26 September, 2005

Taxes == Bad?

I've studied enough economics to believe that tax-and-spend policies are inefficient and make the market lose money.

Still, that's not always a good enough reason to cut taxes. If we want the federal government to live up to its current obligations (not that I'm opposed to reducing its scope, but we've got the programs we've got until we cut some), we have to be willing to fund them. That's why this article makes me so angry. No, it's not entirely fair to ask the richest in the country to sacrifice for our troops, who, generally, aren't rich . . . but it's not always about fair. I know if I made more than $1M annually, I'd be happy to give back $4k for the troops. My philosophy on this issue resembles what I've come to describe as the "Jewish take on giving." That is, God helps those who help themselves, so make sure you and your loved ones are taken care of; after that, offer what you can. There's no sense in giving of yourself what you cannot. Simple pragmatism does volumes on the issue of wealth disparity in America.

20 September, 2005

Can Government Build Cities?

Clifford Thies, Professor of Economics and Finance at Shenandoah University, wrote this article criticising the idea that the federal government should be responsible for rebuilding the Gulf Coast region.

I have not been won over that we should rebuild New Orleans at all, and I am generally in favor of letting private enterprise prevail when it can. (If it cannot in this case, then perhaps the federal government should get involved.) Nonetheless, I had some qualms with his argument.

I wrote this letter:

First, I would like to thank you for a well-researched, thought-provoking article. I have neither the time nor the resources to fact-check your statistics, but will trust you; they do not seem to lie outside of my vision of the reality of American cities.

I do, however, have a few issues I would like to raise regarding the article.

First, your statistics do indicate some sort of correlation between "liberal" policies and things we agree are negative (high crime, overly high unemployment). After empirically showing the correlation, however, you only suggest one theoretical conclusion: that the former caused the latter. Is it not equally possible that a history of bad results has resulted in a population becoming frustrated and turning to liberalism to solve its problems? We would have a clearer picture of this if we looked at these correlative graphs over time.

Second, you say, "It seems that liberals who focus their attention on redistributing wealth lose sight of the first responsibility of government, which is to protect its citizens." Certainly I agree that protection of property and violent crime fall under this responsibility of government. What about protection from the effects of the evils of previous generations, including misogyny and slavery? I see room for the argument that government ought to only protect us against current, active evils, but I would have to see that argument more fully developed to accept that liberalism (in the modern sense) supports goals outside government's due goal of protection.

Lastly, there is a degree to which Americans believe in personal freedom, and a degree to which we believe in fairness. The two are constantly at odds; for much of our early history, strong states' rights indicated we favored personal freedom; lately, attaching more and more rights to the 14th amendment has implied that we favor fairness in general. I would like to see data that correlate examples of positive fairness behavior (donating to charity, for example) with less liberal voting behavior. This correlation would give me more peace of mind that we could relax the government's control and still hope to have a good balance of freedom and fairness.

Again, thank you for writing this article. I look forward to discussing these ideas further.

Sincerely, [me]

On Being Happy to Live in the US

I read a well-put-together article today. I am not generally pro- or anti-Libertarian. Their arguments have some merit and some shortcomings. On whole, I was very glad to have read the essay.

I wrote a response to him: Thank you for your thought provoking article. I do not agree with your analysis, but I want to express my gratitude for making me question my acceptance of this government. Personally, I actively accept the authority of the United States. I have read the Constitution a dozen times, and am very happy to live in a country where that document is the supreme law of the land.

I would like to comment on a couple of specifics of your article. In the middle, you make 10 numbered assertions (which I will not reproduce here for brevity's sake).

  1. The American Civil War was certainly the will of many Northerners. It would be difficult to get definitive numbers for who consented to the war, but the issue is more grey than your statement makes it appear.
  2. Certainly true (see # 6, below).
  3. Also true. The only remedy to this that I can see is to have each person opt in or out of being a citizen of the country at some point, without requiring him or her to leave on the latter choice. This makes guaranteeing property rights very difficult; also, would not a person who settles in the middle of Iowa, but opts not to pay taxes nor receive public goods still receiving the public good of border defense? It would be very difficult for the US Armed Forces to know that a missile is bound for non-US property within US border, and not defend against such an attack. If you have a solution to this problem, I would strongly support a person's right to opt out of government programs, taxes and regulations wholesale. See also # 6, below.
  4. True (see # 6, below).
  5. Yes, but we've generally changed that, and view the changes as "progress."
  6. This is an excellent argument. ## 2-5 are all true, but seem to only serve to counter your opposition without furthering your argument. (That is, there could be a third option.)
  7. In what way was the Constitution never a "valid agreement or contract"? Perhaps your argument is that there is no body with the authority to settle disputes and enforce such a contract - that there is no court of law outside of the US to which the entities in the Constitution are beholden. This is true, but we must, at some level, bootstrap; eventually the universe runs out of elephants upon which to stand. Can you think of a better option than a court that is a member of its own entity, but is beholden to its constituents just as they are to it?
  8. This argument, as well as several of the others, fails for immigrants (at least rational, literate immigrants with access to a copy of the US Constitution in their native tongue before arriving). I agree there is a sense of compulsion for those of us born here, but we truly are free to leave. I sympathize with your argument that we do not wish to uproot our lives, but if the stresses of abiding by US law were truly too great, one would leave.
  9. This is precisely Publius' argument in the 10th Federalist Paper. His solution, and the one we have adopted, is that Republican (representative, not Right-wing) governments decrease the chance of only the majority's will being expressed; there are no such checks in Democratic (direct, not Left-wing) governments.
  10. You say "This however cannot legally bind those others who do not so vote." This MAY not so legally bind those others, but it certainly could. I am not a legal expert, so I am not sure of what language would be necessary (and whether or not it is already present), but I have no doubt that one could create an amendment or pass legislation that creates exactly this contract. It is my interpretation of the Constitution that the ratification process (article VII) does this; it was then up to the states to determine how such ratification would happen internally. Assuming each Citizen of a state agreed by the laws of that state, he (specifically "he," here) agreed to such a ratification. My arugment here, unfortunately, only pushes "tacit consent" down to the state level.

In closing, I would just like to ask you this: do you have the resources to defend your house against nuclear states? I know I do not, and I thank my lucky stars for being able to be part of the United States for this, and many other reasons.

Again, I greatly appreciated your article, and look forward to hearing from you on these issues. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely, [me]

06 September, 2005

Responsibilities of Government

The recent Gulf Coast disaster has prompted me to summarize some of my thoughts on the responsibility of government. "Government" has many definitions, but I tend to think of it as being responsible for things that everybody wants but nobody wants to be responsible for.

Services and How They're Paid For

How services are divided up should not be determined by who funded them. Services are for providing a public (shared) good. For those who want services to be tied to how much you contribute, the reliance should go the other way: you have to pay in based on what you are expected to reap. Pay-as-you-go doesn't work with public goods; if it did, we would simply make them private goods and everybody would take care of him- or herself.

That said, there are probably things that are currently under the government's purview that needn't be public goods. We should not hesitate to remove things from this domain. For example, I am not going to argue in this post for or against Social Security, but the fact that it's so difficult to reform seems like a problem to me. We should never think of services as givens; they should be justified and regularly rejustified.

The following lists apply to the "Government" in general. In the US (the scope of my discussions), this consists of many levels of government. The distribution of powers and responsibilities throughout these levels is the task of a different essay.

    Things the Government Should Provide - these are the things without which society itself cannot hold
  • Defense from incursion from foreign nations
  • Defense against attacks from nature: hurricanes, floods, wild boars and the flu
  • Protection of life, liberty and property: criminal court, police,
  • Dispute resolution: among people, businesses and lower governments - civil court, support of contracts
  • Facilitate contribution: universally accessible polling places, frequent open meetings for discussion issues, unwavering support of the rights of its citizens to praise, criticize and participate in their government.

Note that defense against terrorism doesn't have its own item. I would argue that it falls under "Protection of life, liberty and property" rather than under "Defense from incursion from foreign nations," but the current president seems to think it is more of a war.

    Things the Government Might Provide - these are the things we might want to help one another out with, but without which society itself would not crumble to anarchy
  • Protection from non-transmittable disease: health care program beyond the scope of vaccination and disease control.
  • Protection from poverty: poverty is notoriously difficult to overcome, and programs such as welfare, Medicaid and low-income housing have tried to break the cycle. Their efficacy is debatable, though their goal decidedly good.
  • Education (or protection from idiocy): here I will merely comment that paying for education with local property taxes is a bad idea because of the poverty -> poor schools -> poor jobs -> poverty cycle. On the other hand, completely socializing education means people will be paying for schools that they will never use. Education seems to be a semi-public good like many of the others in this category.
  • Infrastructure: things like roads, airports, internet access, telephone lines, the electromagnetic spectrum could be entirely paid for by the government, entirely paid for by usage fees or by some sort of balance between the two. I am currently leaning towards government footing the bill from the start, but people paying back into the system based on use to support future improvements; regardless, we should have a consistent strategy across media.
    Things the Government Should not Provide
  • Subsidies for items that are not public goods (sugar, oil, diapers, art). A free and open market will determine what is of value to produce and sell. (Note that in re: art, I think it may be important for government to instill an appreciation for art, for it is often said that a society's art is the measure of its worth.)

Really Good Chicken Soup

I gave my mother my recipe for Chicken Soup last night. Now I offer it to the world. This is NOT a nice, easy, one-pot recipe; it takes some time to prepare, but cooks in a crock pot, so you have some hands-off time at the end. Makes 6-8 servings.

  • Crock pot
  • Grill
  • Sautee pan / skillet
  • Bowl that can take high heat (ceramic works great)
  • 4 strips bacon, preferably low-sodium
  • 5 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds (I like 3/4" wide at the narrow end of the carrot, and 1/4" wide at the thick end of the carrot so each round has about the same volume)
  • 4 stalks celery, sliced (1/2")
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 leek or 5 shallots or 1 medium onion or 1 bunch green onions (about 2/3 C chopped, regardless)
  • 1.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Fine sea salt
  • Olive oil
  • Rosemary
  • 1 can (12 oz) Chicken stock
  • Cold water
  1. Render the bacon fat. Put a frying pan or skillet over high heat. Add the bacon and cook until lightly crisped. Occassionally drain the fat off into a bowl. Place the bacon aside. Allow to cool, then dice.
  2. Sautee the carrots and celery. Heat 1-2tsp bacon fat in a sautee pan (I like to use a clean pan, since there is probably some burned fat in the pan you used for the bacon, and we know burned fat is very bad for you). Sautee the celery and carrots for a few minutes. Don't cook them too much; they're going into the soup for more cooking, after all.
  3. Sautee the onions and garlic. Heat 1tsp bacon fat in a sautee pan. Sautee the garlic and onions until the garlic turns a light brown. The onions will not caramelize as fast, so if you want them nice and brown, start them about 3 minutes before adding the garlic.
  4. Grill the chicken. Lightly coat the chicken in olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Grill over fairly high heat until cooked through, but still juicy. Allow to cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Combine. Put the chicken stock in a crock pot, adding twice as much water (24oz.). Add the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bacon and chicken. Cook on high for 45 minutes.