Bill Harrison

New York, NY, United States

About Bill

An idea worth spreading

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men;and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” -Herman Melville

Comments & conversations

107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 2 years ago
What changes would you make to education?
As a politically offensive thought experiment - get rid of schools entirely. The purpose of schooling is to prepare students for the world as it exists today, not as it existed yesterday. Contrasting the speed with which knowledge, information, and ideas can spread across the world today with the old schooling model, any rigid institutional framework will always be several steps behind the real world. Instead, let children live in the real world. This is how they will best learn to live in the real world. We will still need a flexible occupational licensing system, in which people demonstrate their competence via examinations, projects, interviews, internships, whatever. This is the major role society has to play in educating youth, i.e., verifying that they are educated to certain standards. But we do not need schools or teachers to force feed information to students anymore. We only need to give them the curriculum and the criteria they have to meet in order to obtain the credential. For credentialing or citizenship, all students need is A) a curriculum laid out beforehand, which gives them exposure to the things they don't know they don't know, and B) rigorous methods of verifying their competence. Once they have their curriculum laid out, that competence is best obtained in the real world and via the Internet. Everything else is political, for the benefit of teachers, politicians, administrators, and professionals who want to limit entry into their professions. But for the students? Give them the entire curriculum beforehand, give them Internet access, give them internships and access to the real world, give them projects that matter to the real world, and give them examinations for social credentialing purposes, but that is all they need. There is another TED talk about motivation by Dan Pink - the keys to motivation were Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Currently schools provide none of these. Schooling /= education
107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 3 years ago
Ivan Oransky: Are we over-medicalized?
Our bodies and brains are the product of millions of years of evolution. Everyone knows this, but not everyone understands what that means in terms of how new chemicals and medicines can have complex, long-term, systemic effects on our minds and bodies even when they are effective at alleviating symptoms in the short term. Pharmaceutical companies benefit from a procrustean, reductionist view of healthcare, which believes that the only things that matter are the things that we already understand and can measure. But living things, by their very nature, are complex, organic, holistically functional systems that work together to ensure the health and the survival of the organism. The reductionist approach to health has its strengths, but it also has very real limitations to which our medical industrial complex is blind. But so long as big pharma can prey on the insecurity of sick people to convince them to buy the chemicals they're selling at an enormous mark-up, it will continue to do so.
107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 3 years ago
David MacKay: A reality check on renewables
The problem is not just one of will, it is one of finance. An oil subsidy worth billions to a company in the US might cost each American only a few dollars per year, but it is worth spending millions to lobby for. So even though the public interest is not at all served by giving more money to the already wealthy, that is what happens when Congressmen and women need to pander to the interests of the already wealthy in order to be elected. So while I agree that we need to stop subsidizing non-renewables, which prices renewables out of the market, I think we first need to limit the power of big money in politics. Otherwise, the continuous pressure on Congress by wealthy, concentrated interests will over time simply erode whatever gains are made by the public's pressure, just as happened with Dodd-Frank: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/17/opinion/in-campaign-financing-more-money-can-beat-big-money.html
107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 3 years ago
How can we re-frame tax policy to make people happier about paying taxes and/or spending pro-socially?
Well, you could take the Austrian school and "the free market" as the be all end all of economic discussion. Here are some alternative views: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/business/darwin-the-market-whiz.html?pagewanted=all http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/opinion/sunday/fables-of-wealth.html The slogans (it would be a charity to call them real ideas) that taxation is theft and "the free market" can solve all problems are bizarre and hollow. The discipline of economics is undergoing a sea change at the moment, but it's more in the direction of Robert Frank, Daniel Kahneman, and William Deriesiewicz than the anti-government propaganda from Mises.org. To be fair, I believe markets are a powerful policy tool that can create good outcomes in a wide variety of cases. But there is a large role for government as well, when markets fail, as they often do.
107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 3 years ago
Do socio-biological determinants of health justify redistribution of wealth in grossly unequal societies?
It depends on how narrow a lens you use to look at a person. You could define wealth as how much property a person legally owns. But that would ignore a huge amount of reality. How educated is that person, and in what fields are they knowledgeable? Do they enjoy life and love their friends and their family? Do they have a rich and intelligent view of the world? Are they well-traveled and worldly? Do they have a pleasant way of being in the world, and do they treat others with kindness and respect? Do they live in a community with other educated people, strong social safety nets, and strong public infrastructure or not? Is the air and water in their community clean, and is the food readily available to them fresh, affordable, and healthy? Do they give back? Are they healthy? Do they have access to affordable healthcare? If tragedy struck them or their community, how resilient would they be in the face of that adversity? Do the political and legal institutions they're governed by produce fair and reasonable outcomes? My point being that if you look with broad enough lens, you start to ask about "quality of life" rather than "property owned." If you see a man who owns lots of property, BUT he's an idiot, mean-spirited, with a narrow and bigoted view of the world and no compassion or respect for his fellow man; the infrastructure in his country is crumbling, but he doesn't care, and he makes money by skirting pollution regulations and lobbying for rules that allow him to do so; and the only field he's knowledgeable in is that of making money, developing his entire life philosophy around doing so by any means necessary. I consider that sort of man to be deeply impoverished despite his ownership of lots of property. And I am speaking, of course, about David Koch and his brother Charles (badam tsh!) But seriously, once you start looking more broadly than property toward something like "quality of life," wealth is a rich (:P) and complex concept.
107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 3 years ago
Do socio-biological determinants of health justify redistribution of wealth in grossly unequal societies?
I don't think general taxation is analytically distinct from estate taxes or inheritance. It matters how we tax capital gains versus wages, because taxing the former less than the latter amounts to a continuous subsidy of the wealthy, which propagates the plutocracy. In the 1950's we had extremely high top marginal tax rates, and we also had one of the largest, most successful public works projects in US history - the Interstate Highway system. The up front costs of this were enormous - roughly 450 billion dollars in today's terms. But it also created many jobs, and broad prosperity (instead of prosperity for just a few), and we are still, to this day benefiting from the infrastructure investments that were made in the past. In one of our other threads, I did respond to "the global nature of commerce," and my response was that "wealth generation" and "making money" are distinct concepts. "Wealth generation" is a blunt concept. What is wealth? Do we mean individual wealth or the wealth of a society as a whole? If there are 300 million people in the country who own lots of pieces of paper claiming ownership to things, that's certainly one component of it. But suppose half of those 300 million people were extremely uneducated. You can toggle factors like education, public infrastructure, the strength of the legal system, the depth and availability of cooperatively validated scientific research, the public health system, etc., and then the question becomes - by wealth do we mean that a few people own lots of property in the midst of crumbling public services? How much wealthier are we living in a healthy society versus an impoverished one? It's a good thing to work hard and to make money - but not all money is earned by being socially productive, and if some rich people don't see themselves as invested in the community infrastructure that allows them to do well, then we don't want them in our communities.
107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 3 years ago
Do socio-biological determinants of health justify redistribution of wealth in grossly unequal societies?
I'm not arguing against people increasing the wellbeing of themselves or their families, but I am opposed to the existence of a permanent aristocracy/plutocracy. While I'm not crediting the tax system in the 1950's with all our economic prosperity, it's not unreasonable to think it was a factor. Also, raising taxes on the rich is not an all or nothing proposal, and the reflexive conservative counterarguments are completely inane. We shouldn't tax the rich any more ore else they'll leave. We shouldn't tax the rich anymore because they're job creators. We shouldn't tax the rich anymore because it wouldn't completely resolve the deficit. We should always lower taxes on the rich even though aggregate demand is what creates jobs and not trickle down economics, which completely fail as an economic policy. In a sane society, taxing the rich a little bit more would be completely uncontroversial, but the anti-government, anti-tax, pro-plutocrat propaganda machine has been working for the past few decades to make that an impossible proposition to advance, under any circumstances.
107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 3 years ago
Do socio-biological determinants of health justify redistribution of wealth in grossly unequal societies?
Sure, and I don't expect complete equality by any means, but I do expect to live in a country where there is social mobility, and at the moment we don't have that. And while I don't believe in complete equality, whatever that even means, I do know that in the 1950's, coming out of the Depression, we had a top marginal tax rate of 90% so no one could make more than the equivalent of 2 million dollars per year. Beyond that, you don't need the money to live well, and there's a good chance that you're not making that money through socially productive labor. You can say that CEO pay has to be 500 times what the worker of the company makes, because that's just how human dominance hierarchies work. But that's not how it is in other countries, and that's not how it was in the past. The Founding Fathers were obsessed with getting rid of "titles of nobility" so that we would have a meritocracy instead of a permanent aristocracy/plutocracy, and for good reason. Right now, wealthy plutocrats buy lobbyists who influence legislators to write rules in their own favor rather than in the public's interests, and this systematically funnels wealth, health, education, etc. toward the wealthy and not the common man. This is not what was intended by "of the people, by the people, for the people." Here's a video of Ronald Reagan arguing that it is completely wrong for millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries. He would be called a Communist or *gasp* a socialist by today's GOP: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgbJ-Fs1ikA&feature=player_embedded Here's Malcolm Gladwell on how the US tax system is completely off the rails in favor of the wealthy: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/festival/2010/10/video-malcolm-gladwell.html
107491
Bill Harrison
Posted about 3 years ago
How can we re-frame tax policy to make people happier about paying taxes and/or spending pro-socially?
But what I'm saying is that tax funds are already routed through an already existing bureaucracy via tax withholding, and (at least in the US) we already get back money through tax refunds/returns. This wouldn't even have to be a tax increase necessarily - you could be an anti-government, anti-tax person and still favor this policy, because you're getting the same amount of money back or more, (at the least restrictive end of the spectrum) along with a note saying, for example, that it would be really cool if you spent 5% of your money pro-socially, that might make you a little happier. Half the point of the program would be for the benefit of the giver, not the receiver, so I fail to see how that would be inefficient, given that there are a huge number of pro-social causes that need money and which people could choose to give to. I get that you really dislike bureaucracy, but there are so many ways that this could be implemented with very few changes to how things already are. It seems like your objections can be easily met if you toggle any number of variables, but I reject the "no, it wouldn't work and it would be inefficient because bureaucracy/government are inefficient" argument. If you dislike government to the extent that you don't want it to work, then you can design it in such a way that it doesn't - which is why modern Republicans should never be put in positions of government.