Thursday, March 5, 2015

Open call for evidence of Russian protests

I am aware there are protests going on in Moscow regularly against the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin. Given the significant restrictions on freedom of the press, it is not safe for Russians to post pictures of the protests without becoming the next target of the FSB (the successor to the KGB).

Because of this unfortunate reality, if you have evidence of the current protests and you want to make sure the world can know about what is going on please send pictures to so I can post them here so the world can know what is happening today. The world needs to see as many pictures as possible, and the people who are protesting against the status quo need to be as safe as possible, so posting with your own name is not safe. If there are protests in other authoritarian states and you want to make sure the world knows, please feel free to send me those pictures as well.

You will remain anonymous if you don't give me your name and I will not ask for your name for your safety.

If you send me a photo that is not from where you claim to be I will find out and you will be blacklisted. Don't even try to recycle old pictures.

Warning: I have a virus scanner so don't even try to send me any bad code. If you send me one bad email you will be forwarded directly to spam forever so don't even try.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A tribute to Boris Nemtsov

I feel obliged to write this, given what happened in Russia on Friday. Boris Nemtsov was murdered on Friday, and he was a leading figure to the opposition in Russia, despite not currently holding a position in government.

Russia has lost a true patriot with this killing, and the reversion back to the bad old days (to use a phrase from the other side of the Iron Curtain) is going to look more and more apparent to observers.

The United States and EU don't have much they can do in response. A power vacuum from a political assassination attempt would destabilize Russia and its colonies(?) (Not sure exactly what word to use in reference to Belarus, Crimea, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Kazakhstan), and the person who replaces Putin could then be much worse. Starting World War III through invasion is also off the table.

So here we are with the world's 6th largest economy being controlled by the richest man in the world who is killing his political opposition through bullets. There are no truly liberal parties which actually oppose Putin's policies in the Duma (the leader of A Just Russia is deeply involved in Ukraine) and parties which truly do oppose Putin are not on the ballot. There is clearly a large movement for a different tone in Russia, with so many people protesting in Moscow yesterday, but with no ballot access for their party making change through their system is going be practically impossible.

It is a sad month for Russia and all the world. The Soviet Union is back.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Liberalism and Racism

In response to:

The first thing is that the author is confusing liberalism as a philosophical concept of Locke, Mill, and Rawls with the reality of the United States' law enforcement system. The act of stereotyping people based on their color of their skin is not a liberal idea, and the act of the stereotyping that these groups do is not condoned but actually condemned in the writings of these great philosophers.

The call for equality and universal protection for all is an ideal, and is something that social activists (myself included) have pushed for for hundreds of years. The beauty of this ideology is that opposed to the major alternatives (particularly Marxism, and Realism in International Relations) it sees a possibility of a world where people can work together and cooperate as opposed to fight by becoming more dependent on one another so they want other people to do better.

In a classroom setting, let's take the two fundamentally opposed views. In the liberal view there will be different students working together in order to learn the material. If one student doesn't understand the material they will help their classmates with the concept so that everyone in the classroom can learn together and when one individual falls behind the rest of the class can lift that person back up to where the others are, and then if that individual moves ahead in an area they can then help their classmates again understand the concept so that their overall average knowledge will be better than the alternatives. This is the view proposed by Locke, Mill, and Rawls among other great liberals.

Marxism is the major alternative. Marxism, put very simply is the theory that history can be defined as the conflict between two different classes (when Marx was writing there was no middle class) stretching back to the beginning of agriculture. In the same classroom example we will see the students who pick concepts up easiest and understand the material better are the bourgeoise and the other students are the proletariat. Marx's diagnosis then is not for the bourgeoise to lift up the proletariat but for the proletariat to start a revolution and tear down the bourgeoise students, an example of which in the real world is the vicious bullying that can occur in classrooms at all ages.

In this way, local police departments that are acting are seen as not acting within the framework of liberalism but within the framework of Marxism which sees that there must always be conflict between the two classes! Liberalism and Marxism should be seen as ideals, and the systems which claim to be one or the other may have certain aspects in places but not others of these very large schools of thought.

Another common mistake that this individual in this article is making is reading everything that the authors say as being literal. I am working through Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan right now (I finished the first book and am slowly working through the second among all the other things I am working on and reading) as a hobby and at some point through the book the way he was talking about what he was saying I realized that it is not a literal work but actually sarcastic. The parts of The Prince I have read as part of some classes has made it clear to me as well that Macchiavelli was writing in a time where outright saying "Liberty for all mankind" as Locke would do 200 years later would have gotten him killed. But living under the de Medici family who allowed more expressive art than any other state in Europe at the time gave him the freedom he needed to write in a sarcastic manner saying everything that a tyrant would do that careful readers will realize through important snippets is an act in absurdity. Today with modern liberal philosophers starting with Thomas Paine and further expanding with John Stuart Mill we see these philosophers take these ideas which were manifesting under Locke and bring out the central premise of these three earlier philosopher and bring them to their natural conclusion.

One cannot read moral philosophy of this era as literal and must be careful to look for sarcasm and particular turns of phrase which are there to disguise their heretical work (for the era) from the intellectually and morally impoverished minds of the monarchs of the era but the true meaning of these texts are written to come out to intellectuals so their ideas can expand in those circles. This is the case until American Independence.

When it comes to John Locke's authorship of the Fundamentals of the Constitutions of Carolina were written in 1669 when he was 37 years old. He didn't start writing his great philosophical tracts until 1689, a full 20 years later. To me this shows that in 20 years he grew as a philosopher and seeing the contradictions between his earlier views and later views that he appears to have changed his mind. This can also be seen in his religious views which started in Calvinism when he was young but by the 1690s he was clearly a deist or Arian. Locke's life (as this author should know) did not live a stagnant life where he was born and by the age of 18 had all of his liberal views figured out and never changed, but evolved substantially over his adult life. Would John Locke have written that Constitution as it was with his major change of moral and religious opinions if it had been done in the 1690s? Given his complete turnaround of almost every issue I suspect he wouldn't have.
Was he racist as a 37 year old? Yes. Was he racist in his 60s? His writings heavily suggest that he grew out of it.

In short, I found this article to be extremely flawed in numerous aspects as I have outlined and doesn't have the type of philosophical underpinnings in the writings (with the one exception of a writing Locke wrote 20 years before he started his philosophical work) needed to condemn an entire school of thought. Reading later liberal philosophers, the most important of which she completely ignores shows that this is a very weak case and a misrepresentation of a major school of thought.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Decriminalize all drugs

One of the biggest problems with the American justice system is how we treat drugs. We treat drugs like we would someone killing another person, locking them away forever, when the person they are hurting is themselves. The issue with this however is the person who kills another has many different reasons he or she might do it (mental illness, absolute rage, there are many possibilities, and that is not what this article is about)  but when it comes to people using drugs it is due to addiction. Addiction is solely a medical issue and needs to be treated as such. By criminalizing drugs we make it so that people are scared of reaching treatment because they can be arrested for doing so. This makes as much sense as arresting people for having cancer, which of course sounds absurd because it is.

We need to make it so anyone and everyone who seeks treatment for all drugs will be completely excused from using said drugs and provide the mental health services to all people who need them for free. This will encourage people to seek treatment and significantly reduce the demand for drugs, which will reduce the profitability of trafficking illegal drugs making many cartels go out of business. This is the only solution which respects the worth and dignity of all people, and we need to reform our drug laws in this way.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Wages aren't moving quickly... as normal

Part 1: Description of the issue
The New York Times today wrote an article about how wages are not currently rising with the unemployment rate being now at a 6 year low, currently at 5.6% for December. They described how the Federal Reserve is considering raising interest rates which will (and this is true) make it more expensive for small businesses to borrow and slow the recovery, to prevent it from overheating, and this will (also true) lower the demand for labor which will keep wages stagnant.

But the most important detail they left out is why the wages are staying low. The reason is fairly simple and has to do with an economic concept called "sticky wages" which was one concept envisioned by John Maynard Keynes at the beginning of the 20th century to help explain why the 1930s happened how it did. Sticky prices means that it takes time for prices to adjust as the economy changes, which means in the short run we observe prices can be too low or too high for a period of time as the economy. This is why wages aren't moving yet. This concept has been observed in all markets.

This is why we are currently seeing wages stay low. This is also why the Federal Reserve needs to keep interest rates low for the time being which will incentivize more small businesses to open, which will increase the demand for labor, which will increase the wage sooner than later. Small businesses will compete for the best workers which will mean that the best will pay more to the best workers which will lift the average wage, increase purchasing power for the average family, and help fight income inequality. If the Federal Reserve makes it too expensive for small businesses to open and borrow we will see the market cool too early. So far they have done this which is the right strategy.

Part 2: Solutions
This of course happens over the very long-run, and (as an educated guess) I wouldn't expect the wages to start naturally rising for another 3-5 years personally at this point. If we wanted to see the wage rise faster than that what we would want to do is pursue the following policy options which have the fewest negative side effects:
  1. Increase access to small business loans and grants from the Federal Government. More businesses means each individual business will have a smaller effect on the average wage which will push it up. It will give workers more bargaining power relative to businesses. This benefits people of all professions. (On our supply and demand diagram the demand for labor shifts to the right, pushing wages up and incentivizing people to start working)
  2. Improve our labor laws to make it more easy for workers to unionize. If businesses are able to form chambers of commerce, unionizing needs to become standard practice again. This again helps people of all professions. (On our supply and demand diagram supply will be more flat, making wages more steady and higher in each profession)
  3. Stop protecting large businesses from failure, and enforce our anti-trust laws. This makes it so each firm will have a smaller impact on the wage (forcing it up) and mean that the impact of a failure of any one firm in the future will have a smaller impact on the economy. Healthy economies have many businesses competing against each other in a competitive market, which pushes wages up (which directly makes a more equal society when it comes to income) and makes it so the failure of any one firm will not put the economy in great danger. In the short run the failure of one of these massive firms breaking up will be huge, but insuring that these large firms will go through restructuring and be reorganized as many smaller firms when they go belly up will be healthier for the economy, and have a direct effect on wages. (Demand becomes more vertical, meaning that they have a smaller impact on wages)
These are all free-market reforms and there is a very good reason for this. The first is deadweight loss which is observed any time there is a price floor (such as a minimum wage) or similar measures. I link to the Wikipedia article so readers who do not know about this can read about it, it is a fairly straightforward concept which naturally falls out of the standard analysis and is observed in reality. In the labor market deadweight loss is observed as unemployment, so in the long-run what we want to do is encourage policies which change the overall demand for labor to move in the direction towards higher wages. All three of the policy recommendations I have follow this logic, and are long-term solutions.

The other reason why I prefer these solutions is that they are less susceptible to politics. There is definitely a need for government in economics, and this has been understood for as long as economics has been around. The marriage between economics and politics is as old as both of the fields and the two will never be fully separated. But still, when making policies we want to have policies which would take years or decades to fully reverse so that if a government were to change the law (like the Republicans are currently trying to do with Dodd-Frank) it will take a long time to see the negative impacts, just to minimize human suffering so that there is a chance to have enough time to reverse the policies after the next election before the full negative consequences are observed.

Also, while minimum wages definitely help people at the very bottom of the income distribution it has a more or less negligible effect for workers who make above the new minimum wage, is easily modified by legislatures to be reduced or eliminated (ending the effects extremely quickly), and most importantly creates deadweight loss in the form of unemployment, both of which are major issues all economists try to avoid. More market-based reforms have the bonus of not having either of these very real problems.

Should we eliminate the minimum wage? Given the weakness of American unions (partially self-inflicted, partially not) this would be a huge mistake. Having poor unions significantly reduces the negotiating power of average workers with larger firms and means that if we didn't have the minimum wage we would see a lot more government benefits going to workers and this would exacerbate income inequality. In the long-run the goal is to have unions have the power they need to effectively work with employers to raise their purchasing power. With such an economy in the future the real effect of the minimum wage would be negligible and not save us nearly as much public funds for benefits as it currently does. We are unfortunately not at that stage at the moment.

We want to get more specialized work force, which has the advantage of making workers more productive and since there is a smaller supply of potential labor as labor becomes more specialized pushes wages up significantly. This effects everyone in the economy, and needs to be our long-term goal. The three policy recommendations above are a start to such an economy with minimal negative side effects.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Economy of Georgia, end of 2014

The Republic of Georgia is a country I personally have a very close connection to, and have visited since I have friends there through scientific research. As a young political economist, I am extremely interested in their development and how to see their economy grow to a point where they can join the European Union and have a better life for all Georgians. While looking at their economy to see where they are standing relative to other European States, I noticed that their GDP growth in 2013 was only around 2%, while the annual average over the last 10 years has been between 5% and 6% with the exception of 2008 due to the war with Russia.

2013 in Georgia saw a rapid decrease in foreign investment as Georgian Dream came to power after 8 years of being an almost single-party state in its parliamentary make-up, although there were opposition parties which competed in elections and received some seats. This saw a rapid decrease in foreign investment which hurt the economy of Georgia and caused the rapid decline in their GDP growth (although the economy was still growing). 2014 has however seen Georgia return to its historic long-run average and this will hopefully continue as time goes on.  This is from a monumental shift in the Georgian economy from Foreign Direct Investment to more domestic sources, which can be seen how their GDP growth in 2014 returned to it's long run average but FDI stayed constant.

Georgia has an unusually good legal foundation for economic growth. They have an extremely good Ease of Doing Business Index rating, on par with the most developed economies of the world. These reforms which Saakashvili pushed for attracts foreign capital and is what has allowed them to grow so rapidly. Another good thing is their prices have been extremely stable over the last few years, which is highly unusual. Another good thing is Average Monthly Earnings have risen every year since 1999, which stimulates short-run consumption and economic growth in the most effective way possible.  Investment as well has also increased every year for which there is information, which is essential for long-run growth so Georgia will have the capital it needs over the next few decades.

Georgia is in an unusual status-quo which is good for long-run growth. As time goes on they will continue to get to where they need to be, and will hopefully get to join the European Union in 10-20 years from now at the longest extent. The future looks bright for Georgia.

Additional References:

Friday, December 5, 2014

My reading list

I am currently undergoing a time of education on top of my senior year in college right now (my major is economics and political science) where I am listening to and reading some great books of philosophy. The following is the list of what I am going to read. Suggestions for books I should read which are not here are appreciated!

To be clear, this list is trying to be inclusive of most points of view, but there are a handful of schools I am not interested in reading, one is existentialism (which I read some of in high school and hated) and anything having to do with or influenced by Ayn Rand. There is no Subjectivism on this list either. It also is focused on post-Renaissance European/American philosophy. I hopefully will do another survey of Chinese philosophy in the future, and hopefully Indian as well. It is also focused on political philosophy. I've tried to include at least one book from every major philosopher. Some such as Mill, Kant, and Rawls are too important and influential to pick one so I've tried to pick their most influential books. As time goes on I will 
  1. The Prince By Niccolo Machiavelli (1513)
  2. Essays by Francis Bacon (1597-1625)
  3. Leviathan By Thomas Hobbs (1651)
  4. Principles of Philosophy by Rene Descartes (1644)
  5. Two Treatises of Government by John Locke (1689)
  6. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume (1739)
  7. Candide by Voltaire (1759)
  8. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)
  9. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1781)
  10. The Federalist Papers by James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton (1787/1788)
  11. Critique of Practical Reason by Immanuel Kant (1788)
  12. Critique of Judgement by Immanuel Kant (1790)
  13. Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841, 1844)
  14. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  15. A General View of Positivism by Auguste Comte (1856)
  16. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)
  17. Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill (1861)
  18. Das Kapital by Karl Marx (1867)
  19. The Division of Labor in Society by Comte (1893)
  20. The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper (1945)
  21. Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953)
  22. My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell (1959)
  23. The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (1961)
  24. Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick (1974)
  25. Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (1975)
  26. A Theory of Justice by John Rawls (1971)
  27. Political Liberalism by John Rawls (1993)
I have already read On Liberty and Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill, and they have greatly effected the way I see politics and the world. I have also read The Wretched of the Earth and Discipline and Punish so I will just skip over them. I include them for people who are interested, and I recommend them all.

I also thank the people who wrote these two very different lists giving me some ideas on which political philosophers to include: and