Category: Politics

Facebook Revolution?

The protestors in Tahrir Square, Cairo, explicitly gave credit to Facebook and Twitter for sparking the revolution in Egypt, as well as others across the Middle East and North Africa. Does Facebook and Twitter deserve this credit? I think they earned a tiny little bit of credit, while the kids getting shot at and beaten deserve all the credit for overthrowing their dictators. Check out this animated video of a brief talk by Steven Pinker. He says individual knowledge is when everyone believes that the dictator sucks. But that’s not enough. Mutual knowledge is when everyone knows that everyone else also knows that the dictator sucks. Normally, the dictator would control all means of mass communication (TV, radio, press) and kill anyone who tried to spread word that the dictator is bad. But with the Internet this is practically impossible now. Using Facebook or Twitter a message such as “this dictator sucks!” can spread quickly through a key demographic (young protesters) and create mutual knowledge. So in that sense, social media is an uncontrollable means of mass communication that can help inspire and organize change. They deserve credit for this. But how might one build a website dedicated to inspiring revolutions? What would it look like? Facebook and Twitter would just help spread the message virally. I’m sure someone is putting it together now.

Hayek supports studying evolution

Don’t conservatives idolize Friedrich Hayek? The love is not mutual. Hayek hates that conservatives are close-minded morons afraid of new knowledge, e.g. evolution. From “Why I am not a conservative“:

I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution or what are called “mechanistic” explanations of the phenomena of life because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irrelevant or impious to ask certain questions at all. By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position.

Fixing Health Care

The hysterical screaming over health care has reached outlandish new lows. One thing I’ve learned is that policy debates are exactly like political debates: misinformation, exaggeration, outright lies, and bitter hatred for the opposition. This isn’t a good way to transform a $2 trillion chunk of our economy. For posterity, here’s an outline of how to “fix health care”.

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How I quit reading about politics

I used to read stacks of political magazines in the 90s. In 2004 The New Republic and The National Review formed a joint website called Opinion Duel, in which a writer from each magazine would debate a topic. All the debates quickly degenerated into flame wars, albeit with expensive Ivy League vocabularies. Both sides twisted facts, misrepresented their opponent’s arguments, made snide remarks, and were basically jerks. They made no attempt to actually understand the other side’s point-of-view. I finally understood that public policy debates are no better than political debates. Like trolls on Usenet, both are more interested in winning the argument than in finding the right answer.

Who owns our debt?

Here’s the total amount of US debt owned by foreign governments. They own about 25% of the total $10 trillion dollar debt. Here’s a breakdown of ownership of all the debt (doc) over the last 10 years. Right now China owns a mere 7% of the total US national debt. In fact, investors are withdrawing their money from markets around the world and stuffing them into US Treasuries, which are perceived to be the safest place for money right now. From June’07 to June’08, foreigners bought ~$450B more and US mutual funds added ~$200B of US debt. Remember this the next time a politician stirs up nationalism and racism by complaining that China owns the US. Here’s a good source for more info on the debt.

Solving the Great Recession

After reading a million contradictory economics articles and blog posts about out current financial meltdown, here’s my ignorant attempt at a solution. The economy is like a series of tubes: the Keynesian formula is consumption + investment + government + exports – imports = GDP. All of these values have dropped markedly. Many banks have lost so much money that they are bankrupt but refuse to admit it (zombie banks); therefore, they are sitting on whatever capital they have left and making fewer real loans. Consumers have been hit hard by the fall in real estate and investments, and by growing unemployment. For the first time in years they are saving rather than consuming (paradox of thrift), which reduces demand for goods. In the long run, the government is doomed to bankruptcy because of the steady growth in entitlements, mostly due to health care. Finally, the financial collapse is global, so we can’t depend on exports to tread water like Japan did during the 90s. So the world is royally screwed.

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My favorite VP debate response

Gwen Ifill: “Do you believe as the Vice President does, that the Executive Branch does not hold sway over the office of the vice presidency, that is, it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?”

Sarah Palin: “Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.”

Palin reminds me of that moron from Miss Teen USA who babbled incoherently about Iraq.

Use more oil to save the environment

Thomas Friedman has yet another column on reducing our use of oil and other dirty energy sources. Al Gore gave a speech on the same theme. Though I agree with the gist of these ideas, I think there might be an unintended side-effect that could worsen the global climate. Consider just oil. There’s a vast amount of oil still in the ground. It won’t stay in the ground; someone is going to buy it and use it. Whenever anyone uses oil, some pollutants will escape. So the only question is how much of these pollutants will spoil our environment. Will it be big plumes of smoke from Chinese and Indian cars? Or will it be smaller puffs of pollutants from relatively cleaner American and European cars? If Friedman and Gore succeed in reducing America’s use of oil, the price of oil will drop dramatically; therefore, China and India will face no economic pressure to switch to more expensive, cleaner fuels. They will gobble up all that oil and spew out more pollutants than comparable American cars. Ironically, reducing America’s dependence on oil will actually increase car pollution and, therefore, global climate change.

I can think of two crazy solutions. One: subsidize gasoline in the US and require car makers to vastly reduce emissions. This will drive up the global price of oil to astronomical levels, forcing all other countries to switch to alternative fuels. While we drive around in ultra-clean 10mpg SUVs, everyone else will take a clean electric bus to work. Second: go ahead and switch to clean energy technology in the US. To coerce other countries to do the same, raise tariffs on their imports as a kind of global carbon tax. With that tariff income, subsidize (or give away free) clean energy technology to all other countries. As they use more clean tech, tariffs on their products go down. Basically, we’re using our vast economic power to impose a carbon tax on the world and bribe reluctant countries to move to clean energy tech. Both of these crazy ideas will reduce global carbon emissions, which is the whole point, right? Someone else will have to handle the politics.