Monthly Archives: October 2020

Tax and Regulate

A dislike of taxes and regulations are the hallmarks of those with a libertarian bent. These concepts are somehow subsumed in the socialism is bad, capitalism is good rubric. The problem is this is a gross oversimplification that fits well on a bumper sticker but is a terrible way to determine ones voting preferences.

Taxes come in several flavors: regressive sales taxes, property taxes, progressive income taxes, et al. Although you hear lots of complaints about taxes, few complain about the services they provide: National defense, police and fire protection, highways, schools, etc. Supreme Court Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr famously said: “I like paying taxes, with them I buy civilization.”

Before you reject voting for or against taxes, consider how the tax is structured. Sales taxes lean most heavily on those least able to afford them, whereas progressive income taxes rely on those that need the services the most. Police protection is a little like insurance, the more you have to protect, the more you should pay for the protection.

In a similar vein, regulations are important tools for civilization. They protect us in ways that are impossible to do individually. Clean air and water, climate stability, highway safety, and food and drug safety are just a few.

Another oversimplification is the capitalism-socialism dichotomy. The two are complexly entangled. Generally, I would agree that capitalism is a noble ideal, Adam Smith’s invisible hand can guide a market – but not without oversight. Unfettered capitalism is really anarchy. A perfect example is the black market for heroin. A lot of money can be made, so what if people die from violence and the use of the drug itself?

A capitalist needs to recognize that there have to be constraints to trade that preserve societal goals. Laws and regulations are a necessary evil of capitalism, necessary to civilization. If we can democratically agree on those laws and regulations then capitalism is the bee’s knees.

A little more difficult discussion is the value of socialism. The strict definition for socialism is an economic policy where the means of production are owned collectively, where collectively can refer to the government or simply organized groups, from workers to shareholders. Ironically the hallmark of capitalism, the corporation, can be publicly owned and therefore constitute a socialist enterprise.

If you want to consider socialism where the government is the collective, look no further than police protection. Here the state employs the “workers.” Even here it doesn’t disallow capitalist alternatives such as mall cops and bouncers. Even at the federal level where national defense is involved, we have private contractors participating.

Closer to what folks may call socialism is government management of some aspects of society. Medicare and Social Security come to mind. These are wildly popular and effective entitlement programs – the recipients are entitled to benefits by way of previous payments into the system.

At or near the top of making America great is our public education system. We could do better by increased funding and more equitable distribution, but all in all we would be much worse off without it.

The long and short of it is that the arc of civilization is cooperation. As long as we democratically determine what kind of taxes pay for what kinds of regulations, we have civilization, and civilization is a good thing.

Dr. Bob Allen is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Arkansas Tech University.

Why We Require Immigration

Even though fertility is significantly below the replacement rate our population maintains modest growth because of immigration. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as we are, with the exception of much-abused Native Americans, actually or ancestrally immigrants.

Immigration has come in waves from various locales but the one common feature is that immigrants come here to seek a better life for themselves and their families. The most recent wave of immigration is driven largely by those fleeing violence in Central America.

Our current policy, President Trump’s policy has been clear since he first ran for office in 2015 – isolationism. He has referred to immigrants from the south as murderers and rapists that must be prevented from entering the country. His iconic rally cry, build the wall (and Mexico will pay for it,) was little more than an anti-immigrant screed. Now almost four years later the wall is nowhere in sight and has had little to no impact on immigration.

Other actions by President Trump have had harmful effects on immigration. Draconian policies such as separating parents and children have been invoked punitively. Many of these immigrants, separated from their children, are here legally as asylum seekers.

To reduce the number of asylum seekers President Trump created a “safe third country” policy which allows the forced return of asylum seekers to any country they passed through on the way here. Many of these countries are as violent as their home countries. A migrant from El Salvador might pass through equally violent Nicaragua and Guatemala.

To further retard immigration President Trump lowered the total number of refugees allowed in the country from eighty thousand to eight thousand. In addition to migrants from Central America, President Trump set his sights on those from predominately Muslim countries with outright immigration bans.

He sought to eject from the country the so-called dreamers, individuals who were brought to the United States as children. Imagine you are a child brought here as an infant. Later as a young adult, you are forced out of the country back to a home country you never knew, where you don’t even speak the language.

Immigrants have traditionally taken those dangerous, bottom-rung jobs unacceptable to citizens. At the other end of the scale, many immigrants are talented professionals. Close to forty percent of Nobel prize winners in the life and physical sciences since 2000 are immigrants.

This is no time for xenophobia. Immigrants, documented or otherwise, have lower rates of criminal behavior than citizens. Second-generation immigrants – their children are essentially fully integrated into society. They have similar family incomes and college graduation, and homeownership rates. Si se puede.

Dr. Bob Allen is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Arkansas Tech University.

Healthcare Must Include Everybody

A sure-fire way to lower the cost of health insurance for those willing and able to buy it is to let people die on the curb in front of the hospital. Yep, give up your humanity and you too can save on health insurance. When the motive for healthcare is profit and there is no profit in free riders, what else?

If you opt for humanity and take that person into the hospital, it can cost you, and likely cost you a lot. That person without health insurance will incur costs that the hospital must absorb. The only way for a hospital to stay in business if they accept indigent care is to charge paying customers, usually insurers, more to offset the unreimbursed care.

If we are to be humane and provide care for the free riders, is there a better way? If we wait for high blood pressure to cause a heart attack, treatment of that one event can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Alternatively, drugs to manage high blood pressure can be had for pennies a day. To not provide for the blood pressure medication is just the sort of thing that Ben Franklin spoke of when he said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The reason President Trump and the Republicans struggle to produce a health plan to replace the ACA, even though they have had several years now, is there is no plan that actually works if it doesn’t include everybody, at least humanly. There are two ways to do that – make sure everybody has access to affordable care through private insurers or go to a less costly single-payer, not for profit, universal healthcare system like just about every other country in the world.

Government managed systems work and work well. We currently spend much more per capita on healthcare with poorer outcomes. There are over 40 countries with lower infant mortality rates, greater life expectancies, and lower costs.

President Trump said his replacement healthcare plan would cover everybody and cost less. So where is it? I can predict immediately that any plan from the Republican party will not mandate coverage with a complete, effective policy. This guarantees free riders and uncompensated costs. Another promise is to lower spending by the elimination of subsidies for the poor. It will lower or eliminate healthcare for the poor.

For those middle-income folks there are now cheaper insurance policies available, but only because of substandard policies. Lower costs mean less coverage. The ACA policies required a minimum standard of coverage which included preventive care. Cheap policies are available which allow you to pick your coverage limit – lower coverages mean lower policy costs. This however, can leave the taxpayer on the hook for catastrophic costs.

The real winners with a conservative healthcare plan are the rich, no surprise there. Taxes will go down while at the same time subsides not previously available to the rich will go up.

Conservatives continue to try to view healthcare as subject to the same market forces as buying unessential commodities, but it just doesn’t work that way. We are alone in the world with our failure to make that recognition. In these times of a debilitating even lethal pandemic, it is unconscionable to not provide quality healthcare to everyone in the country.

Dr. Bob Allen is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Arkansas Tech University.

Coal is not coming back – Trump fails industry

The world has run on fossil fuels for a couple of centuries but that is changing. Coal was the first of the fossil fuels to be widely exploited. Coal formed during what is called the carboniferous period about three to four hundred million years ago. At the time the planet was especially warm and wet which favored plant growth. Interestingly, this also meant much higher atmospheric levels of Oxygen which allowed for the growth of giant insects – dragonflies with three-foot wingspans as just one example.

The abundant plant growth accumulated first as peat, which over millennia of heat and pressure resulted in the formation of coal, essentially Carbon with a little Hydrogen smushed together in a solid form. And there it sat, until the English started running out of trees, or at least trees close by Iron smelters.

To produce iron from its ore requires something called a reducing agent. Wood works perfectly well but the process uses a lot of it. In merry olde England, a smelter would be built and then woodcutters were sent out to start bringing in the fuel. The longer the smelter operated the farther the woodcutters had to go while clearing the surrounding forests. When the expense of retrieving fuel got too high, coal was determined to be an economic alternative.

Utilization of coal for making iron lead to the understanding of its value as a fuel. It became the leading source of fuel for industrial power production and has dominated for over two hundred years. Of late the major use of coal has been for electricity generation but as of 2013, coal is no longer king and its use appears to be in free fall.

It is rapidly being replaced by a surge in the production of natural gas from hydro-fracturing and more recently wind and solar. Coal’s replacement is obvious and beneficial. Obvious because the other sources are cheaper and beneficial because they are cleaner in terms of the local environment and global warming.

A plank in President Trump’s campaign platform of 2016 was to reinvigorate the coal industry and save coal miner jobs. He has failed to deliver with this plank. Coal use during the first three years of his term is down over twenty percent, this despite several actions that would favor coal use.

President Trump has ordered the rollback of regulations that prevented much water pollution from coal ash. Another deregulation allows increased particulate emissions, along with toxic atmospheric pollutants like Mercury and Lead. He has ordered the removal of an Obama era regulation that required greater efficiency to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants which could actually reduce the cost to ratepayers.
In a fox-in-the-chicken-coop move, President Trump has appointed a coal industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He rejects climate change and is a staunch opponent of any limit on greenhouse gases.

These regulations were meant to improve health, save lives, and help stabilize our climate. President Trump’s deregulations are endangering lives and destabilizing the climate and have been done in a futile attempt to prop up a failing industry.

Dr. Bob Allen is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Arkansas Tech University.