Daily Clips: November 30, 2016

Across numerous countries, including Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations.

I just don’t get Pelosi’s appeal. Surely, now was the time to shake up the leadership of the Democratic Party?

Mnuchin says his “No 1 priority is tax reform”. The corporate tax rate will be reduced from 35% to 15%.

Senator Mark Warner channels Nick Hanauer and David Rolf’s “Shared Security System“.

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Daily Clips: November 29, 2016

Tina Podlodowski (a friend of Skunk Works) has said that she is “seriously considering” running for the Democratic state party chair position.

Justin Miller over at American Prospect has a terrific piece on trickle-downer, Andy Puzder. The CEO is a vocal critic of any increase to the minimum wage.

It’s almost like if you give someone the permission to kill another, they will.

Corporate profits also continued to rebound in the 3Q.

The development of finance reveals the progressive displacement of market coordination by planning. Capitalism means production for profit; but in concrete reality profit criteria are always subordinate to financial criteria. The judgment of the market has force only insofar as it is executed by finance. The world is full of businesses whose revenues exceed their costs, but are forced to scale back or shut down because of the financial claims against them. The world is also full of businesses that operate for years, or indefinitely, with costs in excess of their revenues, thanks to their access to finance. And the institutions that make these financing decisions do so based on their own subjective judgment, constrained ultimately not by some objective criteria of value, but by the terms set by the central bank.


Why Do Kids Practice Sports And Not Politics?

Enjoy the CTE, son!

Humans often fail to understand that what we consider as “normal” is highly subjective. Our minds are crippled by the chains of circumstance and these bonds constrain us from analyzing the consequential assumptions we all make about our lives.

Immanuel Kant once wrote:

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another.

He was warning us that to live better we must not fall prey to assumptions made by others.

So in honor of independent thinking, here’s a dearly held reality that I believe has handicapped America’s potential: we do not come close to preparing our citizens to be active participants in democracy. Said in another way, Americans live in a politically empty society.

Just look at how we (subjectively) educate our youngest citizens. American parents prioritize practicing sports over practicing politics in a way that is peculiar. “Sports are embedded in American schools in a way they are not almost anywhere else.” That quote is from an excellent piece by Amanda Ripley titled, “The Case Against High-School Sports.” She found:

When I surveyed about 200 former exchange students last year, in cooperation with an international exchange organization called AFS, nine out of 10 foreign students who had lived in the U.S. said that kids here cared more about sports than their peers back home did. A majority of Americans who’d studied abroad agreed.

Face it: we live in a society where it is normal (even laudable) to train a child for basketball five times a week and abnormal (even puzzling) to train a child to be an active political citizen. This seems like an odd calculation to make. Culturally absurd, even.

After all, the odds your kid turns out to be a professional athlete are very bloody low. But the odds your kid becomes a citizen that has to vote on complex issues? Very bloody high.*

So why are we emphasizing one and not the other?

The US Department of Education released a booklet in 1993 called, “Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen and in it, they made the following observation:

Just as children must be taught to tie their shoes, read and write, solve math problems, and understand science concepts and events in history, so must they be guided in developing the qualities of character that are valued by their families and by the communities in which they live.

We are not teaching our citizenry how to participate in a democracy. Imagine, if you will, if Americans “transferred our obsessive intensity about high-school sports” to educating teenagers about politics. I dare say that our nation would not have voted for Donald Trump, an assumption that seems to be backed up by data.

Noam Chomsky has noted, quite astutely, the effect of our nation’s obsession with sports instead of politics:

When I’m driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I’m listening to is a discussion of sports…People call in and have long and intricate discussions and it’s plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount…On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it’s at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.

Before you dismiss Chomsky as an elitist prick, read further (emphasis mine):

In part, this reaction may be due to my own areas of interest, but I think it’s quite accurate basically. And I think that this concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that’s far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that’s in fact what they do.

Americans’ lack of practice towards living the political life has consequences. Due to the democratization of our primary elections (they were once controlled by “insider-dominated processes“), we now have a system that is driven by voter participation. Which is good.

But this also means that “primary races now tend to be dominated by highly motivated extremists and interest groups, with the perverse result of leaving moderates and broader, less well-organized constituencies underrepresented.” Pew Research shows that 17 percent of eligible voters participated in the Republican primaries and 12 percent in the Democratic primaries. That is stunning. And that lack of involvement has to be systemic. It has to be “learned”.

Pericles, the father of Athenian Democracy, had a lovely quip on this topic that has aged pretty well and applies here: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

Americans assume otherwise. And it’s because we are immersed in a society where it is normal to dismiss politics as a peripheral concern. If we are to recover any respect for truth and political engagement, we must recognize that America is not properly prioritizing politics in a variety of forms. The good news is, we have the power to change that.

*Before you retort, “Well the point of sports isn’t to be a professional athlete, it’s to stay fit, make friends, and learn leadership skills” — I agree. Could that not be achieved though in a more balanced approach, however?

Fidel Castro, the Minimum Wage, and Other Things That Aren’t Remotely Connected

Beware Cuban-themed clickbait.

Beware Cuban-themed clickbait.

Question: what does Fidel Castro’s death have to do with the minimum wage?

Well, if you’re a normal human being, the correct answer is “nothing.”

But if you’re an economist named Bryan Caplan, the correct answer…well, it’s still “nothing.” But Bryan Caplan will apparently stop at nothing to advance his anti-minimum-wage agenda. As proof, here’s a post he published today on EconLog. It’s titled “How Castro is Like the Minimum Wage,” which is maybe the clickbaitiest headline I’ve ever clicked on.

So how is Fidel Castro like the minimum wage? Caplan says it’s because Castro was “mild” so far as dictators go but it was morally correct for America to fight him as “a symbol of larger evils.” The same is true of the minimum wage, apparently: Caplan says the minimum wage is “something we must stubbornly decry even though there are far greater ills in the world.” Then he quotes from his own blog post from waaaaaaaay back in 2013:

The minimum wage is far from the most harmful regulation on the books.  Why then do I make such a big deal about it?  Because it is a symbol of larger evils.

From the standpoint of public policy, the minimum wage is a symbol of the view that “feel-good” policies are viable solutions to social ills: “Workers aren’t paid enough?  Pass a law so employers have to pay them more.  Problem solved.”…

We need to get rid of the minimum wage.  But that’s only a first step.  Our ultimate goal should be to get rid of the errors that the minimum wage has come to represent.

Ugh. Caplan’s views apparently hadn’t changed at all in the almost four years since first publishing that post, and that’s more than a little weird, considering how much new evidence we’ve seen in the intervening years.

Caplan constructs a hell of a straw man in that passage, and that straw man doesn’t at all represent the reality behind raising the wage. Seattle didn’t go to $15, and Washington state didn’t go to $13.50, because it felt good. We raised the wage because we understand that when more people have more money, we all do better. The minimum wage empowers workers as consumers, and the money they spend circulates throughout the local economy. It’s not about charity, it’s about increasing the customer base and promoting growth for everyone.

When businesses keep their minimum wages artificially low, their employees are basically frozen outside the economy—all they can afford is housing and transportation, if they’re lucky. They’re not able to spend money on goods and services. This is how we wound up with an economy in which low-wage employers are subsidized by government safety-net programs. Funny, isn’t it, that Caplan seems to be rejecting Castro by endorsing an economic system where the government provides food, clothing and shelter to workers?

And further, Caplan admits that the minimum wage is, in his view, a minor issue. A growing body of evidence seems to indicate that raising the minimum wage does not harm an economy—in fact, quite the opposite. High-wage cities and states are thriving while low-wage states like Kansas and Louisiana are suffering. So if Caplan admits that he doesn’t care about the minimum wage that much, why wouldn’t he support a system through which more people broadly do better? To make a point? It’s just like an economist to forget that the numbers they’re arguing over actually describe reality for human beings, but it takes a special kind of human to use a non-related news item to refresh an ancient blog post on a pet issue. Congratulations, Bryan Caplan! You’ve maybe written the dumbest Castro think-piece of the week, which is no mean feat.


Daily Clips: November 28, 2016

Spoiler: the list of ways to “check” Trump is depressingly tiny.

Bereft of well-supported public outlets, the US media landscape stands out among liberal democracies for its acute commercialization.

A laundry list of policy ideas to stimulate the US economy.

They feel they’ve achieved a mandate. And in a sense, they have. Dark times in America continue.

  • Happy Birthday Friedrich Engels, born on this day in 1820.

The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in our brains, not in our better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.


Daily Clips: November 22, 2016

A fascinating read on secularism and those who have fought for Thanksgiving to be detached from religious overtones.

I would have never guessed four years ago that trade would become a defining issue of 2016. To his credit, Trump looks to be following through on his campaign promise here. Though, what choice did he really have?

A scary future is on the horizon.

Katrina vanden Heuvel claims, “the rebuilding needs to happen from the bottom up, at the state and local level, not in Washington.”

Daily Clips: November 21, 2016

Having a race-baiting president will not — I repeat, will not — transform into any opportunities for hard-working whites in America, just like the Obama candidacy didn’t deliver any black person from the issues that African-Americans have been facing since long before I was born.

Sure, under President Trump you may have to travel across state borders to get an abortion, but at least now you won’t simmer in Hell for the rest of eternity for doing so. Progress march on!

H-1B visas admit 65,000 foreign workers and another 20,000 graduate student workers every year. The visas are assigned through a lottery, as they are extremely in-demand. Just last year companies filed 236,000 petitions for the 85,000 available visas.

The big problem facing workers, in the US and elsewhere, isn’t competition from immigrants, or from imported goods. It’s the fact that capital is freely mobile and unfettered by any social obligation. So, a profitable plant can be closed down if its owners get a better off elsewhere. Alternatively, the threat of a move can be used to bargain down wages.

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Daily Clips: November 18, 2016

A piece highlighted to our team by our prez, Zach Silk— I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a fantastic dissection into the global nature of Brexit, Trump, and France’s National Front. Mark Blyth’s greatest insight comes however in how he finds common traits between the left and right wing versions of “this phenomenon.”

To the author, they all share these common denominators. These parties are: pro welfare, pro state, and anti-finance

He continues:

These parties of course have very different policy stances. The new right favors nationals over immigrants and has, at best, a rather casual relationship with the liberal understanding of human rights. The new left, in contrast, favors redistribution from top to bottom and inclusive rather than exclusionary growth policies.

No, next question.

  •  Jon Stewart on Donald Trump

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