Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nothing new under the sun

Here is a statement of the obvious on tax policy:

When tax assessments and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mounts. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is the sum total of the individual assessments, increases.
When the dynasty continues in power and their rulers follow each other in succession, they become sophisticated. ... Their customs and needs become more varied because of the prosperity and luxury in which they are immersed. As a result, the individual imposts and assessments upon the subjects, agricultural labourers, farmers, and all the taxpayers, increase. Every individual impost and assessment is greatly increased in order to obtain a higher tax revenue. ... Then, gradual increases in the amount of the assessments succeed each other regularly, in correspondence with the gradual increase in the luxury customs and many needs of the dynasty and the spending required in connection with them. ... The assessments increase beyond the limits of equity. The result is that the interest of the subjects in cultural enterprises disappears, since when they compare expenditures and taxes with their income and gain and see the little profit they make, they lose all hope. Therefore, many of them refrain from all cultural activity. The result is that the total tax revenue goes down, as individual assessments go down. Often, when the decrease is noticed, the amounts of individual imposts are increased. This is considered a means of compensating for the decrease. Finally, individual imposts and assessments reach their limit. It would be of no avail to increase them higher. The costs of all cultural enterprise are now too high, the taxes are too heavy, and the profits anticipated fail to materialise. Finally, civilisation is destroyed, because the incentive for cultural activity is gone.

And here is another statement of the bleeding obvious, which is all the answer anyone needs to give to Dawkins et al.:

Man should not trust the suggestion his mind makes, that it is able to comprehend all existing things and their causes, and to know all the details of existence. Such a suggestion of the mind should be dismissed as stupid.

And here are some observations on pedagogy, which are spot on and universally ignored nowadays: 

Scholars often approach the main scholarly works on the various disciplines, which are very lengthy, intending to interpret and explain. They abridge them, in order to make it easier for students to acquire expert knowledge of them. ... This has a corrupting influence upon the process of instruction and is detrimental to the attainment of scholarship. For it confuses the beginner by presenting the final results of a discipline to him before he is prepared for them. This is a bad method of instruction. ... The procedure also involves a great deal of work for the student. He must study carefully the words of the abridgment, which are complicated to understand because they are crowded with ideas, and try to find out from them what the problems of the given discipline are. Thus, the texts of such brief handbooks are found to be difficult and complicated. A good deal of time must be spent on the attempt to understand them. ... The habit that results from receiving instruction from brief handbooks, even when such instruction is at its best and is not accompanied by any flaw, is inferior to the habits resulting from the study of more extensive and lengthy works. The latter contain a great amount of repetition and lengthiness, but both are useful for the acquisition of a perfect habit. When there is little repetition, an inferior habit is the result. This is the case with the abridgments. The intention was to make it easy for students to acquire expert knowledge (of scholarly subjects), but the result is that it has become more difficult for them, because they are prevented from acquiring useful and firmly established habits.

...A good and necessary method and approach in instruction is not to expose the student to two disciplines at the same time. Otherwise, he will rarely master one of them, since he has to divide his attention and is diverted from each of them by his attempt to understand the other. Thus, he will consider both of them obscure and difficult, and be unsuccessful in both. But if the student's mind is free to study the subject that he is out to study and can restrict himself to it, that fact often makes it simpler for the student to learn.

(Ibn Khaldun, al-Muqaddimat, 1377, translated by Franz Rosenthal. from the abridged version by N. J. Dawood.)

Hmm, this is post

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