Thursday, March 13, 2014

Those people are lazy

You know who I mean, right? We don't need to actually say what we mean. We're all gentlemen here, in contrast to say, thugs.

That's the problem with dog whistles: other people can hear them too. Maybe you can't, because you're old and lost some of your hearing, but trust us, people can hear the whistle.

I'm just about to start my first real job. I've had jobs, even stayed them for a while, but they were all placeholders of sorts and only went on my resume as a way to say that I did something during the previous years.

Looking for work is possibly the worst thing ever. In the supply and demand graphs there's always this feeling that the labor and job pools are just these lines that walk past each other and are, except in truly terrifying economic cases, guaranteed to meet. I suspect that is the case, that if someone keeps at it they will find a job, eventually. But in the meantime the uncertainty is awful.

I've seen other people complain about the sting of rejection. I've been jealous. To get rejected is approximately step 8 in the job search. That put them further along than I was.

  1. Figure out what you can do
  2. Figure out what you want to do
  3. Find places that do both of those
  4. Find places that do one and a half of those
  5. Find places that do one of those
  6. Apply
  7. Hear nothing
  8. Get rejected
  9. Get an interview or two
  10. Hired
Half of that process isn't even applying. It's figuring out where to apply, how to, what to. For me, that was the worst part. It's easy to get discouraged when there is absolutely no measure of how you're doing or even if you're on the right path. You're not being rejected, not even acknowledged, and so all the failure is on your end. That adds up. Until step 7 you spend every day blaming yourself. Sometimes I'd take a day off to try to recover, but then I'd feel bad about that. Feeling like a lazy idiot does not give one the confidence to apply for jobs. I at least had opportunities. I had a car available, money for hotel stays so I could make interviews, and some connections.

Contrast that with someone who is barely scrapping by on government assistance. They can't search as wide of a range on the map or the listings. To make it worse, they're being called lazy for taking that government assistance, as if that is somehow what keeps them from getting a job. The lack of jobs in their area is not mentioned. The problems in the hiring process are not mentioned.

Even worse, the jobs that are easiest to find and get, things like fast food, pay very low wages. Yet that might be all a person can get. They're doing the right thing by getting a job. But then they're told that not only should that job not pay them a livable wage, but that they shouldn't even be in that job. What are they supposed to do, quit? Without another job lined up, that just puts them back on government assistance, or possibly worse, not on it because they quit a job that they could have kept. If they did have another job lined up, then they'd take it. Or sometimes they do and work two or three jobs because one or two don't pay enough.

I don't know of an easy solution to the job problem. But in the meantime, we could at least pay those few with jobs enough to support themselves, and stop using food stamps to subsidize employers who won't pay a livable wage. And we could stop using careful phrasing to suggest that certain people who we won't specifically identify are lazy and should just be kicked out in the cold.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reading into a poll too much: Anti-choice and contraception morality

I stand corrected, partially: According to Gallup, anti-choice people do not think birth control is a sin. Slate writer William Saletan decided to read into this way too much and concluded that anti-choice activists are pro-contraception, pro-women, and all sorts of good stuff.

He might be right, but this poll does not provide evidence for him assertions. Now certainly the math says that if 89 percent of respondents think birth control is morally acceptable then inevitably a huge proportion of respondents who think abortion is morally unacceptable will think birth control is acceptable. And that's all.

In the abstract, birth control is acceptable. What about the specifics? What about when it is used for sex between an unmarried man and woman, which is disapproved of by 38 percent of respondents? Given that there is a 54-42 percent split between considering it morally acceptable and unacceptable to have a child outside of marriage, perhaps we can assume that using birth control to prevent that is morally acceptable. Or maybe only that it is the lesser of two evils.
Pro-lifers don’t oppose birth control. They support it overwhelmingly. Three of every four people who regard abortion as morally wrong believe not just that you have a right to use contraception, but that using it is morally acceptable. That’s not my opinion. It’s a fact.
Wrong. They may find it morally acceptable in the abstract, but that does not mean they find it morally acceptable in all cases, or that they believe people have a right to use it, or the right to easy access.
It’s true that the absolutism of pro-life political leaders has driven them to attack all public funding of family-planning organizations that perform, or even counsel women about, abortions. If you think they’re foolish and wrong to do so, I agree with you. But that’s an argument about policy and consequences. It’s not about motives.
How else can one judge motives except by actions? Words get spun a million different ways and send different messages to different audiences. Actions have consequences. If the actor didn't like those consequences, then presumably they'd stop those actions. That is, unless they either desired those consequences or considered them to be of lesser importance to the overall goal. Voting is an action and voting keeps sending these extremists into office. Showing up is an action and crowds are what give extremists power.

By their actions, rather than just their words in a poll, it is clear that anti-choicers care more about ending abortion than promoting birth control. But I see some hope in this poll. With such an extreme difference in the polling on abortion and birth control, there are a lot of people who may come to see accessible, affordable, and acceptable birth control as a way to end abortion. In time we may see anti-choice activists, driven by their supporters, take more sensible steps that can reduce abortion without unduly harming women's rights.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Santa is white, but he doesn't have to be

Santa is a fictional being. As such, he is whatever we say he is. I imagine most people will say that he is white, therefore, he is white. Done.

Of course this also means that he doesn't have to be white. If we think he has some other assortment of visible genetic traits that we might classify as race, then he is that other race. Or maybe he's any race.

I imagine that I'm going to continue to think of Santa as white for a long time. Maybe the rest of my life. Anyone can think he's not white. I'll find that strange, but that doesn't mean that they are wrong, or that I'm right. In fact, I might be wrong to find that strange. I may be the strange one for thinking that he is white.

We could dig around for historical facts to back up one side or another. I could point to the European origins of Santa Clause-like beings, such as St. Nicholas. Of course the actual St. Nicholas was Greek, so he was probably not as pale as the Santa I'm picturing. This leaves me to point to American tradition, which has a pale Santa Claus. Of course tradition is not as traditional as we think, tending to change over time, sometimes even very quickly.

A white Santa, regardless of the demographics of the US, isn't wrong. But it isn't right either.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ceilings are Stupid

Gravity is a confirmed phenomenon and has been for centuries. Ceilings will inevitably be pulled downward, thereby removing their ability to be above our heads. In other words, ceilings are self-destructive, their very nature of being above us being what causes them to be pulled down.

Some have suggested using vertical supports to hold up the ceiling. Even if we could imagine such a structure maintaining itself, it only worsens the underlying problems. Regardless of the structures you design, gravity will pull them downward and adding vertical supports to maintain a floating ceiling will only increase the downward force. Any objective physicist can see the data: more mass, regardless of how well-placed, always results in more downward force.

Ceilings, for all their theoretical usefulness, are merely a pipe dream of those who would waste resources by attempting to subvert the natural laws of the universe.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Necessary Evil isn't always necessary or evil

Lately I've come to dislike this term. I understand what it is trying to convey, that we need something, despite disliking it.

Let's start with evil. Evil. Focus on that bit for a moment. Evil is what we use for people like Hitler and Satan. It doesn't mean "mean" or "inconvenient".

Pair this with the necessary bit and it becomes somewhat horrifying. Evil is necessary? What sort of horrifying situation are we dealing with? Are we throwing an infant overboard because we need to take a water filter on a life raft? Or is this the normal functioning of society, in which case we're living in a twisted dystopia.

Maybe I should relax. Clearly the "evil" in question is generally just some sort of inconvenience or something that we mildly dislike. In that case, we're dealing with something that we don't like much, but which keeps things working.

Now this just sounds like whining. Can you imagine designing a building and using this term to describe the need for vertical supports? Ugh, the stupid floor can't just fly and we need to waste all this metal to hold it up. That's so evil! And necessary!

And thus we get to government, that perennial "necessary evil." Ask yourself this, if you regard government as evil, yet necessary, what is wrong with you? Are you personally so horrible that you need something to keep you in check? Or is government to deal with those other dangerous people, in which case, you have a really sad view of human nature. Rather than confront either their worldview or their actions, people decry the "necessary evil". Call it evil to preserve your sense of moral direction, then call it necessary to excuse your active or passive support for it.

Alternatively, maybe these "necessary evils" are not evil, and at times not necessary, but are instead slightly annoying aspects of society and economics that keep things functioning, but rather than attempting changes that would render them unnecessary. For example, hiring people is the most effective way to remove them from the welfare state, pulling them out of Medicaid and unemployment checks. But instead 'job-creators' prefer to demand subsidies for hiring and training, then not hire anyway and decry the burdensome welfare state.

So next time you're tempted to use the term "necessary evil", ask yourself, is it? Is it evil? Is it necessary? And if it is both, can you do anything about this terrible arrangement? Sometimes you cannot, at least not alone.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Unemployment insurance isn't a poverty program

This is in response to Unemployment Benefits Decrease Poverty? Really?!

I'd propose an indirect mechanism, which can therefore explain how the correlation can fail to emerge. Unemployment insurance acts as a stabilizing force, allowing families to maintain their lives despite unemployment. Under normal circumstances this would be a temporary effect, tiding them over until they find a new job and begin paying back into the system. In this way, unemployment would have a slight impact on poverty by means of giving people money, but the larger effect would be on maintaining demand, thereby keeping the economy growing. It would therefore have the effect of smoothing out some problems so that free markets can reduce poverty.

This falls apart in a sustained recession. If there are too few jobs to find, then the insurance will no longer be stabilizing the economy. It will instead be propping up people's lives, without being of much benefit to economic growth. In summary, unemployment insurance is a brilliant idea if we're in a short downturn, but not in a long-term economic malaise. It may still be morally justified to help people, but it is not a recovery program.

Of course merely bashing a program isn't of much help. From that we'd conclude that the correct decision is to simply end it. That would crash the economy and ruin many lives. Or end them. It is always good to remember that people can starve to death or die of exposure. Lack of proper nutrition will have a life-long impact on a child.

What are the alternatives then? Or what are the supplements that can be used to improve the program?

First, it is always good to have people in the same place as jobs. Government could offer increased benefits to people who move to areas with lower unemployment or pay some moving expenses. The housing problems don't help, since they may make people feel or actually be stuck in their present locations. Increasing the mobility of labor would decrease unemployment. Economic improvements tend to compound. Lower unemployment will cost fewer resources at all levels of government, while also bringing in greater tax revenues. Even with the buffer of unemployment insurance, we can expect some rise in demand from a family with income than one without, boosting the economy further.

Eliminating rules such as the minimum wage, protections for unions, and workplace safety would make employees less expensive and therefore would encourage hiring. However, in a weak job market and without collective bargaining, there is no guarantee that workers will be paid enough to survive on.

Encouraging hiring would help as well. This could come on the demand side, so that employers see greater benefits from hiring. However, demand-side boosting requires a massive expenditure and we've not yet seen the political will for a sufficiently large stimulus. Alternatively, giving everyone a bunch of currency, using inflation to cause a redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, as opposed to the poor to rich movement we see with most monetary policy, would provoke a backlash from the politically-influential group known as "rich people".

Employers could receive tax benefits for hiring, such as from a pass on payroll taxes. However these tend to be deficit-increasing as the economic growth and resulting revenues don't offset the tax expenditure. The employment boost may end when the tax subsidy ends, and such subsidies tend to encourage hiring for low-wage jobs to game the system. If done at the state level, then it is merely part of the pirating of jobs with no actual economic benefit, an absurd practice known as "tax competition."

Rather than making hiring more profitable, government could use policy to make firing less profitable. A tax on layoffs would add an incentive to retain workers, though the retention would be proportional to the size of the tax, and would reduce business flexibility. It is good, after all, to be able to get rid of workers who don't produce as much as they are paid. Furthermore, if the tax were too high, then we could expect hiring to be reduced due to uncertainty about the need for labor.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reworking the money supply for explosive economic growth

Make uranium the currency. It sounds crazy, and it comes from an imaginary physicist, so it just might be. But it also might be true, as things in physics often are. Let's set aside the problem of deflation, since the half-life is so long, or the inherent stupidity of making our currency based on a physical substance. Let's instead focus on the positive aspects.

While we might not expect people to trust banks, we can expect them to use banks. No one wants a lot of uranium sitting around their houses, not even terrorists. On the trust front, we can expect that banks would be more highly-regulated. While its easy to wave away responsible regulation on the grounds of "economic freedom", something that they made up on the spot, there is also the issue of terrorism. While the scale of the threat was also made up, it is scary and explodey and both of those are strong motivators. Therefore we can expect that people will use banks and will trust them to not explode.

In the event that the banks do explode, making big explosions, with the usual destruction of property and killing people, is illegal. This means that in the event that bankers blow up the economy again it will likely be accompanied by an actual explosion. Those are much easier to prosecute, since people have more of a tendency to admit that they exist. Fewer people would be claiming that the Federal Reserve or Elders of Zion caused the explosion. That's a good thing.

In the event that the banks do not explode, then the bankers will get to learn the other meaning of liquidator: those who worked on cleaning up the debris from Chernobyl and who suffered tremendously from the resulting radiation poisoning. This may seem to petty spite, and it is. Since when does policy have to be based on being nice to people?

Then a few decades later people will claim that The Wizard of Oz is about expanding the money supply to include strontium-90. Obviously that's stupid, because the half-life is far too short for it to be a sound foundation for the money supply.