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Showing posts from 2012

United We're a Monopoly

When I think of the unequal distribution of gains in our economy over the last 30 years I wonder what it would take to reverse the trend. It seems that the solution would have to include reducing the inequality in influence between upper management and employees.

In the past, one way to level the playing field was through unions. In theory this should give employees the power to negotiate with management as equals and claim a bigger share of the proceeds. But personally I've always been a little wary of unions. Part of it is their early association with communist and socialist philosophy and ties to organized crime. And it sometimes appears that the union is just another large corporation with their hand in the till at the members expense. It may be that negative stereotypes have made it easier for corporations slowly reduce the unions power. For whatever reason, union membership is at historically low levels.
Even if unions were more successful there seems to be a bigger problem.…

War on Religion?

Over the last few weeks the news has been full of controversy about the intersection between religion and government. The catalyst was a ruling regarding medial insurance coverage, but since then the 'debate' has grown to a broader concern of government interfering in individuals religious practices.

I would never claim that this is a simple issue, but I also don't believe that there is a systematic attack or war on religion by government, as claimed by Newt Gingrich among others..

Of course there is reason to fear such an attack. History is filled with examples of governments outlawing and attacking religion. Mexico, the Soviet Union and China are good examples.

But our government has religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution, along with a requirement in the first amendment that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." And this isn't a hollow promise as demonstrated by numerous lawsuits and court rulings.

The problem is …

Money for Nothing?

Despite recent setbacks over the last 30 years the US economy has grown by over 120% in constant dollars. This should be good news for all Americans, but there's something interesting about this period of time that's quite different from prior years.

Over most of the history of the US gains in GDP were shared more or less equally on a percentage basis among all income groups. This makes sense if you assume that the success of an enterprise, whether it's a small business or the country as a whole, is the result of the efforts of the group rather than a few individuals.

What's unusual about the last 30 years is that, unlike prior periods, the gains have gone exclusively to the upper 20% of wage earners, and the bulk of that to the top 1%.

My first reaction is that this just doesn't seem 'fair'. Shouldn't everyone participate in our country's financial success?

We know from history that there's no economic force that tends to favor equitable distr…

Minority Rule

One of the foundations of our democracy is rule by the majority. Of course early on there was a lot of debate about who was allowed to vote as well as the issue of the power of states versus a plurality of voters. But the general idea was that a vote would be taken on issues and the majority would decide.

Starting in the 1970's the filibuster, began to be used in the senate by both parties as a means to prevent a vote that would be won by a simple majority. This tactic allows 41 Senators to block passage of a bill, and over time this has become the rule for all major decisions resulting in gridlock at the will of a minority.

During the debate over ratification of the US Constitution Alexander Hamilton saw the danger of this and described it in one of his contributions to The Federalist Papers, a series of articles in support of ratification of the proposed US Constitution. Here's an excerpt from Federalist 22;

"... what at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a p…

The Wrong Direction?

One recurring theme during the current election cycle is that our economy is heading in the wrong direction, that current policies are killing jobs and hindering our economic recovery. I think that everyone agrees that we have a long way to go to recover from the recent economic meltdown and that things are proceeding slowly, but I think that there's room for debate on the issue of direction.

For instance, here's a graph of initial jobless claims as reported by the US Department of Labor starting in January of 2009, just before the peak later that spring. This graph seems to show jobless claims heading in what appears to be the right direction.

The next graph from the US Bureau of labor statistics is for the US unemployment rate. Again this appears to be heading in the right direction, although at a rate that no one would be happy with.

Given these two graphs is it reasonable to argue that we're headed in the wrong direction? Should the debate more properly be that the ra…

Ants and Grasshoppers

I've been watching a series on Moyers and Company that explores the issues of the day in a thoughtful way. A recent episode titled "The Roots of our Contentious Political Culture" featured author Jonathan Haidt who presented his thoughts on the foundations of the differences between the world views of the left and right.

One example that Haidt presented really resonated with me. He told the story of the ants and the grasshopper, where the ants work all summer while the grasshopper plays. When winter comes the grasshopper comes to the ants' door to ask for food. What should they do? Conservative philosophy tends to feel that the grasshopper should suffer for his actions,that this is his karma, while liberals are more inclined to feel compassion and offer to help.

I think that there's one more aspect of this debate that shapes my view, and that's my belief that just working hard doesn't guarantee success in the world. There's a lot of randomness in life…

Deregulate What?

I've been watching the Republican debates, and two universal beliefs among the candidates are that high taxes and excessive regulation are strangling the economy. I'm sure that there are many taxes and regulations that I would personally agree are damaging or unnecessary, but the message from the candidates seems to be a rejection of any tax or regulation. I don't agree, and I'm sure that if pressed, neither would the candidates.
It seems to me that our economy couldn't function without the framework of contract law and enforcement imposed by government. And when I hear that government should get out of the way of business so they can create jobs, I'm skeptical. A quick review of recent headlines or our own history provides too many examples of unrestrained businesses behaving badly, including out of control air and water pollution, adulterated foods, sweat shops, and unsafe buildings.
It seems to me that the mantra of no more government regulation should be re…
What Happened?
Over the last few of years I've watched the increasingly divisive public commentary on current events, politics, and politicians and I can't help but wonder how we got here. To me the constant, strident exchange of insults and sound bites is pointless at best. But it also tends to drown out any reasoned analysis or debate of the pros and cons of real decisions that have to be made.

I think that this is dangerous. In my opinion there are no simple or obvious solutions to difficult problems, and while the media and politicians focus the public debate on sound bites, the policies that are actually implemented are usually complex, poorly understood, and many times result in unintended consequences.

The idea of this site is to encourage a civil discussion of issues and potential solutions, including the real differences between candidates during the upcoming presidential campaign.

As moderator I won't tolerate attacks. If you disagree with a person or opinion on …