Lee Nackman

Lee R. Nackman is a retired computer scientist and executive. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and has published academic papers, built software products, and co-authored a technical book. As an executive at IBM, Microsoft, and HP, he managed large (500-2000 people) global teams. He also led product development in a ten-person startup, and served as advisor and/or board member for several small companies. Politically, I lean liberal and have always voted Democratic. My business experience, however, has taught me about economic reality and what makes businesses succeed or not. My liberal instincts are tempered by understanding business, but I believe that everything is about making choices and little is black and white.

Reclaiming Freedom

As this year’s July 4th holiday winds down, let’s talk about freedom. Specifically, the word “freedom,” which triggers a powerful emotional reaction. It resonates as something we want and need. We have visions of our forefathers fighting and dying for… Read More »Reclaiming Freedom

Gerrymandering Fact Sheet

Gerrymandering is one of the biggest threats to our democracy. In North Carolina, where I live, Republicans have controlled redistricting to make the state behave “red,” even though voters vote “purple.” In other states, like Maryland, Democrats have gerrymandered. Whoever does it subverts the will of the people.

It is crucial that all of us understand what gerrymandering is, what it does to our democracy, how it works, and what can be done about it. I’ve posted previously about gerrymandering. To make it easier to understand and communicate about it, I’ve prepared a two-page fact sheet. Please read it, ask questions, make suggestions, and show it to your friends. You can read it below, or download it for printing here.

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Gerrymandering: Stealing Democracy from Voters

I live in North Carolina. Gerrymandering has stolen our democracy. Some people respond to gerrymandering with a yawn. Others remark that “both parties do it” or “it’s been going on forever”.

Both remarks are true, and, irrelevant. In the good old days, gerrymandering tilted the political playing field a bit. Today, with the availability of fast computers and extensive data, gerrymandering tilts the playing field dramatically.

In this post, I give a simple explanation of how gerrymandering works, using as an example the 2018 US House Race in North Carolina.

Read More »Gerrymandering: Stealing Democracy from Voters

North Carolina’s Get-Out-the-Conservative-Vote Constitutional Amendments

The North Carolina General Assembly has passed bills to place six constitutional amendments on the ballot on November 6th. A simple majority vote puts these ill-advised amendments into the state Constitution.

The purpose of these amendments is to get right-leaning voters to the polls for the crucial mid-term elections. Take Senate Bill 677, a Constitutional amendment to protect the right to “hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife”. Is there some threat to these activities? Nope. But it sure sounds like something that the GOP’s base would want to come out to the polls to support.

Other than cluttering up the Constitution, SB 677 sounds harmless, although maybe there’s something nefarious about it that I don’t understand. But some of the other amendments are terrible for the future of North Carolina. I’m going to analyze one of them, a cap on state income tax rates, in the rest of this post.

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Is Elon Musk The Donald of Silicon Valley?

The New York Times Op-Ed  writer Bret Stephens published a scurrilous attack on Elon Musk and Tesla last week, calling him “the Donald of Silicon Valley.” At least Stephens recognizes that being compared to “Donald” is quite an insult.

While Elon Musk hardly needs me to defend him, I was taken aback when a close friend said he agreed with large parts of the article. I immediately wanted to explain to my friend why Stephens is mostly wrong. Since I imagine that others  could have reacted similarly, I’m answering my friend in a blog post rather than privately.

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Broadcast Gun Violence Indices Instead of Stock Market Indices

Right after the latest school gun violence (the one in Santa Fe, Texas) I made the following somewhat snarky post on Facebook:

I was sad and angry.

One of my friends responded with this:

I am also sad. These school shootings are a horrible, horrible thing. Guns are not toys and gadgets children should have access to.

Lee – why are you talking about the media and about politicians? Do you have any doubt the voters in the state of Texas, even if polled today, would not agree to restrict access to guns? That they would say they would rather live with school shootings and keep their guns?

Talk about the people of Texas, and about their choices that you don’t agree with. These people are not being manipulated by the media or politicians. They are making a free and clear choice.

His challenge made me think more about what I said.Read More »Broadcast Gun Violence Indices Instead of Stock Market Indices

Tax Expenditures Flying Under the Radar

Many of the tax breaks in the Federal tax code are classified as tax expenditures because, like many government spending programs, they subsidize particular economic activities or help particular groups of people. Tax expenditures contribute to the federal deficit, but don’t appear in the Federal budget and generally fly under the radar.

They’re Huge

Although you rarely hear tax expenditures being discussed, they are huge: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects 2017 tax expenditures to be 8% of GDP. This graph from the CBO shows just how big a deal they are by comparing them to other expenses and to sources of revenue:

CBO comparison of Tax Expenditures, Revenues, and Selected Spending
Revenues, Tax Expenditures, and Selected Components of Spending in 2017

You can see that tax expenditures dwarf defense spending, or Medicare spending, or Social Security spending. They are almost of the same magnitude as individual income tax revenues.

Tax expenditures are a big deal and worth understanding!

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Tax Credits Can Provide Progressive Subsidies

Tax and Credits section of IRS Form 1040, illustrating various tax credits that are available to taxpayers.

In my last post, I discussed why tax deductions are inherently unfair in that a deduction of a certain dollar amount is worth more to someone paying a higher marginal tax rate than to someone paying a lower marginal tax rate. In this post, I will discuss tax credits, another mechanism used by the tax code to subsidize certain economic activities and behaviors. Tax credits have several advantages over tax deductions, but are less-widely used.

Read More »Tax Credits Can Provide Progressive Subsidies