Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Donald Trump Is What’s Wrong With America

July 13th, 2015

trumpIn fairness, headlines like the one above are also what’s wrong with America. It would be far more accurate to say that Trump’s popularity as a Presidential candidate is indicative of a larger scale cultural failing in the US. But that’s not a pithy click-baitable headline. It needs to be simplified.

Trump’s core resonance with people is that he has a simple solution for everything and projects the confidence that he can get it done. China? Beat ’em. ISIS? Crush ’em. Immigration? Build a wall. Jobs? Take ’em back from overseas. Infrastructure? Build and rebuild.

It couldn’t be more simple, and we Americans do love it simple, which is really the core point. As a society, we don’t acknowledge that the world is a terribly complicated place, and that big hairy problems don’t usually have neat and tidy solutions. The entertainment industry has taught us that all manner of crime, political crisis, or family shenanigans can be resolved in 47 minutes. Large intractable problems like epic natural disasters and alien invasions may take upwards of 2 hours to get sorted. But that’s the top end. If your predicament requires more time that that, then you’re just milking the press opportunity.

Trump is the political equivalent of your 5-year old’s exasperated reaction to why you’re not buying them an iPad.  “What do you mean we can’t afford it? Just stop at the ATM and get more money from the machine!” It’s all pretty simple when you don’t comprehend the details. Only in this scenario, voters are Trump’s Kindergarten classmates who want to make him king of the universe because he’s promising that everybody gets a new tablet… blissfully unaware that ATMs don’t print currency or why it would be a bad idea if they did.

Left vs. Right – A Clash of Worldviews

December 18th, 2014

left-vs-right-politicsThis editorial piece by author William Voegeli in The Daily Signal is somewhat ineptly titled, “MSNBC Shrill Is No Accident. It’s How Liberals Really Think.” It’s intended as a take-down of liberals and liberalism as a danger to America. In that regard, it’s kind of standard political blather.

However, in the last two paragraphs (feel free to skip straight there), Voegeli offers up some interesting contrasting perspectives on liberals vs. conservatives that at least to my mind don’t shine as favorably on conservatives as I think he intended. To wit:

Liberalism exists to solve problems, and liberals regard every source of dissatisfaction or discord as a problem, not an aspect of the human condition that we must always contend with but can never sanely hope to eradicate.

It seems what he’s saying here is that conservatives have bonded with the reality that human misery, misfortune, and suffering are just things we have to live with, and since we can never hope to eliminate them, it’s insane to try.  He goes on to say:

…the conservative belief that constraining human wickedness through stern disincentives is plausible, but solving it therapeutically through social work is deluded […] Liberal disdain for the wary view of human nature, which is conservatism’s foundation, turns out to be of one piece with the “idealism” and “compassion” that culminates in governmental malpractice […]

This would seem to say that conservatism is all about sticks, while liberalism is all about carrots.

This reads to me like an assertion that conservative ideology stems from a recognition that, at their core, people are mean-spirited self-indulgent asshats. Conservatism is all about tamping down, containing, and punishing those inherent aspects of this “wary” human nature. Meanwhile, liberals are just nice people who want the world to be a nicer place, and liberalism proceeds from an assumption that people are worth investing in.

Given the intent of the article, it’s understandable that Voegeli would create a caricature of the left as close-minded, silly, and naive. But for the same reason, we assume he’s trying to paint the right in the best possible light, which is more than a little disconcerting. He’s painted the right as believing that giving hungry people food is misguided and destructive. The proper course is a zero-tolerance policy on bread theft so the miscreants are motivated to teach themselves to read and then go get a job before they starve to death.

It’s hard to read this article and imagine coming away as proud to be a conservative. But apparently that’s not a problem everyone in my social media circle is experiencing.

You are not safe…

September 22nd, 2014


9/11 – A day to remember…

September 11th, 2014


Minimum Wage, Maher, and Math

February 27th, 2014

CORRECTION: The original article contained an assumption of 25m people currently at minimum wage. That number is incorrect in that it actually represents the number of workers below $11.50/hr that would be impacted by a new $10.10 minimum wage. This did, in fact make the math wrong. The article below has been changed to include more accurate numbers.

Maher-MinWageThe ongoing political battle over minimum wage too often seems to lose site of the larger goal each side is trying to achieve. And further, I’m increasingly understanding that the stated goals are not too far apart. This leads me to believe that someone has an actual goal different from their professed goal, or that my math is just way the hell off.

As Bill Maher alludes to in the depicted quote, the right is frequently on record as having a desire to reduce or eliminate safety net programs. This is also a goal of the left. The difference being that the right seems to want to eliminate the net on the premise the need will then go away, whereas the left wants to eliminate the need for the net so it can die of natural causes.

Let me start by asserting something I hope everyone can agree on. As a society, we will not simply remove the safety net and let any significant portion of the population wallow in abject poverty. While some may see this as an obvious humanitarian position, even the most pure-blood capitalist has to recognize that, historically, having a large, persistent, impoverished, and increasingly desperate economic underclass never ends very well for those who control the wealth and resources. To that end, there is an inherent balance between the government subsidizing low-skill workers through safety net programs and having private industry pay full freight for the labor they are using. Someone is going to pay for these folks.

My second assertion is that there is no ideological reason to keep the minimum wage at the current $7.25 rate. If you accept minimum wage as adding value to the economy and to society, then it should represent a living wage that would allow a worker to live without government supplements. If you fall on the side of free market capitalism, then there should be no minimum wage and the market should set the rate at whatever it will bear.

Third, let’s assume that the current minimum wage, in addition to current safety net supplements, are minimal but sufficient compensation for low-skill workers. Finally, let’s assume the CBO report (PDF) on the impact of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 is a reasonable predictor of the outcome.

Given these constraints, the cases to consider are an increased minimum wage at which workers’ dependence on the safety net would be lessened or eliminated, verses a natural wage floor that if lower than the current minimum wage would require an increase in safety net benefits just to keep workers even with where they are today.

Now for the math: the CBO says there are 17m low wage workers (currently making below $10.10/hr), and as a result of raising the minimum to $10.10/hr, 500k (3%) would lose their jobs and the remainder would get a raise. As seen in the worksheet below, assuming the lost jobs are all at the current minimum wage end, the newly unemployed represent a $7.25b loss of wages.

In the other case, I think we can agree that given the current unemployment rate for low-skill workers that there is an excess of supply. This means the $7.25 minimum wage is holding the wage floor artificially high. Market forces should seek a lower wage, and I think we can say with confidence that absent a minimum wage law, the wages of the majority of low-skill workers would fall.  For the model below, I somewhat generously assumed that 20% of workers currently at the minimum wage would retain that wage because their value to their employers warranted it. I also assumed that the actual wage for the remaining 80% would fall by only $0.30/hr, which is almost certainly a low number. Still, the resultant wage losses for the group amount to $7.92b.

In addition, the CBO estimates that 8m workers who are currently above the $10.10/hr rate would see a net positive gain from the ripple effect of a higher minimum wage. While not stated, presumably this group would be negatively effected by the ripple of the wage floor falling. (None of the 8m were included in this corrected analysis.)


In either case, we’ve assumed the government is on the hook to provide some form of substitute compensation to make up the loss for the effected workers. Clearly, it’s cheaper for the government to wholly pay for the unemployed 3% than to offset the loss of the 97%.

Further, the minimum wage increase should lessen the dependence on the safety net for the workers who get raises. Assuming workers only reduce their dependence by $600/yr, the result is a $7.92b savings that more than offsets the payments to the 3%. Given that Food Stamp benefits alone are about $1600/yr/person and EITC ranges from $500 to over $6k, recovering $600/employee seems pretty conservative. This is backed up by the CBO report that concludes for the raised minimum wage case that the impact on the federal budget would be a wash.

There is no obvious offsetting revenue stream for letting the market set the wage floor unless we assume a rise in corporate profits and increased revenue from corporate taxes. If this new tax revenue offsets the incremental safety net cost, then why not have the companies pay the money directly to their workers through wages rather than paying it in taxes and having the government redistribute it to those same workers?

All bleeding heart issues aside, I can’t see how raising the minimum wage is not a net economic benefit to society as a whole. Certainly it’s not a disaster as federal minimum wages have been around since 1938—a period during which the USA rose to be the preeminent economic power in the world. This does not prove causation, but does prove that prosperity is very possible with a minimum wage in place.

Further, economically speaking, having the government set a minimum wage is not different than a union or other collective bargaining organization setting a wage-price above what the natural unregulated non-unionized worker price would be.

It seems that advocating for the alternative to a living minimum wage necessarily admits some hidden ideological agenda. Perhaps the motivation is really to benefit individual companies rather than society. Perhaps the assumption that we wouldn’t financially marginalize chunks of our population is not valid. But it’s unclear how it can be rationalized to be about macroeconomic benefit to the country. Or maybe my math really (still?) is whacked. I’m happy to have the error in my ways pointed out, because I’m clearly missing something here.