Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 Presidential election Prediction

The presidential election is starting in one month on February 1st in Iowa for both major parties, and my predictions are as follows:

Hillary Clinton will sweep Iowa given her more moderate positions, and New Hampshire is a tossup between Sanders and Clinton. If Clinton succeeds in winning New Hampshire, then given her lead in the hidden primary for super delegates and amount of money raised already then she will sweep the nomination quickly. If Sanders wins in New Hampshire he will have an uphill battle to fight in most other states outside of New England, and Clinton will still probably get the nomination. Even if Sanders pulls off a miracle and gets more votes than Clinton by a small margin he still will lose the super delegate vote and she will get the nomination. It is unusually easy to predict this year's election.

The Republican field is more challenging to predict, Marco Rubio is currently leading the betting pool odds out of all Republicans, which tends to be the most accurate way to predict the winner of the primary. The biggest issue right now is the vast number of candidates and no ranked voting to tell what people's true preferences are after candidates drop out. I expect we will see most candidates drop out fairly quickly and then we will see Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Carson left in the race. Bush and Christie supporters are closely aligned and they will fall behind Marco Rubio since he has more experience and is slightly more moderate than Ted Cruz, giving the Republicans a bigger advantage in the general election. Rubio will play into Republican fears of drugs which is one of the few wedge issues between the two, and his support of Social Security is going to win him a lot of older conservative votes in a match between the two. He is also better than Bush for most Republicans because he opposes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants which will appease older white conservatives again. Donald Trump vs. Marco Rubio is going to be the major factor in the later primaries, and as less ideological Republicans come into the play Donald Trump is not going to see much more support than he already has given how he is more extreme than the other Republican Candidates.

When it comes to the General Election it will be Marco Rubio vs. Hillary Clinton. The states which are most contested are still North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. The states which lean more towards Clinton are Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada. (in order) The only other state which could start to swing is Texas given its growing Hispanic population, Texas could start to be a swing state if the Democrats turn out the vote in Hispanic communities, but this all depends on strategy. It will be a full swing state in 2020. I do not think running Marco Rubio is going to succeed in pulling in many Hispanic voters because of his policy positions.

For Vice Presidential candidates, Clinton has a lot of options, Sanders is a possibility depending on how he talks about her in the election, Russ Feingold would be a wonderful choice, Julian or Raul Castro are amazing people and would help turn out Hispanic voters (particularly in Texas), among other picks.

Among Republicans, Rubio could pick Cruz given their ideological similarities, Jeb Bush for his connections,

The Democrats start with 237 electoral college votes not including swing states, and Republicans start with 191 (not including the 9 states which are swing states). Nevada and Colorado are seeing a growing Hispanic population and they will vote Democratic bringing the Democrats up to 252 votes. Florida continues to see an increase in its Hispanic population and this makes it lean slightly more in favor of Democrats which will determine the election. Even if Florida goes to Marco Rubio, Virginia is almost certainly going to go for Democrats again given the growing size of the DC Metro area will continue to push Virginia further to the left. This will give Hillary Clinton the Presidency and she will be our 45th President. Using 538s tool, it seems almost impossible for Democrats to lose as well.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Every Student Succeeds

Yesterday President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act which amends significant portions of the No Child Left Behind Act. There are a few major things this bill does, such as:

  1. Requires equitable funding between schools in the same district. This is a massive improvement. (Sec. 1501)
  2. It increases the amount of money for children from at-risk homes (Sec. 1002D)
  3. The high stakes with the testing have been removed.
  4. It expands access to preschool.
There are a few major things it does not do:
  1. Standardized Testing, which does not work, is still going to waste classroom time
The biggest issue is the Federal government sends money to schools through state governments, which as we know from TANF is a horrible idea because it is inefficient (with 56 bureaucracies doing exactly the same thing) and with 2/3 of states with Republican governments gives a lot of leeway to corruption and discrimination against minorities by wasting funds, which is what happens with TANF. States are now able to set more state standards and control standardized tests, which is a huge victory for Creationists. What we need to do ultimately is get state governments out of education and fund schools from the Federal level, and make school districts so they only serve one high school each along with their feeder schools (unless if a feeder school elects to have its own district, like at my middle school which makes a lot of sense in a lot of rural areas) so that we can't see the incompetence and disproportionate allocation of resources these obscenities create. We need to eliminate property taxes which are horribly regressive obscenities and fund public education fully from a progressive income tax like the one I proposed. The Federal government would provide the same amount per pupil in every district (keeping in mind scales of efficiency for larger schools of course) which will help end a lot of racism and inequality in America's schools. I fully believe that as long as state governments and school districts are involved in allocating funds to schools we will continue to see the awful inequity of education we see in this country and the only fair way to do it is a per pupil allocation which guarantees equality of opportunity which experience tells us cannot coexist with school districts serving entire cities.

It's a long bill, with a lot of good things and a lot of bad things, and it doesn't go far enough in funding poor schools.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Freedom and Schengen

With the latest terrorist attack in France people are trying to reduce the liberalization of Europe. Under attack now is the Schengen treaty with xenophobes calling to close the border. The issue is that there have been very few terrorist attacks in Europe relative to other countries is still very low, and his won't stop them. Even with massive surveillance no country has succeeded in stopping a single terrorist attack through such methods, and without that information all closing the borders will only waste money and hurt the economy. The United States has the NSA of course, and there is no evidence that surveillance has ever been necessary to stop a terrorist attack.
https://www.newamerica.org/international-security/do-nsas-bulk-surveillance-programs-stop-terrorists/

I do not think closing the border will make any significant difference regarding terrorist attacks. There were attacks before open borders, and there are still attacks. All it will do is isolate Europeans from each other and inconvenience travellers.

To fight terrorism, the only thing we can do is reach out to people at risk of these groups. Increasing communication and trust between peoples through travel, internet, and friendship will help tear down dictators and expand liberty. Closing the borders only plays into their hands by doing the opposite.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Evil of Mao

The 20th century saw several horrible events, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, the Young Turks genocide in Armenia, and other smaller events under a million dead, but no one in the 20th century came as close to one man in terms of the total number of lives lost as a result of the action of Mao Zedong. Hitler killed up to 14 million people (including over 70% of all Jews) in the Holocaust, Stalin killed over 11 million people through famines in the USSR, Pol Pot killed a quarter of all Cambodians (over 2 million), and half of all Armenians were killed in the Turkish genocide by the Young Turks. Add up all these numbers (which is 30 million approximately) and you still don't come close to the total number of people killed as a result of one man, and that tyrant's name was Mao Zedong.

The 30 million people killed by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and the Young Turks is about 2/3 of the total number of people killed by starvation by Mao Zedong during the Great Leap Forward. As information has been released, recent estimates have concluded at least 45 million people died as a result of the famine brought on by the decisions of Mao Zedong. For these 45 million deaths the economy actually shrunk, failing in every way.

45 million people dying (0.6% of the global population and 3% of China) should be enough for a man to be seen as a monster by anyone with a soul, but this is not all that Mao Zedong committed. China has supported the dictatorship in North Korea since its founding and if it weren't for China's support of Kim Jong Song it is likely that Korea would not have been divided for long. Because of Mao Zedong's actions, and the actions of the government which follows in his footsteps of supporting the world's largest prison has given the government of North Korea the support it needs to keep from tumbling under internal pressure. They continue to support North Korea to this day by returning refugees and allowing exports of weapons to the tyrant.

For all of these reasons, there is no other person in the history of the world I am aware of who comes close to Mao Zedong in terms of his absolute destruction of human rights and inhumanity. There are certainly people who have tried and are rightfully detested and hated around the world for it, such as Hitler and Stalin, but no one else has been able to succeed as well as he did for almost 70 years.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Obama's roots

The hatred against Obama makes sense, not only was his father born in Africa, but his mother was born in a UU family and he attended religious education at the UU church in Honolulu. He is the antithesis of everything the Republican Party stands against. His roots are in one of the two religions (the other being Quakers) which has fought the hardest against their dogma, and it is reflected in his speeches. The values which he was raised with are embedded deeply in the decisions and political platform he has ran on his entire political life over the last 20 years. While Carter was from the South and started the NSA, and Clinton (another Southern boy) destroyed food stamps and deregulated the banks, Obama on the other hands succeeded in health care reform, put back significant regulation on the banks, and on every issue besides surveillance has been extremely liberal. He is the most liberal president since Johnson by a wide margin, and has his roots in the two things Republicans hate most, hippies and Africans. He is the only president in the last 45 years (as of 2015) who has had any desire to move us towards those goals and if he had been able to get his party behind him on the most important issues would have destroyed the Republican Party’s Nixonite ideology more than any other political leader in the last half century.

In 1961 the UUA was formed and President Obama was born. President Obama turned out to be the first truly liberal president in exactly 40 years after President Johnson left office and the only President since Johnson to expand our human rights legislation. He started live in the UU church and those values have never left him. You can take the person out of a UU church, but you can’t take the UU values out of that person. We are so lucky as a country to have him as a President.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Copyright is broken

It now appears that Anne Frank didn't really write her novel, but instead it was her father, according to the company which owns her work (no relation to the Frank family). Never mentioning her father as a coauthor before means there probably is no credible source between the two is blatant copyright abuse, and just shows how the current copyright system is broken. Not allowing derivatives off of Anne Frank's work is going to seriously hurt writing about the Holocaust and World War II, and is not going to produce any benefit for society. Hopefully the courts in Switzerland will block this move and her book will be available for everyone.

They want us to be terrified

The attacks on Paris yesterday were a cowardly act against innocent people. These people thrive on people being afraid of them and use that to their advantage in their attempt to create a Caliphate. But different from the Caliphates off old where Christians and Jews were allowed to live alongside Muslims as long as they paid tribute to the Caliph, the caliphate these extremists want to create looks a lot more like the system of government in Saudi Arabia where women's rights are limited, and freedom of religion doesn't exist. The historical caliphates of old were places where learning was fostered, algebra was invented, science progressed, and toleration was mostly practiced, particularly in comparison to contemporary Europe and the Arab States today. The history these radicals want to go back to never existed and they are on the wrong side of history.

They are financed by Saudi Arabia and other Wahabbi states primarily (source) who are all American allies given the amount of trade and aid that goes between them and us. These states are doing nothing to apprehend the plutocrats who fund terrorism and their inaction is itself an action. They could treat these people the way they treat journalists (Reporters) and end al Qaeda, ISIS, and other major extremists groups right here and now. But they choose not to because they agree with them. The lack of freedom in these countries is what al Qaeda wants to bring for the whole world, and their sickness can only be stopped by ending their support network and then bringing the region back to the support of science, philosophy, and art which the Muslim world was in the Middle Ages as the height of human civilization. There is no reason this cannot happen again, and it is criminal that the West does nothing to make it happen again by continuing to trade with and support state sponsors of terrorism.

So, instead of being terrified by the terrorists and giving them what they want, write about what they are doing. We need to show them that oppose the way they treat people in their countries, we oppose the slave trade, we believe that men and women are inherently equal to one another, we believe that everyone is important and deserves to be treated fairly. We will not vote for people who will seek to divide and conquer us. We oppose Marine la Pen, Viktor Orban, and Alternativ fur Deutschland with as much fervor as we oppose ISIS, the House of Saud, and al Qaeda, and for the same reason. We will not give them what they want, and we stand with the majority of Muslims who only want peace and an opportunity to do well against their oppressors. We will continue to invest in renewable energy to destroy their power and then help them build a system where they can live in peace. The Muslim world reminded Europe of Greek philosophy in the 1300s when Gemisthus Pletho (who was from the Ottoman Empire) brought it to the Medici family, sparking the Renaissance, and it is time we reach back in thanks to the Muslim world and bring their gift of philosophy back to them, so they too can prosper from its teachings. Europe suffered from Feudalism for 1000 years and much of the Arab world is suffering from the influence of Wahabbism today. There is no reason they cannot have a renaissance as well. We (the West) stand with you (the Muslim world) against our common enemy of the Saud family.

Vive le France
Vive le Union européenne
Vive le Schengen
Vive le Monde

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

All politics is local

When we want to understand where great leaders in history come from, it is important to understand their roots. If we want to have future leaders who can change the world, tearing down systems of oppression, leading millions of people towards a single goal, we need to understand how such work is done. We often look to the Presidency in American politics as resembling that power of changing the narrative and moving policy in one way or another, and this is completely true. What is also true is that behind every great president there are hundreds if not thousands of people behind him (and hopefully someday her when the right candidate comes along) working in the background. The really great presidents have congresses working with them, either because they agree with the President's values or because the bully pulpit and/or politics forced them to work with the President's agenda.

But, where do presidents come from? They don't just pop out of the ground! Most presidents (and Vice Presidents) in American history come from either the Senate or are a former governor. The last president to not fit this root was Eisenhower who was able to catapult up to the Presidency because of his service in World War II. The only other President in the 20th century to not fit this analysis was Herbert Hoover, who is another anomaly.

So, the next question in our quest is where do senators come from? Well, according to the Congressional Research Service, a majority of members of Congress have had previous experience working in local politics. We are looking at state legislatures, county and city councils, and other elected positions. 1

In our ultimate quest for where great leaders come from leads us to your county courthouse where your city council meets. With jurisdiction over how land is used, one of the most powerful things governments do, city and county governments are actually extremely powerful branches of government. Their ability to give leaders experience making major decisions can lead them to then being in the United States Congress if they are ambitious and talented enough, with experience to demonstrate their ability to lead and what values they may or may not hold. This is valuable information for voters when voting on legislative or congressional leadership, and I believe it is very important for politicians to have at least some experience at the local level to test their worth before going to an important job further ahead.

It is a little late, but always remember to vote in your local elections. Who knows, maybe you are voting for a future president.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Anti-Intellectualism Part 1

I like to think of myself as an intellectual, and today I was thinking of the anti-intellectual plague in American society. Most of my good friends I definitely consider to be intellectuals, and I frequently have deep conversations with them on a variety of topics. It is in my experience very rare to find an individual who truly is an intellectual across a wide range of disciplines. I have noticed that anti-intellectualism is a plague in American society which has often been noted by many authors before me. For myself, I have noticed several major factors which contribute to anti-intellectualism which I see as personal attacks for all thinking people.
But first, I define the word intellectual as someone who tries to really understand why things work and takes a rational approach to understand things at a deeper level not just when is required but also as a game. An intellectual does not have to be given an assignment to delve into a topic.
With this out of the way, here are 5 ways I have noticed people attack intellectualism in day-to-day interactions.

  1. Disparaging theoretical knowledge as not being valid or useful. Only people with experience have the right to comment on a topic, even if you have a degree and have spent hundreds of hours examining the topic, that is not enough to really understand it. I believe this is wrong because while everyone participates in the economy, that does not mean that they have studied the details of how it works the way it does. Most people drive cars, but not everyone is a mechanic or even should mess with their engine. The same is true with every issue, merely having experience as part of something does not mean that you understand why. This is one of the most common types of attacks on intellectuals I have noticed, mostly at my university from classmates which is ironically where most of my interactions with non-intellectuals takes place.
  2. Not being open to new ideas is a very direct attack on intellectuals who are the people who come up with those new ideas. It is deeply tied into a conservative mentality (which is wanting things to stay as they are, and not necessarily political) and the largest enemy to progress.
  3. "Ivory tower" implies that universities and professors are not engaged in real world activities. This is opposite from the truth as many professors actively take their knowledge to realms outside of their work in non-profits, religious organizations, advising for politicians, and writing books. Very few phrases in the English language are as divorced from reality as the false notion of the "ivory tower."
  4. When children demonstrate their intellectual nature (as I definitely did as a child, and still do) there are other children who will bully that child and make them ashamed for being curious. This is furthered by media children are given and is very psychologically damaging to them, isolating them from their peers. If a intellectual child is isolated from other intellectuals around their age it can be particularly damaging. Different organizations outside of school which foster an intellectual mindset are crucial to providing us with the friendships we need to foster our nature without being damned for it.
  5. "Every side has a point" proposes that intellectuals have the same footing as people who have no understanding of the issues. It lowers the pursuit of knowledge to the level of lobbyists who are only working for their own short term gain. It discredits rationalism in our political debates which means we get policies which are not nearly as good as we are capable of having, or frankly deserve. There is a very big difference between science and conspiracy theories, and that idea needs to enter our media discourse. This sort of problem creates massive economic problems when policies like austerity which economic models predict and the consequence of ignoring the science has been a lost decade for Europe. At an even bigger level, the "every side has a point" which brought Andrew Wakefield's scam out to the public in a way that made people not get vaccinated is nothing short of mass murder. This notion needs to go.
  6. Simply discrediting the findings of science. Many politicians will continue to say things about the economy, global warming, etc. which are wrong and people latch onto because they sound good. It makes it much harder to do research to make the world a better place when you are always defending your work from baseless attacks.
I hope that someday we can throw off the anti-intellectual atmosphere which America has inherited from the Puritans of Massachusetts so we can be a better society. We need to build a world where people are free to search for the truth and understand why things happen. Social justice requires it, and it is our moral duty to make such a world a reality.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sanders and Media bias

Bernie Sanders is by far not my favorite member of Congress, and looking at the Senate and governors across the country, he doesn't even make my top ten candidates who I believe would make a fantastic president (Warren, O'Malley, Inslee, Whitehouse, Feingold, Wyden, are six politicians who I believe would make far better presidents off the top of my head) in terms of their ability to lead and stay consistent. But, Sanders beats all but one of these candidates in his current run for the President because he is actually running, and he is beating O'Malley not because of any major policy improvements he has (he is actually far less progressive than O'Malley given O'Malley's leadership in Maryland) but he has been able to pronounce a very angry and often inaccurate, such as his comment about the Iraq War and various incorrect economic statistics, message which people identify with in our current debate atmosphere as opposed to O'Malley's extremely well researched calm explanation about very distressing issues which he exemplified in the last debate. I do not want to see O'Malley be like Sanders, I'd much rather see Sanders be like O'Malley, but that is sadly what turns people on, which is not a new phenomenon in American politics. Going back all the way to the founding of our country we have frequently voted for personality over policy. (The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents) It is a great shame that O'Malley does not have the social media organizing team that Sanders has put together in an Obamaesque fashion. This is the only reason why O'Malley is not winning the election.

Despite this, there is a lot of talk about the media silencing Sanders as much as they can, which I find despicable. Yellow journalism is by no means a new event in American politics, it stretches all the way back to when George Washington was President and has been an integral part of American politics since then. Albeit, it demonstrates where the media's loyalties lie and that they do not lie with the American people. While I do not care for Sanders I like him far more than I like Hillary Clinton, and if he ends up being the nominee I will vote for him over any Republican candidate.

What is the solution to media bias? We cannot have the government shutting down publications it sees as too biased of course which raises all sorts of questions about who will get shut down versus who will not, and who will be the judge of who is practicing yellow journalism and who is reporting accurately. The only solution I can see is improving our history and civics education in this country so people have a better ability to understand various ideologies which these candidates are exemplifying, and learn how to find out the truth in these various issue in a meaningful way which is not prone to bias. This truly is one of the greatest challenges for a democracy, how to foster civil debate while also bringing forward the best and the brightest to lead the country.

Perhaps more than anything about the candidates, we got an excellent lesson on which media to trust for giving accurate accounts (NPR) and which media to toss for only reporting on their candidate and being biased. (New York Times for imbalance and CNN for deleting their poll on who won their debate after it showed a Sanders victory)

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.

References:

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.


References:
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
http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/cerd-report-falling-further-behind/discrimination-in-education.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A dictator, a Congressman and a sexual predator walk into a bar

Kim Jong Un is currently committing crimes against humanity on a daily basis, just like his father and grandfather before him. With millions of North Koreans enslaved in Gulags, horrendous sexual abuse towards women and children, and children working in slave conditions across his country he is truly a very evil man. If he wants to increase his image abroad, he certainly doesn't want such conditions to stain his otherwise perfect record.

Year after year billions of dollars flow into the pockets of members of congress in the United States from the Koch brothers and massive corporations, and eve n more tax payer dollars flow out to the same corporations in non-competitive contracts. Such information is extremely damaging to the image of such companies and members of congress. How is a member of congress supposed to keep his voters happy and a corporation keep its more moral customers if such information is to be leaked?

A banker was caught supporting illicit drug deals and the sex trade through his services. He has not committed the crime for several years since then, but how is he supposed to find a job if such information stays public?

Many years ago a man stalked a young woman half his age for months on end finally ending up bringing her to his house and then raping her. In response to this he served 10 years in prison and then was released. He is now looking for a job, but how is he supposed to start a job after committing his most heinous act?

Under current European Union Law all three of these people are currently protected against such incriminating information and they may call on search engines to remove such damaging information under Right to be Forgotten. The banker example is a very real example of something which has successfully gone through the EU's courts with this idea of a right. Some people see this as a right to be forgotten, but in reality it is censorship of journalism.

There is always some forms of speech which should be prohibited, such as hate speech. The current European Union law goes way beyond these sorts of speech and is dangerous. If someone is leading a company and they know that they can remove all mentions of an illegal or immoral action later after committing the action and then go on with their lives they are far more likely to commit such a crime. The silencing effect will occur, and corruption will increase.

There is no right to be forgotten. There is definitely a right to protection from defamation when such actions are not true. If someone posted an article claiming that someone killed someone else which was not true, this is definitely a form of harassment, and not an expression of freedom of speech. This should never be protected. In my opinion this law should apply to all people, politicians, public figures, and private citizens alike, which would of course shut down Fox News in a month.

People however should never be prevented from reporting the truth because that harms journalists and bloggers alike. This will undoubtedly create the silencing effect where they won't even bother reporting on such crimes. There should be no recourse for corruption, and there should be no punishment for journalists and bloggers reporting the truth, which is what the right to be forgotten is. This is why I agree with Wikimedia's Executive Director when he said, "The European court abandoned its responsibility to protect one of the most important and universal rights: the right to seek, receive, and impart information, As a consequence, accurate search results are vanishing in Europe with no public explanation, no real proof, no judicial review and no appeal process. The result is an internet riddled with Orwell's 'memory holes' – cases where inconvenient information simply disappears." The Telegraph

This is not a human right. This is a slippery slope to the incrimination of the innocent and protection of the corrupt and powerful.

Examples of why this is deeply immoral:
http://eurighttobeforgotten.com/musician-attempts-use-eu-right-forgotten-hide-bad-review/

Saturday, August 8, 2015

How do you punish the founder of a slave empire?

On today's walk I was thinking about how one could appropriately punish the founder of a slave empire, such as Jefferson Davis. I felt complete outrage how Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, along with the members of the Confederate Congress who did not receive any punishment. This felt like an absolute injustice to me when thinking of how many years we send people to prison for in terms of

My first response was to try to match the punishment to the crime (enslavement of millions of people) on the leading generals, congress, and administration of that slave empire. Under a system of making the punishment fit the crime, I got a little creative of my ideas of how to punish them. My first thought would be to draw out their intestines as the fascists lie in the mud, bleeding but not enough so that they die in unimaginable pain, after which they would be hung until they bleed to death slowly.

I then thought this was too humane. They must not be killed, they would have to absolutely suffer to match the level of pain they caused to millions of African Americans. They would need to work every day of their lives with no break and be whipped multiple times every day. They would only be given enough food to survive, to make the suffering last as long as possible. This would simulate the situations they forced on people, and fit the Hammurabi code. It also matches the treat others as you wish to be treated value which is essentially the same idea.

On the other hand, this is Rule of Man. Rule of Man is problematic because of the slippery slope it leads to totalitarian government. The punishment for their crime would then have to be as dictated by US Code. The punishment would then have to be as dictated by law.

Another issue then becomes whether it would prevent future crimes, and the research demonstrates that such extreme punishment does not deter future crimes. In order to fully end the problem one would have to look at the root causes of what caused these people to commit such a horrendous crime, and then address those directly to improve the lives of former slaves. This would be a system of programs which end the racism and improve the economic well being of former slaves, like what Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Baines Johnson passed in their presidencies which struck at the underlying economic and social causes of the impoverishment of African Americans. Fighting people's attitudes about slavery however is the hardest step of all, and I still don't know how to effectively combat racist attitudes at a massive scale, which is probably the biggest gap in education at this point in time.

If your goal is deterring crime, complete revenge matching the severity is not the solution, and the best way to fully punish the leaders of the Confederacy would have been a continuation of Reconstruction after 1877 when Rutherford B. Hayes stepped into the White House. The best way to punish them is to continue the work of ending racism, which will put their ideology where it belongs which is the dustbin of history. This prevents the creation of them as a martyr and punishes the crime more than the individual which is what the real goal should be.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Education policy post 1

(Creative title, I know)

We need to reform how we teach high school. As I was going for a walk today I was thinking about how to learn effectively and how I have found mathematics to be the most important subject in my education in terms of the tools it has given me. All of the most important tools I have learned in political economy are ultimately mathematical. From these tools comes the rest of the work I do and it allows me to understand fields I have never studied intensely because I understand the underlying logic of what they are arguing.

A big issue for me through school was making sure I got enough math to continue to the next step in my education so I can get to where I need to go. This was extremely frustrating for me, and left me without the mathematical tools I needed to continue my science education.

But what about English? As I was thinking about this today on my daily walk the books we were reading in English had large philosophical backdrops to them which were barely covered in school. The process of effectively writing is used in every class, and should be integrated as such. When it comes to literature however, they are based deeply in philosophy. I think while teaching such subjects we should introduce students to the major schools of thought so they can start to put the pieces together and understand what other books these authors were reading so that students can make the connection between the different books and time periods. The other subject literature comes from is history. If one is reading a books based in a time and place, there are probably political overtones to it, and in order to pick those up one needs to understand what was happening in that time and place. Reading books from Latin America is all well and good (we read a few in my IB English class) but doesn't do any good if you are not at the same time learning about the history of that region. I didn't take the history class at the same time, but feel like if I had taken it I would have understood the books a lot more, like the year before when history and English went through the same events at the same time.

To fully understand the books I think it would be useful to read them in chronological order and talk about the schools of thought as they evolve in conjunction with history class since literature is so based on history which helps readers see the trends underlying the books we are reading, since in high school this is all new information to most students.

So, literature is based off of history and philosophy and in order to fully understand the literature one must understand the history. Now, to understand history at a deeper level one must understand the political and economic forces underlying those classes. To fully understand this one would then need to understand some basic political science and economics. The political science would cover basic political theory (which starts with the same philosophers as one would use to understand the underlying themes in literature), American government (which we already do to a point), international relations (so one can understand war and why they occur), along with comparative politics (so one can actually understand what was happening on Britain's side of the American Revolution or how Germany fell into the Third Reich) are the four fundamental bases to political science and would greatly supplement the studying of history and increase understanding of what is happening.

Economics as well is necessary, and would not take a lot of time to cover the basic underlying principles such as supply and demand, elasticity, monopoly, oligopoly, perfect competition, and GDP among others. This of course would be done throughout the year and would help students understand the evolution of economic history and history as a whole because economics is such a fundamental part of society and how we live day to day.

And the really beautiful thing about this is in order to fully understand what economics is and do the problems in a way so that you can apply them to history you need to understand mathematics. This is one of the primary reasons why if a middle schooler asked me for advice about their education I would say to make certain they learn their mathematics at as high a level as possible because practically everything else they will ever study will ultimately be ultimately based on mathematics.

This is why I think of mathematics is the fundamental building block to most of our education. In order to understand literature you need to understand history and philosophy. In order to understand history you need to understand economics. A great deal of philosophy has to do with economics. In order to understand economics you need to understand mathematics. The patterns in music and art can be represented using mathematics which show the patterns which we perceive as beauty. The only fundamental part of a well rounded education that does not revolve around mathematics is learning foreign languages.

Mathematics truly is the language of the universe.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vote like your life depended on it

The Guardian published an article today by an African American claiming that he won't be voting in American elections anymore because there is racism in our system.

The problem with this article is that he is taking the worst route. Let's say we have a system for ranking parties on their social values from liberal (+10) to conservative (-10) and you look at your ballot and you have one party which ranks as a -1 and another which ranks as a -5. As long as your personal ideological score is -2.5 or higher you are always better off voting for the liberal party. Sure, you might not get everything you want and there will be more progress to be made, but you need to recognize that you can start to push the election system back to where you want it to be whether it be 2.5 or 10.

In economics we have a concept known as the Production Possibilities Frontier. The concept is that when making decisions there are factors that I cannot change. If I am a firm deciding how much I want to produce in the short run I need to work with the fixed capital (buildings, machines, etc.) that I have. I might want to have 10 factories, but it doesn't matter if I only have 5 in making my immediate decision of my next step. The same applies in political science. I might want to have a party which will smash the legacy of slavery into the dustbin of history overnight and bring equality of opportunity to all Americans next year making us a completely egalitarian land, but in the short run this is irrelevant if I don't have that utopian party. More than that, even if a utopian party existed it would take more than one election cycle at this point in history to eliminate the inequities. This does not mean I should not stop fighting for this honorable goal, and by voting for the better of two options I am doing just that.

We are faced with a situation today where the Republican Party denies global warming, denies that issue of police violence, does not recognize the barriers to people making a life for themselves and is directly in the hands of the Koch Brothers and similar individuals. The Democratic Party also takes money from corporate elites (for similar reasons as to why people need to vote even if neither party is absolutely perfect) but also takes a lot of money from unions and are brought into this system from the start which has so many inequities. They have made progress with social welfare programs which disproportionately benefit minorities along with more direct legislation like affirmative action while Republicans have only moved us backwards.

This article makes a major fallacy in that he is looking at the system as it stands today when judging Democratic politicians and not how the system has changed under such individuals. He brings up Governor Martin O'Malley and claims he has no right to talk about criminal justice reform because Maryland still has major incarceration problems. This is however a major mistake for two reasons: 1. The Governor (pr President) may not, cannot, and has not unilaterally decide to overturn decades of law at the stroke of a pen. Such action requires the legislature. To do so without them would completely undermine the Federal constitution or constitution of any state. 2. Our system by design makes it incredibly difficult to get legislation through. These are both extremely good things. While I agree it would be nice to simply overturn legislation because it is immoral (which is what the courts have done in many instances eg Brown v. Board) it would come at a horrible cost because a Republican President could dismantle Social Security at the whiff of a pen. Our system is designed to be inefficient so that we can't have one politician undo the progress that has been made, which is the flip side of what would definitely happen if O'Malley could simply completely overturn the racism of Maryland's long-standing institutions. (it was a slave state after all before the Civil War) What has frequently happened in State legislatures and Congress is that the President will frequently propose legislation which is then significantly diluted by Congress, on both sides of the aisle. The most striking recent example is the Affordable Care Act which stands as a testament to this balance. On the flip side we also have the Americans With Disabilities Act which was vetoed by President George H.W. Bush but was fortunately overriden by Congress. His simple analysis of this issue gives him the wrong results and makes me wonder how much he really understands of how our government works.

This existence of a system set up for deadlock is not empty promises as he goes on about but instead a protection against us from things like C-51 which passed easily in Canada, and is a complete erosion of Canadian Civil Liberties by Stephen Harper.

He is correct however that grassroots activism is a useful tactic in getting politicians to listen, but it will only work in the end if they use their political leverage to force the politicians to respond. If they then just get more Republicans elected to state legislatures in the Deep South you can bet that they will not respond to such movements. Changing the guard and replacing the legislature like he mentions happened in Reconstruction however is a fundamentally different scenario.

History teaches us that we need to use our voices and need to vote to make a significant difference. If the Quakers had abstained in 1860 in protest for James Buchanan's racism Stephen Douglas would have become President and nothing would have changed. That is however not happened with the Civil War, 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and Reconstruction which lasted until people stopped voting for liberal Republican candidates and Hayes was elected ending Reconstruction. It was disengagement which ended reconstruction, and postponed the healing of our country. I have no reason to believe another Republican President is going to make our country better relative to a Democratic President, even in the now unlikely chance that person is Hillary Clinton.

So, fine, don't vote if you want to. But when you don't vote you are in effect increasing the margin of victory for the worst party and shooting the civil rights movement in the foot. This makes it so they will move us even further from where we want to go which is what happened in 2000 when people didn't vote for President and we got our worst President in history (judging based on the changes he made from where we started and where we ended up).

I maybe white, but my Quaker ancestors did not get the 13th amendment passed simply through the Underground Railroad (my great-grandfather's hometown of Richmond, Indiana was one of the most important hubs in the network), but we got it done in the end because we had strong people in Congress such as Thaddeus Stevens and President Lincoln who got the job done. I continue to do what I can to make this country a better place every day. That is the only way we have ever made the world better in a way that is very difficult if not impossible to simply revert in 4 or 8 years. This author's choosing not to vote only shoots our movement in the foot and is giving up on centuries of very hard work which I find personally insulting. This is why I find the author's giving up on our country's future so absolutely despicable.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Rational compassion

Often when I am talking with people about my profession, I will have some people who will consistently get upset with me because I usually don't get as visually riled up as other people do. I almost never scream, I almost never use the much too common authority fallacy, and more often than not am able to stay calm when discussing very difficult and important issues be it global warming, corruption, police brutality, you name it.

There is a very deliberate reason for trying to argue for something in this way. I frequently see people both in my personal life and in public life argue only from the heart, which means they are not arguing from understanding the issues at play in a way so that they can effectively make an argument that will not create unintended consequences. This is most common right now in the minimum wage debate, or talking about other worker's rights which people are (rightfully) very invested in, like I last posted about.

Even when talking about such issues I still try to stay away from arguing from emotion because than I am likely to make an argument that will not work as promised. I always get suspicious when people continue to argue for policies which have been demonstrated to not work as advertised even after the evidence becomes completely overwhelming. When I see people continue to argue from ignorance about issues it makes me think less of them and trust them less. When looking at any issue it is important to understand what will really go on.

The best example I can think of right now is when people talk about free trade. The research in political economy is essentially unanimous that free trade for poor countries helps lift people out of poverty. People who work for foreign firms make more than people who work for domestically owned firms, it brings in needed capital to the country, and this pushes real wages up, increasing the quality of living for people in the country. (In economics, Real means that the price, in this case the wage, is adjusted for inflation) Despite the overwhelming evidence of how free trade is better for workers than protectionism people still will tell me that we need to protect our workers, and the best way to do that is to close the borders. By arguing from ignorance and frequently accusing all scientific research on the subject as being part of some sinister plot they are closing their minds to what is really going on and when the evidence is against their case revert to anecdotal case studies to support their idea. The absolute ignorance of the research that has been done and downright unwillingness to do more research to defend their claims makes it the economic equivalent of creationism. Do these people mean well? They claim they do. But when people do not even try to understand arguments from another perspective and continue to support policies that hurt people it becomes very difficult to believe they really want to make the world a better place and I always then suspect some alterior motive.

This is a problem across the world too, I observe it in the media all the time where you have the talking heads, one "liberal' and one conservative who bicker and after blathering on for 5-10 minutes haven't said anything reasonable or realistic.

Because I believe irrational compassion is dangerous to the progressive movement as a whole, I try very hard to make sure I have some evidence behind my claims and that I stay planted to reality so that my proposals can actually work. Then I can have an adult conversation with people which then can open doors and increase understanding overall. Irrational compassion is incapable of this.

So, next time you are talking with someone, keep your values close to your heart but make certain you don't become removed from reality because then it takes more time to get to where we need to go in making the world a better place.

References:
Amiti, Mary, and Donald R. Davis. "Trade, firms, and wages: Theory and evidence." The Review of economic studies 79.1 (2012): 1-36.
 
Irwin, Douglas A. Free trade under fire. Princeton University Press, 2015.
 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Overtime pay

The Hill
Today the big issue which came to the fore again is the issue of overtime pay. Democrats want to make it so that companies hire people for more reasonable hours while Republicans claim this will indeed cost millions.

Both are wrong.

The reality of the situation is we are dealing with a free market which is more or less in equilibrium which is what the research has found. The reality is that the market will always find a way to equilibrium, and when regulations like this are put in the market then readjusts to the new situation eliminating the benefits we originally saw. Employers will end up cutting wages back to where employees work the same number of hours for the same pay as they did before. I wish it were this simple to bring people's working hours back to a reasonable level, but it just isn't.

The issue here is we need more employers competing for workers. Labor is not a very valuable commodity, which is part of why we have unemployment. Making laws is not going to change the situation.

There are three ways I know that might be able to reduce overtime hours. One way would be to completely ban overtime altogether, but this might end up reducing the salaries of the employees which would be a cost. Research is needed on this question. A quick Google scholar search does not yield many relevant results.

Another method would be to increase the number of firms. This would force them to compete more for the same number of employees driving the wages up. This will encourage more people to the profession which will fix part of the problem of not having enough people with such skills. A basic principle in economics is that if you have a deficit of a good (such as someone's time they work) than the price is probably too low and not enough people are selling the good. Increasing the wage will attract more people to such professions. An added benefit is if there are numerous firms competing for workers than they will have to offer better pay packages, better benefits, and it is a race to attract the most skilled workers. If I was looking for work as an economist and one firm required overtime and another didn't, my decision should be fairly obvious in which one I would take. We need more companies competing for workers which will effectively raise the wage and decrease overtime in an effort to attract the best workers. The advantage to this is as soon as a firm starts to require its employees to put more time in without adequately compensating them that firm will lose its ability to compete and be a place where the least competent employees will land, making it the worst decision for the firm.

Finally, unions could be useful in decreasing overtime while at the same time keeping wages high through their arsenal of tools like strikes. This is found to be a significant effect of unionization across industries.

That is how we will reduce overtime, simply requiring an increase in overtime pay in the past has not made people better off nor increased costs for employers and there is no reason it will do so this time as well.

References
Trejo, Stephen J. "Does the statutory overtime premium discourage long workweeks?." Industrial & Labor Relations Review 56.3 (2003): 530-551.
 
Trejo, Stephen J. "The effects of overtime pay regulation on worker compensation." The American Economic Review (1991): 719-740.
 
Trejo, Stephen J. "Overtime pay, overtime hours, and labor unions." Journal of Labor Economics (1993): 253-278.
 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ceilings, Floors, Taxes, Subsidies and Inequality, Oh my!

In popular economics and the field as a whole inequality is one of the hot button issues everyone has emotions about and thinks about. The question of how to deal with such inequality is one of the big questions in economics, with a lot of questions about how to weigh the costs and the benefits of each, along with understanding what things we view as costs and benefits is at issue as well. There are of course several major ways people deal with inequality, the most popular being the minimum wage and progressive income tax. These do reduce inequality, but have other effects as well.

So, basic economic theory uses the supply and demand diagram to analyze the effects of various policies. The minimum wage is one of the most studied as a way of introducing this concept to people new to the subject so I will start there. The minimum wage is a price floor, meaning that it then is illegal for a firm or individual to pay someone less than that amount. The line in the following diagram demonstrates what this creates:

This diagram clearly demonstrates what we generally find is the effect of a minimum wage. First of all we observe a raise in the wage, which is of course the goal, but this isn't free and comes at the cost of unemployment. At a minimum wage above the equilibrium (where supply meets demand) more people are willing to work (the supply of labor) than people are willing to hire them. This creates unemployment. While it does increase wages it does so at a real cost.

The idea of a maximum wage has the opposite problem, for the same reason. Capping CEO salaries means the number of firms seeking high value added individuals cannot find enough individuals with those skills to match market demand, meaning a reduction in productivity.
This is similar to the idea proposed to Milton Friedman of the Earned Income Tax Credit. We can raise real incomes to the same level as we could do with a minimum wage but we get an increase in labor which means a reduction in unemployment and a bigger overall boost to the economy and reduction in inequality than we would have with a minimum wage (assuming the funds to fund such a plan are done in a reasonable way). Imagine if you can make your pie and eat it to? Welcome to the world of the EITC.
Finally, because this post couldn't be complete without it is the impacts of an income tax. It increases the cost of hiring for firms as well as reducing overall income employees receive. The overall number of workers at this new point is lower than it would have had at equilibrium creating a reduction in the work force. (which is technically different from unemployment) The only other question remaining is what the government does with the revenue in who will ultimately benefit from such policies.

There you are, the four major ways the government can effect the labor market with taxes, subsidies, floors and ceilings.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Congress's Choice

I'm really happy about the Iran deal, and looking at the international politics makes it really clear this is the right decision. 1. We are strengthening the President of Iran relative to the Supreme Leader, strengthening Iranian democracy. 2. The government which gave birth to al Qaeda with probably the worst women's rights record in the world which is openly led by the radical perversion of Islam called Wahabbism, this of course being Saudi Arabia, is unhappy. 3. Liberals in Israel are happy and Netanyahu is furious. 4. We are going to have more oil in the market, pushing down prices further hurting the government of the world's largest petrostate, which is Russia. 5. Increasing trade with Iran is going to open economic opportunities for the average Iranian people. (all of the evidence in IPE points in this direction) 6. We are going to have a more open dialogue with Iran, whose President is the only leader in the Muslim world who I have seen consistently uphold values of tolerance and seeking peace over the last decade.

For these reasons, this was definitely the right decision and this will help make the world a safer place where we will have less religious extremism and a more tolerant planet. Sanctions only increase violence and discontent. A basic message of international relations research is that trade and communication are the major bringers of peace in the world, and this decision is going to increase both.

Now it is time for Congress to choose between peace and war, tolerance and intolerance, dialogue and distrust. I hope that enough members of congress will see what is really happening.

The international lobby as well is going to be very stark with Sweden lobbying for increasing trade while the Wahabbi state of Saudi Arabia is going to be lobbying for increasing sanctions. The government of Israel is going to be lobbying against the deal while liberal Israelis are going to be lobbying in favor of the deal. They have a choice between increasing the oil market share of Putin or decreasing the oil market share of Putin. The right answer should be obvious to anyone who looks at the international consequences of this decision. At the bare minimum Iran will open to Europe which will severely hurt the political elite of Russia.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Viva la Europa

We are currently witnessing the biggest play of fools in the history of the world in Europe. These mistakes happened 100 years ago when trade broke down across Europe leading to one of the largest wars the world had seen to that point.

In international politics there are some major theories which talk about how to bring peace to the world. One which has some support is the Democratic peace theory which (as the name implies) is the theory that democracies don't go to war with each other.

However, the theory which has very solid support is the interdependent peace theory. The idea is that if you trade with other countries you will not go to war with them. The strength to this theory is it explains why Europe doesn't go to war with Russia while given tensions democratic peace theory predicts war. European leaders have no incentive to go to war because of the imports and exports they have with Russia.

Now when it comes to the ongoing austerity crisis and depression in Greece, this theory implies a lot for the future. If Greece severed it's connections with the European Union they will very likely find another ally. Given their treatment by the EPP I don't see too many short term incentives for them to stay in the EU.

Putin is currently very interested in expanding his power and we have seen him reach out to Greece in particular as being his next target in his power grab. Given the human rights records of the other countries he has close relations with,  Kazakhstan, Iran, Belarus, Syria, and North Korea being the most impressive examples, I find no reason to believe this change in international relations will bring anything good to Greece or Europe. If this pattern were to continue than than I see no reason Putin would then try in a carrot and stick approach to expand to Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Adding over 50 million people to his alliance is something I can see him do.

Now, this is far more than just a shift in power relations and who the biggest ally of these medium sized nations will be. I expect that as Putin grows his relationship with these countries we will see the same pattern of a reduction in the validity and transparency of elections like we see in Russia today. This will be a massive reduction in the human rights in those countries just like the Franco regime. I see nothing besides EU membership standing in the way.

We also see another trend in the EU today which is already eroding their rights. What is happening today in Hungary is very disturbing and hopefully won't expand to other countries. The current prime minister of Hungary has been accused of undermining human rights by multiple human rights organizations. https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/hungary The EPP is not willing to hold their member accountable to the laws of the European Union, further proof of their true intentions of undermining liberalism and the EU. This was never about Greece's debt from the start. It was about undermining the largest barrier to fascism in Europe.

Before the EPP gained power in the EU we did not see the problems in Greece and Hungary that are happening today. I love Europe and don't want to see an erosion in their liberties or a failure of one of the greatest political experiments in human history. None of this was inevitable and it was all artificially manufactured. It is time for those who love Europe to stand up to the EPP and Putin and save the EU.

The last two breakdowns in trade was in the years prior to the first and second world wars. The current erosion of trade and human rights is a threat to world peace and must be stopped.