about US Policy Choices.
(I try to present
facts and logic and
solutions rather than just opinions.)
||Please send reasoned
disagreements to me.
If your facts and logic are
convincing, I'll change my mind !
Link to me on Facebook.
This page updated: November 2018
Campaign Finance section
Economic Ideas section
Military Budget section
The Death Penalty section
Courts and Prisons section
Politics Of Sex section
My Terrorism page
My Manned Space Program page
My Drugs page
My Taxes page
My US Federal Government page
(and my "Restructuring the US Federal Government" page)
My USA Health Care System page
My Guns page
My Consumption and Energy page
(and my Nuclear Energy page)
My Electronic Voting Machines page
What we (in the USA) should do about:
- The Afghanistan war: declare victory and leave (mostly).
- Health care: single-payer universal health care.
See my USA Health Care System page.
- Energy / climate change: significant taxes on gasoline; carbon tax (not cap-and-trade);
encourage grass ethanol or methanol instead of corn ethanol.
by 2/3 (put workers and some of the money into infrastructure work);
tweak Social Security to make it solvent;
tweak Medicare to increase preventive medicine and eliminate coverage of very expensive treatments;
isolate chunks of Federal govt and make them fee-based.
- Illegal immigration: build/maintain a fence along Mexican border; have a guest-worker program; some form of amnesty.
See Immigration section of this page.
- Crime and drugs: [not that these will make much of an impact, but:]
ban private ownership of guns; legalize marijuana; legalize prostitution.
See my Guns page and my Drugs page.
- Economy: tax consumption instead of income; have incentives for home equity instead of home indebtedness;
remove all agricultural subsidies and tariffs.
See my Consumption and Energy page.
- Politics: have high taxes on paid political speech.
See Campaign Finance section of this page.
- Entitlements (welfare and disability and unemployment costs):
see Entitlements section of this page.
Unemployment is not really an issue for government to solve, although
fixing infrastructure and spurring work to fight Climate Change would be good policies.
From the pilot episode of "Newsroom", a new series on HBO:
[America is] not the greatest country in the world, professor.
... [Addressing conservative] And with a straight face,
you're going to tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we're the only ones
in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany,
Spain, Australia! Belgium! has freedom. So, 207 sovereign states in the world and 180 of them have freedom.
And yeah, you, sorority girl. Just in case you ever wander into a voting booth one day, there's some
things you should know and one of them is: there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement
that we are the greatest country in the world. We're 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science,
49th in life expectancy, 179th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, 4th in exports.
We lead the world in only 3 categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults
who believe angels are real, and defense spending - where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.
Les Leopold's "Big Lie: America Doesn't Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World ... We're Ranked 27th!"
Mark Manson's "10 Things Most Americans Don't Know About America"
Laudan Aron's "Why Is the United States So Sick?"
Ryan Cooper's "Why is it so expensive to build a bridge in America?"
I wish we could cast "advisory votes" in national elections.
"Should marijuana be legalized ?"
"Should gay marriage be legal ?"
"Should we build a high-tech fence on the Mexican border ?"
"Should we ban all private ownership of guns ?"
Sort of an official poll.
Perhaps people should have to pass a test before being allowed to file as candidate for elected office.
Test them on basics of the Constitution, the legal system, the powers and rules of the office they're running for,
maybe how to read a budget, maybe how the tax system works.
Matthew Yglesias's "How to Save the Post Office"
Public financing of political campaigns is bad because:
- Why should taxpayers pay for this ? Supposedly, it keeps
office accessible to poor candidates, but when is the last
time you saw a poor candidate with a chance to win ?
- The rules are written to exclude independent and
- Just encourages candidates to spend more.
From /u/Mnementh2230 on reddit:
I'd like to see campaign finance done completely through public funding. Get 10,000 signatures,
and you get a piece of the pie, that you have to spend on your campaign, which will be heavily audited.
Highest amount anyone can give to a campaign is $100, period, and I don't care if it means higher taxes,
it'll get big business out of politics, everyone will have an opportunity for an equal say, and
billionaires won't decide who gets the most air time/public exposure unless they themselves are running.
Attempting to regulate "soft money" and PACs and such
has just led to complexity and abuses.
- No public financing of political campaigns. That just encourages them to spend more.
- Anyone can spend any amount they like to
promote any issue or any candidate.
- All spending on political issues or candidates or lobbying
is taxed progressively (i.e. the more they spend,
the higher the tax rate). The first $100K of spending
is taxed at 0%; the next $100K at 10%, the next
$100K at 20%, and so on.
One big problem with this: the Supreme Court
has ruled that taxing political spending by a candidate
is infringement of their right to free speech.
I say the Supreme Court is wrong; political speech
via money to gain power (office) is not covered by the First Amendment.
It's more like "commercial speech" (advertising), which already
has less-protected legal status. If we need a constitutional amendment
to say that paid or for-profit speech is less protected than unpaid speech, so be it.
Text of my proposed Constitutional amendment:
Congress or any State may regulate or limit or tax paid political speech or actions or lobbying or campaigning,
and contributions to such efforts, which
includes money or time or effort by any person or entity or group or organization or party in
support of any candidate or party or political position or governmental issue.
Similar: Move to Amend's "Proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution"
Lee Fang's "Where Have All the Lobbyists Gone?"
William G. Howell and Terry M. Moe's "This is why Congress is a disaster"
USA policy ideas:
- Put a limit on total amount of assets by a bank or corporation, to avoid
"too big to fail" and monopolies. Company has to break up or sell off divisions if
it grows too big and hits the limit.
- Put a limit on total amount of potential liabilities by a bank or corporation, to avoid
"too big to fail". Try to prevent enormous derivative bets, maybe by taxing them.
- Transparency on trading-contracts owned by a company: options, futures and derivatives.
Register them in an open registry.
- If I have money in a mutual fund or pension fund, I lose the ability to vote my
shares in the underlying stocks. They get voted by the fund managers, who are privileged types
like the corporate directors and CEOs. Maybe we could create a mechanism whereby I assign my
proxies to be voted by some entity other than the fund managers. I could say
"I want all of my shares in all companies to be voted the way the
anti-tobacco-pro-green-energy-anti-weapons-coalition specifies". This should make
corporate boards and CEOs more accountable to the shareholders, even indirect shareholders.
- Some way to hold bond-rating agencies
(Wikipedia's "Bond credit rating") accountable.
Maybe if a bond they rated highly ends in default, they have to pay 1% of the losses ?
If a low-rated bond defaults, they pay only 0.01% of the losses ?
- We allow individuals to deduct mortgage interest paid, to encourage home ownership.
But that deduction really rewards home-related debt. The deduction should
be based on the owner's equity in the home (capped at some level such as $500K), instead of the size of the
interest payments on the debt. We want to encourage equity.
From Joshua Holland interview of David Cay Johnston 10/2013:
Holland: And does this help explain why we have a very low tax burden overall, relative to other wealthy countries,
but a lot of Americans feel that they're being taxed to death?
Johnston: Well, one of the reasons some Americans feel they're being taxed to death is that if you add up our taxes,
which are low compared to other modern countries, and then you add in private expenditures for things the
tax system pays for in other countries - a lot of our health care costs, higher education costs, admissions
and fees and tickets and licenses for a lot of things - lo and behold, we end up being a relatively high-tax country.
But it depends on how you analyze the data.
And let me give you one killer figure: We spend so much money on our health care in this country - or as I prefer
to think of it, sick care
in this country - that for every dollar that the other 33 modern economies spend for
universal coverage, we spend $2.64. And this is done using something called "purchasing parity dollars", so they're
truly comparable. So we spend $2.64 per person and still have almost 50 million people with no coverage and
30 million with limited coverage, and these other countries spend far less with universal coverage.
Here's how much that costs: In the year 2010, if we had had the French health care system, which is one of
the most expensive in the world, it would have provided universal coverage and it also would have saved us
so much money that we could have eliminated the individual income tax that year and all else would have been equal.
Our excess health care costs above those of the French were a little over 6 percent of the economy and the income tax
in 2010 brought in about 6 percent of the economy.
Holland: And Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy and Research points out that if we paid the same
for health care per person as all of the countries with longer life expectancies, we would be at a balanced
budget today and looking at surpluses in the future.
Johnston: We can continue to have this enormous military operation - one that I have been very critical of - we can
continue to have that if we just fix the health care problem. So imagine what happens if we get our health care
costs in line by doing what every one of our economic competitors has figured out is the cheapest thing to do:
universal health care with little or no out-of-pocket expense. And if we then cut back on this enormous military,
where we spend 42 percent of all the military spending in the world, we would be able to lower taxes, run surpluses,
fund higher education and research that will make us wealthier in the future. It's just two things we need to address - just two.
Johnston: ... Here's what the newest data show based on tax returns: The average income of the bottom 90 percent
of us has fallen 20 percent below where it was in the year 2000 - it fell from about $36,000 to $30,000.
It has fallen back to the level of 1966, when Mustangs were new, Lyndon Johnson was president and we were prosecuting a war in Vietnam. 1966.
And what happened to the 1 percent of the 1 percent? Well, their income was about $5 million dollars a year back
then on average and now it's $23 million dollars a year on average.
Now it's important to add a point: This is how it's measured by the tax system. Very, very wealthy people - Warren Buffett,
hedge fund managers, Mitt Romney when he ran a private equity fund - are not required to report most of their
economic gains and legally they can literally live tax-free or nearly tax-free by borrowing against their assets.
You can borrow these days, if you're very wealthy, against your assets for less than 2 percent interest and
the lowest tax rate you could pay is 15 percent. So no wealthy person with any sense of good economics
will pay taxes if they can borrow against their assets. Now you and I can't do that because our assets
aren't worth that much, but if you're a billionaire and you borrow, let's say, $10 million dollars a year
to live on, you pay $200,000 interest, but your fortune through investing grows by $50 million. At the end
of the year you pay no taxes, your wealth is up almost $40 million dollars and your cost was just the interest of $200,000.
Holland: Amazing. How much have changes to the tax code had to do with the sky-high level of inequality we see today?
Johnston: Oh, I believe that the Reagan-inspired changes in the tax code are absolutely fundamental to this enormous growth of inequality. ...
Ideas that WOULDN'T work:
How to fix income/wealth inequality:
Mountain Math Software's "Long term solutions to disruptive income inequality"
Trish Hennessy's "How To Fix Income Inequality"
"Solutions" that wouldn't work:
- Change the tax system. Increase taxes on the rich and corporations, decrease taxes on the middle and poor.
Enact a wealth tax. Enforce the tax laws, especially on hiding money overseas.
- Fix things that hold back the poor: education, drugs, crime, healthcare, childcare, infrastructure, justice system.
Sean McElwee's "Six Ways America Is Like a Third-World Country"
My ideas on: Entitlements, Drugs, Healthcare, Courts and Prisons
Mark R. Rank's "From Rags to Riches to Rags"
- Undo globalization. Would be disastrous for the world economy,
and for consumers in USA. (Globalization section)
- Undo technological changes (automation). Can't be done, the cat's out of the bag.
- Get rid of capitalism (private ownership of means of production).
Few people favor this, and the change would require a massive, bloody civil war anyway. And
have enormous effects on the US dollar, the world economy, and foreign investment in USA.
- Force companies to keep jobs in the USA. Would just result in USA companies failing, foreign companies winning.
- Restrict immigration. There are many hard jobs that citizens won't do for just about any wage. And if we limit
unskilled immigration, skilled immigrants will tend to stay out too.
- Other market distortions. It seems to me that increasing the minimum wage,
or capping CEO compensation, or strengthening unions, would
just be worked-around by the markets. Not sure.
Questioning the numbers:
Tim Worstall's "The Amazing Thing About American Inequality: How Equal The Country Is"
US Military / Intel / Security Budget
- Remove mission to fight two major invasion-type wars simultaneously.
- Stop trying to "fix" and democratize countries by force: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.
- Major cuts to overseas bases: South Korea, Japan, Germany, Mideast, etc.
Let the allies take up more of the burden.
Kyle Mizokami's "It's time for the U.S. military to leave South Korea"
- Stop arming to fight WW III (all-out superpower war).
The mission changes can allow:
Isaac Chotiner's "The Forever War and the Ever-Expanding Military"
Benjamin H. Friedman and Christopher Preble's "Refocusing U.S. Defense Strategy"
Benjamin H. Friedman and Christopher Preble's "A Plan to Cut Military Spending"
- Major cuts to nuclear weapons.
More than $50 billion/year budget, not including classified spending.
Adam Weinstein's "We're Spending More on Nukes Than We Did During the Cold War?!"
Dana Priest's "Aging U.S. nuclear arsenal slated for costly and long-delayed modernization"
NYTimes editorial "The Bloated Nuclear Weapons Budget"
Michael Pizzi's "New estimates put cost of US nuclear weapons upgrade at $963 billion" (over 30 years)
- Stop building new WW-III-type weapons: top-end fighters
The War Nerd's "More proof the US defense industry has nothing to do with defending America"),
(David Axe's "American aircraft carriers will peak in 2024"),
ballistic missile submarines.
From Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry's "The myth of America's invincible military":
... carrier strike groups, a technology and formation from the mid-20th century, are probably obsolete.
As an excellent article by David W. Wise convincingly argues
aircraft carriers are probably extremely
vulnerable to a number of new technologies, from asymmetric warfare to super-quiet submarines
to advanced ballistic missiles. In military exercises, U.S. aircraft carriers keep getting sunk.
Up until very recently, America's overwhelming carrier advantage meant that any attempt, say, by China to
invade Taiwan, looked like folly. Now it practically looks like an invitation: With its anti-ship ballistic
missiles, China could sink half the U.S. Navy before it even got within range of the island.
It increasingly looks like the Navy of the future will mostly consist of drone- and missile-launching
submarines (manned and unmanned), which hold a number of decisive advantages over carriers. But these
are areas in which the Navy, despite some interesting experiments, is under-investing - partly because
its budget is being eaten up by a frenzy to build and maintain ever-more expensive supercarriers.
- Cut troop levels to 1/3 of today's level.
We can live with a less-capable military. (Maybe that would mean
losing more soldiers in future wars; but maybe it would make us less eager to start future wars.
And even the hugest military imaginable can not make us completely safe; there's no such thing as completely safe.)
David Brodwin's "How to Safely Cut U.S. Defense Spending"
Benjamin H. Friedman and Christopher Preble's "A Plan to Cut Military Spending"
Jill Lepore's "How much military is enough?"
Henry Blodget's "Yes, Of Course We Should Cut Military Spending!"
Eric Schnurer's "Can the Defense Budget Shrink Without Risking National Security?"
Kyle Mizokami's "Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon"
William Hartung's "America is still fighting the Cold War: Why its military 'strategy' is hopeless"
Damon Linker's "The paranoid delusions behind American foreign policy"
From Jill Lepore's "How much military is enough?" 1/2013:
... Around the world, "power projection" is, in fact, a central mission of American forces.
[Congressional Democrat Adam] Smith expressed alarm at the prospect of its diminishment.
He asked a question, which was purely rhetorical:
"What if, all of a sudden, we don't have troops in Europe, we don't have troops in Asia,
we are just, frankly, like pretty much every other country in the world?"
The United States, separated from much of the world by two oceans and bordered by allies,
is, by dint of geography, among the best-protected countries on earth. Nevertheless, six decades
after V-J Day nearly three hundred thousand American troops are stationed overseas,
including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy.
Much of the money that the federal government spends on "defense" involves neither securing
the nation's borders nor protecting its citizens. Instead, the U.S. military enforces American foreign policy.
"We have hundreds of military bases all over the world," Melvin A. Goodman observes in
"National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism" (City Lights). "Few other countries have any."
Goodman, a former Army cryptographer and a longtime C.I.A. analyst who taught at the National War College
for eighteen years, is one of a growing number of critics of U.S. military spending, policy, and
culture who are veterans of earlier wars. Younger veterans are critical, too. A 2011 Pew survey
of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq found that half thought the war in Afghanistan wasn't worth fighting,
and nearly sixty per cent thought the Iraq War wasn't.
From Anna Mulrine Grobe's "Why Trump says the state of US military is a 'disaster'" 11/2016:
... the United States already spends as much on its military as the next seven highest-spending countries combined.
It has as many aircraft carriers (10) as the rest of the world combined (China has one). And Defense spending is
up 22 percent over its Cold War peak in 1986.
What needs rebuilding?
The answer depends largely how prepared one thinks the country should be for the potential threats it faces.
Is the US ready to carry out the stability and counterterrorism operations that have defined American military deployments
in recent years? Absolutely.
Is it ready to fight multiple traditional wars against major powers at the same time, as it was in the Cold War? That is less certain.
Current and recently retired members of the military - both brass and rank-and-file - bristle at Trump's criticism.
Yes, the military is getting smaller, but the decision is strategic, they say, not a sign of weakness.
And if wars are harder to win, it's a function of the changing nature of war, not the force.
Trump has worried aloud about a Navy that has gone from more than 500 ships in 1991 to 272 today - a figure he vows to increase to 350.
"Yes, and our cavalry's a lot smaller, too", quips Lt. Cmdr. Mark Jacobson, a Navy reservist who also served as a
sergeant in the Army from 1993 to 2001.
His point is that the raw numbers don't say much about the Navy's ability to do its job.
"The fact is, that one aircraft carrier today has the capacity of the entire Pacific fleet during World War II,
with strike groups of over 60 or 70 planes."
What's more, the US has three times as many destroyers as both China and Russia, one third more
nuclear-powered submarines than Russia, and eight times more than China, he notes.
Wikipedia - Military budget
Wikipedia - Inflation Adjusted Defense Spending
Mandy Smithberger's "America's $1 Trillion National Security Budget"
Business Insider's "The 35 Most Powerful Militaries In The World"
Dana Priest and William M. Arkin's "Top Secret America"
A small rant: Many "conservatives" say they favor smaller govt, and will talk all day about
details of welfare programs and exactly what should be cut. But ask them what should
be cut from the military/intel/security budget, and all they can come up with is the mythical "waste",
and then "ooh, we should leave choices up to the experts, the Joint Chiefs, non-experts shouldn't
even discuss cuts to the military". Hypocritical. And Reagan and G W Bush also were hypocrites:
said they wanted smaller govt, but then made it bigger, mostly by expanding the military.
Argument in favor of a huge US military,
from Reihan Salam's "Why I Am Still a Neocon":
Some comments on that article:
... global stability depends on American global leadership, and American global leadership costs money.
The United States is at the heart of a dense web of alliances. We extend formal security guarantees
to more than 50 countries. Some see these alliances and guarantees as little more than a burden
the U.S. can no longer afford. Yet what they actually do is dampen security competition. They reassure
partner countries that they needn't build up their militaries to defend themselves against their neighbors,
which then reassures their neighbors that they needn't build up their
militaries. This virtuous cycle
is one of the central reasons Western Europe and Japan recovered so quickly after the devastation
of World War II, and why globalization has helped ease poverty around the world. For this virtuous
cycle to be maintained, however, U.S. security guarantees must be considered credible. It must be
clear that when the U.S. makes a security commitment to another country, that commitment will be met.
This in turn means that the U.S. military must have the power and the reach to defend countries far from our borders.
- Article redefines "neocon". "Neocon" usually means "activist, interventionist US military, spreading democracy",
not "strong US military to keep the peace".
- Neocons should be willing to pay for the wars up-front, in taxes, instead of putting them on the credit-card.
- Our huge military and strong public support for the alliance with Japan hasn't stopped the Chinese from growing
their military at double-digit rates.
- Our allies provide their citizens with free education, health care and early retirement, while we pay for their defense.
- Neocons have also been adamant that America not raise taxes, and not run a deficit, so the only other option
is to maintain the military at the COST OF social programs.
- Neocons have a history of taking "world security" to mean
"give Israel anything it wants; support dictators in countries that have oil; etc".
- We have this notion that the appeal of our social and political institutions is proportional to our military power.
We are always surprised when they are not "shocked and awed" by our plans of democracy and freedom and equality.
- Global Leadership does not equal Global Military Domination.
- We could cut military spending by 25% and still have an overwhelming force.
- "We were wrong about this war, but the NEXT war ... will be DYNAMITE! Trust me, you'll see!"
- Conservatives have zero tolerance for mistakes in, say, the Obamacare web site launch, but wave
away massive military waste and mistaken and failed decade-long wars.
- Letting your country weaken by draining its treasure is, in my opinion, at least as dangerous
if not more so than trimming back our military to one that is small enough that it cannot realistically
engage in such misadventures with the taxpayers' money and their children's lives.
From /u/GTFErinyes on reddit 2/2017:
Full disclosure: as an officer in the military, I see a lot more of the organizational and budgetary side of things than most,
so I wanted to share my two cents on military spending and let you decide on whether we actually spend too much.
As OP mentioned, there's a lot of metrics people use on US budgeting. Let me explore some of these issues in detail
and hopefully bust a few myths, give you a historical background, and tell you what we currently peg spending on.
Military Spending - And Its Myths
Yes, the US spends $600 billion dollars on defense. And yes, that's more than the next 7-8 countries combined
(assuming China's budget is honest, which we believe is not). And yes, the US spends about 36% of the worlds total spending on military.
But, as OP also mentioned, as a function of GDP, the US is at 3.3% - lower than some nations (like Russia)
and a far cry from the 5.6% the US spent in 1988 near the tail end of the Cold War.
Source: World Bank
In the post WW2 world, this is at an all time low per the CFR with it having peaked at 16% around the time of the Korean War.
So which metric is better to use?
Well the issue with looking at nominal spending is that nominal spending doesn't correct for cost of living.
Take into consideration what the military actually spends its money on. You can use
Table 5.1 of the GPO
or this nifty
Official DOD Budget Request 2017
(yes, all this stuff is public
) to see the pretty breakdowns.
Per the GPO, for 2013:
- Personnel Wages - 25%
- Operations and Maintenance - 43%
- Procurement - 16%
- R&D - 10%
- Atomic Energy Defense Activities - 3%
- Other - 3%
So right off the bat, we need to kill the myth that buying new equipment costs us the most money. It simply doesn't.
Why did I bring up cost of living? Let's take a look at personnel wages and benefits shall we. Per the DOD budget request,
- $130 billion was requested just for military personnel wages for the 2.1 million active + reserve
- A total of $177.9 billion was requested on just military personnel wages + benefits
- Another $72.9 billion was requested for civilian pay and benefits for the 760,000 civilian FTEs in the DOD
- A full $250.8 billion or 48% of the DOD base budget is allocated to JUST pay and benefits
What does this mean? Consider that a Chinese soldier is paid roughly a tenth of the wages of a US soldier.
So sure, if we went to a Chinese pay scale, we could save $120 billion overnight
. But that's neither feasible,
wise, nor is it a good indicator of relative strength with China.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that both China and Russia have huge domestic arms industries producing goods at domestic prices.
Furthermore, the world arms industry isn't an open market - the US doesn't compete with China or Russia directly as nations only buy
from other nations they trust. The US buys domestic or buys from close allies like Belgium and Germany, who have comparable costs
of production. End result? The US often pays 2-4x as much for a fighter jet than the Russian equivalent because US wages,
US suppliers, and US maintainers all cost US prices, not Russian prices.
As a side note, this also irks me about the whole "arms trade" statistic and how the US is the number one exporter.
Sure, by dollar amounts, we are - but our goods are magnitudes more expensive. The fact that Russia and China - producing goods
at Russian and Chinese prices - are even close, should tell you who is exporting more physical quantity of goods, but I digress.
In sum, using nominal spending gives you eye-popping numbers, but it tells you little about relative strength between nations.
If anything, it should tell you how little Europe actually spends on defense (especially in comparison to Russian strength),
and that China is a lot closer to the US than most people realize.
Waste Exists - But It's a Complicated Issue
One of the top issues everyone talks about is waste. Let me first bust one budgetary myth though: use it or lose it is not a DOD-only
thing. It exists in all federal agencies (e.g. NASA, NOAA, etc.) because the budget is done annually. Money not used one year isn't seen again.
It DOES NOT mean you need to spend it to get it again next year - the budget request is done annually and things change based on need
and what not. Admittedly though, it does make it harder to justify getting budgeting if you don't show need, so alas, the system is
very flawed. Short of a congressional change to how budgeting is done though, we're in a tough spot.
Does waste in the military exist? Absolutely. Thankfully, people are noticing and paying attention - there has been a considerable
shift in mindset in the past few years towards saving money. Of course this has to be balanced: you don't want to skimp on
maintenance or training, as lives are on the line when things go wrong.
In some areas, waste is also balanced by operational necessity. For instance, aircraft routinely dump fuel. In carrier aviation,
we dump fuel because we have max landing limits - too heavy, and we can snap the arresting gear on the carrier or permanently
damage our plane. Thus, if we arrive at the boat too heavy, the choice might be to dump thousands of pounds of fuel ... or jettison
even more expensive bombs. To the layman, it seems like we're burning fuel for no reason - but there's a rhyme and reason
for it no matter how much it sucks. (And for the environmentalists, jet fuel is kerosene-based - it's nothing like gasoline)
Inefficient Spending Often Comes from Political Sources
One of the big issues with the annual budgeting is that there is little long term continuity in a field that necessitates
long-term planning. For instance, the new class of aircraft carrier has been in the works for over a decade - and was
planned out two decades ago. And yet, funding for it has oscillated year by year.
I'll give you an example of how political grandstanding has royally f*cked military personnel and arguably cost us more money
in the long run: sequestration.
During sequestration, a stop was put on training new replacement pilots for the fleet. Hundreds of replacement pilots
were put on hold for a year. Well, since they just got their wings in training (costing roughly $1-2 million to train, each),
you don't want to cut them from the military, but you still need to pay them.
But here's where the long term effects come in: every pilot in the Navy serves a 3-year operational tour before going
back to become an instructor of some sort for 3 years. Whenever a pilot in the fleet is done with his first 3 years,
a new replacement pilot comes in to take his place. Suddenly, the fleet had a shortage of pilots, and too many instructor
pilots with no one to teach. And once pilots are done with their commitments, a lot get out to pursue other interests
in the civilian world. Talk about a waste of human resources.
But this balloons further: a few years later, that shortage of pilots means fewer pilots available to be instructors.
Fewer instructors mean fewer replacement pilots. Surely you can balance out how many pilots you bring in right?
But ROTC and the Academy projects how many graduates they need from 4 years ago: suddenly, you have too many pilots-to-be
and not enough instructors, and the fleet may need more pilots.
I could go into more detail, but the point is this: seemingly small disruptions have BIG ballooning effects on how the military operates.
Likewise, a lot of 'inefficiency' comes from conscious decisions to save money, believe it or not. Take for instance, the fact that much of US equipment is old. In the 90s, with the Cold War drawdown, we stopped a lot of acquisitions programs. Equipment in the military is designed to typically operate in 30 year lifecycles - the notable exceptions are things like capital ships (aircraft carriers).
However, in the 90s, a lot of early to mid Cold War stuff was up for retirement - and instead of replacing them, their lives were extended.
This does, however, have an unintended effect on Operations and Maintenance - the US now has very old equipment to maintain. Some of our equipment is from the 1950s. I'm not even exaggerating - we have over 370 KC-135's, last built in 1965(!). For a long time - particularly with the Cold War drawdown - we put off replacing old equipment, but suddenly with a resurgent China and Russia, we've stretched a lot of these airframes lives out while in the late 2000's we finally sought replacements in the form of the KC-46.
All across the board you can see this happen. The F-22 was to replace the F-15 in the 90s/2000s, but was cut short and now
the F-15 has had increasing costs rise to keep an airframe from the 70s and 80s flying. The A-10 was last built in 1984 - it
was due for retirement years ago, but Congressmen (such as McCain) have kept it alive long past their expiration date.
I hope this all gives a little insight into how a lot of spending issues do exist in the military, but the situation is far more complicated than a simple comparison of nominal spending with other nations, and how waste and inefficiency are complex issues within themselves - sometimes by design, sometimes by outside meddling.
Now, let me explain the historical precedence of US military spending and why our spending is a conscious decision, not one haphazardly done.
The Modern History of Defense Spending
Believe it or not, in the wake of World War II, the US had a major debate over isolationism. There was a major drawdown
in the military, with a lot of equipment mothballed or scrapped.
Stalin's actions in Eastern Europe and in Berlin (such as the Berlin blockade) and China falling to the communists
were all major areas of concern. The straw that broke the camel's back, however, was the Korean War:
outright naked aggression by a communist state against another state in the post-WW2 world was just too much.
The US used the newly-created UN (which the USSR at the time was boycotting) to form a coalition of nations
to fight North Korea. In the post-WW2 world, the UN was being tested: would it be toothless like the League of Nations,
or would nations actually stand up and prevent wars of conquest?
This led to a
of the US military which as you can see saw its post-WW2 spike in spending go up to 16% of GDP in the 1950s.
The necessity of a powerful military in the post-WW2 order was predicted by many.
Notably, General Marshall, in his
Biennial Reports as Chief of Staff of the Army
concluded before WW2 even ended that:
- Oceans were no longer enough to protect the US heartland
- Future defenses necessitated a strong forward deployed presence in the world
- Technological superiority would have to exist as post-conflict mobilization and innovation cost a lot of lives
A particularly poignant passage is when he mentions that, if not for British and Soviet lives holding the line, as well as
major blunders by the enemy, the US would have suffered a lot lot more. And that, had the Axis won, interviews with
Goring and other Nazi leadership showed that by 1947, the East Coast of the US would have been subject to attacks by long-range Nazi weapons.
Even Ike, in his famed 'military industrial complex' speech - which gets taken out of context - actually prefaced that
line with his passage
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.
Does all of that sound familiar? Because it should: the US military establishment has been purposefully designed to meet the challenges that General Marshall, Eisenhower, and other top military and political leaders have realized.
We are interested in global
warfare. A vital part of our defense strategy, in the world of long range missiles, supersonic jets, and precision weapons, is to put our front line of defense across those oceans. Bases in Japan, Korea, and Europe, aren't just there because our allies have hostile forces close by, but also because the further away from the US the conflict is, the more layers of defense any foe has to get through to affect the US directly.
Full-spectrum isn't just a catch phrase either: the US is interested in every aspect of warfare from human intelligence to special warfare to ground warfare to air superiority to space superiority. Whereas in the Cold War, NATO allies often focused on specializing in specific areas due to their small size and lack of funding (e.g. the UK was particularly focused on anti-submarine warfare), the US was designed to be not only the bulk of conventional forces but also charged with handling all areas that other nations lacked: logistics (e.g. the US currently has over 230 strategic airlift transports and over 430 aerial refueling tankers - the rest of NATO has about 10 strategic airlift transports and 40 tankers), submarines, bombers, etc.
Even our current aircraft carrier fleet is set to 11 ships by design. Why 11?
- Each aircraft carrier is nuclear powered. With a 50-year lifespan, each carrier goes into drydock at the 25 year mark for its reactor's refueling
- The refueling process is complex and lengthy, and takes 2-3 years to complete at which time the ship goes through major repairs and overhauls to stay relevant the next 25 years
- At the end of said overhaul, another 1-2 years are put on the ship for testing and what not
- With each carrier produced at a staggered 4-5 year interval, at any given time, one of our 11 carriers is out of service
- One carrier is permanently forward deployed to Japan
- Carriers are operated in 18 month cycles broken into 6 month periods. There is a six month deployment followed by six months mostly at home giving crew rest and doing minor repairs and maintenance, and six months in training for the next deployment.
- Nine stateside carriers = 3 rotations of 3 ships rotating inside those 18 month cycles
- Not coincidentally, we have a Pacific Ocean to care about, an Atlantic Ocean to care about, and an Indian Ocean that Congress mandates we care about. The President can truly ask "where are my carriers" any day of the year at any time.
As I said, this is by design
But why you ask? Why is all of this necessary? Good question. Let me explain:
Your Answer to Spending is Answered in the National Security Strategy
Since Eisenhower, the US has pegged spending against the National Security Strategy of each successive presidential administration. During the Cold War, the general US strategy was: "win two major wars at any time" - largely believed to mean the USSR in Europe and China in Asia.
An archive of NSS's
since Reagan is available here.
When the Cold War ended, President Clinton changed the strategy to "win hold win" - win one war, hold the line in another, then win that war when the first one concludes. The NSS also was no longer focused specifically on Russia and China. Correspondingly, the US military shrank from 3 million active + reserve to 2.1 million active + reserve. The US carrier fleet went from no fewer than 15 at any time during the Cold War to a necking down to 11 by the mid 2000's. The US anti-submarine patrol force, for instance, was cut in half overnight in the mid 90s.
In the 2000's, Bush changed it to "1-4-2-1" - protect the homeland first, deter aggression in four regions of the world simultaneously, be able to sustain combat operations in two of them, and win one of those decisively.
When Obama took office, he made a major change. First was the 'Pivot to the Pacific' - largely meant to counter China. As a result, the US refocused its efforts on buying conventional high-tech weaponry to face a resurgent and growing Chinese foe, after two decades of neglect or diverted attention under Clinton and Bush (weapons made to fight guys in pickup trucks don't do so well against actual conventional foes).
And in 2015, the NSS was amended again: this time with a refocusing on Russia after their actions in Crimea and the Ukraine.
Again, instead of arresting defense spending, the President actually asked for more money that year ($630 billion) than
the GOP Congress gave ($610 billion) or what the DOD requested ($580 billion).
(On that note, if you weren't sure, I should tell you that budgeting is made by the DOD, amended by the President, and then sent to Congress for voting in).
Lord knows what President Trump wants to do with our National Security Strategy.
As I wrote, since WW2, there has been a conscious decision to shape our military size and capabilities.
We concluded after WW2 that we could not sit back and wait to build up modern equipment after aggression
has happened, that we need to keep the frontlines overseas, and that we are the only Western nation demographically
and economically capable of facing China and Russia.
And that's ultimately what it all comes down to: our spending can be either too much or too little based on
what we as a country want to do with our strategy.
Spencer Ackerman's "General Dan Bolger says what the US does not want to hear: Why We Lost"
Veneration of the military:
We could cut our military in half and still be well more powerful than China, despite their growth.
Add in our allies, and we could cut our military to 1/4 of today's size and still have adequate strength.
Today's troops are volunteers, and many of them voted for the idiots who started two losing
decade-long wars and started the torture and secret prisons and such. I respect the troops
for doing a hard job, but I don't think we should venerate them.
> We owe a lot to the troops.
We owe a lot to police and firefighters and healthcare workers and teachers and scientists
and laborers, too. Troops are just another on the list.
> There is no comparison. The disparity of risk
> between a police officer or firefighter and a
> combat soldier or a seaman on a warship engaged
> in battle is incomprehensible.
"Degree of risk" is not the proper metric. Usefulness to society is a better way to judge.
Look at it this way: what would happen to the country if we got rid of 90% of our military ?
We'd still be able to defend ourselves. We'd have to rely on allies and geography and diplomacy more.
We wouldn't be able to impose our will on others militarily, but we'd still have our economic power,
our land and wealth and resources and people. We'd suffer some more attacks, but nothing devastating.
We'd still have a powerful military, maybe greater than that of Canada or Australia or something.
But what would happen if we got rid of 90% of our farmers ? Starvation; maybe mostly in other countries,
as we used our money to import food, but still starvation and death.
What would happen if we got rid of 90% of our police and firefighters and EMS ? Perhaps chaos, anarchy.
Far more suffering and death from everyday fires and car accidents and crime.
What would happen if we got rid of 90% of our infrastructure workers (road, sewer, water system, electricity, phones) ?
Our economy and society would collapse.
No, having a huge military, as opposed to a minimal military, is a luxury. We could well do without most of our military.
Benjamin Summers' "Hero worship of the military is getting in the way of good policy"
US Entitlements Budget
What are "entitlements" ?
Government support of individuals, including:
- Child care and development block grant.
Child care subsidies for low-income working families.
Wikipedia's "Child care and development block grant"
Wikipedia's "Education in the United States"
- Head Start.
Education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families.
Wikipedia's "Head Start Program"
- Public education at primary school and high school levels.
- Public education for special-needs children.
Includes children who are blind, deaf, mentally retarded, have multiple disabilities,
have suffered a traumatic brain injury, emotionally disturbed, autistic, learning disability, speech/language disability.
As of 2004, 13.7% of students are identified as requiring special education.
Marcus A. Winters and Jay P. Greene's "Debunking a Special Education Myth"
- Public subsidies to vocational-technical schools, community colleges,
state colleges and universities, adult education, retraining.
- Grants, scholarships and subsidized loans to students.
Wikipedia's "Pell Grant"
- Income tax deductions for education costs above certain percent of income ?
- In recent decades, cost of public education of "special needs" children has exploded.
Wikipedia's "Special education in the United States"
Wikipedia's "Free Appropriate Public Education"
Wikipedia's "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act"
- Military service academies, military colleges, ROTC.
Wikipedia's "United States Service academies"
- Veteran's Administration (VA) gives education benefits for military.
Wikipedia's "No Child Left Behind Act"
Obama talks to kids about education
Mortgage insurance. Insures loans made by private lenders.
Primarily serves people who cannot afford a conventional down payment or otherwise do not qualify for private mortgage insurance.
Wikipedia's "Federal Housing Administration"
Wikipedia's "FHA insured loan"
- Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA, Fannie Mae).
Expands the secondary mortgage market by securitizing mortgages in the form of mortgage-backed securities.
A government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), which now is a publicly traded company. But in 2008 crash, it
had to be bailed out by the govt, and now is essentially owned by the govt (although still publicly traded).
Wikipedia's "Fannie Mae"
- Government National Mortgage Association (GNMA, Ginnie Mae).
Expands affordable housing in USA by channeling global capital into the nation's housing finance markets.
A wholly-owned government corporation.
Was created by splitting it out of FNMA.
Wikipedia's "Government National Mortgage Association"
- Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC, Freddie Mac).
Buys mortgages on the secondary market, pools them, and sells them as a mortgage-backed security to investors on the open market.
A government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), which now is a publicly traded company. But in 2008 crash, it
had to be bailed out by the govt, and now is essentially owned by the govt (although still publicly traded).
Was created to provide competition for FNMA.
Wikipedia's "Freddie Mac"
- Federal Home Loan Banks.
Twelve government-sponsored banks that provide stable, on-demand, low-cost funding to American financial
institutions (not individuals) for home mortgage loans, small business, rural, agricultural, and economic development lending.
The 12 FHLBanks are each structured as cooperatives owned and governed by their member financial institutions,
which today include savings and loan associations (thrifts), commercial banks, credit unions and insurance companies.
Wikipedia's "Federal Home Loan Banks"
- Housing trust funds.
Trust funds set up by all levels of govt, funded in various ways, for various types of housing.
Wikipedia's "Housing trust fund"
- Section 8.
Payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of low-income households.
Wikipedia's "Section 8 (housing)"
Wikipedia's "Office of Public and Indian Housing"
Wikipedia's "Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program"
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Aid to low-income people who are either aged, blind, or disabled.
Administered by the Social Security Administration, but funded from the U.S. Treasury general funds.
Wikipedia's "Supplemental Security Income"
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Cash assistance to poor families with dependent children.
Successor to AFDC.
Maximum of 60 months of benefits within one's lifetime; recipients are required to find a job within 24 months.
Wikipedia's "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families"
- Disability: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Benefits start after 5 months of disability.
Joint federal-state program financed through payroll taxes.
Helps those unemployed through no fault of their own.
Up to 99 weeks of payments. Size of payments depends on past earnings and time worked.
Wikipedia's "Unemployment benefits (United States)"
- Social Security.
Over the years, lots of things have been enacted under the Social Security Act:
disability, retirement, TANF, Medicare, Medicaid, SSI, SCHIP.
Disability and retirement are financed together (as OASDI) via 12.4% payroll tax on first $114K of annual income;
Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Care Tax Credit refund some of this to low-income earners.
Benefits are taxable if retiree's total annual income is over $25K/$32K.
Many state and local govt workers use a state/local retirement system instead of SS; all federal govt
workers and officials (hired after 1984) must use SS.
Wikipedia's "Social Security (United States)"
- Federal insurance of private pension plans.
Wikipedia's "Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation"
- Healthcare and health insurance:
Federal govt program.
Health insurance for the elderly (65 and over), young with disabilities, and a couple of specific diseases.
Part A is largely funded by a 2.9 percent payroll tax; Parts B and D are funded by premiums paid by
Medicare enrollees (as in private insurance) plus general fund revenue.
In some states, for some poor people, Part B premium is paid by Medicaid.
Medicare covers about half of healthcare costs for enrollees. There are deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance,
supplemental insurance (Medigap).
Wikipedia's "Medicare (United States)"
Jointly funded by the state and federal governments and managed by the states.
Health insurance for the poor.
Eligibility and details vary from state to state.
- "Fee for service": Medicaid pays providers for services.
- "Managed care": a private health insurance plan with a fixed monthly premium paid by Medicaid.
- Health Insurance Premium Payment Program (HIPP): not sure how this differs from "managed care".
- A few states provide Medicaid and CHIP funds to help pay for employer healthcare plans. (Is this HIPP ?)
Wikipedia's "Health Insurance Premium Payment Program"
- Insurance subsidies in PPACA (but with fees that balance them). Mostly done
by expanding Medicaid eligibility ?
- Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP; formerly SCHIP).
50/50 funded by the state and federal governments and managed by the states.
Covers uninsured children in families with incomes that are low, but too high to qualify for Medicaid.
Some states also cover their parents, pregnant women, and other adults.
Wikipedia's "State Children's Health Insurance Program"
- Veteran's Administration (VA).
VA is second largest federal govt department, after DOD.
VA benefits include healthcare, disability compensation, pension, education,
home loans, life insurance, vocational, rehabilitation, survivors' benefits, and burial benefits.
Highly-disabled veterans get free healthcare; less-disabled who are not poor have to pay co-pays for
Active-duty military are in a separate TRICARE system.
Wikipedia's "United States Department of Veterans Affairs"
- Income tax deductions for healthcare costs above certain percent of income ?
- Agriculture (price supports, crop insurance, farm income stabilization).
Wikipedia's "Agricultural subsidy - United States"
Wikipedia's "Agricultural policy of the United States"
Wikipedia's "Crop insurance"
Wikipedia's "Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002"
Wikipedia's "Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008"
Wikipedia's "Noninsured Assistance Program"
Charles Abbott's "Drought brings record U.S. cost for crop insurance subsidy"
Doug Bandow's "It's Time To Kick Farmers Off The Federal Dole"
NPR's "Fraud on the Farm" series
Environmental Working Group's "Farm Subsidy Database"
Why aren't Corporate subsidies included in "entitlements" ? Such as:
- Agriculture (price supports, crop insurance, farm income stabilization).
From Wikipedia's "Agricultural subsidy - United States":
"The beneficiaries of the subsidies have changed as agriculture in the United States has changed.
In the 1930s, about 25% of the country's population resided on the nation's 6,000,000 small farms.
By 1997, 157,000 large farms accounted for 72% of farm sales, with only 2% of the U.S. population residing on farms."
From Environmental Working Group's "The Case for Crop Insurance Reform":
"Unlimited crop insurance subsidies ... overwhelmingly flow to the largest and most successful farm businesses.
Unlike other farm subsidies, crop insurance subsidies are not subject to means testing or payment limits
and farmers are not required to adopt basic environmental protections in exchange for premium support from the taxpayer.
While some farms annually collect more than $1 million in crop insurance premium support,
the bottom 80% of policyholders annually collect about $5,000."
Part of "crop price supports" is a "hidden" subsidy; it doesn't show up on a government budget line.
If production or imports are restricted,
consumers pay higher prices when they buy food at the supermarket.
This extra money is going from consumers to the farmers who do produce (and others in the supply chain).
Seth Hanlon's "Big Oil's Misbegotten Tax Gusher"
- R&D subsidies.
Dean Zerbe's "Eight Myths That Keep Small Businesses From Claiming The R&D Tax Credit"
Wikipedia's "Research & Experimentation Tax Credit"
- "Too big to fail" bailouts.
- Liability caps for terrorist attacks or nuclear accidents.
- State and local give-aways for companies to come in and create jobs. Sales tax holidays,
property tax exemptions, govt-paid infrastructure (roads, sewer, etc).
Matthew Yglesias's "Boeing Will Build a Factory in Your Town If You Pay For The Factory"
Louise Story's "As Companies Seek Tax Deals, Governments Pay High Price"
From Erin Nanasi's "Republican Voters Are Angry About All The Wrong Things"
People scream about their tax dollars going to help kids eat, or making sure families can go to the doctor,
or that an elderly woman has heat this winter, but I don't hear a peep about the American corporations that pay no taxes.
Or the mega-churches who dip not just their toe, but their whole damn body into politics, yet enjoy their tax-exempt status
all the way to the bank. Nary a peep about the NFL.
From John Atcheson's "Debunking the Conservative's Economic Boogeymen"
Most of the "welfare" and government handouts go to corporations and the uber-rich,
not some massive cohort of permanently dependent citizens. For example, the federal Joint Committee
on Taxation estimates that there will be $154 billion in special corporate tax breaks in 2013.
If you count state and local taxes the total exceeds $230 billion, with much of it going to "needy" companies such as Walmart.
Meanwhile, the uber-rich get a whole range of tax breaks you and I can only dream of.
Income from stocks and other investments are taxed at only 20%. And the rich don't have to pay
payroll taxes on the vast majority of their earnings because everything above $113,700 is exempt.
Then there is the whole hedge fund and equity manager gambit which allows rich financial fat cats
to pay taxes on ordinary income at maximum rate of 15%.
The list of white collar welfare goes on and on. Lumber barons, mining companies, oil producers
and agribusiness - all are given access to public lands at fire sale prices.
The Resource Renewal Institute found that these low-rent leases for fat cats costs the US $600 billion a year.
From The Daily Beast's "Single Mothers Are Not America's Real Welfare Queens"
If you actually drill into who is getting what benefits from the government, ... the first thing you realize
is there is no "typical" recipient of government aid. If you want to see who in this country is on the
government dole, it turns out that the answer is "everyone". It's just that some of us get our government
assistance in ways that allow us to lie to ourselves and pretend that we're not getting that assistance.
But, the ugly truth is that if you want to see an image of a "welfare queen", the quickest place to look is in the bathroom mirror.
... As Brad Plumer of the Washington Post explained in September 2012, by far the largest group of recipients,
with money sent to them directly by checks, is not, as conservatives assume, single mothers.
No, 53 percent of direct cash entitlements go to people over 65 years old. Another 20 percent goes to disabled
people and another 18 percent to working people, leaving only 9 percent for non-disabled, non-working
people that conservatives like to pretend make up the bulk of recipients of social spending.
Of course, direct cash payments are hardly the only way the government helps people out.
Tax expenditures are also a government benefit that should be considered no different than direct cash payments,
because, at the end of the day, whether the government mails you a check or gives you a tax break,
the result is the same: More money to you, less money in the government coffers. As Plumer demonstrated,
if you incorporate tax breaks like the mortgage interest deduction into your view of social spending,
it turns out the real "welfare queens" are America's wealthiest citizens. The top 20 percent of Americans
receive a whopping 66 percent of tax expenditures, while the bottom 20 percent - the people who to scrape
for every bite of food they get - only get three percent of this government bonanza.
Are these things "entitlements" ?
- Social Security retirement benefits.
SS is not a bank account or 401K, where you paid in and later get your money back out.
It's a transfer system from current workers to current beneficiaries. The money you
paid in decades ago went out that same year to retirees and retiree-survivors and the disabled. The money you get this
year (whether you're a retiree, survivor, or disabled) is coming from this year's workers.
If you live longer than expected, you probably collect more than you paid in.
If you die early, your estate gets nothing from SS.
- Government employee and military pensions: Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) for civilians,
Veteran's Administration (VA) for military, Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), myriad state and local govt employee retirement systems.
Wikipedia's "Federal Employees Retirement System"
- Various tax incentives: Some people would call things such as
the home mortgage interest tax deduction "welfare". It is a government policy
that rewards people for doing things the govt wants to encourage. Is it an "entitlement" or "welfare" ?
Hemant Mehta's "The Yearly Cost of Religious Tax Exemptions: $71,000,000,000"
This whole governmental structure is quite complex: one program might be embodied in multiple pieces
of legislation, administered under multiple federal and state agencies, with special provisions for
specific diseases or military veterans or other classes, funding coming from user fees or specific funds or general taxes at federal
and state level, different options chosen by each state,
benefits might be food or cash or services or vouchers or income tax deductions/credits, etc. Very complicated.
Gina Delvac's "The Welfare Quiz"
(8 simple questions)
Wikipedia's "Social programs in the United States"
Why entitlements are good:
Everyone benefits if the poorest of society are helped. Helping the poor or ill to become healthy
and productive improves the economy, improves our daily quality of life, helps to raise a healthy
and productive next generation of workers.
Abandoning the poor would lead to an
environment we don't want: poor sick people dying on the streets, old retirees starving and
freezing in hovels, poor children with
horrible avoidable diseases, epidemics starting with the poor and spreading to everyone.
That's why hospital emergency rooms treat everyone today: those of us who can pay
don't want what would result from a no-pay-go-away policy. That's also why we
have food-banks and homeless shelters and Social Security and other programs: not just because it's
the morally right thing to do, but to benefit the non-poor too. We wouldn't want
to live in a totally-privatized, no-safety-nets society; it would be ugly. We had that in USA 100 or 130 years ago.
Do you want to be next to sick people in school, church, stores, restaurants, airplanes, stadiums ?
Do you want to be served by sick people in stores and restaurants ?
From Nicholas Kristof's "It's Not Just About Bad Choices"
The journal JAMA Psychiatry last year estimated that millions of low-income Americans suffer from parasitic infections
such as toxocariasis and toxoplasmosis that, in turn, are associated with cognitive impairment or mental health disorders.
Taxes for schools
"I estimate 12 million Americans living in poverty suffer from at least one neglected parasitic or tropical disease,"
says Dr. Peter Hotez, the author of that study. "The media places so much emphasis on imaginary infectious disease threats,
when millions of people in poverty, mostly people of color, have neglected infections that are almost completely ignored."
How big is entitlement spending ?
Factors that pushed up entitlement spending, both under Obama and long-term:
Adam Levine-Weinberg's "The Ugly Truth About the Federal Deficit: It's Not Just Entitlement Spending"
- Crashed economy: increased unemployment, corporate bailouts, SS spending for people who lost jobs
and decided to retire early.
- Disability: Apparently many people, perhaps middle-aged and low-skilled and in marginal health,
lost jobs and ended up on disability. They lost their job, couldn't find another that paid enough
or that their health allowed them to do, couldn't or wouldn't move elsewhere or learn a skill,
exhausted unemployment payments, and went onto long-term disability. Partly this is a result
of some long-term trends: US complacency after WW II (leading to bad education system, union protectionism, trade protectionism, etc),
poor healthcare system, new competition from abroad, automation replacing labor, excess consumption increasing expectations.
From The Economist's "Entitlements in America" 5/2013:
"Enrolment has swelled from 1.3% of the working-age population in 1970 to almost 5% now - because the
workforce is older, because more women are working, and because a loosening of eligibility criteria
makes it easier to qualify for conditions such as mental illness or back pain. Many jobless workers
apply for disability when their unemployment benefits expire. Once on the rolls, fewer than 5% leave."
- Ageing population: increased healthcare and retirement spending.
- Healthcare costs per capita: increased cost of new procedures and drugs, increasing standards of care,
plans that pay for services instead of results.
- Declining health: increased incidence of autism, obesity, diabetes, etc.
And, ironically, today many people survive things that would have killed them in the past,
and their long-term care is costly. Premature infants, crime or accident victims, wounded soldiers.
And longer life-expectancy increases costs of chronic diseases and "new survivors".
- Poor public policies: bad drug policies
(see Drugs page),
bad gun policies
(see Guns page),
faults in justice system
(see Courts and Prisons section).
- War casualties and military: Every soldier killed leaves behind a damaged family collecting government benefits.
Every soldier seriously wounded may cause enormous government spending for medical care for their lifetime,
as well as a damaged family collecting government benefits.
How to fix entitlement spending:
- Change to universal single-payer national health insurance (Medicare for all, mostly;
see Health Care page).
Get rid of Medicaid, CHIP, military TRICARE, VA health insurance, most private insurance companies, employment-based insurance,
government employee health insurance plans.
(Any remaining private insurance should reimburse to patients, not providers, so the paperwork/administration burden falls
only on the people who choose to purchase it.)
Still have private providers (doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, etc), some public hospitals, and VA facilities.
- Greatly expand the number of medical clinics, to reduce visits to hospital emergency rooms, encourage
preventive care, increase health monitoring. These clinics would be a mixture of private-owned (attached to hospitals,
doctor's offices, pharmacies) and public-owned (in schools, government complexes, military bases).
- Get rid of corporate subsidies: energy, agriculture, "too big to fail", liability caps, etc.
Regulate Wall Street better and cap sizes of corporations, so "too big to fail" is eliminated.
Privatize TSA (make airports and airlines pay for it, and bear the liability).
- Reduce number of programs and federalize them: the number of programs and agencies is crazy. Moving more things
to the federal level would simplify everything; we should be able to get rid of lots of laws
and bureaucrats and lawyers by doing that. If a family moves from one state to another,
why should most of their entitlement rules change ? Better to have a program controlled by one piece of legislation,
one Congress, one set of bureaucrats and lawyers, rather than fifty-one of each. (Or thousands of govt bodies,
in the case of programs that involve federal, state, county, and local govts.) Surely we can build in
some flexibility to allow states or local govts to experiment a bit.
- Child care: integrate primary-school with pre-natal and pre-K and child care and nutrition (school lunch,
food stamps, food banks) and other child/family support programs, and medical clinics,
making a one-stop support for children from age -1 to 12 or so. Expand the "school day" or "care day" in these
facilities to 7 AM to 7 PM, and expand the "school year" to year-round, so parents can work and kids
have a safe place to do homework and play and exercise (kids don't have to stay there all day and all year; those
are the maximum hours).
Lack of care for children in the first
few years of life causes enormous costs later on (failure to thrive, health problems, eventually failure to get educated,
lack of a good job, drug problems, prison, etc).
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study,
Got Your ACE Score?
Lack of support for single parents or poor parents keeps the whole family poor, into succeeding generations.
- Housing for the poor or homeless: integrate housing with social support (mental health, drug rehab, job placement) and medical clinic
making one-stop support for residents. Apartment buildings with support services (medical clinic, counseling, cafeteria, security, etc)
on the ground floor, and bus or van transport to shopping and jobs.
Similar facilities could be used as halfway houses for those released from prison,
as assisted-care facilities for the elderly,
and as assisted-care facilities for the mentally handicapped.
Almost half of homeless men had traumatic brain injury in their lifetime
Malcolm Gladwell's "Million-Dollar Murray" (a few of the homeless, with multiple recurring problems, cause enormous costs)
- Family planning and education: free contraception everywhere,
better sex-education, marriage and parenting classes in high school,
home economics and budgeting and money-management and cooking/nutrition classes.
Some kind of "how life works" class, where various paths and events are explained: marriage, divorce,
childbirth, child-rearing, education, jobs, getting fired, retirement, major illnesses,
care for parents, housing, death, legal system, military, etc.
Invent a male contraceptive pill.
- Education in general: There are too many school-districts and school-boards; we've pushed control
of education down to the local level. Fewer, bigger districts would reduce the administrative overhead,
give economies of scale, reduce the segregation between rich and poor school districts. Perhaps we should
have one school district per county.
- High-school and higher education:
One idea: make mathematics (algebra, trig, calculus) optional in high-school and college.
Apparently a lot of dropouts are due to mandatory math classes.
Andrew Hacker's "Is Algebra Necessary?"
We need ways to reduce costs of college. Maybe state colleges shouldn't try to be research universities ?
Maybe direct more students to community colleges ? Maybe cap the total loan amount per student ?
- Social Security is easy to fix: remove the taxable-income cap without increasing benefits (higher taxes for high-income people),
and means-test benefits (lower benefits for rich retirees). Don't mess with the retirement age or cost-of-living adjustments.
From discussion on reddit:
SS has never been 100% future-proof solvent in the sense that the SS tax has been increased roughly a dozen
times since inception in order to keep it "solvent". The equation is pretty simple -- money in should over
the long run equal money out. The current argument is over whether more money should be put in, or less money taken out.
SS is solvent for the next 20 years or so. Then if it gets tweaked, it will go on forever. If not, it will pay 80 percent
long into the future. Is that "broke" by any definition?
When SS was conceived, income distribution was more equitable than it is today. We let the system
be rigged so the wealthiest don't have to pay proportionately to their income ... much like the rest of our tax code.
Raise the income limit subject to SS tax and the system is solvent, essentially forever.
It's not the system's fault we've allowed the sick joke some people call supply-side economics
to run our financial lives and corporate interests to take over our government.
Wikipedia on fixing SS shortfall
David Welna's "To Fix Social Security, Some Democrats Want To Lift Wage Cap"
Sen. Brown Announces Bill to Protect Seniors and Retirees by Increasing Benefits, Extending Life of Social Security
Michael Goodwin's "What's Going On With Social Security ?"
Robert Kuttner's "Why Social Security Beats All Rivals -- And the Case for Expanding It"
- Reduce the size of the military/intel/security establishment, and stop invading countries to fix them
(see Military Budget section).
Move the money and people into productive uses (private sector, repairing infrastructure, fighting climate change and pollution).
This will reduce the number of military casualties who need lifetime care, improve the economy, improve health.
Note: much of this reduces the size of government
. Consolidating a zillion govt health programs into universal
single-payer health insurance reduces the number of govt employees and the govt burden on employers and providers.
Getting rid of subsidies to corporations eliminates govt programs and govt employees.
Consolidating school districts reduces the number of govt employees.
Reducing size of military/intel/security establishment greatly reduces size of government.
The Economist's "Entitlements in America"
Things that wouldn't work:
- National Service: similar to CCC during New Deal,
or a year of military service after high school. A way to instill discipline and good work habits,
and give people self-respect and a feeling of accomplishment.
I don't see how this could work today. We don't have a lot of big unskilled-labor
projects to do, such as carving out new national parks. I think today big construction projects
are skilled, fairly automated operations. Even most farm labor is skilled and/or automated.
Unskilled or less-skilled jobs such as
picking up litter from roadways, natural disaster cleanup, wildfire-fighting come with safety and liability issues that people
didn't worry about in the past. Would be nice if a civilian corps could run greatly expanded
recycling and composting centers, but probably automation has replaced a lot of labor in those,
or scrap is sent overseas to countries with lax environmental regulations.
I doubt the military would welcome a huge influx
of unskilled short-termers to deal with every year; we have a professional, high-tech military now.
Wikipedia's "National Civilian Community Corps"
Wikipedia's "AmeriCorps VISTA"
- Privatize Everything:
USA's privatized health system costs more than twice that of the universal systems
in other major countries, per capita, and gets worse results. How could you privatize welfare or food for
poor children, without just letting the poorest freeze and starve ? How could you privatize
retirement systems, without pushing all risks onto the unwise or unlucky, and letting the
losers (and their families) freeze and starve ? Recent behavior of Wall Street is no
recommendation for "private sector is always better"; they've stolen our money every chance
- Push everything down to the States:
If the rules are different from state to state, this creates "friction" (harder for workers to move
from one state to another, harder for employers to operate in multiple states, fewer economies of scale).
Why should we have fifty sets of laws, fifty legislatures, fifty sets of bureaucrats and lawyers
for each issue ? (More, when you add the territories, the Indian nations, and District of Columbia.)
We'll never get rid of many national systems such as VA or Social Security; the people in them
would say "why should I have to change if I move to a different state ?".
Many state budgets and state retirement systems are in dire conditions; the states haven't done well there.
Today we run education mostly at the state and local level, and that doesn't seem to be working out too well for us.
Sure, some amounts of experimentation and local control are desirable, but perhaps there are other ways of getting them.
We have known, national solutions to the healthcare and retirement problems; we should do them.
I have never understood the "states rights" fetish. Are we one country or fifty countries ?
- Stop waste and fraud:
Governments have been trying to stop fraud for a long time, using law enforcement and tax agencies
and other investigative agencies. I suppose we could strengthen those efforts, although maybe the small-government
advocates wouldn't like adding more agents, implementing some kind of national ID, connecting databases
from multiple states, etc. I'm unaware of any
technical changes to entitlement programs that would reduce fraud.
There is plenty of inefficiency in govt procurement, and technology development.
Some of the problem is due to politics interfering in decisions, some due to
the sheer size of the projects, some due to having 51+ (or more) governments involved in
the same program. Big corporations have similar problems with big technology deployments;
that's why many of them still are using accounting systems written in the 70's,
why many mergers fail, etc.
Somehow those on the Right who scream about govt waste and fraud don't scream much about possible waste and fraud on
the military/intel/security side of the budget. Probably is some over there, right ?
Reuters "Unaccountable: The High Cost of the Pentagon's bad bookkeeping"
Chris Arnade's "Looking for fraud? Don't look at food stamp recipients, look at Wall Street"
- Kick those slackers and moochers off the government money:
Sure, some people deliberately live off the dole. I doubt it's very pleasant.
But many children are there due to
choices or circumstances of their parents; should those kids be punished ? Many people are there
because of bad luck (illness, accident, town's major employer closed, whole economy crashed, etc).
Many people are there because of bad actions of others (victim of crime, divorce, stupid behavior, etc).
Some people never had a decent chance (grew up in a horrible area, born to poor and stupid parents,
grew up in a terrible education system, etc).
Some people were doing okay until their job was replaced by automation, or sent overseas.
And it benefits you if other people are helped. Healthcare for the poor or ill helps everyone.
Helping poor people raise healthy, well-educated, productive children is good for all of society.
- Retrain people to get them off the government money:
"Retraining" is a lot harder than it sounds. These days, more and more jobs require
good basic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic) which many people just don't have. Sure,
we have a high "literacy rate" in this country, but that doesn't mean people can read and
write at a high level, with the focus and attention to detail needed to deal with technology and office work.
A lot of people don't have the logic and critical-thinking skills needed in those jobs.
A lot of people barely squeaked out of high school, and (back then) had no problem finding a job on an assembly
line somewhere. Now the economy is different, and there is competition from automation and foreign countries.
I was working at AT&T in the 80's when they "divested" and downsized and became more of a computer company.
Telephone systems were changing from circuits-and-wires-and-switches to packet-switched-computer-networks.
The unions forced AT&T to pay for retraining classes to the guys who used to climb telephone poles
and pull cable and punch wires into terminal blocks, to train them as computer operators or network operators or something.
It simply didn't work. Those guys needed to repeat high school or something to get up to speed in the new
environment. And they needed a total attitude change.
Retraining is easier when you're in your 20's and healthy and flexible. When you're in your 50's, tired, declining health,
committed to mortgage and kids and such, caring for aged parents, it's a different story. Training for a new career
and maybe having to move to find a job is not so easy. And who knows, maybe in 5 years that new career will be overtaken
by technology or automation or competition, and you'll have to do it again.
Wikipedia's "Senior Community Service Employment Program"
- Guaranteed minimum income, or Universal Basic Income (UBI):
At least two forms of this: give low-income people enough money to bring them up to some income level $N each year,
or just give everyone a standard lump-sum $M each year (regardless of any other income they have). UBI is the latter.
reddit's "Basic Income FAQ"
I think giving out money would help a lot of people, but also just enable some people
to continue bad behavior (drugs, alcohol, gambling, bad decisions), and not address some problems (mental illness, crime).
Perhaps it's better to give out services, or e-card credits for services.
Some of the examples claimed to show that Basic Income works really show that reducing poverty works, or show that
giving poor/homeless people housing and jobs and services works. Some examples show that very poor people spend
a cash grant on basic needs; does that mean that additional cash would be spent wisely too ?
It's not clear that giving cash is the right thing to do.
Basic Income is just ONE possible way to help poor people or the permanently unemployed. Being against BI doesn't
necessarily mean you're against helping poor people. [And face it, the permanently unemployed are going to be poor.]
Rather than a guaranteed minimum income, and leaving people to purchase everything (housing, education, childcare, healthcare, etc)
in the open market, let's fix the government and private support services. We should have universal single-payer health insurance
and healthcare. We should turn schools (public or private) into one-stop family-support centers: school,
free meals, medical clinic, day-care, tutoring, counseling all in one place,
so the working poor have a place to leave their kids while the adults are at work. We should have apartment blocks (govt or private)
that are people-support centers: housing, food, counseling, medical clinic, mass transit stop, security all in one place,
so the homeless and working poor have a place to live and support for getting off drugs and alcohol and getting medical care.
This is a paternalistic approach. But I think a lot of people have shown that they
need guidance and support. The free-market, free-agent approach often doesn't work.
Scott Santens' "Why we should all have a basic income"
AnarchoDoom's "Universal Basic Income: freedom for workers?"
From Felix Salmon's "Universal Basic Income Is Not the Solution to Poverty":
"UBI is a pretty inefficient way of giving poor people money. Think about it this way: Just 40 percent of a UBI's expenditure would
go to the bottom 40 percent of the population, and a mere 10 percent would go to the 10 percent who need it most."
Great podcast about this:
Richard Fidler interview of Michael Casey, July 2012.
Globalization has been good:
- Raised the standard of living and health of hundreds of millions of people,
mainly in Asia (China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, India, etc).
- Cheaper prices and more products for consumers.
- Interlocking supply chains and trade relationships make wars less likely.
The world's trading and economies have become distorted:
- USA has had runaway consumption, both on consumer side and on government side (military).
This has been enabled by the US dollar being the reserve currency for the world, and the USA
having the most stable system (government, economy, courts, police) in the world.
And the carry-over from being the last country standing after WW II
- USA has had problems unrelated to globalization: excess consumption and debt, income inequality, housing bubbles,
financial insanity leading to 2008 crash, bad healthcare system.
This has caused a plateau or decline in most people's wealth, which many
blame on globalization (it's convenient to just blame foreigners for everything)
- Export-oriented and high-savings countries (China, Germany, Japan) are sitting on tons
of savings, and not consuming enough. In China's case, this is partly because the government is
terrified of being overthrown, and so is totally focused on keeping people happy with jobs and job growth. And they
also overspend on construction, and prevent their "floating" (formerly-rural) workers from buying housing or education
in the cities
- EU has a combination of over-consumption (Ireland, Spain, Greece) and over-export/over-savings (Germany)
- I would guess that the over-export/over-savings/under-consumption of Germany and Japan is due
to two things: psychological effects from post-WWII period, and aging populations
- Mexico got whipsawed: NAFTA passed, young Mexicans moved from rural areas to factories at northern border,
then China joined WTO, and Chinese exports to USA pushed Mexico out of the market.
Now Mexico has northern cities full of unemployed young people, which adds to the drug violence and illegal immigration.
(But Mexico still is a major exporter.)
From Thomas Friedman's "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" (1999)
From the mid-1800s to the late 1920s the world experienced a similar era of globalization. ...
Great Britain, which was then the dominant global power, was a huge investor in emerging markets,
and fat cats in England, Europe and America were often buffeted by financial crises, triggered by
something that happened in Argentine railroad bonds, Latvian government bonds or German government bonds.
There were no currency controls, so no sooner was the transatlantic cable connected in 1866 than
banking and financial crises in New York were quickly being transmitted to London or Paris. ...
In those days, people also migrated more than we remember, and, other than in wartime, countries did
not require passports for travel before 1914. All those immigrants who
flooded America's shores came without visas. When you put all of these factors
together, along with the inventions of the steamship, telegraph, railroad and eventually telephone,
it is safe to say that this first era of globalization before World War I shrank the world from a size
"large" to a size "medium".
This first era of globalization and global finance capitalism was broken apart by the successive hammer
blows of World War I, the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression, which combined to fracture the
world both physically and ideologically. The formally divided world that emerged after World War II was then frozen in place by the Cold War.
The Cold War was also an international system. It lasted roughly from 1945 to 1989, when, with the fall of the Berlin Wall,
it was replaced by another system: the new era of globalization that we are now in. Call it
"Globalization Round II". It turns out that the roughly seventy-five-year period from the start
of World War I to the end of the Cold War was just a long time-out between one era of globalization and another.
While there are a lot of similarities in kind between the previous era of globalization and the one we are now in, what is new today is the degree
and intensity with which the world is being tied together into a single globalized marketplace and village. What is
also new is the sheer number of people and countries able to partake of today's globalized economy and information
networks, and to be affected by them. ... Daily foreign exchange trading in 1900 was measured
in the millions of dollars. By April 1998 it was up to $1.5 trillion a day, and still rising. ...
This new era of globalization, compared to the one before World War I, is turbocharged.
... the previous era of globalization was built around falling transportation costs.
... today's era of globalization is built around falling telecommunications costs ...
[Other differences: new era is making world much tighter, letting individuals reach out,
based on an open international system pushed by USA after WW II.]
... If the first era of globalization shrank the world from a size "large" to a size "medium",
this era of globalization is shrinking the world from a size "medium" to a size "small".
Globalization is the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never
witnessed before - in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach
around the world farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before, and in a way that is enabling the world to reach
into individuals, corporations and nation-states farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before. ...
The driving idea behind globalization is free-market capitalism ...
[The Berlin Wall was physical, but there were many other types of "walls":
Cold War blocs, national boundaries, trade barriers, different currencies, currency
and capital controls, different economic systems.] What blew away all these walls were three fundamental changes -
changes in how we communicate, how we invest and how we learn about the world.
[Changes in communication and learning include cell-phones, computers, Internet, cable, satellite dishes.]
... several innovations involving computerization, telecommunications, miniaturization,
compression technology and digitization. ...
[Changes in finance include development of commercial bond market in 1960's, securitization
of mortgages starting in 1970's, elimination
of fixed currency exchange-rates in 1970's, junk bonds in 1980's, securitization of international debt
(which broke an "old boys" network), creation of 401(k) accounts, online brokerages, etc.]
[When the walls were blown away] they also blew away all the major ideological alternatives to
free-market capitalism. People can talk about alternatives to the free market and global integration,
they can demand alternatives, they can insist on a "Third Way", but for now none is apparent. ...
... the centrally planned, nondemocratic alternatives offered in the past - communism, socialism and fascism - helped
to abort the first era of globalization as they were tested out on the world stage from 1917 to 1989.
There is only one thing to say about those alternatives: They didn't work
. So ...
those people who are unhappy with the Darwinian brutality of free-market capitalism don't have any
ready ideological alternative now. When it comes to the question of which system today is the most
efficient at generating rising standards of living, the historical debate is over. The answer is free-market capitalism.
Other systems may be able to distribute and divide income more efficiently and equitably, but none
can generate income to distribute as efficiently as free-market capitalism. ...
... there are many reasons for the widening income gap [between haves and have-nots within industrialized countries].
These include massive demographic shifts from rural to urban areas, rapid technological changes that increasingly
reward knowledge workers over the less skilled, the decline of unions, rising immigration into
developed countries which drives down certain wages, and the shift in manufacturing from high- to low-wage countries,
which also holds down salaries.
... the factor that may be the most important, and certainly has been the most visible in my own travels.
This is the phenomenon of "winner take all" - which refers to the fact that the winners in any field today
can really cash in because they can sell into this massive global marketplace, while those who are just
a little less talented, or not skilled at all, are limited to selling in just their local market and
therefore tend to make a lot, lot less. ...
... the widening income gaps that are helping to feed a backlash against globalization around the world.
These widening income gaps are particularly noticeable outside the United States where middle classes tend to be
much smaller and where antimonopoly and other income-equalizing laws are less stringent. ... free markets and
free trade produce far greater incomes for a society as a whole. That is a fact. But that income is highly unequally
distributed and the whole let-her-rip capitalism that comes with it is enormously socially disruptive. But to stick
with a closed, regulated, bureaucratically run economy in today's world will impoverish a society as a whole,
and can be even more socially disruptive - without generating any of the resources to ameliorate conditions
for those left behind. ...
... ideological backlashers against globalization have more attitude than workable programs, more
ideas about how to distribute income than about how to generate it.
... opponents of globalization resent it because they feel ... they have been forced
into a one-size-fits-all [system]. ... some feel economically pinched by it. Some worry that
they don't have the knowledge, skills or resources [to ever really benefit from it. Some
resent the widening income gaps or] the way it squeezes jobs from higher-wage countries to lower-wage ones.
Some don't like it because it opens them to all sorts of global cultural forces and influences ...
Some don't like it because it seems to put a higher priority on laws to promote free trade than it
does on laws to protect [the environment]. Some don't like it because they feel they have no say
in its design. And some don't like it because they feel that getting their countries up to [global standards]
is just too hard.
... The power of the backlash is hard to predict, because while all the various groups can agree
that globalization is hurtful to them, they have no shared agenda, ideology or strategy for making
it less so for all. ... [some will simply lash out] without offering a sustainable economic alternative.
Their only message will be: STOP.
What is going on in the world today, in the very broadest sense, is that through the process
of globalization everyone is being forced toward [the American system]. ...
But not everyone likes [the American system] and what it stands for, and you can understand why.
Embedded in the Japanese, Western European and communist [systems] are social contracts very different
from the American one, as well as very different attitudes about how markets should operate and be controlled.
The Europeans and the Japanese believe in the state exercising power over the people and over markets,
while Americans tend to believe more in empowering the people and letting markets be as free as possible
to sort out who wins and who loses.
Because the Japanese, Western Europeans and communists are uncomfortable with totally unfettered markets and the unequal
benefits and punishments they distribute, their [systems] are designed to cushion such inequalities and to equalize rewards.
Their [systems] also pay more attention to the distinctive traditions and value preferences of their communities.
The Western Europeans do this by employing fewer people, but paying them higher wages and collecting higher
taxes to generously support the unemployed and to underwrite a goody bag of other welfare-state handouts. The Japanese
do it by paying people a little less but guaranteeing them lifetime employment, and then protecting those lifetime
jobs and benefits by restricting foreign competitors from entering the Japanese market. The American [system],
by contrast, is much more efficient: the customer is king, [commerce] has no social function; its only purpose is
to provide the most [product] at the cheapest price. ...
[Said to a foreign leader who says globalization is an American conspiracy to hold down the Arab world:]
But the truth is, we aren't thinking about you at all!
Not for a second. ... we're trapped under the
same pressures as you are, and we're trying to keep one step ahead of the competition just like you are,
and we're worried about what the bond market is going to do next, just like you are. ...
... I started to get mad about the budget debate that was then going on in the U. S. Congress.
... we have something tremendously special in America. But if we want to preserve it, we have to pay for it,
we have to nurture it. But when I listened at that time to the infamous 1994 class of freshmen Republicans,
I heard mean-spirited voices, voices uninterested in any compromise, voices for whom the American
government was some kind of evil enemy. I heard men and women who insisted that the market alone should rule,
and who thought it was enough to be right about the economic imperatives of free trade and globalization,
and the rest would take care of itself. I heard lawmakers who seemed to believe America had no special
responsibility for maintaining global institutions, such as the UN, the World Bank and the IMF, which are
critical for stabilizing an international system from which America benefits more than any other country.
And as I thought about all this on the tarmac of Kigali Airport (Rwanda), I said to myself, "Well, my
freshmen Republican friends, come to Africa - it's a freshmen Republican's paradise." Yes sir, nobody in Liberia
pays taxes. There's no gun control in Angola. There's no welfare as we know it in Burundi and no big government to interfere
in the market in Rwanda. But a lot of their people sure wish there were.
... For a lot of reasons, it is very easy to distort and demonize globalization ... [Why ?]
Because people who are the biggest losers from globalization - workers who have lost
their jobs to robots or foreign sweatshops - know exactly who they are. ... People who are
beneficiaries of globalization, of more open trade and of foreign investment, often don't have a clue
who they are. They often don't make the connection between globalization and their rising
standards of living, and therefore are difficult to mobilize. ...
Another reason globalization is easy to distort is that people don't understand that it is
largely a technology-driven phenomenon, not a trade-driven one. [Many jobs are taken away by
automation, not by foreigners. They would be taken away even if we didn't have free trade.] ...
[We need a politics of sustainable globalization.] But a pure market vision is not enough.
It is too brutal and therefore politically unsustainable. The Left, meanwhile, or what's left of
the Left, has tried to hold on to the paternalism of the welfare state as much as possible.
That is not economically sustainable.
What is needed instead is of either of these extremes is a new social compact that both embraces free markets bust also ensures
that they benefit, and are tolerable for, as many people as possible. ...
Suppose we tried to reverse globalization ?
From discussion on reddit:
> How would things in the United States change if
> large companies such as Apple and Nike didn't
> outsource production, and manufactured everything
> in the US?
Person A: Maybe we would revolutionize robotic manufacturing.
Person B: Precisely what would happen. People would invest a lot in their company and in the long run spend very little.
It's what most food companies did a while back. Outsourcing food manufacturing is hard so they simply automate it all with machines.
Person C: I'm a roboticist, trust me when I say that this is the direction manufacturing is going.
Though I fear it isn't going to be a good thing necessarily. Sure it will mean you can produce
all your products in America, it will mean some serious innovation on the robotics front, but ultimately
it will not lead to more jobs for America or China for that matter. For companies, although they may not know/understand it yet,
the future is to have a factory without workers, that work 24 hours a day, workers that don't get sick, that don't
need health insurance, that don't take sick days, experience is transferable and thus units are instantly replaceable.
Now you can outlaw this, but some other country is going to implement it, and you are screwed as a company if you don't use them.
Person D: It will free human life from the drudgery of assembly line work.
Surely we can find something even better to do with the extra man-hours.
Jason Pargin (AKA David Wong of Cracked) recently argued that the stereotype of Milennials as lazy good-for-nothings
is a product of a very weird trend in society: we don't need all the human capital we have, but we still
need consumers to buy things - things made with a "human" touch - to maintain our economy. The result
is essentially a Rube-Goldberg machine of private welfare. There are still baristas at Starbucks and checkers
at grocery stores, but why? We've developed cappuccino machines and self-checkouts that work fantastically.
If Starbucks switched to automated coffee makers instead of baristas, there would be a hundred thousand
unemployed baristas in the US without the funds to buy Nikes and Macbooks, and Starbucks would seem
to customers like an overpriced commodity that can be produced at home. (Which it is. Baristas don't
have any skills you don't have. Just some syrups.) It's the same line of thinking that made Betty Crocker
take eggs out of their powdered cake mix to make people feel like they made something when actually they
just threw some eggs, powder, and water in a pan and baked it. The finished product could easily be reproduced
without humans. Checkers are the human face of the grocery chain - the chain gets to say it brings jobs to the
teenagers in the community. It gives the teenagers the ability to be low-level consumers - they buy soda,
iPods, hot pockets, makeup, movie tickets, et cetera.
A better example: the US Army has literally asked Congress to stop making tanks for the Army. In the California
desert there are several warehouses full of brand new tanks that will never see combat because they are designed
for fighting off foreign invaders in the event of a Cold War catastrophe - a fear that has long-since ceased to be
realistic. But if Congress stopped ordering tanks, 11,000 factory workers in Ohio would be out of a job.
Do you want to be the a*****e that voted to put 11,000 hard-working Americans out of a job just because they weren't NEEDED any more?
If you think about it, those 11,000 people are on a type of welfare - their productivity and labor
aren't necessary, but we're paying them anyway. In fact, they're actually wasting costly materials.
The American taxpayers are paying a salary to produce an excess. Why not just put the workers on a
salary and have them grow corn instead of tanks? At least then we'd have fuel, and there wouldn't be
a desert full of unused tanks in the middle of nowhere.
== Direct Answer ==
The U.S. would be very different if Apple could
* manufacture there. The city where Apple produced its
products would be highly industrialized and would be a key producer of electronic components; perhaps the
biggest in the world. The city would have a huge population, a matching transportation system, and a unique
higher education system capable of producing a staggering number of engineers and managers at a rapid pace.
(In other words, it would be like Guangzhou or Shenzhen). (* Apple can't manufacture in the U.S. because
so many of the parts and personnel would have to be imported from Asia.)
On the other hand, Nike could move all of its manufacturing to the U.S. right now and nothing major about
the country would change. Nike just isn't really that important.
== Background ==
The fact is, America just doesn't have the manpower and infrastructure necessary to support the level
of manufacturing required by some companies. There are two important considerations to be made regarding
where to manufacture products: how automated the process is, and the length of the supply chain.
The best place to manufacture items with processes that are not highly automated (think clothing) is anywhere
with a cheap labor force. That's why clothes are made in India, Vietnam, etc. The machinery and the labor
force to run them are cheap, since there's so much that needs to be done by hand, cutting labor costs is the highest priority.
The best places to manufacture items with highly automated processes (chemicals, food, software) are places where
there is a large specialized labor force. A company making food is going to need a lot of chemists, engineers,
machinists and managers, but probably only a handful of unskilled people. In this model, labor costs aren't
a major consideration because most of the employees design the tools and processes that are then used to create the end product.
However, we have not talked about the most significant aspect of manufacturing: the supply chain. A company can have the fastest,
most efficient manufacturing process in the world, but that doesn't matter if you can't get the materials
necessary for production. For the most part, physical goods manufactures use a technique developed by the
Japanese called Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing. JIT strives to reduce costs by only making a part when
it is requested (reducing inventory) and only keeping on-hand the amount of supplies that you'll need
to produce only enough goods for that hour/day/week. The goal is to minimize the amount of things sitting around; inventory costs you money.
Different industries require different supply chains. Proctor & Gamble is going to have a lot of agricultural
goods and chemicals coming into its facilities, but Ford is going to have thousands of car parts being delivered
to its factories. If you were going to start a new car manufacturing plant from scratch, the best place to build it
would be somewhere with an existing automotive supply chain because it will be cheaper to get parts and there will
be experienced people in the area to help run it.
The United States is the largest producer of automobiles in the world. The reason why even non-U.S. companies like
Toyota, Subaru, BMW, Hyundai, and Mercedes Benz manufacture cars in the U.S. is because GM, Ford and Chrysler invested
the money necessary to build a supply chain capable of producing automobiles. There are hundreds of thousands of
parts that go into producing a car (and some of those parts consists of thousands of parts themselves) and all of
these parts need to arrive at the plant on the very day (maybe even the hour) that the part will be installed on
the car. This approach is not feasible if you're shipping parts over from Germany.
The further a part has to travel to the next step in the manufacturing process, the more expensive the process
That's important; read it again.
With a company like Apple or Dell, there are thousands of parts required to build their electronic devices.
Most of the parts are specialized electronic components that can only come from Japan, China or Taiwan.
So it makes sense to manufacture electronic in one of these places.
Edit: I remember reading an article with Tim Cook (the person responsible for putting into place Apple's manufacturing
process and successor to Steve Jobs) talk about the Apple supply chain: he claims that many of the parts
for the iPhone are produced within blocks of one another in order to reduce costs. That's how ridiculously
dedicated Apple is to their manufacturing process.
Person E: Not all goods have a cost structure that is dominated by labor costs. For the iPhone, assembly is 2-5% of the cost.
Person F: It's the supply chains. Need items from 50 different factories? No sweat, built
within 50 km of Shenzen. In the US? Made in 17 different states. Sure, the labor costs aren't huge, but the
inconvenience, the new risks, the logistics costs etc pile up tremendously.
Person G: If the production came back to the US wouldn't the supply chains become shorter as
there'd be more demand for the internal components?
Person H: Clearly you haven't been to Shenzen. The infrastructure is staggering
. It's a difference of kind.
Assembly and manufacture aren't necessarily the same thing. [For many "we now build it here in USA again" products]
I imagine many of the components were still made elsewhere and shipped to the US for final assembly.
We would all be poorer; isolationism is a bad fiscal policy.
From Charles Duhigg and Keth Bradsher's "How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work":
[Apple moved manufacturing to Asia.]
In part, Asia was attractive because the semiskilled workers there were cheaper. But that wasn't driving Apple.
For technology companies, the cost of labor is minimal compared with the expense of buying parts and managing
supply chains that bring together components and services from hundreds of companies.
For Mr. Cook, the focus on Asia "came down to two things," said one former high-ranking Apple executive.
Factories in Asia "can scale up and down faster" and "Asian supply chains have surpassed what's in the U.S."
The result is that "we can't compete at this point," the executive said.
"The entire supply chain is in China now," said another former high-ranking Apple executive.
"You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That's the factory next door. You need a million screws?
That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours."
Another critical advantage for Apple was that China provided engineers at a scale the United States
could not match. Apple's executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to
oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones.
The company's analysts had forecast it would take as long as nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States.
In China, it took 15 days.
My reasoning about job loss:
I think loss of jobs in USA is mostly due to several unstoppable trends:
- People in rest of world are getting more skilled.
- Technology (containerization, telecomm) is reducing barriers around the world.
- Technology (automation) is eliminating a lot of jobs.
We in USA are looking at it from a post-WWII perspective, where we were top dog in everything for a couple of decades,
because most other countries had been flattened in the war. But that was a temporary situation; now we have competition,
so we no longer have the high growth and guaranteed jobs we used to have.
From Bill Bryson's "Notes from a Big Country"
I can't imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America in
the 1950's. No country had ever known such prosperity. When the war ended the United States
had $26 billion worth of factories that hadn't existed before the war, $140 billion in savings
and war bonds just waiting to be spent, no bomb damage and practically no competition.
All that American companies had to do was stop making tanks and battleships and start making
Buicks and Frigidaires - and boy did they. By 1951, when I came sliding down the chute,
almost 90 percent of American families had refrigerators, and nearly three quarters
had washing machines, telephones, vacuum cleaners and gas or electric stoves - things that
most of the rest of the world could still only fantasize about. Americans owned 80 per cent of the
world's electrical goods, controlled two-thirds of the world's productive capacity,
produced over 40 per cent of its electricity, 60 per cent of its oil and 66 per cent of its steel.
The 5 per cent of people on Earth who were Americans had more wealth than the other 95 per cent combined.
From Daniel W. Drezner's "Donald Trump's Big Lie about the global economy":
... the truth is that while a small fraction of American manufacturing jobs migrated overseas over the past few decades,
a far greater fraction of manufacturing jobs simply disappeared and are not coming back. The far bigger driver of these
job losses is the creative destruction that comes from technological innovation and productivity increases. ...
At the same time that U.S. manufacturing jobs have disappeared, U.S. manufacturing output has increased.
Manufacturing has simply become so productive that it is no longer the jobs engine that it was in the 20th century.
From /u/bukkakesasuke on reddit:
There are three major divisions of work:
Primary (food production, raw resource extraction)
Secondary (processing and manufacturing)
Tertiary (services and transport)
The primary sector went from 99% of people's jobs to being less than 1% now because of mechanization.
A man on a tractor can feed hundreds. That was ok because people could move from farming to the secondary sector
to process this new wealth of resources.
The secondary sector then became almost completely done in by advances in industrialization. One plant
conveyor belt with ten workers can produce more tools in an hour than a craft shop could make in a month.
That was ok because when these manufacturing jobs dried up we moved up to the tertiary focused economy:
serving all these goods and delivering expertise to others.
Now, automation will take away the last of the secondary sector, and many of these service
and transport jobs. Machine intelligence will take away the jobs that require expertise but not a
lot of creativity (already developed techniques like surgery, routine taxes, filing claims against parking tickets, etc).
There's no real "fourth level" to go into. The only fourth level is research, development, and novel engineering.
Obviously most people aren't suited for these jobs, even if we let everyone have free education to the PhD level most would not pass.
Interesting article, tracing NAFTA from Reagan to G H W Bush to Bill Clinton:
Paul Rosenberg's "Own up to NAFTA, Democrats: Trump is right that the terrible trade pact was Bill Clinton's baby"
Angelo Young's "The BS behind NAFTA and TPP: The economic benefits of free-trade deals are small according to a new congressional report"
By the way, it is in Russia's interest to manipulate the US population into opposing globalization.
Russia has a relatively small economy, and exports are mainly fossil fuels and food.
Strong trade links among USA, China, India, EU, etc lead to stronger alliances in other ways (military, human rights, pro-democracy, etc).
So part of Russia's push to weaken USA and democracies in general may include encouraging anti-globalization sentiment.
Zachary Karabell's "The 'Made in China' Fallacy"
Derek Thompson's "A World Without Work"
The Week's "The mystery of America's missing male workers"
The One Ring
All good stuff. But then they went too far, and decided to tell businesses what level of
staffing they had to have, every detail of how the job would be done,
every detail of benefits and pay, that they could never close old factories,
that they had to get union buy-in on every decision. There has to be a happy medium:
unions allowed to mandate some basic benefits and pay and safety rules,
but most of the rest left up to business.
And once unions succeeded in getting laws passed for various things (work-week,
OSHA, child-labor laws, etc), the role of unions should have diminished a bit. But it didn't.
Unions and union contracts should be able to:
- Require union buy-in on workplace safety issues.
- Mandate communication about worker rights (rights provided by law).
- Provide spokesman/ombudsman functions (liaison to management and government).
Unions and union contracts should not:
- Mandate pay or promotion structures (seniority, etc).
- Mandate staffing levels (except where safety-affecting).
- Control hiring practices (closed shops).
- Force workers to pay any but minimal dues.
The Death Penalty
I used to be in favor of the death penalty:
- Some people do such bad things that they deserve death.
- Some people do such bad things that society shouldn't waste any more resources on them.
- Society kills lots of people indirectly, through choices it makes (health care policy,
trade policy, foreign policy, etc);
I don't see how killing some deliberately (with due process) is much different.
But the more I learn about our justice system, the more often it seems
arbitrary and corrupt:
Inside America's morgues: 4 disturbing revelations
Radley Balko's "U.S. Counties Killing The Most People Are Good At Getting Death Penalty, Not So Good At Justice"
John Timmer's "Study suggests that 4% of the people we put on death row are innocent"
- Politicians and prosecutors pushing to extremes to prove
that they're "tough on crime". They've lost any
commitment to "justice".
- Laws that criminalize certain things (marijuana,
private sexual behavior, flag-burning, etc) irrationally.
- Laws (such as unlimited imprisonment of terrorism suspects,
Congress exempting itself from laws, military exempted
from environmental laws, etc)
and law-enforcement behavior ("blue wall of silence",
excessive force, etc) that fly in the face of the
consistent rule of law.
- Judges motivated by ego or political positions.
[I had personal experience with this one: I was on a jury in a case
where the judge did everything he could to "punish" one
side's lawyers, because they had appealed and gotten his
decision overturned in a big case the previous year.]
Also, the more I read about the Supreme Court's operations
(as in "Closed Chambers" by Edward Lazarus
and the confirmation hearings of potential Justices,
the less respect I have.
- Longstanding indications of racial and/or class
discrimination, in the death penalty and other areas
(such as penalties for cocaine versus crack).
- People getting convicted through bogus testimony (therapists inventing
recovered memories, children coaxed to imagine mass
Satanic abuses, etc).
- Known problems with lineups, eyewitness testimony, jury
behavior, etc. And refusal by the justice system to
study them scientifically and improve them.
See "Under Suspicion" by Atul Gawande in Jan 8 2001 issue of The New Yorker.
- "Innocence projects" have exonerated many people who were serving long sentences
or were about to be executed. Something is wrong with our justice system.
All of this makes me less inclined to trust the system, especially
with the ultimate penalty.
It turns out that sentencing someone to death is more costly than keeping them
in prison for life ! That's because of all of the trials and appeals, with the costs of courts and experts
and police and lawyers.
"They are really debating the firing squad right now.
Of course there are a lot of people on the other side who say this is cruel and unusual.
Cruel and unusual? This is America. What's more usual than getting shot?"
-- Bill Maher on the debate over the death penalty and botched executions
Courts and Prisons
Ways to improve the court/trial system in the USA:
From Adam Benforado's "Flawed Humans, Flawed Justice"
Consider the evidence that we treat as nearly unassailable proof of guilt at trial - an unwavering
eyewitness, a suspect's signed confession or a forensic match to the crime scene.
While we charge tens of thousands of people with crimes each year after they are identified
in police lineups, research shows that eyewitnesses chose an innocent person roughly one-third of the time.
Our memories can fail us because we're frightened. They can be altered by the word choice of a detective.
They can be corrupted by previously seeing someone's image on a social media site.
Picking out lying suspects from their body language is ineffective. And trying then to gain a confession
by exaggerating the strength of the evidence and playing down the seriousness of the offense can
encourage people to admit to terrible things they didn't do.
Even seemingly objective forensic analysis is far from incorruptible. Recent data shows that
fingerprint - and even DNA - matches are significantly more likely when the forensic expert
is aware that the sample comes from someone the police believe is guilty.
The choice of where to place the camera in an interrogation room may seem immaterial, yet experiments
show that it can affect whether a confession is determined to be coerced. When people watch a recording
with the camera behind the detective, they are far more likely to find that the confession was voluntary
than when watching the interactions from the perspective of the suspect.
Once we have clear data that something causes a bias, we can then figure out how to remove that influence.
If police officers subtly sway witnesses when they recognize the suspect in a lineup, we can require that
those administering identifications have no knowledge of the investigation. If crime lab technicians
conduct their analyses in ways that conform to detectives' existing theories, we can restrict access
to the case file, barring technicians from prejudicing information that isn't relevant to their work,
like the fact that an alleged accomplice has confessed. Blind testing has been an essential component
of creating effective medicine and it has the same potential to improve criminal investigations.
Lawrence Lessig, excerpted in New York Times, 17 June 2012:
There is no one in the criminal justice system who believes that system works well.
There is no one in housing law who believes this is what law was meant to be.
... The law of real people doesn't work, even if the law of corporations does.
... The law has convinced most Americans that the law is for the rich,
except that part of the law that involves the prisons. We, all of us, have a duty to fix this.
To repair this. To make it better.
From Dave Davies' interview of Adam Benforado: "The New Science Behind Our 'Unfair' Criminal Justice System":
- "There was a study of parole boards, and it discovered that when they looked at the
likelihood that the parole board would grant a petition or parole,
the most important factor seemed to be what time of day his case was heard."
- "... we could say well, you know what, we're never going to get rid of all biases.
And so a next-best solution is simply ensuring that our juries and our judicial benches are diverse.
The worst possible thing is when everyone is biased and everyone is biased in the same way.
If you look at the makeup of our judiciary, it is primarily white, wealthy, Ivy League-educated older men.
That's a problem because all of their biases are going to tend to a line. And that's going to be exacerbated
by the fact that our legal system and all of our laws under our common law system have been developed by older,
white, highly-educated men. I think to the extent that we can focus on term limits efforts to ensure a diverse set of judges,
that's another way to get at this problem of bias."
- [Police interrogations:] "... the development of something called the cognitive interview.
And the focus of the cognitive interview is collecting information. It's not about pressuring someone into admitting guilt.
It's about extracting as much information, as much data from the person you're talking with as possible.
Now, what that does is, it avoids any of the problems that we know happen when we use psychological coercion.
We don't really run a risk of a false confession. ..."
- "I am asking that we rely much less on hunches, but it's not just cops that I care about.
I want judges and jurors and eyewitnesses to all give up this notion that they're infallible,
that their memories work the way they think their memories work, that they make good calls based
on objective factors. I think we need to control for our human limitations."
- "And one of the things that I think is a very important step for us with respect to eyewitnesses
is treating memory more like we treat other types of trace evidence. If you think about a bloodstained
handkerchief - how careful we are to preserve that evidence, how careful we are to track sort of
how it's handled over time and who has it at any given moment, we don't take any of those similar precautions with memory.
And yet what we know from the psychological evidence is memory is very, very fragile and very malleable,
just like blood evidence is. So very simple things could be enacted today which would make a big difference.
One of the things is simply ensuring that the person administering the identification procedure doesn't
know who the suspect is."
- "And one of the ideas that I suggest in the book is the possibility of virtual trials in which a lot of the things
that we know lead to wrongful convictions and incorrect outcomes could actually be controlled.
So it shouldn't matter how attractive the witness is. It shouldn't matter whether the attorney
is wearing a particular tie or gesturing in a certain way. The bombastic exchanges which occur
in many trials - those shouldn't determine the outcome at all. That makes for good television but
terrible justice. Now, if we controlled the situation of the courtroom, if we used, say, avatars
and used a time delay, we could remove a lot of these biasing factors and ensure that jurors were
focused on what we purport is the most important thing to the outcomes of trial.
DAVIES: Avatars meaning that - would be an avatar for every witness, an avatar for the attorneys,
an avatar for the judge so that the words would come out in some sort of neutral way that the juror could evaluate."
Justin Peters' "The Unsettling, Underregulated World of Crime Labs"
A.C. Thompson, Mosi Secret, Lowell Bergman and Sandra Bartlett: "The Real CSI: How America's Patchwork System of Death Investigations Puts The Living At Risk"
Frontline/ProPublica "The Real CSI" (about fingerprint analysis, expert testimony, etc)
Tovia Smith's "Crime Lab Scandal Leaves Mass. Legal System In Turmoil"
Emil Karlsson's "Science and Pseudoscience in Law Enforcement"
The Life of the Law's "Forensics in Flames"
Mark Joseph Stern's "Forensic Science Isn't Science"
Conor Friedersdorf's "CSI Is a Lie"
Dahlia Lithwick's "Pseudoscience in the Witness Box"
Radley Balko and Roger Koppl's "Forensic science is badly in need of reform. Here are some suggestions."
Nathan J. Robinson's "Forensic Pseudoscience"
Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders' "Common Roadside Drug Test Routinely Produces False Positives"
Lie detector (cartoon)
Miranda rights (cartoon)
Excerpt adapted from Adam Benforado's "Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice"
Dave Davies' interview of Adam Benforado: "The New Science Behind Our 'Unfair' Criminal Justice System"
Jordan Michael Smith's review of Adam Benforado's "Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice"
David Feige's "The Problem With Bail"
Martin O'Malley's "Criminal Justice Reform"
David Feige's "The Myth of the Hero Cop"
Ken Schwencke and A.C. Thompson's "More Than 100 Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Fail to Report Hate Crimes to the FBI"
Politics Of Sex
I'm struggling to understand why we approve of certain sexual practices and
outlaw others. Maybe it's a struggle to understand where moral codes come from.
Why are these things illegal or considered immoral?
I think these reasons have been given for making them illegal or considering them immoral:
- They're "not natural".
But being "natural" does not mean something is "good". A shark eating
your child is perfectly natural; does that mean it's good ? Some animals eat
their own young, or kill all of the cubs when they take over leadership of a pack. Arsenic is
"natural"; does that mean it's good for you ? Hurricanes and viruses and plagues are "natural".
For a couple of centuries, leading Western thought was that blacks were
naturally inferior, so slavery was okay. American Indians were naturally inferior to whites.
- The Bible or Koran or Talmud or whatever says they're wrong.
But where did that judgement come from, and why ? Maybe you believe those books
come from God, in which case there's no basis for further rational discussion.
But I think those books were created by people who had an interest in preserving
the status quo (their own power and lifestyle), and wanted to force other people
to obey them and act the way they wanted them to.
And there are lots of other things in the Bible that we choose to ignore or gloss over;
why choose these items to be so forceful about ?
Bible section of my Religion page
- They're immoral.
But where do moral codes or ethical codes come from ?
And they change over time: for much of USA history, slavery was considered moral.
After that, racial segregation and discrimination were considered moral.
At times, child labor was moral. Wife-beating was moral.
- They're bad for society.
They could be bad in that:
- They counteract desired social policies.
For example, if we want population growth, then homosexuality (if it were a choice)
might keep growth lower than it would be otherwise.
If we want to minimize the number of single males, maybe polygamy tends to
act against that.
If we want to preserve marriages, maybe prostitution tends to break up marriages.
But I think I could argue against each of these propositions.
- They tend to be associated with other crimes and disease.
But I think that's mostly due to their outlaw status. If prostitution were legal and
regulated, disease and abuse would be much easier to prevent. AIDS is not a homosexual-only
disease; in fact, in Africa it's predominantly a heterosexual disease.
Feargus O'Sullivan's "Across Europe, a Growing Sense That Legalized Prostitution Isn't Working"
John Aziz's "Will prostitution go the way of marijuana reform?"
Jordan Weissmann's "The Internet Has Already Revolutionized Prostitution. But Could Better Apps Make It Truly Safe?"
The Straight Dope's "Is there a case for legalizing prostitution?"
Conor Friedersdorf's "The Case Against Encouraging Polygamy"
I think the USA Immigration policy should be:
- Build/maintain a wall/fence on the Mexican border.
Sure, it won't be perfect, and maybe it will stop only 95% of the illegal crossings.
But a country has to enforce its laws, or else why bother having laws ?
- Have a guest-worker program.
We depend on cheap foreign labor, for agriculture and meat-packing and lots of
other areas. If we're unwilling to let those workers become citizens,
we should at least regulate the practice so we know who's in the country
and why, and we can tax them and track the activity and protect the workers from abuses.
- Have a fairly generous amnesty/naturalization/residence program for those
already here illegally.
Again, it's much better to have people "in the system", regulated and taxed and tracked and
protected from abuse, than to have them illegal and untracked and vulnerable.
I'm not sure if they should become citizens, or just legal permanent residents.
We should legalize them on fairly lenient terms, otherwise they'll
just stay illegal. There are 12-13 million of them (in 2009), so we can't catch them all,
and most of them are not criminals (except for violating immigration laws).
Lucas Jackson's "The truth about America's illegal immigrants"
Illegals destroying this country
There's a good case to be made that immigration (of Muslim refugees) has been going too
fast in Europe. See for example
Sam Harris speaks with Douglas Murray (MP3).
Factual and practical items:
From Pam Belluck's "Abortion Rates in Developed Countries Have Fallen Since 1990"
Abortion rates in developed countries have been falling steadily since 1990, but rates in developing countries
have stayed roughly the same, a new study said.
The study, published Wednesday in The Lancet, found that the worldwide abortion rate dropped slightly from 1990 to 2014,
to 35 from 40 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The decline is largely due to developed countries,
where abortion rates dropped from 46 to 27 per 1,000. The United States has among the lowest rate, about 17 per 1,000.
From Diane Duke Williams's "Access to free birth control reduces abortion rates"
Unplanned pregnancies are a significant problem in the United States. According to a 2012 Brookings Institution report,
more than 90 percent of abortions occur due to unintended pregnancy.
Each year, about 50 percent of all pregnancies that occur in the US are not planned, a number far higher than is reported
in other developed countries. About half of these pregnancies result from women not using contraception and the other
half from incorrect or irregular use.
A new study by investigators at Washington University reports that providing birth control to women at no cost substantially
reduces unplanned pregnancies and cuts abortion rates by a range of 62 to 78 percent compared to the national rate.
- No one likes the procedure. It's an invasive, traumatic medical operation.
- No one plans their sex life to include abortion deliberately.
You arrive at an abortion through accident, crime, ignorance, lack of contraception, or stupidity. It's a desperate last resort.
- Abstinence-only policies mostly don't prevent sex, or pregnancy, or abortion.
Advocates for Youth's "Top Five Reasons to Abandon Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs"
SIECUS' "Fact Sheets about Abstinence Only Until Marriage Programs"
Christine Gorman's "The U.S. Blew $1.4 Billion on Abstinence Education in Africa"
- Making abortion illegal doesn't prevent most abortions. It just drives it underground.
Rich people still can have it by going to another state or country. Poor people do it some dangerous way, which is bad for society.
Elisabeth Rosenthal's "Legal or Not, Abortion Rates Compare"
- Providing safe and legal abortion services reduces the number of unsafe abortions, which is good for society.
Elisabeth Rosenthal's "Legal or Not, Abortion Rates Compare"
- Providing reproductive health services for women increases their health, which is good for society.
Nora Caplan-Bricker's "After Texas Slashed Its Family Planning Budget, Maternal Deaths Almost Doubled"
- Providing sex education and contraception does prevent some pregnancies and abortions.
Emily Crockett's "The abortion rate is at an all-time low - and better birth control is largely to thank"
Heather D. Boonstra's "What Is Behind the Declines in Teen Pregnancy Rates?"
Christina Cauterucci's "New Study: Anti-Abortion Laws Don't Reduce Abortion Rates. Contraception Does."
Shane Ferro's "Here's what happened when Colorado offered free birth control"
Diane Duke Williams's "Access to free birth control reduces abortion rates"
Maggie Fox's "Abortion rates go down when countries make it legal: report"
- Society often has to make judgement calls about moral/ethical/legal issues where it's
impossible to be completely consistent. Why is killing in self-defense not murder ? Why is killing
in war not murder ? Why is leaving a gun out where a child gets it and kills someone not murder ?
Society in USA has come to a compromise on abortion: after first trimester is illegal, except in cases of rape or incest.
Why is it legal to kill a 4-week embryo/fetus, and not legal to kill a 20-week fetus ? Some societies draw the line
differently: in some abortion is illegal at any stage, others turn a blind eye to killing girl babies after birth.
Other societies or religions draw the lines differently on war, too: some say no killing is justified, some say killing in certain ways in a
just war is okay, some say you're free to do anything to the enemy/unbeliever. Was it murder when USA dropped the atom bombs on Japan,
or buried Iraqi soldiers alive in Gulf War I ? Was it a war-crime to torture suspects, or use mercenaries, or use drone-strikes ?
Heard on a podcast: Currently there is an agreed prohibition on letting an embryo develop in a laboratory past the 14-day mark.
This number was picked 40 years ago and justified by these reasons: in women 50% of embryos spontaneously terminate before this mark,
some embryos split into two twins or two combine into one before this mark, and the axis of symmetry or
hint of spine doesn't start appearing until after this mark.
- Maybe the questions of whether abortion is good/bad, moral/immoral, are separate
from whether it should be illegal. Should it be a criminal offense ? We have things such
as alcohol and tobacco which many think are bad and immoral, and we regulate and try to discourage them,
but they're not criminal offenses. We may consider you cutting off your own arm to be bad and immoral, but it's not criminal.
From someone on Quora:
Both the fetus and the woman have civil rights. The fetus has the right to live. The woman has the right
to decide what happens to her own body. We don't force people to use their bodies to give life to another.
If I need a kidney, my right to life doesn't override someone else's right to decide if they want
to donate a kidney. Abortion as a legal issue has similar competing civil rights.
From CDC's "Abortion Surveillance System FAQs"
Compared with 2012, the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions for 2013 decreased 5%.
Additionally, from 2004 to 2013, the number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions decreased 20%, 21%, and 17%,
respectively. In 2013, all three measures reached their lowest level for the entire period of analysis (2004-2013).
Kathryn Doyle's "For teen girls, abortion linked to better outcomes vs. giving birth"
Ruth Graham's "The Myth of Abortion Regret"
Federal dollars for abortion
Miriam Berg's "How Federal Funding Works at Planned Parenthood"
Women in their twenties accounted for the majority of abortions in 2013 and throughout the period of analysis.
The majority of abortions in 2013 took place early in gestation: 91.6% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks gestation;
a smaller number of abortions (7.1%) were performed at 14-20 weeks gestation, and even fewer (1.3%) were
performed at ≥21 weeks gestation. ...
Moral and theological items:
FFRF's "What Does The Bible Really Say About Abortion ?"
- There is no evidence that life is anything but emergent properties of matter. No evidence that there is a soul.
Process of sperm combining with egg is understood, nothing supernatural or miraculous about it.
Same or similar process operates in many other species; do they have souls too ?
- There is no evidence that human intelligence is anything but an emergent property of life.
No evidence that human brains are fundamentally different from brains of dogs, cats, elephants, etc.
And within a few decades, we will have computer programs that exhibit many facets of human intelligence and skill; emotion
and consciousness may take a century.
- New human life is easy to create, and routinely destroyed. Human eggs often get fertilized, then fail to implant,
or grow for a while and then miscarry. Does each of those represent a soul that has been lost ?
- If a fertilized egg is a new life, a new soul, then there should be no abortion exception for rape or incest, right ?
If someone rapes you, it's your duty to carry that new soul to term ?
- If life is precious, shouldn't it be the duty of every couple to bear as many children as possible ?
Aren't they preventing a new soul from being created if they decide not to get pregnant ?
- Somehow a poor woman's embryo/fetus is a matter of deep concern to many, but the well-being and fate
of her and her child are less important years later. Many people consider them "takers" and "moochers"
and want to cut programs that help them.
Before and after birth
Shannon Dingle's "I'm pro-life. And I'm voting for Hillary. Here's why." (9/2016)
Arguments pro and con:
Debatepedia's "Debate: Abortion"
ProCon.org's "Should Abortion Be Legal?"
- Life is priceless.
In a lot of ways, life is NOT priceless to us. We routinely ignore people starving and being slaughtered in other countries.
Some of us cheer when our military kills people. Some of us routinely call poor people "moochers" and "takers"
and call for cutting govt programs to help them.
- Abortion is murder.
Legally, we have many varieties of life and killing.
If you have your appendix removed, have you "murdered your appendix" ?
If a soldier kills an enemy soldier in war, did they "murder" ?
If you routinely take a contraceptive so your eggs can be fertilized but not implanted, have you "murdered embryos" ?
If a family and doctors agree to withdraw life-support from a comatose patient, is that "murder" ?
Why is it okay to kill a dog or cat but not a human ?
From someone on Quora:
Abortion is NOT murder.
Abortion is refusing to save a dying person, by refusing to donate blood and nutrients.
That is of course, a cruel thing to do. I would question the character of people who have abortions for
no reason other than mere convenience, especially if it is after the first trimester. Abortion, in my opinion,
should not be a substitute for birth control.
But that doesn't mean I have the right to force my opinions on other people or be the honorable
judge in deciding whether a person 'deserves' abortions or not.
From Shannon Dingle's "I'm pro-life. And I'm voting for Hillary. Here's why." (9/2016):
... since Roe v. Wade, most Republicans have talked a lot about abortion while doing little to make meaningful change in that area of policy.
Furthermore, they've opposed or even stalled measures that could prevent abortions by targeting the underlying causes,
like poverty, education, lack of access to healthcare, and supports for single parent and low-income families.
In fact, I suspect these reasons contribute to why abortion rates rose under Reagan, rose under the first Bush,
dropped under Clinton, held steady under the second Bush, and have been dropping under Obama.
As such, I'm not sure we can hold that voting Republican is the best thing for abortion rates in this country.
From Eric Sapp's "Hillary Clinton Is the Best Choice for Voters Against Abortion" (10/2016):
It's no coincidence that abortions go up when Republicans are in charge and down when Democrats are.
The two biggest indicators a woman will have an abortion are that she is poor (75% of women who have abortions make
less than $23,000 and half make less than $11,000), and had an unintended pregnancy (half of U.S. pregnancies are
unintended, and 43% end in abortion).
Want to guess which political party is more effective at reducing poverty and unwanted pregnancies?
I'll give you a hint. It's not the "pro-life" Party that in this last Congressional session alone fought
to cut medical care for poor mothers and children, food programs for kids, and contraception coverage and access for women.
From /u/sillypantstoan on reddit in 2012:
A letter my brother wrote four years ago to our parents, who are single-issue voters on abortion policy.
It's a little out of date, but its essence is still holds.
My parents asked us to all vote for McCain last election, and my brother wrote this in response.
It really opened my eyes as to how complex even a single issue can be.
I take seriously your desire to end or reduce abortions, as they are my own desires as well.
I take voting and participating in government seriously, as I have dedicated my work, my talents in my own way,
directly and indirectly, inside and outside government to bettering the public institutions that represent us.
I voted for Sen. Barack Obama, and I proudly stood in line on my birthday for almost an hour and a half to do so.
For many reasons I voted for Obama, and it would take too long to tell you all the reasons why, but I will talk
a little about the abortion issue because it is a big issue on which you requested a vote for Sen. John McCain.
1) Although I believe abortion is wrong, a vote for Republican John McCain because he is pro-life is a wasted vote
for the pro-life movement, in my opinion. Since the Roe v. Wade decision in the early '70s, we've had Republican
presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. Abortion is still legal at the national level.
A win for McCain might lead to a pro-life Supreme Court judge appointment, but the judge would face confirmation
by a Democratic Senate. A Democratic Senate would not confirm a pro-life judge, maybe a moderate conservative.
But even if all of the following things happen:
a conservative judge makes it through Senate confirmation
a case challenging Roe v Wade comes up
the new judge helps overturn Roe v. Wade
abortion would still be legal in most of the Unites States. The legality of abortion would just become a decision for the individual states.
Currently a ban on abortion would occur in only about half a dozen states should Roe v. Wade be overturned. Abortion would continue
to be legal in about 30 some states, and I'm not sure about the status of the remaining states. I could be wrong on some
of these figures, but what I am saying is that overturning Roe v. Wade would do little to curb abortion, in my opinion and many others.
I believe in looking at the broader, more practical approach to reducing abortions, such as decreasing poverty and stabilizing
the economy for the middle class. There is also a strong correlation of lower incomes and lower government assistance to higher
abortion rates. Republicans like McCain believe in Reagan's trickle-down economics - pump up the rich, and from the top town,
the rest will benefit. But I see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer under Republican policies and ideals.
For example, the long-term effect of McCain's health policy ideas would not allow me to afford going to the doctor for check-ups
and preventive care because his $5,000 health benefit credit for a family moves us toward private catastrophic coverage only,
much like auto insurance. (Auto insurance doesn't pay for maintenance. I believe affordable health insurance should pay for
"maintenance.") Although I believe in moving away from employer-based health benefits, as McCain advocates, his way leaves a lot of people behind.
If we can't afford our own health care, how are we supposed to afford kids? And if people, in general, can't afford kids,
they might be more likely to have abortions, should they be in the difficult situation.
"... in a recent survey of women who obtained abortions, nearly three-fourths cited economic hardship as a reason for obtaining an abortion.
Three-fourths also cite barriers related to work, school or child care responsibilities. Given this data, it is important to understand how
to address these economic and social hardships in order to help women bring their pregnancies to term.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has long advocated for a comprehensive strategy to reduce abortions."
"Recent research finds that the abortion rate among women living below the poverty level is more than four times
that of women above 300% of the poverty level. This study of all U.S. states from 1982-2000 finds that social and
economic supports such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families
have contributed significantly to reducing the number of abortions in the United States over the past twenty years."
- Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Reducing Abortion in America: The Effect of Economic and Social Supports, August 2008
[That study has been retracted.]
Republican policies generally shrink social and economic support for low-income families, while Democrats are generally
in favor of helping the low-income and fighting against social and economic injustices, values I find consistent in the Catholic Church.
So not only would a vote for McCain do little to change the laws on abortion, but also his tax and health care policies,
among other policies, would actually stress the middle and lower class and increase abortions the way I see it.
I would also be turning away from a moral obligation to make a change where a change can be made.
You probably disagree with me. My brothers and sisters might, too. But this is what I believe, and this is how I voted
on the moral point of abortion. I feel I needed to address this issue because your request is important to me.
I do not mean this as any disrespect toward you or your request. I hope you can be proud that I do believe I voted my faith.
From /u/chefranden on reddit in 2017:
American Christians could all but eliminate abortion without just making it illegal.
Getting rid of abortion by making it illegal won't really get rid of it in the first place. For the poor it will go back underground
and the well-to-do will just hop over to Canada. The very-well-to-do will fly to France and take the opportunity to shop in Paris
afterwards. God will not be fooled by your law. God will not say, "Have you considered my servant America, that there is none
like them on the earth, a blameless and upright nation, who fears God and turns away from evil?"
So what to do? Well, vow that no one born in your nation need fear going hungry and being raised in poverty with shitty lead poisoned
water and shitty education.
- Eliminate most abortions of convenience by encouraging the teaching of safe and responsible sex in the schools,
on the airways, in Church, and anywhere you can get the message out. Insist on good abstinence realistic sex education
even at the cost of more taxes for yourself. Just admit to yourselves that no matter how much you push the godliness
of abstinence young people are going to have sex. Even if you think such sex is a sin, you know it is going to happen
just like it did for you, and you know Jesus forgives.
- Eliminate most abortions of poverty by eliminating poverty. If indeed children are a gift from God, how can you let
them grow up hungry with lead in their water and crappy schools to go to just because they are not your own?
Insist that your government raise taxes on yourselves, me, and the filthy rich to sufficiently to take proper care
of all who are born. Take it upon yourselves to raise a few extra kids on your own if you have the means.
Take poor families under your wing and see that their children do well even if they have a different religion than you.
- Reduce medical emergency abortions and spontaneous abortions by insisting that your government supply single-payer
top-of-the-line healthcare to everyone -- even if it costs you more money, which it probably won't.
(Data from the OECD show that the U.S. spent 17.1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care
in 2013. This was almost 50 percent more than the next-highest spender (France, 11.6% of GDP) and almost
double what was spent in the U.K. (8.8%). U.S. spending per person was equivalent to $9,086 (not adjusted for inflation).)
- Eliminate abortions of shame. Insist that your churches and fellow members stop shaming women who get pregnant in questionable ways.
Instead celebrate all pregnancies however they came about. Make the mother feel that this really is a child God wants.
Hell, make yourselves feel this is a child God really wants. If children are a gift from God, act like it!! On the other hand
if some children - depending on the morals and status of their mothers - are not the gift of God then stop bitching about abortion.
If gun transactions were like abortion