Monday, August 29, 2005

Our Money At Work

Just in case anybody thought that the Oil States are using every one of our petro-dollars to its greatest extent, take a look at former president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu-Dhabi Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's new house:

It's hard to find grander in the US, and yet the entire Arab league's GDP is still smaller than Spain's. Class disparities this large cause piss the poor people off.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Competitive Government

There is a popular notion that the government is inheritently inefficient and corrupt because it is a monopolistic organization, as opposed to the private sector, where constant competition keeps businesses efficient and fast. This simply is not true. Public service is one of the most competitive sectors out there. Governments are constantly competing with one another. Cities compete for citizens, states compete for businesses, and countries compete for everything. If a government is corrupt, inefficient, or lazy, the nation will be overtaken by any number of problems ranging from economic collapse to invasion to revolution.

This outlook brings about many good points:

Fortunately, democracy allows the citizens to change the leadership without changing the institution, should the nation be heading in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, more often than not citizens are putting their votes behind the politicians who bring home the pork than the ones who are doing their best to improve the nation's welfare. How do we change that?

Smaller (geography wise) governments are often better at solving problems than larger ones, not only because they've got their ear closer to the ground, but because they're much more numerous. For instance: healthcare. Instead of having just the federal government attempting to draft a solution, we can have fifty smaller governments take a stab at it. When a clear and proven solution emerges, either the other states will adopt it, or the federal government will. Not only does the small government approach increase the chance of success by fifty, but it also makes for mistakes on a much smaller scale when, inevitably, there are some screw-ups. Unfortunately, politicians in DC want to solve the most cutting edge problems, and citizens more often than not forget that they have potential stateside solutions (who's your state congress rep?), and instead demand action from the federal government, bringing about disastrous solution attempts on a huge scale. Stepping aside and letting the states (or counties, or cities) tackle the problems with no clear cut solution seems like a sound and practical policy.

Finally, our government has been lazy, corrupt, and inefficient for quite some time now, and yet we have not been invaded, or outdone economically, or had a revolution. Is this just the status quo? Should we then let it be because it's always been, or are we setting up for some huge crises? I say the facts show some big predicaments heading our way, and just because we've gotten by thus-far doesn't mean we're going to continue to get by. Historically, most civilizations peak right before they collapse. I don't think we're dumb enough to collapse, but on our current path there are going to be losses, because our government simply is not up to par with other nations, and that's not acceptable.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Flat Tax Pros & Cons

Back to the subject, some percieved pros and cons of the flat tax.

Pros: simple, encourages investment, less bureaucracy, more money for the people, no more loopholes.

Cons: rich people keep getting richer, more burden on middle class, less money for charities & nonprofits, less tax revenue, where does social security fit in?, H&R Block goes out of business.

I don't know enough about the subject yet to deliver a policy, and if you have any evidence/opinions, please contribute.

Flat Tax Argument

I recently ran into a Wall Street Journal editorial advocating a flat income tax. It seemed like a pretty solid argument, even addressing my biggest issue by giving a tax exemption for the first 11,000$, thus not taxing the super-poor. And then it invoked Russia:

"Russia put in a flat tax four years ago, and revenues have more than doubled in real terms"

Before President Putin took office, Russia was in a tax crisis. Nobody payed income taxes, because it was much cheaper to bribe somebody and nobody wanted to tell anybody how much they make (and alot of the economy was, and still is, underground). This made the government, facing a shrinking tax base, raise taxes, leading to less people paying, leading to higher taxes, etc. Putin came along, said enough of this, cut the taxes to a flat rate below 20%, and the Russians decided that a fee that small wasn't worth the evasion trouble, thus started paying taxes again. A brilliant solution for a chronic problem, but entirely non-applicable to our situation (because people do pay taxes and our economy isn't underground, mafia-dominated, and incredibly corrupt).

Thus this one piece of evidence, this one phrase, throws the entire argument into doubt, because if the author (Steve Forbes, he should know his stuff) was willing to throw in an argument like that, who can tell what other pieces, with which I am not so familiar, are entirely invalid? If making a policy about something as major as this, use valid evidence.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Balance

A little practical philosophy. Many often ask, why do we have welfare? Why does the government take my (hard-earned) money and give it to someone (less deserving) else? Isn't that socialism? Doesn't socialism lead straight to economic stagnation, and in turn big evil tyrannies, like Russia, or China? These are good questions, and since the practical party is going to continue to support these socialist policies, it's neccessary to give a good answer.

It is my belief that there needs to exist a finely tuned balance between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism produces losers. This is because it includes risks, many risks, and some people get unlucky. Those losers need a second, maybe third chance to get back on their legs. They and their children need to be provided with the same opportunities that are alotted to the winners (education, survival, good line of credit). Why? For starters, it's humane, but more sensibly, it's in our best interests. The winners can become too powerful, monopolizing items such as education or specific businesses, bringing about short term gains for them at the cost of long-term losses for all. Some of these long term losses: obviously, monopolies breed incompetence, also, if most of the economic wealth is concentrated in the hands of few, they'll try and take the political power as well (take note of where most the politicians come from...). More subtly, and importantly, it's not worth the cost of letting those losers sit out in the rain. When someone loses faith and hope in a system, they try and force change upon that system, often producing extreme movements of some sort. Most infamous of these extreme movements is communism, as in Russia, China, and North Korea, but there are countless other grassroots movements that started amongst the disenfranchised "losers" of the current system and ended up dominated by power-hungry dictators.

This balance concept is a conclusion that Europe came to post-WWII, after having suffered through both extremes and various socialist revolutions for the last 150 years. They created capitalist states with socialist programs, bringing about a stable & prosperous balance that have lasted them 50 years. With economic stagnation setting in, that balance needs some tweaking, but I have confidence that their political institutions can deliver.

This is also a problem that many oil-states have been facing for the last 25-30 years. They have too much socialism, essentially using oil-money to create millions of ornamental, yet paying, government jobs. This coupled with their political situation creates millions of young, frustrated, idle, disenfranchised men and women. These same ingredients ledto the communist revolutions and fascism, and I hope that they can reform before the oil starts running out.

Socialist policies are humane. Socialist policies have also sedated & delivered hope & faith to generations of capitalistic losers. The checks the winners have to pay merely maintain a system that benefits them most. They really benefit everyone, fitting the axiom "what goes around, comes around". Thus practical policy should seek to find a balance between capitalism and socialism.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Food For Thought...

At current population growth rates:
In 775 years there will be 10 people per square yard
In 2000 years the mass of humanity will equal the mass of earth
In 6000 years the mass of humanity will equal the mass of the universe

Family planning, anyone?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Over 60...

It's a little belated, but oil's ppb is now past another landmark, and it's now trading at 62.31$. Keep in mind this is up from the 10-20$ range 6-7 years ago (and 40$ one year ago). I thought and I still think that this is a short-term price lurch with speculation and politics more to blame than the fundamental problem (there's only so much oil left), but it's a good time for an update.

The oil companies themselves are intent on informing the public of the root problem, as Chevron and others launch huge commercial campaigns imploring governments and populaces to provide them with the help and leadership to move onto the next energy source.

The estimate is now 5 years before non-OPEC production peaks. The US production peaked back in the 70's.

Whilst the US consumes 20 million barrels a day (1/4 the world total), the next largest consumer is China at 8, and France, a nation comparable to us in development and economic status, consumes a mere 2.

One of the biggest alternatives right now is tar-oil, a seemingly endless source embedded in sands which is much more expensive to extract and causes much more environmental damage (primarily through emmissions). This is what will happen if the free market runs it course.

67% of our consumption is in the transportation sector. Small things, like building a few less highways, a few more trains, more mass transit, zoning land in such a way that work, home, and shopping can all be walked to, mileage standards, and gas taxes can make a huge a difference, and it is the practical policy to implement them.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Couldn't let this go, as it violates basic practical ideology.

Both the recently passed energy & transportation bill are laden with pork and don't really solve anything. That's 300 billion dollars down the drain, and the setting in of a trend for whose indulgence both parties deserve to be voted out of congress. 300 billion going to things like a 500 million dollars for two bridges in Alaska, one to an island of less than 50. Corn museums, bike trails, this amounts to nothing less than congress bribing the people with their own money and solves nothing! This on top of the fact that congress has no right to be indulging in such local projects with federal money. Not to mention the 13$ billion energy bill which consists of a bunch of subsidies to industries we should be curbing, like big oil, but atleast that takes a few steps forward by putting a pittance towards renewables and changing daylight savings.

I say this now and I will say it again, NO PORK. Thus stands the practical policy.