Politics Is Complicated
"This Generation": Not As Bad as It Sounds

This story comes, again, from Facebook, although not from Tea Party Friend this time.  Those of you who spend time on that site and have friends under about age 60 know that there are several other websites out there devoted entirely to housing quotes that people can Like and share on Facebook.  The following is my reaction to one of those quotes, which one of my friends just posted.  It is (allegedly — you can never be sure of the sources of these pseudonymous posts) a 13-year-old girl ranting about the moral decay of the rest of her generation, specifically in regards to sex.

Now, I think most people who share this post react with a gut agreement with the author, but I saw this and immediately had a very different reaction.  As easy as it may seem to go “right on!” to the author of this (alleged) post and condemn “kids these days” as promiscuous and shameless, it’s worth taking some historical perspective.  It’s only about the last century or so that 13-year-olds having sex has been frowned upon, and even then only in certain countries, cultures, and contexts.  Sex between teenagers has been around as long as sex and teenagers have, and, of course, so have bad decisions about sex by teenagers.  I believe that we, on average, deal with those facts much better now than we used to.

Most human societies have associated sex with marriage of some sort, and have accordingly married off teenagers without a choice.  This comes with the expectation that they’ll start having sex and producing babies for the alleged Greater Good ASAP, whether it’s for God or for the Nation, or just to keep the farm running.  This still goes on in extremely conservative countries like Yemen or Saudi Arabia, where, regardless of the letter of the law it is customary for girls to be arranged to be married as young as 8.  The connection between marriage and sex is even higher, and the regard for individual rights (especially if the individuals are women) is even lower, in Afghanistan, where wives can be starved for refusing sex.  Holdovers from this more conservative time that, through nostalgia-tinted glasses, looks more moral, are everywhere in our laws.  My home state of New Hampshire allows boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 13 to get married with the permission of their parents.  I don’t know what rationale was given at the time that law was written, but I suspect it was a proposed “cure” to their own generation of morally degenerate teens daring to do exactly what their biology overwhelmingly commanded.  One need only look as far as other states to see that kind of law explicitly-written: there is an exception to the minimum age of marriage in Georgia for young parents.

Now, defenders of the doctrine of “puberty = marriage = sex = babies” may have had a practical point (if not necessarily a moral one) as recently as the 1700s, when infant mortality in such comparatively advanced societies as England was as high as one in three, but you can’t really make that kind of argument in the modern U.S. and claim that pragmatics should trump the right of the individual to choose how to live their life.  This means that, far from being in a state of sexual moral decay, our society today is better than those past ones because we don’t believe that relationships, and therefore sex, are obligatory.  But how should sex in adolescence work?

The issue of individual rights is, for me at least, a tricky one from a psychological standpoint.  An adolescent is definitely not fully thinking at an adult level, and should not be automatically be granted the rights of one, but they are, on the other hand, trying to integrate themselves into adult society, and they should!  Nobody becomes good at something, including maturity, immediately.  I would suggest, then, that the best strategy to allow healthy and happy psychological maturation in regards to sex would be for parents and culture at large to allow it, and the data backs me up.

Now, in case it seems like I’m swinging too far in the other direction and defending the alleged behavior of the author’s classmates, I don’t think it’s wise for 13-year-olds to be having sex.  I’ve been 13.  I know that I was not mature enough then to handle a sexual relationship, and luckily, through a combination of introspection and fear, I knew it then, too.  I’m saying that, given that some young teens do have sex, the best way to deal with it is not to condemn them.

And, getting back to the original complaint that set me off on this speech, the good news is, in fact, not very many 13-year-olds actually do have sex, so the author is likely talking to an unrepresentative sample of her classmates, or (and I suspect that this is more likely), they’re exaggerating what little experience they may have in a peer-pressure-driven contest to sound more “grown up”.  And that certainly doesn’t mean that this generation of somewhat-sexually-active, peer-pressure-driven teens is any worse than its predecessors, more likely that they’re just willing to admit it now, and by being open about sex, they’re setting themselves up for a future of responsible use of contraceptives and non-abusive relationships.  So the moral of the story: don’t get too caught up in complaining about moral decay or you might miss the moral growth that has happened.

The Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street

I’m doing a lot of posting things from and about Facebook.  I think this means I’m on it too much.  But I find myself yet again venting about/discussing it.  See, the group “Mad as HELL Liberals!” (creative capitalization theirs) posted this picture.

Well, I clicked “Share”, and very soon my Tea Party friend complained.  And you know what?  He has a point.  So I went through, category by category, and critiqued the chart.

1. Astroturf vs. Grassroots: the Tea Party was pretty much grassroots at the beginning, but it has since been expanded by a bunch of corporate-sponsored organizations, and has drawn a lot of support from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, which is not at all grassroots. OWS is grassroots and has not been taken over by outside organizations yet.

2. Media coverage: this is true. Fox was obsessed with the Tea Party at their peak. But even liberal commentators have dismissed OWS as just a bunch of hippies who don’t know what they’re talking about.

3. Sick and poor, etc.: both statements are pretty close to true, but it’s apples and oranges. OWS’s collective spirit towards its own members is not, on its own, indicative of how they would treat people outside their group. The Tea Party buys into the Ayn Rand/Ronald Reagan/Herman Cain myth that success is possible for anyone who tries hard enough, ignoring how much of an advantage or disadvantage most people get from their family situation. For every Nicki Minaj, who rose from an abusive immigrant childhood to pop stardom, there are hundreds of people with the same family history in jails and homeless shelters. The creator of this chart should’ve known better on this one.

4. Exclusive vs. inclusive: gagworthy oversimplification on the OWS side. There’s plenty of infighting in the movement, mostly between the right-wing and left-wing libertarians. A unifying point all over the right wing, though, including the Tea Party, has been vilifying unions as outdated at best and evil at worst and the poor as being totally to blame for their own failures (see previous point). Racism and sexism are not quite as blatant, but they are present, and a broad anti-immigrant/anti-foreig​ner sentiment is still a popular subset of the Right (see people like Tom Tancredo and Jan Brewer, who use completely made-up links between illegal immigration to terrorism as justification to also oppose legal immigration).

5. Leadership: oh, god, not this again. I agree with Tea Party Friend on this one. The Koch thing is very overblown, like the corresponding right-wing attempt to pin all activism against them on George Soros. However, the lack of leadership, or at least official leadership, in OWS is true. The movement as a whole is also a lot more independent than the Tea Party is, both in politics and connection to other organizations. The Democrats and Greens are both attempting to court OWS supporters to vote for them, but it hasn’t worked very well so far.  While the Tea Party is typically partisan Republican, OWS blames both major parties for our economic problems and is fairly hostile to both.

6. Violence vs. nonviolence: Both sides have a disturbing tendency to attract a vocal minority of people calling for violent revolution, but the majority of both groups’ supporters are nonviolent. OWS has been attempting to establish official policies of nonviolence, and actual violence on both sides are very rare, although threats, including specific death threats against politicians, as well as actual terrorism, have been consistently much more common on the Right than on the Left since the 1980s.

7. Fascism vs. democracy: actually, the people who show up at Tea Party rallies with guns and threaten to overthrow the government unless it gives in to their demands are exactly what fascism looks like. Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister in 1922 because an angry mob of his supporters threatened to basically loot Rome if the King didn’t appoint him. However, as I’ve already said, that’s not the typical Tea Partier. It’s a good description of the violent subset, but yes, Tea Party Friend is right again, it’s a hyperbolic description at best for the general movement.  As for OWS representing democracy?  So far they are speaking out strongly, in a populist way, against corporate influence on government, which sounds like “government of the people, and by the people, and for the people” to me.  Some people in the Occupy Rochester Facebook groups have even been calling for direct democracy on the federal level as a solution.

8. 1% vs. 99%: look at graphs of income disparity. Tea Party-type policies under Reagan are exactly why the average CEO has gone from having 35x the salary of the average employee to 262x. Tea Party economic policies would reduce competition in the market, not increase it, and continue to funnel money upward.

Conclusion: Overall I rate that chart maybe 75% true. And I really should’ve said as soon as I posted it that I only partially agree.

Sources:

- lots of prior knowledge that I can’t think of sources for (sorry for the cop-out)

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicki_Minaj#Early_life

- http://www.epi.org/publication/webfeatures_snapshots_20060621/

- http://www.cfr.org/terrorist-organizations/militant-extremists-united-states/p9236

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_on_Rome

- compare http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20002529-503544.html

vs. http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-demographic-survey-results-will-surprise-you.php

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_Movement

Is Regulation the Problem or the Solution?

My Tea Party friend, who I referenced in this post, usually posts things more interesting and reasonable than the dumb joke I dissected before.  I’m honestly disappointed in myself that that’s the way I introduced him on the blog, because I usually do find him informed and intelligent.  Today, he posted this Youtube video, which makes the argument that government regulation is stifling U.S. businesses and, consequently, economic freedom as a whole.  Now, I concede that I am no expert on economics, and that there may be some valid points raised here, but there are definitely a few things wrong with it, which I’d like to address.

First, the part at the end about employment is totally wrong, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Asked directly, business owners reported government regulation as one of the least important factors affecting their hiring practices, and economic instability/uncertainty as by far the most important.  In this case, the government influence most responsible is probably congressional threats and gridlock (will they raise the debt ceiling?! will there be more stimulus money?!), not regulations.  If Congress announces plans to make another stimulus and then votes it down at the last minute, companies will panic because their estimates about how much of some product or service to provide, and therefore how many people to hire to create the product or service, will turn out to be incredibly wrong.

Second, I’m highly skeptical about the claimed connection between regulation (at least the kind of regulation that the U.S. imposes) and overall economic freedom.  You’ll notice that the graph they include to illustrate this claim showed economic freedom growing both through Nixon’s heavy increase in regulation (e.g., creation of the EPA) and Reagan’s heavy decrease (e.g., the Depository Institutions Act).  This suggests that either their definition of “regulation” is different from mine or the relationship is weak-to-nonexistent.

Third, increased government spending, and the debt that comes with it if not coupled to revenue increases, could go either way. If anyone doubts that deficit spending can lead to recovery from disaster, just look at the effects of the Marshall Plan on post-WW2 Europe. If anyone doubts that it can fail, look at the lukewarm results of the Bush-Obama stimulus. It’s possible that there are other side effects that I’m unaware of, but the evidence seems to point away from the simple “government is the problem” thesis of this video.  The connections are weak enough that I think there must be other factors at play here with greater influence than the ones the video discusses.

The other issue in evaluating this is what they mean by “economic freedom”. If they mean “ease of entering the market as a new competitor”, then the biggest impediment is the “too big to fail” companies that have been created by mergers. See these charts, for example, which illustrate the consolidation of the financial sector. In that case, the problem is actually from under-regulation of a particular part of the market, not over-regulation.  If the goal is to keep the market competitive by allowing start-ups to enter, prevent price-fixing, etc., then government intervention would actually be very clearly the solution, not the problem.

Source:

- Bruce Bartlett, “Misrepresentations, Regulations and Jobs”

"Taxes: A Parable", Revised

Have you ever seen that parable of restaurant patrons paying according to how much money they have as an analogy for taxes?  I’ve seen it several times, and it never ceases to annoy me, because it’s a broken analogy.

(I originally posted the following on June 19, 2011, on my Facebook)

*****

http://www.snopes.com/business/taxes/howtaxes.asp

The above is a commonly-circulated story purporting to show how taxes work. However, it lacks some crucial details required to really reflect the system as it is.

The bottom eight men used to work for the second-richest, but the richest man bought a controlling share of the company on the stock market using money he’d inherited. He fired the bottom two men, cut the wages of the other seven, and paid the chef of the restaurant to decrease the quality of the food. Using the additional profits gained from the wage cuts, the tenth man raised his own salary until he had more money than the other nine combined. Only then did they enter the restaurant together, and the richest man only consented to pay for most of the meal after the other nine threatened to walk out and leave him with the whole bill.

*****

Also, I’d like to ask, what even happens at the end of this analogy, when the Tenth Man leaves in a huff?  Does it represent him quitting to spite them?  In a typical corporate structure, I’m pretty sure that would just have resulted in the board (the Ninth Man?) voting in a replacement, and a new “Tenth Man” joining the group to carry on as usual.  Or does it represent him leaving the country, since the restaurant represents the U.S. government?  In real life, he’d just have his share of the bill mailed to him at his new restaurant of residence unless he renounced his patronage of the old restaurant forever.  Changing countries is somewhat harder than changing restaurants…

To further extend the restaurant-as-country analogy, what kind of restaurant is this?  Presumably, we should simulate Congress by giving this restaurant a Board of Directors, elected by one vote per customer.  For the payment plan to truly represent taxes, it would have to be official restaurant policy.  So our example patrons wouldn’t have merely agreed to this payment plan beforehand — it would’ve been decided by someone else beforehand.  In fact, by the Board of Directors, which, to reflect the real-life makeup of Congress, would consist entirely of people in the Ninth and Tenth Men’s wealth range.  And frankly, if rich people decide to tax themselves more, I don’t see how this is even an issue.

Source (in addition to Snopes article linked in body):

http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/international/article/0„id=97324,00.html

Dumb Myths Die Hard

I have a Facebook friend who is extremely conservative.  He’s a member of the Tea Party of New Hampshire.  He is, however, typically a very well-informed and interesting person, and he actually became my friend because I argued with him on the comment thread of a mutual friend’s post.  However, today, he posted a joke aimed at his fellow ultra-conservatives that I felt (perhaps a little too harshly) needed to be argued with.  It went as follows: “A communist, a Muslim and an illegal alien walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What would you like to drink, Mr. President?”“  I can’t believe that this kind of thing is still going around.  Or, actually, I can believe it, but I am thoroughly sick of it.  So let’s break these myths down.

1. Is Obama a communist/socialist?

According to the 2008 Socialist candidate for President, he’s definitely not one. Yes, he’s for more regulation, but his policies are consistently capitalist in the sense that they prioritize profit. Look at the healthcare bill that he not only signed but actively promoted: it sets up universal access to for-profit health insurance. Where is the wokers’ control of the means of production or the prioritization of people over profit there? These insurance companies are hardly workers’ cooperatives, non-profit organizations, or government-run public services. As I mentioned in my previous post, how much in favor of a market economy you are and how capitalist you are are not the same thing.

2. Is Obama a Muslim?

Obama says he was raised agnostic and converted to Christianity. If he’s not a Christian, he’s doing a really good job of hiding it, since he has gone to various Christian churches for decades now. In particular, if he’s a Muslim, he’s not a very good one, since the Quran says only to lie about your religion to protect your life in the case of forced conversion and frankly nobody is forcing him to be a Christian. So I think it’s safe to assume he is one. Or, to put it another way, would you spend decades going to religious services you didn’t believe in? If not, then why assume that he would?

3. Is Obama a U.S. citizen?

The state of Hawaii says he was born there, as do newspapers from 1961 announcing his birth. Not only are the various Kenyan birth certificates people claim to have uncovered forgeries, they’re really obvious, sloppy forgeries that don’t even get major details like the name of the country right. And may I point out also that, even if the original announcement of birth or birth certificate were forgeries, he would still be a citizen by birthright: he still had one American parent, which qualifies him for U.S. citizenship no matter where he was born.

Sources:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/189688/october-28-2008/socialist-candidate-for-president—-brian-moore

http://politics.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/09/28/obama-christian-choice

The Quran, Sura 16

http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/birthcertificate.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthright_citizenship_in_the_United_States#Statute.2C_by_parentage