Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

So, I joined a Facebook group.

November 4, 2010

Specifically, a boycott organization group for companies that donate to political campaigns. The group’s called “The People’s Boycott”.

The Citizens United decision gave corporations license to steamroll our democracy with raw cash, and the rest of us have no democratic recourse short of a constitutional amendment that strips corporations of personhood, and, well, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to be doing my little part to drive as many politically-involved corporations out of business as possible. Persons should equate to political power – not dollars. And if someone’s going to use their dollars to weaken my political power, well, then I’d rather they not have any dollars.

So, here’s the link one more time: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_165989556764257

The Supply and Demand of Capital

May 23, 2010

This originally started as a comment I made on a blog, and I figured it was worth expanding and posting here.

Overview

All right, get into economic theory thought mode here, because I’m going to be talking about capitalism and supply and demand.

Specifically, the supply and demand of capital itself.

You see, businesses need funding to get started and to expand – this funding is called capital (or ‘venture capital’, for starting some new companies). People with money to spare offer up venture capital, and people who start and run businesses accept it and use it to expand the economy.

Supply for capital is dictated by how much money people have that they don’t need or want to use to consume – these people offer up capital to someone else in exchange for interest on the money they offer up.

Demand for capital is dictated by how much people are consuming – the more people are consuming, the more businesses can expand and the more room for new businesses there are.

Market correction, more supply with less demand

Now, when supply outpaces demand, you end up in a situation where you have people with a whole lot of money, but there’s simply not much to do with it. Businesses that meet all sorts of demand are already well-funded, but people still want to be able to invest capital into them so they can make money.

This makes capital ‘cheaper’ – that is to say, it becomes easier for people running riskier or less profitable businesses to get capital. As supplies of capital continue to increase faster than demand, more and more money is placed in such risky investments.

Eventually, some of the riskier of those investments fail – this reduces the supply of capital, and reverses the trend – now investments that used to be reasonable become too risky to remain invested in, so people start pulling out their money.

But because the value of capital has increased, _nobody_ wants to buy these risky investments, because they are no longer worth the money you’d have to put into them. This means the people who owned those investments must sell them at a fraction of the price, losing much of their wealth and further reducing the supply of capital, which causes the cycle to repeat.

This cycle continues until demand for wealth outstrips supply enough for the economy to start growing again, and in the meantime destroys phenomenal amounts of wealth. This is how a market crash (and subsequent recession/depression) happens.

When the rich become richer, the amount of free capital increases. Conservative economic policies encourage this, and ultimately encourage this kind of market crash.

Market stagnation, more demand with less supply

This is not to say that it’s good for demand to strongly outstrip supply – this makes it harder for people with good ideas to obtain venture capital, as investors of capital have more freedom to ‘shop around’ for higher value, lower risk assets. This means that there will be more economic growth per dollar of capital, yes, and much more stability for that capital, but less total growth.

The market can correct for this situation as well, as people pay more for the limited supply of goods they want, business owners make more profit, which generates capital that can be reinvested towards producing more goods.

This circumstance happens when there are more people demanding goods than there is wealth to facilitate the production of them, generally the result of government policies which reduce profits and improve quality of life for the less wealthy.

Government influence and striking the balance

As this supply/demand relationship among the most expansive that can exist in an economy, government has great ability to influence it incidentally.

Government policies that influence this relationship include but are by no means limited to:

  1. Taxes – progressive taxation systems increase the amount of money that can be spent, which increases demand for capital, and regressive taxation increases the amount of money that goes into supply of capital. The “middle class” is an interesting phenomenon here, as individuals in the middle class both consume, and contribute investment capital – meaning that taxation that discourages the growth of a middle class would probably not significantly affect this relationship, but would reasonably slow an economy nonetheless by reducing both supply of and demand for capital.
  2. Fractional Reserve Banking Policy – Fractional reserve banking is a financial technique where banks get to lend out some of the money they have rather than keep it all in reserve, so long as they keep enough money onhand to be able to manage their activities. This technique increases the supply for capital without capital holders needing to have as much excess wealth to burn, and makes the supply for capital more dynamic and able to respond to a changing economy, but it can be hazardous in the event of a large market crash, as it can cause banks to fail if the market takes too big a hit, too quickly. For this reason, Fractional Reserve policies do not function optimally in environments where supply of capital is naturally abundant compared to demand.
  3. Consumer protection, regulation, etc – The government often uses laws to force businesses to take a stake in their communities, be it through regulation of their practices, regulation over profits vs. reinvestment, minimum wages and labor laws, and so forth. Such regulations, when done properly, generally reduce profits, which decrease capital supplies. Some regulatory measures, such as labor laws, can improve demand for capital by improving worker quality of life.

Government action has a significant amount of influence over the supply and demand of capital through these measures – proper management of these measures can be used to reduce the frequency and severity of market crashes, or to stimulate additional economic growth in the face of high demand for goods.

Sources and forms of capital

Capital doesn’t just come in one flavor. Capital comes from various sources and systems and where it comes from helps to shape the nature of the economy it goes into.

  1. Loans – Loans are a source of capital in which, if the business owner can pay off the loan, the owner then owns the business investment. Fractional reserve banking increases the availability of loans.
  2. Venture capital – Venture capital is a source of capital in which the venture capitalist owns the business investment (or, more frequently, owns a high percentage of it), but grants control of the capital to the individual operating the business. Venture capital is generally intended to ‘cash in’ by selling the company once it has grown, rather than draw profit from the asset.
  3. Public ownership – The company is considered an asset and private individuals or organizations own parts, or hold stock, in the company – an initial release of stock (called an “IPO”) generates capital for the company directly from investors. This stock generally carries with it a degree of control over the company’s operations, and frequently stock corporations are designed to return maximum profit at the demand of stock holders.

Here we can see that different types of capital are facilitated by different sources – the availability of loans, for instance, improves when more assets are placed in banks, and the lucrativeness of public ownership increases when more individuals have wealth to place directly into investment.

Conclusion

Was I supposed to be going somewhere with all that? Well.

An economy thrives best when the supply and demand for capital are balanced, and increasing at the same rate. Excessive supply of capital can be catastrophic to an economy, and excessive demand slows growth.

Indicators of excess supply include booming stock prices and easily-obtainable credit (especially credit used to artificially bolster demand for capital, such as from credit cards). Indicators of excess demand include goods and services shortages.

Generally, a strong supply can be correlated with a more wealthy upper class, and a strong demand can be correlated with a robust lower and middle class and good quality of life.

Conservative policies have led to an extremely wealthy upper class, lower quality of life for the lower and middle classes, and sporadic, catastrophic market crashes. America desperately needs the rich to be less rich, for its’ own health.

Or, in summary, rich people really are bad – at least if there are too many of them, or they’re too rich.

A Parable About Roofing

November 27, 2009

A parent and their child live in a house together. One day, the child comes across the parent, working on the house’s roof.

“What are you doing up there?” the child asks.

“I’m working on the roof, it needs fixing.” the parent says.

“But,” the child says, confused, “You don’t know anything about how to fix a roof.”

“Be that as it may, someone needs to fix the roof and it might as well be me.”

“I think we should get a roofer to do it,” the child says. “So get down from there before you fall or something!”

The parent huffs stubbornly, “We can’t trust a roofer. They could do shoddy work or overcharge us and we’d never know until it was too late.”

“Well,” the child says, “We can do it ourselves, I guess, but we need to learn what we need to do first. Let’s go to the library and look up how to roof a house.”

“Nope!” the parent says. “Can’t do that.”

“Why?”

“Because the books on roofing are all biased towards what roofers think.”

The child says, “Well… yes? Books about roofing are written by roofers.”

“Ah-ha!” the parent says triumphantly, standing upright on the roof, swaying slightly in the breeze. “You see? It’s all biased towards roofers, instead of us everyday folk who can’t roof a house!”

“But why not learn to roof the house so you can know what you’re doing!?” the child yells, exasperated.

“But I do know what I’m doing!” the parent said.

“You asked a roofer how to do it?”

“No!”

“Oh, so you already read a roofing book.”

“Of course not!”

”…You got on the internet and found a guide?”

“No!”

“Okay, I give up.”

The parent states proudly, “I joined The Nonroofer Organization.”

“The what?”

“The Nonroofer Organization. We’re a bunch of people who don’t know how to  roof houses, advocating for the right to be able to roof our houses without roofers telling us what to do! Roofing freedom for all!”

“I, uh… but… Now my brain hurts.” the child says, eyes closed and fingers massaging temples. “But what if you screw up and the roof collapses or something?”

“Risk is a necessary part of freedom,” the parent says, looking towards the horizon. “It’s just something we all have to accept.”

“But I don’t want the roof to collapse on me!” the child says.

“Don’t worry, it won’t collapse, I’ll do this right.”

“No you won’t! You don’t know what you’re doing! You’ll make the roof collapse and squish us!”

“Hey, I told you not to worry – I’m trusting my gut, and I’m trusting God, and that should be enough.”

“Uh…” the child says, “Can I spend the night at a friend’s house?”

I Despise Unrealistic, Nostalgic Romanticisation of the Past

October 22, 2009

So, since this guy was smart enough to turn off comments from people who might disagree with his wistful but not particularly factual diatribe about American history, I’m going to make this post a comment in response to it.

I see one person waxing nostalgic about their youth, creatively equating their actions with those of a select few a couple hundred years ago, and acting like this form of behavior is one that was somehow thriving and is now dying.

This article reads like one of a million articles discussing the Moral Decay Of The Youth During This Generation – and it’s not even good with the details.

Americans weren’t fighting for individual freedom – they were fighting for the ability to represent themselves in government. That’s what “Taxation without representation” was about, our original demand of England was for us to receive representation in Parliament as citizens of England, so we could have a say in our government. Not “My” government – “Our” government. Not individual freedom, but our self-determination as a people. Yes, there’s a difference. Yes, it’s important.

Nor was our government forged from ‘understanding of human nature’ any more than it is today (and what understanding we had then, wasn’t as good as what we have now anyway). Our government was created, in fact, from countless minor compromises and ideological conflicts of every type, some with unspoken underlying issues associated with them, and all of this parallel to some individuals seeking their own personal profit and using the events of the times as a vehicle to obtain it. Meanwhile, the people got preached at by the aristocracy controlling the flow of information, mostly following their lead, and being smacked down when they deviated – the proportion may be different, but the parts of our government are all the same today.

Furthermore, ‘our founders’ were not remotely some holistic monolith of thought and beliefs fundamentally distinct from what exists today. In fact, they almost immediately polarized into two camps, one of which advocated strong centralized government (the Federalists, who were vaguely similar to liberals today), and the other of which advocated weaker decentralized government (the Democratic-Republicans, which we could compare to conservatives today). Some didn’t like slavery, and others thought the Bible advocated it.

Finally, the founders were not all religious, just like they didn’t all believe the same ‘holistic’ junk. Thomas Jefferson even wrote an entire gospel which explicitly excluded all miracles, bucking the fundaments of even the modern Christian faith and effectively creating a philosophical, rather than theistic, Christian text.

Our nation’s founders were people, just like us. They bickered and argued and got into physical fights with each other, and some of them sure as hell did profiteer from the War of Independence (most notably, through smuggling). One wanted the Turkey to be our national bird. One was so incredibly popular, he was literally asked to be our King (Washington, if you’re curious).

When people romanticize these people and try to wax philosophical about how much better “things were back then”, they’re ignoring the reality of those times, and more importantly, they’re ignoring the reality of the present. America is little different in its’ fundament than it was two hundred years ago, with one big exception: Businesses are more powerful than the government is now, so they run the government. There are two ways to fix it, and one involves making the government really powerful, and the other involves destroying some businesses.

Most importantly, even back during the Enlightenment, ignorant blowhards were complaining about how social progress was Destroying All That Was Good. They, most of all, have not changed.

Dealing With An Overadvertised Government

October 14, 2009

In the US, campaign advertisements improve a politician’s chance to get or keep a seat. Lobbyists give money to politicians to fund campaign advertisements. Politicians make laws that lobbyists like so they can get more money. So we end up in a government where politicians make laws for lobbyists, not voters.

Thanks to that system, our democracy does not function.

We need to change that.

We can’t change it with the politicians, though – if the politicians don’t do the lobbyists bidding, the lobbyists will pay other people and our politicians will be replaced with people who obey the almighty dollar.

And we obviously can’t change it with the lobbyists – they’re rich.

But maybe we can change campaign advertising, the foundation of the system that renders our representative government ineffective.

There’s a dangerous assumption behind the idea of political advertisements – the idea that if you spend money on them, you can get votes. That is to say, political ads buy votes. And if votes can be bought, our republic can not possibly function.

Why the hell aren’t we offended by the very idea?! Each and every political ad, crafted not to inform you but to influence you, is like a message straight from our nation’s government at Washington saying, “We think you’re a tool.”

But what if, whenever someone saw a political ad on TV, they called the network airing it to complain about it? Or whenever they saw an ad on a website, they sent an email to the site’s administrator? I think we could concievably harass political advertisement out of our society entirely – or at least, make the lives of the people facilitating our cash-for-votes government miserable, as they rightly deserve.

So.

If you think this is a good idea, I have two requests for you.

  1. DO IT. If you see a political ad on TV or the internet, harass the bastards who put it there! Print this out and put it next to your computer and/or phone so you’ll know where to go for the major networks, and if you see it anywhere else, visit the network’s website and find their “Contact Us” section (the link will frequently be at the very bottom of the page, in tiny print). Maybe if we raise enough hell, we can accomplish something.
  2. Email this (by copy/pasting this whole thing into an email if necessary) to any friends or relatives you have you think might also be interested in the idea. No, don’t just spam-forward it to everyone on your address list, I hate it when people do that. Just send it to people you think might be as fed up about this as you are.

Anyway, I took the liberty of making a form letter for such complaints. Make sure to replace the stuff in brackets!

Sir or Ma’am,

I <saw/read> a political advertisement on your <network/website> today. I find it personally offensive that you permit such advertisements. It is impossible to meaningfully inform individuals politically in the <timeslot of a commercial/space of a banner ad>; leaving the sole possible function of a political advertisement as manipulation to ‘dupe’ individuals into adopting a position on a political issue which may or may not be realistic or sensible.

By permitting political advertisements on your <network/website>, you belittle my intelligence, and the intelligence of every American, and you degrade the quality of my government by promoting the importance and influence of campaign money used to buy advertising over that of an informed vote.

In light of this insult to my intelligence, to my people, and to my nation, I insist that you remove the offending political advertisement from your <network/website> immediately.

Mentioning the show/timeslot or specific webpage you saw the offending advertisement on may also help, but is not necessary.

Also, I collected  some contact information for some of the major TV networks:

ABC:
ABC Contact form – http://abc.go.com/site/contact-us
ESPN Contact form – http://proxy.espn.go.com/espn/contact
Disney Contact form (Best to specify channel for this one) – http://corporate.disney.go.com/responsibility/feedback.html

CBS:
CBS Contact form – http://www.cbs.com/info/user_services/fb_global_form.php
CBS News Contact form – http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/feedback/fb_news_form.shtml
CBS Sports Contact form – http://www.cbssports.com/help/contactus/usersspeak

FOX:
Fox Entertainment email – askfox@fox.com
Fox News phone – 1-888-369-4762
Fox News email – yourcomments@foxnews.com
FX email – user@fxnetworks.com

NBC:
NBC Contact form – http://www.nbc.com/Footer/Contact_Us/
MSNBC email listing (by show) – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10285339/
CNBC Contact form – https://register.cnbc.com/email/EmailSupport.jsp
USA Network contact form – http://www.usanetwork.com/feedback/#theForm

Time Warner:
CNN Contact form (Pick a show) – http://www.cnn.com/feedback/cnntv/
TBS phone – 404-885-0758
TBS Contact form – http://support.tbs.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=5475
TNT phone – 404-885-4538
TNT Contact form – http://support.tnt.tv/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=5477

A Rational, Self-Interested, Free Market Argument for Socialized Health Care

September 14, 2009

Private health insurance is worthless. Purchasing it does not benefit me.

Let’s say I purchase private insurance. So long as I don’t get very sick, it don’t actually get any benefit – as I could have just saved the money that goes into my insurance and paid for it out of my own pocket (and had the rest as, y’know, actual money).

So, the only way private health insurance could possibly benefit me is if I become so sick that the insurance company would necessarily lose money by paying for my sickness.

So all the people who actually need health insurance are people who are non-profitable for health insurers.

Which leads to a fascinating Catch-22: as any company whose objective is to make profit (all private health insurance) is encouraged to immediately cease to do business with me when it becomes apparent I need their service – because, as noted, I’m not profitable for them.

Even worse, the more sick I am, meaning the more I need their service, the greater their incentive becomes not to provide me with that service.

Furthermore, a free market can not solve this problem through the introduction of honest health insurance companies.

Any market in which an honest health insurance company must compete against a dishonest health insurance company, will have business flowing from the dishonest health insurance company to the honest health insurance company, as interested and informed individuals change their service. However, interested and informed individuals are the ones who need the service, and are thus by definition not profitable (as previously established). So honesty can only ever net a health insurance company reduced profits, ensuring their inability to compete in a free market.

Even a free market in which, somehow, only honest health insurance companies can resist this effect – as it is the nature of free markets to encourage innovation which increases profits, and there is no greater boost for the profits of a health insurance company than refusal to provide health insurance.

Ultimately, this means that I can not trust any health insurance company to actually provide health insurance – while there is a chance that I may receive health insurance if I need it, there is a chance I may not, and the very company which is supposed to provide me with health insurance would conspire that I do not get it.

Health insurance, like all forms of insurance, is a service in which I pay money in exchange for reducing my risk – in this case, my risk of not being able to pay for health care. However, private health insurance does not fulfill this function.

Instead, it shifts my risk – from the risk of being unable to pay for health care, to the risk that my private health insurance company will refuse to do so, leaving me without even the money I would have had if I’d never used private health insurance.

An insurance system that does not reduce risk is a nonfunctioning insurance system.

Furthermore, no amount of regulation can solve this.

Regulation is by its’ nature static and slow-to-adapt, while the market is quick to adapt towards the objective of increasing profits. The government can not be trusted to keep up with a dynamic and strongly motivated private system dedicated to refusing to provide me with service.

Furthermore, successive layers of regulation will increase the system’s complexity, ultimately making it easier for the highly-competitive private health insurance industry to scam me out of providing service, as I must not only contend with the health insurance industry itself but with the additional bureaucratic structures created by the government in an attempt to make public health insurance function.

So ultimately, all government can do to private health insurance is make it even more so a waste of my money.

So I gain nothing from private health insurance. The market can not fix this (and in fact enforces the worthlessness), and the government can not fix this. There is no way a private health insurance company can provide me with a service that I can trust and remain in business.

Ergo, private health insurance is worthless.

Meanwhile, the very problem that most plagues social service – a lack of profit motive which encourages unprofitable spending – is the only thing that can produce a trustworthy form of health insurance. If I need socialized health insurance, the government won’t care! They’ll happily pay the bills at my time of greatest need, not worried that I’m costing them money that they could conserve by simply letting me die.

The government does not need to make money – so they have no reason not to provide me with health insurance.

So I can trust them – socialized health insurance can function to reduce my risk of being faced with health care bills that I can not pay.

So, to reiterate:

Private health insurance: Absolutely, uncorrectably worthless for me.

Socialized health insurance: Accidentally perfectly functional for my needs.

As a self-interested, healthy member of America’s socioeconomic middle class, the only tenable option for me for health insurance is the government.

And I’m pretty sure that applies to everyone else too.

Now the question is: To flowchart this, or not to flowchart it?

The Political Philosophy of World of Warcraft

September 3, 2009

My generation of my culture is one that thinks in terms of systems.

Previous generations in America thought of people (and still so think) in terms of freedom or repression, but my generation believes only in freedom to function in the system that has been built around you.

Those older generations think in terms of control and power, but my generation acknowledges the power of control only to influence circumstances, which in turn dictate all behavior.

Those generations were individualists, and they believed that everyone could be special – or that if everyone was special, then nobody could be. My generation knows that ‘special’ is more often than not a denotation of your position in the system, often a matter more of luck than of merit.

Those generations preached that by stepping up to play the game of life, you could win. To my generation, so dearly wedded to the power of multivariable analysis and the study of complexity, the imbalances in such a game seem painfully obvious.

Go, if you would, to a forum to discuss a major video game (preferably an online one). In human history there has not existed a more naturally politically liberal group as the one you will see, one so keenly and casually understanding of the principles behind the meritocracy and the reality of its’ nonexistence.

Will exists only within the parameters that the game dictates. Advantages towards one work out to the disadvantage of others, even outside of non-zero-sum systems. One’s fortunes are influenced by one’s community. All of these things are taken as obvious and in-stride that other generations would disbelieve, or only hold halfheartedly.

And yet, these people understand that there are correct and incorrect approaches towards these problems. The disadvantaged do not complain – instead, they describe the nature of the problems, and offer and discuss solutions. The individualists among them, claiming that advantages and disadvantages are trivial and that everything gained is earned, are mocked and derided as worthless to the community.

Video gaming, and the community of system analysts it is raising, stands as a political force fundamentally opposed to the underlying philosophy of conservatism.

And it is ever-so-slowly producing people with the skills to understand, and improve upon, systems.

Of course, having contemplated all that, now I’m wondering about the exact political composition of various MMO playerbases.