Friday, December 9, 2011

Why does the religious right hate the social safety net?

Okay, so here are the arguments I hear most often:
  1. Wealth redistribution is "unjust"
  2. Welfare, unemployment insurance, medicaid and other programs that help the needy introduce "moral hazard"
  3. Charity shouldn't be "forced"
Right, now, I'm a Catholic and I don't have a whole lot of access to protestant theology but I hear they use a Bible that, while not exactly the same, bears a marked resemblance to mine.  Let's look at these arguments by the numbers.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why we (Catholics) cant have nice things...

As a practicing Catholic I feel like it's my duty to point out when someone in the church says stuff that seems crazy and stupid.  Here's the latest example.

Basically, head exorcist says yoga is satanic and harry potter is the path to evil. I get that this guy basically worries about Satan's encroachments on a professional basis, so he's likely to be a little paranoid, but this is deadly crazy. 

First of all, if yoga were to lead to any religion at all (doubtful) it would lead to Hinduism, which is decidedly different from Satanism (as the Church clearly recognizes).

Secondly, and not to put too fine a point on it, the Harry Potter thing is totally crazy, and the argument about it is self contradictory. Exorcist man says that Harry Potter is bad because it might encourage people to seek out Satan to get magical powers, but he also says that Satan is all about keeping people from acknowledging his existence. Somehow HP does both, but that seems tricky since how you gonna ask daddy-devil for the accio when you ain't not believe he's there.

I'm sure this guys faith is sincere and all, but he really shouldn't be allowed to give interviews.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Can bad long distance relationships save us from China?

United Statesagriculture: 1.1%
industry: 22.1%
services: 76.8% (2010 est.)

If there is one trend in economic history, it is that technology makes society more productive.  What we mean by that is it gets cheaper and easier to make "stuff".  The stuff we made was traditionally pretty generic and broadly usable, and fell primarily into the agriculture and industry segments of the economy, but, as you can see from the lede, our economy is very much service focused nowadays.  The thing about the service industry is that it's all about activities that heavily feature interpersonal communication, and as anyone who has been in a long distance relationship (or collaboration) knows, interpersonal communication does not work too great over distance.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

deregulation, tax reform, capital gains cuts, and corporate tax cuts

For those of you just joining American Politics, the title describes the "conservative" "solution" to the economy (not just our current economic problems, but all economic problems at all times).  Now, I have varying feelings about the items in this list.  I basically think that capital gains should be treated as regular income, which couldn't be farther from the conservative position.  By way of contrast, I think that certain kinds of tax reform (mostly in terms of loophole removal) would be awesome for both corporations and people, and I think that the government could do a lot of good by removing regulations created to protect incumbent businesses from entrepreneurial competition.  But! I think it is crystal clear that none of these things are solutions to the current economic crisis.  In case you disagree with me, I did a little research and made some charts.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Politics and fundamental values

I think this is an important point.  Your political views don't just represent your judgments on key policy debates; they also reflect deep valuations of fundamental principles. This site does a very interesting job of showing how things break down (edit: You'll want the very first survey on the list).

Green is me, red is Republican, blue is Democrat.

Basically, liberals care a lot about leveling the playing field and avoiding harmful consequences.  Conservatives care about those things too, but they put a lot more emphasis on loyalty, authority, and purity.  Challenge for my conservative readers: why should we build public policy around these things?

Friday, October 7, 2011

About Particles and Arguments

So the recent maybe-discovery by CERN of some possibly-faster-than-light neutrinos has been garnering a lot of attention lately.  Predictably, people are claiming that this result, if true, destroys everything we thought we knew about physics.  For people convinced by this argument, please see my previous post.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Principles of Argument and Evidence

I just have been really frustrated about the way our economic arguments have been going.  Here are some principles that I feel might clarify things a bit:

  1. If someone suggests, as a response to a crisis, the same thing that they were implementing immediately before the crisis, we should be skeptical.  I'm not saying it is impossible that staying the course is the right idea in some circumstances, but generally when situations change the appropriate response changes as well.
  2. If someone suggests that something will have a large effect, that effect should be evident in cursory inspections of the relevant data.  I think this gets lost on scientific people a lot because we spend all of our time trying to tease out small and subtle effects, but if someone makes a claim like "demand is an important part of the economy and stimulating it should improve things dramatically" and then stimulates demand, there should be a clear change shortly thereafter. You should be able to clearly see it on the simple metrics that track the economy.  Likewise, if someone says something like "high tax rates are a major obstacle to growth or business investment" then we should see a strong negative historical correlation between high tax rates and growth and business investment.  If you can't see these things in the obvious data, then they aren't major factors.  They may be real factors, but they aren't the big ones.  
  3. If you claim that something matters a lot, but that it was overshadowed by some other set of effects in the historical data, then you are also claiming the overshadowing effects are as important or more important than the thing you claim matters a lot. This is a corollary of 2.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Key Question

I used to think that the important thing to ask someone whose views you wanted to understand is "why do you believe this?"  It seems like a good start for a discussion, and a way of figuring out whether you're on the same page as someone, what they value, and how they came to their decision.  But, after spending the better part of this year embroiled in near-constant virtually-zero-progress political debates, I can't help but think that I had this one wrong.  I think I figured out a better one.  "What hypothetical evidence would it take to change your mind on this issue?" Try it out on some people.

I like this question because it separates core value issues from higher order policy ideas.  If you can't give a real answer to this question (I can't think of any possible evidence that could convince me that slavery should be legal... for instance), then your policy goal is simply to enact your favored policy (in this case abolition).  However, I can think of lots of ways that, say, my belief in the fiscal stimulus's effectiveness could be overturned.  For example, if someone showed me that job losses or GDP losses had accelerated or stayed the same after its implementation, I would be forced to abandon my belief that the stimulus improved the economy.

If you manage to have a conversation with someone entirely about the ways in which each of your views could (hypothetically of course) be overturned, then you are a lot closer to understanding where they come from, and how you can fix them ;-).

Here's my economic issue list.  Please feel free to comment in your own convinceables.

Double Blind Politics

One of the consequences of uninformed and partisan politics is an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance.  Examples like the ones below make me wonder a lot how different things would be if we voted on policies rather than politicians.  No names and no parties attached to any proposal, just a list of ideas for voters to yay or nay. Just a couple examples of doublethink below the break:

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Libertarian model for Government Funding

Libertarian morality basically works around two fundamental property rights.  Each person owns their own body, and the bounty of nature is owned by all.  By trade, and by fair access to the bounty of nature, things are produced, exchanged, and improved, and the engines of capitalism start to fire.  In this model, the important thing is to ensure that property rights and contract law (which is really just an extension of property right to include the right to exchange) are protected.  Interestingly, this provides a clear area for the proper operation and implementation of government - counter to the anarcho-capitalist ideas that seem to follow necessarily from libertarianism.  Note, that the libertarian arguments for anarchism differ starkly from the arguments I have presented here earlier.  Frankly, I find the moral autonomy argument for anarchism much stronger than that of libertarianism, but I think it's worth exploring the libertarian ideas because they seem to dominate political discourse in a lot of ways.

The fundamental moral logic behind libertarianism is that each person possesses his or her own body, and all the things s/he creates using things fairly traded or gotten from the bounty of nature.  Now, the commonly recognized flaw in this kind of morality is that the "bounty" of nature isn't all that bountiful when you compare it to the entire needs of the human race over all of history.  In some sense, libertarians concede that we collectively own natural resources, but argue that they aren't scarce enough to spend time fighting over.  Unsurprisingly, this causes some issues when the resources in question really are scarce.  Another way of thinking about this is that libertarians believe that the only truly scarce resource is human labor.  Anyway, this collective ownership of natural resources combined with the scarcity problem provides what I see as an interesting niche for government.  Here's the plan.

Each nation is the sole owner of "nature" within its borders.  In other words, it owns all the land, all the air, all the sea, all the wildlife, basically all the stuff that isn't people or made by people.  It derives this right because it represents the people not just now but in the past and future... those people who collectively own all of nature's bounty.  They then rent the use of portions of that natural bounty to the entrepreneurs who want to use it.  They levy this rent... let's call it a tax... based on the market value of the nature, and on the expected risk of damage to nature by the tenant.  Just as landlords charge premiums for pets, the government might charge premiums for, say, high pollution.  The government then can invest this money in the protection and improvement of its property.  They improve their property by making it a more attractive place to live... increasing competition for the property and allowing them to increase rents. Offering universal healthcare, or utilities, or cleaner facilities, or safer business environments to occupants might all be value increasing ways to spend that money.  Now, in some sense, the government is a monopolist, but since the people who are competing for the resources it provides are in fact the owners of the government, the monopoly doesn't provide the leverage necessary to properly enable extortionary pricing. I think we can reasonably argue about whether or not this is the best way to manage the shared ownership of nature, but it does seem to be fundamentally compatible with libertarianism, which is win enough for me.  Any problems?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some Funny Ways of Thinking About Defense

I hear a number of common rebuttals to the "U.S. is spending too much on military" thing.  One is that the comparison to our allies is unfair because our allies rely on us to protect them.  My response to that is, roughly speaking, why are we subsidizing their socialized healthcare regimes? If they really are relying on us for their military protection and using the money they save to do the things of their government, it's basically inevitable that that money is going into government provided healthcare... it's the biggest item on most country's balance sheets.  Why are we paying for Canada to have socialized medicine, instead of paying for our own healthcare and letting Canada pay for its own defense?

More broadly though, if you look at what our military is doing in the world today, you'll notice a disturbing trend.  What we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is protecting and building infrastructure.  We are providing public services, free of charge, to the Iraqi and Afghani people.  We are building roads, setting up internet, providing police services, and protecting people so that they can build roads, set up internet, and provide police services.  The trouble with this, of course, is that these are precisely the things that Republicans don't want to spend more money on for Americans.  Why is it okay to do big government spending to support public services outside our borders, but bad inside our borders? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The only stat that matters for Notre Dame Football

Change this stat and the rest will follow.

Relevant excerpt:

NameGFum. GainInt. GainTotal GainFum. LostInt. LostTotal LostMarginMargin/G
3South Florida253802263.00
4North Carolina State235821352.50
9San Diego State240400042.00

107Western Kentucky2336369-3-1.50
107Arkansas State2202325-3-1.50
107San Jose State2202325-3-1.50
107Kansas State1022415-3-3.00
107Miami (Florida)1011224-3-3.00
115Western Michigan2123437-4-2.00
117Iowa State2202437-5-2.50
118Southern Mississippi2022448-6-3.00
118North Carolina2000246-6-3.00
120Notre Dame20335510-7-3.50

Saturday, September 10, 2011

National Defense - Are we spending too much? (Hint: Yes)

Basically, the US has a larger share of world military spending than it has of world anything-else.  Our spending far exceeds that of nations with recent history of war and strong credible threats to their sovereignty (such as Israel).  China, with a larger population, larger land area, worse world relations, a not too distant history of being invaded and occupied, and significantly crazier and more belligerent neighbors, has managed to keep its spending to 1/6th of ours.  It's obvious that our military isn't for the defense of our nation, but rather for the forceful enactment of US will outside of its borders.  Here are some numbers:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Vegas Preliminaries

I finally found a site offering some historical gambling data (thought not as much as I'd like).  For those of you too lazy to click, this is the key thing:

Straight Up Trends (Won Loss Tie)

Away Teams11-67-014.10%
Home Teams67-11-085.90%
Away Favorites5-2-071.43%
Away Dogs6-65-08.45%
Home Favorites65-6-091.55%
Home Dogs2-5-028.57%

So I'm still getting my head around the way this works, but at a glance it looks like the picked favorites do well, and that this week betting on the home team was a good call.  Not surprising for opening week I guess.  It'll be interesting to see what happens with these going forward.  As a sidenote, I also found a site doing comprehensive statistics on college football.  I suspect we'll be seeing some comparisons between Notre Dame and the general field in this blog's future.