Monday, January 30, 2012

That's not fair

Next Sunday, the Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Giants will be played for the second time in 4 years.  I'm about as disinterested in this Super Bowl as I've been in any in a long time, because I don't have particularly strong feelings about either team.  I like the Buccaneers, and they stunk.  I dislike the Panthers, and they stunk, so that's fine.  Cam Newton's smug smile will haunt my dreams.

Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, has won three Super Bowls, and Eli Manning, the quarterback for the New York Giants, has only won one Super Bowl.  All the talk this week in the news about fairness has gotten me thinking that maybe, in the interest of fairness, they should adjust the rules in this game to accommodate Eli (since he's only won one championship) to correct Tom Brady's touchdown throws and make them worth one third of Eli's (since he's won three Super Bowls and, objectively, is three times the quarterback that Eli is) and only be two points a piece.  (Note: The NFL touchdown is worth 6 points.)  That would be fair, right?

What is fair?  Fairness is, to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter, "Hard to define but easy to identify."  (Note: Potter was talking about pornography.  Isn't that weird?)  Equal chance of outcome?  Well, I personally think the Patriots are a much better team than the Giants, so making an adjustment like I described would make the game "fairer" in that sense.  However, I also thought that the Packers were a better team that the Giants, and look where that got us now.

The thing about football, much like the tax code that the president is arguing about making fairer, is entirely arbitrary.  It's a set of rules agreed upon before "play".  If the NFL decided that next season every team's running back must wear a tiara or be disqualified from play, they could do that.  There is no universal standard by which football must be played.  The rules of the college game are different than the professional one.  Taxes can similarly change from year to year, and there is no definitive truth as to what the best tax plan is, or what an individual's fair share is.  How much is your fair share?  How much is mine?

Changing rules like this really serve to change incentives.  In the Super Bowl, if Tom Brady's touchdowns were in fact worth less, then the Patriots would run more inside the red zone, because that would maximize their scoring potential.  But, it wouldn't necessarily take away Tom Brady's advantage anywhere else besides the end zone.  Likewise, if the tax regimes were different, people would spend their money differently to maximize their return.  It seems exaggerated for rich people because they have more disposable income than the rest of us do, and are better able to take advantage.

Think of it like this: Dr. Sighted loves beef jerky.  If beef jerky costs 3.99 at Publix, but 4.59 at Bi-Lo, I would buy beef jerky from Bi-Lo.  Now, what if Publix were 30 miles away?  How much beef jerky would Dr. Sighted have to eat for making that trip to be worth it?  There comes a point where the economics for rich people are really different.  It may seem unfair, but possession is 9/10ths of the law.  (In the interest of full disclosure: I don't really understand that phrase.)

If I have a lot of money and investing yields the best return, that's where I'm spending it.  Simple as that.  Is it unfair that the tax rate is unequal?  Maybe.  But, remember, our tax code is progressive, so it's more exacting on higher incomes.  However, people with more income (and thus more to lose) have more incentive to find ways not to pay it -- so with a code like ours, rife with loopholes, people with means are able to find them.  But, honestly, if you had the resources to find ways to pay less, you'd do it.  I think it's very easy to make an argument that it's not fair that rich people pay more simply because they can.  Elton John can sing really well, why shouldn't he sing at my wedding as well as Rush Limbaugh's?

Fairness is ultimately arbitrary, unless you cite a standard.  (Really, everything is arbitrary without a standard.)  So why do we think that the rich should pay more, other than we think they don't really deserve what they have?  Or they don't need what they have?  What standard are we using?  And at what point to you become rich?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Responsibility is hard

I'm pretty sure it's evident, but I live in South Carolina again now.  It's my second favorite state, but has the potential to pull into first because I wasn't born here so I'll never really be accepted as one of their own but hope to participate in their society, like Jame Goodall and the apes, but since I live with my wife here, the best times of my life are ahead of me with her here.  I also had two pretty good years at Clemson.

As a resident of the Palmetto State (which has a rather obsessive, borderline creepy relationship with its imagery [see below]), I get to vote in the primaries tomorrow.

As a former opinions editor, this makes me giddy.  It's like Christmas or St Patrick's Day that only comes around every four years.  Politics are the bread and butter of opinions editors, and most other people don't like discussing it, and when they do, they normally don't know what they're talking about.  So, soccer fans, I know how you feel.

 I went through the emotional gamut that I always go through during these primaries -- excitement about the strength of the field, and then eventual disappointment once we get to know them. That's the way that most things work, though; I got excited about watching the Orange Bowl, and well, that was kind of a disappointment, too.  Really, though, it's not as bad as it looks, because exaggeration gets attention.  "Worst. Episode. Ever."  It's funny because it's absurd.

My position, as described by the political compass, is economically right and a little libertarian.  (See below again.)  So, I'm trying to figure out where I fall.  Sounds kind of mopey, like every high school drama, "Where do I belong?"  But really, that's the fun.  That's what life is like.  It's choosing the new meal at the restaurant, seeing the new movie, and surprising your wife with something fun.  It's figuring it all out.  This time, figuring out for whom I want to vote is quite significant for the rest of the county.  It's fun, but it's also a little intimidating, because it feels important.

I have taken this responsibility seriously, pretty aggressively consumed the media about the candidates to make informed decisions and I hope that when it's your turn, you will too.  People say every election, "This is the most important election of our time."  It might be true every time, but if so, it's silly to say.  That's like saying, "This is the most important meal ever.  If I never eat again, I'll die.  So I must eat this Reuben sandwich."  I do love Reuben sandwiches, though.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sins are bad, mmkay

One of the prongs of a recent political discussion has been clanging around in my head, and I have not been able to quite put it to rest.  It comes from the role of faith in politics and the perception that its presence leads to  oppression, if not specifically targeted at disadvantaged groups, then effectively so -- primarily women and homosexuals.  Since this discussion was concerning American politics, it was really in regards to Christianity.

It bugged me, because Christianity, if properly understood, has no room for that.  When it enters politics, though, that's a different story -- Theodosius's decision to establish Christianity in the 4th Century created a new privileged class within the Roman Empire and Europe hasn't been the same since and, unfortunately, frequently not for the better.  This gets to the issue of "religion" vs. "faith" and, while seemingly nuanced, is significant.

This is important to me because this image that became presented, one of an oppressive and restricting Christianity is not the same image that I have of it in my experience.  Christianity is primarily about love and forgiveness, because each of us has found love and forgiveness through Christ based on His mercy and nothing to do with our actions.  That mercy extends to anyone who seeks it -- regardless of color, gender, sexual preference, or behavioral history.  That is, it is entirely inclusive to anyone, so long as a relationship with Christ is pursued.  That's at the heart of John 3:16, the verse that nearly everyone has heard at least once. Additionally, when asked what the most important commandment is, Jesus answers with love God -- and the second, love your neighbors (Matthew 22:35-40).  

Christianity has no inherent political aims within its scripture, really highlighted by Matthew 22:21, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."  We have applied a rather crude litmus test to our politics to require the appearance of Christian faith from our leaders whether they really believe it or not.  It is very important to note that there are a number of ways that belief manifests itself, we are all sinners and no one really knows another's heart, so it is difficult to say who falls in which category, but the more vocal certainly get tougher scrutiny.

Rick Perry is an example of such a candidate.  One of the issues that he put front and center in his ad entitled, "Strong" is one that really gives credence, unfortunately, to the position I am trying to argue against.  He opens with a volley against homosexuals, which is a controversial subject.  I think that Christians and homosexuals frequently get hung up on another way out of proportion to the need.  While there is ample scriptural evidence that points to homosexual behavior as being sinful, it's also important to note other common things that are sinful: divorce, gossip, not giving freely, greed, and putting God to the test.  There aren't really protests of objection against divorce courts, celebrity tabloids, politicians who claim to be faithful but are not with their money when their tax returns are released, television shows that have a character make a deal with God or threaten Him with unbelief unless some desired outcome is reached with nearly the enthusiasm that religious people go after homosexuals.

This sort of public reaction that we do see begs the question that some sins are worse than others.  That is a rather nuanced theological question, but ultimately, sin is failing to meet God's expectations, and failure is failure.  In order to reach fellowship with God, we need forgiveness from that failure, and Christ is the vehicle God provided to achieve that, out of God the Father's love for humanity.  (See Romans 6:23.)  Every sin is a source of separation from God -- a lack of Christlike perfection -- so we are all in this boat together.  The very powerful story of Jesus and the sinful woman in John 8:2-11 shows us that we are not able to judge and should not.  By judging, we are assuming for ourselves the role of God the Son, which is also sinful.

Now, this isn't to say that we shouldn't object to sinful behavior.  The charge for Christians to share our story (Matthew 28:16-20) is based on a sense that we have something valuable -- a relationship with Christ, a loving God -- that others might want.  It is a path to redemption, truth, and freedom.  Sinful behavior is an obstacle to achieving that relationship, and not loving people is unmistakably contrary to God's will.