Disclaimer- What follows is a personal account of my experience with LASIK. Carry a big grain of salt, do your own research, go to a reputable doctor. Consider yourself warned.
LASIK. The promised land for anyone with sub 20/20 vision. Having dumped some money into my Flex account last year, read a ton of research, and spoken with dozens of people, I went through with LASIK surgery 5 weeks ago. Results? Couldn’t be happier! Below is a deconstruction of the experience.
LASIK consists of 2 pre-op visits, the operation, and several post-op visits. In the pre-op visits, the eye doctor will take measurements of your eye to assess eligibility for LASIK (flap+reshaping) vs PRK (no flap), estimate how much your vision will improve, and evaluate risk factors. The LASIK operation itself takes less than 5 minutes- create a flap, reshape the cornea, and replace the flap. Patients typically can return to normal day-to-day activity after 24 hours, while full healing takes 3-6 months.
Benefits, Risk, Technology, Cost?
- Benefits- I wore glasses 90%+ of the time since I spend all day staring at glowing rectangles, and contacts dry out my eyes. Switching to contacts for exercise was a sobering reminder of just how much peripheral vision I was losing due to glasses. And yes, it’s a minor inconvenience to have to don double glasses for 3d movies, but consider rock climbing (being stuck blind on the wall after losing glasses to a 100 foot drop… still puts butterflies in my stomach) or mountaineering (fingers, used to put in/take out contacts, can get awfully gross after a week on the mountainside)… End of the day, glasses and contacts don’t REALLY bother me, but they could be quite annoying. Aside from which LASIK frequently results in BETTER than 20/20 vision…
- Risks- Assuming you’re eligible for LASIK (age, stable vision, no dry eye, etc),the three primary short term risks my research turned up were glare, halos, and dry eye. Doctors assess your risk likelihood for these side effects pre-operation, I turned out to be low risk. Longer term, it’s rumored that LASIK can accelerate the need for reading glasses after age 40. Turns out this is unrelated to LASIK, aside from which I had already been wearing glasses every day. Finally, since LASIK isn’t a one-time deal and “touch up” operations are possible, I’m confident with the precision of the modern procedure.
- Technology- Three major technology developments are worth highlighting since LASIK’s introduction in 1989. Early LASIK procedures employed microkeratomes (blade) to create the flap resulting in the majority of complications; after 1999 using IntraLase (laser) to create the flap is safer and nearly ubiquitous. Second, standard LASIK reshapes the eye based on prescription alone, resulting in a loss of precision. Custom or wavefront LASIK maps the optics of your eye using 300+ measurements and reshapes accordingly, decreasing risk and potentially improving contrast sensitivity and fine detail. Lastly, technology borrowed from missile tracking systems tracks your eye during the procedure itself, ensuring tiny or large eye movements don’t affect the procedure.
- Cost- LASIK is a discretionary medical procedure, and typically not covered by insurance. Using the latest technology (Wavefront and IntraLase) costs an additional few hundred dollars/eye. To give a ballpark idea of prices- India $250/eye. Singapore $1000/eye. Great US doctor $2000/eye. Dr. Edward Manche of the Stanford Laser Center $3000/eye. Let’s just say OTHER eye doctors go to Manche for their surgery. Given the importance of vision to my life (understatement), my goal was to spend as much as possible. I chose Manche.
There are 1 or 2 pre-operation visits. Most clinics offer a free consultation to take measurements of your eye, and discuss whether you’re eligible for LASIK. Come armed with questions. If you decide to go ahead with the procedure, there will typically be a pre-operation final checkup in addition to the consultation. In my case, I just had one visit prior to the day of the surgery.
The operation takes less than 5 mins, make sure to bring someone to drive you home. Here’s a detailed account of the procedure. The entire procedure is essentially cut a flap in each eye, open flap, reshape cornea, replace flap for each eye. Notable events- the flap cutting procedure uses suction to keep your eye steady; practically speaking it doesn’t hurt due to the anesthetics, but it was still a bit disconcerting since I felt a fair amount of pressure on my eye and the world went dark. The actual reshaping laser took ~10 second per eye. It didn’t hurt, but it was interesting to note that I could faintly smell some burning. Lastly, the doctor lifts and replaces the flap for each eye using a tiny device. Having my cornea exposed with no eye flap for protection… I (irrationally) felt incredibly vulnerable during this part of the procedure.
I could see immediatelyafter the operation. Walking out of the office, the world was a little blurry, but my vision was already noticeably better than before the procedure… The first 30 minutes, my eyes couldn’t really feel anything due to numbing drops. After 4 hours, it felt like there was a little something in my eye; or when my eyes would get very tired. NO EYE RUBBING, didn’t watch TV, tried to sleep (wearing my protective glasses) as much as possible… At this point, the main actual risk was accidentally moving your flap from rubbing my eyes. I was told “this is very painful, you will know if you’ve done it.”
The following day, I woke up a little groggy, but was able to see clearly. Like really really clearly. Vision was now limited by the number of pixels I could see, not resolution. Drove myself to my 1-day checkup… 20/15 vision, psyched!
The following weeks, I used my prescribed eye drops and followed the post-prescription procedures. Began exercising again after a week and went scuba diving after 3 weeks. My 1 month checkup was uneventful, halo/glare has gone away at this point, and I still see incredibly clearly. A minor nuance I’ve noticed is my eyes can occasionally take a fraction of a second to focus on an object; Manche assures me this is supposed to go away with time.
LASIK has unequivocally changed my life for the better. I don’t need to worry about glasses or contacts, and improved vision has transformed the world into a richer, more vibrant place. With mature modern LASIK technology and relatively low risk, do yourself a favor and get an initial consultation if you’ve been thinking about LASIK.
In part 1 we explored how different nutrients are important for your diet. In part 2, we explore the link between nutrition and energy.
Feeling Less Hungry
I wanted to start with the elephant in the room: losing weight. I wouldn’t mind losing weight, and generally speaking “Calories out – Calories in = change in weight”. Plug in a few helpful facts and I had the recipe for weight loss: the average person burns 2000-2500 calories/day at rest, and the energy to lose a pound is ~3500 calories. But what does this mean practically? To lose weight via dieting, it’s a simple matter of eating less calories than I burn off. This unfortunately seems like a recipe for being hungry all the time, which implies unsustainability, lower quality of life, and eventually binge eating/falling off the diet. So first thing’s first- how can I feel satiated while minimizing calories?
Satiation immediately after eating
Feeling full immediately after eating is largely a function of the physical volume of food eaten. Most high volume/low calorie food is high in water and/or low in fat- vegetables, fruits, etc. Consider eating 50 calories via a cup of strawberries, or 1 donut hole- it’s easy to imagine which would be more filling. Put another way, I would have to eat at least 20 pounds of spinach to meet my daily caloric needs! Drink a lot of water and include a large volume of low caloric density food in my meals. Check.
Satiation a few hours after eating
Feeling less hungry is complicated. Our bodies process the energy of different foods at different rates. A simple guideline is foods with a low glycemic index (more below) typically digest slower and help the body to burn energy over a longer period, making us less hungry. Foods high in protein, fiber, and water such as fruit, oats, beans, lean meat are great starting points towards not feeling hungry.
Many factors influence energy levels beyond nutrition including energy, sleep, and stress. Specific to nutrition, blood sugar levels are critically important. When we have low blood sugar (ie- haven’t eaten in awhile), the body doesn’t have enough raw energy to function and so we feel tired. On the opposite end of the spectrum eating high glycemic index foods causes a spike in blood sugar, which leads to overproduction of insulin, which metabolizes the sugar and results in low blood sugar, causing a sugar crash.
I was shocked with the effects of making a conscious effort to eat low glycemic index foods and not overeating; within a day I actually felt significantly more energetic and stopped suffering from afternoon drowsiness. Rock!
Countless gallons of ink have been spilled on the eternal debate swirling around calories. Different types, different sources, pros and cons… The most helpful advice I found was pretty simple: eat a balanced diet. There are no miracle or devil foods. Only a spectrum of different foods, and moderation is the prognosis.
Understanding sugar is the key to understanding carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are typically simple (sugar) or complex (starch, fiber). Simple carbohydrates (fructose, white grains) are processed by the body quickly, don’t fill you up, and play havoc on energy levels by causing sugar high/sugar crash. Starch (glucose) is a more complex form of sugar, requiring the body to expend more effort breaking it down. Fiber is the fundamental balancing force to sugar; foods high in fiber slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and prevent rapid increases in blood sugar levels. Our old friend the glycemic index is a helpful metric to measure the rate at which carbohydrates will be digested; here are a few examples of low glycemic foods that provide more consistent energy over time.
Protein is generally great for you since it builds muscle, has high satiability, and provides your body with essential amino acids. One thing to be mindful of is since protein is most often sourced from meat, it’s oftentimes paired with bad fats. This is why protein sources such as soy, beans, seafood, and lean cuts of meat make it easier to stay out of trouble.
Fats are calorically dense at 9 calories/gram, while carbs and protein are 4 calories/gram. There are 4 main types of fat. Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats are healthy because they contain nutrients needed to be healthy while having no (poly) or positive (mono) effects on cholesterol. Saturated fats are widely misunderstood, but typically on the unhealthy side because they tend to raise my LDL cholesterol. It’s hard to make an argument that trans fats are anything but bad for me.
Goal: Low calories + feeling satiated + consistent energy
This means I will focus on having a protein and fiber rich carb diet, while avoiding bad carbs and bad fats. Practically speaking this means I’ll be eating a lot of vegetables, fruits, legumes, lean meat/seafood, and whole grains. Meanwhile, I’ll be reducing sugary foods, red meat, and fatty foods in general. Roughly speaking I aim for a caloric distribution of around 10% fat (low), 30% protein (high), and 60% carbohydrates (standard). I certainly am not going to be militant about my diet, but since even a single heavy meal will punish me with a food coma, I have a helpful guardrail to stay on track.
I have an insatiable thirst to drink deeply from the well of life. Energy and a sharp mind are the critical daily building blocks that make everything possible. For most of my life I’ve done an ok job with what I eat, but have largely ignored nutrition… Well hang on, isn’t nutrition a critical driver of energy and sharpness of mind, what gives!? In the spirit of holiday self improvement, I want to make some renovations and upgrade my dietary powerplant!
It’s incredibly difficult in the modern age to tell up from down with nutrition; there’s a new revolutionary diet, evil ingredient, or blessed nutrient coming out every week. Certainly different people need different nutrition, and different types of food have different purposes in one’s diet. Nonetheless, I wanted to be a little more cognizant of how what I eat is impacting me. To understand is to know what to do; I want to build a helpful framework for thinking about my nutrition.
I set out with the goal of understanding how my diet might help me have more consistent energy, a sharper mind, and contribute to my longterm wellbeing; not to create a strict diet. As I dug in, I found it helpful to think of nutrition on two dimensions- nutrients and energy (see part 2).
The ingredients of a long, healthy life: anti-oxidents, anti-cancer, omega-3, calcium… There are a plethora of positive nutrients generally best sourced from a balanced diet of whole foods, but supplements are ok in a pinch. There were a few nutrients in particular I needed to be mindful of:
Omega-3: There are two critical Omega-3 fatty acids- EPA and DHA. Omega-3 (fish, flax) increases immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth. Unfortunately many Omega-6 fats (refined vegetable oil, nuts) while lowering blood cholesterol, also increase inflammation, inhibit blood clotting, and cause cell proliferation. Japan is the closest to the ideal ratio of 4:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3, while the US clocks in at… 19:1. Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 is critical for health, so I’m taking 2 gram/day fish oil supplement (increase Omega-3), while cutting oily fried food and reducing red meat from my diet (decrease Omega-6).
Calcium: Calcium is important for nerves, muscle function, and bone strength. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium most efficiently. Unfortunately, I’m lactose intolerant and can’t have dairy/cheese, a chief source of calcium. There are other ways to get calcium (yogurt, tofu top the list)… but I’m almost certainly deficient, so I will take a supplement.
Vitamin B12: This vitamin is critically important for neurological function, the nervous system, and red blood cell formation. Typically found in meat and dairy, but unfortunately not vegetables. Generally difficult to get sufficient from anything other than fortified cereal… I’ll be covered with a multivitamin.
I also found two important types of food to treat with care:
Sugar (careful): Aside from the havoc sugar wreaks on energy levels (see part 2), sugar also has other negative effects including contributing to the development of hypoglycemia and diabetes. Cleverly replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners (aspartame, saccharin, etc)? With minimal health risks according to the FDA, I’m nevertheless skeptical.
Red Meat (careful): Red meat is protein and iron rich, however there are a few gotchas to keep an eye out for. Firstly, red meat can be deceptively high in saturated fats, so it’s important to keep an eye out for lean cuts. Secondly, Omega-3’s are so important because grain fed meat has an extremely high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio (20+:1) compared to grass fed meat (3:1). Thirdly, red meat has a variety of general health risks.
In part 2, I went on to explore the effects diet has on energy levels.
A number of friends have recently reached out trying to better understand technology, Silicon Valley, and how to think about a career switch/getting a job in Silicon Valley. What follows is a collection of reflections based on living and breathing Silicon Valley for what feels like a few dozen lifetimes.
If you want to land your first job in technology, I have three important homework assignments for you: Know thyself. Know thy domain. Know others.
First and foremost, understand your motivation. Why do you want to do it? Tech is fast paced, a lot of work. For better or worse, the ground is CONSTANTLY shifting beneath your feet. The payoff? You get to invent the future! And if you’re lucky, a chance to make your dent in the universe. As a navy seal recruiter once wisely said, “it’s not for everyone”. Is it for you?
A word on the elephant in the room. “Facebook created hundreds of millionaires! Working in tech is my ticket to the big time!” Yes, getting rich is a possibility. But so is winning the lottery. A healthier mindset may be to acknowledge that the majority of venture capitalists spend their entire careers hunting for winners, and are lucky to have even 1 big hit. As Mark Suster wisely points out, there’s a time to learn and a time to earn. Focus on learning how to create value before claiming it. The best way to get what you want is to deserve it. The elevator to success is out of order, are you ready to take the stairs one step at a time?
3) How will you add value?
Fundamentally there are 3 facets to a company: Builder, Seller, or G&A. This side of the business is full of makers, creators of value- engineers (CS, EE, Mech E, or otherwise), product managers, designers, etc. Sellers make sure that value makes it to the greater marketplace: distribution. The realm of sales, marketing, and business development. G&A comprises everything else. Law, finance, HR, operations, etc. Roles can certainly span all 3 spheres, but really ask yourself- where am I going to add value to my organization?
Know thy Domain
4) Which domains interest you?
Software is indeed eating the world. But the buffet extends as far as the eye can see. And technology doesn’t stop at software; life sciences, energy, hardware, the list goes on. Which domain captures your imagination? Another important consideration is to think about whether you want to work in consumer or B2B. If consumer, prepare to spend a lot of time trying to understand user behavior, and uncovering what people REALLY value. If B2B, think about which part of the tech stack interests you- hardware, software, web, mobile, or otherwise?
5) Small Company or Big Company?
Small companies are lean and struggling to carve out a niche for themselves in the world. It should come as no surprise that smaller companies need primarily builders and sellers. It’s not unheard of, but it’s tough to get a G&A job at a smaller tech company, especially without a solid network. There is more equity to be found in smaller companies, but with it comes a great deal more risk and volatility. Big companies can be a great way to get your foot in the door. But make sure you’re cognizant of where you’re headed; one path is to specialize and relax into a comfortable existence, a potentially great outcome. If you’re intent on inventing the future, be mindful that innovation can be tough at larger organization. No matter what you do, keep learning as much as you can.
6) Who do you know?
What you know and who you know are the yin and yang of career. Silicon Valley is no different than anywhere else. As a wise friend once said, “applying through a website is tantamount to throwing your resume into a garbage bin in Silicon Valley”. It’s incredibly difficult getting a job remotely. You need to live and breathe the air where you’re going to work. Make friends in tech, talk to their friends in tech, go to random mixers, ask for advice from anyone who will give you the time of day. It can be incredibly difficult to break into the social scene in the valley without knowing anyone, but if you put some elbow grease into your starcraft and other geek skills, you’re well on your way to success.
As a final thought, while there’s no real substitute for living and breathing the valley, blogs can do a reasonable job of approximating the atmosphere. Some of the more useful blogs include Techcrunch, Venturebeat, AllthingsD, and Gigaom. If you want to dig a little deeper, some of the best thinkers in the valley include Steve Blank, Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, and Ben Horowitz.
Good luck, and may the force be with you.
Kitesurfing. The most exhilarating individual sport I’ve had the good fortune of engaging with. Yes, rock climbing challenges me in ways I never imagined and is a forum for doing things I didn’t think I could do. And the zen flow state from running is unbelievably peaceful. But cruising at 15mph over light chop, launching 20 foot frontflips and backflips at will and landing soft as a butterfly, all while harnessing two of the most powerful forces on the planet (wind and water)… my body just feels like it’s singing.
I encountered kitesurfing for the first time while biking around the coast of Hyeres. As I rounded a corner and saw a few dozen kiters in the water, I couldn’t help but pull over, sit down, and watch mesmerized for an hour. I was hooked. Friends have asked me how they might get into kitesurfing, I couldn’t find anything else, so… this guide is my gift to beginners everywhere!
Just so you know what you’re getting yourself into- kitesurfing has a steep learning curve. On the plus side, there will be moments of sheer euphoria as you pick up new skills. On the minus side, getting to a reasonable place of proficiency will take 20-30hr. Fortunately, focusing on a few key skills will get you over each hump, and you’ll be shredding in no time.
Absolute Beginner- Learn how to kite (5-10hrs)
Kitesurfing is 80% kiting, 20% board skills. Time you invest now will pay off in spades later. The milestone we’re gunning for: be able to fly a trainer kite behind your back with your eyes closed both parked and doing power strokes. Buy (~$100) or borrow a trainer (make sure the control mechanism is a bar), and follow one of these guides to train up your kiting skills.
The Basics (6 hrs)
With solid kiting skills under your belt, it’s time to bridge the gap from kiting to kitesurfing. I highly recommend a 3 part lesson arc from a kiteboarding school. There’s just no replacement for hands on learning from an experienced kite instructor. The 3 lessons will cost you between $300 (vacation spots like Cabarete) and $600 (WOW Bay Area), depending on where you go.
Land Lesson (2 hrs)- Put a harness on and fly a big 4 line kite. Safety, rigging, launching, flying, landing, and safety. You will more than likely stay dry for this lesson.
Body Dragging (2 hrs)- Learn how to body drag upwind in the water. Learn water relaunches, power strokes, and the CRITICAL safety skill of being able to self-rescue.
Board Lesson (2 hrs)- Put it all together, and get up on the board for the first time!
Transitioning to Independence
At this point, you should have had enough exposure to decide whether you want to proceed with the sport or not. If you need more information, just go to your local kitebeach and strike up a conversation with a fellow kiter; the community is incredibly friendly and welcoming! To continue on your kitesurfing journey, you’re going to need to get your own gear. The good news: once you buy you’re gear, you’ll rarely need to upgrade in the future, though you’ll probably WANT to😉. The bad news, the initial set of gear will run you somewhere in the $1000+ range… What you’ll need:
- Board- $200+ Getting a used board is fine. You will want a twintip board (looks like a wakeboard) to start. Something in the ~135 range if you’re 6′, ~125 if you’re 5’6″… it’s all preference. The most important factors are length (longer easier to get up with, harder to turn), rocker (more cuts chop better for a smoother ride, less helps you to track in a straight line better), and concavity (helps the board stick to the water). I use a 136 Underground FLX and love it. Don’t get a 140+ beginner board, it will only be useful for a handful of sessions before you outgrow it.
- Kite, Bar and Lines- $500+ Many schools of thought for whether you should get a quiver of 1, 2, or 3 kites. Pragmatically, I would recommend starting with getting just one kite; I kite at 3rd avenue and end up using my Nemesis HP 10m 80% of the time. Since modern bow kites have an EXTREMELY wide wind range, most guys can get away with a 10m, and women with an 8m. Money to burn? The Cabrinha switchblade is an excellent kite. The easiest way to size your kite? Go to the beach you plan on kiting at, and talk to people who are similar height and weight to you. Make sure your kite includes bar and lines, and a kite leash; buying them separately will run $200+.
- Harness- $75+ For your first harness, anything will do. Seat harnesses will help you get up on the board easier, while waist harnesses will be more comfortable for longer riding. It’s a matter of preference. Longtime kiters are generally fans of mystic harnesses.
- Helmet- $50+ You WILL take some pretty epic spills. Trust me, just get one.
- Wetsuit- $200+ Thickness/length will depend on where you kite. For the bay, 4/3 is more than enough. During summer you can get away with a 3/2, or even a shortie. Generally won’t need a hoodie or gloves. As you get better you’ll spend more time out of the water, if you have money to burn some of the new wind protection built into suits isn’t a horrible idea.
- Booties- $40+ You’ll want them if your kiting spot is rocky, or if your feet get cold.
- Don’t get a board leash, they’re not safe. Go-Joe’s are VERY useful to help retrieve your board while you’re starting.
Before Getting Started…
Please please please: SAFETY FIRST. Understand how your kite leash works, and what happens when you let go of your bar. Train the habit in your mind of pushing the bar out (depowering the kite) if anything goes wrong. Additionally, make sure you know how to inflate your kite to the proper tension, wrap and unwrap your lines properly, connect them safely to your kite, and double check everything (lines not tangled, kite connection, harness + leash connected properly) before launching! Talk to friends, rent/watch some videos, ask around at the beach; kiting without proper safety knowledge is VERY dangerous, I’ve seen bad situations develop in the blink of an eye. Most injuries happen at launch and landing, please make sure you know what you’re doing.
Beginner (~3 sessions/4 hrs)
The milestone you’re gunning for is being able to ride the board for 10+ seconds without falling. You will unfortunately be doing a lot of walking since you won’t be able to go upwind, so make sure there’s a beach you can land on downwind (and some way to land your kite), and that the walk back isn’t too challenging. A last word on safety- know how to self-rescue and what to do if your lines get tangled or if your kite drops in the water. A windy cold ocean is an incredibly dangerous place to learn on the fly. That said, I recommend the following arc to reach this milestone:
Body dragging upwind- the better you are at this, the easier your life will be. Even as an expert you will fall after jumps, lose your board, and need to body drag to get back to it. I know it takes patience, but forget about the board for your first session or two. If you can develop this skill such that you can body drag back to your launch spot, you will be MUCH happier later.
Pick your dominant side, and just keep trying to get up on the board. Don’t worry about losing ground downwind, or about the other side, just keep trying- it will take a lot of repetition. Learn how to put the board on your feet, get the board beneath you orthogonal to the wind, and how to stop the kite from turning you around (this step is why you learned how to fly the kite with your eyes closed behind your back). For the moment of truth, try keeping one leg straight while bending the other knee beneath your body (practice on land). Once you get up on the board, just focus on generating as constant power as you can with the kite… and you’re kitesurfing!!
Advanced Beginner (~7 sessions/10 hrs)
The big milestone you’re gunning for is learning how to go upwind so you can get back to where you started. This will likely take another 5 to 10 sessions after you can stand on the board.
Approximate steps to get there: generate constant power with the kite while staying up on the board (much easier when the wind is consistent), start riding more crosswind (as opposed to downwind), then gradually start edging more towards upwind. Try too hard to go upwind and you’ll stall, not enough and you won’t be gaining ground. Remember- the most efficient path is carving a smooth line; stopping and starting will rob you of your overall ability to go upwind. At this point, you’ll also need to learn transitions and how to ride the board on your weak side. Feels weird… but you’ll definitely get the hang of it after a few tries. Before you know it you’ll be able to return to where you started, and those endless walks back to where you started are over!
Intermediate, Advanced, and Beyond
Once you can ride upwind and return to your launchspot, the world of kitesurfing is completely open to you. Learn to jump, how to ride in gusty/lully conditions, wave riding, learn simple tricks, transition to unhooked moves, kite in other spots, take kiting vacations… The world is your oyster!
This could be you…
In part 1, we identified the US government needs to collect more, spend less, and figure out how to handle the recession. In part 2, we will explore the tax receipts side of the equation.
To recap, in 2010 the US government took in $2.2tn, around 15% of GDP. We’ll first take a look at historical trends:
Corporate contributions have plummeted, payroll taxes have taken an increasing roll, and income tax has stayed relatively constant.
40% Individual Income Tax ($900bn)
Overall income tax contributions have remained relatively stable; increasing income disparity results in top income groups paying the lions share of income taxes.
The overall shift from 1980 compared to 2008 is obvious; top income groups are paying a great share of income taxes.
– Bottom 50% of earners-> 7% in 1980 compared to 3% in 2008
– Bottom 75% of earners-> 27% in 1980 compared to 14% in 2008
– Top 1% of earners-> 19% in 1980 compared to 38% in 2008
– Top 10% of earners-> 50% in 1980 70% in 2008
The key underlying driver here is of course the increasing income disparity in the US. A future article will address income disparity; the useful question for our current context is: if the wealthiest americans are making more money, are they paying more taxes?
A word on capital gains-> Capital gains are currently a tiny 2.5% of income taxes. Short term capital gains mirror your income tax rate (up to 35%) while long term capital gains are 15%. It could be argued that actual receipts on capital gains are too low, but we must keep in mind they are a tiny proportion of income taxes. Economists typically argue that low capital gains tax is good because it encourages investment, which promotes growth (Details: 72% of returns were for households with income below $100k, while 87% of overall gains went to filers above $100k. Confirming that capital gains largely go to top income brackets. Though it’s important to note that capital gains rates are incredibly relevant to elderly as well since a larger portion of their income comes from investments rather than income).
40% Payroll Taxes ($850bn)
Payroll taxes have grown significantly over time. The basics:
– As an employee, you see 5.6% of your wages allocated here for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
– Behind the scenes, Americans pay a tax of 10.4% (paid by 4.2% employee and 6.2% employer) of wages up to an annual wage maximum of ~$100k for social security, plus a tax of 2.9% (half employee, half employer) for Medicare.
It’s impossible to consider social security, medicare, and medicaid without understanding both the cost and spend side of the equation; we will explore these programs more in depth in a later article.
10% Corporate Income ($200bn)
With historical context, corporations are paying the lowest amount of taxes in the past 70 years. On paper, federal corporate taxes are listed at 35%. In practice, the effective tax rate is ~17% (with many corporations paying 0%). How does this happen?
The reality on the ground is that accounting techniques are quite flexible in today’s global economy. The high US statutory rate drives APPARENT profits offshore, if not ACTUAL profits; ie lose money on US operations while making profits overseas. 82 of 275 (30%) fortune 500 companies that made a profit 2001-2003 paid 0 taxes or received a rebate. Some examples:
– 2009 BofA made $4.4bn in profits, and received a $1.8bn in tax refund.
– 2009 ExxonMobil made $19bn in profits, and paid no income tax.
– Over the past 5 yrs, GE made $26bn in profits, and received $4.1bn in tax refunds.
– Google saved more than $3bn from 2007-2009 using offshore subsidiaries.http://www.atr.org/u-s-corporate-taxes-low-a6208
There’s a lot of room for improvement here; if effective corporate taxes reached 5% GDP, the US government would collect ~$700bn.
10% Other ($200bn)
There’s a litany of other tax revenue sources to the government.
Excise– $67b. Gas, cigarettes, etc. (A glimpse into history-> Excise tax on now legal alcoholic beverages paid about one-third of all federal taxes during the Great Depression.)
Customs/Tariffs– $25b. Import tax on foreign made goods.
Gift tax– first $1m is free, 35% above.
Estate tax– first $5m is free, 35% above. Only 2% of estates are subject to estate tax. Surviving spouses don’t pay federal estate tax. Net estate taxes are in the $10’s of bns.
– Overall- US taxes are historically too low.
– Income Tax- Material increases in government income tax revenue would necessarily come from the top 25%. Conversely, raising taxes on the bottom 75% of earners would have a negligible effect on total tax receipts.
– Corporate Tax- Corporations are paying lower effective taxes than ever before.
In Spring 2010 I had the good fortune to TA MS&E 237- Social Data Revolution, a course at Stanford taught by Andreas Weigend, the former Chief Scientist of Amazon. At the first session, he casually announced he was looking for an extra hand to help run the class. 1 part carpe diem, 86 parts hard work, and 10 weeks later we wrapped up an immensely rewarding blur of guest speakers (Esther Dyson, Facebook, bit.ly, etc), data projects, and brilliant forward looking ideas.
1) The infrastructure beneath transforming raw data into actionable insights- data integration, search&discovery, knowledge management, and collaboration. Whether making decisions as an individual, organization, or nation-state, these concepts apply.
2) Friction is the KEY variable to keep in mind over the next 10 years as we leverage both humans and computers to increase our global analytic capabilities.