Reasoning
about US Policy Choices.


(I try to present
facts and logic and
solutions rather than just opinions.)
         Please send reasoned
disagreements to me. If your facts and logic are
convincing, I'll change my mind !

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This page updated: September 2016
      


Overview section
Campaign Finance section
Economic Ideas section
Military Budget section
Entitlements section
Globalization section
Unions section
The Death Penalty section
Courts and Prisons section
Politics Of Sex section
Immigration section
Abortion section

My Terrorism page
My Manned Space Program page
My Drugs page
My Taxes page
My US Federal Government page (and my "Restructuring the US Federal Government" page)
My USA Health Care System page
My Guns page
My Consumption and Energy page (and my Nuclear Energy page)
My Electronic Voting Machines page





Overview



What we (in the USA) should do about:



From the pilot episode of "Newsroom", a new series on HBO:
[America is] not the greatest country in the world, professor. ... [Addressing conservative] And with a straight face, you're going to tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we're the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia! Belgium! has freedom. So, 207 sovereign states in the world and 180 of them have freedom. And yeah, you, sorority girl. Just in case you ever wander into a voting booth one day, there's some things you should know and one of them is: there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we are the greatest country in the world. We're 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 179th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, 4th in exports. We lead the world in only 3 categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending - where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. ...
Les Leopold's "Big Lie: America Doesn't Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World ... We're Ranked 27th!"
Mark Manson's "10 Things Most Americans Don't Know About America"
Laudan Aron's "Why Is the United States So Sick?"
Ryan Cooper's "Why is it so expensive to build a bridge in America?"



I wish we could cast "advisory votes" in national elections.
"Should marijuana be legalized ?"
"Should gay marriage be legal ?"
"Should we build a high-tech fence on the Mexican border ?"
"Should we ban all private ownership of guns ?"
Sort of an official poll.

Perhaps people should have to pass a test before being allowed to file as candidate for elected office. Test them on basics of the Constitution, the legal system, the powers and rules of the office they're running for, maybe how to read a budget, maybe how the tax system works.



Matthew Yglesias's "How to Save the Post Office"







Campaign Finance



Public financing of political campaigns is bad because:

From /u/Mnementh2230 on reddit:
I'd like to see campaign finance done completely through public funding. Get 10,000 signatures, and you get a piece of the pie, that you have to spend on your campaign, which will be heavily audited. Highest amount anyone can give to a campaign is $100, period, and I don't care if it means higher taxes, it'll get big business out of politics, everyone will have an opportunity for an equal say, and billionaires won't decide who gets the most air time/public exposure unless they themselves are running.

Attempting to regulate "soft money" and PACs and such has just led to complexity and abuses.

My proposal:

Text of my proposed Constitutional amendment:
Congress or any State may regulate or limit or tax paid political speech or actions or lobbying or campaigning, and contributions to such efforts, which includes money or time or effort by any person or entity or group or organization or party in support of any candidate or party or political position or governmental issue.
Similar: Move to Amend's "Proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution"

But: Lee Fang's "Where Have All the Lobbyists Gone?"

William G. Howell and Terry M. Moe's "This is why Congress is a disaster"







Economic Ideas

USA policy ideas:



From Joshua Holland interview of David Cay Johnston 10/2013:

Holland: And does this help explain why we have a very low tax burden overall, relative to other wealthy countries, but a lot of Americans feel that they're being taxed to death?

Johnston: Well, one of the reasons some Americans feel they're being taxed to death is that if you add up our taxes, which are low compared to other modern countries, and then you add in private expenditures for things the tax system pays for in other countries - a lot of our health care costs, higher education costs, admissions and fees and tickets and licenses for a lot of things - lo and behold, we end up being a relatively high-tax country. But it depends on how you analyze the data.

And let me give you one killer figure: We spend so much money on our health care in this country - or as I prefer to think of it, sick care in this country - that for every dollar that the other 33 modern economies spend for universal coverage, we spend $2.64. And this is done using something called "purchasing parity dollars", so they're truly comparable. So we spend $2.64 per person and still have almost 50 million people with no coverage and 30 million with limited coverage, and these other countries spend far less with universal coverage.

Here's how much that costs: In the year 2010, if we had had the French health care system, which is one of the most expensive in the world, it would have provided universal coverage and it also would have saved us so much money that we could have eliminated the individual income tax that year and all else would have been equal. Our excess health care costs above those of the French were a little over 6 percent of the economy and the income tax in 2010 brought in about 6 percent of the economy.

Holland: And Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy and Research points out that if we paid the same for health care per person as all of the countries with longer life expectancies, we would be at a balanced budget today and looking at surpluses in the future.

Johnston: We can continue to have this enormous military operation - one that I have been very critical of - we can continue to have that if we just fix the health care problem. So imagine what happens if we get our health care costs in line by doing what every one of our economic competitors has figured out is the cheapest thing to do: universal health care with little or no out-of-pocket expense. And if we then cut back on this enormous military, where we spend 42 percent of all the military spending in the world, we would be able to lower taxes, run surpluses, fund higher education and research that will make us wealthier in the future. It's just two things we need to address - just two.

...

Johnston: ... Here's what the newest data show based on tax returns: The average income of the bottom 90 percent of us has fallen 20 percent below where it was in the year 2000 - it fell from about $36,000 to $30,000. It has fallen back to the level of 1966, when Mustangs were new, Lyndon Johnson was president and we were prosecuting a war in Vietnam. 1966.

And what happened to the 1 percent of the 1 percent? Well, their income was about $5 million dollars a year back then on average and now it's $23 million dollars a year on average.

Now it's important to add a point: This is how it's measured by the tax system. Very, very wealthy people - Warren Buffett, hedge fund managers, Mitt Romney when he ran a private equity fund - are not required to report most of their economic gains and legally they can literally live tax-free or nearly tax-free by borrowing against their assets. You can borrow these days, if you're very wealthy, against your assets for less than 2 percent interest and the lowest tax rate you could pay is 15 percent. So no wealthy person with any sense of good economics will pay taxes if they can borrow against their assets. Now you and I can't do that because our assets aren't worth that much, but if you're a billionaire and you borrow, let's say, $10 million dollars a year to live on, you pay $200,000 interest, but your fortune through investing grows by $50 million. At the end of the year you pay no taxes, your wealth is up almost $40 million dollars and your cost was just the interest of $200,000.

Holland: Amazing. How much have changes to the tax code had to do with the sky-high level of inequality we see today?

Johnston: Oh, I believe that the Reagan-inspired changes in the tax code are absolutely fundamental to this enormous growth of inequality. ...



Ideas that WOULDN'T work:



How to fix income/wealth inequality:
Mountain Math Software's "Long term solutions to disruptive income inequality"
Trish Hennessy's "How To Fix Income Inequality"

"Solutions" that wouldn't work:
Mark R. Rank's "From Rags to Riches to Rags"

Questioning the numbers:
Tim Worstall's "The Amazing Thing About American Inequality: How Equal The Country Is"







US Military / Intel / Security Budget



Mission-type changes:
The mission changes can allow: Isaac Chotiner's "The Forever War and the Ever-Expanding Military"
Benjamin H. Friedman and Christopher Preble's "Refocusing U.S. Defense Strategy"
Benjamin H. Friedman and Christopher Preble's "A Plan to Cut Military Spending"

Other changes:

We can live with a less-capable military. (Maybe that would mean losing more soldiers in future wars; but maybe it would make us less eager to start future wars. And even the hugest military imaginable can not make us completely safe; there's no such thing as completely safe.)

David Brodwin's "How to Safely Cut U.S. Defense Spending"
Benjamin H. Friedman and Christopher Preble's "A Plan to Cut Military Spending"
Jill Lepore's "How much military is enough?"
Henry Blodget's "Yes, Of Course We Should Cut Military Spending!"
Eric Schnurer's "Can the Defense Budget Shrink Without Risking National Security?"
Kyle Mizokami's "Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon"
William Hartung's "America is still fighting the Cold War: Why its military 'strategy' is hopeless"


From Jill Lepore's "How much military is enough?" 1/2013:

... Around the world, "power projection" is, in fact, a central mission of American forces. [Congressional Democrat Adam] Smith expressed alarm at the prospect of its diminishment. He asked a question, which was purely rhetorical: "What if, all of a sudden, we don't have troops in Europe, we don't have troops in Asia, we are just, frankly, like pretty much every other country in the world?"

...

The United States, separated from much of the world by two oceans and bordered by allies, is, by dint of geography, among the best-protected countries on earth. Nevertheless, six decades after V-J Day nearly three hundred thousand American troops are stationed overseas, including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy. Much of the money that the federal government spends on "defense" involves neither securing the nation's borders nor protecting its citizens. Instead, the U.S. military enforces American foreign policy.

"We have hundreds of military bases all over the world," Melvin A. Goodman observes in "National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism" (City Lights). "Few other countries have any." Goodman, a former Army cryptographer and a longtime C.I.A. analyst who taught at the National War College for eighteen years, is one of a growing number of critics of U.S. military spending, policy, and culture who are veterans of earlier wars. Younger veterans are critical, too. A 2011 Pew survey of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq found that half thought the war in Afghanistan wasn't worth fighting, and nearly sixty per cent thought the Iraq War wasn't.

From Anna Mulrine Grobe's "Why Trump says the state of US military is a 'disaster'" 11/2016:

... the United States already spends as much on its military as the next seven highest-spending countries combined. It has as many aircraft carriers (10) as the rest of the world combined (China has one). And Defense spending is up 22 percent over its Cold War peak in 1986.

What needs rebuilding?

The answer depends largely how prepared one thinks the country should be for the potential threats it faces.

Is the US ready to carry out the stability and counterterrorism operations that have defined American military deployments in recent years? Absolutely.

Is it ready to fight multiple traditional wars against major powers at the same time, as it was in the Cold War? That is less certain.

Current and recently retired members of the military – both brass and rank-and-file – bristle at Trump's criticism. Yes, the military is getting smaller, but the decision is strategic, they say, not a sign of weakness. And if wars are harder to win, it's a function of the changing nature of war, not the force.

...

Trump has worried aloud about a Navy that has gone from more than 500 ships in 1991 to 272 today – a figure he vows to increase to 350.

"Yes, and our cavalry's a lot smaller, too", quips Lt. Cmdr. Mark Jacobson, a Navy reservist who also served as a sergeant in the Army from 1993 to 2001.

His point is that the raw numbers don't say much about the Navy's ability to do its job. "The fact is, that one aircraft carrier today has the capacity of the entire Pacific fleet during World War II, with strike groups of over 60 or 70 planes."

What's more, the US has three times as many destroyers as both China and Russia, one third more nuclear-powered submarines than Russia, and eight times more than China, he notes.

Wikipedia - Military budget
Wikipedia - Inflation Adjusted Defense Spending
Mandy Smithberger's "America's $1 Trillion National Security Budget"
Business Insider's "The 35 Most Powerful Militaries In The World"
Dana Priest and William M. Arkin's "Top Secret America"

A small rant: Many "conservatives" say they favor smaller govt, and will talk all day about details of welfare programs and exactly what should be cut. But ask them what should be cut from the military/intel/security budget, and all they can come up with is the mythical "waste", and then "ooh, we should leave choices up to the experts, the Joint Chiefs, non-experts shouldn't even discuss cuts to the military". Hypocritical. And Reagan and G W Bush also were hypocrites: said they wanted smaller govt, but then made it bigger, mostly by expanding the military.



Argument in favor of a huge US military,
from Reihan Salam's "Why I Am Still a Neocon":

... global stability depends on American global leadership, and American global leadership costs money. The United States is at the heart of a dense web of alliances. We extend formal security guarantees to more than 50 countries. Some see these alliances and guarantees as little more than a burden the U.S. can no longer afford. Yet what they actually do is dampen security competition. They reassure partner countries that they needn't build up their militaries to defend themselves against their neighbors, which then reassures their neighbors that they needn't build up their militaries. This virtuous cycle is one of the central reasons Western Europe and Japan recovered so quickly after the devastation of World War II, and why globalization has helped ease poverty around the world. For this virtuous cycle to be maintained, however, U.S. security guarantees must be considered credible. It must be clear that when the U.S. makes a security commitment to another country, that commitment will be met. This in turn means that the U.S. military must have the power and the reach to defend countries far from our borders.
Some comments on that article:

From /u/GTFErinyes on reddit 2/2017:

Full disclosure: as an officer in the military, I see a lot more of the organizational and budgetary side of things than most, so I wanted to share my two cents on military spending and let you decide on whether we actually spend too much.

As OP mentioned, there's a lot of metrics people use on US budgeting. Let me explore some of these issues in detail and hopefully bust a few myths, give you a historical background, and tell you what we currently peg spending on.

Military Spending - And Its Myths

Yes, the US spends $600 billion dollars on defense. And yes, that's more than the next 7-8 countries combined (assuming China's budget is honest, which we believe is not). And yes, the US spends about 36% of the worlds total spending on military.

But, as OP also mentioned, as a function of GDP, the US is at 3.3% - lower than some nations (like Russia) and a far cry from the 5.6% the US spent in 1988 near the tail end of the Cold War. Source: World Bank.

In the post WW2 world, this is at an all time low per the CFR with it having peaked at 16% around the time of the Korean War.

So which metric is better to use?

Well the issue with looking at nominal spending is that nominal spending doesn't correct for cost of living.

Take into consideration what the military actually spends its money on. You can use Table 5.1 of the GPO or this nifty Official DOD Budget Request 2017 (yes, all this stuff is public) to see the pretty breakdowns.

Per the GPO, for 2013: So right off the bat, we need to kill the myth that buying new equipment costs us the most money. It simply doesn't.

Why did I bring up cost of living? Let's take a look at personnel wages and benefits shall we. Per the DOD budget request, this chart shows that: What does this mean? Consider that a Chinese soldier is paid roughly a tenth of the wages of a US soldier. So sure, if we went to a Chinese pay scale, we could save $120 billion overnight. But that's neither feasible, wise, nor is it a good indicator of relative strength with China.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that both China and Russia have huge domestic arms industries producing goods at domestic prices. Furthermore, the world arms industry isn't an open market - the US doesn't compete with China or Russia directly as nations only buy from other nations they trust. The US buys domestic or buys from close allies like Belgium and Germany, who have comparable costs of production. End result? The US often pays 2-4x as much for a fighter jet than the Russian equivalent because US wages, US suppliers, and US maintainers all cost US prices, not Russian prices.

As a side note, this also irks me about the whole "arms trade" statistic and how the US is the number one exporter. Sure, by dollar amounts, we are - but our goods are magnitudes more expensive. The fact that Russia and China - producing goods at Russian and Chinese prices - are even close, should tell you who is exporting more physical quantity of goods, but I digress.

In sum, using nominal spending gives you eye-popping numbers, but it tells you little about relative strength between nations. If anything, it should tell you how little Europe actually spends on defense (especially in comparison to Russian strength), and that China is a lot closer to the US than most people realize.

Waste Exists - But It's a Complicated Issue

One of the top issues everyone talks about is waste. Let me first bust one budgetary myth though: use it or lose it is not a DOD-only thing. It exists in all federal agencies (e.g. NASA, NOAA, etc.) because the budget is done annually. Money not used one year isn't seen again.

It DOES NOT mean you need to spend it to get it again next year - the budget request is done annually and things change based on need and what not. Admittedly though, it does make it harder to justify getting budgeting if you don't show need, so alas, the system is very flawed. Short of a congressional change to how budgeting is done though, we're in a tough spot.

Does waste in the military exist? Absolutely. Thankfully, people are noticing and paying attention - there has been a considerable shift in mindset in the past few years towards saving money. Of course this has to be balanced: you don't want to skimp on maintenance or training, as lives are on the line when things go wrong.

In some areas, waste is also balanced by operational necessity. For instance, aircraft routinely dump fuel. In carrier aviation, we dump fuel because we have max landing limits - too heavy, and we can snap the arresting gear on the carrier or permanently damage our plane. Thus, if we arrive at the boat too heavy, the choice might be to dump thousands of pounds of fuel ... or jettison even more expensive bombs. To the layman, it seems like we're burning fuel for no reason - but there's a rhyme and reason for it no matter how much it sucks. (And for the environmentalists, jet fuel is kerosene-based - it's nothing like gasoline)

Inefficient Spending Often Comes from Political Sources

One of the big issues with the annual budgeting is that there is little long term continuity in a field that necessitates long-term planning. For instance, the new class of aircraft carrier has been in the works for over a decade - and was planned out two decades ago. And yet, funding for it has oscillated year by year.

I'll give you an example of how political grandstanding has royally f*cked military personnel and arguably cost us more money in the long run: sequestration.

During sequestration, a stop was put on training new replacement pilots for the fleet. Hundreds of replacement pilots were put on hold for a year. Well, since they just got their wings in training (costing roughly $1-2 million to train, each), you don't want to cut them from the military, but you still need to pay them.

But here's where the long term effects come in: every pilot in the Navy serves a 3-year operational tour before going back to become an instructor of some sort for 3 years. Whenever a pilot in the fleet is done with his first 3 years, a new replacement pilot comes in to take his place. Suddenly, the fleet had a shortage of pilots, and too many instructor pilots with no one to teach. And once pilots are done with their commitments, a lot get out to pursue other interests in the civilian world. Talk about a waste of human resources.

But this balloons further: a few years later, that shortage of pilots means fewer pilots available to be instructors. Fewer instructors mean fewer replacement pilots. Surely you can balance out how many pilots you bring in right? But ROTC and the Academy projects how many graduates they need from 4 years ago: suddenly, you have too many pilots-to-be and not enough instructors, and the fleet may need more pilots.

I could go into more detail, but the point is this: seemingly small disruptions have BIG ballooning effects on how the military operates.

Likewise, a lot of 'inefficiency' comes from conscious decisions to save money, believe it or not. Take for instance, the fact that much of US equipment is old. In the 90s, with the Cold War drawdown, we stopped a lot of acquisitions programs. Equipment in the military is designed to typically operate in 30 year lifecycles - the notable exceptions are things like capital ships (aircraft carriers).

However, in the 90s, a lot of early to mid Cold War stuff was up for retirement - and instead of replacing them, their lives were extended.

This does, however, have an unintended effect on Operations and Maintenance - the US now has very old equipment to maintain. Some of our equipment is from the 1950s. I'm not even exaggerating - we have over 370 KC-135's, last built in 1965(!). For a long time - particularly with the Cold War drawdown - we put off replacing old equipment, but suddenly with a resurgent China and Russia, we've stretched a lot of these airframes lives out while in the late 2000's we finally sought replacements in the form of the KC-46.

All across the board you can see this happen. The F-22 was to replace the F-15 in the 90s/2000s, but was cut short and now the F-15 has had increasing costs rise to keep an airframe from the 70s and 80s flying. The A-10 was last built in 1984 - it was due for retirement years ago, but Congressmen (such as McCain) have kept it alive long past their expiration date.

I hope this all gives a little insight into how a lot of spending issues do exist in the military, but the situation is far more complicated than a simple comparison of nominal spending with other nations, and how waste and inefficiency are complex issues within themselves - sometimes by design, sometimes by outside meddling.

...

Now, let me explain the historical precedence of US military spending and why our spending is a conscious decision, not one haphazardly done.

The Modern History of Defense Spending

Believe it or not, in the wake of World War II, the US had a major debate over isolationism. There was a major drawdown in the military, with a lot of equipment mothballed or scrapped.

Stalin's actions in Eastern Europe and in Berlin (such as the Berlin blockade) and China falling to the communists were all major areas of concern. The straw that broke the camel's back, however, was the Korean War: outright naked aggression by a communist state against another state in the post-WW2 world was just too much. The US used the newly-created UN (which the USSR at the time was boycotting) to form a coalition of nations to fight North Korea. In the post-WW2 world, the UN was being tested: would it be toothless like the League of Nations, or would nations actually stand up and prevent wars of conquest?

This led to a major revitalization of the US military which as you can see saw its post-WW2 spike in spending go up to 16% of GDP in the 1950s.

The necessity of a powerful military in the post-WW2 order was predicted by many. Notably, General Marshall, in his Biennial Reports as Chief of Staff of the Army, concluded before WW2 even ended that: A particularly poignant passage is when he mentions that, if not for British and Soviet lives holding the line, as well as major blunders by the enemy, the US would have suffered a lot lot more. And that, had the Axis won, interviews with Goring and other Nazi leadership showed that by 1947, the East Coast of the US would have been subject to attacks by long-range Nazi weapons.

Even Ike, in his famed 'military industrial complex' speech - which gets taken out of context - actually prefaced that line with his passage:
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.
Does all of that sound familiar? Because it should: the US military establishment has been purposefully designed to meet the challenges that General Marshall, Eisenhower, and other top military and political leaders have realized.

We are interested in global and full-spectrum warfare. A vital part of our defense strategy, in the world of long range missiles, supersonic jets, and precision weapons, is to put our front line of defense across those oceans. Bases in Japan, Korea, and Europe, aren't just there because our allies have hostile forces close by, but also because the further away from the US the conflict is, the more layers of defense any foe has to get through to affect the US directly.

Full-spectrum isn't just a catch phrase either: the US is interested in every aspect of warfare from human intelligence to special warfare to ground warfare to air superiority to space superiority. Whereas in the Cold War, NATO allies often focused on specializing in specific areas due to their small size and lack of funding (e.g. the UK was particularly focused on anti-submarine warfare), the US was designed to be not only the bulk of conventional forces but also charged with handling all areas that other nations lacked: logistics (e.g. the US currently has over 230 strategic airlift transports and over 430 aerial refueling tankers - the rest of NATO has about 10 strategic airlift transports and 40 tankers), submarines, bombers, etc.

Even our current aircraft carrier fleet is set to 11 ships by design. Why 11? As I said, this is by design.

But why you ask? Why is all of this necessary? Good question. Let me explain:

Your Answer to Spending is Answered in the National Security Strategy

Since Eisenhower, the US has pegged spending against the National Security Strategy of each successive presidential administration. During the Cold War, the general US strategy was: "win two major wars at any time" - largely believed to mean the USSR in Europe and China in Asia.

An archive of NSS's since Reagan is available here.

When the Cold War ended, President Clinton changed the strategy to "win hold win" - win one war, hold the line in another, then win that war when the first one concludes. The NSS also was no longer focused specifically on Russia and China. Correspondingly, the US military shrank from 3 million active + reserve to 2.1 million active + reserve. The US carrier fleet went from no fewer than 15 at any time during the Cold War to a necking down to 11 by the mid 2000's. The US anti-submarine patrol force, for instance, was cut in half overnight in the mid 90s.

In the 2000's, Bush changed it to "1-4-2-1" - protect the homeland first, deter aggression in four regions of the world simultaneously, be able to sustain combat operations in two of them, and win one of those decisively.

When Obama took office, he made a major change. First was the 'Pivot to the Pacific' - largely meant to counter China. As a result, the US refocused its efforts on buying conventional high-tech weaponry to face a resurgent and growing Chinese foe, after two decades of neglect or diverted attention under Clinton and Bush (weapons made to fight guys in pickup trucks don't do so well against actual conventional foes).

And in 2015, the NSS was amended again: this time with a refocusing on Russia after their actions in Crimea and the Ukraine. Again, instead of arresting defense spending, the President actually asked for more money that year ($630 billion) than the GOP Congress gave ($610 billion) or what the DOD requested ($580 billion).

(On that note, if you weren't sure, I should tell you that budgeting is made by the DOD, amended by the President, and then sent to Congress for voting in).

Lord knows what President Trump wants to do with our National Security Strategy.

As I wrote, since WW2, there has been a conscious decision to shape our military size and capabilities. We concluded after WW2 that we could not sit back and wait to build up modern equipment after aggression has happened, that we need to keep the frontlines overseas, and that we are the only Western nation demographically and economically capable of facing China and Russia.

And that's ultimately what it all comes down to: our spending can be either too much or too little based on what we as a country want to do with our strategy.

Spencer Ackerman's "General Dan Bolger says what the US does not want to hear: Why We Lost"

Veneration of the military:
We could cut our military in half and still be well more powerful than China, despite their growth. Add in our allies, and we could cut our military to 1/4 of today's size and still have adequate strength.

Today's troops are volunteers, and many of them voted for the idiots who started two losing decade-long wars and started the torture and secret prisons and such. I respect the troops for doing a hard job, but I don't think we should venerate them.

> We owe a lot to the troops.

We owe a lot to police and firefighters and healthcare workers and teachers and scientists and laborers, too. Troops are just another on the list.

> There is no comparison. The disparity of risk
> between a police officer or firefighter and a
> combat soldier or a seaman on a warship engaged
> in battle is incomprehensible.

"Degree of risk" is not the proper metric. Usefulness to society is a better way to judge.

Look at it this way: what would happen to the country if we got rid of 90% of our military ? We'd still be able to defend ourselves. We'd have to rely on allies and geography and diplomacy more. We wouldn't be able to impose our will on others militarily, but we'd still have our economic power, our land and wealth and resources and people. We'd suffer some more attacks, but nothing devastating. We'd still have a powerful military, maybe greater than that of Canada or Australia or something.

But what would happen if we got rid of 90% of our farmers ? Starvation; maybe mostly in other countries, as we used our money to import food, but still starvation and death.

What would happen if we got rid of 90% of our police and firefighters and EMS ? Perhaps chaos, anarchy. Far more suffering and death from everyday fires and car accidents and crime.

What would happen if we got rid of 90% of our infrastructure workers (road, sewer, water system, electricity, phones) ? Our economy and society would collapse.

No, having a huge military, as opposed to a minimal military, is a luxury. We could well do without most of our military.

Benjamin Summers' "Hero worship of the military is getting in the way of good policy"







US Entitlements Budget



What are "entitlements" ?

Government support of individuals, including:
Why aren't Corporate subsidies included in "entitlements" ? Such as: From Erin Nanasi's "Republican Voters Are Angry About All The Wrong Things":
People scream about their tax dollars going to help kids eat, or making sure families can go to the doctor, or that an elderly woman has heat this winter, but I don't hear a peep about the American corporations that pay no taxes. Or the mega-churches who dip not just their toe, but their whole damn body into politics, yet enjoy their tax-exempt status all the way to the bank. Nary a peep about the NFL.

From John Atcheson's "Debunking the Conservative's Economic Boogeymen":

Most of the "welfare" and government handouts go to corporations and the uber-rich, not some massive cohort of permanently dependent citizens. For example, the federal Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that there will be $154 billion in special corporate tax breaks in 2013. If you count state and local taxes the total exceeds $230 billion, with much of it going to "needy" companies such as Walmart.

Meanwhile, the uber-rich get a whole range of tax breaks you and I can only dream of. Income from stocks and other investments are taxed at only 20%. And the rich don't have to pay payroll taxes on the vast majority of their earnings because everything above $113,700 is exempt. Then there is the whole hedge fund and equity manager gambit which allows rich financial fat cats to pay taxes on ordinary income at maximum rate of 15%.

The list of white collar welfare goes on and on. Lumber barons, mining companies, oil producers and agribusiness - all are given access to public lands at fire sale prices. The Resource Renewal Institute found that these low-rent leases for fat cats costs the US $600 billion a year.

From The Daily Beast's "Single Mothers Are Not America's Real Welfare Queens":

If you actually drill into who is getting what benefits from the government, ... the first thing you realize is there is no "typical" recipient of government aid. If you want to see who in this country is on the government dole, it turns out that the answer is "everyone". It's just that some of us get our government assistance in ways that allow us to lie to ourselves and pretend that we're not getting that assistance. But, the ugly truth is that if you want to see an image of a "welfare queen", the quickest place to look is in the bathroom mirror.

... As Brad Plumer of the Washington Post explained in September 2012, by far the largest group of recipients, with money sent to them directly by checks, is not, as conservatives assume, single mothers. No, 53 percent of direct cash entitlements go to people over 65 years old. Another 20 percent goes to disabled people and another 18 percent to working people, leaving only 9 percent for non-disabled, non-working people that conservatives like to pretend make up the bulk of recipients of social spending.

Of course, direct cash payments are hardly the only way the government helps people out. Tax expenditures are also a government benefit that should be considered no different than direct cash payments, because, at the end of the day, whether the government mails you a check or gives you a tax break, the result is the same: More money to you, less money in the government coffers. As Plumer demonstrated, if you incorporate tax breaks like the mortgage interest deduction into your view of social spending, it turns out the real "welfare queens" are America's wealthiest citizens. The top 20 percent of Americans receive a whopping 66 percent of tax expenditures, while the bottom 20 percent - the people who to scrape for every bite of food they get - only get three percent of this government bonanza.



Are these things "entitlements" ?
This whole governmental structure is quite complex: one program might be embodied in multiple pieces of legislation, administered under multiple federal and state agencies, with special provisions for specific diseases or military veterans or other classes, funding coming from user fees or specific funds or general taxes at federal and state level, different options chosen by each state, benefits might be food or cash or services or vouchers or income tax deductions/credits, etc. Very complicated.

Gina Delvac's "The Welfare Quiz" (8 simple questions)
Wikipedia's "Entitlement"
Wikipedia's "Social programs in the United States"



Why entitlements are good:

Everyone benefits if the poorest of society are helped. Helping the poor or ill to become healthy and productive improves the economy, improves our daily quality of life, helps to raise a healthy and productive next generation of workers.

Abandoning the poor would lead to an environment we don't want: poor sick people dying on the streets, old retirees starving and freezing in hovels, poor children with horrible avoidable diseases, epidemics starting with the poor and spreading to everyone. That's why hospital emergency rooms treat everyone today: those of us who can pay don't want what would result from a no-pay-go-away policy. That's also why we have food-banks and homeless shelters and Social Security and other programs: not just because it's the morally right thing to do, but to benefit the non-poor too. We wouldn't want to live in a totally-privatized, no-safety-nets society; it would be ugly. We had that in USA 100 or 130 years ago.

Do you want to be next to sick people in school, church, stores, restaurants, airplanes, stadiums ? Do you want to be served by sick people in stores and restaurants ?

From Nicholas Kristof's "It's Not Just About Bad Choices":
The journal JAMA Psychiatry last year estimated that millions of low-income Americans suffer from parasitic infections such as toxocariasis and toxoplasmosis that, in turn, are associated with cognitive impairment or mental health disorders.

"I estimate 12 million Americans living in poverty suffer from at least one neglected parasitic or tropical disease," says Dr. Peter Hotez, the author of that study. "The media places so much emphasis on imaginary infectious disease threats, when millions of people in poverty, mostly people of color, have neglected infections that are almost completely ignored."

Taxes for schools



How big is entitlement spending ?

If you make $50,000 per year
Your 2012 Federal Taxpayer Receipt
Paul Buchheit's "Add It Up: The Average American Family Pays $6,000 a Year in Subsidies to Big Business"
Deficit problem
This Modern World's "Republican To-Do List"




Factors that pushed up entitlement spending, both under Obama and long-term:

Adam Levine-Weinberg's "The Ugly Truth About the Federal Deficit: It's Not Just Entitlement Spending"



How to fix entitlement spending:
Note: much of this reduces the size of government. Consolidating a zillion govt health programs into universal single-payer health insurance reduces the number of govt employees and the govt burden on employers and providers. Getting rid of subsidies to corporations eliminates govt programs and govt employees. Consolidating school districts reduces the number of govt employees. Reducing size of military/intel/security establishment greatly reduces size of government.

The Economist's "Entitlements in America"




Things that wouldn't work:







Globalization



Great podcast about this: Richard Fidler interview of Michael Casey, July 2012.


Globalization has been good:

The world's trading and economies have become distorted:



From Thomas Friedman's "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" (1999) (on Amazon):

From the mid-1800s to the late 1920s the world experienced a similar era of globalization. ... Great Britain, which was then the dominant global power, was a huge investor in emerging markets, and fat cats in England, Europe and America were often buffeted by financial crises, triggered by something that happened in Argentine railroad bonds, Latvian government bonds or German government bonds. There were no currency controls, so no sooner was the transatlantic cable connected in 1866 than banking and financial crises in New York were quickly being transmitted to London or Paris. ... In those days, people also migrated more than we remember, and, other than in wartime, countries did not require passports for travel before 1914. All those immigrants who flooded America's shores came without visas. When you put all of these factors together, along with the inventions of the steamship, telegraph, railroad and eventually telephone, it is safe to say that this first era of globalization before World War I shrank the world from a size "large" to a size "medium".

This first era of globalization and global finance capitalism was broken apart by the successive hammer blows of World War I, the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression, which combined to fracture the world both physically and ideologically. The formally divided world that emerged after World War II was then frozen in place by the Cold War. The Cold War was also an international system. It lasted roughly from 1945 to 1989, when, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was replaced by another system: the new era of globalization that we are now in. Call it "Globalization Round II". It turns out that the roughly seventy-five-year period from the start of World War I to the end of the Cold War was just a long time-out between one era of globalization and another.

While there are a lot of similarities in kind between the previous era of globalization and the one we are now in, what is new today is the degree and intensity with which the world is being tied together into a single globalized marketplace and village. What is also new is the sheer number of people and countries able to partake of today's globalized economy and information networks, and to be affected by them. ... Daily foreign exchange trading in 1900 was measured in the millions of dollars. By April 1998 it was up to $1.5 trillion a day, and still rising. ... This new era of globalization, compared to the one before World War I, is turbocharged.

... the previous era of globalization was built around falling transportation costs. ... today's era of globalization is built around falling telecommunications costs ...

[Other differences: new era is making world much tighter, letting individuals reach out, based on an open international system pushed by USA after WW II.]

... If the first era of globalization shrank the world from a size "large" to a size "medium", this era of globalization is shrinking the world from a size "medium" to a size "small".

...

Globalization is the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before - in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before, and in a way that is enabling the world to reach into individuals, corporations and nation-states farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before. ...

The driving idea behind globalization is free-market capitalism ...

...

[The Berlin Wall was physical, but there were many other types of "walls": Cold War blocs, national boundaries, trade barriers, different currencies, currency and capital controls, different economic systems.] What blew away all these walls were three fundamental changes - changes in how we communicate, how we invest and how we learn about the world.

... [Changes in communication and learning include cell-phones, computers, Internet, cable, satellite dishes.] ... several innovations involving computerization, telecommunications, miniaturization, compression technology and digitization. ...

[Changes in finance include development of commercial bond market in 1960's, securitization of mortgages starting in 1970's, elimination of fixed currency exchange-rates in 1970's, junk bonds in 1980's, securitization of international debt (which broke an "old boys" network), creation of 401(k) accounts, online brokerages, etc.]

...

[When the walls were blown away] they also blew away all the major ideological alternatives to free-market capitalism. People can talk about alternatives to the free market and global integration, they can demand alternatives, they can insist on a "Third Way", but for now none is apparent. ...

... the centrally planned, nondemocratic alternatives offered in the past - communism, socialism and fascism - helped to abort the first era of globalization as they were tested out on the world stage from 1917 to 1989.

There is only one thing to say about those alternatives: They didn't work. So ... those people who are unhappy with the Darwinian brutality of free-market capitalism don't have any ready ideological alternative now. When it comes to the question of which system today is the most efficient at generating rising standards of living, the historical debate is over. The answer is free-market capitalism. Other systems may be able to distribute and divide income more efficiently and equitably, but none can generate income to distribute as efficiently as free-market capitalism. ...

...

... there are many reasons for the widening income gap [between haves and have-nots within industrialized countries]. These include massive demographic shifts from rural to urban areas, rapid technological changes that increasingly reward knowledge workers over the less skilled, the decline of unions, rising immigration into developed countries which drives down certain wages, and the shift in manufacturing from high- to low-wage countries, which also holds down salaries.

... the factor that may be the most important, and certainly has been the most visible in my own travels. This is the phenomenon of "winner take all" - which refers to the fact that the winners in any field today can really cash in because they can sell into this massive global marketplace, while those who are just a little less talented, or not skilled at all, are limited to selling in just their local market and therefore tend to make a lot, lot less. ...

...

... the widening income gaps that are helping to feed a backlash against globalization around the world. These widening income gaps are particularly noticeable outside the United States where middle classes tend to be much smaller and where antimonopoly and other income-equalizing laws are less stringent. ... free markets and free trade produce far greater incomes for a society as a whole. That is a fact. But that income is highly unequally distributed and the whole let-her-rip capitalism that comes with it is enormously socially disruptive. But to stick with a closed, regulated, bureaucratically run economy in today's world will impoverish a society as a whole, and can be even more socially disruptive - without generating any of the resources to ameliorate conditions for those left behind. ...

...

... ideological backlashers against globalization have more attitude than workable programs, more ideas about how to distribute income than about how to generate it.

...

... opponents of globalization resent it because they feel ... they have been forced into a one-size-fits-all [system]. ... some feel economically pinched by it. Some worry that they don't have the knowledge, skills or resources [to ever really benefit from it. Some resent the widening income gaps or] the way it squeezes jobs from higher-wage countries to lower-wage ones. Some don't like it because it opens them to all sorts of global cultural forces and influences ... Some don't like it because it seems to put a higher priority on laws to promote free trade than it does on laws to protect [the environment]. Some don't like it because they feel they have no say in its design. And some don't like it because they feel that getting their countries up to [global standards] is just too hard.

...

... The power of the backlash is hard to predict, because while all the various groups can agree that globalization is hurtful to them, they have no shared agenda, ideology or strategy for making it less so for all. ... [some will simply lash out] without offering a sustainable economic alternative. Their only message will be: STOP.

...

What is going on in the world today, in the very broadest sense, is that through the process of globalization everyone is being forced toward [the American system]. ...

But not everyone likes [the American system] and what it stands for, and you can understand why. Embedded in the Japanese, Western European and communist [systems] are social contracts very different from the American one, as well as very different attitudes about how markets should operate and be controlled. The Europeans and the Japanese believe in the state exercising power over the people and over markets, while Americans tend to believe more in empowering the people and letting markets be as free as possible to sort out who wins and who loses.

Because the Japanese, Western Europeans and communists are uncomfortable with totally unfettered markets and the unequal benefits and punishments they distribute, their [systems] are designed to cushion such inequalities and to equalize rewards. Their [systems] also pay more attention to the distinctive traditions and value preferences of their communities. The Western Europeans do this by employing fewer people, but paying them higher wages and collecting higher taxes to generously support the unemployed and to underwrite a goody bag of other welfare-state handouts. The Japanese do it by paying people a little less but guaranteeing them lifetime employment, and then protecting those lifetime jobs and benefits by restricting foreign competitors from entering the Japanese market. The American [system], by contrast, is much more efficient: the customer is king, [commerce] has no social function; its only purpose is to provide the most [product] at the cheapest price. ...

...

[Said to a foreign leader who says globalization is an American conspiracy to hold down the Arab world:] But the truth is, we aren't thinking about you at all! Not for a second. ... we're trapped under the same pressures as you are, and we're trying to keep one step ahead of the competition just like you are, and we're worried about what the bond market is going to do next, just like you are. ...

...

... I started to get mad about the budget debate that was then going on in the U. S. Congress. ... we have something tremendously special in America. But if we want to preserve it, we have to pay for it, we have to nurture it. But when I listened at that time to the infamous 1994 class of freshmen Republicans, I heard mean-spirited voices, voices uninterested in any compromise, voices for whom the American government was some kind of evil enemy. I heard men and women who insisted that the market alone should rule, and who thought it was enough to be right about the economic imperatives of free trade and globalization, and the rest would take care of itself. I heard lawmakers who seemed to believe America had no special responsibility for maintaining global institutions, such as the UN, the World Bank and the IMF, which are critical for stabilizing an international system from which America benefits more than any other country.

And as I thought about all this on the tarmac of Kigali Airport (Rwanda), I said to myself, "Well, my freshmen Republican friends, come to Africa - it's a freshmen Republican's paradise." Yes sir, nobody in Liberia pays taxes. There's no gun control in Angola. There's no welfare as we know it in Burundi and no big government to interfere in the market in Rwanda. But a lot of their people sure wish there were.

...

... For a lot of reasons, it is very easy to distort and demonize globalization ... [Why ?] Because people who are the biggest losers from globalization - workers who have lost their jobs to robots or foreign sweatshops - know exactly who they are. ... People who are beneficiaries of globalization, of more open trade and of foreign investment, often don't have a clue who they are. They often don't make the connection between globalization and their rising standards of living, and therefore are difficult to mobilize. ...

Another reason globalization is easy to distort is that people don't understand that it is largely a technology-driven phenomenon, not a trade-driven one. [Many jobs are taken away by automation, not by foreigners. They would be taken away even if we didn't have free trade.] ...

...

[We need a politics of sustainable globalization.] But a pure market vision is not enough. It is too brutal and therefore politically unsustainable. The Left, meanwhile, or what's left of the Left, has tried to hold on to the paternalism of the welfare state as much as possible. That is not economically sustainable.

What is needed instead is of either of these extremes is a new social compact that both embraces free markets bust also ensures that they benefit, and are tolerable for, as many people as possible. ...

Suppose we tried to reverse globalization ?

From discussion on reddit:

> How would things in the United States change if
> large companies such as Apple and Nike didn't
> outsource production, and manufactured everything
> in the US?

Person A: Maybe we would revolutionize robotic manufacturing.

Person B: Precisely what would happen. People would invest a lot in their company and in the long run spend very little. It's what most food companies did a while back. Outsourcing food manufacturing is hard so they simply automate it all with machines.

Person C: I'm a roboticist, trust me when I say that this is the direction manufacturing is going. Though I fear it isn't going to be a good thing necessarily. Sure it will mean you can produce all your products in America, it will mean some serious innovation on the robotics front, but ultimately it will not lead to more jobs for America or China for that matter. For companies, although they may not know/understand it yet, the future is to have a factory without workers, that work 24 hours a day, workers that don't get sick, that don't need health insurance, that don't take sick days, experience is transferable and thus units are instantly replaceable. Now you can outlaw this, but some other country is going to implement it, and you are screwed as a company if you don't use them.

Person D: It will free human life from the drudgery of assembly line work. Surely we can find something even better to do with the extra man-hours.

...

Jason Pargin (AKA David Wong of Cracked) recently argued that the stereotype of Milennials as lazy good-for-nothings is a product of a very weird trend in society: we don't need all the human capital we have, but we still need consumers to buy things - things made with a "human" touch - to maintain our economy. The result is essentially a Rube-Goldberg machine of private welfare. There are still baristas at Starbucks and checkers at grocery stores, but why? We've developed cappuccino machines and self-checkouts that work fantastically. If Starbucks switched to automated coffee makers instead of baristas, there would be a hundred thousand unemployed baristas in the US without the funds to buy Nikes and Macbooks, and Starbucks would seem to customers like an overpriced commodity that can be produced at home. (Which it is. Baristas don't have any skills you don't have. Just some syrups.) It's the same line of thinking that made Betty Crocker take eggs out of their powdered cake mix to make people feel like they made something when actually they just threw some eggs, powder, and water in a pan and baked it. The finished product could easily be reproduced without humans. Checkers are the human face of the grocery chain - the chain gets to say it brings jobs to the teenagers in the community. It gives the teenagers the ability to be low-level consumers - they buy soda, iPods, hot pockets, makeup, movie tickets, et cetera.

A better example: the US Army has literally asked Congress to stop making tanks for the Army. In the California desert there are several warehouses full of brand new tanks that will never see combat because they are designed for fighting off foreign invaders in the event of a Cold War catastrophe - a fear that has long-since ceased to be realistic. But if Congress stopped ordering tanks, 11,000 factory workers in Ohio would be out of a job. Do you want to be the a*****e that voted to put 11,000 hard-working Americans out of a job just because they weren't NEEDED any more?

If you think about it, those 11,000 people are on a type of welfare - their productivity and labor aren't necessary, but we're paying them anyway. In fact, they're actually wasting costly materials. The American taxpayers are paying a salary to produce an excess. Why not just put the workers on a salary and have them grow corn instead of tanks? At least then we'd have fuel, and there wouldn't be a desert full of unused tanks in the middle of nowhere.

...

== Direct Answer ==

The U.S. would be very different if Apple could* manufacture there. The city where Apple produced its products would be highly industrialized and would be a key producer of electronic components; perhaps the biggest in the world. The city would have a huge population, a matching transportation system, and a unique higher education system capable of producing a staggering number of engineers and managers at a rapid pace. (In other words, it would be like Guangzhou or Shenzhen). (* Apple can't manufacture in the U.S. because so many of the parts and personnel would have to be imported from Asia.)

On the other hand, Nike could move all of its manufacturing to the U.S. right now and nothing major about the country would change. Nike just isn't really that important.

== Background ==

The fact is, America just doesn't have the manpower and infrastructure necessary to support the level of manufacturing required by some companies. There are two important considerations to be made regarding where to manufacture products: how automated the process is, and the length of the supply chain.

The best place to manufacture items with processes that are not highly automated (think clothing) is anywhere with a cheap labor force. That's why clothes are made in India, Vietnam, etc. The machinery and the labor force to run them are cheap, since there's so much that needs to be done by hand, cutting labor costs is the highest priority.

The best places to manufacture items with highly automated processes (chemicals, food, software) are places where there is a large specialized labor force. A company making food is going to need a lot of chemists, engineers, machinists and managers, but probably only a handful of unskilled people. In this model, labor costs aren't a major consideration because most of the employees design the tools and processes that are then used to create the end product.

However, we have not talked about the most significant aspect of manufacturing: the supply chain. A company can have the fastest, most efficient manufacturing process in the world, but that doesn't matter if you can't get the materials necessary for production. For the most part, physical goods manufactures use a technique developed by the Japanese called Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing. JIT strives to reduce costs by only making a part when it is requested (reducing inventory) and only keeping on-hand the amount of supplies that you'll need to produce only enough goods for that hour/day/week. The goal is to minimize the amount of things sitting around; inventory costs you money.

Different industries require different supply chains. Proctor & Gamble is going to have a lot of agricultural goods and chemicals coming into its facilities, but Ford is going to have thousands of car parts being delivered to its factories. If you were going to start a new car manufacturing plant from scratch, the best place to build it would be somewhere with an existing automotive supply chain because it will be cheaper to get parts and there will be experienced people in the area to help run it.

The United States is the largest producer of automobiles in the world. The reason why even non-U.S. companies like Toyota, Subaru, BMW, Hyundai, and Mercedes Benz manufacture cars in the U.S. is because GM, Ford and Chrysler invested the money necessary to build a supply chain capable of producing automobiles. There are hundreds of thousands of parts that go into producing a car (and some of those parts consists of thousands of parts themselves) and all of these parts need to arrive at the plant on the very day (maybe even the hour) that the part will be installed on the car. This approach is not feasible if you're shipping parts over from Germany.

The further a part has to travel to the next step in the manufacturing process, the more expensive the process becomes! That's important; read it again.

With a company like Apple or Dell, there are thousands of parts required to build their electronic devices. Most of the parts are specialized electronic components that can only come from Japan, China or Taiwan. So it makes sense to manufacture electronic in one of these places.

Edit: I remember reading an article with Tim Cook (the person responsible for putting into place Apple's manufacturing process and successor to Steve Jobs) talk about the Apple supply chain: he claims that many of the parts for the iPhone are produced within blocks of one another in order to reduce costs. That's how ridiculously dedicated Apple is to their manufacturing process.

...

Person E: Not all goods have a cost structure that is dominated by labor costs. For the iPhone, assembly is 2-5% of the cost.

Person F: It's the supply chains. Need items from 50 different factories? No sweat, built within 50 km of Shenzen. In the US? Made in 17 different states. Sure, the labor costs aren't huge, but the inconvenience, the new risks, the logistics costs etc pile up tremendously.

Person G: If the production came back to the US wouldn't the supply chains become shorter as there'd be more demand for the internal components?

Person H: Clearly you haven't been to Shenzen. The infrastructure is staggering. It's a difference of kind.

...

Assembly and manufacture aren't necessarily the same thing. [For many "we now build it here in USA again" products] I imagine many of the components were still made elsewhere and shipped to the US for final assembly.

...

We would all be poorer; isolationism is a bad fiscal policy.



From Charles Duhigg and Keth Bradsher's "How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work":

[Apple moved manufacturing to Asia.]

In part, Asia was attractive because the semiskilled workers there were cheaper. But that wasn't driving Apple. For technology companies, the cost of labor is minimal compared with the expense of buying parts and managing supply chains that bring together components and services from hundreds of companies.

For Mr. Cook, the focus on Asia "came down to two things," said one former high-ranking Apple executive. Factories in Asia "can scale up and down faster" and "Asian supply chains have surpassed what's in the U.S." The result is that "we can't compete at this point," the executive said.

...

"The entire supply chain is in China now," said another former high-ranking Apple executive. "You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That's the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours."

...

Another critical advantage for Apple was that China provided engineers at a scale the United States could not match. Apple's executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones. The company's analysts had forecast it would take as long as nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States.

In China, it took 15 days.



My reasoning about job loss:
I think loss of jobs in USA is mostly due to several unstoppable trends: We in USA are looking at it from a post-WWII perspective, where we were top dog in everything for a couple of decades, because most other countries had been flattened in the war. But that was a temporary situation; now we have competition, so we no longer have the high growth and guaranteed jobs we used to have.

From Bill Bryson's "Notes from a Big Country" (on Amazon):

I can't imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America in the 1950's. No country had ever known such prosperity. When the war ended the United States had $26 billion worth of factories that hadn't existed before the war, $140 billion in savings and war bonds just waiting to be spent, no bomb damage and practically no competition. All that American companies had to do was stop making tanks and battleships and start making Buicks and Frigidaires - and boy did they. By 1951, when I came sliding down the chute, almost 90 percent of American families had refrigerators, and nearly three quarters had washing machines, telephones, vacuum cleaners and gas or electric stoves - things that most of the rest of the world could still only fantasize about. Americans owned 80 per cent of the world's electrical goods, controlled two-thirds of the world's productive capacity, produced over 40 per cent of its electricity, 60 per cent of its oil and 66 per cent of its steel. The 5 per cent of people on Earth who were Americans had more wealth than the other 95 per cent combined.

From Daniel W. Drezner's "Donald Trump's Big Lie about the global economy":

... the truth is that while a small fraction of American manufacturing jobs migrated overseas over the past few decades, a far greater fraction of manufacturing jobs simply disappeared and are not coming back. The far bigger driver of these job losses is the creative destruction that comes from technological innovation and productivity increases. ...

...

At the same time that U.S. manufacturing jobs have disappeared, U.S. manufacturing output has increased. Manufacturing has simply become so productive that it is no longer the jobs engine that it was in the 20th century.



From /u/bukkakesasuke on reddit:
There are three major divisions of work:

Primary (food production, raw resource extraction)

Secondary (processing and manufacturing)

Tertiary (services and transport)

The primary sector went from 99% of people's jobs to being less than 1% now because of mechanization. A man on a tractor can feed hundreds. That was ok because people could move from farming to the secondary sector to process this new wealth of resources.

The secondary sector then became almost completely done in by advances in industrialization. One plant conveyor belt with ten workers can produce more tools in an hour than a craft shop could make in a month. That was ok because when these manufacturing jobs dried up we moved up to the tertiary focused economy: serving all these goods and delivering expertise to others.

Now, automation will take away the last of the secondary sector, and many of these service and transport jobs. Machine intelligence will take away the jobs that require expertise but not a lot of creativity (already developed techniques like surgery, routine taxes, filing claims against parking tickets, etc).

There's no real "fourth level" to go into. The only fourth level is research, development, and novel engineering. Obviously most people aren't suited for these jobs, even if we let everyone have free education to the PhD level most would not pass.



Interesting article, tracing NAFTA from Reagan to G H W Bush to Bill Clinton:
Paul Rosenberg's "Own up to NAFTA, Democrats: Trump is right that the terrible trade pact was Bill Clinton's baby"

Angelo Young's "The BS behind NAFTA and TPP: The economic benefits of free-trade deals are small according to a new congressional report"



Zachary Karabell's "The 'Made in China' Fallacy"
Derek Thompson's "A World Without Work"
The Week's "The mystery of America's missing male workers"
The One Ring









Unions


All good stuff. But then they went too far, and decided to tell businesses what level of staffing they had to have, every detail of how the job would be done, every detail of benefits and pay, that they could never close old factories, that they had to get union buy-in on every decision. There has to be a happy medium: unions allowed to mandate some basic benefits and pay and safety rules, but most of the rest left up to business.

And once unions succeeded in getting laws passed for various things (work-week, OSHA, child-labor laws, etc), the role of unions should have diminished a bit. But it didn't.

Unions and union contracts should be able to:

Unions and union contracts should not:





The Death Penalty

I used to be in favor of the death penalty:

But the more I learn about our justice system, the more often it seems arbitrary and corrupt:

Inside America's morgues: 4 disturbing revelations
Radley Balko's "U.S. Counties Killing The Most People Are Good At Getting Death Penalty, Not So Good At Justice"
John Timmer's "Study suggests that 4% of the people we put on death row are innocent"

All of this makes me less inclined to trust the system, especially with the ultimate penalty.

It turns out that sentencing someone to death is more costly than keeping them in prison for life ! That's because of all of the trials and appeals, with the costs of courts and experts and police and lawyers.
DPIC



"They are really debating the firing squad right now. Of course there are a lot of people on the other side who say this is cruel and unusual. Cruel and unusual? This is America. What's more usual than getting shot?"
-- Bill Maher on the debate over the death penalty and botched executions







Courts and Prisons

Ways to improve the court/trial system in the USA:
From Adam Benforado's "Flawed Humans, Flawed Justice":
Consider the evidence that we treat as nearly unassailable proof of guilt at trial - an unwavering eyewitness, a suspect's signed confession or a forensic match to the crime scene.

While we charge tens of thousands of people with crimes each year after they are identified in police lineups, research shows that eyewitnesses chose an innocent person roughly one-third of the time. Our memories can fail us because we're frightened. They can be altered by the word choice of a detective. They can be corrupted by previously seeing someone's image on a social media site.

Picking out lying suspects from their body language is ineffective. And trying then to gain a confession by exaggerating the strength of the evidence and playing down the seriousness of the offense can encourage people to admit to terrible things they didn't do.

Even seemingly objective forensic analysis is far from incorruptible. Recent data shows that fingerprint - and even DNA - matches are significantly more likely when the forensic expert is aware that the sample comes from someone the police believe is guilty.

...

The choice of where to place the camera in an interrogation room may seem immaterial, yet experiments show that it can affect whether a confession is determined to be coerced. When people watch a recording with the camera behind the detective, they are far more likely to find that the confession was voluntary than when watching the interactions from the perspective of the suspect.

...

Once we have clear data that something causes a bias, we can then figure out how to remove that influence. If police officers subtly sway witnesses when they recognize the suspect in a lineup, we can require that those administering identifications have no knowledge of the investigation. If crime lab technicians conduct their analyses in ways that conform to detectives' existing theories, we can restrict access to the case file, barring technicians from prejudicing information that isn't relevant to their work, like the fact that an alleged accomplice has confessed. Blind testing has been an essential component of creating effective medicine and it has the same potential to improve criminal investigations.


Lawrence Lessig, excerpted in New York Times, 17 June 2012:
There is no one in the criminal justice system who believes that system works well. There is no one in housing law who believes this is what law was meant to be. ... The law of real people doesn't work, even if the law of corporations does. ... The law has convinced most Americans that the law is for the rich, except that part of the law that involves the prisons. We, all of us, have a duty to fix this. To repair this. To make it better.

From Dave Davies' interview of Adam Benforado: "The New Science Behind Our 'Unfair' Criminal Justice System":

Justin Peters' "The Unsettling, Underregulated World of Crime Labs"
A.C. Thompson, Mosi Secret, Lowell Bergman and Sandra Bartlett: "The Real CSI: How America's Patchwork System of Death Investigations Puts The Living At Risk"
Frontline/ProPublica "The Real CSI" (about fingerprint analysis, expert testimony, etc)
Tovia Smith's "Crime Lab Scandal Leaves Mass. Legal System In Turmoil"
Emil Karlsson's "Science and Pseudoscience in Law Enforcement"
The Life of the Law's "Forensics in Flames"
Mark Joseph Stern's "Forensic Science Isn't Science"
Conor Friedersdorf's "CSI Is a Lie"
Dahlia Lithwick's "Pseudoscience in the Witness Box"
Radley Balko and Roger Koppl's "Forensic science is badly in need of reform. Here are some suggestions."
Nathan J. Robinson's "Forensic Pseudoscience"
Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders' "Common Roadside Drug Test Routinely Produces False Positives"

Lie detector (cartoon)
Miranda rights (cartoon)







Excerpt adapted from Adam Benforado's "Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice"
Dave Davies' interview of Adam Benforado: "The New Science Behind Our 'Unfair' Criminal Justice System"
Jordan Michael Smith's review of Adam Benforado's "Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice"
David Feige's "The Problem With Bail"
Martin O'Malley's "Criminal Justice Reform"

David Feige's "The Myth of the Hero Cop"

Ken Schwencke and A.C. Thompson's "More Than 100 Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Fail to Report Hate Crimes to the FBI"



Prisons:
From comment on Schneier on Security's "Prisons in the U.S." :
At least 500,000 of those currently locked up are those who used to inhabit the old mental health system, before the de-institutionalization movement in the 1960's. Yes prison isn't the best way to treat the mentally ill, but since all of the inpatient mental hospitals were closed there is simply nowhere else to put them. Better comparisons to other countries would combine both those in prison and the mentally ill in residential facilities.

It's wrong to blame USA's huge prison population on for-profit prison corporations. Only about 3.7% of prisoners (as of 2011) are in for-profit prisons (Wikipedia's "Private prison").
Undated, unsourced ACLU article says 6% to 16%.
cartoon

Matt Zapotosky and Chico Harlan's "Justice Department says it will end use of private prisons"
Robby Soave's "The Justice Department Is Wrong. Private Prisons Aren't the Problem."

Josh Voorhees' "An Obvious Way to Help Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself"
Leon Neyfakh's "Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? A Provocative New Theory."
The Straight Dope's "Is any one crime to blame for the high U.S. imprisonment rate?"

Quasi-religious treatments/sentences that don't work:
Gabrielle Glaser's "The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous"



Cameras:
Security cameras and web-cams have become so cheap that we should be using them routinely in many places: The savings, in terms of fewer crimes, fewer false accusations, clearer evidence in court, would be enormous.

There are many technical and legal issues:
Reihan Salam's "Police Officers Should Be Required to Videotape Themselves. Public School Teachers, Too."
David Kravets' "In wake of Ferguson shooting, calls escalate for cops to wear body cams"







Politics Of Sex

I'm struggling to understand why we approve of certain sexual practices and outlaw others. Maybe it's a struggle to understand where moral codes come from.

Why are these things illegal or considered immoral?

I think these reasons have been given for making them illegal or considering them immoral:

Feargus O'Sullivan's "Across Europe, a Growing Sense That Legalized Prostitution Isn't Working"
John Aziz's "Will prostitution go the way of marijuana reform?"
Jordan Weissmann's "The Internet Has Already Revolutionized Prostitution. But Could Better Apps Make It Truly Safe?"
The Straight Dope's "Is there a case for legalizing prostitution?"
Conor Friedersdorf's "The Case Against Encouraging Polygamy"







Immigration

I think the USA Immigration policy should be:

Lucas Jackson's "The truth about America's illegal immigrants"
Illegals destroying this country

There's a good case to be made that immigration (of Muslim refugees) has been going too fast in Europe. See for example Sam Harris speaks with Douglas Murray (MP3).







Abortion

Factual and practical items:
From Pam Belluck's "Abortion Rates in Developed Countries Have Fallen Since 1990":
Abortion rates in developed countries have been falling steadily since 1990, but rates in developing countries have stayed roughly the same, a new study said.

The study, published Wednesday in The Lancet, found that the worldwide abortion rate dropped slightly from 1990 to 2014, to 35 from 40 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The decline is largely due to developed countries, where abortion rates dropped from 46 to 27 per 1,000. The United States has among the lowest rate, about 17 per 1,000.

From Diane Duke Williams's "Access to free birth control reduces abortion rates":
Unplanned pregnancies are a significant problem in the United States. According to a 2012 Brookings Institution report, more than 90 percent of abortions occur due to unintended pregnancy.

Each year, about 50 percent of all pregnancies that occur in the US are not planned, a number far higher than is reported in other developed countries. About half of these pregnancies result from women not using contraception and the other half from incorrect or irregular use.

A new study by investigators at Washington University reports that providing birth control to women at no cost substantially reduces unplanned pregnancies and cuts abortion rates by a range of 62 to 78 percent compared to the national rate.

From CDC's "Abortion Surveillance System FAQs":
Compared with 2012, the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions for 2013 decreased 5%. Additionally, from 2004 to 2013, the number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions decreased 20%, 21%, and 17%, respectively. In 2013, all three measures reached their lowest level for the entire period of analysis (2004-2013).

Women in their twenties accounted for the majority of abortions in 2013 and throughout the period of analysis. The majority of abortions in 2013 took place early in gestation: 91.6% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; a smaller number of abortions (7.1%) were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer (1.3%) were performed at ≥21 weeks’ gestation. ...

Kathryn Doyle's "For teen girls, abortion linked to better outcomes vs. giving birth"
Ruth Graham's "The Myth of Abortion Regret"

Federal dollars for abortion
Miriam Berg's "How Federal Funding Works at Planned Parenthood"



Moral and theological items:
FFRF's "What Does The Bible Really Say About Abortion ?"



Arguments pro and con:
Debatepedia's "Debate: Abortion"
ProCon.org's "Should Abortion Be Legal?"



From Shannon Dingle's "I'm pro-life. And I'm voting for Hillary. Here's why." (9/2016):

... since Roe v. Wade, most Republicans have talked a lot about abortion while doing little to make meaningful change in that area of policy. Furthermore, they've opposed or even stalled measures that could prevent abortions by targeting the underlying causes, like poverty, education, lack of access to healthcare, and supports for single parent and low-income families. In fact, I suspect these reasons contribute to why abortion rates rose under Reagan, rose under the first Bush, dropped under Clinton, held steady under the second Bush, and have been dropping under Obama. As such, I'm not sure we can hold that voting Republican is the best thing for abortion rates in this country.

From Eric Sapp's "Hillary Clinton Is the Best Choice for Voters Against Abortion" (10/2016):

It's no coincidence that abortions go up when Republicans are in charge and down when Democrats are. The two biggest indicators a woman will have an abortion are that she is poor (75% of women who have abortions make less than $23,000 and half make less than $11,000), and had an unintended pregnancy (half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended, and 43% end in abortion).

Want to guess which political party is more effective at reducing poverty and unwanted pregnancies? I'll give you a hint. It's not the "pro-life" Party that in this last Congressional session alone fought to cut medical care for poor mothers and children, food programs for kids, and contraception coverage and access for women.

From /u/sillypantstoan on reddit in 2012:
A letter my brother wrote four years ago to our parents, who are single-issue voters on abortion policy. It's a little out of date, but its essence is still holds.

My parents asked us to all vote for McCain last election, and my brother wrote this in response. It really opened my eyes as to how complex even a single issue can be.

Dad,

I take seriously your desire to end or reduce abortions, as they are my own desires as well. I take voting and participating in government seriously, as I have dedicated my work, my talents in my own way, directly and indirectly, inside and outside government to bettering the public institutions that represent us.

I voted for Sen. Barack Obama, and I proudly stood in line on my birthday for almost an hour and a half to do so. For many reasons I voted for Obama, and it would take too long to tell you all the reasons why, but I will talk a little about the abortion issue because it is a big issue on which you requested a vote for Sen. John McCain.

1) Although I believe abortion is wrong, a vote for Republican John McCain because he is pro-life is a wasted vote for the pro-life movement, in my opinion. Since the Roe v. Wade decision in the early '70s, we've had Republican presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. Abortion is still legal at the national level.

A win for McCain might lead to a pro-life Supreme Court judge appointment, but the judge would face confirmation by a Democratic Senate. A Democratic Senate would not confirm a pro-life judge, maybe a moderate conservative.

But even if all of the following things happen:

a conservative judge makes it through Senate confirmation

a case challenging Roe v Wade comes up

the new judge helps overturn Roe v. Wade

abortion would still be legal in most of the Unites States. The legality of abortion would just become a decision for the individual states. Currently a ban on abortion would occur in only about half a dozen states should Roe v. Wade be overturned. Abortion would continue to be legal in about 30 some states, and I'm not sure about the status of the remaining states. I could be wrong on some of these figures, but what I am saying is that overturning Roe v. Wade would do little to curb abortion, in my opinion and many others.

I believe in looking at the broader, more practical approach to reducing abortions, such as decreasing poverty and stabilizing the economy for the middle class. There is also a strong correlation of lower incomes and lower government assistance to higher abortion rates. Republicans like McCain believe in Reagan's trickle-down economics – pump up the rich, and from the top town, the rest will benefit. But I see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer under Republican policies and ideals.

For example, the long-term effect of McCain's health policy ideas would not allow me to afford going to the doctor for check-ups and preventive care because his $5,000 health benefit credit for a family moves us toward private catastrophic coverage only, much like auto insurance. (Auto insurance doesn't pay for maintenance. I believe affordable health insurance should pay for "maintenance.") Although I believe in moving away from employer-based health benefits, as McCain advocates, his way leaves a lot of people behind.

If we can't afford our own health care, how are we supposed to afford kids? And if people, in general, can't afford kids, they might be more likely to have abortions, should they be in the difficult situation.

"... in a recent survey of women who obtained abortions, nearly three-fourths cited economic hardship as a reason for obtaining an abortion. Three-fourths also cite barriers related to work, school or child care responsibilities. Given this data, it is important to understand how to address these economic and social hardships in order to help women bring their pregnancies to term. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has long advocated for a comprehensive strategy to reduce abortions."

"Recent research finds that the abortion rate among women living below the poverty level is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level. This study of all U.S. states from 1982-2000 finds that social and economic supports such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families have contributed significantly to reducing the number of abortions in the United States over the past twenty years."

- Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Reducing Abortion in America: The Effect of Economic and Social Supports, August 2008
[That study has been retracted.]

Republican policies generally shrink social and economic support for low-income families, while Democrats are generally in favor of helping the low-income and fighting against social and economic injustices, values I find consistent in the Catholic Church.

So not only would a vote for McCain do little to change the laws on abortion, but also his tax and health care policies, among other policies, would actually stress the middle and lower class and increase abortions the way I see it.

I would also be turning away from a moral obligation to make a change where a change can be made.

You probably disagree with me. My brothers and sisters might, too. But this is what I believe, and this is how I voted on the moral point of abortion. I feel I needed to address this issue because your request is important to me. I do not mean this as any disrespect toward you or your request. I hope you can be proud that I do believe I voted my faith.

Love,

Your son



If gun transactions were like abortion







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