unastronaut*

Feet on the ground – head in the clouds.

Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Radical change we could agree on?

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Income Tax is the most ridiculously counter-productive tax we could possibly impose in terms of productivity. We want Americans to be productive. We want them to earn, to create things that others may buy, to create jobs. We do not want them to limit productivity in order to maintain a balance. Americans aren’t about wading in the middle, it’s our tax system that creates people like a friend of mine who always worked 36.5 hours, the minimum average to keep his full-time status, but where he figured that the rest of his check would all go to taxes. He was an accounting major, so I’m sure his math wouldn’t have been too far off, and he always seemed to have more take-home pay and get more back on his returns every year.

A consumption tax would serve the public good, be a better model for a more-free market, and most of all put the balance of incentives back in order. We want people to earn, to save and contribute to the circular flow of money within their communities. We don’t want anyone to shy away from work. If I work my ass off and save enough to buy a house with cash, that’s good for a lot of people. Sure, I may cut out some bank middle-mannery but who wants to argue they deserve to finance those who are inherently more responsible than their own management? If I’m keeping all of my money, I can afford to account for the taxes to buy a nice place in America, where many people enjoy resort-style amenities just for existing in a nice community. If I want to buy five platinum-plated Maseratis, I’ll be prepared to take the hit, but don’t punch me for punching in.

NI4D – The National Initiative for Democracy is the hidden-in-plain-view answer to many of our political woes. Last I checked, there are 11 states using some form of public initiative system. How else would things like medical marijuana get on a ballot? Or ever get a vote of any kind? Or gay marriage bans, for that matter? There are many things that make sense to the general public that are simply too dangerous for any politician to approach, let alone a majority of Congress. Throughout my college days I came across a lot of people who didn’t vote, but were somewhat informed and had an opinion. Even those who vote in Presidential elections rarely vote in off-year and local elections. Voter turnout does not really reflect a complete political apathy, more an apathy with the effectiveness of the current voting system.

Enter the national initiative. If the majority of Americans do not want a war, the majority should be heard. If a majority of residents of a state support a doctor’s right to prescribe medical marijuana, a conservative or pandering legislature should not block the will of the people on a state’s rights issue. If a majority of the public believe that a doctor may refuse to perform certain treatments based on their religious beliefs, I don’t believe any law could Constitutionally coerce them otherwise so long as this is made clear to the patient before their life is in the hands of the doctor. The Bill of Rights mentions the rights of the people in the 9th Amendment, and again as a part of state’s rights. This is better served in those 11 states with initiative systems, and referendum and recall can also be a better way to clear the haze of our current political system. All of the nonsense calls for resignation, all of the political posturing on issues the speaker doesn’t even believe will ever come to a vote and the back-and-forth nature of our failing two-party system would at least see some improvement and at most clear the way for real public discourse, real participatory democracy.

Concerning gay marriage: I say again, can the government simply refuse to define a marriage in any way? Let churches or individuals have the right to define their own “marriages”, and simply allow for all couples seeking to join their lives to be unified in the governments eyes. The slippery slope argument doesn’t fly here. The US has a long precedent of defining such unions as a union of only two, consenting adults. We have laws restricting the marriages of children which are legitimately in the public interest. Lately some ultra-conservative Congressmen have been comparing homosexuality to pedophilia. This is ludicrous and gets a gut reaction in many ways, but I’d offer one rational argument without gut involved. By definition, pedophilia violates legitimate laws in public interest. Sure, there could be homosexual predators out there, but as Chris Hansen proves there are predators of all stupid persuasions. But a union of consenting adults should not be the government’s business to deny one group if it is permitted for another.

If marriage is a religious practice, the sanctity of which should be defended, then it should remain out of the government. What the government should do is have a system for defining next of kin in a humane way, with the utmost priority on individual freedom to choose who is considered a spouse by a hospital.

I’m often accused of being an ultra-liberal or whatever you’d call it, but those tags really are just how others see you based on the conversations you’ve had. Sure, if you’re talking to me about health care, I sound a bit more on the liberal side. But if we’re talking about guns, I’m never really accused of being a conservative. That’s odd considering I don’t think any American should need to choose a “favorite Amendment” from the Bill of Rights. There was a specific reason our founders first defended speech, press and religion then our last line of defense second. This is not a “hunter’s” Amendment, although along with defense, we should be allowed to enjoy sport. It is the first line of the Constitution that says… and if you fail to obey the Kings of America as prescribed by the first three words of the Preamble… we’re not, ya know, gonna take it. The contentious issue here for many liberals is hinged on people like Glenn Beck, who think you start talking about getting guns ready. Paul Revere didn’t ride around practicing his speech. He wasn’t the lead character in ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’.

In all honesty, your guns will never be taken away. You’ll be able to feel more confident in that fact if we enact a national initiative system, but at the very least liberal politicians are not a monolith against guns. I was listening to J.Douche Hateworth on the radio the other day and he played a little “comedy” piece that described a terrorist with a knife coming at a family, he said if the father is a liberal he’d quake in his boots and think of pacifism. First of all, a terrorist with a knife? Second of all, his scenario says both fathers have a loaded weapon. You think liberals make bad fathers, Hayworth? Why don’t you come at me with a knife and see how liberal I am?

I’m no gun liberal in terms of ever wishing to take away the guns of any law-abiding citizen. I’m not sure that extreme restrictions on gun possession are the way to get the “more dangerous” criminals. If you look at the example of Al Capone, who was finally brought to justice on racketeering charges. The man ordered countless murders, but we get him for tax evasion? Don’t get me wrong, at the time it was a victory and having a definite criminal in prison is never a bad thing. But how many innocent people do go to jail? How many non-violent offenders serve time for marijuana possession? We can get the little fish, right or wrong, but we have trouble with the big fish? That’s essentially the same logic some liberals use that says driving through a school zone with a legally owned and registered weapon is automatically a crime. It’s pathetic when you consider that most legal gun-owners use their weapons for sport or self-defense. Sure, people stretch the definition of self-defense all the time, but that’s going to happen in society. The answer is more education. More organizations like the NRA who promote gun safety and tradition, and they need to be in the mainstream. The NRA shouldn’t automatically be considered one with the Republican party, although it’s most ardent supporters are often conservative. Gun ownership should be promoted among all law-abiding citizens, because at least one flying spaghetti monster knows that criminals will always have weapons.

“When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” I can’t find the original source of that quote, although in looking I found a great quote from Charlton Heston speaking on Fox News back in 1997: “There’s no such thing as a good gun. There’s no such thing as a bad gun. A gun in the hands of a bad man is a very dangerous thing. A gun in the hands of a good person is no danger to anyone except the bad guys.” What we should do to curb gun violence is create more good guys, through lifelong education and a societal emphasis on family of some kind. I know adopted kids who are great successes and legacies who have fizzled out, and it all came down to involvement. If people are involved in the lives of children they will learn to act as responsible people do, if children are raised with every amenity money can buy with no relationship with parents or some caregiver they will look for a role model somewhere. Think of the ratio of crap-to-awesome at any given mall. I’d argue that you’re taking the same gamble by allowing your child to pick any role model from their lives in your absence. Sure, they could end up with an amazing role model somewhere but it’s a gamble parents don’t have to take. Well, they shouldn’t have to take.

This is where I can get more liberal on people, but I simply can’t believe you can support both family and bite-sized government. Health care is a part of this. Healthy parents can work without getting sick as often, imposing less of a burden on the family’s budget and productivity. Children’s health care helps give all Americans a chance to grow up and contribute to society rather than being punished by the circumstances of their birth. I do not advocate wreckless takeover of health care by the government, but a quick read of the Preamble would establish that the federal government has some responsibility to our health at least in terms of keeping us productive and safe from potential pandemic. The more free we are to be productive and contribute to society, the more we all benefit. We will all have different ideas about how to get us there, but I think we’d all agree on the benefits of a healthy society.

These are just some ramblings. I just wonder if we all agreed on the results we wanted, the discourse on the methods might be more civil.

Three things everyone can do to make the economy stronger

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I go AWOL every now and again, but certain things pull me out of hibernation. This week’s shenanigans on the Hill have been tacky melodrama at best. There are so very few politicians who know anything about economics, but many know something about theatre. 

If I wanted to hear something completely familiar delivered by a bad actor, I’d have watched a Tom Cruise film. Here are three things we can all do to make the economy stronger. These aren’t things we can all read which will simply make the economy stronger, but things anyone and everyone can do.

  1. Mind your wallet. Ask anyone you know if they’re in debt. When everyone has a little debt, it amounts to a lot of debt. Debt, at a certain point, creates friction in our economy. Get out of debt, start spending your money again and you’ll already be helping.
  2. Attempt to understand the economy. Look up terms you are fuzzy about. Get as realistic a vision of a ‘better economy’ that you can. It won’t happen overnight, but it also won’t happen with our heads buried in the sand.
  3. Understand that the economy is not partisan. The economy doesn’t care if you call yourself a Democrat or a Republican. The economy is not waiting for anything. It won’t suddenly ‘do something’. It is simply a machine to circulate money, and it needs lube.

Written by unastronaut

February 7, 2009 at 9:09 pm

@Google talks, rock shows for nerds

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Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics at George Mason University and co-author of Marginal Revolution.

I found this particularly interesting, and then I watched related videos for hours. Not exactly the most exciting weekend, but I didn’t want to do a thing and I’m succeeding.

Written by unastronaut

June 22, 2008 at 12:30 am

Jason Furman is a solid choice

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He actually understands our economy and Economics in general, unlike the cronies of the past 8 years. As a signal of executive ability, judgement and leadership I am glad Senator Obama made this move. Furman’s history gives a strong indication of Obama’s willingness (and ability) to work across the aisle. Fiscal conservatism needs a strong voice in a campaign that aspires to such great projects. The American people are not as weak-willed as the pundits who say these things are impossible, we just know if we elect another troupe of idiots we’ll never get the major problems of our day solved.

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556 gallons consumed = $100 saved, happy gas tax holiday!

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John McCain is speaking in Phoenix today (05/05/08), fielding typical questions along with a few ‘Cinco de Mayo’ immigration questions. It’s laughable that reporters say things like “since it’s Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to ask you about immigration.” McCain has been one of the more rational Republicans on the issue. He was asked a few questions about Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his relationship(if any) with the controversial sheriff. Sheriff Joe boasts great results, and makes people feel safe. That is, unless you are darker than a paper bag, which is probably why McCain made no close association with Arpaio.

Four minutes after talking about suspending the gas tax for the summer and “taking it out of general revenues”, Senator McCain begins talking about deteriorating bridges and roads.  First of all, we’re not “taking it out” of anything, it’s money not coming in to the federal government.  Secondly, that money would normally be coming in and going straight to the highway trust fund, or the fund that repairs and improves our transportation infrastructure.  

At least Senator Clinton proposes to make Big Oil pay a windfall profits tax after their record-breaking year.  This would indeed lead to different behavior, costing us more anyway, but at least it isn’t robbing Peter to pay Paul.  There’s no sense in making Americans less safe on the road while provoking more people to drive when the ultimate goal in this time is to have less oil consumed.  It is simply a political game to make candidates look good, but in reality, even this will cost us.  

We cannot allow games to be played with legislation in order to pander and get more votes.  That’s not the purpose or role of government, and every counter-productive action we take is like taking two steps away from the concept of a more perfect Union.  Don’t fall for these gas tax holiday tricks, demand real action from your government. Start by using the rooftop of any government building for solar cells, which would generate a hell of a lot more energy than the hot air coming out of Washington generates.

Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post as an excellent account of one man’s quest to save $100 from the gas tax holiday. 200 economists and a few Nobel prize winners also disagree with this proposed gas tax holiday. I’d simply implore everyone to read these and/or do their own math with their own vehicles. I hope you have a gas guzzler, because you need to consume 556 gallons of gasoline in order to save $100 (saving 18 cents/gallon).

556 x $0.18 = $100.08 

12 gallon tank filled 46 times

20 gallon tank filled 28 times

Is that worth us paying Congress to even consider?

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It was Congress…

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…just not the 110th United States Congress. When President Bush passes the buck on the housing crisis, he sends a solar wave of hypocrisy through the nation strong enough to power every home in America for the year. Maybe that’s a bit idealistic, but we truly have a revisionist in the White House. This current housing crisis couldn’t possibly have been created by bank deregulation and bankruptcy reform of the 109th Congress.

Banks knowing Americans couldn’t get out of trouble when they employed predatory lending practices didn’t spur a wave of high-risk, adjustable-rate mortgages. That couldn’t be how it happened. It must be, as President Bush said today, the fault of a slow-as-molasses Congress divided by the fringe elements of both sides. That makes perfect sense.

Scapegoating

The 110th Congress has failed America in many key ways. Inactivity in government can mean the difference of survival and “falling through the cracks”. It doesn’t come close to the devastation that counteractive policy and reform causes the American public. We work harder for less money, but the banks make far more. The average American swaps out name brands for generics as luxury jets, high-ticket jewelry and $10M apartments in Manhattan sell like hot-cakes.

Cronyism

When you sell office supplies and your boss is underqualified and only became manager because of personal connections, work can be a source of frustration. When your personal connections begin causing entire populations to be ignored in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane, it becomes a much larger issue. Mike Brown, Michael Chertoff, Alberto Gonzales are only a few of the more well-known examples of Bush administration cronies, but they provide enough of an example of how ill-served the American public can be when cronies are appointed. This angers me no matter who is doing it, but by far the most gross example of overstretched qualifications are those appointments by the current faux-Republican, neo-Conservative administration. With recent comments exposing his lack of respect for humanity, one could put Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in that grouping as well.

Economic factors are always difficult to directly correllate and I have a feeling I may have overstretched this link. The 109th did deregulate banks and make it much harder for hard working families to file for bankruptcy. In some way this surely has affected the housing crisis, in lender’s attitude and consumer’s vulnerability. I’m just not convinced it’s a direct cause -> effect relationship, so don’t get the impression I’m blaming the entire housing crisis on the 109th or one piece of legislation.

Stop the strobe light and see the real world

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Elizabeth Edwards has written a beautiful op-ed piece for the Sunday New York Times (4/27/08) imploring the media to do its job. It seems like it should go without saying, but the media has failed the American people and democracy in general for the better part of the last decade. The media is often referred to as the 4th branch of government, because a free press acts as a check on political power. If the truth is available, it’s much harder to be hoodwinked.

The internet has been the saving grace for many Americans, who know the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is out there somewhere, just not in the mainstream media. Mrs. Edwards, wife of former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, uses the phrase “strobe-light journalism” to describe the outline-only perspective presented by the mainstream media.

…every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture.

She frames the situation far better than I could, and offers a stronger voice. Although a politician’s wife is no more an expert than any blogger, this truth will receive much more airplay because of her higher profile. I don’t believe the media will actually correct this issue, mostly because “the media” is no more a homogeneous group than “the American people”. A few of the pundits and talking heads are beginning to report more on the real issues, even if they fail to point out basic inaccuracies in the positions of each candidate.

For example, John McCain is able to freely attack Barack Obama over his proposal to raise the capital gains tax. I have yet to hear any journalist correct the statements of McCain, although they frequently play the statement and ponder “will this hurt Obama?” It will if nobody speaks the truth. First take a look at Sen. McCain’s attack on Obama.

Senator Obama says that he doesn’t want to raise taxes on anybody over — making over $200,000 a year, yet he wants to nearly double the capital gains tax. Nearly double it, which 100 million Americans have investments in — mutual funds, 401(k)s — policemen, firemen, nurses. He wants to increase their taxes.

Millions of Americans have investments, most have jobs. The problem is that someone making a living from investments alone end up paying half the taxes of the working people. Low capital gains taxes make investments available to more Americans, but most Americans aren’t making more money to invest. Lower capital gains taxes do benefit average Americans to some degree, but the wealthy to a far greater degree. A post at the DailyKos points out just how fundamentally wrong McCain is on this issue.

Investments contained in 401-K’s (Or in the case of ‘policemen, firemen’ usually a 403-B), pensions, IRAs, tax deferred variable annuities, and similar retirement vehicles aren’t subject to capital gains tax — they’re not taxed at all. Changing the capital gains tax rate will have zero effect on them. Withdrawals from tax deferred accounts by retirees are generally taxed at whatever the income tax rate is for that person at the time of withdrawal (Which, incidentally, is usually a hell of a lot more than the current long term capital gains tax rate, yet another way to rip off the middle class).

Many may dismiss anything from the DailyKos, but anyone with an understanding of our tax code and economy can confirm. Of course, people in the mainstream media discredit “far-left” bloggers at the DailyKos and other sites. The problem is, someone isn’t coming clean, and any deeper research reveals it’s the media. Many bloggers can be wrong about their facts, but they can also hyperlink ’til their heart’s content, allowing anyone reading the story to see the sources. Unfortunately, there exists no such option for the mainstream media. They quote and cite themselves as the expert, and we’re asked to accept it as fact.

I’ve always considered myself a moderate, although I’m sure many would call shenanigans. It’s just harder and harder to maintain any moderate views when our democracy has been so hijacked by ideologues who give most conservatives a bad reputation. A recent poll shows that 53% of Americans have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party, which I consider a shame, even though I admit I would like to see a Democrat win in November. A two-party system is divisive in some ways, but it can be divisive to the point of stalemate when the media decides to pick sides and report as a two-party media.

Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post and Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker both deserve some serious credit for putting recent comments by Reverend Wright into real context, as I try to point out any time I see the truth told on TV. On today’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, both attempted to point out that Barack Obama has never aligned himself with the views of Reverend Wright. If he ever had, he’d already be out of this race. We know his pastor and his bowling score, now if only we didn’t have to look so hard for his positions on the issues.

Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden’s health care plan? Anything at all? But let me guess, you know Barack Obama’s bowling score. We are choosing a president, the next leader of the free world. We are not buying soap, and we are not choosing a court clerk with primarily administrative duties. – Elizabeth Edwards