Jachin's Blog

Articles in "Politics"

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First off while, I was writing this article, I had Robot Parade by They Might be Giants stuck in my head the whole time.

I've been reading a lot of economists deriding a higher minimum wage and they've got me a bit riled up (here's a very small selection).

Where I live in Minneapolis there is an annual May Day Parade. After the parade they have a free speech section. Every year I've watched the parade the group Fight for $15 has marched.

All this has got me to thinking, there should be some sort of response to all this minimum wage non-sense. How about a robot parade?

A bunch of people could dress up like robots and hold traditional demonstration signs. There's probably some good visual jokes in unpacking "how would a 'handmade' protest sign look if a robot made it?".

The signs could contain slogans like:

  • Robots in support of a $15 wage for human workers
  • Make low skill human work illegal.
  • More work for robots! Less work for humans!
  • Make human labor unfordable.

Technically there would still be time to do it this year, but I suspect this topic will still be relevant this time next year.

I am probably the wrong person to try to organize something like this but I might shop the idea around a little, maybe someone else will take it up.

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All this business about Edward Snowden, the NSA, Wikileaks, etc has reminded me about a story I heard on This American Life a while ago about "state secret privilege."

The short summary:

  1. Three civilians died in an Air Force plane crash.
  2. The widows sued the Air Force for negligence.
  3. The Air Forced refused to hand over the accident report or even show it to the judge.
  4. This goes all the way to the Supreme Court, which decides in favor of the government. The judges say that the government does not have to hand over (or even show anyone) the accident report if the government claims that doing so will reveal state secrets.
  5. Time passes. This case is used over and over as precedent for the state secret privilege.
  6. Many years later the accident report is declassified and discovered. The accident report says nothing about any secret equipment or a secret mission or anything secret at all. Instead, it shows that the Air Force was very, very negligent.

It is a very sad story. The message I hear from it, loud and clear, is that state secrecy will be abused. This puts any "cure" for terrorism or any other kind of crime that relies on secrecy into the category of "the cure being worse then the disease."

Allow me to put this a couple of different ways.

If you are a conservative: state secrecy represents a massive threat to public trust in critical institutions and with out this trust they will not be able to function effectively.

If you are a progressive: state secrecy is a tool for well connected powerful people to prey on others.

If you are a libertarian: you already get what I'm saying.

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I've been thinking about the South Park Underpants Gnomes' business plan and its similarities to, what I understand as the progressive's plan to make the world a better place.

Underpants Gnomes' Business Plan.

  1. Collect underpants.
  2. ?
  3. Profit.

Progressive's "Fix X" Plan.

  1. Tax rich people more to collect a big pile of money.
  2. ?
  3. "X" is now solved.

For "X" substitute:

  1. inadequate and expensive health care
  2. poor education
  3. poor economy
  4. low wages
  5. climate change
  6. etc.

Now, I'm not saying all progressives think every problem can be solved with a simple 3 step plan that involves taxing rich people more. However I hear a lot of talk about how the rich need to pay more in taxes and that will go a long way to solve at least some of our nations most pressing problems and set us up for future success.

In my discussions with my progressive friends I've grown tired of trying to make moral and piratical arguments for why taxing rich people is not a good option. So I'm going to leave that alone for now and I'm going to assume the government has the moral leeway and the ability to greatly increase the percentage of our nations wealth the government gets to spend (allocate) by taxing rich people more. I still think there are lots of moral and practical problems with this, but lets assume they do not exist.

What happens in step #2 though? Here, progressivism really falls down and the devil is in the details. These are the problems faced by any "top down" approach to solving these problems (this is also known as "central planning"). If a government (or leaders of any large organization for that matter) has enough resources (money) to solve a problem they do not have enough knowledge. This is why step #2 has a question mark next to it.

Lets look at just one issue as an example. How could government schools (k-12 education) get better? Well, here are a whole bunch of possible solutions.

  • Pay Teachers More (attract smarter/better teachers).
  • More computers (they are the future).
  • More training for teachers (everyone can always be improving).
  • More tests (so we know what schools are doing well).
  • More text books (more resources for the children).
  • More teachers (get those class sizes down).
  • Focus on pre kindergarden education (the first five years of someone life are the most important).
  • Focus on parent education (if you do not know how to raise a child they will not handle school well).
  • Etc (this list is very, very long)

So, should the government do all of these things? Some of these things? How much of each thing should happen? We have the money to do a lot of the things on this list. Education is very valuable to our society, if we knew which things on this list were really important and how much of them were needed it would be incredibly valuable.

Maybe you think you know? Do you think you know for all the schools …

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Recently someone challenged me after I said one of my favorite quotes "You can't legislate morality" (I'm not sure who said it first but Barry Goldwater and Jesse Ventura both said it at some point) to explain what I meant by that and that I should consider the validity of that statement. I tried to give an answer but I do not think I did a very good job. So I have thought about it a lot since then and I'm going to try to summarize what I mean when I say "You can't legislate morality".

First a couple of definitions:

Violence: Using force or the threat of force to do something to someone else against their will.

Immoral: Something is immoral if it makes life worse.

These are not a perfect definitions but hopefully they help to describe what I mean.

For starters I have to admit that the quote "You can't legislate morality" is a bit vague and easy to misunderstand, but that's almost always a problem with these easy to say/remember axioms.

A longer, less ambiguous way to say what I mean would be:

Just because something is immoral does not mean there should be a law making it illegal.

Another way to put it would be:

If you want to justify a law to make X illegal you need a better argument then just demonstrating that X is immoral.

And:

You should not try to legislate morality.

And:

The standard for having a law to make X illegal (and punishing people who are guilty of X) should be that X is an act of violence not just that it is immoral.
Here's a picture that might help too.
image0

So all the stuff in the big circle is immoral stuff (stuff I do not want people to do). However in order for me to think we need a law to make any given immoral act illegal it also need to be a violent act.

Why? I'm glad you asked. There are lots of reasons. However this is the main one.

It is bad to be the aggressor. So the first person to resort to violence is the bad person.

If someone is doing something immoral but is not being violent and someone else uses violence to stop them from doing it they become the aggressor and are now also acting immorally.

This is what's called the Non-agression-principle.

The non-aggression principle is an important part of my moral framework and it should be a part of yours.

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So I haven't read this book yet (We Who Dared to Say No to War | Thomas E. Woods. Jr.). I'm going to eventually but I'm worried about not being able to sleep once I get going. I found this interview with the author very interesting.

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I just finished listening to an amazing talk given by Charles Adams. It's a very refreshing view on taxes. It is about 40 minutes long and totally worth it.

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If you are having any trouble getting a clear understanding of what the basic causes of the finical crises are, here are two good explanations.

The first is a two part YouTube video is only about 10 minutes long. This is my favorite explanation so far. It's very well done.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized - Part 1

The Crisis of Credit Visualized - Part 2

The second is from the NPR show "This American Life". It's a recent episode called "Bad Bank". It is longer, but it's also very entertaining. They go into a little of of the "why" and "how to fix it" too. Personally I find there treatment of those questions wanting, but their explanation of how banks work and what the current problem is, is quite good.

If you read their notes on the show you will find a CSPAN video where Treasury Secretary Tim Geither praises the episode. This make me nervous, I have some serious disagreements with Geither policies. However I suppose that could be considered a sign that the show is just a good explanation of what is going on.

Naturally once you understand these two explanations, it's time to move into asking more detailed questions about why this happened, and how to fix it. Hopefully I will write some more posts soon highlighting my favorite ideas.

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A friend of mine, Dan Sinykin just had a story of his published by the Christian Science Monitor. It is called "An American Jew in Israel sees two sides to peace". It is about some of his experiences in Israel over the last couple of months. You should read it.

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These are four (national) issues I care about the most, in no particular order.

  1.  Monetary Policy, protecting the strength of our currency. Inflation is the worst kind of tax,  and we can do a lot of things right as a nation, but if our money is not worth anything, making things better is going to be much harder.
  2. Foreign Policy. We need to start minding our own business. Initially we need our attitude to change so foreign governments do not view us as a threat. Long term, we need to get military bases out of foreign countries and end "entangling alliances".
  3. Protect personal freedom and privacy.
  4. Fiscal responsibility. Get rid of the national debt as soon as possible.

As far as I can tell neither of the presidential candidates plan to make any of these a priority. Am I wrong?

I would like a presidential candidate who agrees with me on 3 out of 4 of these issues.

Who could I vote for?

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This quote captures so much of how I feel about not only my government, but of any government.

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'
- Ronald Reagan

I would like to believe that Regan's policies reflected this ideal, but I'm afraid I do not know enough history to feel confident about that.

I'm reminded of a Fox Trot cartoon, where the Jason and and his best friend (who's name escapes me) find the most frightening Halloween costumes are just shirts that say "IRS Enforcement Team".