What is a “Fair Share”?

This topic has been brewing for quite a while ever since the days of the primaries where Bernie Sanders campaigned on making the wealthy pay “their fair share” and then proceeded to spout “speculation tax” nonsense (that had been tried and failed in Sweden before) and a carbon tax while at the same time saying that we should expand health services. In the Sanders vs. Cruz Heatlchare Debate, Senator Cruz said this

Let me put it in perspective. All of the federal income taxes we pay today are about $1.5 trillion a year. $2.5 trillion means every one of us paying income taxes would have to about triple what you pay in income taxes to get an additional $2.5 trillion.

Now, Bernie no doubt is going to come back and say, no, no, no, none of you are going to pay. Just the rich. Well, how about if we took every person that makes over $1 million a year and confiscated 100 percent of their income, took every penny that they make. That would raise only enough money to fund Bernie’s plan for five months. – [Source Transcript]

Cursory Argument

I don’t know where Cruz is getting his numbers for this claim and frankly I don’t care. I bring it up because it seems that the implication is that Sanders believes the poor are paying either their “fair share” or more than their “fair share”. Granted, the quote doesn’t mention the poor at all (outside of the phrase “you”, possibly) so how do I reason this implication? Based on context at the time of writing (that line is for the future historians reading this blog after I become President of the galaxy) the implication is that the wealthy pay too little. And you can reason this out as well even without context. Why would someone complain that the wealthy pay too much and then advocate for higher taxes on them? It doesn’t make sense. In addition, I feel that if everyone else were not paying their fair share, the argument would be “get everyone to pay their fair share” rather than “make the wealthy pay their fair share”. And I don’t believe Senator Cruz is incorrect in his assumption because I followed the Sanders Presidential campaign and Sanders was all about taxing the wealthy and expanding benefits for the poor.

The Numbers

First, let’s look at some sources. The first is some Pew Research data and the other is the wikipedia page on U.S. Income Tax. I use the income tax example because that’s what the Pew Research data focuses on, while mentioning the increase in payroll taxes over time.

On the surface, I’d probably say that the wealthy pay more than their “fair share”. Why? Because the United States (income) tax system is progressive in nature. The more you make, the more you get taxed on that extra you make. I’ll demonstrate this with an example with easy numbers. You are taxed 10% on income up to $100 and then at 20% for amounts over that. If you make $100, you pay $10, a tax rate of 10%. If you make $200, you pay $30, $10 from $0-$100 and then 20 from $101-$200. So your tax rate for making double goes from 10% to 15%. You might be tempted to say that the percentage increase isn’t much considering you now make double, but you’re forgetting the raw numbers. You make double the money, but you pay triple the money.

And look, while I am a bit of a free market libertarian, I’m not saying that there’s anything excessively wrong with such a tax system. And yeah, the example was vastly simplified, but it has the core tenets of a progressive tax system in place. The more you make, the more you get taxed on that money over these breakpoints.

So what we get – is that as you make more money, your tax rate will go up. It always goes up because there is no bracket with a lower tax rate than one above it. You will never see 10%, 20%, 15%, 30%. It will always be 10%, 15%, 20%, 30%. So no matter how wealthy the top 1% is, they will always have a higher income tax than you because they have more taxable income than you.

But sure, let’s just plod along and see what we get in the way of an income tax argument with actual numbers.

“All told, individual income taxes accounted for a little less than half (47.4%) of government revenue, a share that’s been roughly constant since World War II.” – Pew Research

According to the Pew Data, the people making $100k and above pay are estimated to pay for about 75% of our taxes, despite making up about 20% of our households (in 2007) (source). I would be highly skeptical of this number jumping to 75% in 10 years but you can try to prove me wrong.

Why Do We Care?

So what’s this all about? Why do we even care whether or not the wealthy are “paying their fair share”? While there are probably some talking points by the left that I could quote, I’m going to propose what I think this is all about – social programs and the deficit. United States Federal Debt seems to be around 20 trillion dollars. Let me just put down all of the zeroes for you so you can get an idea of how deep in the red we are.

$20,000,000,000,000

The largest problem with the debt is (I would guess) the deficit. Which all of us should understand as the money that you’ve agreed to pay but do not have. You can have debt without a deficit and you can have a deficit without debt. I think the simple way to think of debt is as the accumulation of deficit. So what are we looking at in terms of deficit? By the same source, the estimated deficit for FY 2017 is $504 billion dollars.

We care because it’s difficult to justify spending more money without generating more revenue. And it’s difficult to expand current programs without either cutting other programs or collecting more revenue.

I’ve taken the liberty of generating a graph of deficit as a percentage of GDP. It makes more sense to have a higher deficit with a lower GDP.

Untitled

And as we see, my prediction was correct. When President Obama took office, we were coming out of a recession and the GDP was some 4 trillion dollars lower than it was in 2016. But in having these deficits, our national debt has skyrocketed, nearly doubling over Obama’s two terms.

I feel it would be remiss of me to neglect mentioning that President Obama may have ‘almost’ doubled the national debt, but so did President Bush II. President Reagan tripled it. In fact, the trend among the past few presidents seems to be that the republican presidents contribute more to the debt (percentage-wise) than the democratic ones, but that’s just me playing politics I guess.

 Even the deficit for President Trump’s first year in office is estimated to be higher than the lowest deficit during the Obama years. But as a side note… if we have the same GDP that we had in 2016, (it will probably go up) then we STILL see a lower deficit as a percentage of GDP over every single Obama year, coming in at 2.1% compared to Obama’s lowest at 2.8% (it’s still higher than the last Bush year of around 1.1%). It’s unfair to give President Trump any credit for that though, as his first fiscal year will be in 2018, not 2017. So we’re still under Obama as far as budget is concerned.

This analysis means nothing by itself, really. Because it’s one thing to point fingers and say President Obama’s spending money that we don’t have, and another thing to question what he’s spending it on. The stimulus package, unemployment benefits, more military spending, etc. are all nice things to have. So I guess the question at the end of the day is if you could take away the spending and the benefits, would you do so?

Deficit Source
GDP Source

$200k Tax

But let’s take that estimated deficit for this year and say it’s about 500 billion dollars. Let’s look at the number of tax returns in the 33%+ tax bracket (dollar total varies based on status, but it’s around $200k). If we tax all of these individuals for $200k regardless of total income, how much money do we get?

Using the chart for taxable income (why would we calculate based on non-taxable income?) from the IRS for 2014, we see that we get around 1 trillion dollars. Which would pay for double the deficit, at the cost of 3 million returns, 2.4 million of which are married couples (so, 2.4 million families) lying at the border of $200k.

Let’s dig a bit deeper though. We’re most concerned about the people lying at the border, right? How much tax do they really pay? Well, if you take the revenue generated by taxing the 33% and higher brackets, you get about $400 million, of which the 33% bracket pays about 25% of ($111 million). The 39.6% bracket pays the bulk of that, at around 60%.

My guess is that if you’re wealthy enough to be in the 39.6% bracket, you’re so obscenely wealthy that you wind up paying more tax. Who knows. 

Most of that money comes from couples filing jointly, about 90%. I’m not quite sure where I’d like to go with this analysis, it’s just something I wanted to point out. It’s possible, but it’s not going to pay the debt any time soon (it would take 40 years with current spending).

50/50 Analysis

I’d like to go one step further before I come to my conclusion. I’d like to evaluate what I’m going to call a 50-50 analysis since I don’t know if it has an official name. I’m going to evaluate the number of tax returns such that the revenue generated by these returns (by bracket) equals that of the other bracket. I will neglect capital gains for this analysis (as I did the one before) because of what (my understanding of) capital gains taxes are.

So let’s take the poorest and compare them to the wealthiest. The 10% bracket generated $75,927,732 compared to the 39.6% bracket which generated $227,474,052. The 10% bracket is heavily outweighed by the 39.6% bracket, so let’s tack on the 15% bracket, generating $229,998,073, which outweighs the 39.6% bracket… [math ensues]

And what we end up with is this (and I’m actually quite surprised by this result). The brackets necessary to balance each other out are the 10%, 15%, and 25% brackets compared to the 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6% brackets. The totals are $490,067,188 to $412,524,138. Much closer to a 50/50 split than I thought, coming out to 54.29/45.71

“Now just hold the phone, Artemis! From what I see, the poor pay more than the wealthy!” Ehh, technically yes, But there are also a lot more poor people than grossly wealthy people. The number of returns for people in the lower-half is substantially higher than that of the higher half, with around 101 million returns for the lower have compared to around 9 million for that of the higher half. So the higher half pays 10x as much on a per return basis than that of the lower half. And all of this is ignoring capital gains taxes which are likely heavily slanted against the wealthy compared to the poor.

I’m self-employed, I make around $16,000 a year. You take take ten of me and you get well past the 25% bracket, you actually get squarely within the 28% bracket for a single person. And I know that anecdote isn’t really an argument, so let’s use the federal minimum wage. A full-time federal minimum wage worker makes $15,000 a year, and 10 of them is also squarely within the 28% bracket (for singles). So no matter how I cut it, it seems fair. 10 of me would make 10x as much money and I would flip from my side of the ratio to the other. Ironically enough, you only really need about 6 of me to flip sides of the ratio, which means that the wealth are actually overpaying (through this analysis).

Conclusion:

No matter how I cut it, I can’t help but get to the result that the wealthy are not only paying their fair share, they’re paying more than their fair share. So I don’t see the need to start increasing the taxes on the wealthy. I think if anyone wants to take a good stab at the deficit, the first place you hit is the military (Amdahl’s Law). But we live in the United States so I don’t think that’s likely to happen any time soon despite spending double that of China and totaling that of the four countries that follow us in terms of total spending. Despite China spending only 1.9% of their GDP on the military, we spend 3.3% (source). I dunno, shoot me.

Of course, you’re more than welcome to poke at my analysis. I’m not tax expert, I’m just a robot in a cave looking at numbers. If I’ve made any mistakes in my analysis, or if you just think it’s terrible, please let me know in the comments or by email. As always, I welcome criticism. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

What is a “Fair Share”?

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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I wanted to love this movie. I did, truly. I guess you already know how the rest of this review goes but do try to stay with me here, I’m not just a crying fanboy. While I drafted this with minimal spoilers, there still are spoilers ahead so consider this your spoiler warning.

So Ghost in the Shell is a manga from the late eighties, a movie from the mid-nineties, and an anime from the early 2000’s. This franchise has been through a lot, and I’ve been a fan of it for a very long time. The 1995 movie, while slow-paced, is an excellent work of art that conveys the messages that it wants to convey quite clearly. The Major, Batou, and Aramaki are some of my favourite characters from manga. The Major has this playful nature, Batou… is the butt(ou) of several jokes, and Aramaki is a sly fox that you can’t help but admire. Togusa representing the stubborn, older generation. Most of the other members had augmentations that made their job easier (Saitou’s vision, for example). Others augment themselves for fun (Borma’s liver augmentation). I guess the point that I’m trying to get across is that Ghost in the Shell represented a crossroads in our future where all of these types of people coexisted. We weren’t all cyborgs and we aren’t all humans. And the characters are all so relatable, it’s hard for me to pick ones that I don’t like. Even in the older movie, it was incredibly difficult for me to dislike the Puppetmaster, rather I disliked some of his actions (the poor man with false memories).

Maybe this one was a little close to home, and I shouldn’t have gone in because of that. Let’s talk about what I liked about the movie first.

The movie is visually appealing. I can almost see the future with holographic advertisements the size of skyscrapers already. While I see the payphones on the side of the street disappearing (sorry 1995) I can see the idea of more robots in the service industry. Hell, Japan, in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics is already constructing hotels run by robots dinosaurs. ROBOT DINOSAURS! Come on man! ROBOT FRICKIN DINOSAURS! There are some great special effects, however I believe the movie failed to capitalize on the 3D. Especially the scenes where The Major is getting painted back to normal, mesmerized me every time.

The acting is fantastic. ScarJo knows how to play her character (most of the time) and there were some great scenes where you could really see how her movements felt robotic, like it wasn’t a natural human body. In the source material The Major is a little more playful, which is what I liked about it, but eh, new adaptation, different direction. I’m not terribly bothered because what ScarJo did do, she did well.

Before I move on, I do want to take a moment to address the whitewashing controversy. Anyone that complains about it doesn’t understand the source material. The Major’s origins are notoriously mysterious (within source material, which this movie dodged for the most part). And I think that anyone that complains about the whitewashing doesn’t quite get the point. See, the major is effectively a human inside a machine and (I believe) the point that Shirow was trying to make with the character of The Major was that none of the external features really matter (and this is very effectively demonstrated in the 1995 movie). Quite simply, there’s nothing in the source material (that I recall) that makes The Major “Motoko”. In fact, there’s nothing that really makes The Major female. Sure, the exoskeleton appears female, but it could have easily been male. The Major itself could easily be ‘male’ (if we’re going by original personality) but again, that doesn’t matter. That’s the point of The Major.

I don’t know where they found Batou (Pilou Asbaek) but he was perfect. I don’t think they could have picked a better Batou. Christ I loved his Batou. He just seemed so buff! Kuze (Michael Pitt) exaggerated the little robotic flairs of The Major. I’m not sure how much of that was CG, but the line delivery was spot on. He really played himself off as the villain we could all sympathize with even if corporates didn’t turn into assholes.

There are some notable exceptions to the excellent acting. Togusa’s character (Chin Han) had like two lines the entire movie and they were delivered in such a way that I felt like it detracted from how naive the Togusa of old seemed to be. But this isn’t just nostalgia bait, he gave the line so quickly and so flatly “I am a human, and I will always be 100% human” that I felt like the line was wasted. I also don’t like exposition that way, especially when that line served no purpose for the entire movie.

I do wonder why Aramaki spoke Japanese for the entire movie. He clearly understood English, as everyone else spoke in English and the others clearly understood Japanese (maybe they had a translator in their ear or something). But with what little screen-time he had, he did exude badass. And while we’re on the topic of Japanese, why was Hanka always pronounced as hay-n-ka? Should’ve been pronounced Ha-n-ka and every time they pronounced it incorrectly I would cringe. Sounds weird when you read and hear Japanese most of the time.

Okay, let’s talk about what I didn’t like. Everything else.

I don’t think this is really “Ghost in the Shell”. The original Ghost in the Shell discussed several existential themes regarding humanity and what it means as we merge man and machine. It also addressed how these things would impact our day-to-day lives, and how these things could be abused by corporations and governments. It’s not like the source material lacked things to really discuss. And I don’t feel like I got much of that out of this movie. I feel like it was sorta just mentioned, and then we moved on so we could get to the action scenes. The action scenes weren’t terrible, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not really what I paid for. Other scenes didn’t seem to connect too well if you ask me. I feel like we may have been shown a series of loosely connected stories, which is kind of what the manga did… but I don’t think that a movie should be doing that sort of thing.

The language (Ghost, Shell) seemed very forced every time they were used, to the point where I feel like it would’ve been more natural to use ‘soul’ instead of ‘ghost’ every time they mentioned it. But this is due to line delivery, in the source material ghost is used so matter-of-factly that it doesn’t really leave an impact. But the doctor says “But the important part of you, your humanity, your ghost, is still there” is practically romantic so the language doesn’t seem to fit the line.

They ripped a scene straight out of I, Robot (a beloved favourite of mine), and I, Robot did it better.

My biggest complaint might be the Motoko subplot. It gets introduced about twenty minutes before the end of the movie and is resolved like five minutes after it’s introduced. And quite honestly, I don’t mind its inclusion at all. I have several problems about how it was included. First – why is the effective introduction of the subplot at the END of the movie, rather than towards the beginning? I feel like it would’ve been more effective had it been placed much earlier, perhaps right before the bar scene. And the extra irony about that scene is despite everyone complaining that ScarJo isn’t Japanese, the way they characterized Motoko’s mother looked distinctly Chinese. Just saiyan. The second thing is how very little we have to go on. There’s a glitch that The Major continues to see and it’s really the only thing she has to go on and The Major sort of just accepts that she’s Motoko but I personally don’t feel that the audience has enough information to come to that conclusion. The pieces of evidence she has are the memories of the burning building, watching her allies get kidnapped, and the name she was told by the Chinese lady. Sure, it’s “confirmed” by Kuze but I don’t think he should’ve had the information to make that conclusion either.

Long story short, I believe the movie failed to deliver on its source material, and just became another Hollywood action movie. Which I find depressing because of my attachment to the source material, but that’s fine. I would not recommend this movie. The pacing seems poor and the scenes incoherent. While there is some beautiful imagery, I don’t think that there’s enough of a movie here, let alone Ghost in the Shell. Thanks for reading

Artemis Hunt

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Super Impossible Road

SIR.jpg

Steam Page

I write this review as the game is still in Early Access. I say that not because I plan to go easy on the game or something, just as a heads up to those that will consider buying the game. I’ve always maintained that “Early Access” is not an excuse for how good or bad a game is. Once you put it on the marketplace, you’re fair game… in my opinion.

Super Impossible Road is a racing game. There’s really not much to say about racing games in general. You control a ball. You can modify your ball to have the stats that you want it to have but let’s be real here, does anyone ever care enough to min-max perfectly? If you do, please send me a message, I need to know what’s going on in your head.

The tracks have gates on them which fill up your boost bar. Using boost makes your ball go a little faster (obviously). Where this game differs from other racing games that I’ve played is that you can jump off the track to “cheat” your way to finish line faster. That’s why the game’s tagline “Winning is cheating”. Now you can’t just jump off the track and free fall to the finish line for victory. The game would be too easy in that case. Upon leaving the track, you have five seconds to return to the track. If you fail to touch the track in that time, you will automatically respawn at the last boost gate you touched. Which means that you have to be really careful about deciding when to ‘cheat’. Otherwise you may waste up to five seconds. If you see the writing on the wall that you’re not going to make it, you can force respawn early.

The tracks can be fairly complex. At this time, while there are only three ‘tracks’, the tracks are procedurally generated so it’s like having an infinite number of tracks? There’s also a daily track where you can compete with people across the world for the top score.

The game is aesthetically appealing (to me) with that ‘Tron’ feel. I’m not the biggest fan of EDM so there’s only one or two soundtracks that I like but it definitely matches the feel of the game. Excellent job.

While the game does have multiplayer, it seems it only has local multiplayer. Perhaps they will change that as it is still in early access. You can still have CPU racers and you can even race against your ghost. So it has some rudimentary tools.

Anyway, at the time of writing, the game is priced at $12. While I do like the game for what it does, I don’t think it’s worth $12 yet. Do it if you want to support the creators but other than that, I’d wait for it to go on sale or something for $5 or $6. I’m not the biggest fan of racing games so I won’t dump too many hours into it, but in my opinion, it does look promising. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Super Impossible Road