25 August 2012

Markets Cannot Dream

Speaking of dreams, today we lost one.  Neil Armstrong, who gave world ‘giant leap’ with his 1st footprint on the moon, dies - The Washington Post

As a teenager when they landed, it was the one big thing we all dreamed. Divided by war and race and generational tensions, there was precious little that made us all hopeful then.

Kinda like today.  But what do we have to dream about that is larger than we are.  if as William James said, “the secret to a meaningful life is to spend it on something larger than your own,” then a nation has to dream about something bigger than itself.  Right now, we focus on things smaller than we are, guns and gays and taxes and sex. Our leaders are absorbed in tinkering with things picayune, pecuniary, penitential and petty.  And as we all know, if dreams are the things we become like - even in failure - then small dreams makes us less not more.

Markets do not dream.  To become something great requires outrageous dreams that defy common sense and good business.  Going to the moon was just that.

Was it foolish? Undoubtedly.  Was it wasteful? Immeasurably. 

Was it useless? Essential! 

And today, the one link to that last wild dream is gone. 

24 August 2012

Let's Get Small!

Wasn't that a Steve Martin line?  But it turns out to be true.  Since winter I have dropped about 5 or 6 pounds.  With a major pilgrimage/hike planned for next month, it could go even lower.  For a guy who weighed 240 at 17 and now weighs just over 180, getting small is fine.

But I am getting smaller in other ways, not so welcome ways. 

- Twenty years ago I could squat 390 pounds.  Last December I was leg pressing (something not as difficult as squatting) that same weight when a twinge in my inner right thigh told me something wasn't right.  I am still twinging most of a year later, and pressing only 100 pounds.  My dream of bodybuilding glory is clearly over.

- A manuscript I took three years to write - and failed to intrigue the publishers I queried - deserves a re-write.  But now, a year after trying, I am not sure it is worth that effort.  I am not even sure I want to read it again.  And the one I am working on now that seemed promising a few days ago, well, I recorded some portions of it for pod casting and realized when I was done that it too needs major work and I wonder if it is even worth it.  My hope to be a respected author may be extravagant.

- Once, I hoped to make a mark by building a new church building for the burgeoning congregation I led.  In my thirty plus years years of clergy life I have built nothing either physical or organizational.  Fantasies of clergy fame and honor are failing fast.

If our dreams are what we imagine about ourselves, then no wonder I feel smaller.  But must I feel bad?  If losing weight feels good, and seeing my children grow up and move out (yielding a smaller household) feels good, then must the falling away of dreams feel bad? 

Dreams are not made of stone.  They can change, as I have changed, and even get smaller and still be dreams worth dreaming.  I am working on composing something.  When I was in college that was my dream, to be a symphonic composer.  Gave up on that one early when I realized what kind of talent that required, but recently some words I love started to feel musical. Is this a new dream?  Not sure.  I am going to hike Hadrian's Wall next month, a fantasy of mine for years.  Not fame or fortune, but something hoped for.

I am feeling a little sadness right now not because the new dreams are small but because they have not yet formed though the old ones are clearly vanishing.  One might say that this is when one's faith is tested, because at the moment there is no-thing I have faith in.  It is hope without a particular outcome.  Talk about small.  But as I too am shrinking, this is probably OK. 

16 August 2012

More Guns

Got two cool comments on my gun tax plan.  The one that was intriguing, from KA, suggested that because guns are durable, the tax would not reduce the number of guns very quickly if at all.  Quite so.  Good insight.  But my tough was less geared toward reducing guns than in closing the 'feedback loop.'  Just as the cost of cigarettes now reflects the long term affect of smoking, and has effectively reduced the rate of smoking among young people especially, so a sales tax on guns at the point of sale might reduce impulse buying.

For me, the connection between a right and the responsibility to use that right wisely is what is missing.  Free speech is good, but some speech is destructive, whether it be Westboro Baptist funeral stalking or anonymous corporate political advertising.  Make the consequences of using rights as visible as the rights themselves, is all I am saying.

Now, let's add another thought.  If gun ownership is a right along with other rights, then should our rights be equally accessible?  That is, should some rights be harder to exercise than others?  The Young Turks have asked this question.  Here is the video link:


What if some bold politician (Politicians like being bold, you see.  Courageous and honest not so much) introduced legislation requiring that the limits on voting and gun ownership be the same?  If free access to guns is a rights then why not voting?  And if voting fraud is a problem, then why not gun ownership fraud (such as felons)?  

I find this a fun thought experiment because it makes us ponder whether some rights are more valuable or risky than others?  What do you think?  If the rules were the same we would either have more guns and more voters, or fewer guns and fewer voters.  

This makes my head hurt.  Good.

10 August 2012

A Man, A Plan, A Tax–Genius!

So I’m reading Guns, Butter and Then Some - NYTimes.com and for some reason my mind wanders to a long dormant fact:

Cigarettes cost way more than they used to.  One reason I quit back in 1982 was that the price went above $1 a pack.  Today they are often $4 or more.  And the result of raisin those taxes has been to reduce the percentage of people who smoke.  It has become financially challenging. 

One reason states and the feds raised the taxes was to address the costs of tobacco use.  They use the money (ostensibly) to educate against smoking, especially directed and children and youth, and to compensate the state for the societal costs of smoking.

Then I wondered, what would happen if we were to tax guns.  And what if that tax was based on the cost of gun violence overall?  Let’s take a look.  Here is a chart (from the National Shooting Sports Foundation:

Note that in 2011 10.8 millions guns were purchased in the US. But let’s use 2002, 7 million, because it is closer to the next data point, the health cost of guns.  According to JAMA, in a 1999 article reporting on 1994 data, the medical cost of gun violence in 1994 was $2.3 billion. Leaving aside collateral costs because they are harder to quantify, these two figures tell me that each gun bought costs ad additional $328.50.

What if every gun were to be taxed an equal share of the medical cost of gun violence the previous year?  That money would be set aside just to pay that, btw, because even if you are shot by a criminal you pay the hospital bill (or mortician). 

Not only would that tax made guns more expensive, discouraging both impulse purchases and hoarding, it would make those who buy the guns pay for the cost of misusing them.

But wait, says the NRA, why should law abiding gun owners pay for bad apples?  For the same reason that good drivers pay insurance premiums based on how badly a few drive.  Owning a gun or a car has consequences, as bearing your share of those consequences is part of being a grown up.

I think this is an inspired idea.  Tax guns, not to control them but to make the cost of misusing them the price gun owners and users bear instead of those wounded and killed and then presented with the bill as well.  If you’re hurt by a gun, the gun owners of America will make it right.