Showing posts with label economics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economics. Show all posts

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Economist Mark Blyth On New Economic Normals

For the past year or so I've been listening to economist Mark Blyth break down the rather complex and esoteric field of economics. Despite his thick Scottish accent, he's a skilled communicator at making it somewhat digestible. He's particularly good at criticizing the ineffectiveness of right wing ideas like austerity and showing the problems that come as a result of middle class wage stagnation for 40 years. This is a recent talk of his at the Global Financial Markets Forum on those topics.

Follow him on Twitter here: @MkBlyth

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Quote Of The Day: Ayaan Hirsi Ali On Female Independence

I really need to write more about feminism, and sex, and gender relations. In fact, I'm long overdue for a lengthy post on that. I've got a lot of thoughts on it, believe me. But I've just been so hard pressed on time with work, the conference, and personal things. This year it seems I will not have blogged as much as the past two years, unless I really pick up the pace these last few months. Perhaps quality is better than quantity?

Anyway, I came across this quote by Ayaan Hirsi Ali from her book Infidel. She talks about how the financial independence of women gives women dignity. I agree. Her quote reminded of my mother, who after divorcing my father didn't run to another man to take care of her. She instead went to college, got a bachelor's degree, got a job, and became financially independent from that point on. And I'm proud of her for that.

As a woman you are better off in life earning your own money. You couldn't prevent your husband from leaving you or taking another wife, but you could have some of your dignity if you didn't have to beg him for financial support.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Nuance People, Nuance!

I've been inspired to write a short rant about how we need to promote the idea of nuance in our social, political, and ideological views. To me these nuances are common sense, but all too often in today's discourse they are all but forgotten.

  • You can hate Nazis and white supremacists and still be critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. 
  • You can be critical of US and Western foreign policy and still think that Islamic terrorists are inspired by the Islamic religion to commit violence.
  • You can agree with basic feminism, which is gender equality, and still be critical of many proponents and ideas of third wave feminism. 
  • You can think political correctness has gone too far and still agree that we should have some basic norms of respect and decency. 
  • You can think political correctness has gone too far and still be a liberal or a conservative who's against racism and sexism.
  • You can stand up for the freedom of speech for people with hateful ideologies and still be against what their ideology is about.
  • You can think Islam is a sexist, homophobic, and violent religion and still respect the human rights of Muslims.
  • You can stand for trans-rights and not be transphobic for not wanting to have sex with them.
  • You can stand for the rights of racial minorities and be critical of the crime problems and social issues in their communities.
  • You can be a liberal and be critical of Islam, contemporary feminism, and political correctness.
  • You can be a Republican or a conservative or even a Trump supporter and not be a racist, sexist, homophobic, Nazi sympathizer.
  • You can be for higher taxes on the rich and more government regulation and recognize that some tax laws and government regulations hurt the economy.
  • You can be an atheist and think that religion has positive social benefits.
  • You can think that there is legitimate criticism of Islam and not be an anti-Muslim bigot.
  • You can agree that some racists criticize Islam and not all critics of Islam are racists.
  • You can think that immigration needs to have controls and limits and not be a racist xenophobe.
  • You can stand for the rights of Muslims and not be a Jihadist.
  • You can support a political candidate and not agree with all their positions.
  • You can support a public figure and not agree with all their positions.
  • You can be critical of the State of Israel and not be an anti-Semitist.
  • You can be critical of the Palestinians and not be a Zionist.

These are just some of the nuanced views that are possible that today's social, political, and ideological debates seem to completely leave out. Because we've become way too tribalistic and black and white in our thinking, what we need to do is constantly remind ourselves and others that nuance exists. It's more important now than ever. As I think of more nuanced views in my interactions, I will be adding them to this list. If you have any suggestions to add, mention them down in the comment box and please spread the word!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Calculating My Student Loan Debt

I've just calculated that I've spent $49,773.45 over the past 7 years on my student loans and I still have over $7,000 to go. I've spent -$11,798.17 in interest alone. That's 23% of my total loan payments and 31% of the principle.
It's fucking unbelievable how expensive college is in the US today. I can tell you that my college was definitely not worth over 50 grand. Not even close. The quality of education I received was at best worth 15 thousand dollars.

A friend of mine moved to Germany for their free college. He's getting his MBA and no cost and he gets to take it in English! We met at the same undergraduate college, so we were both in the same situation. But he's paid off his loans and is now doing the smart thing. I would never get a master's degree in the US given our system unless I somehow got a scholarship (or won the lottery). The idea of taking on more debt is so depressing I could never even seriously contemplate it. And to make matters worse, Trump's education secretary Betsy DeVos is pealing back protections for borrowers, just as many of us suspected. 

My situation is fairly typical today. I went to a for-profit school. At the time I was somewhat naive as to what I was really getting into. But I graduated, unlike about 50% those who go to college, and in the end it worked out. Since college I have never made less than $18 an hour, and now I make nearly double that. I've always had good healthcare and benefits while employed. So if I had to do it over again, knowing that my degree did help me out, I would say that I'd probably do it over again. But I'm not fully sure on that. I definitely would've been smarter with my loans. I fucked up my loan management and ended up paying a lot more interest than I could have.

I absolutely hate the idea of being in debt to someone. With an extra 50 thousand dollars I could've put a down payment on a house. I could've bought a Tesla. I could've vacationed around the world many times over. I could have paid my rent for years. Heck, I could've bought a wife from Russia! I could have rescued a woman from poverty and gave her a new life in America. Sadly, that will never happen now. 

Student debt is crushing my generation. We're a trillion dollars in the hole. This is making the American dream of owning a home nearly impossible. It's making saving up for retirement very difficult, as young adults push back saving for a decade or more to pay down their loans during that time. 

What we need is tuition free college like other first world countries do so generations of Americans do not have to suffer under thousands of dollars of debt like I have. I proposed an idea where the cost of public college is free if you get an A in every class. If you get a B it's $50, if you get a C it's $100, if you get a D it's $150. If you fail it, you pay the full price of what it normally is in the state if it's more. Each state can set up its own cost system within federal guidelines. At the rate above, a person getting a D in every course for a bachelor's degree at 40 courses would end up paying a maximum of $6,000 in tuition. Someone getting a B in every class would pay $2,000. This is far cheaper than most students are already paying in public colleges. 

Isn't that a smart idea? Shouldn't college be cheap and affordable and incentivized to encourage students to do their best? Instead, with what we have today you can get straight As and owe a hundred thousand dollars on a bullshit degree and end up making barely $40 thousand after college. If you're lucky.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What The Democrats Need Now

I've been dreaming lately of what it would be like to be president of the United States.

I'd run as the politically incorrect liberal — the rational middle ground between the Right wing bigots and lunatics, and the bleeding heart ultra PC liberals, as that's how I see myself. I'd implement tax reform that shifts the burden onto the rich and back onto the corporations, which is what we need. I'd take no money from lobbyists or special interests or super PACs. I'd be a president that actually works for the people. There's an idea! I'd fill my cabinet with ardent populists. I'd fire anyone in any agency that wasn't down with my populist agenda that says we shouldn't have a government that works almost entirely for corporations and special interests. In other words, I'd drain the fucking swamp.

I'd reform our drug policy by immediately removing marijuana from the schedule I classification that it is in now. My attorney general would push for legalization at all costs. I'd do everything in my power for legalizing weed, whether by executive order, or by introducing legislation. I'd also push for the decriminalizing all of drugs. The DEA would be ordered to stand down on most drug enforcement policy that doesn't involve violent offenders. With marijuana legal in all 50 states a whole new economy would arise that would reduce crime from illegal gangs and cartels, and it would generate a huge new source of tax revenue and create jobs. I'm so fucking tired of stupid policies by stupid politicians, who are unfortunately voted into office by stupid uninformed citizens. My platform would be centered on the idea that the US has to be the smart country once again.

I'd put someone really smart in charge of the Department of Energy, someone who's a really thinker and innovator and who wants to move the US towards full renewable energy sources. Someone not beholden or affiliated in any way with the oil and gas companies. I'd put someone who supports the same kind of education reform as I do in charge of the Department of Education. There'd be no religious fundamentalists, or climate change deniers, or Nixonian anti-drug crusaders in my administration at all. We'd get to finally have the smart progressive policies we should have already had.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Tax Plan

As I get more and more into politics and economics I strive to one day be a policy wonk. I've been listening to podcasts like Vox's The Weeds, where they dissect and analyze public policies like the ACA, Trump's AHCA, tax policy, and trade policy, and I've become fascinated by the intricacies of policy.

Now I'm far from a policy wonk myself, and I'm still in the process of learning. What I'd like to do here is spend a few posts exploring policy proposals I've been floating around in my (still learning) head.

There is no doubt that we need tax reform in the US. The tax laws are weighted far too heavy on labor, and in particular middle class labor, who often pay a higher percentage of their income on taxes than do he rich. I've previously floated the idea of a graduated sales tax in lieu of an income tax around, but here I want to propose the tax plan that I'd implement if I was president.

Federal tax rates for individuals:

Income amount Tax rate

0 – 2,500  0.00%

2,500 – 10,000 10.00%

10,000 – 40,000 15.00%

40,000 – 90,000 25.00%

90,000 – 150,000 28.00%

150,000 – 250,000 33.00%

250,000 – 500,000 35.00%

500,000 – 1,000,000 40.00%

1,000,000 – 10,000,000 43.00%

10,000,000 – above 45.00%

For the first $2,500 dollars of earned income there would be no taxes. This is intended to give the poor and middle class some tax relief. This plan raises the highest rates to 45% and generally lowers the rates for those at the bottom of the brackets. The current tax rates top out at 39.6% for income above $418,400. But to me there should be additional tax rates for the super wealthy, as there's a huge difference between a relatively wealthy person making 500k a year, and a super wealthy person making 20 million or more a year. The person making 20 million or more a year shouldn't be paying the same rate top rate as the person barely cracking 500k.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Gender Pay Gap Is Misleading

It's one of the things that gets repeated over and over again: Women earn 77 cents on the dollar for what men make. Sometimes it's reported as 81 cents, as in Senator Bernie Sander's recent tweet for #EqualPayDay:

But after reading about the pay gap, I've discovered over the years that it's completely false at worst, and misleading at best. The claim makes it appear that women are making 77 or 81 cents for every dollar a man makes for the exact same job. But that's by and large not the case. If it were, why wouldn't every employer fire all of their male employees and replace them with women who will be paid 20% less as a way to save on labor costs?

It turns out, the truth behind those numbers is more complicated than what we're often lead to believe. The 77 percent figure is created by comparing the amount earned by men and women regardless of their occupation. And since men tend to work in higher paying professions and women tend to work in lower paying professions the total amount of money men make tends to be higher than women. If women are over represented in lower paying occupations, they will earn less money than men on average.

Although it is not clear how the study that came up with the 77 percent figure calculated what full time workers are, women tend to work part time much more than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 women were 13% more likely than men to be working part time for economic reasons, and nearly twice as likely than men to be working part time for noneconomics reasons. This means women often work part time because they want to, for a variety of reasons, like being able to spend more time with children, and choosing to do so will make it so that women earn less then men in a given year, or over a lifetime. Women sometimes exit the workforce entirely to care for children for a number of years, and this too cuts down the earnings of women to men over their lifetime. All of these are major factors in why women earn 77 or 81 percent of what men do.

This is not to say that there is no pay gap whatsoever, it simply means that the 77 cents on the dollar figure is not explained by the claim that women earn 77% men do for the same exact jobs. In fact, for unmarried childless women in their 20s, they are often earning more money than their male counterparts in large metro areas like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York.

But say any of this to your average liberal, or your average feminist, and they will think you're a sexistor even worse, a republican! That's because once this claim gets repeated enough and becomes your rallying cry, you will continue defending this in the face of contrary evidence due to the sunk cost bias. And this is very hard to shake off for most people. We all need to fact check our claims, especially the ones we're most committed to, as this is the best way to ensure that we're right. Our ideology shouldn't determine the facts, the facts should determine our ideology.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why It's Harder To Live On Your Own As A Young Adult

With 32.1 percent of 18-34 year olds living with their parents, up from 20 percent in 1960, according to a Pew Research Center study, two clear trends are emerging: (1) more young adults are living with their parents for a longer amount of time, and (2) fewer young people are getting married. I'm going to be writing a 2 part series of blog posts that address why these two trends are emerging in recent decades.

For the first part, here are 3 important reasons explaining why more young adults are living with their parents:

1. Rent costs have gone up faster than inflation. Rent is the bigger factor when it comes to how housing costs make it harder to survive on your own as a young adult, since most young people rent and are not buying a home right out of college. Median rent costs have risen 64% since 1960 when factoring inflation:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Would A Graduated Sales Tax Work?

Would a graduated sales tax work in lieu of an income tax? Like say 8% on sales under $1,000 and 12% on sales between $1,000 and $10,000, 16% on sales between $10,000 and $100,000, and 20% on sales between $100,000 and $250,000, and 25% on sales between $250,000 and $500,000, and 30% on sales above $500,000.

This would make it impossible to find loopholes around it and to put corporations overseas to avoid paying US taxes, ensuring everyone and every corporation pays taxes whenever they spend money. Now if a corporation buys products overseas to sell in the US perhaps a matching graduated import tax could work as well.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

80 Million Americans Make Less Than $30k A Year

Much has been said about the fact that most Americans—slightly more than 50%make less than $30k a year. That's more than 80 million Americans. It's amazing that for so many workers, so much of them make barely enough money to survive. It's hard for me to accept the idea that "middle class" in 2015 means making around $29,930.

I never realized that I'd be in the top quintile of earners. In other words, I make more money than about 80% of workers in America. I don't feel privileged because I live in New York City, where the median wage is closer to $55k.

But one thing that confuses people is average income vs median income. The average is the mean; it's the total amount of income divided by the number of people. This can give misleading results because a few high income earners can off-set the average for the group. Say you want to measure the average height of 10 men. 8 of the ten men are 5'2" and 2 are 7'6". The average height of the group becomes 5'6" when in reality 80% of the men are below that height. The median will be 5'2", which is much closer to where most people in the group are. The average income in the US is about $44.5k, even though 66% of workers make less than $45k a year.

If we rose the minimum wage to $15 an hour that would increase wages for half the country. And we'd lift all workers out of poverty. But with Trump's new budget and proposals, it looks like he's going to continue a modified trickle down approach.

See the wage index for yourself on the SSA's website.

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens? Part 2

This is a follow up response to my original post a week ago on whether or not government has a duty to educate its citizens. I originally wrote a critique of the speech made by the first speaker, Chuck Braman, and now I'm going to write a line-by-line critique of the arguments the second speaker gave, Roberto Guzman. He writes at the blog Capitalism and Ideas and his blog post, written here, is inspired by his arguments in the debate. So without further ado:

Larry Elder makes the point that government education is similar to an item on a restaurant menu that not even the waitress would order.

Yeah, unless they can't afford private education, especially if a "free market" Republican governor like Scott Walker tries to destroy the teacher's unions.

Roughly 11% of Americans send their kids to private school, but nearly 30% of parents who work in public schools do so. In urban areas such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati it hovers closer to 40%. To reiterate, these are government education providers choosing to send their kids to the competing private schools.

I couldn't corroborate that 30% claim and Roberto does not include a source. The number I see is 19% of public school teachers send their kids of private schools, though 28% have tried alternatives to public schools at some point. This is definitely higher than the national average, but why are so many public educators sending their kids to private schools, especially in urban centers? Well, it's because many urban schools suck and teachers who work there know this. So if they can afford to send their kids to private schools, they will. The median high school teacher salary is $57,200, for middle school it's $55,860, and for elementary school it's $54,890. But the vast majority of Americans won't be able to afford this option, not when the national average for private school tuition is $10,003 a year. Even if it was half that, most Americans still wouldn't be able to afford it, not with 50% of Americans making less than $30,000 a year.

What about the government officials themselves? 37% of Representatives send their kids to private school. For US senators, that number is a staggering 45%. President Obama, himself a product of private education, made a big show of vetting DC public schools when he was elected. After all of the hullabaloo, he sent his daughters to the most elite private school in the capital. If government education is so great, why do its biggest advocates avoid it like tap water in Mexico?

Most members of congress are far wealthier than your average American. In 2012 the base salary for all members of the US House and Senate was $174,000 a year. Few than 3% of Americans earn that much. And this doesn't even count additional income from book selling, speeches, and gifts from lobbyists. People will always be able to pay for better private education than what the public system can offer. Nobody denies that. But this is not an argument to privatize all public education.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

STUDY: Positive Impact Of Raising New York's Minimum Wage To $15 An Hour

A year ago a study by UC Berkeley of New York state's plan to gradually raise its minimum wage from its current $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2021 determined that the raise would result in a mostly positive outcome. With the raise signed into law by Governor Cuomo, we're going to see the effects over the next few years. So I hope the report is right. Key findings include:

  • As Cooper (2016) reports, increasing the state minimum wage from $9 to $15 will increase earnings for 3.16 million workers, or 36.6 percent of the statewide workforce. 
  • As Cooper (2016) also reports, among those getting raises, annual pay will increase 23.4 percent, or $4,900 (in 2015 dollars) on average. These estimates include a ripple effect in which some workers who already earn $15 will also receive an increase. 
  • Three industries account for nearly half of the private sector workers getting increases: retail trade (17.6 percent), health care and social assistance (18 percent), and restaurants (13.5 percent). 
  • 79.6 percent of workers in the restaurant industry in the private sector will receive a wage increase, compared to 19.6 percent in finance, insurance and real estate
Effects on businesses and consumers by mid-2021 
  • Payroll cost increases will average 3.2 percent over the entire for-profit economy. This increase is much smaller than the minimum wage increase because many businesses already pay over $15 and many workers who will get pay increases are already paid over $9, the current minimum wage. 
  • Employee turnover reductions, automation, and increases in worker productivity will offset some of these payroll cost increases. 
  • Businesses could absorb the remaining payroll cost increases by increasing prices slightly—by 0.14 percent per year over the phase-in period. This price increase is well below annual inflation of nearly 2 percent over the past five years. 
  • Price increases will be much smaller than labor cost increases because labor costs average about onefourth of operating costs. 
  • The consumers who would pay these increased prices range across the entire income distribution. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Cost Of Corporate Welfare

I'm back, with a new look. My site now has a white background with black font for all of you who were having trouble reading it before. The old colors did effect my eyes a little too, especially when switching between sites with different backgrounds. So I hope you enjoy.

I ran across a post a few months ago about the cost of corporate welfare to the average American Family. As reported by Common Dreams, The Average American Family Pays $6,000 a Year in Subsidies to Big Business.

If this is true it's staggering. The sources seem pretty legit, citing, among others, the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian think tank, no friend of big government.

The $6,000 a year price tag bottoms down to:

1. $870 for Direct Subsidies and Grants to Companies
2. $696 for Business Incentives at the State, County, and City Levels
3. $722 for Interest Rate Subsidies for Banks
4. $350 for Retirement Fund Bank Fees
5. $1,268 for Overpriced Medications
6. $870 for Corporate Tax Subsidies
7. $1,231 for Revenue Losses from Corporate Tax Havens

Both liberals and libertarians should join sides and work together to end corporate subsidies and send that money back to working families. I could sure use an extra $6,000 a year. The Federalist examined this article and has determined that the actual cost is $2,436 per year. They cut out numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7 from their list, probably because, as a libertarian leaning organization, they're fine with interest rate subsidies for banks, retirement fund bank fees, overpriced medications, and corporate tax havens. Other interpretations of the source that make this argument have the total at $4,000 per family. Regardless of whether it's $6,000, $4,000, or $2,436, it's too much, and we need to set ideologies aside and work together to end corporate welfare.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Justice Democrats

Recently, a new movement in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has begun. It's called the Justice Democrats. It's to reform the Democratic Party away from the corporate wing, and back to the populism of its roots. It's democrats that represent the people, not corporations. I learned about it a week ago on Kyle Kulinksi's SecularTalk YouTube channel. It's a collaboration between him, The Young Turks, and I think maybe a few other organizations and it's right up Bernie Sanders's alley. Watch below as Kyle explains the platform and read it for yourself here.

I basically agree with the entire platform. This is what the Democratic Party should be about, and this is what "Our Revolution" that Bernie Sanders advocates for is all about. So go to their website, donate, and sign up if you can. Share on social media. We need grassroots Democrats who will work for the people, and not the corporations.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

#Inequality - And What Fighting It Means

Liberals love to complain about how inequality is bad for society and that we need to do something about it, but many free-market types would tell you that inequality is good. They'll say that a meritocracy will inevitably result in inequality because some people will naturally work harder than others and make more money. And those who have more money and goods will incentivize those who don't to work harder. Economic equality, they'll say, is socialism!

So let's talk about what being against economic inequality is about. For most on the Left, fighting economic inequality doesn't mean that we use government to make everyone's income equal no matter that they do or how hard they work. It's also not about implementing a maximum wage, or just taxing the wealthy into poverty.

Being against economic inequality is recognizing we have rigged political and economic systems that cater mostly to the needs of the wealthy and elite and as a result the total amount of wealth and wealth accumulation in the world is increasingly going to a smaller and smaller class of people at the very top of societies. This top-heavy concentration of wealth is bad because as the lower and middle classes maintain less wealth, they have less purchasing power to drive their economies. Creating economic policies that cater to the lower and middle classes that allow them to receive and retain more of the wealth generated will give them greater purchasing power which will better drive the world's economies, and this will secure better living standards for the vast majority of people.

Image: Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2016

Consider that the top .7% of the world's population now owns 45.6% of the world's wealth according to this new graph done by Credit Suisse. Less than 1% owns nearly have the wealth on the planet. 73% of the people on the planet have less than $10,000 and their total amount of that wealth is just 2.4%. The wealthy have rigged the systems in almost every country to favor themselves and they do so in such a way that reduces or stagnates wealth accumulation in the lower and middle classes. Fighting to change this system around the world is what fighting economic inequality is.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Politics Is More Important Than Religion Now

It seems that many YouTube atheists have moved away from criticizing and debunking religion to talking about feminism, political correctness, and other things that are dividing the atheist community. Criticizing religion is feeling more and more now like beating a dead horse. Religion has lost the debate. It's over. Atheism won. I've been increasingly feeling this myself. And although I'm not completely done beating the horse of religion (I don't think it's dead, yet) I do feel the strong urge to pivot towards politics and social issues more.

With the election of Donald Trump two weeks ago, the time to be political is more urgent now than ever. What's a Trump presidency going to mean for secularism? What's it going to mean for the future of science education? What's it going to mean for progressive values? For race relations? For the atheist community? These are currently all open questions. But Mike Pence's history of evolution and climate change denialism, along with Trump's the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, who was once rejected as a federal judge in 1986 for being too racist, the future is not looking good.

I'm particularly concerned about Trump's conflict of interests. His business holdings and properties around the world can directly conflict with his presidential duties. There have already been reports that he allegedly asked the president of Argentina for a favor on a project he has in the country. Trump is renting the Old Post Office in Washington DC from the government via the General Services Administration and has turned it into a hotel and once he becomes president he will get to appoint the administrator in charge of the GSA. He's already suing DC to lower his tax rate. Trump can use that hotel as well as his other properties to curry favor from leaders and diplomats alike. And since Trump is apparently not putting his assets in a blind trust, but is instead having his kids - who he'll be able to communicate with regularly, run the Trump Organization, it's certain Trump will use the office of the presidency to enrich his personal wealth.

There are actually a few things I agree with Trump about. I am for a strong border, and I am ok with deporting criminal illegal aliens. But I do not think we should deport all of the illegal immigrants who have behaved themselves while in the US. I think they should be allowed to get permanent legal status, but not citizenship. If they want to become citizens, they must return to their homelands and apply like everyone else. I am for a vetting process that seeks to determine whether potential immigrants or people we grant visas to are sympathetic to Sharia law. I do think that we should consider limiting immigration from countries with cultures where it might be more difficult for immigrants from there to adapt to American culture, but I'm against banning all Muslims.

I do support pulling out of the TPP negotiations, as Trump announced earlier this week. And I do support renegotiating NAFTA. In fact, most, if not all of our trade deals need to be renegotiated to favor American workers. I do generally think PC culture has gone too far but I'm not in favor of going back to the racism and sexism of the 1950s and 60s.

Trump is a bit vague on other issues. He was pro-choice his whole life until he started running for president. I don't know how sincere he is on his pro-life stance but I'm for keeping Roe V Wade exactly where it is. So I disagree with Trump on that. I do know Mike Pence is vehemently pro-life, and he's really the one I fear most. On same sex marriage Trump said the issue was "settled" and seemed to indicate that this decision was not something he planned on changing. I think Trump is personally not against same sex marriage, but again, I fear what Pence might try to do. He's actually tried to jail same sex couples who try to get married in his state of Indiana when he was governor.

I'm definitely against Trump's views on climate change. I think Trump doesn't actually believe it's a Chinese hoax but I think he's still going to try and push fossil fuels very strongly. I'm definitely against his plan to pull out of the Iran deal, but I think his stance against this was all talk. I've been told by a few fellow liberals that Trump getting elected has allowed us to avoid World War 3 with Russia over Syria. I have no idea if that's accurate.

Basically, politics is too important now. Debates over religion are interesting, but the real work and debates need to be about politics. The political threat from the Religious Right just became much more potent with Trump's election, and we are going to need to keep a watchful eye on them. On top of that, our nation is more divided now than ever. How do we get people out of the echo chamber? How do we get information and facts to people in a post-truth world? How do we resolve our differences and bridge the divide? What are the rational solutions to our nation's problems? These all need answers and to do that it takes attention. So I'm still going to write about debunking religion, but that is going to be shared with more political issues.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What's Wrong With The TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)?

Hillary Clinton called it the "gold standard" for trade deals before allegedly reexamining it and finding it to be bad for the American people. Many neo-liberals and pro-business types still tout the TPP as a good trade deal but rarely acknowledge the problems with it. Here's an excellent video detailing some of the harm it will do.

The TPP would:
  • Give corporations the power to sue the governments of the countries involved in secret foreign tribunals over any law or regulation they claim affected their future profits, including laws that allow for cheap access to medicine, or protect the environment.
  • Allow you to be fined or sent to jail for downloading copyrighted material.
  • Make it so that ISPs have to monitor your internet habits.
  • Once the TPP is signed it is here forever as it is difficult for countries to withdraw and there is no expiration date.
  • And much more

Saturday, September 3, 2016

On Libertarianism

Something that I don't often write about is political libertarianism. I have a problem with it. I have a problem with the view that the free market approach works everywhere. But in order to talk about this stuff, one needs to bring in the fields of political philosophy and economics that I am much less acquainted with than with the relevant fields needed to have the religion debate.

In political philosophy, one of the major questions is "what is the purpose of government?" It's an interesting question few of us ask ourselves. We tend to grow up in cultures where government exists and its role is taken for granted. The US was founded by rebels who broke away from a theocratic king and set up a secular democracy. The preamble of the US Constitution reads that its purpose was "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". It was the first secular democracy in the world and quite revolutionary.

The purpose of the newly independent US government seemed quite clear. Or was it? What does it mean to "promote the general Welfare?" Libertarians generally believe that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of the citizens and perform a few basic functions like military, police, and the law: The military to protect the country from all enemies foreign and domestic, the police to provide security internally, and the law to provide judges and courts for legal matters. Other than that, most, if not all other areas of society will be handled by the private sector.

Libertarians disagree over exactly how far government should extend beyond the police, military, and the law. They also disagree on taxes. Some support a flat tax, others support no taxation at all and consider any form of taxation the moral equivalent of stealing. People would instead voluntarily donate money to the government in such a system. Voluntaryism, the philosophy that forms of human association should be voluntary is big among the "taxation is theft" wing of libertarians.

I've challenged many libertarians I know on whether an all voluntary taxation system would actually be able to pay for the government they think should exist and the answers I get don't sound too confident. I've asked them what should be done if voluntary tax donations weren't enough to cover the costs of the government functions, like for example, the police to secure the safety of the community, and I haven't gotten a good answer yet. Voluntaryism would also allow free riders to game the system. If your neighbors are voluntarily paying for the police and you're not, you're still going to get the same police protection they paid for. Also, who would build and maintain the roads, bridges, and tunnels? Would the private sector really be able to handle this with the level of coverage government could?

Libertarians are very anti-utilitarian. They are not focused on the end result, but rather the principle being held. So if an all voluntary taxation system failed to pay for the needs of the small libertarian government and it resulted in massive societal problems, like rising crime and civil unrest because of the lack of paid police officers, then so be it. All that matters is that government didn't tax, or "steal" anyone's earnings.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Conservatives Have A Point

Growing up in the inner city, the culture that surrounded me in my adolescent years despised intelligence. Ignorance was celebrated as a virtue; it was something to be commended, something to aspire to. I remember back in school dumbing myself down in order to fit in with my peers by pretending to be stupid and not knowing the answers to the questions my teachers asked, when in fact I really did. Thinking back on this reminds me of the conservatives who say that the problems of the inner city, and the black community in particular, are due to culture and not racism. For a while I dismissed that argument, but I've changed my mind. I think conservatives do have a point on this.

Now let me first set the record straight. I am technically a liberal, although I'm beginning to hate labels more and more, especially when it comes to politics. I am a liberal—but—I definitely don't think liberals have all the right answers. They are not 100 percent right on 100 percent of the issues. That's far from the case. We must divorce ourselves from the increasingly tribal mentalities on the political spectrum. We must be willing to listen to the other side, and seek out the best criticism of our own political identifications. And we must put reason and evidence first and foremost over and above everything else, especially when it disagrees with our politics.

On the ongoing problems in America's inner cities with rising crime and stagnant poverty I think that it is undeniably true that culture is at least a part of the problem. You see, what conservatives typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on culture, and what liberals typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on racism. But as I see it, both of them are partially right. Yes — racism, the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the predatory lending practices of banks, and many other discriminatory policies have left a negative imprint on African Americans. And yes it is also true that many racist policies have hurt Latino Americans and to a lesser degree some Asian Americans. But that isn't the full answer of why these groups still struggle with poverty, violent crime, and high unemployment and incarceration rates. Culture matters. When you have a culture that nurtures and embraces ignorance as if it was a virtue, treats women like pieces of shit, and thinks that resorting to violence in order to solve your problems is acceptable, what the fuck do you think is going to happen? Do you think a culture like that is going to create brilliant thinkers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs peacefully coexisting in safe, clean neighborhoods? No! You're going to create a culture full of high school dropouts, thugs, criminals, single mothers and absentee fathers, and low skilled wage earners who stay in poverty generation after generation via perpetual bad decision making.

Now you might argue that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and other racist policies helped create this culture that celebrates apathy and ignorance as virtues. Fine. I'd agree with you. But that's not in any way a refutation that culture is an important reason why so many minorities in the inner cities across America are committing crimes at much higher rates than the rest of the country and continue to be in poverty generation after generation.

We must cultivate a culture that celebrates and nurtures science and philosophy and reason and facts and the thirst for knowledge and truth. We must also cultivate a culture where we seek to minimize unnecessary suffering, and where we care about the well being of others. It is imperative that we do this in order to resolve the negative issues plaguing inner city minority communities for generations. I want being smart to be cool again. Make that something kids want to aspire to. I want this stupid culture of ignorance to go away once and for all and to be mocked and humiliated into extinction, in much the same way I think should happen to religion. That won't be easy, but it can happen. Here's how:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Atheist Intersectionality: The Many Hats We Wear

I was just recently thinking about atheist intersectionality: how atheism intersects with my gender, race, place of origins, my politics, ethics, economic philosophy, and views on sexuality. Additionally, the question of whether my atheism should affect my views on these things is an open question. I was inspired by intersectional feminism, which a lot of people, mostly feminists, like talk about. The idea of applying intersectionality itself to other things is a wonderful philosophical venture and one I want to explore here.

We all 'wear many hats' so to speak, and some of these hats are more important to us than others for various reasons. Atheism is very important to me in how I identify myself overall, but depending on the situation, other hats I wear are more important. I want to explore the relationships between these various identities I have with atheism. So let me start by listing some of the many hats I wear as part of my identity. In no particular order:

Atheist: I am an atheist in that I do not believe any gods exist. An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in any gods existing. This is what I like to call bare minimum atheism. It is the minimum requirement for one to properly be called an atheist as I define it. One can go further and declare they know god doesn't exist, but it isn't necessary. I've been an atheist or agnostic all of my life, and I wear the identity proudly, although I'm not always wearing it on my sleeve. You could technically classify me as a moderate atheist on this scale.

Anti-theist: Not only am I an atheist, I go a step further and say I'm an anti-theist. An anti-theist is an atheist who opposes religious belief. Not all atheists are anti-theists. Most atheists are more or less indifferent to religion. I was inspired by the New Atheism movement to oppose religious belief and dedicate myself to decreasing religiosity in the world and increasing secularism and atheism. It is an extremely important motivating factor in my life.

Determinist: I am a determinist in the sense that I reject the notion of libertarian free will and I think that everything in the universe that happens is inevitable given the initial conditions in the big bang. In this view if you were to rewind the universe back to the big bang and play it again, you'd get the same exact results and events every time you did so, ad infinitum. This you can say is part of my metaphysical worldview.

Epiphenominalist: I am an epiphenominalist in that I think whatever the mind is, it is ultimately caused or explained by something going on in the brain. Understanding the brain will most likely unlock the mystery of consciousness, although it is certainly possible a full understanding of the brain will not resolve the hard problem of consciousness. As an epiphenominalist, I reject substance dualism in the sense of dualistic interactionism.

Eternalist: I am an eternalist whose ontology includes all moments of time existing at different areas of spacetime. In this metaphysical worldview the universe is basically a block that is composed of all of spacetime laid out.


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