Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Unionization and An End to Corporate Welfare: Two Great Tastes That Go Great Together

The UAW is attempting to unionize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Republican elected officials are threatening to stop giving out "incentives" in the form of mammoth tax breaks if the union vote succeeds. I don't know about you, dear reader, but to me this sounds like having your cake and eating it too.

There are good reasons to recruit large manufacturers to your municipality. The jobs they create pay good wages; the plants are very "sticky" so the jobs will last a decade if not much much longer; and you can use it to boost an ecosystem of manufacturing employment. But the tax breaks and free land that are the large attractions in these deals are a little unseemly. We'd be much better off if governments focused on providing quality public services that these manufacturers need--education, transportation, management of health care costs--rather than just tossing money from the "Economic Development" slush fund at large corporations.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Racist, But...

As people have noticed, "I'm not racist, but..." very often precedes racist opinions. Anyway, it would be sort of refreshing to see the reverse: "I'm racist, but the mayor ought to take a stand against police harassment of young black men."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Health Care And Ending The War Secure Obama's Legacy, Nick Gillespie. Okay, Pot Would Be Nice Too

I imagine we're going to see lots more frivolous Obama-legacy commentary as his second term draws to an end. But here's a fine entry in the genre from Nick Gillespie, whose Reason article is headlined "Ending the War on Pot is Obama's Best Hope for a Legacy." The earlier Daily Beast version replaces "Best Hope" with "Last Chance". Look, I'd love to see marijuana legalized, and I'd be very happy to see him push towards legalization however he can. But Obama's legacy is already set.

Obama's legacy is health care reform, ending the Iraq War, and his economic role after the financial crisis. (Also Kagan, Sotomayor, and Yellen.) With getting the health care system closer to a government monopoly that can force down prices, we made a big move towards resolving the greatest risk of structural economic catastrophe, where the percentage of GDP spent on health care rises from 18% to even more insane proportions and strangles the whole economy. Really, the legislators are the superstars there, but Obama played his Chris Bosh role behind Harry Reid's Dwyane Wade and Nancy Pelosi's LeBron, and he deserves credit. There are lots of terrible things going on with Afghanistan and drones and such, but the total death tolls and financial cost of the Iraq War were insane in a way nothing else in US foreign policy has been since. And while I'll give Obama not-too-great grades on economic recovery -- I'm with Krugman in thinking he could've done better -- that's going to be a huge part of how we look back on him.

No doubt about this: I'd be very happy if Obama helped us move towards marijuana legalization. Legally prohibiting the use of marijuana is stupid public policy and it should change. Now, I don't think it's as big a deal in prison-related terms as some of our left-wing allies make it out to be. If you want the dour case that marijuana isn't that huge a deal incarceration-wise and in other broad public policy terms, here it is, and scroll down to section III. (Summary: marijuana generates a large proportion of arrests, but not a large proportion of prison time, since tons of people get arrested for possessing marijuana, but they don't usually end up in prison.) I think a weakness of Scott Alexander's analysis is that it leaves out one of the best effects of marijuana legalization: cannabis is a cause of some very pleasant experiences, and people would have a great time smoking it more often. If the high-minded factors he considers come out even, fun would easily tip the balance.

At the end of this, I'm realizing that this post is basically "I totally agree with your cause, but I got annoyed at your overblown rhetorical strategy." So, sorry about that. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December Donations: Deworm The World

Over this month, I plan to give away over $10,000 to the best charitable and political causes I can find.

First off is $2,000 to Deworm the World. Medicine to cure children's parasitic worm infections costs about 35 cents per child. DtW has been working with local governments in India to administer school deworming programs, particularly in the state of Bihar where about 2/3 of children have some kind of worm infection. I've given DtW a lot of money before, and I'm happy to do so again, as GiveWell has recently named them one of the 3 most cost-effective ways to help people.

You can see the thing I wrote previously about Deworm the World here. Since then, a couple things have changed. On the downside, it looks like the "two cents for an extra day of school" thing applied only in one situation where flooding had gotten so many kids so sick with worms that you could actually buy an extra day of school for every two cents donated. That doesn't usually happen. But on the upside, Deworm the World has come under new management that has made a lot more information about what they're doing available, leading to the GiveWell recommendation. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Most Americans Don't Remember JFK's Assassination, Because They Weren't Alive

The median age of Americans is 36.8 years, and from the graph at right it looks like about a third of us are over age 50. So 50 years later, the country is mostly populated by people who don't remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, because they weren't anywhere.

I don't really know how significantly the assassination changed history. Lyndon Johnson was probably the most significant president after FDR, with impressive achievements on civil rights, Medicare, and the War on Poverty, and a disaster in Vietnam. How do all those things go in the counterfactual scenario where Kennedy becomes president? My impression is that his approach wouldn't be too different from Johnson's, but I'm not at all confident about this. If it's true that it would've all gone more or less the same way, the assassination becomes more a moment of Baby Boomer cultural memory than a turning point in the history of anything that matters.