Sunday, April 29, 2012

American household monthly budget in Chinese and Taiwan currencies

I've been doing some calculations in preparation for going to China.  I leave next week, and I am preparing some lectures that I will eventually share on this blog, I think.

I know some people in China might be interested in the sort of lifestyle we have in the United States, how much things cost and that sort of thing.  Here is our monthly household budget in RMB (Chinese currency) and NTD (Taiwan's currency):

My monthly salary
RMB 28,481
NT$ 131,579
Tax on our house (property tax)
RMB 1,912
NT$ 8,833
Illinois State Taxes on sales and income
RMB 1,653
NT$ 7,639
Federal Income Tax
RMB 2,289
NT$ 10,573
Medicare Tax
RMB 278
NT$ 1,287
House Payment for Mortgage
RMB 4,462
NT$ 20,614
House Insurance
RMB 646
NT$ 2,982
Electricity and water and sewer services
RMB 1,684
NT$ 7,778
Health insurances for family
RMB 1,335
NT$ 6,170
Car Payment or Savings to buy a car
RMB 2,532
NT$ 11,696
Gas for the car
RMB 759
NT$ 3,509
Save for car maintenance and repairs
RMB 570
NT$ 2,632
Car Insurance
RMB 1,829
NT$ 8,450
Retirement Pension Contribution
RMB 2,025
NT$ 9,357
Internet Service
RMB 297
NT$ 1,374
Phone Service
RMB 139
NT$ 643
Donations to charities, schools, and causes
RMB 392
NT$ 1,813
Education fund for sons (college savings)
RMB 1,424
NT$ 6,579
Savings for travel or paying off costs of travel
RMB 1,582
NT$ 7,310
RMB 1,785
NT$ 8,246
All other expenses
RMB 886
NT$ 4,094

My wife earns money as well, and she helps pay for food and all the other expenses, so our household income and spending are actually about 115% more than what I have listed here, but I keep track of my own income and spending, and I haven't added in my wife's income or spending here.  If we add her spending, I think our monthly food expenses are probably close to 4,000 Ren Min Bi or 18,600 New Taiwan Dollars. 

  Our transportation costs (owning a car, driving it, maintaining it, insuring it) are about 20% of our expenditure, and our housing expenses (mortgage, home-owners insurance, utilities, saving money for home repairs, etc.) is close to 25% of our spending. I think Americans enjoy some of the lowest food costs relative to their incomes.  If our total household income is about 32,700 RMB per month (when you include my wife's income) and our spending on food is about 4,000 RMB (when you include my wife's spending), we're only putting about 12.2% of our income toward food. I believe in many societies households spend about 30% or more of their income on food. 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Taxes and incomes.

Just figured out our taxes for 2011.

This doesn't examine local and state sales taxes, excise taxes, Medicare tax, other payroll taxes, etc.
Remember that I'm a state employee, and I don't pay Social Security withholding for an old age pension, because a similar percentage of my income is withheld and put into a state pension program.

Here is the historical record:

2011: I'm estimating we earned 119% of the median family household income.
2011: Federal income tax was 5.8%
2011: State income tax and property tax combined was 9.3%
2011: Federal and State income and property taxes: 15.2%

2010: We earned 103.9% of the median family household income.
2010: Federal income tax was 1.7%
2010: State income tax and property tax combined was 8.1%
2010: Federal and State income and property taxes: 9.9%

2009: We earned 91.2% of the median family household income.
2009: Federal income tax was 2.7%
2009: State income tax and property tax combined was 8.8%
2009: Federal and State income and property taxes: 11.5%

2008: We earned 84.9% of the median family household income.
2008: Federal income tax was 2.3%
2008: State income tax and property tax combined was 8.9%
2008: Federal and State income and property taxes: 11.2%

2007: We earned 89.2% of the median family household income.
2007: Federal income tax was 2.7%
2007: State income tax and property tax combined was 9.0%
2007: Federal and State income and property taxes: 11.7%

2006: We earned 66.4% of the median family household income.
2006: Federal income tax was 0.0%
2006: State income tax and property tax combined was 9.1%
2006: Federal and State income and property taxes: 9.1%

In 2006 Jeri was self-employed in a business out of our home, and she lost a significant amount of money, and had quite a bit of business investment that wasn't recovered in sales, so our federal taxes were wiped out by those losses.
In 2010 we received a large tax credit for purchasing a new heating/cooling system for our house, using an energy efficiency tax credit.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Religions are like subjects in science.

Sometimes my co-religionists (Baha'is) describe the concept of progressive revelation as an idea that humanity is culturally evolving, and is able to handle certain forms of truth and teachings at different times appropriate to the sophistication of society and general intelligence levels.  Thus, the oldest levels are good enough when people live simple lives, and then religion became more sophisticated with very ancient Hinduism and Judaism when people settled in cities, and then Christianity and Buddhism came along when there were empires and very complex societies, and then Islam came along with national identity and more sophisticated science, and the Baha'i Revelation is most appropriate now, and is a religion suitable for a time when everyone is literate, and many are scientifically trained, and the world is being united by technologies of transport and communication. In essence, earlier religions are like grades in K-12 and the Baha'i Faith is like college.

I don't like that way of describing Progressive Revelation. One problem with it is that there are many simplistic and foolish thinkers in the "more advanced" religions just as there are many very sophisticated, wise, and mature teachings in some of our oldest religions.

  Today I was reading John Polkinghorne's recent (2011) book Science and Religion in Quest of Truth.  He makes a nice point about how one uses various sorts of sciences and even different aspects of physics to understand the whole natural work. We scientists suppose there is some sort of an objective reality lying beyond us, and this is glimpsed through our scientific techniques, reading instruments and measurements, applying mathematics and logic, requiring testing and verification, peer review, and so forth.  We use Newtonian physics for some things, and Relativity or Quantum physics for other things, and we use Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and so forth for understanding various aspects of reality. I'm a social scientist, so I have a lot of problems with background that natural scientists don't have in the same degree, but it's all essentially the same process.

 I think it would be more accurate if Baha'is used this sort of idea as a metaphor for Progressive Revelation.  Just as various forms of science help us understand reality and truth, the various religions and their traditions and scriptures help us understand how people have tried to understand and worship God.  A person who wants to understand how nature works needs to study Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and so forth.  Psychology, Sociology, Linguistics, Anthropology, and Medicine are also useful sciences to gain insights.  A person who wants to understand God ought to study scripture, theology, the sociology of religion, doctrines, community life within various congregations, religious history, and so forth, and also ought to investigate Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, various new Religions Movements, and that sort thing. The scriptures and teachings of all religions may contradict each other sometimes because religions are vulnerable to people imposing their own flawed understanding on things (much more than science, but science has this problem too). In other cases where religions seem illogical or contradictory, it may be a case like particle-light duality or quantum physics or imaginary numbers in mathematics, where the nature of reality itself is not the sort of thing easily grasped by our minds.

In essence, the Baha'i Faith is this recognition that all the various religions and their approaches to God and Truth ought to be embraced and incorporated, just as science and the scientific method (rational thought, the human intellect) must also be applied if we are to find God and adequately Worship and "know" God.  The Baha'i Faith offers a framework in which we can integrate the religions and sciences into a whole, and as part of this framework, the Baha'i Revelation offers scriptures and social teachings that represent some of the latest or most recent Revelation materials we've received.

So, studying the Baha'i Faith and embracing Baha'u'llah is something like keeping up with the latest scientific journals across multiple scientific disciplines, while remaining within one of the older religions is like specializing in a particular discipline and remaining focused on significant works that took place a while back.  There is nothing necessarily wrong or "less sophisticated" about this.  I enjoy reading Darwin, Feymann's lectures, essays by Lewis Thomas, Rene Dubois, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Konrad Lorenz, Gregory Bateson, and so forth, but the fact that I prefer reading mostly life scientists does not mean I think sociologists or chemists are  wrong or less significant, and the fact that I am particularly fond of a bunch of people who mostly wrote between the 1950s and 1990s doesn't mean I have made a bad choice.  Maybe I just like the style of someone like Loren Eiseley or Rachel Carson more than the style of whoever is the more recent scientific writer or essayist.  Yes, much of what these people wrote about is dated, but quite a bit of it transcends time and catches the beautiful essence of science anyway.

    And so we have people who prefer Orthodox Christianity or a particular school of Sufi teachings within a Shia Islam tradition, or Tantric approaches to Shiva in Hinduism, or the Dalai Lama's Tibetan style of Buddhism or the "Japanese Protestantism" of Genku and Shinran. . . it's just like different sorts of scientists and different sorts of studies or experiments.  Whether it's religion or it's science, it's all part of a search for Truth.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dream of Shame

 I had a dream last night, that I can remember quite clearly.  I was in the consciousness of someone who stood in the court of some sort of king, and there were several of us there, playing a sort of game.  The game was that we had cards, which we turned over to find revealed some word or phrase, and we had to, spontaneously, say something poetic or profound on the theme or word revealed on the card.

When it came my turn, the card revealed to me the word, "Shame" and I decided to keep it short, not wanting to go on and on about it.  So, all I said (in the dream) was this:

What is man that he should feel shame?
Of all the creatures, only humanity can experience shame.

When I concluded, the king said that it was unacceptable, but it seemed he might have been referring to what the person to my left had just said on his theme, and was not objecting to what I said.  Nevertheless, I somehow had to go again and say more, so my final statement on the theme of shame was this:

What is man that he should feel shame?
Of all the creatures, only humanity can experience shame.
The fearsome snake slinks along the surface
And guards treasures of no value to snakes
The beautiful peacock struts with his extravagance
And annoys listeners with his screaming sounds
Darwin said man alone of all the beasts
Can aspire to ideals, 
Compare our station to what we desire
And strive to progress
We are created noble, the Hidden Words remind us,
And ask, why have we abased ourselves?
So if we heed the story of the peacock and the snake,
And if Darwin was right about us
And if nobility is our nature
Shame is necessary
To correct our course
And guide us aright.