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. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens?


Last week I attended a public debate on the proposition: It is the duty of government to educate its citizens. I was and am for the proposition, but the side arguing against the motion definitely made the better case for their point of view. It was a two-on-two debate, just like my recent debate over open source information, Thankfully, Chuck, one of the two debaters arguing against the motion, whom I know and spar with regularly, put up his opening speech on his site and what I want to do here is offer my critique of it.

Chuck begins his speech arguing that "duty" only applies to individuals:

To begin, I'd like to bring some clarity to the meaning of the proposition that we’re arguing against, which is that it's the duty of the government to educate its citizens. Regarding that proposition generally, it's important to note at the outset that the term “duty” is essentially a moral term that applies to individuals. Only in a metaphorical sense can the term be applied to the government.

With the crux of the debate over "duty" it is indeed important to say what we mean by the term. I'm skeptical of objective moral duties, but as I've written in the past, I think moral obligations and duties stem from one's self in adherence to principles, in addition to our various social contracts. But this means that it's important to identify what is the purpose of government. So what is it?

The purpose of government is to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected and defended by providing a police and military force, and a judicial system to adjudicate the law. Libertarians like Chuck would agree with that. But I think governments exist for more than that. In addition to police, military, and law, the purpose of the government is to protect its citizens against the harmful natural forces of unregulated markets. If a market is like a river, you need dams to regulate against droughts and floods that naturally happen in boom and bust cycles. A completely unregulated free market will inevitably result in increased concentrated wealth in the hands of a relatively few, and will leave millions at the bottom with little ability to climb the economic ladder. Government's purpose is to recognize that and provide the necessary regulations to prevent it. This isn't to go full on socialism. This is to allow the river to flow, but implement some common sense, rational checks and balances to ensure the river flows smoothly for the largest possible number of people. The US Constitution's preamble says one of the purposes of the US government is to "promote the general Welfare". This is to ensure the society runs smoothly.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Boycott Bill Maher? Um, No. Here's What Liberals Should Boycott


I read an article today critical of Bill Maher in the Daily News arguing he should be boycotted.

There are many loud voices on the Left now calling to boycott Bill Maher and his show Real Time after he interviewed Milo Yiannopolous, the controversial "dangerous faggot" and alt-right darling. I think these calls are wrong and misguided.

We desperately need voices like Maher, who is indeed a liberal, and who calls out the Left on its hypocrisy and occasional insanity when many others on the Left aren't willing to. Without people like him, the Left will further spiral into their echo chamber where nonsense will emerge and flourish without any reflective criticism to keep it in check.

Maher is willing to talk with the "other side." He's willing to sit down with conservatives of all stripes and challenge them (and occasionally agree with them!). But it seems that most on the Left these days would rather succumb to the worst of political tribalism and never speak with those they disagree with and never concede a single point the other side makes. This is stupid.

Most importantly, Maher criticizes Islam. Yes, he commits the unspeakable crime of criticizing a religion that enables the discrimination and mistreatment of millions of women, LGBT people, religious minorities, and atheists. How dare he! For most on the Left today, any criticism of Islam at all is racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia.

This must stop. I genuinely understand the desire of the Left to want to prevent actual racism and anti-Muslim bigotry, and I don't want to enable the far Right racists. But I'm not going to play this game where Islam is untouchable, and I highly respect Maher for being consistent in criticizing anti-liberal values where ever they exist, even when it's politically incorrect.

So no, we shouldn't be boycotting Bill Maher. We as liberals should be boycotting countries like Saudi Arabia that treats women like pieces of shit and arguably worse than black people were treated in the Jim Crow south. We should be boycotting anything to do with that country, and use every opportunity we have to call out its barbarism and sexism. We should picket its embassies, and criticize its leaders without mercy, and foster international pressure for the government to change its ways. And as a country we shouldn't even consider selling them weapons until they do this.

Now I understand some people just aren't going to like Maher. I get that. But we shouldn't be boycotting everyone we dislike. There are plenty of people I don't like that I don't plan on boycotting. Maher is not a bigot for merely criticizing Islam, nor is he wrong for talking to people who disagree with liberals. The Left would just rather live in an echo chamber, and I just don't want to see it fall apart because I see that it's quickly doing that. So the Left needs figures like Maher to defend liberalism when other liberals are too afraid to out of feat of looking "Islamophobic," and to keep liberals in check. Boycott what matters.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Visualization Of Quantum Physics (Quantum Mechanics)


I've been busy lately recording projects, and finishing up on a script for a web series on atheism I hope to complete by summer. So I haven't had much time to blog. In the meantime, for you science lovers out there still perplexed by quantum mechanics (as most of us are), here's a nice video I came across that nicely visualizes many of its main components.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Make Atheism Great Again!



As I spend more and more time in the atheist community I've been beginning to notice a fairly common and recurring theme. And that is, sadly, that atheists can be just as close-minded, and dogmatic, and tribalistic, and ignorant on the issues as almost any religious person can.

Atheists have a reputation for being rational, free thinkers—more knowledgeable on religion than the religious are, and more knowledgeable on science than the general public is. There is certainly some truth to that. But there is also certainly some truth to the notion that being an atheist doesn't automatically make you rational. And it should be patently obvious to all that atheism is by no means an inoculation against irrational views.

As someone who's a very thoughtful and intellectual atheist and who's deeply familiar with most of the subjects relevant to atheism, I can say for sure that I encounter irrational views all the time among my fellow atheists, ranging from politics, to science, to a whole spectrum of social issues—and it pains me when I hear atheists say incredibly stupid things. So I'm going to outline a few problems I see in the atheist community and offer some remedies on how atheists can fix them.

1) Stop saying philosophy is dead. The one thing that pisses me off the most that I keep hearing atheists say over and over is that "philosophy is dead because hey, we've got science now!" This is a very popular view among atheists that is also ceaselessly reiterated by some of the most high profile people in the community, most notably Stephen Hawkins and Lawrence Krauss. But they're completely wrong and here's why.

Science can never replace philosophy because they do too different things. Science is an epistemology, it's a series of methods for understanding the world we experience that uses hypotheses, repeatable experiments, and formulating theories that explain facts. But not every fact is best obtained through science, and indeed, science itself has to make philosophical assumptions that it cannot prove. For example, what the scientific method should be  and what science is (and there are disagreements) cannot be resolved by science, it has to be resolved by philosophy. And this means philosophy is more fundamental to science, and covers a wider range of topics.

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.


Time For A New Look


So I've had a few people complain that it's hard to read my site because of the white text on the black background and that I should change the color. Technically, the text on my sight is a light gray, and the background is not truly black. But the point's taken.

The reason why my site background is black is because I read years ago that black backgrounds use less power than white backgrounds, and that by turning millions of websites black we can save tons of energy. Well, I did some recent research on this and it turns out this isn't true. For LCD monitors—the flat kind that almost everyone uses, they don't use any more power to keep the screen white than black, and in fact might even use less power for a white screen. The old CRT monitors did use more power for a white screen background, but nobody in first world countries uses them anymore.

So the original reason why I made my site black turns out to be false. As such, I am planning to make my site background white, or maybe a light gray, and the text black, as most sites are. I'm keeping the same font, however, because I like it. So expect some aesthetic changes in the near future here.

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