Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Car free for a better life

While wandering around the internet today, I thought about a car-free world. While the current obvious disadvantage of pollution is caused by our using internal combustion engines, in the future we will continue to have problems when it comes to congestion and other issues that make life miserable. One obvious solution is to significantly improve our mass transit systems so they are convenient to use. I've written about this before, but another idea which is done in many parts off the world is to simply make the most congested parts of the city car-free and require people to go by foot, or by mass transit (which should always be free anyways) to make life more comfortable for people. One big reason is the amount of space needed for people decreases significantly, as shown by this graphic:

Any major tourist attraction which has heavy pedestrian traffic in a major city should be served by public transit moving people around to where they need to go and there needs to be convenient parking outside of that area for people to get back to their cars. Parking outside of the area where there can be a good-sized parking garage towards the direction of where they are coming from (or just having good mass transit in the city preferably) would reduce congestion, pollution, and save time for everybody involved in the area.

Cities should make it very clear where there are large park and rides in the outskirts which are well served by mass transit getting people to downtown in order to reduce congestion. A large sign for free (or at least inexpensive) parking on all freeways leading into the city with fast transit to the city center is a very common sense solution which needs to be implemented. Just having a park and ride with slow bus service to the city center is not more convenient for people. Urban planning needs to take into account time savings as well as money.

The riverfronts/waterfronts of most cities are particularly good for closing them to all non-working vehicles given that they frequently have a lot of traffic congestion and many people trying to move around on foot. They also tend to be where downtown is located. Increasing mass transit options and prohibiting cars just makes sense.

When living in a large city with many people trying to move around, it makes no sense for people to be driving their cars. The following locations seem to make the most sense to me to make them car free given their size and level of congestion.

Bike sharing programs are popping up across the world right now. Increasing these options for people is another major step towards making cities more able to accommodate the populations they need to serve.

We could also instead of prohibiting cars just make it extremely expensive to drive in these areas, while making buses free which will still have the effect of making them more convenient for people to drive around. As an economist, I favor this option because it will mean if you absolutely have to drive in a city you still can. The toll would be set based on the amount of time you spend driving  the city. A city like Macau could make such a system work by increasing the cost of gas through a general carbon tax while we continue to use fossil fuels, and in the long run making a large fee for parking.

Looking at geogrpahy, the following cities seem to me to make the most sense in terms of limiting access to vehicles in order to make the cities run more smoothly and faster:
  1. Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington USA
  2. Granville Island, Vancouver, British Columbia CANADA
  3. All of Fisherman's Wharf north of Bay St., San Francisco, California USA
  4. Downtown Los Angeles, California USA within the freeways.
  5. New York City Financial District South of Chambers St., New York, USA (3.5 sq km)
  6. National Mall area, Washington, DC USA
  7. Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland USA
  8. Downtown Philadelphia east to Penn's Landing, Pennsylvania USA
  9. Downtown Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  10. Downtown Detroit, Michigan, USA
  11. Downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA
  12. The city of Sydney, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA
  13. Downtown Brisbane, Queensland, AUSTRALIA
  14. Downtown Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS
  15. Area around Westminster, London, England UK
  16. Macau
  17. Kowloon, HONG KONG
  18. Downtown Shanghai and Pudong, Shanghai, CHINA
  19. Downtown Seoul, SOUTH KOREA
  20. Downtown Tokyo, JAPAN

All in all, we should make our cities more liveable by making our cities people-friendly and easy to move around in. Hopefully we will see this shift soon to make our cities more comfortable.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All Aboard the Crazy Train

Today Brazil has decided to go the way of Merkel, Abbott, and Harper inn unveiling a major austerity package which they claim is going to lift Brazil out of recession. This is fundamentally wrong and demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of how the economy works.

Here's why they are wrong in several very basic points:

  1. GDP is made up of four components using the expenditure approach, Private Consumption, Investment, Government spending, and net exports. Cutting government expenditure immediately reduces GDP because it is one of the four components.
  2. When people, or an organization eg government, receive income they spend a percentage of it. That expenditure then becomes somebody else's income. I receive a paycheck for $1000 and I am going to put some of it in savings, and some of it I will consume this month. I might spend $800 this month immediately on my rent, food, things I want or need which then immediately becomes the income of the person I bought the goods or services from. They then will do the same to infinity. We can mathematically calculate how much spending my increase will create with the fairly simple equation (change in income)/(1-MPC) where MPC is the percentage of income that people spend as oppose to save. If our MPC is 80% like in my fictitious example, an increase of income of $5000 from my $1000 of income.

So, if the government of Brazil wants to reduce its spending and raise its taxes it is effectively reducing the part of government expenditure that directly goes to GDP, reduces income of the people it employs which will not circulate around the economy, and this will reduce private consumption and private investment. Raising its taxes in effect will reduce the income of individuals and companies further reducing their GDP at a time when they cannot afford to.

The irony of this is that by reducing their GDP they are reducing their tax base, which will likely offset any reductions in the deficit they will get from their policies by reducing the source of their taxes. We have seen this before, and the government of Brazil should know better.

Now is the wrong time to focus on deficit spending. The first thing we need to do is get the global economy back to its appropriate growth rate, and then governments can start to reduce their debts. Actions like this are going to further reduce economic growth and prolong their current recession. It is unlikely their decision will work any differently than the other countries which have implemented this insane program.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Europe's refugees

The current crisis in the middle east, while toppling dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, and getting women the right to vote in local elections in Saudi Arabia (bringing the total number of countries where women can't vote to 0) has also created the war in Syria. Combined with the destabilizing of Iraq which was caused by the United States invasion the emergence of ISIS was almost inevitable. Looking further back the entire situation in the Middle East was created by the carving of international borders is a consequence of colonialism which was done by Europe particularly the United Kingdom. The only fair response to the current crisis in Syria given the United Kingdom's role and the carving of artificial boundary lines is to bring in refugees and help create the stability and peace in the Middle East with respect and for human rights and science. Europe has an obligation given their colonial history and their support of dictators since then to help rebuild the Middle East. While it is true that the current leaders in Europe today we're not themselves individually responsible for what occurred a hundred years ago what is happening now as a consequence of their national action and I believe it would be the right thing for European countries to work on peace building in the region and make it so human rights are respected. Even if we hold that individuals are not responsible for their ancestors actions but for their own alone Europe has the resources and the wealth to help people in the Middle East and it is the moral action if you see someone needing help you help then there is no exception to this principle in my opinion given Europe's moral fiber and given that nobody else except the United States, Canada, and probably Japan as well have the resources to make a significant impact in the Middle East it is only the right thing to help bring peace to the Middle East and support refugees. Canada in particular is a very interesting situation Stephen Harper has made it so, this reduces rolling peacekeeping around the world significantly this action is completely unethical and contrary to all the values that make him Canada a very special country. United States being the richest country in the world tied with China, makes it so that the United States has would suffer almost no cost relative to the size of our overall economy to help people in the Middle East. Such the porch would be seems like bringing in advisors and helping to draft good constitutions with the big with the cooperation of intellectuals in these countries, building up the systems of education healthcare which these countries currently black, and helping to build a framework for liberty and human rights is in the form of a bill of rights to be respected by the government to make it to all people are respected.

The current situation with the refugees in Europe shows this underline conflict which is buried deep inside the Europeans conscience. It is surprising that Angela Merkel turns out to be the one who has been one of the most liberal members of the European Council on this issue but I am glad none the less even though her policy with Southern Europe has been far from diplomatic, reasonable, or fair.

Current steps to undo the damage which has been done by ISIS would be supporting the building of refugee camps, unfortunately some military action is necessary, as well as helping to build a democratic framework, along with the quality of government. There has to be rule of law as opposed to rule of man which will protect the freedom of these people if they have an election where the right wing win for one or two election cycles. The biggest hurdle in doing this is of course Russia which supports us on but I believe that given time we can achieve this goal of helping freedom grow in Syria.

While foreign countries can help, at the end of the day is up to the people of the Middle East to secure their face this is what we saw with the Arab Spring. For the first time in hundreds of years we are seeing the people of the Middle East call for a better system for themselves. Hopefully this is going to lead to a system which will see in the emergence of of Science in Middle East there is some science being done currently, but the quantity is nothing compared to where they should be given their history. With better education for all and governments respecting the freedom of speech which is necessary for our society to prosper this is going to hopefully lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into a better life.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Poverty in America

There has been a lot of talk recently about the rise of the sharing economy, with attention focused on young people making low wages (no dispute here) and other factors that people pick out. Our national poverty rate is currently around 14.5%, which is down from where it was in 2013, when it was 15%.

None of this article is to claim that poverty is not a real issue, it is. The issue however regards accurately representing the issue and not distorting it into something it is not to a point where it is distorted from reality and people no longer understand the real issue at play. This is very dangerous for social justice work because than we won't understand where the real issues are that we need to target, and we will inefficiently spend our time and money compared to the potential good we could achieve. In order to solve a problem completely and quickly you must understand it as fully as possible. To explain where the poverty is and its roots is the purpose of this blog post.

Historically speaking, America's poverty rate has bounced between 11 and 15% since 1965. Despite all of the talk, we have not seen a massive increase of poverty relative to our population. This is important to remember when p

Compared to other countries around the world, we are on par with Germany and the United Kingdom.

One of the biggest factors of poverty in America is how concentrated poverty is among people of color. Over 27% of African Americans and over 25% of Hispanics live in poverty, which is on par with Iraq and Costa Rice (albeit below Italy). White Americans on the other hand are only around 9%, similar to Canada.

If we want to eliminate poverty in America, it will require a heavy focus on helping people of color.

Issues that create this combination include discrimination in schools, which includes higher discipline rates for children of color versus their white peers in terms of things like suspension starting in preschool, meaning they miss school more and don't get a high quality education. (Civil Rights.org) We need to implement programs to reduce the over-punishment against students of color and provide funds for schools to provide a more equal opportunity to all students which simply does not exist today. This will help it so more students of color can graduate and get into college. There is a massive difference between the unemployment rates of adults of color based on their education level. NY Times The solution to the lack of resources would actually be very easy economically by the federal government providing them so we stop tying school funding to local poverty. Fighting over discipline is a more complicated issue and at this point in time I'm not sure what strategy would be effective. There are some plans on the books to enforce teacher pay equity (controlling for other factors of course) but neither Bush nor Obama have pushed hard to enforce these laws.

Other issues regard access to employment, such as where to get a job you need to have good credit (which is almost impossible to get if you have no income and you don't already have a good rating), and particularly discrimination by police forces, border control, and other law enforcement agencies which perpetuates inequality across America. The entire report by The Leadership Conference is worth reading here.

A final warning about studying poverty was well written by an author on Slate warning that how we measure who is in poverty can give wildly different results. If we don't include assistance, the poverty line is shockingly high. If we include assistance from the government and other groups, which are technically a form of income, the number of people living under the international poverty line falls almost to 0. This is a good warning when it comes to reading numbers and the many ways these numbers can be made to be larger or smaller, and why authors like me need to be clear about how we calculate such information. Using the same methods international researchers use to measure poverty in third-world countries falls to 0. Absolute poverty does not exist in America like in many parts of Africa in particular. Relative poverty however remains a major issue.

What sorts of proposals are on the table for reducing poverty?

  1. Ensure a fair criminal justice system which will help reduce the amount of time that people are out of work and increase employment opportunities.
  2. As I go on about at length above, we need to end discrimination in education and make it so that the quality of a child's education is independent of their area's property values (which are tied to income and overall economic well being)
  3. We can provide a universal minimum income to raise all families to a certain level.
There are of course many other ideas, but these three are the ones that immediately come to mind for me and should make a significant dent in our poverty rate.

https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/incpovhlth/2013/figure4.pdf poverty over time
https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/incpovhlth/2013/table3.pdf snapshot of who is in poverty as of 2013

Monday, August 24, 2015

The most American candidate

If we were to design a candidate who could speak to the majority of Americans today, an interesting intellectual exercise could determine the political positions of a presidential candidate who could win their first election with ease. This candidate would not be a centrist but would adopt policy positions which the majority of Americans agree with. These are based on the most recent poll on the issues I have looked at.
  1. Most Americans pay about the right amount of taxes. Pew
  2. Wealthy people pay less than their fair share in taxes and the tax system is too complicated. Pew
  3. Support our military actions against ISIS. Pew
  4. Grow the amount of renewable energy used to produce electricity in the United States. Pew
  5. Oppose Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine and other countries. Pew
  6. Do not send troops to Ukraine. Pew
  7. China is a threat to America. Pew 
  8. Legalize Pot. Pew
  9. People with mental illness should not be able to buy guns. Pew 
  10. Support most of the NSA's actions. Pew
  11. Dealing with global warming needs to be a top priority for our government. Pew
  12. Reduce carbon emissions. Pew
  13. In favor of birth control and abortion. Pew 
  14. Increase the minimum wage. Pew
  15. Oppose bailing out large institutions. Pew
  16. Social Security should be maintained as it is. Pew 1 and Pew 2
  17. Oppose the Iran deal. Pew
  18. Police and firefighters should be allowed to unionize. Pew
  19. Police should wear body cameras. Pew
  20. Foreign aid is an important tool in fighting terrorism. Pew
  21. We must reduce the role of money in politics. Pew
There are a few major issues where America is almost evenly divided. The candidate would have to pick a side on these based on their conscious as opposed to popular opinion:
  1. Health care
  2. Whether banks need more or less regulation. 
  3. Guantanamo Bay Pew
  4. Military spending Pew

The NSA however is an outlier. Part of this is probably due to how the media reports on the NSA, mostly avoiding it, and the corporate media being unanimously against Edward Snowden. I think that if the mass media was more fair and balanced on their reporting on the NSA's actions we would see the majority of Americans change their opinion and call for a major change in public opinion against mass surveillance.

When it comes to the Iran deal, I think the opinion on this is going to change as time goes on, for reasons I have already explained here which will become apparent to most people very soon.

Pew hasn't been asking about the opinions on police brutality yet, and I think this needs to be part of their research.

Most Americans mostly agree with the Democrats on policy issues. This demonstrates a clear liberal swing to the average American voter, meaning that if the Democrats put forward very strong liberal candidates there is no reason they should not gain power in Congress and maintain the Presidency. Hopefully they will do this at the local and state level this next year to help move this country in the direction the majority of people want us to go in. They have a major advantage on policy this election cycle, and if they take advantage of this and get people out to vote than we could see some very amazing changes very soon. This of course will only happen if they fight hard this election cycle.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What goes to Referendum

Across the world, referendums are frequently used for making changes to policy when politicians don't want to stick their necks out.

The biggest problem with referendums is that they are only usually used for things that politicians don't want to go through. When there is an issue that has immense support of the businesses that sell government materials to go to war or spy on people these issues don't go to referendum, but are passed in violation of the will of the people.

The biggest issue I see with referendums is how they are frequently staged. I frequently find the ballots to be written to confuse voters so people abstain which hurts people's faith in democracy. Initiatives need to be clearly written so people understand what they are voting for.

The last British referendum in 2011 to change their election system was fraught with problems and is one of the three recent referendums that makes me wary of how referendum are used. Here is a list:

  1. The Conservative Party made a large deliberate effort to misinform people in how ranked voting works. Anyone who has taken a comparative politics class (as many politicians have) should understand how the system works given how it is used in Ireland, Australia, and has the fewest issues when using standard election system criteria. This helped swing the election by making it so many voters didn't understand what they were talking about. Examples include claiming ranked voting supports extremist candidates, when they can only do this when they cross the threshold which is unlikely and is shown to not happen where ranked voting is used. Their use of Australia as an example of safe seats ignores the fact that there are only two parties in Australia who campaign for elections and have broad support, and it would be different in Britain because they have a tripartisan system which will make it so there will be fewer spoilt seats. The Conservatives made these lies because they are in the minority and only 36% of people in Britain support them which means they would need to reach out to voters under such a system and abandon their corrupt practices and support of issues like the Iraq War and Austerity. Labour is a center-right party when it comes to their positions which is why they failed to make a stance. Their party would split because they are the party of Tony Blair who destroyed Britain with his colleague Margaret Thatcher given how he didn't propose any alternative and now they are stuck with David Cameron. This is these old stuffy and corrupt parties made the stances they did.
  2. The people in favor of the referendum made mistakes in how they campaigned. One example is how they didn't address tactical voting which is absolutely necessary in FPTP because you can't necessarily vote for who you want but is less so in ranked voting because you can vote for exactly who you want regardless of who other people are voting for. They messed that up. They could have pointed out the fact that over 60% of people in Britain oppose the Conservative Party but they won over 50% of the seats which violates the majority criterion and a ranked voting system would fix this problem and force the Conservatives to appeal to voters, but they failed to do this in their foolishness. Such mistakes makes me doubt how much into the issue they really were.
The same question was asked by New Zealand's Referendum in 2011 when voters were asked which voting system they want to use. Most people don't know enough about certain issues and don't have the time or energy to fully understand which option is best for them. You end up with people voting along party lines against their own interest. It would be far better for the politicians who are directly elected by the people to be given a commission of experts (in this case, political scientists) who understand the pros and cons to each system and then choose the best option. Most people don't have the education they need to make an informed decision, and all people end up being worse off.

My final example (getting off the elections on elections issue) is more local for me, with a proposal for greater Seattle's mass transit referendum going up once again next year on whether to expand mass transit. There is absolutely no reason Sound Transit should not have the full authority under the local governments it is a union of (Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties which compose the core of the Greater Seattle area) to have the full authority to consult with urban engineers to design the best possible mass transit plan for the region, develop how to do it as efficiently a possible, and then provide the service that our region needs to cut down on congestion and maintain our quality of life. A 10 year time frame is frankly ridiculous given how China built high-speed rail across an area the size of the US East of the Mississippi in around 5 years. The County Councils should have the authority to collect taxes and spend as they see fit, given how they are elected by the people directly, so that they can gather the information to make the best decision for the people. All in all, I think the use of referendums should be outlawed and governments should be required to govern. If people don't like the decisions the county council makes, they have every right to run an initiative on the issue, run against them in the next election,  and then vote them out in the next election.

Despite my distrust of referenda, I still believe we should continue to be able to use initiatives as needed. We have several initiatives growing right now in Washington State which have a lot of support. One is the Carbon Tax which I am putting some time and energy into because I know it is the best way to reduce our carbon emissions while receiving our double dividend, and will help make our tax structure more progressive. It will send a clear message to the legislature that this is an important issue for a majority of people in our state. This is a good and necessary part of any democratic society and an essential check on the power of the government. I also think that we should be able to have a national initiative in the USA assuming we get the right percentage of voters to sign on to the ballot.

When there is an idea in a legislature, they should only have two options, to pass it or kill it. They should not be able to weasel their way out of governing by sending it to the people. They should have the full ability to tax and spend as needed, and if people have a problem with this they should have every right to repeal laws by the initiative process or vote their legislators out. All referenda tend to do is postpone essential services which people need and usually don't understand.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Black Lives Matter

After Senator Sanders was interrupted the other day by a Black Lives Matter supporter, I have been seeing a lot of rhetoric, some of it true, most of it not, from people on my Facebook account and across the internet. In all of the anger, confusion, name calling, misinformation from most media, and sadness with the interruption of Bernie Sanders, if you haven't checked out the basic demands of Black Lives Matter on their website, please do, they are really clear, to the point, and there is no way any decent person could disagree with any of them.

I have found it quite confusing with a lot of information from many sides around the issue, over half of which is from people not affiliated with BLM and misinforming people. This is no way to support Black lives, and is a wonderful way to alienate them. Such behavior only makes this work harder to do. Support them by offering your ears, offering them your hearts, and offering your thoughts and support. This is what I am trying to do in order to help my friends.

Black Lives Matter is a single-issue movement focused on the police violence which is inflicted on African Americans every day across the United States. If you believe people have the right to life, than you should be behind this movement. The most important parts of their website is pretty small and to the point, please explore it at blacklivesmatter.com if you haven't already to educate yourself on the issue. If you are already involved and know their demands, than excellent!

They also make it abundantly clear on their front page that they are looking for allies in solving this problem. No matter who you are there is room for you in fighting for human rights, and please do what you can. Lives are being lost, and people are not being given a fair shot at life. This is completely immoral and it is up to all of us to end racism in its steps. It doesn't matter what your opinions are about welfare, social security, affirmative action, or any other issue. If you believe that everyone deserves a fair shot at life you should get involved in Black Lives Matter and help end police violence.