Saturday, April 29, 2017

April 29, 2017
Tax farming — tax collection by private individuals — is a system subject to abuse. A limited version of it — private collection of delinquent taxes — has been tried by the U.S. government, twice, with poor results. Nevertheless, and true to its privatization obsession, Congress tucked a clause into a highway bill which requires the IRS to "enter into qualified tax collection contracts to collect outstanding inactive tax receivables," i.e., to farm out tax collection to private collection agencies. The IRS has selected four companies to pursue those delinquent accounts.
One might think that increasing the IRS budget, allowing it to hire more agents, would be a better plan than giving 25% of collections to the debt collectors, especially as their record at collection during prior trials is unimpressive. Also, the new program opens up opportunities for fraud and abuse, both by the designated collectors and by others posing as such.
The IRS announced that it would begin using the debt collectors in April. One of the companies selected by the IRS is Pioneer Credit Recovery, a subsidiary of Navient Corporation. Two years ago, Pioneer was accused by the Education Department of misleading borrowers about their loans. In January of this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed suit against Navient, accusing it of "systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment," and cheating "many struggling borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments, which caused them to pay much more than they had to for their loans."[24]  The same month, the States of Washington and Illinois sued Navient; the Washington Complaint accused it of a number of unfair and deceptive practices, including "aggressive and misleading collection tactics."[25]
Privatization is a dubious idea in any area of government activity. Privatizing tax collections is worse. Selecting a company with a bad reputation, one other government agencies accuse of wrongdoing, is difficult to explain. Of the four companies approved, two are from New York, including Navient-Pioneer, and one is from Iowa. Senators Schumer (New York) and Grassley (Iowa) are supporters of private tax collection. Apparently their viewpoint allows them to see an advantage invisible to most of us.


Friday, April 21, 2017

April 20, 2017
As The Washington Post informed us late last year, "It's official: Truth is dead. Facts are passe." The basis of that cynical statement? "Oxford Dictionaries has selected ‘post-truth’ as 2016's international word of the year," because the Brexit referendum battle and the presidential election "caused usage of the adjective to skyrocket, according to the Oxford University Press."[19]  Is selecting a word of the year important, or even meaningful? Recent words of the year are such additions to discourse as locavore, hypermiling and refudiate, the last made notorious by Sarah Palin. Oxford Dictionaries defines post-truth as an adjective "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,"[20] which is as awkward as the yearly word routine is meaningless; neither hypermiling nor refudiate have been added to the OED. On the other hand, the Dictionary has just added "sticky-outy."
Leaving aside whether dictionaries should describe rather than prescribe or, as Fox News puts it, report, not decide, the state of our political discourse, in which facts and truth are discarded, indeed is worthy of note. (In the Age of Trump, examples are not necessary; read any account of a press conference). What is the source of this intellectual decline?
One suggestion is that we should blame philosophy. On the cover of the April 3, 2017, issue, Time Magazine, apparently not yet convinced, asked "Is Truth Dead?" An article on Salon offered this comment: "Whether deliberate or not, the cover headline alludes to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who is best known for proclaiming the death of God, but also for rejecting the idea of objective truth (‘there are no facts, only interpretations’). For the philosophically inclined, then, our ‘post-truth’ era can be traced back to Nietzsche . . . ."[21]

A more recent reference also might support the theory. Richard Rorty observed that, under modern analytic philosophy, statements are "no longer thought of as expressions of experience nor as representations of extra-experiential reality." Truth "is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way." As long as the story sells, it can be called truth.
The intellectual fad known as postmodernism has helped to undermine respect for truth and fact; it includes "an excessive interest in subjective beliefs independently of their truth or falsity; and an emphasis on discourse and language as opposed to the facts to which those discourses refer (or, worse, the rejection of the very idea that facts exist or that one may refer to them)."[22]
Not many people keep abreast of trends in philosophy or literary criticism, so any influence must be by way of absorption into the culture. A different and less arcane source has been suggested, one which would have direct influence on many: conservative (usually called evangelical) Christianity. A recent article in The New York Times [23] observed that "two compulsions have guided conservative Protestant intellectual life: the impulse to defend the Bible as a reliable scientific authority and the impulse to place the Bible beyond the claims of science entirely." The result is a view that any statement must be false if it contradicts or challenges biblical stories taken literally. Rejecting much of modern science, to which this leads, is an anti-factual stance with a vengeance.
For some, this is based on a theory burdened with the almost unpronounceable name "presuppositionalism," which reflects this idea: "We all have presuppositions that frame our understanding of the world." However, not all presuppositions are equal: "one worldview, the one based on faith in an inerrant Bible, does have a claim on universal truth."
The Times article referred to a biologist who also is a creationist; he "calls himself a ‘presuppositionalist evidentialist’ — which we might define as someone who accepts evidence when it happens to affirm his nonnegotiable presuppositions." Although accepting some parts of science might seem an advance, a scientist who rejects inconvenient science is even more defensively blinkered than the outright denier.
Whatever the source or terminology, denial of reality, dressing up lies as "alternative facts," and contempt for the very notion of truth pose a serious problem in a complex, rapidly changing, menacing world.




21. in-his-post-truth-politics-and-maybe-in-postmodern-philosophy/

Sokal and Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures

23. post-truth-society.html
Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day