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Comment Culture Tax (Score 1) 407

Proposals similar to this have been discussed in other countries in the past; I remember watching a panel discussion during a German arts festival (I've forgotten which one) in 2009 on pretty much the same topic – they called it a "culture tax".

Really, one should conceptually separate two things:
1) The desire to support musicians with public money; and
2) The source of that money.

The principle of supporting the arts industry with public money is well established, and, while it's difficult to say what the "right" level of funding is, I doubt Slashdot is the forum best suited to discussing this :-P
However, I think we can broadly agree that, due to internet-based file sharing, musicians are earning some lower amount of money than they would be in the absence of file sharing. (On average, over all musicians. File-sharing/piracy is not the only reason, but it is a reason. This should be reasonably uncontroversial.) Without implying that these are my personal views, I'm going to play the advocate and argue that, due to the benefit musicians/the arts sector provide to society in general, they should be supported to offset a decline in privately-collected revue that is of no fault of their own.

If you accept that argument (or a similar one), the second issue is then from where that money should come. I'm not an expert on the Canadian tax system, but I'm going to bet that, like most Western countries, the majority of Government revenue comes from income taxes, corporate tax, and perhaps some form of consumption tax (sales tax/VAT/GST/whatever); and, further, than the minority of its revenue is tied to a specific use when it is raised. (Technical terms differ: some countries refer to a tax where the revenue's use is pre-specified as an "excise"; I think Americans call it "earmarking"?) Most funding of Government expenditure comes from this pool of general-use funds, however, many countries have these use-specific taxes – petrol or car taxes (excises) to fund road maintenance or transport programs; specific taxes for healthcare, reconstruction funds, etc.

So – should this funding of musicians from from general revenue, or from a new (higher) tax on a specific area? (Maybe both?) It's sensible to tax the activity that is decreasing the musicians' income, but, if we could tax piracy, we'd certainly be doing so by now. What's the next-best alternative (i.e. how close can we get to taxing internet piracy)? Putting a tax on BitTorrent traffic? Not going to work. Taxing "the internet" (or its use) is probably the closest we could reasonably come to being sure of taxing this activity.
Clearly, we would also be taxing people who don't "harm" musicians through piracy. However, plenty of taxes provide benefits to other members of society than those who pay them; that's a basic part of the tax system. Use-specific taxes/excises are a little different, but, for example, Australian car owners are required to pay a tax for owning a car that goes into a fund to pay the victims of car accidents, even if they themselves never cause an accident are are therefore not able to benefit from it – it's called "third-party insurance".

Very few Australians would think of third-party insurance as a use-specific tax, but it's basically the same. Similarly, if we recast this internet tax proposal as a (compulsory) fee that then gives you the right – and this is important: the imposition of a tax would have to come with a legitimisation of the taxable activity* – to then, in this case, download music for free.

That opens up a whole new can of worms, of course: Whose music? How much of it? What would the level of the fee be? What would this state-sponsored download infrastructure look like? Would it eventually include all culture (i.e. films, literature, etc) It's at this point that the discussion gets put in the "too-hard" basket, but the concept itself is one I find fascinating; I'm not yet sure where I stand on the idea.

In any case, for a reasonably debate on this sort of proposal to occur – assuming, of course, that's the genesis of the Canadian proposal is a "culture tax" and not a simple bit of rent-seeking – I think the above issues need to separated.

* This principle doesn't apply to all taxes (e.g. drug runners still get taxed on their income without their activities being legitimised), but to most.

Comment This is not a done deal! (Score 1) 120

This is a great sign that the NBN won't be scrapped by any upcoming parties.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. What the Government and Telstra have signed is a "Heads of Agreement", which is not a binding contract; it's more like a broad set of terms both sides agree on.

The finer details still need to be discussed and the resulting contract approved by Telstra's shareholders before we can really rest easily. Until then, either side (incl. the next Government, should it change) can pull out.

It's definitely good news – not least for the current Government, coming fortuitously a scant day after a by-election hiding in Sydney –, but some commentators have already suggested Telstra holds a bit more of the bargaining power going forward as a result.

Comment Re:$500 as the max? (Score 3, Informative) 257

I most emphatically second this experience. I bought a higher-end tablet PC for AU$3500 (US$2700, €2100; the difference to the list price is b/c I upgraded from the standard specs) back in 2006 before starting my second degree, and it was an absolute godsend. "Print" the lecture slides to OneNote, annotate them, cross-reference (between lectures and/or subjects), type in speech and scribble equations/graphs directly onto the screen. Everything is searchable – pictures through OCR, handwriting, even audio.

I know I'm extolling the virtues of a software more than necessarily the hardware, but the two go hand in hand. I need a more powerful machine for gaming, video work etc., but for academic and any graphic work a tablet is killer piece of hardware.

Would I buy another tablet? Most definitely. I almost grabbed the Eee T-91 until it turned out it didn't differentiate between between fingers & palms and couldn't recognise handwriting.

Based on my experience, a touchscreen is only going to be good for navigation. For actual data entry, you're going to want to switch to a keyboard or stylus (or perhaps one of those little finger-nubs the DS has). But when they get that right, my >$500 will be waiting.

Comment Gee wizz.. (Score 4, Interesting) 452

Economists routinely use highly complicated mathematical models on stuff like this, and are just as routinely criticised for it because their simplifying assumptions aren't close enough to reality. Then along comes this bloke and uses a model that's not even based on human behaviour: the economy as a heat engine. No wonder he's been panned. Criticise economic models all you like, but at least the modern ones* have a foundation in human behaviour.

I can see why this gets a run here – scientists are cool nerds; economists are not – but in the end it's a guy doing research outside of his field. Sometimes you get tremendous insights, but most of the time (as in this case) you don't.

* I'm not talking about the physiocrats here, okay?

Disclaimer: I am an economist.

Comment Re:I for one... (Score 1) 178

Is there actually a "right" level of reserves that can withstand crises, though?

There is, but unfortunately it's not the same level that's "right" for the non-crisis time. Ideally the financial sector would see the crises (or rather, the change in demand for or supply of reserves) coming and adjust, but that obviously doesn't happen when external shocks occur.

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