Categories
meantime

2020 Policy Preferences

As the 2020 Democratic Primary rolls on, I thought it might be useful to provide some policy preferences. But first, I don’t think policy is key to this election. As we know what problems there are, highlighting them and the need to address them seems more important. There isn’t any candidate who I think sits where I do on policy, so my preferences for candidates have leaned much more on how comfortable I am with that person in the White House—how well I think they can do the job.

Let’s start with healthcare. I do see both sides of this issue, but the primary problem I have with healthcare is that it is too expensive. So the headline for policy on healthcare is making it cheaper. That means looking at reverse auction systems and drug patent pools. Different payment models, basically. (The reverse auction system would say “A patient needs knee surgery. These are the six providers in a 100 mile radius, and we’ll take the cheapest bid accounting for quality measures.” Pharmacy patent pools would time-limit the lifetime of a patent based on how much was charged and what other drugs and patents are held by a company, to reduce price hikes.)

While moving to single payer is a good step, supplementing it with private insurance shouldn’t be off the table. Some people want their insurance to cover the sniffles, so those folks should be able to buy a sniffles policy if they want. But we should banish the days where people can pay a monthly premium that does not offer any real coverage, unlike what Trump has done by reopening the door to scam insurance.

On climate, put some kind of price pressure on carbon. Adjust as necessary. That’s the big ticket there. Other aspects of environment have their own policies, but the biggest and best thing we can do at the earliest possible time is to have carbon pollution reflect the costs it will burden us with down the road.

On higher education, policy is to reduce the cost of tuition. If demand-driven reforms were capable of doing that, the costs wouldn’t keep going up. So talking about paying for everyone to go to college misses the point. Same for housing. Subsidizing people buying at ever-inflated prices is the wrong move. Same for transportation. People need to learn, sleep, and move. Those should be made cheaper to allow for spending on other things to help grow the economy.

For basic education, we can do testing in smarter ways. Using computers, kids can take short tests on relevant lessons they should be learning, with real-time feedback. If you wait until the end of the year to find out a school isn’t teaching or a kid is having trouble learning, you’re waiting too long.

There may be some middle-ground here, where college students can get a reduction on tuition for tutoring grade-school kids a certain number of hours per semester, but I digress.

What else? Taxes. Taxes should be handled in a more automatic fashion. Raise them until the deficit drops. Lower them if there’s a recession. It shouldn’t be controversial, though the Republicans have made taxes a cornerstone of their otherwise-lack-of-a-platform.


On foreign policy, there’s an interesting dynamic where candidates get asked about things like leaving Afghanistan, but not on the general shape of foreign policy compared to Donald John Trump. It’s assumed by the press that nobody is stupid enough to adopt the president’s broken half-assed policies (I think that assumption is basically correct), and so the only policy concerns end up being very limited and politically hazardous areas that have nothing to do with the broken state of policy under this president.

Categories
biz

What Does Wall Street Fear in Warren?

The word is that Wall Street doesn’t want to buy what Elizabeth Warren is selling. There are doommongers claiming large drops in stock prices, corporate earnings, plus wealth fleeing the country, should the Massachusetts senator be elected president.

The problem is simple enough. They fear broad changes to our system. They fear tax hikes (including a likely-unworkable wealth tax) and regulations. They don’t want those things for themselves, and they see them as harmful to the economy and to America.

They don’t have, apparently, anything to say about the problems of this country as they exist today (nor those on the horizon). It is only the future problems that Warren might cause, assuming a zombified Congress that passes everything she campaigns on, that have their starched collars falling limp with sweat.

What gives?

It’s a pattern they should be familiar with, after all. A firm grows plump and lazy, lets its problems build up, and then someone like Warren comes in and chops it up and sells off the parts. Wall Street is the fattened Thanksgiving turkey, ripe for a Warren slaughter, no?

Once again we visit two favorite issues: healthcare and climate.

On healthcare, Medicare-for-All is attractive to some because it provides not just coverage, but security in coverage. People are tired of worrying what the next premium hike will be, whether the Republicans will repeal their care altogether, whether the drug that is keeping them alive will see its price spike, or whether it will disappear entirely when it’s no longer profitable to keep them alive.

Warren backs Medicare-for-All for the security it establishes in a vital sector of our economy, precisely because there has been no security offered by the commercial interests. The invisible hand hasn’t healed itself of the basic problems of scarcity in the face of necessity. If it could, maybe Wall Street could avoid a big structural change. But they haven’t made any calls-to-action on that front.

The market signal is as loud as the church bells of old, calling all to attention. Yet it is only used to signal how dysfunctional the system has become. It doesn’t seek to improve the systems, only to exploit them. Go figure that a lot of people see that and wonder what’s the point of having a big, fancy society if it fails on basic tasks. And that’s not even getting into the national security implications of an inadequate healthcare system.

On climate, we face similar challenges and, like healthcare, climate seeps into the whole economy because every good or service needs energy and that means it needs to be included in ensuring we aren’t setting up our future to be throttled by nature’s own big structural change. Yet the Wall Street crowd is drooling over buying into an IPO of Saudi Arabia’s oil. They obviously don’t get it. Again, no calls-to-action, no lobbying for an across-the-board regulation, like a carbon tax, so that no one sector is singled out. Just a wait-and-see, let’s-not-get-ahead-of-ourselves, maybe-we-can-make-a-lot-of-money-off-of-our-childrens’-miseries approach. Good-luck-with-that.

When a firm is failing to keep itself up, the private equity firms step in. They are the slaughterhouses of commerce, experts at identifying the prime cuts, slicing them off, selling them, and then leaving the carcass behind. And any state-of-nature ecosystem needs predation to cull the weaklings and keep the herd strong. But right now Wall Street is looking like that weakling that is holding back growth, slowing things up, blocking migration to greener fields. If they have the ability to change their ways, so be it. If not, they have to expect nature to take its course.


On the political side of things, Warren is locked-in on Medicare-for-All. Which is what it is. Campaigns need bright-line ideas to appeal to voters, but there are a lot of opportunities outside of that plan to improve healthcare and the larger society at the same time. In all cases, they prospect better economic outcomes and larger GDP as a result (which is one of the many reasons one must question the capacity of Wall Street in these matters).

Once the party nominee is chosen, though, whether Warren or someone else, their healthcare plan will be compared to Donald John Trump’s… his, uhm… What I’m apparently reading is that the president’s campaign doesn’t actually have any plan at all for healthcare (or any other major issue). He’s not fit to govern, and Wall Street should literally be begging (they might have to take a few classes to get down the basics) for a coherent leader like Warren, even if they disagree, because they can work on compatible solutions with her, where with Trump, you can’t compromise with chaos.

For clarity, those who are proposing things that approach the scale of the problem are those pushing for things like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal. Those aren’t the best solutions, but they at least get the magnitude right. Those who are proposing less-than-correct options are those pushing for public options or electric vehicle credits. Those who aren’t proposing anything: the GOP and Wall Street.

Other big-idea ideas (or parts thereof) do suck. Take the free-college stuff. They don’t propose building more colleges, which is a big flashing-red light. Increasing demand without increasing supply is bonkers. Wealth taxes miss the mark, not because of their inherent problems (though they do suffer from those), but because they are much easier to enact through alternative means such as luxury taxes, VATs, and real estate taxes (particularly alternative-use taxes that recognize, e.g., a big estate in a place that could use low-income housing is an inherent inefficiency that should be taxed as such). But those are a stories for another time.

Categories
society

Facebook, Lies, and Politics

Twitter is banning political ads. Facebook is banning political ads from people they believe lie about being politicians. But Facebook will allow bona fide politicians to lie in ads.

What is the role for a platform, both in ads and in moderating?

That’s the wrong question.

The question we must ask is not what is the shape of a proper social network. Why not?

  1. There may be several, and they may coexist.
  2. The shape may change over time, including in cyclical ways (e.g., during an election cycle versus outside of it).
  3. These networks span the globe, so fighting for changes in domestic rules won’t help the most vulnerable overseas.
  4. We don’t know what we don’t know, per Donald Rumsfeld.

The proper question about social networks is: How do the people gain enough leverage to serve as a forcing-function to shape social network behavior, rather than merely being shaped by it?

Traditionally, the answer to that question has been money, and the answer to how to influence them through money has been competition. That is, if their income is threatened by the easy choice of users to go next door, then they don’t do things that harm users enough that they go next door.

In the case of Facebook, their money comes from advertisers of all sorts, including politicians, scams, major brands, and in the case of President Trump’s campaign, all three at once! (Gotta take the cheap shots as they come.)

But Facebook is global. It has diversity of users, including people who think their small business depends on it, including media types who think their traffic depends on it, including politicians who think they’re connecting with constituents, and, yes, including grandparents and such who feel social connection because of it.

Competition doesn’t seem to make sense in social networks, in terms of the need to maintain copies of one’s social graph in several services simultaneously. Instead, either you have several social graphs that look different per service, or you are migrating from an old social graph on one service to a new one on a new service.

But in what substitutes for competition, if you want to move people off of Facebook, you’re basically saying that those benefits need to flow to those users. You have to engage with the politician on Service X, so that their office recognizes that people are there, so that they care more about Service X. You have to let your grandparents see you responding to them on Service X. And so on.

That is how these networks function. People go where the people are. And a site like Facebook will respond only when they see that movement, or some other threat to their revenue. Lacking a brain, a heart, and courage, that’s all that can convince them that letting politicians lie for money is dumb as hell.

Categories
society

Superstition and Politics

One of the biggest problems with politics is superstition. Every time a candidate wins, their campaign strategists are treated as having conjured up a magical creature known as victory out of thin air. They are treated thusly by the party they won for, but also largely by the media. They pushed the right button combination, they cut the right wire, they made the thing happen. Never mind all the factors outside of their control, the flukes, the weather. They get credit without any definitive evidence that they even knew what they were doing.

But that’s not the whole of superstition in politics. It extends to all sorts of frets and worries that interrupt policy and legislation. The NRA has a monkey’s paw that will unleash torment upon Republicans if they don’t fall in line. Rich criminals like Weinstein and Epstein were insulated from accountability (again, in both the media and in political circles) by superstition, primarily. The worry about what it would mean to the unknown backwaters and backrooms of power to cross people who are the equivalent of made-men in those circles.

Superstition dictates that Republicans can’t compete in blue states, nor Democrats in red ones. They certainly shouldn’t treat those foreign lands as opportunities to throw some spaghetti at the wall on the cheap. I mean, it would be bad luck to run a Republican candidate in LA on the platform of (insert some idea that Republicans generally don’t run on but won’t be offensive).

The media similarly has its superstitions around politics, including what kind of coverage is expected, what polls really mean, which voters count more (evangelicals, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, etc.), who gets access, what the differences are between Republicans and Democrats, and so on. It has its superstitions about who is important and what ideas are important. Campaigns should be about identifying problems, but they’re mostly about offering canned solutions to undefined problems, and then the solutions become the focus and they aren’t perfect so candidates get tarred for that.


The problem of superstitions is quite extensive in our lives. They represent blockages that prevent honest progress, out of fear of the unknown. The media’s focus on the ten-year-cost of Medicare-for-All, despite the actual ongoing economic cost already being greater, is one example of this. The Republicans’ reluctance to give up on repealing the ACA, in favor of some real policy is another.

These superstitions exist because of mere coincidence. The apparent interest in Republicans around the time they championed repealing the ACA caused them to believe that people wanted repeal, rather than the people wanting further development of healthcare policy toward some unknown better system. The media believes then ten-year costs of Medicare-for-All are important because they believe big numbers are important.

I don’t think Medicare-for-All is the be-all-end-all of healthcare. It is one way to do the thing. But I do think that continuing to refine healthcare funding is entirely necessary, and systems that tend to diminish the involvement of employers in healthcare are generally superior to those that do not. Over a ten year period where healthcare isn’t provided by employers, ceteris paribus, we should expect a healthier economy and a healthier population.

Categories
unAmerican

How Trumpism Dies.

There are several ways that Trumpism may die. It may die quickly.

The quick death of Trumpism relies upon some major defeat or otherwise loss of momentum or coherency (of the movement; it has never been coherent in policy or otherwise). A crushing 2020 election, or a sudden reversal of support from the business world, an economic fall, or a major and striking policy blunder, domestic or foreign.

Some of the above features exist in fetal form. The weighing strains upon the farming communities, the lack of planning or strategy in foreign matters, the aging growth cycle with many signs of distress, the historic low approval ratings for the party leader. . .

In the quick death scenario, the result hearkens back to the latter days of George W. Bush’s second term, whereupon the public generally was tired of him (even before the economy faltered in earnest). The people are simply not in the mood to entertain the president further, at that point, and they are merely tolerant of his continuance to the end of his term. In this case, a majority have been weary from the get-go, so the death relies on removal of the life-support system that is the Trumpist base.

The fulcrum of Trumpism is Trump the myth or man. There are occasional rumblings of certain factions of his base that he’s not enough of a hard-ass on whatever issue. But they don’t break through any more than the normal, mainstream criticisms. The majority of Trump supporters aren’t supporting a policy. They are merely supporting the face.

Trump is a shiny object, as-seen-on-TV. He’s a catchy tune. Trump is retro, man. He took the old shtick of the bygone politicians of early ages and repackaged them for the modern rube. He’s a hula hoop. Back during that craze, if people found out that those hoops were somehow undermining democracy, do you really think that people who fell for the gimmick would have stopped swinging their torsos? Hell no. You’d have to pry them from their cold, dead hips.

Er. . . But, taken hypothetically that Trumpism dodges all of those factors and there is not a quick death. Trump is reelected for a second bite at the apple that he does not deserve, his first one having already revealed the rot not in the fruit but in the man biting it. The quick death scenario is forestalled but only temporarily. It is still a perfectly plausible event to occur after the postponement.

Indeed, the idea of Trumpism surviving Trump would be contrary to the modern habit of our politics, in which each new quadrennial election brings a revision of one or both major parties. So the question of survival beyond a quick death practically reverses the question. What would it take for Trumpism to survive beyond Trump?

For one, it would require coherence. There would have to be more than a madman’s tweets to sustain it beyond the end of Trump’s tenure. There would have to be adherents who understand that underlying policy and are prepared to defend it, rather than merely covering for their bumbling and cantankerous leader. The weight would have to transfer to a new fulcrum and away from Trump himself. Which makes it all the less likely, as they do not have enough coordination in the organizations at work that can develop such a policy background. And even if they did, Trump would never stand to be anything but the center of gravity of his weird little world.

Short of that transference, there would need be an heir-apparent, some personality akin to Trump that would be available to take up the chicken bucket. Thus far, there are a number of celebrity figures of that dungeon of the political and entertainment world, but none have shown the kind of appeal that Trump has. Which, I admit, gives Trump a certain amount of credit for being better than most at a certain kind of act.

Trump developed his celebrity rich kid status over decades, and he spent all of that credit to get where he is today. Even if he gave another the Trump endorsement, could somehow stand to let the spotlight shift, it’s not clear it would do them much good without the very particular set of attributes that allowed fools to latch onto Trump.

More likely is the kind of schism seen in major religions and countries that do not hold elections—a war of succession. And that is the second way that Trumpism may die. It may happen even if the death is quick, and it may be among the reasons that all the Republicans are sticking to Trump—they want to be ready to pick sides in the aftermath, not losing any positioning.

But schisms are generally reserved for when the resulting factions are the only options. In a Trumpist schism, there would still be some kind of regular Republican party, there would be the Democrats, plus at least two Trumpists trying to claim the chicken buckets mantle. And while Trump could try to rally the followers to one of them, he’s likely to fail. He will no longer be the magic-maker for those fools, and they will have their own opinions of who the new one should be.

(But I really don’t see Trump handing over the chicken bucket. Maybe for the right price, but even then he’s known to do a slack job and to be ready to slander those whom he ostensibly seeks to boost (see several examples in Republican candidates he endorsed in special elections since 2016).)


Trumpism will die, I have no doubt, because it is entirely propped up by Trump. The followers don’t really have any belief beyond liking Trump. There’s nothing to keep it going now that the scam has gotten him paid, and even if he wanted to, he won’t have an endgame other than selling straws and dreck (but maybe he gets to put his name on a tall building in Moscow, Russian Federation).

On the other hand, many of the ideas that Trump employs, which are not Trumpism but rebranded constructs of the Republican party, will not die so swiftly. They will only be solved when all people feel secure, that they will have a place in society and an equal status independent of their employment or other acquired characteristics. That day is yet to be scheduled, but one supposes it will come.