealthy hold about one third of the total wealth. The top 10% hold two thirds. The gap between rich and poor hasn't been this bad since just before the Great Depression - and there are still no damn jobs.
Please, conservatives, stop telling us how and why keeping low taxes for the rich is supposed to benefit all of us. I've heard it enough that I can sing along. Instead, show us that it actually works - show us something real to go with the explanation. Or shut up and get out of the way.

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