Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's Called Social Security

What a weird proposal this is.  Mandatory 6% savings of workers going into a retirement account.  Weird because we already have this thing and it's called Social Security.  Up the percentage from 6.2 to 9.2 (and matching employer--also, too, eliminate the cap) and then adjust SS payouts accordingly.  That has the potential added benefit of immediately boosting current SS recipients' incomes.

The Harkin proposal, on the other hand, is a pretty crappy not-even-second best.

Good Analogies

I really wish more people saw things in this way.  One thing I noticed reading the article that I'm surprised wasn't mentioned explicitly was poverty reduction as a benefit to the wealthy.  It is actually hinted at when he writes:
Taxation is a legal construction in exactly the same way as personal property rights are, and they are enforced using the same legal system that protects personal property rights. It is not reasonable to refuse to pay the membership fee for the country where you choose to live, while expecting the legal system of that country to protect your property from the desire of others to take it from you.
He could have easily pointed out at this point that taking care of the needs of the poor is a service to the rich expressly because it prevents them from becoming so destitute that stealing is a rational economic choice.  This directly throws a wrench in the argument that the rich get out less than they put in, because things like poverty reduction, crime prevention, and incarceration can actually be seen to benefit wealthy people much more than poor or middle class (they have more "stuff" to take).  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Optimism vs. Pessimism: "Ready Player One"

I finally read Ready Player One and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was and am bothered, however, by an oddness in the book.  The future it paints is far more bleak than hopeful, but there is a very real and strong optimism throughout.  The oddness is that, while the pessimistic side of the book seems real enough to be prescient: I wouldn't be surprised if a world like that exists several decades into the future (though I think/hope it is further off than in the book), the optimistic side is...well, another matter.

At one level the optimism is individual in nature and I very much share it.  In order for it to have a greater (global) presence, however, it relies on some institutional (governmental and corporate) footings that--in our real world--are already eroding, and even gone and which seem far more likely to be anachronisms in the future (in particular the absolute privacy enjoyed in OASIS).  It feels like a throwback to the 80's even more in this way: the characters are able to enjoy a level of privacy that was much closer to reality 30 years ago.

I hope I'm wrong, but as things are today, IOI is the reality we are going to face.  GSS--no matter how well intended people may be--is a fantasy.

Income Mobility

Since the news came out that income mobility in this country, while crappy, has actually been pretty bad for a while, there's been some changing to the inequality debate.  Mostly not in a good direction.  It shouldn't need to be pointed out that mobility and inequality are very different issues.  It is possible to have very high mobility with simply insane inequality.  Imagine a country where the .01% owned 99% of the wealth, and everyone else was pretty much equal.  There could be a lot of mobility (it could be very easy for someone to move from the 10th to the 85th percentile if it only took an extra 20% of income to get there), but that level of inequality is still a major problem.

So these are two different issues and should be addressed as such.  It's great if people have the same chance as ever of making it to the top tier in this country, but it is pretty disgusting for that top tier to be so far separated from normal people (even upper middle class) as they are.  Two separate issues.  Not really even linked.

Friday, January 24, 2014

What Atrios Said

I wasn't particularly enamored with the Clinton administration (though the insane behavior of Republicans toward him made me take a more favorable view of him at the time).  I thought then--and do more so now--that by shifting so far to the right they were leaving a large swath of the public behind to gain the support of people (and businesses) who were broadly at odds with Democratic ideals which are quite popular.

Obama's rhetoric was good to hear, but his politics are in many ways even worse (i.e. more conservative).  In the end Clinton was more liberal than Reagan.  Obama really isn't.  I don't have high hopes for the upcoming State of the Union or what it will mean going forward.  Even if he sounds more populist, I just don't see any evidence that his policy positions will move that way.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lab Created Organisms

Right now it's more thought than reality, and I'm not sure it's a whole lot different than extreme GMO but, like GMO's it has the potential to dramatically improve human welfare.  It also (again like GMO's) has the potential to be a huge boon to the companies that make them while doing little to help other people.

Not Doing it Right

I like coins, and keep a lazy person's collection (those I've gotten as change and think are cool), so at some level I'd be a little stoked to see a brown nickel (I'm guessing copper).  Really though, we should kill the nickel (along with the penny), up production of $1 coins and add $2 coins.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Elizabeth Warren is Awesome

I'm not really sure it's anti-government left so much as anti-establishment left, as she--and her supporters--is a very big supporter of government (to regulate, equalize, level the playing field...).  She just thinks it's currently broken.

Interesting Historical Note

England had, for a brief period of time, something much resembling a basic guaranteed income.  It seems like it worked quite well, though it had some issues--mostly to do with how it was implemented, though other marginal ones as well.  It was then and is now the moralistic argument against this that seems to resonate strongest and it is one that isn't easy to push back against rhetorically--experience, on the other hand pushes back nicely, but people like anecdotes over data and you can always find the anecdote that proves your side right.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Hate CNN Money

Their personal finance is slanted so heavily to advice for people in much better shape than the general populace that I get pissed every time I read anything on it (which is very rarely).  This article on advice to a couple wanting to retire early is a fair example.  The couple sounds like a normal couple--early 40s, middle class jobs, couple kids--but they have $50k cash (seems like ~$150k in other investment), a $2000 monthly surplus and pensions (pensions!).  These are people who don't need advice.  They are so far ahead of the curve that most people should be asking them.  They don't have financial problems.

Most of the advice is fine, so far as it goes, though I'm a bit disgusted with the idea that anyone would think that $300k set aside to send kids to college was reasonable (actually, there's at least a fair chance the adviser doesn't find it reasonable, just necessary, but since they thought publishing advice to people who don't need it was a good idea, I'm not so generous here).

So few people in this country have pensions, that giving this couple advice in the personal finance section of Money is kind of like giving a millionaire advice: even if it's good, it doesn't really help real people.  If they really wanted to help out people then they would advise people in their mid-to-late 50s without pensions, with $80k in 401k's, and with $200k+ left on a mortgage, or people in their 20's and 30's with $60k of student loan debt, no assets, and income of $30k/year.  There's a lot more of them, and they need a lot of help.

...I suppose that, if I'm going to be fair, a fair chunk of readers of that site have a level of financial security more like the one in the article.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Real News, Now More Than Ever

It's pretty depressing that you can be better informed by watching the Daily Show and Colbert, and by reading The Onion, than you can from most mainstream media.