Month: January 2014
In his State of the Union speech, Obama has promised to use his executive office to make changes. Your first instinct is to call him a dictator and fight him on this. I would advise against this for a couple of reasons. First, you can only fight him in two ways. Pass a law over riding his executive order, (good luck with that) or take him to court. Unless he steps wildly outside his federal purview, you’ll lose. Badly, publicly, and embarrassingly. Very much like every last one of your recent court battles. But I doubt you’ll do this. Your second go-to option is to call him names for media attention and to be randomly inflammatory. Again, I advise against this. Because the country is going to call your bluff. You don’t want the president taking action, but you yourselves won’t, or can’t. So the hypocrisy here is a little intolerable. The more you fight, the more blatant your hypocrisy will become. Eventually you’ll start saying or doing something on camera you’ll regret and here comes the mid term elections. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if Obama’s long term game was to provoke you into exactly this sort of scenario.
Here’s the other problem and this is more global than specific. It’s your persistent inability to formulate a coherent, actionable legislative agenda. You keep saying you’ll repeal and replace, but you’re horrifically vague on the replacement aspect. Same with taxes and spending. You say you want to cut taxes AND balance the budget by cutting spending, and yet you never say which taxes, by how much, for whom, and which spending programs are being cut. On almost every legislative policy agenda, you run into the exact same problem of vague useless plans. I say this only because, while your welcome to criticize the President for his actions, its your inaction on every substantive issue in the country that is he’s going to hit you with in the fall.
There’s another reason you need to be careful. Obama hasn’t issued all that many executive orders especially relative to recent Republicans. You run into more overt hypocrisy if you call him out on executive privilege. So calling him out for exercising power he’s both entitled and obligated to use in order to solve problems that you won’t touch isn’t going to end well for you but your welcome to try.
Dear Capitalists, There has been a widely reported and alarming statistic being bandied around lately. That the 85 richest people in the world control the same amount of wealth as the bottom 3.5 Billion. That’s Billion with a B. And of course, what’s wrong with that? Here’s the trouble. It’s so very hard to exploit the very poor. It really is. They don’t make particularly good laborers, they tend to have lots of health problems, and are lousy consumers of high end products, tend to exist in places with a lot of fomenting social and political upheaval, and what’s worse they don’t generally break into the entrepreneurial class where the real money is made. My tone may be light, but I’m deadly serious. The entrepreneurial class IS where the money is made. The poor do very little to advance the interests of the wealthy or even the middle class. At best they can consume inexpensive goods and provide a source of menial labor. In the days of the serfs, menial labor was a genuinely excellent source of wealth. Back in the day, someone might have asked themselves what the point of hospitals, education, infrastructure, and progressive tax policies might be for serfs. Wealth was created merely by harvesting natural resources and basic goods also produced through massive amounts of manual labor. The more of it, the better. Today is different. Wealth is created by technical labor and intellectual content. That requires a great deal more from your workers. Technical workers require a great deal of resources to obtain and maintain. That resource must needs be maintained through health and economic systems. Complex infrastructures is needed to create new avenues of wealth, tax and administrative policies are required to create a consumer base for your high end technical goods. It’s a vastly more complex system, and it takes a great deal of money to maintain and propagate but it is how wealth is generated in the modern era.
Here’s the trouble. You can offload the application of an modern economic system onto governments, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Governments are happy to build roads, power plants, provide education, take care of the elderly, provide a little for displaced persons, maintain security, and manage the basic bureaucracy necessary to a well run society. That’s no trouble at all. The government is more than happy to absorb these responsibilities and to be honest, the government is actually better at this than you. However, it can not indefinitely absorb the costs. I mean, sure, we COULD increase taxes on the bottom half of the global population, but I can think of a simpler solution.
For the last 30 years economic gains have gone almost exclusively to the wealthy and even more so to the super wealthy. This is perfectly fine, for now. In the long run though you will eventually begin to start cannibalizing each other for greater profits and that’s bad for business. Wealth generation exclusively for the wealthy is exceedingly self-limiting. Like I said before, you need to grow the entrepreneurial class largely through supporting the underclass. Remember, Henry Ford provided each of his workers a high enough wage to afford his cars. This is a useful analogy for developing future wealth streams. If you want to grow your company you need an economy that can generate consumers wealthy enough to gobble up your next-gen products. I mean you can’t really target the wealthy, they already have your stuff, and there’s shockingly few of them anyway. You need to target the underclass, and you do it through social advancement. Think about it, there’s 3.5 Billion of them. If you can help them be socially mobile it will make the last 30 years look like chump change. Trust me. It’s good for business.
Here’s another thing that you may want to consider. In so much as we don’t generate as much wealth purely from farming, lumber, mining and so on any more, those are still really really profitable. Not only are they profitable they tend to be pretty popular with your consumers. However, while I’m sure you would never destroy the environment, gut regulations, ignore health and safety protocols all in the name of short term profits, your competitors might. Not only would they damage key elements that your consumer base needs to be happy and be healthy. Their bad faith will also destroy your profit base. It works like this, many business can use a resource simultaneously in different ways. Tourists, fisherman, airlines, bikini makers, and more all depend on a healthy beachfront. Your depletion of this resource here may not harm your core business model, but you may harm all the overlapping businesses. If that happens, then demand will go down for your key product. You may be really good at protecting the environment and your employees without government oversight, so it’s tempting to try and get it removed. However, your competitors may seek short term advantages by being unscrupulous. I know it’s unheard of in the business community but it’s true. So while it’s counter-intuitive to seek increased government regulations, in the long run it’s good for business. You’ll protect the environment and the many overlapping business interests dependent on a healthy ecosystem, and you’ll protect your employees which represent a sizable investment in training, healthcare, and (not to mention) an exploitable consumer.
So in conclusion, I congratulate you on a generation of obscene wealth building. You guys deserve it. However, I caution you all. Your ability to continue this historic run of profits is threatened by the massive social inequality. I know you’d never seek to influence government opinion, but you might, just maybe want to consider seeing how you can help the government pave the way for another 30 years of profits by investing in the poor and middle class. There is almost untapped potential in this high reward low risk investment opportunity.
In the last few days I’ve participated in several threads on social media about the minimum wage and there some misconceptions I wish to address.
There’s a couple of mechanisms to ensure a fair wage that isn’t reliant on government law. For specialists, the demand is typically high enough that they usually have enough power to negotiate on their own behalf to arrive at an equitable wage. Non-specialists though often have trouble if the supply of workers is enough to bring down the costs of labor below the value of the service. In this case workers often band together to form collective bargaining units to redress the shift in negotiating power. If these two avenues beyond simple supply and demand for increasing wages fail, then workers need a third option to help correct distortions in the labor market.
Labor of any kind produces value for the company. The company financially compensates employees or contractors for this increase in value. However, the market can bid the price for your labor below the cost to you as an individual. The power disparity between employee and employer shifts to something coercive and dysfunctional. To put it plainly, employers can steal the value produced by the workers. I say coercive because workers need wages to live regardless of the difference in value between output and compensation. “I agree to have the bulk of my value stolen because the alternative is starving to death on the streets”. Highly paid specialists who have the resources to do so can easily withhold their services until the demand increases to the point where the value of their labor is equal to their compensation, but this can only happen if there is no power disparity between the employer and the employee. The working poor don’t have the leverage to negotiate on that level. In so much as we have laws that prevent a burglar from coming into your home and taking your things, we have laws that prevent employers from taking value from their employees. This is the minimum wage law. It demands a fair trade in labor for financial compensation.
Some things that do NOT matter.
The wealth or profitability of the business.
Opponents of increasing minimum wages often argue that this will drive under-performing companies out of business. Supporters argue that many businesses can afford to pay workers more. Often much more. Both are null points. The only consideration is the value of the labor. If you are paying your workers so little that they must obtain public assistance to survive, it’s not enough. The state is now subsidizing your business. This anti-capitalist and anti-democratic, and economically unhealthy in the long run.
Who is doing the work
What really grinds my gears is when I hear arguments about how the working poor don’t deserve to be compensated for their labor because the labor is not particularly skilled. What the hell guys? It doesn’t matter if it’s a father of 10 or a high school teenager. It doesn’t matter if he’s upwardly mobile or economically stagnant. By the way, these are exactly the people supporting the bulk of the economy through spending. If you want to grow the economy pay the workers enough to be judicious consumers. Admittedly this is a value judgment on my part and it’s not really 100% relevant. What is 100% is that the who the worker is or wants has no bearing on what I should pay him. Think of it another way. If a Doctor wanted to be a ditch digger for a year should I pay him what a doctor makes? Of course not. I pay him for the value of the ditch that he is digging. If it’s someone from the working poor do I pay him less because ditch digging is an entry level position? No, you pay for the ditch. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ditch or hamburgers you pay your labor costs.
Increase in consumer goods
Whether or not an increase in the minimum wage will increase the price of goods is controversial. I could bring out my economics paper that says any increase is trivial and that the increase in wages would spur demand offsetting any increase in costs. You bring out your economics paper that says the cost of everything will skyrocket ultimately bringing down our civilization. Neither is important. If your hamburger goes from 1 dollar to 5 because that reflects a fair wage for workers than it’s time to start paying 5 dollars a hamburger. If no one wants to pay that much for a hamburger then the hamburger store will close. This is fine with me. The free market will determine the success of a businesses, not the state. I remind you that if you can’t pay your workers enough to support themselves then your business is being subsidized by the government. Who’s a fan of corporate subsidies? I am! I am! The alternative is to increase taxes to greatly expand the social safety net. You can see how you can get an nasty cycle of taxes going to support labor costs.
Word of advice.
You want the government out of the lives of businesses, you’ll have to do a couple of things. Roll back restrictions on unions and union busting and support government plans for training and education. This will increase specialists who can negotiate the bids for their labor and help the working class work together for their own interests without government assistance. The other thing you can do is increase spending on infrastructure, research and development, education, and healthcare. All these things support the middle class like nothing else. Finally, if you want increase the middle class and thus the key economic engine in this country, help the poor with everything they need and then some. Get rid of punitive drug laws and instead fund treatment programs, support food, housing, child care, health care (including and especially mental health), education from pre-k through graduate school, transportation, and fair wages. This country is at it’s best when it’s focused on helping others both individually and collectively.
It’s popular to be an “independent voter”. About 40% of the electorate describes themselves as “independent”. You’ll find them into all walks of life and political niches. In every news broadcast, talk show, and political discourse, “independents” seem to be the new key political demographic for politicians. So many people are calling themselves “Independent” that political wonks are considering the death of the two party system. “Independent” is the new political “cool” and I hate you all.
Ok, so I don’t hate all independents, just the 70-80% of independents that are really closet partisans. In many respects, centrist leaning organizations have done a wonderful job of advertising independence in voting. Who doesn’t want to think of themselves as “independent”? It’s a la carte political positions for one and all. Republicans have done a wonderful job with their self-inflicted political sabotage. Republicans are near universally hated on a national level. They’ve utterly failed to do anything of note, and have succeeded in bringing this country to the brink, crossing over that brink, and otherwise grinding to a halt the normal everyday business of government. Not only THAT but they’ve fielded some of the most notoriously bad candidates for political office I could possibly imagine (Mr. Todd “legitimate rape” Akin springs to mind). So it’s no wonder the GOP have lost members to “indepedency”. They’re image is pathetic right now. I wouldn’t want to be associated with them now either.
I know voters who call themselves “Libertarian” and vote for non-libertarians candidates. You are a useless waste of political capital. If you like libertarian ideals, don’t vote GOP and don’t call yourself an independent. The GOP are not libertarians, they will never be libertarians. You are setting your own cause back, because, (if I can speak in the language of Libertarians for a paragraph) you’re only going to advance pro-corporate, pro-statist, non-personal autonomy philosophies and policy. Listen to me Libertarians, you will never move the GOP. At best, they’ll superficially shift their positions a little to better market to you, but it’ll never happen. I’m sorry. You need to vote 3rd party. This is the only way, the ONLY way, you will get a clear message past the mainstream corporate interests and the GOP establishment. It’s also the only way to hold elected officials accountable to your values.
There are other reasons for voting “independent”. Quirks of your state primary laws can make it tricky to be one or another party. You think it’s no one’s business what your party is. You don’t want to get harassed for support every few months by your favorite political party. You like to think of yourself as an independent, even though the odds suggest you really aren’t. Because you don’t agree with everything on what you imagine your party platform to be and don’t want to sound like you do. I suspect that the last one resonates with a lot of people. But here’s the thing, if you have always voted one way, and always will, tell people that’s what you are. And no, “that one time” doesn’t count. Remember all those “Reagan democrats”. Yeah they’re not “independents”. They’re Dems that changed their mind for one election. If you converted from one party to another don’t say you’re “independent”.
So what has any of this to do with my antipathy for “Independent voters”? Because you needlessly confuse the conversation. Who is talking is as important as what is being said. “What does it matter”, you ask. “if I’m one thing or another, does that change the value of my opinion to my elected official?” It shouldn’t but it does. When the national party talks to the electorate and they see the only people crazy enough to still call themselves Republican, you’re going to get crazy policies and candidates because they think that’s what you want. Moderates and centrists need to stand up and yell over the crazies. People need to say, “I’m a Republican and I think you’re NUTS.” “I’m a Republican and your candidates are so crazy I’m going to vote for the other guy”. In a weird way, DEMs have the opposite problem with their independents. Your policies get artificially pushed towards the center. Admittedly that’s where my own comfort level is, so I might have a bias in that direction.
Strictly speaking I shouldn’t really be poking solely at Republicans in this piece but Dems have a different set of issues. But the same issues of message and clarity are still in play for them too. Independents, as they are now, are like a crowded stadium everyone yelling for their favorite policy. What you want is a bunch of smaller conference rooms that voters can tour where you can calmly advocate for your position. “Hello, I’m a ________ and I want ________)” “To thine own self be true” — Shakespeare. It works for politics too.
What is the point of a government? I would say the simplest, easiest answer to the question is, “Governments exist to secure freedoms”. It certainly is a foundational answer in American politics. Typically, (especially since this country is insanely religious) these sorts of questions get caught up with morality. Take a gander at Fox news during a discussion about the minimum wage law. The discussion is almost certainly focused on whether or not the poor deserve better wages. On the left you have do CEOs really deserve their obscene salaries? When it comes to the social safety net there are yet more morality based doubts. Do the poor deserve to live? If you talk to republicans you are left with the impression that the poor do nothing but laze around all day playing computer games and eating “bon bons” (when we heard that from a Republican on TV, my wife suggested we commission a study to determine how many of the poor know what a bon bon actually is). Do immigrants deserve to come to this country? Do the wealthy deserve tax cuts. Does anyone deserve a tax cut?
The hell with morality. It’s a useless metric for determining a course of action, particularly on the government level. Do the working poor deserve a pay raise? I no longer care. As I’ve said before, the point of a minimum wage is not there for the purposes of generosity. It’s because labor increases the value of a company and you need to compensate your laborers for that increase in value regardless of how low you can bid the wages in the open market. In theory, the CEOs get their obscene salaries because this is representative of the increase in value they bring to the company. Obviously the system needs some adjustment. The government spends money based on the needs and wishes of the voters and upon the assumed wishes of non-voters. And the voters in this country very worried about waste in this country. In fact, they see waste as intrinsic to the existence of a government. Don’t worry about it. Waste is a nonsensical construct by which to judge a country. Any waste that a government produces goes straight into the economy. People are getting fantastically wealthy off of government waste, which if Republicans are correct, will trickle down to the rest us far more efficiently than if the government tried any other redistribution on it’s own. In fact, Republicans should be arguing for greater government waste. This is basically the military’s primary contribution to our country. Whatever money the government sends into the economy will eventually come back to the government in the form of taxes and fees. It may take generations, but eventually, it’ll get it back. If you run out of money you can always make more. It’s very easy. I think these days all they have to do is punch in a number and press a button.
This is where we should hear from inflation hawks. ‘You’ll ruin the country through hyperinflation!’ No I won’t. Inflation is a meaningless term and it too is often mistaken for theft. If my wife bakes a pie and cuts into 4 pieces and gives me a slice and tomorrow cuts the pie into 8 pieces and gives me two, has she cheated me? nonsense. The pie has undergone inflation. I’m cheated only if the pie is smaller the next day. The key metric here is “value”. If the government truly wastes money, it will eventually get the money back again. Slowly. And it will create very little value while doing so. If the government spends its money wisely it will create great value quickly. It has nothing to do with morality. As a government, it’s on incredibly shaking ground to help people based on need, or because they deserve it. This kind of moral judgment is inappropriate for a government. Helping the poor creates adds tremendous value precisely because wealth generation, innovation, creativity, jobs, and so on are mainly done in the middle class and you need that social mobility if your country is going to be healthy.
Most people agree that the government should spend more money on infrastructure. Mostly because this is such a ridiculously obvious point that anencephalic troglodytes of any political stripe can see it. Infrastructure creates a tremendous amount of value for the country. Should the government be spending billions of dollars on turning corn into ethanol? no because it returns very little value to the economy. How about tax cuts for major corporations? Same deal. Supply side economics works only if there is an extreme cash shortage. That used to be the case for oil companies, it’s not now. Where does the government get the money for all this spending? From taxes of course. “but… but… that’s my money” some might argue. True but you also get phenomenal value for your tax money in the way of all those roads and schools and stuff we talked about. In return, the increase in value directly increases your freedom and the value of that freedom.
What is the value of a religion? It’s simple. The sole criterion on which a religion can and should be judged is it’s ability to help it’s adherents be better people. And by better I mean people who are more patient, more compassionate, angry about social injustice, more tolerant of others, more generous with our resources, smarter in mind, healthier in body, more emotionally balanced, more spiritually aware. Those are the characteristics that a religion should concern itself with. A religion can do other things too. A religion can be judged by how it treats it’s non-members. How it changes it’s environment, manages its money, what social or political cause it supports, or what freedoms it expands to everyone in the world. A religion that can do all of this is truly worth a jot and tiddle.
Not all religions are perfect. In fact, there is no perfect religion and we must content ourselves with this fact. There are no perfect adherents to a religion such as there are not any perfect people. I do not mind an imperfect religion full of imperfect people. I have given you my criterion for which a religion should be judged. Failing to be perfect was not on that list, nor was perfect members on the list. I do not and can not judge a group of individuals by the actions of a few.
One of the beautiful things about religion in America is that each person is free to practice or not according to the dictates of one’s reason and conscience. Do not misunderstand me. There are things about religious beliefs I find incredibly silly. These are my opinions and boy are there some doozies out there. However, in the interest of politeness I generally don’t go around insulting everyone around me. And, in the interest of politeness and neighborly affection, people don’t go around insulting me. Usually.
Recently I came across a religion unfamiliar to me. I’d heard the name here and there, but have never given it serious attention. When it came up in the news recently I went to their website to see what their tenants were. This is what I found.
There are seven fundamental tenets.
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forego your own.
- Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
- People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
What did those in the News Media suggest for people who adhere to these tenets? That they should be brought to the moment they wish to create alongside a christian monument on government land and executed by the state. This was Fox News Business, mensa group. I’ll provide a link below if you wish to watch the video. After all I could be mischaracterizing the Fox Panelist’s argument. They seem to be suggesting that Satanists, to whom these tenets belong, are inherently evil for being “anti-christian”. Which is, I’m sure, how most christians feel about Satanists. Far be it from me to suggest that those in the News might want to devote some effort into looking at the complex issues surrounding this particular religion, it’s history, it’s impact on society, how it’s members think and feel. Nor would I wish to suggest that by saying on national TV that these people should be executed might be contrary to one’s business and legal interests. I would not want to point out that shallow trivial caricaturization of religion might not live up to the hopes of something called a “mensa meeting”.
I don’t care what you believe about Satanism. It is not relevant. We have freedom of religion in this country. Any religion. We do not go around shooting people we disagree with. We don’t even suggest it. In fact this is one of those vanishingly rare limits we have on the freedom of speech. If some disturbed person shoots a Satanist you can bet Fox news will have a wrongful death suit on it’s hands which it will lose. Heck, Satanists might sue anyway. We don’t have “equality” for only Christians here. You want to put up your religious symbol then you can damn well let others do the same. And if you don’t like that religion, you can take solace from the fact that in this country a minority religion could never rise to power and have YOU lined up and shot. Fox news is sick, their panelist was sick. I have no words for how vile and offensive what they said was.