Thursday, July 17, 2014

Economy of the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world. They rank at 188/189 on the ease of doing business index, have a GDP per Capita (PPP) of $700, and unemployment of 8%, with 23% unemployment in Bangui, the capital.

Demographically this is a classic case of a country which is not unified by tribe, with the largest tribe being the Gbaya at 33% of the population, with hundreds of other groups with their own languages and cultures. 80% is Christian, and 10% are Muslim. The Gbaya and Banda together make up 60% of the population. Only 4% of the population is over 65 years old.

The CAR became independent in 1960. They were under an extremely mismanaged dictatorship by Bokassa from 1965-1979 who held the country back economically, and was overthrown by the French. The 1980s were unstable under General Kolingba. The first free elections were held in 1993 when Patassé was elected. He led a violent and corrupt government until 2003. 2003 saw Bozize overthrow Patassé. The Bush War that followed ended in 2007. There continue to be Rebel Groups operating in the country that prevents development. They are currently under an interim government.

The CAR is currently in a period of transition with an interim government being formed, and this is a period of incredible potential for the country.

So, what to do? Well, the first step is to make sure that all people are included in the government. This is best done using a ranked voting system which will allow the establishment of parties that represent each group of the population and ensure all voices can be heard. I recommend Single Transferable Vote and multi-member districts because it will prevent artificial quotas and ensure that there will be less corruption because people will be able to elect opposition parties. Their legislature should be unicameral and be composed of regional representatives. They should reduce the term of the President so that there are more frequent elections. The President should be directly elected using IRV. The President can only act within the law. The court system should be independent and there should be trial by jury to separate the courts from politics. The Supreme Court should be directly elected by the people. Elections should be publically financed. Voting should be made convenient to people so everyone can vote.

When it comes to economic policy they have more work to do than almost every other country. Their Doing Business ranking is the second worst in the world, and they need to make it easier for people to start their own businesses. This will increase employment and allow them to advance technologically. Tax payments should be moved to an annual cycle which will save a lot of money in hiring accountants and allow business owners to put more time into doing things that are productive. They need to reduce the initial cost of getting electricity which is a significant barrier to development. They should have a simple tax system combined with a progressive income tax (which treats capital gains as income), progressive inheritance tax, and a carbon tax. They need bank reform so banks can be a safe place for people to deposit their money along with insurance for depositors, along with laws against financial devices that damage the economy. An example of dangerous financial devices are Ponzi Schemes. They need to protect unions so that workers can be competitive and get paid a living wage. This will create the economic growth to free up labor and resources to solve other major problems.

A major threat to the economy is illiteracy. The government should set up schools for adults to learn how to read and write and continue to mandate education for children. They should work with education organizations to ensure that education is done in a way to benefit children the most given their resources.

Healthcare is an incredibly important issue and a major problem for the economy. Access to contraceptives is important to help bring down their birth rate which is currently around 5 children per woman. This will make a significant improvement to the livelihood of everyone in the country when people have fewer children. They need to attract more doctors and keep working with the WHO to implement reforms. Developing the economy by eliminating unnecessary regulation and streamlining what is left will create the revenue needed for the government to make massive improvements in health care.

The CAR among other African countries has the potential to be a model green economy if developed correctly. The largest and most immediate hurdle is the extreme corruption which hurts workers and business owners and need to be reduced. Then they will have the ability to cover other issues such as their dire healthcare system. If they don't improve their economy they will like many other countries not have the ability to fix the other problems which perpetuate misery for far too many millions of people.

This is a time of incredible opportunity for the Central African Republic and hopefully they will make a large step towards democratic elections.


Monday, July 14, 2014

I am not my views

I have a habit which I don't think is a bad thing where I will speak freely and sometimes inadvertently offend people. I don't mean to offend people, but it can happen when saying less popular and less well-known things. I also share things because I believe very strongly in the sharing of ideas and information in order to further knowledge of myself and others. I believe very strongly that in order to change the world starts with education about what is going on which once deliberately moved into action can change the world. In fact, this is the only way change has ever been done.

But nobody is perfect, especially me, and when I have imperfect information I could be missing a very important piece. I am always open to new information (as long as it is from a generally accurate source, things like FOX News and chain letters do not count for me) and when I get new information will modify my views to fit what is really happening.

One issue I am reading about right now is women's rights.  I am extremely curious about how to most effectively make it so every woman has equal access to positions of economic and social power as every man given that everything else is equal. A highly qualified individual for a position who has a good head on her shoulders should not be barred or discriminated against from a position, and it is the duty of society to make certain that she is able to use her talents to make herself better off by getting decent pay and share her talents with everyone. Society loses when women have extra burdens to enter the workforce. I am going to write a lot on this and learn as much as possible. During a recent conference I was worried that quotas would have the same type of impact as carbon emission limits but one of my friends really helped me see how it is easy to misapply information which is something I need to work on any why I surround myself with those types of people.

Nonetheless, if I ever make a mistake and say something offensive when it is clearly not true, it isn't because I am trying to be insensitive but I am probably just missing information and bouncing ideas off of people.

On the other hand, I am a debater and as a debater can see the multiple sides to every issue (which does not make me a moderate on every issue, I am not moderate on slavery, gay rights, wage theft, global warming, and other crucial issues which have a clear moral bent) which means sometimes I can rub shoulders with people I agree with, though this only happens on a few relatively minor issues such as free trade which I am right down the center on.

In short, if I have offended you and you feel like I misunderstand something, understand it is not intentional and that if I am missing something I would love for you to share more information with me for the first time which will help me see the world more clearly and this dialogue is what makes people able to change the world in the long and short run. I will never be offended by being corrected, it is an honor to be respected as such when someone shares that kindness.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Harris v. Quinn

The other major supreme court decision today was of course Harris v. Quinn, which has its own problems. I only need to point out one to show how misguided this notion is and why this is has absolutely nothing to do with economic freedom. The plaintiff was saying that requiring union dues are

First, on the complaint and why it is faulty:
If you are an employer and specifically write out that it is a union shop and that in order to work there the employer expects you to be part of a union than that is part of a legally binding contract. If you are employed by the employer you have signed the contract to be part of the union, so you need to follow your obligation. The Supreme Court fortunately did not overturn these private contracts, so requiring union dues is still legal.

This is good for employees because it has nothing to do with saving employees money since unionized employees are paid more on average in practically every profession (excluding state employees who are being slammed by regressive tax policies in a number of states and getting their wages cut annually, which I will publish soon) which means a $100 fee is totally worth it if you are getting more than $100 in added wages which most union employees certainly do! This is the government interfering with the market and interfering with private business to the benefit of none.

That's right, no one benefits from lower wages because businesses need customers to survive and when people in the lower and middle classes businesses lose revenue. Cutting employees wages shrinks the demand curve which hurts the sales of businesses, makes it harder for new businesses to form and get customers, and hurts our overall GDP. This decision is as anti-business as it is anti-union for this reason alone. Lower wages are bad for the economy. Companies can't sell items to people with no expendable income after cost of living. Companies can't stay in business if no one buys their product. This is a fact.

Now, the actual decision
This decision didn't accept every complaint by the plaintiff turned out to be a prohibition against unions from using member dues for political activities. This is the root of the issue. This is of course the same court that rules in Citizens United v. FEC that limits on campaign spending are unconstitutional, apparently this isn't the case if you are not a private corporation. Justice Kagan is absolutely right that this is overtly political, as it is going to remove union money from elections but keep the corruption influence of private corporations such as Bank of America and Koch Industries that push for deregulation. This is going to make our politics even more rigged against the middle class and has absolutely nothing to do with liberty as the majority opinion are trying to make it out to be.

It could have been better, it could have been worse.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Busy day at the Supreme court, and the first one I will discuss is Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

This decision is problematic, because they are saying any employer can opt out of a law because of religious beliefs. The biggest problem is here:

The court’s four liberal justices called it a decision of “startling breadth” and said that it allows companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
So, if I wanted to opt out of laws that prohibit me from killing someone and say it was my religious belief that I had to sacrifice a baby and a lamb on the third Wednesday of every month the Supreme Court's decision would say this is appropriate. Murder a little extreme? How about if I said that my neighbor's house offended my religion with its construction and burnt it down? Still extreme? I could go on, but this means that people don't have to follow the law if it doesn't fit with their religious beliefs perfectly. This opens the door to forced marriage from extreme groups (like what the Mormons did back when Joseph Smith was alive) and basically any group that wants to do anything they want. This is going to be overturned someday, but we are opening a dangerous precedent with this decision that extends beyond healthcare. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act which this decision is based on includes these types of dangers as well.

Another issue is how conservative religious groups are opposed to IUDs in general. IUDs are incredibly useful and since people are going to have sex anyways prohibiting IUDs is a pointless and frankly cruel decision. There is no law and there shouldn't be a law forcing anyone to use a IUDs, and prohibiting only IUDs is a very strange decision. This isn't protecting the religious freedom of those who are opposed to IUDs since it doesn't include other forms of birth control, but it is harming the ability for low-income families to access health products. This damages the government's ability to promote the general welfare, and misses the point completely on why we have laws to promote health in this country and that religious freedom does not include the right to impose your beliefs on others. Freedom of religion does not include imposing your religious beliefs on other which is exactly what this decision does. It shouldn't even be connected to abortion since wearing a IUDs to prevent pregnancy is a very different mechanism than an abortion. One would expect a religiously conservative Christian would be in favor of IUDs anyways since the Bible says nothing about IUDs (and in fact the only mention of abortion is in the Old Testament where it gives an ancient recipe to help a woman have an abortion) and if they were to follow Jesus' advice to love they neighbor would want to prevent unwanted pregnancies which when caused by rape or some other event can make a woman far worse off and struggle to pay the bills if she doesn't have a supportive partner and/or family. The very notion of opposing IUDs is contrary to the old Christian notion of charity (which is of course very similar to other world religions, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and this type of behavior is what turns so many people off of religion when these people abuse these religious texts to take advantage of others.

One final complaint with the people who are anti-woman is how they are misappropriating feminist and abolitionist Susan B. Anthony who like me was of Quaker heritage, like me attended a Unitarian church, and is my 6th cousin a few times removed. Our heritage is that of working on the Underground Railroad, like everyone I know of in our family was a feminist at some level (even the more conservative members of my family turn out to be feminist when you grill them about specific feminist issues). Claiming that she was opposed to abortion which if they knew anything about us Quakers and Unitarians (not all of my family is UU, but I have met a good number of UUs who are of Quaker heritage and have found a significant number on our family tree) would know how very wrong they are to misappropriate my heritage. I don't swear on my blog, but this pisses me off! Stop abusing my heritage!

This opposition to IUDs has nothing to do with freedom of religion. It is a war against the poor and women. As a feminist I am very unhappy with this decision and its implications.

Update: 1 July 2014. This post originally stated that condoms were banned, this was factually incorrect and has been corrected to IUDs.

The other thing Clinton needs to do

Hillary Clinton has this very annoying habit of writing her opponent's campaign ads. Last week she said she was not truly well-off. This is absolute baloney, since she and her husband are worth $80 million, and were worth over $1 million the day they left the White House. If she wants to have any political future she needs to stop doing this. Her 2008 campaign was filled with times where she would misspeak and say things that are blatantly not true, and she lost the primaries at the end of the primary season which gave Obama the presidency. A great deal of this was due to her being tactless in her speeches. Mitt Romney is similar to Hillary Clinton because he also made a lot of his money on investments (as does every millionaire in the world with the exception of tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un) which turned voters off in the general election. In a country with growing income inequality this will kill her campaign by the attack ads from her opponent and whoever the Republicans nominate will become president. A Republican in the White House will be a huge problem because of their tax policy, opposition to education, warmongering, like Clinton an opposition to AMTRAK, among other issues. If Clinton is going to keep doing this type of stunt she should stay out of the race and let Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders run because they don't make these types of large mistakes. She will be eaten alive, and this would be bad for all of us.

She also needs to address how she and her husband make millions of dollars on speaking arrangements. Fortunately for the Clinton campaign, she can talk about her voting record in the Senate which was quite progressive on economic issues, and explain that if someone is offered a million dollars they will take it. If she is tactful about how she says this she will be able to convince liberal voters who listen that she is far more progressive than her husband on these issues. Fortunately for Republicans based on history this is extremely unlikely to happen since she is not a great speaker and frequently says things that are wrong. She needs a coach for making speeches (or a better coach if she doesn't have one) who she can practice with so that she doesn't keep making these mistakes that kept the presidency from her in 2008.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

If Clinton wants the vote of the left

I've been extremely skeptical of Hillary Clinton. I've been worried because her husband and her have a lot in common and this makes many people like myself wary of them. Bill Clinton had a weak presidency, and Clinton had an average Senate Career. I personally would like better for my president, and I am not alone. The day Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy will definitely be the day I sign up to work on her campaign, and I still support her more. Currently, it looks like Hillary Clinton will be the nominee of the Democrats in 2016. She is going to need to do a major rebranding of her political career, and here are the issues and policy statements she needs to change and make clear in the next few years:
  1. She needs to propose a major overhaul of the NSA. So far she has done nothing on this issue and it is the one she needs to come clean on soon. If she does she will have a chance in the election, if not it will be very close and she will probably lose a lot of voters. She needs to speak out against the PATRIOT ACT and propose a real constitutional solution. She did vote against wiretapping after the PATRIOT ACT came out in 2005.
  2. She is an enemy of AMTRAK and needs to reverse this position.
  3. Her education policy needs massive work and she needs a clear policy that the NEA will endorse. She is close, but this could use some massive work and clear policy objectives.
There are some issues she has corrected over time:
  1. She has done a complete reversal of her gay rights policies. They are now in line with basic civil rights.
  2. She has come clean on Iraq as of this month. It took her 12 years.
There are also issues she has been good on and will help her campaign considerably:
  1. She has been progressive on taxes in the Senate
  2. Her record on Social Security is stellar.
  3. Abortion record is stellar.
  4. Women's rights record is stellar.
  5. Her environmental record is stellar.
  6. She supports Ukraine and Georgia.
  7. Her trade policy was more progressive than her husband as a Senator and in line with modern progressives.
  8. Support for voting legislation is clean.
  9. Supports background checks for guns.
  10. She has supported public health care since she was in college.
  11. She supports the minimum wage being enough to live on.
  12. She supports GMOs.
Important voting records that are good are for progressive taxation, abortion, women's rights. Her civil rights score from the ACLU (excluding women's rights) is 60%, which is truly abysmal for a Democrat.

My main criticisms of Clinton thus far have been the 4 policies (which are extremely important). I have not criticized her for Benghazi because I realize that was a freak terrorist attack, and the resources were lacking from where they should have been due to a bill signed by George W. Bush. 

I've been extremely wary and have been hoping to have a different choice, but doing some deeper analysis at her policies leaves her with only 3 weak spots, which is pretty good for any candidate, and I think she can fix her positions on them during the campaign. Elizabeth Warren supports her, so that is another reason for me to trust her more. She does have some strengths over a few of her husband's weaknesses (she was more critical of free trade and supported fair trade over free trade as we see with CAFTA, as well as being significantly more liberal on her tax policy as Senator) which makes me have to change my mind on her. I underestimated her on economic policy, and since I was basing her views off of Bill's and now that I have (finally) done the necessary research I could campaign for her if she does a great job at designing her platform and hopefully could help design a platform that will reach out to young swing voters and target Republicans where it hurts.

So, I will support her candidacy over other candidates after doing more thorough research and separating her from Bill Clinton given that her Senate Career had some major improvements to her husband's career.

Hopefully she keeps moving forward as President on issues and will be more of a firebrand than Obama or her husband. Elizabeth Warren (who is the most admired politician in America) believes in her and she certainly has momentum. Hopefully when she becomes President she will be able to keep the momentum up and make some much needed change by working with Americans and politicians who work for us.

Information on Former Secretary Clinton:

Good quizzes at the moment:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Relativism as subjugation

In my political theory classes there is a big discussion about liberalism and relativism. Liberalism is of course the idea that focus should be on individual liberty as opposed to social class (Marxism) or ethnicity (Fascism) in a nutshell. Sometimes I will hear left-wing people (who aren't really that liberal) think of liberalism and the expanse of democracy as cultural imperialism or something like that. These people will argue at times that expanding democracy and overthrowing existing governments hurts their culture. I think this analysis is misguided.

I do not think that any major culture (which I would define as music, language, literature, art, etc.) is inherently better or worse than another in general within certain limitations. These limitations are very important however, because we also need to value people, and there are some times and places (The Deep South is a dishonorable mention here) where societal norms have encompassed treating other people unequally. The return of voting regulations that disproportionately hurt African Americans across the Old Confederacy is a big argument that racism is not dead, and research has shown hate tweets are far more common in the Old Confederacy than anywhere else in the United States. Some countries mercilessly hurt women and girls in things like female genital mutiliation, allowing husbands to beat their wives where the woman has no recourse, and for men to beat women on the streets with no legal prosecution possible. These are not cultural differences, this is an individual abusing others, and it doesn't matter where the person lives it is still abuse. These sorts of statements from relativists are not support for culture but support for abuse which is opposed to the idea of respecting other people, are deeply misguided notions, and illiberal. We need to stand up and oppose governments that hurt their own people. No culture on Earth has a tradition of abuse like what we observe in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and North Korea among others, the current abuses from their governments are just abusive and not cultural.

Another feature that people will frequently look to is governmental systems as a form of cultural relativism. They seem to think that countries adopting democracy is a form of colonialism by the US, at least that is the interpretation I get from them.

There is a very big problem with this, and that is that democracy has been chosen by people in many countries that are not European and it has worked extremely well. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Botswana are the best examples of where Democracy has been the most successfully implemented outside of Europe, none of which have European roots. Other regions still have progress and they are better now than they were 50 years ago. Countries that have seen their people stand up for democracy and individual liberty are wealthier (or at least see their economies grow much faster) than countries that are non-democratic. They see lower corruption in their government, and lower barriers to ingenuity. The most successful implementations and improvements were done not by being forced on them but through the people themselves without foreign involvement.

A few case examples:

  • North Korea is an excellent example of how tyranny is not a function of culture because before the Kim Dynasty came to power North Korea was even more advanced than what became South Korea, and South Korea is a fully developed nation where people are free. The situation in North Korea and other places is not a function of culture but a function of tyranny.
  • China is perhaps the most traditionally communal culture in history, and even China sees the idea of questioning and individuality in the writings of Mozi, and if it weren't for the suppression of his writings which are problematic for tyrants it would have a much larger impact on Chinese culture. The ides of Mozi were about as liberal as one can get, and if he wasn't killed by the government Chinese norms would be very different. China's emperors were more successful at keeping strains of thought that threatened their tyranny. Confucius also taught tyrants should be dethroned if they were abusive to their people, but he also argued from a more communal perspective so the Chinese emperors used those ideas to further their cause of absolute power to get people to be part of the whole. The existence of people like Mozi and events like Tiananman Square shows China has a long undercurrent of the people desiring more freedom, which has been able to flourish in Taiwan (which shares a similar culture and language) where people can speak freely and has led them to extreme economic growth and stability.
  • There is no other explanation for such contagious support of liberalism in every country with a free press and how millions of people stood against the USSR in the early 1990s to implement democracies, 3 of which have been able to meet the EU acquis which are very strict and now enjoy the highest quality of living in the former USSR. If the systems put in place by the Czar and Communist Party were merely cultural there would not have been such a wide revolt across so many different cultures that have almost nothing in common besides being human, yet the majority of people in all areas agreed they preferred liberal democracy over communist tyranny.
If it were culture than there is no way to explain Machiavelli was able to move his area to be the most prosperous nation on Earth in his time through economic and social reforms which then were adopted across parts of every region of Earth.

The idea of America's "spreading democracy" as spreading democracy is inherently flawed. When the US goes around claiming to be "spreading democracy" they always tend to come in with big guns when the people elect someone the US government doesn't like. This is not spreading democracy. This is spreading imperialism. This is highjacking the name of democracy like neocolonialists have stole the term capitalism from liberals. Social liberals need to reclaim the capitalism of Adam Smith, which was most certainly not completely laissez-faire given his support of government in non-competitive public goods, and use it in the way that it was intended in the first true masterpiece of economics, The Wealth of Nations, which is as far from an imperialist document as one will ever find. Realizing this will help liberals (if they are truly liberal) understand how different actions effect people and what we can best do to advance human rights throughout the world.

We need to look at how we think of foreign cultures and not be overly judgmental to cultural differences, but also not be overly sympathetic to governments that abuse their cause which is what happens when many people start talking about cultural relativism. They have confused democracy and colonialism which are diametrically opposed to one another, and democracy is the best solution to colonialism. Amnesty International comes I think the closest to what it means to be a true social liberal, but speaking out against governmental abuses veiled in culture as many governments use. No child truly wants to work as opposed to go to school. No woman wants to beaten on the street with no legal protection. No culture historically supports this, except when an insane leader forces it on the people of a region.

I am a relativist only as far as it recognizes that different cultures have many lessons to tell, and no language is necessarily superior to another, but also balanced with reason and respect for the individual. To excuse every societal norm as culture, as I have demonstrated with North Korea, China, and the USSR forgets history and is the easy path of supporting the status quo, which when that is your only objective frequently becomes lacking in ethics and hypocritical. We need to stand with people around the world for them to be able to find their way, no matter what their local tyrant says.