Yeah…A Trump Post

A lot of People are talking about Michelle Field, but I’d like to take a quick analysis at one of the other discussions brought up last night in the Anderson Cooper. When asked about the top three functions of the government, Trump was quick to score rhetoric points by saying national security fills all three. But  he also listed Healthcare, Education (and neighborhoods) as among the top tier of government functions.Here’s my take on the problem with this:

1. That is the opposite of conservative. Donald Trump’s answer suggested that the government exists foremost to provide security, healthcare, education, and neighborhoods. Yes Donald Trump’s immediate list is only slightly less socialist than Bernie Sanders. Let’s just begin with the fact that these three things are not designated explicitly anywhere in the constitution.

Further there other sources of social support that are far more important such as infrastructure. But more importantly, this shines a light directly on Trump’s absolute lack of touch with important purposes of government like: Protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Beyond his one-trick “security” show, Trump’s list immediately falls into a list of government spending on social welfare programs. Sure, we can argue that Trump tried to clarify that the federal government shouldn’t be paying for these thing (then why did he list them as top functions?), but that’s mostly just a matter of execution. The fact is, his immediate reaction to a question about the function of government is one of welfare programs, not one of protection of right, law and justice, infrastructure or even economics. There is nothing conservative about Donald Trump’s political worldview.

Maybe you’re not a conservative and don’t care whether Trump is. I still think it matters that Trump proclaims he is, and it matters that the people who follow him claim to be. But let’s look past that. This was still an unforgivably stupid answer. Read the rest of this entry »


Privatization in Hypothica: How far? What limits?

Reader, Duncan White writes:

In many countries in the last 30 years, successive governments have developeda love of taking Publicly owned (and taxpayer funded) public services and privatising them. A variety of different models of privatisation have been tried. Looking back at it with some experience, we can say that privatisation has had some advantages, and some disadvantages, it’s been controversial at times, and on occasion choosing the wrong model of privatisation can cause tremendous problems. But it must be admitted that it has often served as a way of reducing the burden on taxpayers – which is electorally popular.

Suppose we can start afresh – in Hypothica, naturally.

Let’s assume that Hypothica currently is in a pre-privatisation state, and has a variety of directly run, taxpayer funded, public services police, fire, ambulance, health service, army, schools, government departments, local government, welfare IT systems, railway, energy companies, even funding for roads and motorways etc. But the costs seem to be growing over time, and the taxpaying voters are revolting [joke:-)].

A particularly rapidly rising – and unsustainable – feature in public services is the cost of providing the relatively generous salary-based pension schemes as Hypothicans live to older and older ages. These schemes were designed assuming that a pensioner would claim for an average of 5 years before dying, but now in reality the average Hypothican pensioner lives for 20 years, with predictions of that to rise to 25 years soon.

So: what services should Hypothica privatise, and why (and how)? What services should remain in public hands, and why? What protections should longstanding workers in public services retain even if they are forcibly transferred to private providers of public services? Are privately run companies really, in general, more efficient than state-run companies at providing the same services? especially when the service in question is a natural monopoly, and no obvious competition is possible.


Did I break Hypothica?

There haven’t been any new posts for the past couple of days so looks like I should repeat that other Hypothica authors are welcome to interrupt the minimum wage series.  Besides, theres a good chance I wont be posting another one of those.


Minimum Wage (part 4)

In the last part of this series I blogged about what goes into the creation of a toxic leader of the Fight for Fifteen movement but said nothing about the rank and file.  Whats going on in the head of the people who follow those toxic leaders?  Why do they do it?

Businessmen like to say its nothing more or less than them trying to vote themselves more money, but there has to be more to it than that.  Why now?  Why didnt people in the 90s or the 2000s want to vote themsleves a raise?  Whats changed?

My answer:  hopelessness.

Another thing businessmen like to say is that minimum wage jobs arent for people trying to make a living.  They’re for people just starting out or who are trying to get back on their feet.  There is still some truth to that, but not enough.  All the avenues to moving up to a decent living are closing.  A corporate job?  Getting harder and harder to get.  A government job?  Not secure in these days of cutbacks and no tax hikes.  College?  Odds are you graduate with no guarantee of a decent job and a $50,000 debt that you cant get rid of even if you’re broke.  What young person wants to take a chance like that with their future?  Entrepreneur?  Another lesson Shark Tank is teaching everyone is the odds there are even worse than with college.

Millions of young people can still make it, of course, but the ones without the connections or the access to credit or the luck are more and more finding themselves in a dead end.
So how do they improve their situation?

Answer:  protest.  Make them pass a law that gives them a raise.

Im sure if they saw a reasonable alternative they would take that instead.


Immigration Assimilation

In the imaginary nation of Hypothica…

As an economically healthy and politically stable country, Hypothica has been the destination of increasing number of immigrants over the past few decades. Hypothica’s very open immigration policy combined with growing instability in surrounding areas has caused a dramatic rise the last year or two.

Most immigrants are very poor and under-educated. Very few bring “high skills”. They come from a distinct culture, with great cultural pride and many do not know the Hypothican language. Most migrants are hard-working people looking to provide for their families, but as with any pockets of poverty, there is an increased incidence of crime in communities with a high concentration of immigrants.

Immigration is not new to Hypothica, and in the past second and third generation immigrants have naturally assimilated into the country and moved up the socio-economic ladder. But the current rate is unprecedented and Hypothicans have started to worry about the effects of the immigration flow. The increasing number of poor communities and neighborhoods with immigrants that don’t speak the language and don’t share the culture have people speaking out about the need for “assimilation”.

What should Hypothica do? Let’s assume all immigrants are here legally, but are not necessarily citizens. Can and should Hypothica create compulsory “assimilation” policies?

Finally, what is the significance of religion? Does immigration work better when the distinct cultures share religious roots, values, histories, and philosophers? Does this make a big difference in the long term?


Minimum Wage (part 3)

When folks talk about minimum wage increases one of the things that gets talked about is its effect on small business.  Folks complain that minimum wages unfairly punish small businesses.  But there are two responses to that.  One is that minimum wages, the localised version at least, are telling you you should move to a more affordable area (see part 2).  Another is that the situation is partly their own fault.
I like to watch a show called Dragons Den.  More commonly I watch its American clone, Shark Tank.  These are reality shows where people pitch business investment ideas to successful businesspeople.  There are many lessons on these shows, among them:
A) One of the things you need to become an entrepreneur is five, maybe six figures that you can invest in it
B) You also need the ability and willingness to put in a lot of hours into your business for the first few years with little or no payback
C) Being a worker is not for everyone
I learned lesson C as part of a bit where we get to know one of the ‘sharks’, Kevin O’Leary, and he reveals that he tried being a worker once and found out that it wasnt for him so he borrowed a five figure sum from his mother and lived in her basement so he could try and strike it rich.
But what would have happened to him if he hadnt had a mother who could or would do that?
My guess:  after thirty bitter years of being in jobs that he hated he would have taken his leadership talents (Im guessing he has some, otherwise he wouldnt have been successful) and used them to make business owners miserable.  By organizing protests for minimum wage hikes, protests to tax businesses to get more stuff for poor people, etc.
Every so often I hear about some new regulation thats supported by business to make it harder for new entrants into their field.  Or how they prevent some new program of change intended to make it easier to set up new businesses.  No doubt they think they’re smart to protect their businesses, but its really short sighted of them.  Its forcing the Kevin O’Learys of the world to work for them (where their toxic attitude will harm the business) and then into the only leadership roles available to them:  protests.  And no, I dont think middle management in a big company will do for these people.  I think these people need to be independent bosses.  I think they need to be kings of their own little kingdoms and if they cant do that by being business owners they will do it by making life miserable for the business owners who they see, with some justification, as standing in their way.
Small business owners sometimes complain that the real motivation behind minimum wage and other laws is to punish them.  I think they have a point.

(EDIT:  There may or may not be a part four.  In any case I wont be posting tomorrow.  Time someone else had a turn.)


Minimum Wage (part 2)

Recently, here in the US, weve had a movement spring up to try and raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.  In places here and there they are succeeding by getting some form of local minimum wage increase.  This is one of those rare instances where I am in agreement with what a political group is actually accomplishing, if not their ultimate goal.  I dont expect it to last.  I expect that, sooner or later, this movement will ask for too much or that someday even $15/hour wont be enough or something.  But for right now it is a good thing that they are raising the minimum wage in certain places.
Put yourself in the position of a business with the choice of opening up shop in San Francisco or someplace cheaper eighty miles from San Francisco.  The best long-term benefit for California workers is for you to open shop outside of SF, but thats not really your problem.  The cost of labor is the same to you, and the extra cost in your rent is made up for in the extra business you do in SF.
Now along comes the SF city council, telling you the cost of your lowest paid workers just doubled.  The cost of your other workers will probably also go up (your office workers wont want to make the same as your janitors).  Now the choise to locate in SF just became harder.
Business freindly types may be angry at the SF city council for doing this, but look at it this way:  the whole world cant move to SF.  Right now its too much work for businesses or workers to consider cost of living when thinking about moving to SF.  But having localised minimum wages for expensive areas makes that calculation easy.  And if it causes businesses to move out of SF, then thats a good thing!
There are only two problems with this happy state of affairs.  One:  its not automatic.  Once upon a time $7.25 an hour was quite enough.  Today it isnt.  Someday $15/hour wont be enough either.  Two:  its not everywhere.  The way things stand now each city council has to vote for that minimum wage increase.  If some of them fail to do so even when they should then the system falls apart.
But things seem to be moving in the right direction for now.


Minimum Wage (part 1)

On the surface this may seem to be another US-centric post, but unless Im far wrong this same problem exists to a lesser degree in Europe and to a greater degree in some other places.
Lately in all the talk of increasing the minimum wage a certain principle keeps getting waved about.  I forget the term for it, but the basic idea is:  a business wont hire a worker if they have to pay more than hes worth, so the more expensive we make workers the less they will get hired.  Its a good principle.  But, like all good principles, one should be careful not to take it too far.  And one should look at how well it does in the real world.
Looking at the real world one sees a curious pattern;  in the old days, when workers had bigger paychecks and the minimum wage was higher (relative to the economy and taking inflation into account) the unemployment rate was about the same as now.
No doubt a number of thoughts occur to you about that but the one that concerns me here is: were not paying workers what they’re worth anymore.  Workers arent worth less today than they were then, were just paying them less because we have to.
To understand what I mean by that consider the following example:  you are a member of the board of Coca-Cola.  You are looking for a new CEO.  You have an ideal candidate in mind.  Trouble is, that ideal candidate has an offer from Pepsi for $1 billion.  You can beat that offer, but you have to deny your workers a raise to do it.  You dont want to do that, but if you dont the candidate goes to work for Pepsi and Pepsi starts kicking your ass.
That sort of thing happens all the time with companies these days.
So what can workers do to get ahead EXCEPT force companies to give them a raise?
After all, in the above example, if Coca Cola is FORCED to give their workers a raise, thats OK because Pepsi is forced to do the same and that $1 billion CEO becomes less expensive (noone can afford $1 billion for him anymore).
Some of you will reply ‘thats all very well for the big companies but small businesses who cant afford that minimum wage will be screwed here’.  For now lets confine the discussioin to big companies.  I will blog about the matter as it applies to small businesses later.

(PS:  To the other authors out there:  don’t be afraid to ‘interrupt’ this series)


Education Reform

Hypothicans are concerned that their children will not be equipped to participate in the economy of the future. Many ideas are discussed in Hypothica, and many are at odds.

Below is a breakdown of a typical hypothican education, which lasts 12 years. There is some variation between schools and some student/parent choice in curriculum. Years represent 1 hour per day for a year.

20 years of language skills (reading, writing, literature, poetry)
8 years of history & culture
4 years of art & design
4 years of music & performance
8 years of math & abstract logic
6 years of natural science (chemistry, physics, biology, environments)
2 years of applied sciences (materials, engineering, medicine)
2 years of social studies (sociology, psychology, government)
2 years of trade studies (carpentries, electricity, auto shop)
1 years of personal skills (7 habits, home ec, personal finance)
1 years of business skills (sales, accounting, logistics, hr)
8 years of physical education & health

One prevailing idea is that Hypothica’s existing education is good, but the world is more complicated, and therefore students need more time in classes. The existing school day is 6 hours long, and a school year is 180 days. Some hypothicans are calling for 8 hours of school per day, and eliminating breaks in the school year. As an added bonus, this will coincide better with parent schedules.

Another prevailing idea is that practical skills are not emphasized enough, and trade skills, business skills, and personal skills should be emphasized to fast-track the more accessible careers and emphasize student’s role in society and the economy. These people like the 6 hour day, but want more abstract and recreational topics — language, art, music, science, and math — scaled down so that job skills receive more time.

Although 25% of Hypothicans go to college, another prevailing idea is that all Hypothicans should expect to attend post-secondary instruction, and that mandatory education should focus on preparing students for college. These people want education to be more abstract and creative, with the expectation that more people will be prepared for higher education.

Another idea is that too many people are worried about jobs, and that school should emphasize culture, history, civics, and ethics. They worry that teaching students to worry about jobs has made them too competitive, and they are becoming bad citizens. They believe that more civic-minded people will make a better kind of economy, although jobs and the economy shouldn’t even be the primary concern.

Another idea is that the biggest threat is that students might disengage from school as there is more and more to learn. They want to emphasize subjects like art, music, and sports to keep kids engaged. They also think kids should start specializing in career subjects at a younger age, with less general education as the core curriculum has become increasingly unwieldly and doesn’t provide universal benefit.

As a hypothican, do you take one of these positions, or do you have other thoughts?


Lesser of Two Evils Part 2

Monday’s post was to begin the conversation with a look at voting (or acting) based on the most ideal outcomes vs. holding to certain principles. Today we’ll look at whether Lesser of Two Evil (LoTE) voting really does produce the best outcomes.

Obviously no candidate is exactly what you think, but I think that misses the point of the discussion. LoTE voting is ultimately about saying, “I have serious problems with X, but Y is worse, so I’m voting X” rather than saying. “I like X and generally believe in a lot of their policies.”

Rather than any specific thought experiment, I’ll give my ideas and let you guys rebut.

— The Pragmatism —

I think too many people see political parties as football teams. Both teams have the exact same goals, but they just want to be the ones doing it. But in politics, you are really aligning with “goals” or positions and support your party as the most likely vehicle to achieve them. The TLDR of what follows is simply that when you vote for a candidate that doesn’t support your goals, you are sending a message that says they can win your vote without addressing your goals.

While the “worse evil” in the other party may be more efficacious in furthering goals you don’t want, the lesser evil in your own party makes the likelihood of your own goals more remote. By voting against your own priorities, you are undermining their demand and crippling their value. And doing so in the party more likely to sympathize with them, you exacerbate this dilemma.

pic1

When you cast your vote for the nominee, you are signaling that he gains your vote from where he stands, giving him or future candidates no reason to move toward your true position. There must be more ungained votes on your side than would be lost votes on the other side to make a move in your direction worthwhile. And there are less potential votes, the further away from the middle you move.

If you are on the right and people to the right of you are still voting for the guy, then it may even make sense to move further away from you. The lost votes on the end are mitigated by the new gained votes on the left. It only makes sense to stretch the band as far as possible and LoTE makes it a very stretchy band. Convincing people further than you to vote LoTE actually hurts the chances of the party ever moving in your direction.

However, if you didn’t vote for them and others did likewise, there would eventually be a pile of unclaimed votes large enough to push the candidate in your direction in an effort to gain them.

Read the rest of this entry »