Archive for February, 2017

Basic Income: Good, Better, Best

February 24, 2017

I sometimes play a game of “good, better, best”. The “best” represents the ideal, the thing we should all strive for. “Good” and “better” represent more likely outcomes or compromises.

No one seems to disagree that whatever the US is doing regarding poverty, we are terrible at it. It has created a nation of dependents who have little freedom. We have perverse incentives, rewarding people for bad behavior and punishing them for good behavior. For instance, if you go out and earn a little money, you lose even more money in benefits. We also have vast hordes of power-hungry bureaucrats who torment our people with pointless regulations and insincere bloviations about how good they are for helping the poor when in reality they are just trying to earn a little more money just like every one else.

Basic Income can be a “good” or “better” outcome, if we let it.

Here’s where I’m willing to compromise.

I’m willing to implement Basic Income in the United States, even though it is not the ideal, if you’re willing to abolish all the welfare bureaucrats and bureaucracies. Just write a check each month to each individual of the United States, and let those who want to cash it, cash it, but eliminate every bureaucrat who wants to govern how that money is spent.

I’m also willing to allow you to do that especially if you eliminate the Federal Reserve and have congress just print the money itself.

I am not willing to compromise on taxes, unless you want to eliminate all of them. Don’t even think about increasing taxes to find the money to add Basic Income to the bloated welfare bureaucracy. I won’t stand for it as it is no compromise at all.

The “best” that I strive for is:

  • No taxes
  • No Federal Reserve
  • Very little regulations, weights and measures, and that’s pretty much it.
  • No welfare, not even a little bit.

In that system, everyone would get rich overnight, and the government would have so much money they wouldn’t be able to spend it fast enough.

But I understand why you don’t believe me. We’ll see.

I am willing to let you have Basic Income if you let me get rid of the Federal Reserve and all federal welfare. Deal?

Why the Stock Market is Going Up

February 24, 2017

Liberals don’t want to admit this, but President Trump is one of the best things to happen to America, economically speaking. We’re having to look back to the 80’s and earlier to find comparable examples.

Economics isn’t a hard field to understand. Once you get that it’s made up of a bunch of actors who are simply trying to make the most money they can, you can see what effect economic policies have.

For instance, in a free market, where people can buy, sell and trade as they like, you would get the maximum increase in wealth. Wealth is defined as people having the things they want, and cannot be measured in terms of dollars or anything like that, since people don’t necessarily want dollars: they want the things and services dollars can buy. It’s easy to see why, when people are free to buy and sell and trade they end up with more of what they want than any other system.

In the United States, we don’t have a free market and we certainly don’t have anything close to it. You might find free-er markets in other parts of the world. But as far as it goes, we’ve got it pretty good, and as long as you have a good lawyer and tax advisor, you can make pretty good decisions. You’ll quickly find there are four big things that hold you back from getting everything you want, though.

  1. Technology. Or rather, the lack of fantastic technologies. I want flying cars, right now! But more importantly, technology changes the rules of production. Every technological advance means more options to make things better or more cheaply.
  2. Foreign trade, or restrictions on it. There are things in Japan and Germany and China that I want, but I am not free to bring them here, and that means I get less of what I want. It also works the other way: There are people in Japan and Germany and China who want my stuff and my services, but they are not able to get it, at least not at a decent price.
  3. Taxes. Taxes literally increase the price of everything, oftentimes making certain things unprofitable and thus completely shutting down huge sections of our potential economy.
  4. Regulations, the bad kind, the kind that businesses don’t want. These regulations don’t make trade and commerce regular, they outright forbid it.

These things are easy to fix, if we simply had the stomach to fix them.

  1. Technology is often limited by pointless regulations. You can see for yourself as Uber battles local cabbies for permission to do what should be every person’s right. My wife asked me a few days ago why she can’t buy a new car online, and I explained there are similar stupid regulations that say you must buy from a dealership. These kinds of things, and a million more, make innovation difficult if not impossible.
  2. Trade barriers only hurt people, moreso the people they were designed to help. Although President Trump is no free-trader, his proposals aren’t really that radical and don’t really change much.
  3. Taxes are literally killing our economy because we are one of the most heavily taxed countries in the world, and we spend a fortune trying to comply with tax regulations. An overhaul here is long overdue, and hopefully, a dramatic lowering of the tax rate, which should dramatically increase tax revenue as less money is spent on compliance and more flows into the government’s coffers.
  4. Regulations are literally the stranglehold on our economy. Any hint of lightening the regulatory burden is great news for innovators and most businesses, even the regulations that are supposed to grant semi-monopoly powers to big corporations.

President Trump has signaled a willingness and the willpower to overhaul the tax code and dramatically reduce regulations. Although he is on the wrong side of the trade issue, his ideas are really not all that bad, and in some cases, might improve our situation making the US an even more central hub to world trade. What President Trump cannot control is innovation in technology, but reducing regulations should free the economy to innovate on its own. Certainly, throwing mountains of cash at government-sponsored technology programs has lead to very little real innovation, as history has shown time and again.

The fact that the stock market is rising, so rapidly and so strongly, is a sign that people are pouring money into the market. This is because they would rather have their money there rather than anywhere else. While some of this might be fueled by erroneous speculation, I am sure a great deal of it has to do with the idea that if the president continues on the path he has started, we’ll be seeing the profits of these companies rising. That is, after all, the only value in a stock: what people think the company will do in the future.

The stock market crashed in 2008 as we saw our choice was narrowed down between Obama and McCain. The economy knew that neither was good news, and the better Obama did the worse the market did. Sure, when he took office the market was already crashed, so even after we figured out Obama and learned to hunker down for the next 4-8 years, the economy improved, but have President Trump win election means something very significant has changed, in a very unexpected way.

Can machines have rights?

February 23, 2017

There is a lot of messy thinking about rights nowadays, and it all has to do with the attempt to erase religion from our consciousness.

For the purposes of this article, I define “religion” to be “a set of beliefs”. With this definition, things like “atheist” and “Christian” become less useful, so¬† I won’t use them.

Also, for purposes of this article, I define “right” as “the things you should do” and “freedom” as “the things you can do”. Notice the difference, here.

Now, fundamentally, the question of rights is a question of morality, since rights are what you should do. That means that there is a good thing to do and a bad thing to do, which means there is good and evil and thus morality.

Ultimately, the question of what is good and what is evil is a question of what you choose to believe is good and evil. It is, in essence, a religious question. (Refer to my definition about.) You choose a set of beliefs, and those beliefs will determine what rights you and others believe you have.

Now, when we talk about morality, there are really two kinds of moralities you can choose to believe in. The first is an absolute morality, where the question of what is right and wrong is independent of the person doing it. For instance, murder, you might say, which is the taking of an innocent life, is wrong everywhere, whether African tribesmen do it or Barack Obama. This is absolute morality.

Relative morality says that some things are good for some people but not for others. These systems lead to things like racism, where it’s OK for white people to vote but not black people, or the European style of government where the elite are allowed to govern but the commoners are not.

Obviously, in our enlightened era, we find relative morality to be repugnant. We much prefer morality that is universal and consistent.

But this still doesn’t lead us much closer to the question of what is good and evil. It does tell us, however, that whatever we determine to be right for one person is right for another, and so we get to the concept of reciprocity. That is, my rights end where your rights begin, and vice-versa. Whatever rights we determine we have, we can’t have other people having rights that contradict it.

These are nice, but they still cannot give us a fundamental set of rights from which we can expand outward and discover all the remaining rights. For that, we need a god, a being who is able to make a decision (or, if you prefer, a choice) when it comes to morality.

We can make our own moral compasses, in which case, we are back to relative morality, which we find repugnant. Since people’s opinions and attitudes shift, their morality will shift also if it is solely based on themselves or other people. Or we can create or rather recognize a god or gods that are not human who make the rules about right and wrong for us. Whatever god or gods we choose, we can have them communicate with us through arbitrary or concrete means. If it’s arbitrary, then some people will say one thing and others another, but if it is concrete, then we have a single source of truth we can all turn to. By way of example, the Christian world embraces the Bible as the concrete source of God’s message to mankind and thus the source of morality.

Now, to wrap it all up, can machines have rights?

In short, only if we give them rights, and we can only give them rights if we think we are gods. And if we think we are gods, we are back to relative morality.

Thus, if we want absolute morality, we must deny machines rights until some concrete message from our god or gods tells us to recognize their rights.

And if we deny the existence of god or the gods, that will never happen.

The moral of the story is that if we are to grant machines rights, we will destroy the very foundation of our morality and religion, and who knows where we will end up when we do that?

The Crimea Problem

February 16, 2017

President Trump asked Russia to give Crimea back to the Ukraine.

Russia said no, Crimea voted to be part of Russia and stay out of my business.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially because it’s clear neither Russia nor the president want to see a war over this issue.

The last thing we want is a war, but the last thing we want is to send a message that all you have to do is bring in your troops and hold an election and the land is all yours.

The fact that the president brought up this issue is a sign that he is either going to use it as a bargaining chip or he thinks he can actually get Russia to give up Crimea. It remains to be seen what concessions Russia will make to keep Crimea, or what leverage the US has in negotiating with Russia. It’s clear that we’re rapidly heading towards some form of alliance with Russia given the president’s manner of speaking about them. We’re already talking about sharing intelligence and joint operations in the Middle East. We already have the president sending olive branches out to Russia and Russia send back their own.

But I doubt we can let Russia stay in Crimea and maintain some sense of order in Europe for long.

On Piety

February 2, 2017

One thing that bothers me about the irreligious is that they have not struggled with the problem of piety and thus fall into the trap of presenting a disingenuous piety themselves. Or rather, they become what they accuse the religious of being, without realizing it themselves.

A good example of this is what is called “virtue signalling”. People on the left typically engage in this practice, although it’s not uncommon on the right either. “Virtue signalling” is when someone says or does something so that people think they are virtuous, but in reality, it is a meaningless gesture. For instance, “Retweet this if you stand against Trump for Muslim immigrants!” or “Sign this petition to help the refugees!” In neither case does the action proscribed actually achieve the intended result, but the people who engage in it feel like they have done something positive and people who see other do it think something similar.

This is what piety, or rather, disingenuous or false piety is in religious circles. How often do you hear about the person who faithfully attends their church meetings every Sunday, and yet find little time to help the poor or even to be with their kids? Or the rich businessman who dumps large sums of money into the offering plate, but spends their business hours trying to extort ever more money from their customers and denying their employees a fair wage.

Every religion struggles with this. Christianity, like all others, struggle with it too.

The curious thing about Christianity is how it deals with this problem. And trust me, it’s a big problem. After all, if you aren’t actually doing good things, you are doing evil. A bit of opportunity calculus makes this clearly evident.

Christianity solves this problem by making our actions completely irrelevant. Christ doesn’t judge us based on our actions. Or rather, our actions are not the deciding factor. That is to say, try as you might to live all the teachings of Christianity, it cannot be done unless you have first been changed to become like Christ. This change comes about by the Grace of God, and none of us who experience can say anything else but to praise God for it.

Thus, Christians should not be looking on the outward appearance. All the good behavior, especially publicly visible good behavior, doesn’t amount to anything. It says literally nothing about whether a person in their heart is good or evil. So Christians should rightfully eschew this sort of outward, superficial, disingenuous piety in favor of trying to change their hearts to be more like Christ’s.

When you first join a church or a religion, or at least set your intentions towards adhering to it, you likely do what everyone else who has done the same has. You start with a zealous, even dangerous commitment to obey all the rules and restrictions. This is unhealthy, not only because oftentimes the ideals are simply impossible to achieve, but because you will find that when your actions do not align with your heart, you become more and more stressed.

It usually takes some time for you to develop empathy. First, you begin to see yourself and how you have failed to live up to the high standards you set for yourself. As you compare yourself with others, you spend less time finding faults, and even finding praise, but more time saying, “We really aren’t so different.” It’s at this point that you need to make a decision: Are you going to renege on your initial commitment, and give up? Or are you going to allow your experience to guide you down a better path?

In the case of Christianity, and I hope, someday, with all religions, we are forced to consider the better path: Forgiveness, both for ourselves and for others. This, and nothing else, is the true piety we all strive for in our religions: Sincere understanding, sincere compassion, all the while never giving up on our ambitions to achieve our ideals.

If the irreligious considered this, and walked that path for themselves, they would spend far less time virtue signalling. After all, what does it accomplish to tell others you are good when you know that you are not? What good is it to judge our hearts by our outward appearance? No, you would learn, like all the religious eventually do, that complete compliance with ideals is impossible, but that’s ok. We can still be friends, and we can still help each other.