Thursday, February 28, 2008

But what kind of change?

Barack Obama is getting a lot of press for being a great speaker, an encouraging figure, and a strong leader. I agree he is enjoyable to listen to, but what are his policies? Below are a list of his stances on issues and (because this is my blog after all) whether I support them or not. All of the information is from the website

I support:
Supports charter schools and private investment in schools. ('98)
Explore nuclear power as part of alternative energy mix. ('07)
Free public college for any student with B-average. ('98)
America cannot sanction torture; no loopholes or exceptions. ('07)
Opposes gay marriage; supports civil union & gay equality. ('06)
Let's be a nation of laws AND a nation of immigrants. ('07)
Baptized as an adult in the Trinity United Church of Christ. ('06)
Hopes to remove all troops from Iraq by 2013, but no pledge. ('07)

Interesting but ambiguous:
Smokes cigarettes now; smoked some pot in high school. ('07)
Doesn't take PAC money or federal lobbyists' money. ('07)
Full name: Barack Hussein Obama; family calls him "Barry". ('06)
Voted with Democratic Party 96.0% of 251 votes. ('07)
Replace partisan bickering with politics of hope. ('07)

I do not support:
Protect a woman's right to choose. ('04)
Constitution is a living document; no strict constructionism. ('06)
Regulate financial instruments to protect home mortgages. ('07)
Supports federal programs to protect rural economy. ('04)
Supports affirmative action in colleges and government. ('98)
Tax incentives for corporate responsibility. ('04)
Hold corporations responsible for pensions & work conditions. ('07)
End tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas. ('07)
Insist on labor and human rights standards for China trade. ('04)
Keep guns out of inner cities--but also problem of morality. ('06)
Government healthcare like members of Congress have. ('07)
The market alone can't solve our health-care woes. ('06)
National smoking bans only after trying local bans. ('07)
Reform must include more border security, and border wall. ('07)
Give immigrants who are here a rigorous path to citizenship. ('07)
Chicago's Soldier Field stadium construction created jobs. ('07)
Make the minimum wage a living wage. ('07)
Burdens of globalization are placed on the backs of workers. ('07)
Obama will strengthen unions and workers' rights. ('04)
Cutting benefits & raising retirement age are wrong answers. ('07)
Privatization puts retirement at whim of stock market. ('07)
Reduce Bush tax cuts to pay for health care & other programs. ('07)
Airlines got into trouble after deregulation. ('07)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Economics of Religion

At its most basic level economics is the study of how people get what they want. For this reason, economics can be a tool to investigate the phenomenon of religion. Religion, like national defense or clean air, is a public good. That is, the consumption of one individual does not reduce the amount available to others. In fact, religion may be the ultimate public good in that increased belief in a certain doctrine may actually increase its value.

When looking at religion as a good, we must make some distinctions between it and other products. There is no “correct” way to make a cheeseburger or design a house, but religion inherently claims that there is a right and wrong way to produce it. In fact, all people practice some form of worship, be it the praise of ideas, national figures, or a supreme being. Connected to that is the idea that people believe there are correct and incorrect things to worship. For example, a religion that celebrates the death of soldiers, extreme racism, and overall hatred of society will universally be condemned (like the infamous Westboro Baptist Church). So we may say that it is possible for demand to be flawed. It is possible that people will demand something that will not be beneficial to them or society.

In a market system, product innovations increases quality and competition and improves the quality of life for its consumers, but religious innovation is usually seen as a distraction from the truth. In fact, most biblical churches pursue the doctrine and practices of the first century church. For this reason innovations or improvements are actually seen as distraction from the basic message. It could be suggested that religion is best produced as it was originally produced.

Even with these differences, organized religion is still supplied because there is a demand for spiritual goods. Dr. Michael Maloney divides the benefits into three categories: individual consumption, communal consumption, and reputational enhancement. One “innovation” of the Christian religion has been its increase in administration and paid employees over the last 2000 years. The first century church was mainly produced and consumed by the same people. Much like the persecuted churches of India and China today, it was one of small groups of believers meeting together in private homes. There were not official suppliers of Christianity until centuries later.

The mega-church is an institution that is producing these benefits at low cost using their economies of scale. In some ways the mega-church increases the personal consumption and reputational enhancement of religion, but actually decreases the communal consumption. It is able to increase personal consumption by allowing more people to participate. It offers a low risk environment in which a person can receive instruction and interaction with their religion of choice. It increases reputational enhancement by quite obviously making the consumer be seen by more people. But it decreases communal consumption by the sheer number of people involved. A common occurrence when any group increases in size is its loss of identity. A local organization has much more community than a large national organization. The same can be said for oversized churches.

At its core religion is a way of understanding the world, man, and his place in it, just as economics is. The increasing consumer-based structure of organized religion has led to a higher quantity of attendees, but has most likely resulted in a tradeoff for quality. In one way the increase in the number of people practicing has increased the worth of religion, but the change from layman consumption AND production of religion decreased it worth.

*this was an assignment for Econ 827: Economics of Property Rights

Friday, February 22, 2008

Campaign Donations is a campaign contribution search engine that lists donor names, amount given and to whom it was donated. This information is kept public by law, so you can search to see if anyone you know has donated at least $200 to a political candidate since 1978. Here are some highlights from its famous donors list:

Ben Affleck: $6,900 to Barack Obama
Louie Anderson: $2,500 to Democratic National Party
Hank Azaria: $2,300 to John Edwards and $10,000 to DNC
Tyra Banks: $2,300 for Barack Obama
Jon Bon Jovi (John Bongiovi): $4,600 to Hillary Clinton
Michael Jordan: $10,000 to Barack Obama Senate race
Drew Carey: $2,300 to Ron Paul
Don Henley: $728,785 to mostly Democrats since 1980.
Bill Gates: $267,358 in the last 20 years with no regard to party.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Backbone of America

One of the major issues of this season in American politics is the issue of immigration. My position is this, the only problem with immigration is that it is too hard for willing foreign workers to enter the United States, legally. The interesting thing about this issue is that it is not new. Many Americans were worried about the giant wave of immigrants entering from 1890-1910 (a wave that was bigger than today). They had fears that these people from other lands would disrupt their way of life and in the end, hurt America. A century later, we can see they were wrong.

First off, let me state my point (or my bias as some might call it). I support the simplification of the immigration process. So simple in fact, that there is no incentive to come illegally. The only limitations on entering would be registration and a minor criminal background check (allowing for those who have been living here the ability to register freely as well).

In an attempt to subdivide the opposition of immigration, I divided it into three categories: 1) racism, 2) psychological fears and 3) economic fears.

Now people rarely admit in the open that their policies are racially driven, but we cannot deny that many are. I have personally witnessed much more racism against Hispanics than any other subgroup, not to say that of course the other kinds do not exist. The fact is, people identify with people like themselves, and in this broken world, racism arises. I don’t have to tell you that this isn’t a legitimate opposition to immigration.

Complaints that fall in the psychological category are things like: a struggle with another language, over population, and a fear of losing national identity. Struggling to learn and interact with another language is something that I can sympathize with. I have always struggled in this area, but it is not reason to deny people the right to a higher quality of life. Moreover, I am willing to bet it is more of a pain (thereby more incentive to change) for the minority to not speak the majority’s language than the other way around. Now for our fear of losing our national identity. These words are scribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That is America’s national identity. We are and always have been a nation of immigrants. As for overpopulation, look at Wyoming.

But it is this last division, the economic fears, that are most prevalent, and most interesting to me. Usual complaint is American job competition. When an immigrant goes anywhere, we can assume they are moving from a place of a lower quality of life to a place of higher. If this were not true then they would never leave home in the first place. Therefore, we can assume immigration makes the immigrant better off. As for the Americans, there is a large demand for cheaper labor (cheaper than Americans are willing to work anyways) and this has caused the in flow of people. They are meeting a need and we are receiving better price for it.

And finally, immigration allows for “regulatory competition.” This is an interesting pair of words with a very interesting result. By allowing people from all nations to easily flow into the United States, we create global competition for labor and resources. This governing competition (much like competition in the private sector) forces government of other nations to work for the good of their people. If the people of North Korea were easily able to come to America if they desired, then North Korea would have to radically change their policies before their population dwindled.

America at its heart and at its strength is a nation of newcomers. No other country to the extent of America is a place of hope and opportunity. There is no such thing as a France dream, because people do not go there for refuge. They do, and should continue to, come to America.

For a more humorous and detailed discussion of this, check this video out.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Introducing... The Brookie

"It's not quite a brownie, not quite a cookie, but it is quite delicious."

1 pkg. fudge brownie mix
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 egg
1 (6 oz.) pkg. chocolate chips
1 c. chopped nuts (if wanted)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease cookie sheet. In large bowl, combine brownie mix, flour, water, oil and egg. By hand, stir with spoon until dough is formed. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by teaspoons 2 inches apart onto greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Top 5 Ron Paul Quotes

1.) Deficits mean future tax increases, pure and simple. Deficit spending should be viewed as a tax on future generations, and politicians who create deficits should be exposed as tax hikers.

2.) Our country's founders cherished liberty, not democracy.

3.) Freedom is not defined by safety. Freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference. Government cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such a fictional place. Liberty has meaning only if we still believe in it when terrible things happen and a false government security blanket beckons.

4.) You wanna get rid of drug crime in this country? Fine, let's just get rid of all the drug laws.

5.) Values in a free society are accepted voluntarily, not through coercion, and certainly not by law... every time we write a law to control private behavior, we imply that somebody has to arrive with a gun, because if you desecrate the flag, you have to punish that person.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Marginal Vote

Lately I’ve heard many express their worry about “wasting their vote” in the upcoming presidential election. Whether it is supporting a peripheral candidate (like Ron Paul) or not voting in a race that seems to already have a clear front runner (McCain for the Republicans), people seemed to be really concerned about casting a vote that doesn’t count.

I, more than most, have very unpopular views of government, but yet I have felt in this election that I was able to voice my opinion. I have come to the conclusion that all votes are in fact “wasted votes”, that is they do not decide a winner; except for the unlikely event that one single vote actually does put one candidate above another.

For example, if candidate A beats out candidate B by 5,000 votes, then every person, those supported both candidates, cannot claim their vote counted (for if they didn’t cast a vote the outcome would be the same). If this is the case, that one persons vote cannot really decide a winner, why vote?

We vote because that is what politicians listen to. It has been a historical truth that when a minor party gains some popularity (the Progressive Party of the early 1900’s) that the major parties simply co-op these popular ideas for themselves. At a first glance this seems like cheating, but actually it’s democracy in action. The people want something and the parties adopt their ideology to fit.

For this reason I would say that no votes are wasted (in the sense that they affect public policy). Every vote for Ralph Nader, a no chance left wing candidate, caused the major presidential candidates to take notice and adjust. We can see this happening in the current race. This article shows that Governor Mike Huckabee has been adopting some ideas from Ron Paul.

So take heart, democracy isn’t perfect, but it is working. Vote for the candidate you feel will do what you want them to do in office, and let the politicians adjust.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Commanding Heights

"A global economy, energized by technological change and unprecedented flows of people and money, collapses in the wake of a terrorist attack... the year is 1914."

This is part one of an excellent three part series from PBS that presents a detailed account of the history of globalization.

Episode One: The Battle of Ideas

Part Two: The Agony of Reform
Part Three: The New Rules of the Game