Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My comments on the election and other thoughts

Today I voted. I did my research, looked up the candidates, all the way down to the local county elections, considered the options and implications and voted based on what I thought best.

Now without saying who I voted for I will explain four things I thought about before and while I was voting.

First, government debt.

Some people will read that and instantly try to put me somewhere on some insane left-right spectrum so first I will tell a little story. While I was on my mission in Argentina, the first little town I was in was called Bella Vista. It was a tiny town of perhaps 5,000-10,000 people, depending on the time of year and the expected harvest from the surrounding farms. In Argentina fútbol (soccer) was very popular. In some cases it was considered a religion. After being in the country for a few months there were only three teams I had ever heard about: Boca, River and Newell's Old Boys. The town seemed split down the middle. Half the town were Boca fans, the other half were River fans and everyone hated Newell's Old Boys.

I was unfamiliar with Argentine professional sports (I barely know anything about American professional sports) so I was wondering how they could have a championship play off with only three teams in the entire country (I later learned about other teams it's just that no one in Bella Vista talked about them). I thought Argentines were very weird. At one point River managed to win the national championship and half the town was out in the streets celebrating. There were car horns blaring, firecrackers going off, music blasting and people driving through the streets with people standing on the roof of their cars waving River flags.

About four weeks after this happened we heard on the street that Newell's Old Boys had played River and had beaten them. Everyone was shocked. That's when I decided to become a fan of Newell's Old Boys. That way I could have my "team" but my choice of team would not immediately alienate me from half the people we talked to. At about that same time I had a rather interesting conversation with a child of about 8 years old. My companion and I were talking to his family and all the little kids gathered around to ask "los americanos" some questions. The 8 year old looked at me and asked with great earnestness "What is your team?" I told him I didn't have a team. He thought for a second and came to the conclusion that I didn't understand the question. So he asked the question again. Again I told him that I wasn't a fan of any team. He was not satisfied so he rephrased the question and asked again. At this point I remembered that Newell's Old Boys had just beaten River so I told him that I was a fan of Newell's Old Boys. He gave me a look of exasperation and said, "No. WHAT IS YOUR TEAM! BOCA OR RIVER?!?" I told him that neither one was my team and that I was a fan of Newell's Old Boys. At that point he gave a frustrated sigh and concluded that this delusional American was too stupid and could not speak and understand Spanish so it was useless to continue the conversation.

When people ask me if I am a Republican or a Democrat, or if I am conservative or liberal the image that comes to my mind is that frustrated 8 year-old boy who had to deal with an American that was too stupid to know that there were only two choices and you had to be one or the other.

So, government debt. Government debt is a dangerous thing. It has all the dangers and negative consequences of normal debt, but it carries with it the enforced mandate of government. It is not something that can be done away with without undermining the foundation of government. To fail to honor a debt is to acknowledge that there has been a failure with the person who has the debt. For a government to fail to honor a debt is to acknowledge that the government has failed, which is to acknowledge that the fundamental structure of our society can no longer hold us together. It is quite a scary thing.

The thing to realize with debt (any debt whatsoever) is that the overall effect of debt on out society is to take money from poor people and give it to rich people. That is, debt makes poor people poorer and rich people richer (this is not just a trite saying this is something that has been shown with statistics and computer models of economic conditions, see this link for more information and some references). In computer models where the financial transactions of people are modeled we can reproduce roughly the income distribution that we see in US census records (see below).

As the above graph shows the modeled behavior (black line) closely follows the data from the US census. In these models we find that if we allow for debt (with interest!) then that line gets shifted so that there are more people who are "poor" and the "rich" people get richer (see below).

The end result of debt is to make poor people poorer and rich people richer. In these models if we allow for infinite debt (i.e. no bankruptcy) then the amount of debt that some people have will become infinite  and the amount of money that rich people have will also become infinite. Either way the system become unworkable and it eventually collapses. So how do you counteract the inflationary tenancies of debt? With taxes. Just as the models show that debt (with interest) can be fundamentally unstable, taxes tend to have the opposite effect. As debt makes rich people richer, and poor people poorer, as long as you have a minimally fair tax code (as in everyone gets taxed and then everyone benefits from the taxes), then it has the effect of decreasing the number and wealth of rich people and increasing the wealth of poor people. That is, it moved the bottom end of the curve up and counter acts the negative tendencies of debt.

Up until now I have just been talking about debt in general, which includes mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, education loans etc. But government debt is slightly different. Because it is backed by the thing that creates the monetary system in the first place. While government debt can help in extreme circumstances it has the tendency to act just like normal debt except that now everyone has to pay it, just like a tax. Taxes take money from all sides of the spectrum but it redistributes it in a way that poor people become a little less poor. Government debt is essentially the opposite of taxes. It takes money from everyone and transfers it to rich people (to understand this consider this: How many people who make less than $40,000 have bought a government bond? How many people who make more than $100,000 a year are invested in such a way that they make money off of government bonds? Who ultimately pays for government bonds, including the interest? and who ultimately benefits from the interest generated by government bonds?).

So having a consistent, and persistent, deficit in government spending, and then using the issue of more debt to fund the debt is perhaps the most destructive and immoral thing that can be done to people who can be considered "poor". Government debt is perhaps the only legal and socially acceptable method we have of grinding upon the face of the poor.

If you want to help poor people the best thing that the government can do is to balance the budget. Until you do government debt will make us all poor.

Second, oil.

I don't think we all need to give up our cars and use only *non toxic* non-petroleum products (the non-toxic part is sarcastic). Nor do I think that global warming will get so bad that the earth will punish us with a series of super storms, or that we need to give peace prizes to people who bake up a bunch of facts and scare the easily manipulated. What I am saying is that right now in our history oil tends to cause too many wars. It is an out sized portion of our economy and we should find a way to get along with less of it, if only to decrease the likely hood that we get involved in more wars because of oil.

Third, are the people competent for the job.

The Republican candidate for Secretary of State in North Carolina may be a good neighbor, a good farmer, a good father and a generally good man. But the more I looked into his experience and what he was proposing to do as Secretary of State I don't think he knows what a Secretary of State does. If you look at his campaign website he mentions the most important issues that he "promises" to address. The only problem is that all the things he brings up are things that can be addressed in the state legislature, but not by the Secretary of State. He seems a little confused about what the Secretary of State can and cannot do. I would not vote for him.

There was a similar case for several judges that were on the ballot. In North Carolina the election of judges is non-partisan, but there were two Republicans and one Democrat who were challenging the incumbents for no reason, apparently, other than they were of the opposite party and they wanted to make a partisan race about it (even if they knew nothing about being a judge). I didn't vote for any of them. That doesn't mean I voted for the incumbent, but it means I particularly did not vote for the challengers.

Fourth, basic morality.

Over the last while there is a disturbing trend in our society that belittles and scoffs at basic morality. Anything that might possibly require that someone use self restraint and hold to some "old fashioned" moral principles is roundly dismissed as ignorant and oppressive. I will not go into it in this post, but there is very little that voting can do to counter this trend. Still I look for men and women of good character, who have a desire that others also be men and women of good character.

With those four things in mind I went to vote. I marked my ballot and turned it in. I was number 108 at the polling place that day.

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