Monday, March 31, 2008

Maternity Leave in Australia - a tax on fertility

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According to the Sydney Morning Herald “Union call for longer leave” we don’t need to have a discussion about maternity leave because most countries around the world already offer 12-14 weeks. Its a no brainer. Never mind the fact that a person might take maternity leave and never come back after giving birth. Never mind the fact that most countries around the world are socialistic EU countries with much higher tax rates. Never mind the fact that subjugating our minds to the collective wills is as pathetic, as are the voters in those countries who probably decided it was a no brainer as well.

The problem I have with subjugating the business communities industrial relations policy to a universal government policy is that it creates a sense of entitlement. Is it not better for all employees to have a remuneration structure that values workers on an equal basis – their capacity to generate income for the company? This policy ‘initiative’ does not do that. What it will do it make women less employable, though given the tight labour market it won’t show up for a few years, except for the higher inflation. Maybe that’s the appeal of this policy. Maybe maternity leave will conveniently be excluded from wage calculations, so magically we don’t have inflation.

Consider that ‘universal childcare, maternity leave’ is just going to make women less employable. Wouldn’t it be better if prospective parents along with single people had the opportunity to select the benefits they received at the start of their career? If we don’t level peg then we will have any mothers will ‘child-bearing hips’ being discriminated for being considered of ‘fertile age’. The implication of that is that there will be politicians in ‘9 months’ clambering to adopt more legislation, this time to prevent discrimination against women because employers have so many burdens placed on them. Might they have a point? Would it not be better to have a framework for equal treatment rather than appeasing every vested interest groups and turning their every need or desire into ‘universal policy’. This is far from progressive policy, rather its fascism at its worse, since it was achieved without even a debate. No minds! Collectivists should be proud. You spread the right fertiliser, you get the right pig food. I dont expect a good defense from the business groups. They are equally as mindless.

Andrew Sheldon

Monday, March 24, 2008

The ease of being moral all the time

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Easter as you might expect from me is a time of throwing up for me. I have been too busy to find a reason until day – I mean aside from being Easter that is. I truly need to write more to counter the nonsense that’s already on the market. Ross Gittins, Chief Economist for the Sydney Morning Herald clearly needed a holiday because he didn’t think much before he wrote this piece “Most of us are moral most of the time”.

The book “Moral Markets” is edited by neuro-economist Paul Zak “argues that most people behave ethically most of the time”. With assertions like that I just know I don’t need to read it to know his philosophical roots – ‘relativism’. See for a definition.

It should not surprise anyone why we are ‘moral’ most of the time. The first problem is that morality is defined to be something that actually contradicts your human nature. Morality correctly should be that which keeps you alive. A decision to walk in front of a car is immoral because your intent is contrary to your life. If you can see any value in it, like killing yourself would end the plague, I would question whether that is the right approach. I would suggest going into voluntary quarantine.

After taking care of our short term survival, we need to look at more abstract values like sustaining a productive life. These are higher up on our hierarchy of values. Productive effort is act doing something of value, which in part is offering something that has utility, but its also about offering it at a lower price than others. That paradigm of competition is what drives progress, as well as being a source of pride for both the producer and the consumer. We have to remember that by virtue of productive effort, most buyers are also proud, proud that they have the capacity to buy useful products, which is derivative value of being productive. Of course if you are able to buy values from others as a result of theft, others charity, you can derive no pride, in fact you are more likely to be evading some horrible guilt or self-loathing. This is the morality of a parasite that lives off the efforts of others. Of course we can empathise with them because they have a reason for being like they are, but by enabling them you are actually making them worse. The non-judgement of ‘relativism’ is just as enabling to such people. That’s not to say you should string them up from the yardarm or exhort value from them before they screw you, it just means that you should not enable or validate their actions, which in an abstract sense is immoral, even if it breaks no legal rule.

One of the rationalisations of immoral people is ‘Its not illegal’. I can think of a great many actions which are not illegal, but which are immoral, just as I can think of a lot of acts which are moral but are illegal. The moral dichotomy is evident enough between countries, where we see different standards of morality, such as the death penalty for smuggling drugs in Indonesia versus a few years in Western countries.

Gittins asserts based on his readings that “most economic exchange, whether with people you know or with strangers, relies on character values such as honesty, trust, reliability and fairness. And a set of shared values is essential to the functioning of modern economies”. That is true enough.

Zak asserts "Exchange is inherently other-regarding". I would argue that that need not be the case. Counterparties can differ in the level of consideration that a counter-party displays for their interest, whether before they make the purchase or after. The problem arises because they differ in their expectations. Those differences in expectations can reflect price opportunism, otherwise ignorance on the part of the buyer or seller, whether it’s because he is unaware of a cheaper distributor, or because the producer does not know a cheaper way of making the product or a technique to make it better quality, or designed with more features, etc.

It is true that “Both you and I must benefit if exchange is to occur”. I don’t see virtue in the exchange because it satisfies both parties, the virtue lies in satisfying the interests of the buyer. On this point Zak is rationalising to make makes suit is altruistic, utilitarian code. We are not so indifferent that we would “consider not only one's own needs but also the needs of another”. In this instance utilitarianism drops the ball (context). If we were really so generous to place others interests equal to our own, then we would spend as much time tending to their needs as ours. In reality we are tending to them only so far as they are a customer. Over time, as our productivity and success blooms, we have a tendency to be more generous, that we are able to invest more time in our customers, if not on the basis of our hierarchy of values, in deference to our children, who also compete for our working hours. Our values are not just a ‘simple ranking system’, they are contextual, or at least they should be. We cant rationalise our time and say ‘we will spend 3 hours a day with our child’. That would be an intrinsic assertion. Objectivity demands that we do whatever achieves the purpose. In the care of a child ‘quality’ achieves a great more and is appreciated a great deal more than ‘arbitrary’ time allocations’. I don’t have children, but I can see the appreciation in the eyes of people whom I give advice too. If you don’t have the respect of your children its not because you have not spent enough time with them, its because you offered no value to them, and it could have been performed in 5 minutes. It never ceases to amaze me how many parents seem to regard parenting as a prison sentence. They will say to me ‘oh wait until you do it’. But the reality is that they just didn’t identify the value(s) to convey to their child. The best evidence of their lack of preparation is the fact that they are left defending or reacting in incidences with their children. They don’t have a strategy for developing their child. On some level the child knows it because its implied in their interaction, just as it is in the parents. The parent can take pride in his efforts if he has educated himself. Sadly most parents don’t prepare themselves, or more often they just model the parenting style of their parents. There is a science to parenting, and they have not discovered it.

Just to highlight the value of reading nonsense, sometimes scientists give you their underlying concrete evidence which they have misinterpreted. Zak makes the point that “Neuro-scientific research has generally failed to support Immanuel Kant's notion that morality is learnt by rational deduction. When viewing immoral acts, nearly all humans have a visceral, emotional and rapid neural response”. I would support Kant (whom I have little regard for) is right on this, but as Zak highlights we also have a sense within us that knows the moral virtue or immorality of acts. Children don’t just have explicit knowledge of morality, they are able to implicitly integrate material as well. This can be considered peripheral knowledge, but it is supported by the behaviour modelled by parents. The reason children in a rebellious state break it is because it is peripheral knowledge and they are acting contrary to those parties to whom they have no consideration.

Yes children’s values can be shaped by social expectations, but should they. I would argue they shouldn’t, but the reality is that it takes time for a child to develop a sense of themselves, who they are and what they stand for. Leave it to a neuroscientist however to imply that this is innate knowledge. Quote "These moral emotions have been localised to evolutionarily old areas of the human brain", Zak says.

The great aspect about philosophy that is deduced from facts is that you actually know things before anti-intellectual scientists. Zak saids “Many moral decisions, including market decisions, have both cognitive and emotional components”. Anyone who knows Ayn Rand’s material could have told you this 30-40 years ago, yet neuroscientists with the power of brain scanners can only tell us know. In Ayn Rand’s words ‘an emotion is an automatic response to a thought’. In my own words, you have an emotional response in response to an incidence whose nature is dependent on your value system. Two people in the same situation with different value systems would have different emotional responses, whether is their metaphysical foundation or their intensity.

The authors does acknowledge the role of self-interest as a critical ingredient in what makes markets work according to Gittins, but what the author seemingly fails to understand is the context in which selfish (moral) decisions are made. There is no consideration of the hierarchy of values on his part. In that sense he has a typical narrow economist understanding of self-interest. I wanted to convey the enlightened concept of self interest with respect to parenting. This is my contribution to the topic of parenting. I’m not aware of Rand’s attitude to parenting – I have never seen writings by her on the subject, other than saying she did not want to have children because they would have distracted from her writing. I see that as a sign of the importance she placed on parenting, but the greater importance she placed on her writing.

The author asserts "pure, unbridled self-interest does not a market make". Unfortunately the author does not have an enlightened sense of the meaning of self interest as conveyed by Ayn Rand. I must confess that Ayn Rand never regarded empathy as a virtue, and I would have to pronounce that myself, though alot of modern writers would share it. But empathy is actually not an act of altruism, its not sympathy or charity, its detached understanding.

Getting to the core of this person’s error – “moral” values are those that concern our relations with others. He is inclined to think that morality is a social virtue. This is where a great many philosophers become unstrung as it leads them to accept ‘the common good’ as a package as virtue. Would anyone say that a human needs no ethical guidance on a deserted island. A relationship to other humans is just one of the relationships you have with yourself. I’m not talking about masturbation but I could be since its a voluntary action like a great many others. Morality pertains to all human action that sustains our lives, not just those decisions that pertain to human interaction. Ayn Rand made the point that ‘it is on a desert island that a man most needs a moral code of action since he cannot rely on other humans to support him (in the form of family or the welfare state)’.

Gittins asserts the “authors aren't suggesting that people in market economies never lie, cheat or steal. Their goal is to explain why people don't do so more often. Exchange in markets requires the solving of fundamental problems of co-operation and reliability. Our external institutions, such as the law, often intervene when individuals and firms lapse from a given standard, providing reinforcement of our value-based expectations”. On that point I can agree with the authors because capitalism is the moral system. What they don’t realise is that the ‘altruistic values in society are the elements that actually lead to crime, lying and cheating’, so there attempt to reconcile capitalism with altruism looks like folly, and gives humans no moral guidance at all.

It leads them to conclude “The law, and the constant threat of its enforcement, is critical in providing the predictability and stability needed for markets to work”. The implication is that a good law is one that achieves compliance through coercion. Are we to assume that state-sanctioned laws are thus beyond question. The authors would seem to be supporting the worst possible elements of statism, albeit under the auspices of what they would call capitalism, but what is really fascism since its upholds state values above the individual’s.

I congratulate the authors for rejecting the premise that ‘markets are amoral’. I find being moral the easiest task. The trick is identifying a rationale moral code. Ayn Rand gave me critical insights at the age of 19yo, but it didn't stop there.

Andrew Sheldon

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Japan uptight over whaling

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This story would be amusing if it was not so pathetic. Up until now green groups in Australia and around the world have been highly critical of the Japanese for supporting whale killings. I believe there is particular concern for the humpback whale. Recently the Labor party came to power with green issues central to its platform. Does the ALP care about whales? Its fair to say they care to the extent that their are votes in it. The true believer is Peter Garratt, who is well regarded by green groups for his support of the environment.
The Japanese have a point in as much are there are emotive reasons for some Western 'greenies' desire to see whales protected. Its unfortunate that the issue has been reduced to smear because I actually think the Japanese have a point. Why shouldn't the Japanese be able to eat whale meat. Thinking critical about this issue I realised two things. Very few Japanese actually eat whale meat since its so expensive, and most dont even like the taste. I suggest the reason Japanese eat whale meat is for traditional, nostalgic reasons. For Westerners and numerous other cultures, certain animals are placed on a pedestal, eg. Horses, dogs, whales. Green groups are vocal in their opposition to horse racing harnesses as well, but the implications of horse racing are less fatal than the slaughter of whales.
The other issue that comes to mind is that - if whales are so abundant - why do the Japanese have to go 10,000km to the Great Southern Ocean to find them? There is nothing traditional about that. Could it be that there are so few left. The interesting issue is what would motivate the Japanese to invest all these resources in this video? Do some people really care so much about eating whale eat or do they see their culture under assault by Westerners. Given that the great bulk of Japanese dont eat whale meat, I suggest insecure Japanese people are disheartened by their loss of identity and lack of standing in the world, that they feel compelled to lash out at Australia, smearing it as racist. This is not a new tag placed on Australia, so we shall consider it. I have heard similar views in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Japan's economic malaise has continued now for 15 years. Its economic prosperity was an issue of great pride. That pride arose to some extent because of its collectivist values, and a derivative value to teach the West that it was not the 'yellow swine' of the Pacific as they were once regarded by Australians, Britons, Americans under the imperial alliance. In those days the West were very much collectivist as well, closely relating to the 'imperial ideal' and taking great pride in it. The ascension of Europe and Japan played a large part in undermining that pride, reducing them to individuals. This process takes time. It was quickened by the decline of the British Empire. It might have persisted somewhat because of the military ascension of the United States, but certainly the USA rejected that premise on principle. The treatment of Japan during WWII reflected the 'barbarism' practised by the Japanese at that time. There was a great deal of suspicion and contempt that accompanies people with different values and methods of dealing with problems. Today the Japanese are evading the whaling issue by saying their slaughtering is for 'scientific purposes'. Such lies can only undermine Western respect for Japanese interests.

This video is very much biased propaganda. It attempts to depict Australians as barbarians as Westerners labelled the Japanese 50-100 years ago, and based on their current evasions ('scientific slaughter') maybe those attitudes persist. I take the view that there are bad eggs on each side, but the argument is not served by 'collectivist' attacks against all people of a nation, nor is it served by lies or attempts to evade arguments, and by Japanese attempts to buy the votes of every Pacific and Carribean island that has a vote in international fishing treaties. But that is 'democracy' so if you support 'right makes right', you are a hypocrite along with the Australians and every other Western country. I guess lying is part of the democratic process as well. The difficult is that collectivism is a deeper element of the Japanese psyche (identity) than other countries, which is why they are perceived as so arrogant and aloof. They cannot evade the reality that collectivist is the cause of every atrocity caused in human history. This reality is likely to put them on the defensive.

So where is the bias? Well the first scene in the video poors contempt on Australians appreciation of whales. The context which is dropped is that Japanese people are among the most earnest visitors to see the whales and dolphins on both the east & west coasts. Having lived at Port Macquarie - a fabourite whale spotting point - I can't say I ever saw whales and I looked 3 times a day when I took my routine exercise along the coast.
The video producer makes the point that cultures can't agree on which animals are special. But how is agreement possible when the Japanese whale delegation can't speak ernestly about the issues, but have to hide behind lies and smear. Quite apart from the emotional arguments, these whales are also a source of (Japanese) tourism revenue for Australia. Is that the argument made - no - because the greenies are the only ones who care.
Interestingly the video had an 'American' (as opposed to an Australian) saying that Japan was acting in controvention of a global moritorium on whaling. The video does not address that issue. No argument is made. I dare say that is why the 'Sea Shepherd' made some aggressive moves against a Japanese whaling ship. The video producer described this as 'terrorism'. That sounds rather emotional.
That apparently is the argument. For the rest (80%) of the video the producer was dragging up all kinds of dirt on Australian history. It starts by saying that Australian media is racist because Emma Tom, a proud environmentalist & journalist made some disparaging remarks about slaughtering for scientific purposes. Actually she was disproving of Australian scientists doing it as well. This is the producer's own research - not mine.
The producer then accuses Australia 'collectively' of trying to kill Japanese whalers. There is of course no evidence. It rebuffs Australia by saying 'this is not the way to solve mysteries'. Well unfortunately its not true. Japan is evading discussion. Then we have disparaging remarks about Australia, apparently because we are racists. I can recall only a handfull of racial incidents in my lifetime (say the last 30 years). They include:
1. Trying to enter a Chinese-owned disco in Australia
2. Trying to enter a Korean-owned disco in Australia. They eventually capitulated
3. Trying to enter a Japanese restaurant in Australia. They said they were fully booked, the seats were empty.
4. Pauline Hanson's famous remarks about Asians taking over the country. An unpopular opinion supported by certain disillusioned Australians pleased to have at least one politician who was not 'politically correct'. Yes, Pauline was a collectivist. We have them as well, but ours get repudiated. In Japan, everyone closes ranks behind them in defense of 'Japanese (collectivist) pride. Racism is actually caused by collectivism since the collectivist needs to compare themselves by others standards. The declining collective pride of the Japanese is actually revealing the their lack of personal identity, and thus genuine pride. Racism is the unfortunate consequence.
Another historical issue the producer raises is the forced integration of aborigines into 'white homes', whether institutions or households. It might be good politics to criticise this policy by todays standards, but I dont see this as nearly as embarassing as the producer makes out. Firstly integrating a VERY primitive people was always going to be difficult. Second, there is to this day a lack of understanding in politics about how to deal with the problem, just as there is in Japan. I've yet to hear any constructive suggestions or even a documentary come out of Japan. Maybe the producer will be the first one to raise the issue internationally. Or is his theme political rather than humanitarian. The reality is that to this day aboriginal children are being exposed to very infertile parenting models resulting in drug addiction, alcoholism with little in the way of structured guidance. The problem is 5000kms away from political discourse so easily forgotten. The intent was 'not to strip them of their barbaric culture' anymore than it was to undermine it, it was not a culture that was going to stand the test of time. The cultures are incompatible, and the better one overcame the lesser one. Thats progress. There were events that were not as vile or systematic as the 'Rape of Nanking' but I dare say 100 years ago there were incidents just as gruesome. Hard to say who initiated. I can place either race in a position of blame. The reality though is that government policy was to afford them some dignity. Just the pressures of population growth caused conflicts.
True. The Australian government didn't see the bulk of aborigines as a civilised race. To dogmatically assign value judgements to a race is racist. To recognise the facts of reality is not. One would not consider them civilised, when you consider they were living a less dignified and unhealthy life than life prior to white occupation.
So surprising to hear a Japanese producer argue that 'many aborigines were used as sex slaves and slave labour' without reflecting on the Japanese governments forced enslavement and rape of women from many Asian countries. By comparison, there is no evidence to suggest an Australian government endorsed rape as policy. In fact it was religion more than anything else that enabled it. I think there is no evidence that aborigines were enslaved, rather there is evidence of disrespect, where they were underpaid. In fact it was Pacific Islanders who were forced into slavery on North Queensland sugar cane fields. Yep, thats embarrassing, as was a great deal if you go back far enough.
I am just surprised by this concern in Japan for humanity. I have never seen a Japanese government critique another government or people. Why now? Might it be because someone's back is against the wall?
Yeh Australia kills kangaroos because there are 10x more than there was when Europeans settled on the continent. They compete with the cattle, some of which are exported to Japan. Its called population management. Killing them quickly is considered the most humane way of dealing with the problem. Australia is a drought-ridden country. If we dont manage the wildlife it results in desertification.
I truly think Australia gets 'a bad wrap' from Asians. I've know a great deal of Japanese and other Asian people living in Australia. The worst thing I hear is how immigrants from 'other countries' are disrespectful. There are growing pains to be sure. But ask yourself why Australia - a nation of many cultures is able to live in peace whilst other collectivist countries are fighting wars. Historically Japan was a warring nation. It was the West that brought peace there - several times, along with Western technology.
Then the producer, after having disparaged a conservationist, decides to use one of their arguments. I think it saids more about the producer and conservationist. The argument being 'the Japanese will laugh at us as hypocrites' if we treat our wildlife inhumanely. But wildlife are not human. They have no capacity to formulate moral values. Humans do that for animals. Kangaroos are over-populating Australia, whereas hump-back whales are endangered. Sensible policy favours restricting whaling until populations can rebuild.
The final point is 'Any animal that humans kill and eat is beautiful'. I actually agree with that point. Finally got some sense from the producer. So the final argument is that 'Australians are not really interested in environmentalists, we are just racists'. That argument is easily refuted.
1. The producer treats all Australians as having one interest - this is what collectivists do. In fact some want kangaroos killed, others want them to live. Some want horses removed from pristine native alpine areas, others see horses as noble beasts.
2. We need not be racist, its plausible that we just have little respect for Japanese values because they are tied with collectivism and fascism. Sure there is little threat from Japan whilst it plays the victim. But given the chance we might expect the worst of Japanese values to erupt into something dangerous. You will hear the argument that Japan is a modern, democratic country. The reality is the it has a tribal culture steeped in mysticism and collectivism. The judiciary is really just a side show that few resort to. Not because they cant afford it, just because they feel threatened. Japan has learned nothing from WWII. Sadly the West learnt very little either. The lack of intellectualism displayed by both countries is destined to eventually to result in more war. Or will political leaders just turn against their own people? Collectivists can define identity at any opportune moment that serves their cause.
Really racism is insecurity based. I can recall an incident where a Japanese bartender was having a joke with his colleague. 'Oh you are Australian...Kangaroo, koala, emu...he he', as if that was all Australia was. But of course if you show him his total ignorance over a few beers, he starts to look respectful. And at the end of the day, you realise that he just needs to feel important by putting someone else down. Thats how empty he is inside. His loss is his countries loss because he is an obstacle to 'civilisation' in Japan, just as democracy is an obtacle everywhere reason is not the primary standard of value. That comment just went over alot of Japanese heads. I've yet to meet a Japanese intellectual of merit. I'm still holding my breath. Japanese Americans - yes by reputation. If they exist its not because of Japanese values, its inspite of them. The only reason I dont tire of the place is because on a concrete level there is more to know about them.
Andrew Sheldon

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Tax abuse at its worst - when tax authorities steal

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See this article and tell me what you think.
Do you think tax authorities should have the power to do this? See this post. The rationalisation is made that tax offices are performing a public service, but there are several things that we can say about this service and the people that break the tax 'rules':
1. Governments are just as wanton in their tendency to break the law. In the USA, there is no requirement for people to lodge personal income tax returns, though the US government acts as if its a legal requirement, and evades any discussion of the issue.
2. Legislation is enacted on the basis of a popularity contest, that appeals to the majority of mostly poor or middle class people who 'directly' benefit from taxation of the rich, or who otherwise lack the conceptual skills to see what they lose as a result of taxation. They just see the taxes collected and think its working for them. Sorry its not. See my tax blog for convincing evidence of this.
3. People who object to paying taxation have no rational recourse. They cannot sure government to prevent it. This is legislation that overrides Common Law.
4. The majority of tax payers think that paying tax serves them more than it hinders them. So I want to educate the public as to why that is not true. I want to reveal the costs they don't see.
Andrew Sheldon

ConvinceMe.Net - Anyone up for a debate?