mindstalk: (atheist)
Last week I went to a reading group for the mis-titled book Communism For Kids, as the book had sounded interesting. I hadn't gotten around to getting or reading it, so naturally I kept quiet most of the time. Plus, even as I heard things I privately objected to, I was the self-described token liberal in a dozen+ socialist/communist/anarchist sympathizers, and the night wasn't about me or my thoughts.

This blog is about me and my thoughts, though! So I'll vent some responses I didn't make then.

First, a meta-note: arguing with socialists has increasingly seemed like arguing with libertarians, in that the perceptions of history and the current world, and the definitions of key terms, differ so widely as to make useful discussion difficult at best.

Also, I've seen a lot of these points in past online discussion too, so I'm kind of responding to a melange of my experiences.

"social democracy has failed": this got stated like an absolute, and accepted by everyone. Like, really? What's the criterion for failure? The richest, freest, and largely most equal countries are all social democracies, broadly speaking. People risk their lives to flee to those countries. They're not perfect: unemployment is often high, immigrant integration often lacking. But they're pretty good, and social democratic policies generally work; a lot of the flaws could be described as not trying hard enough.

Those policies are under attack, and inequality has been increasing again in many countries. One could say it's "failed" in failing to totally resist such attacks. But here, let me list the social systems which have proven their ability to last a long time on a large scale while resisting inequality:
begin list
end list
And if social democracy creeps toward economic inequality again, every attempt so far at large scale socialism has positively raced toward authoritarianism, censorship, and purges.

"capitalism can't solve global warming": Question, is the EPA 'capitalist'? Hear me out: these people were also saying capitalism is a total system, that states created or were taken over by capitalism, that it's pervasively disruptive and corrupting. So, the EPA isn't a corporation or something, but it is an arm of the government of the USA, paragon of capitalism. It has *also* addressed many environmental problems, like cleaning up air and water and protecting endangered species. Under Obama it tried to regulate carbon emissions, and but for some tens of thousands of votes, it would be doing so under Hillary. Capitalist countries agreed to limit CFCs to protect the ozone layer, and are mostly inching toward addressing global warming -- the Paris accord was agreed to by almost every country, almost all of which are capitalist. A strong global state of any variety would be able to tackle global warming far more directly, without the handicap of a disorganized anarchy of countries going "but if we cut back, what if India or the US just pollute more?"

I agree that laissez faire capitalism can't solve global warming. But does 'capitalism' mean that, or does it mean real existing capitalism, with regulators and welfare states and democracy? The usage seemed... fluid.

(Which is something I've seen among libertarians, too: capitalism is either the natural way for things to be such that almost everything is capitalist, or a pure ideal snowflake that evaporates at the first hint of tax, depending on whether they're assigning credit or blame.)

"Markets don't arise, they're created by governments to fund war.": Nnnng. Yes, governments can create markets, or make them work better. Yes, governments had a role in creating or expediting the modern capitalist world, including things like enclosures. But... so what? I infer implications that governments created capitalism out of whole cloth, or that the origin taints capitalism for good.

Whereas I'd say markets often *do* arise spontaneously, in the absence or even opposition of governments; we call the latter "black markets". Often, a medieval government creating a market was about banning/trade market activity elsewhere, concentrating it in one place to it could be taxed. Markets and trade tend to make most things more efficient; centuries ago, the main government expense was waging war, so yes, prudent governments would advance markets and what became capitalism, to wage war, so they could pay for mercenaries or full time soldiers rather than depending on short-term levies.

But you know what? If a government had been using labor levies for education or health care, "you must spend one month a year teaching children", it would have found raising monetary taxes, and paying for full time professionals, to be just as much an improvement for those things as it was for warfare.

"capitalism arose through trade, like with Asia": Begging the question of why this trade didn't cause capitalism in China, the other half of the trade equation... There's a whole murky area of how one even defines capitalism, which would depend on exact quotations to argue about rigorously. I'd just say that markets, contracts, money, and wage labor go back thousands of years, and that early medieval Europe was rather a low point in financialization. Modern capitalism is an intensification of things that have been around for a long time, fueled as much by changes in agriculture (fewer people on the farm) as anything else. You can argue that the change in degree amounts to a change of kind, but it didn't spring into the world out of nothing in 1700.

"Native American societies were communal": North American societies, with small populations, could be described as that. Aztec society had money, merchants, markets, and long distance trade, like any urbanized Eurasian society.

"co-ops can't work in capitalism": I can't believe no one objected with the various co-ops that do exist, including the giant Mondragon group in Spain. The book apparently gave some theoretical example of a co-op in a market society having to lay off workers anyway, and "laying off the thinkers"; in my limited understanding, real co-ops are more likely to cut back on wages and try to keep everyone employed. (In the Great Recession, the capitalist and social democratic government of Germany took similar measures, subsidizing employment to minimize layoffs.) Transparency and democracy make such things more amenable than wage cuts from an employer would be.

Another thing didn't explicitly come up that night, but I've seen elsewhere, is an idea that capitalism is the root of most modern evil, including racism and sexism, that the struggle is between Capital and the Proletariat. But for some major policies I care about, that's not true.

* A useful tool to address global warming is a carbon tax. Capital might object to that, but capital has had to knuckle under to other environmental laws, such as sulfate cap and trade, so capital can clearly lose this kind of fight. And in theory, businesses shouldn't actually care much as long as they're not disadvantaged relative to competitors (so a world state with no foreign trade would have a policy advantage.) But... most US voters are drivers, with no enthusiasm for seeing their gas (or utility) prices go up, and I see that as a far deeper obstacle to good environmental policy. And even some leftists object with "it's regressive", or, I feel, a general suspicion of anything that sounds market-like.

* Top economic issues for the average person are "can I get a job?" and "can I afford housing near my job?" Capital's allergy to Keynesianism is a problem for the first, but on the second, capital is on my side. Unregulated capital, aka "developers", would *love* to provide housing! Possibly substandard firetrap housing that'll kill you in ten years, but it'd put a roof over your head today. And in great quantity: subdividing houses and apartments, building tall buildings, packing 8 people into a house, turning gardens into housing. Why don't they? Because local government makes it illegal to do so, through building codes and zoning laws, backed up by existing homeowners, most of whom are simply better paid members of the proletariat. (Also backed up sometimes by anti-gentrification activists.)

I'm all for genuine safety codes, and such inspections are an example of a way in which governments can 'make' markets: if I can trust that rental housing is safe, I'm more likely to choose it rather than be forced into it. But I'm told that in Somerville, a legal bedroom has to have a closet. Why? That's neither a safety feature, nor one which can be hidden from a prospective tenant. Why can't I choose to pay less for a room that happens to lack a closet? And lots of zoning laws outright restrict housing: single-family zoning, height limitations, minimum space requirements, parking requirements, caps on the number of unrelated people living together... none of that is capitalism's fault, but it's the basic cause of the housing crisis in many cities.

Of course, when I've tried to make that argument, I've been dismissed with "supply and demand doesn't apply to housing". Speaking of giant gaps in understanding that impede communication...
mindstalk: (atheist)
The median wage today is lower than the minimum wage would be if it had kept up with productivity.

"The figure shows the real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) value of the minimum wage, plus what the minimum wage would be if it had kept pace with productivity growth since 1968, as it did for the two decades prior. If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity growth over this period, it would now be $18.67 per hour. That sounds shockingly high—it is two-and-a-half times as high as the current minimum wage and is actually higher than the median wage, which is $16.30 per hour. But it’s important to keep in mind that the primary reason a minimum wage of $18.67 sounds so high today is because the wages of most workers are so low."

"If the median wage had kept pace with productivity growth over the last 40 years, it would now be $28.42 instead of $16.30. "


US stagnation

2015-Feb-10, Tuesday 22:17
mindstalk: (atheist)
2014 article on how the US poor and middle class are falling behind their counterparts in social democracies. Low-tax, low-service policies are bad for almost everyone, who knew?
Assume ellipses between almost all the paragraphs below, I'm excerpting.


"After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.

A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

Median per capita income was $18,700 in the United States in 2010 (which translates to about $75,000 for a family of four after taxes), up 20 percent since 1980 but virtually unchanged since 2000, after adjusting for inflation. The same measure, by comparison, rose about 20 percent in Britain between 2000 and 2010 and 14 percent in the Netherlands. Median income also rose 20 percent in Canada between 2000 and 2010, to the equivalent of $18,700.

But other income surveys, conducted by government agencies, suggest that since 2010 pay in Canada has risen faster than pay in the United States and is now most likely higher. Pay in several European countries has also risen faster since 2010 than it has in the United States.

Americans between the ages of 55 and 65 have literacy, numeracy and technology skills that are above average relative to 55- to 65-year-olds in rest of the industrialized world, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group. Younger Americans, though, are not keeping pace: Those between 16 and 24 rank near the bottom among rich countries, well behind their counterparts in Canada, Australia, Japan and Scandinavia and close to those in Italy and Spain.

Top executives make substantially more money in the United States than in other wealthy countries.

But both opinion surveys and interviews suggest that the public mood in Canada and Northern Europe is less sour than in the United States today.

“The crisis had no effect on our lives,” Jonas Frojelin, 37, a Swedish firefighter, said, referring to the global financial crisis that began in 2007. He lives with his wife, Malin, a nurse, in a seaside town a half-hour drive from Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city.

They each have five weeks of vacation and comprehensive health benefits. They benefited from almost three years of paid leave, between them, after their children, now 3 and 6 years old, were born. Today, the children attend a subsidized child-care center that costs about 3 percent of the Frojelins’ income.

Even with a large welfare state in Sweden, per capita G.D.P. there has grown more quickly than in the United States over almost any extended recent period — a decade, 20 years, 30 years. Sharp increases in the number of college graduates in Sweden, allowing for the growth of high-skill jobs, has played an important role.

And tax records collected by Thomas Piketty and other economists suggest that the United States no longer has the highest average income among the bottom 90 percent of earners.
mindstalk: (Default)
Finnish maternity box all Finnish mothers can get http://updatednews.ca/2013/06/03/why-finnish-babies-moslty-sleep-in-cardboard-boxes/

Boston's role in gay liberation. First gay representative elected here. Origin of GLAD, but also NAMBLA. http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/06/01/how-boston-powered-gay-rights-movement/wEsPZOdHhByHpjeXrJ6GbN/story.html

Yglesias on the space we lavish on inefficient cars http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/06/04/overallocation_of_urban_space_to_cars.html

inverse relation between trust and small business levels http://www.slate.com/articles/business/small_business/2012/07/the_small_business_problem_why_greece_italy_and_spain_have_too_many_small_firms_.html

Suicide by euro http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/the-triumph-of-peter-kenen-the-revenge-of-robert-mundell/

How Fox News controls its message http://www.salon.com/2013/05/29/i_was_a_liberal_mole_at_fox_news_from_bill_oreilly_to_roger_ailes_heres_all_the_inside_dope/

carbon pricing around the world http://m.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/04/congress-hates-carbon-pricing-the-rest-of-the-world-doesnt/

economics of ticket scalping http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/magazine/the-secret-science-of-scalping-tickets.html?_r=0

Paleo diet/lifestyle myths http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/?p=3098 and http://discovermagazine.com/2013/april/17-paleomythic-how-people-really-lived-during-the-stone-age

How long each Doctor lasted http://www.wonderfulbook.co.uk/docdurations2.png
Moffat bingo http://www.impossiblepodcasts.com/2011/08/doctor-who-moffat-bingo-play-along-at.html

world improvement charts, with snark http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/24/these-31-charts-will-destroy-your-faith-in-humanity/

Partisans can be more accurate when paid to do so http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/03/if-you-pay-them-money-partisans-will-tell-you-the-truth/?wprss=rss_ezra-klein

Early Social Security not necessarily racist by intention http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/03/a-second-look-at-social-securitys-racist-origins/?wprss=rss_ezra-klein

Obamacare premium effects http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/03/the-six-ways-obamacare-changes-insurance-premiums/?wprss=rss_ezra-klein

Reducing poverty

2013-May-31, Friday 14:20
mindstalk: (kirin)
Longish article in the Economist in the rapid fall of extreme poverty, from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 1.2 billion today, extreme being living on less than $1.25 a day.

I just note that giving 1.2 billion people $1.25 a day would cost $547 billion a year. Not far off the cost of the US going to war. Compare to global GDP of $71,000 billion nominal, or $83,000 billion PPP. Less than 1% of world income. And giving poor people money seems to be really effective in helping them (shock! surprise!) as you're basically giving capital to the extremely capital-constrained.


World labor day

2012-May-01, Tuesday 22:46
mindstalk: (atheist)

Billy Bragg's Internationale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk69e1Vcmvg

Productivity growth and wage stagnation http://www.epi.org/publication/ib330-productivity-vs-compensation/

[ "the government of Prime Minister John Sparrow David Thompson declared in 1894 the first Monday in September as Canada's official Labour Day." After Cleveland in 1887 for the US. *cough cough* independent country ]
mindstalk: (atheist)
Note, not a wealth tax, though one could use one to approximate this, but a cap, an attitude that "enough is enough for one person, we're not acknowledging ownership of any more". You can imagine a hard cap, a progressive wealth tax that strongly discourages further accumulation, or some other mechanism, whatever makes you most comfortable.

Numbers for context:

  • Average American worker income of about $40,000. (Mean per capita is $46,000, median is rather less, workers have some advantage.)
  • Lifetime earnings of such a worker: $2 million over 50 years, ignoring taxes or living expenses.
  • One estimate for total US wealth: $60 trillion. Which leads to about $200,000 per capita.
  • Income of hard-working and highly-skilled people who provide services on a direct basis, like doctors and lawyers: around $200,000 I think? $400,000, 10x average, is probably a good approximation.
  • GDP of the US: about $14 trillion
  • Federal budget: about $3 trillion
  • Income you can get from having lots of money: 1% over inflation if you play it safe, up to 7% with diversification and risk. I'll tend to use 1-3%.

    [Poll #1775671]

    $40 billion: I seem to recall when Bill Gates having $10 billion was freakish and unique. Now this is the working megabillionaire level: Gates, Buffett, Soros, Walton. Actually Wal-Mart has produced multiple kids who *inherited* $20 billion. The average worker has to work 1 million years to get this level. You can probably get $1 billion a year in fairly safe interest. You can own and run a small town of 10,000-70,000 servants.

    $400 million: If you had 100x the average income, and worked for 100 years, you'd get this. Safest interest is twice the average lifetime earnings. You can have 100 full-time servants, or a handful of high-end lawyers and doctors who exist to attend to your every fart. Note this is only 1% of the megabillionaire level, who can spin this off as interest. This is my upper bound for a cap; it still feels obscene, but if one grants a need for high end incentives, I can't see more than this being useful. Nor see this cap as hurting society.

    $4 million: 20x the average wealth. One could argue that having a lifetime's earnings to play with all at once, and the ability to earn average income without working, is reward enough, and wanting more is filthy greed. Probably low enough to be noticeable in effect though, changing urban property value and distribution.
  • mindstalk: (atheist)
    So, my parents were liberal, or leftist, and I grew up for a bit as liberal/Democratic by default. Then I veered Libertarian, corrupted by science fiction. Eventually I've worked my way back to liberal, or social democrat, with views on parts to the port. This has me wondering tonight if I've in fact overshot my parents', and I really don't know: while I know my parents' views on civil rights, and Israel, and Keynes, and a welfare state, I don't about anything more radical. An econ department once considered hiring my father as their "token Commie", but that could just mean being Keynesian. Though I think he did like Galbraith.

    Then I realized that for their youth, civil rights for women and blacks and gays were live issues. Problems of who should own what were perhaps secondary to wives being able to own anything, or get divorce or abortions, and of blacks being able to vote and live. Universities had strongly anti-Semitic quotas. Gay behavior was typically a crime. On a lot of issues, 60s radicalism is the status quo of today even for Republicans.

    But... the radicalism of then *is* the status quo of today. We live in a world where gays are marching toward full marriage rights. The civil rights war isn't *over*: there's securing those rights, and for transsexuals, and the decent treatment of prisoners, and the war on some drugs, and gays and women in the military, and perennial attacks on free speech or privacy, and convincing people that Muslims aren't terrorists and atheists can be good people and trans shouldn't be beaten up or killed. But in a real sense, the war seems to be mostly over, at least on the scale my parents lived with. All major groups of society have at least the legal rights to vote and run for office and be openly identified as themselves; there's work to be done, but on finer and finer rights, and for smaller and smaller groups.

    Which makes me think that economic justice should be the next Great Work. Okay, environmental sustainability as well, but there's room for unifying them. Alas, ObamaCare notwithstanding, we see much chipping away worldwide at welfare states and practical rights to education, and increasing enclosures of "intellectual property", and the various social democratic parties seem little more on the ball than the Democratic party.

    Oh hey, I'm by my phone, I can mention the books I saw in the store. The Spirit Level, and Injustice.

    "The Next Great Work" is rather optimistic and presumptuous, really; the battle over who owns what and why, and who has to work for whom and why, has been going on for millennia. But still, time to get back to work. *And*, a lot of the remaining non-legal or partly-legal but practical civil rights issues, like having fair access to lawyers, and the right to be a prostitute without harassment or not a prostitute at all, or the opportunities offered blacks, are I think unifiable at a broad social level, rather than a bunch of independent problems. In the words of Will Shetterly, if I understand him right, at this point classism *is* more important than racism.