Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Economic Agnosticism

When I started learning economics and finance I soaked up the right-wing slant of The Economist. The magazine often exposed me to material of a more intellectual and academic nature, and its writers and editors wrote about market concepts without realizing that their presented material contradicted their dogma. I later went on to B-school, as student with 720 GMAT's and a 3.9 GPA, was a student member of the International Economics Honor Society, and I 'aced' the economic and finance courses; my understanding of economics is at least as good as the educated populace.

Essentially, many economic aspects decried as socialism help the modern developed countries function and function better, i.e., big government, social security, universal healthcare, progressive taxation, financial regulation, income equality (low GINI coefficient), worker involvement/reward from production. My own private research - I was interested in publishing, and one idea was the relationship between economic outcomes and social factors - has shown me that although GDP might be higher in the right-wing states, quality of life for people is in substantial ways lower.

The problem is that the fall of Russian authoritarianism has left no counterweight, so we are now subject to one-sided beliefs supported by plutocrats, politicians, and the press, many of whom benefit from the lopsided system and capitalize on the destruction of social welfare.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Power in the Hands of Corporations


For the past several years I've been telling myself the following:

What's good for corporations is bad for people.

A bit oversimplified, but true.

There is no illusion as to what benefits from laws regarding sick leave, health care, etc. It is the corporations that hire people. The idea that what is good for the economy is good for people is rarely true, and although the goals can seem related, they are only positively related by the rate of productivity growth, rather than productivity itself.

Also, the wealth of middle class America comes at the expense of the wealthy - a historical analysis from Wealth and Democracy by Kevin Philips, although the 90's would seem to belie this truth - so the recent cuts in capital gains and corporate taxes, combined with lax IRS oversight and CEO greed, have created a new gilded-age economic divide. Part of the way the US can become better for the middle and lower classes is by empowering unions and taxing the wealthy, along with creating a universal health care system, reducing the military, and creating laws that reduce the control of corporations. 

Friday, July 06, 2007

Mass Murder for Money

A response to the Lancet article estimating Iraqi deaths caused by the occupation:

Wars tend to redistribute income, such that profiteers make huge sums of money, and this war is no different, except that more of the populous realizes that this war is mass murder for profit. Most Americans believe they vote on values, but they are deluded, conservatives anyway, if they think they are voting for much more than corporate welfare and plutocracy, a new military-industrial-complex, although the principals now include hedge funds and security firms.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Is Giving Good?

There is an unquestioned belief that charity s good, so while America as a whole gives away enormous amounts of money, it is also one of the most grotesquely unequal, with a significant portion of its population living in poverty, and with the worst social outcomes in the developed world. My belief is that charity is linked hand-in-hand with the grotesque inequities of our current political/economic system. The solution to our current set of social ills would be a responsive government, one that fostered the welfare of its citizens, not just its corporations. It's absurd to think that giving to most charities will change much of anything.

When I Became an Atheist


Who needs a god?

Like Einstein, I became an atheist at 12, and although much of my criticism was directed at the Catholic Church, any major religion would have worked. My biggest criticisms focused on the hypocrisy and irrationality of belief systems, e.g., moral absolutism, "my god is the only god," the suppression of science, the practice of celibacy, the promotion of poverty, etc. My belief system, as some people assume it, trusts science - I am not faith-oriented and am anti-dogmatic - and my 'philosophy' is commonly termed secular humanism. As a belief system, Wikipedia defines it as follows:

Secular humanism is a humanist philosophy that upholds reason, ethics, and justice, and specifically rejects the supernatural and the spiritual as warrants of moral reflection and decision-making. Like other types of humanism, secular humanism is a life stance or a praxis focusing on the way human beings can lead good and happy lives (eupraxsophy). 

As for myself, my concern is for people, the people of the world, and the world in general; I care that people can live humane, pleasurable, and self-directed lives, free from authoritarian control. I possess a strong social conscience and am considered by others to be an ethical and moral person, albeit not moralistic. I think rationally about cause and effect.

Looking at the world, and knowing religion's relationship to ignorance and misery, pity the believer.

First in Amputations

Some time ago, I did my own research on America, to see where it is the best, first, most, etc. I didn't find anything positive to report:

Essentially America leads the world in expenditures and revenues for the military, and in many facets of business/economic affairs. It also has the highest percentage of its population imprisoned, and performs the most amputations. 

The US ranks miserably on measures of social welfare education, health, work hours, obesity, and poverty. Oddly, a majority of Americans believe this country is great or best, according to a poll last year. American's have little idea of what the rest of the developed world is like...

Thoughts on Ageism

Let's see, I'm 46, fairly-fit (certified as personal trainer), intelligent (720 GMAT), youthful (look younger, dress well, tech literate), and vibrant, and I do fear aging. My biggest concern is the loss of intellect that accompanies age. I haven't had cosmetic surgery, but I am not averse to it.

Thoughts:

Caring about one's appearance is not ageist, and I imagine it is more often the anxiety of someone that is youthful and attractive.

Personally, ageist comments have come from 20-somethings, not older people or managers. According to a study, management typically has a higher regard for older workers, in terms of productivity, as well as with people skills, although managers also think younger workers can be more analytical.

On an intellectual level, older people tend to be neurologically slower, although the top few percent will increase their IQ up until the early 40's. After that, there is a typical, slowing and loss of intellect.

On Higher Education and Conformity

Granted, people that can't handle college, or perform poorly, might think of it as conformity, and think of good grades as favoritism, but most college students, and particularly the best academic performers, are not conformists. What one considers conformity is better termed socialization and value system similarity, but such value systems are inherently individualistic and often politically liberal and leftist, although almost all systems require some level of indoctrination

Back to objectivity, one might think of education as a proxy for intelligence and productivity. Why? The correlation between educational attainment and IQ is about 0.6. The correlation between IQ and job performance is 0.4 to 0.8, increasing with job complexity.

Conscientiousness, the ability to follow through, is more likely the attribute one should single out, and this too has a high correlation with workplace performance. 

Consume Less

Many people, myself included, think that the issues with the environment, not just global warming, need to be dealt with, at least partially, by consuming much less.

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, began selling green products, but unless they can guide people to buy less, not much will change.

Granted, some new products might profoundly change the rules of consumption, but none seem on the horizon, and much of the money being earmarked for changing energy consumption has been directed into the same old corporate coffers, and likely the same old dirty consumption. In fact, some of the new energy production systems worse than the old systems, and systemically disruptive to the life of the poor.

Global Warming and Methane Reduction


I was an ovolactovegetarian for several years in my twenties, in the late 1980's, but the lack of convenient food sources, social pressure, and mild athletic anemia, pushed me to adopt more meat-oriented diet. Also, being an insulin-dependent diabetic, eating low-fat, low-carbohydrate protein sources reduced my need for injections. Over time, I have returned to vegetarianism, although my reasons are grounded in self-interest and concern for the environment.

My energy consumption is relatively low, as I live in a major city and very selectively use automobiles for transportation. Lately though, I have been reminded that domesticated animals are large contributors to global warming (methane creation) and inefficient protein producers (4 to 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat). Additionally, vegetarianism, and related calorie reduction, are associated with increased longevity. Both have pushed my back to vegetarianism.

Regardless of the history, vegetarianism is a better choice. The legitimate gripe seems to be against meat-eaters.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Some Little-Publicized Truths About Guns

Coincidentally, the night before the rampage, as well as after, I was doing some research on the more academic websites (EurekAlert.org, Google Scholar, Pubmed) about guns, and found some interesting tidbits.

Looking over the legitimate material, not the propaganda put about in newspapers or by the NRA, one finds an elemental truth: gun control could save many lives, as well as reduce crime.

  • Guns correlate with increases in homicides and suicides, between counties, between countries, etc. This is has been found repeatedly true. There is no debate.
  • 1% of gun shops are responsible for 49% of all illegal handguns used in crime, and this is not a matter of the big shops selling more guns. Some shops have bad background check procedures, and enforcing policies of adequate background checks on the small number of shops at fault could go a long way. That, and simply having background checks...
  • The debate over the 2nd amendment bears little resemblance to the debate at the time of the constitution. At that time, the debate centered around whether the states could have military operations, partially to quell rebellion. The concern about individual rights to own guns is a modern construction.
  • There are many more guns in circulation than reported, since within households men control ownership 80% of the time, and women often are misinformed by their partners about guns in the house, either the actual number in the house, or how they are stored.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Forums As Cesspools of Anger

Some forums are about calm mannered discussion and debate, but as withy TV and political pundits, the loudest and stupidest comments get the most responses, and they are typically the most wrong.

I enter comments on forums, but I generally recognize that only inflammatory posts gets responses, and the more [choose your adjective: absurd, harsh, stupid, hostile, etc.] the more responses.

Clear, socially progressive, and subtle commentary rarely get much response.

Misogynists in their Hovels

Kathy Sierra was recently noted in the news being subjected to threats, both sexual and death, on her blog. Similar kinds of problems occur on personal sites, where men can know more about women by reading bios and looking at photos then they might in hours of conversation. Since men reading the bio's have a false sense of 'intimacy', and are not dealing with the women directly, they feel free to write all sorts of obscene and lurid comments; these abuses would much less often occur in face to face encounters. Granted women might write a bit racier than normal, although I imagine most a more cautious than usual, men much more often cross the line. Men in their homes, with a false sense of intimacy, feel free to let loose both their rage and their sexual fantasies.

As for dealing with it, creating awareness of the problem might be one part of the solution. More analysis of what kind of, and in what situations, people (men) write in inappropriate ways, along with increased awareness of the problem, as well as social shaming in the media and in public forums, might be another part of the solution. Granted, it will always occur to some degree, but shaming and analyzing the behavior would be the first steps.

Is Hatred of Women Republican?

Do hard-core Republicans seem more hostile to women, particularly smart, independent, liberal women, than Democrats?

One writer on the Kathy Sierra incident noted that many, if not most, of the hostilities came from readers of a right-wing news blog; I believe it was Free Republic. My own sense is that conservative hostility isn't typically directed at women's abilities, but at women's anatomy, sexual orientation, or 'femininity'. Even then, it can be an attack on her for being too feminine, as with the jibes at the outed CIA agent, Valerie Plame, for CNN/CNBC for wearing pink.

Anyone remember liberals attacking Laura Bush? Not that I know of, other than attacks at her for being married to the chimpanzee in power, or supporting it in public events. Although Hillary Clinton was lauded in the press, she is often the butt of conservative male attack.

NY Times Opinion by Devorah Baum: Jewishness

In response to a NY Times piece in the Opinion section We Are All Jew-ish Now , with the synopsis "Jewishness” can be the sensibility o...