All posts filed under: Economics

In Defense of Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend

We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need…A negative income tax provides comprehensive reform which would do more efficiently and humanely what our present welfare system does so inefficiently and inhumanely. ~Milton Friedman I get emotional about facts. ~Andrew Yang Although we are still a long way from the 2020 presidential campaigns, whispers of who the Democratic candidates will be and what policy platforms will be adopted is steadily droning into an orchestra. We can already predict some of the names that are likely to appear on the ballot sheet and the talking points that will be heard on the campaign trail, and it would not be imprudent to suspect the upcoming election will be even uglier and more contentious than the last. While the overwhelming majority of political pundits seem to be pouring their energies into slamming the current president—criticizing old models …

We Can Put an End to State Bidding Wars

In a crashing finale to its corporate headquarters search saga, Amazon announced that it is withdrawing from its commitment to New York. Politicians have responded with mixed reactions, with some hailing the decision as a victory for the middle-class locals who came out in droves against the deal proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. The deal, which was comprised of more than $3 billion in tax incentives for the company, reignited the debate over whether immediate incentives for large corporates were justified by projected taxes down the road. Amazon promised to bring over 25,000 news jobs to the city, as well as additional investment in local infrastructure and school programs. However, the agreement quickly became a political hot-button issue. Many on the left saw it as a giveaway to a multi-billion-dollar corporation when subways lines break down on what feels like a daily basis. Those on the right chided the government for falling prey to crony capitalism. It seemed to be one of the few times that both sides could agree …

What’s Happening to Technological Progress?

Barely a day goes by that we are not confronted with another warning of impending catastrophe. If it’s not another global financial crisis, a nuclear war or Global Warming, the next pandemic is surely going to get us and destroy all we know and hold dear. Until recently, one standard response to such fears was to express belief in the ever-increasing power of technology to get us out of any number of tight spots. Will technological progress keep us going, helping us cope with the challenges that our over-complex societies seem to generate as a side effect? I’m not so sure anymore. Some of those ageing science fiction fans of the baby boomer generation are getting antsy: We were promised robots, as Shorvon Bhattacharya wrote a few years back. Where are those robots now? We’re blinded by incremental progress in electronic gadgets of marginal utility—new smartphones, larger monitors, and more powerful computers. Yet we drive vehicles with internal combustion engines, our electricity is mostly generated in thermal power plants fueled by coal, we are far …

Gillette’s Progressive Politics: ‘Corinthian Leather’ for the Progressive Soul

My father was never a big fan of television—in part because his attention span always has been shorter than your average late-20th-century commercial break. He also would become exasperated by the nonsense claims made by advertisers. We now live in separate cities, so we don’t watch television together. But I can only imagine what his reaction would be to Gillette’s new commercial calling out toxic masculinity. Being a metallurgical engineer (as I, too, would later become), my father was especially irritated by ads for razors. In one well-known spot for the Vintage Stainless Steel Doubled-Edged Blade (this was before my time, but he often talked about it), an actor would be asked to compare a “Personna Stainless, seven shaves old” with another “well-known blade, brand new”—shaving half his face with each. The actor, of course, identifies the Personna as being the more comfortable of the pair. The announcer then hammers home the fact that the Personna prevailed despite being seven shaves old. But that fact was meaningless, my father would tell me (and others), because …

Video Games and the (Male) Meaning of Life

Virtual worlds give back what has been scooped out of modern life . . . it gives us back community, a feeling of competence, and a sense of being an important person whom people depend on. —Jonathan Gottschall When I was seven, my parents bought me and my brother an Atari 2600, the first mass game console. The game it came with was “Asteroids.” We played that game an awful lot. One night, we snuck down in the middle of the night only to discover my Dad already playing. My brother and I loved going to local arcades and try to make a few quarters last as long as possible. It was the perfect set of incentives—you win, you keep playing. You lose, you’re forced to stand there and watch others play, hoping that someone is forced to leave their game in the middle so you can jump in. We became very good at video games. My favorite was “Street Fighter II.” I memorized the Mortal Kombat fatalities to inflict graphic harm on defeated enemies. …

What We Talk About When We Talk About Immigration

My father moved to the UK from Iran in the 1970s to study engineering when he met and married my mother, who is from a small town in the Welsh valleys. Many people from that town would not have met a non-white person before they met my father. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, my parents made the eminently sensible decision that they would build their life together in Wales and not Iran. To this day my father remains the hardest working person I know. He always worked two jobs, became a successful engineer and I recall watching him take part in publicity photos in the 1990s as the first non-white retained fireman in Wales, which he went on to do for 25 years. He is by any measure a credit to his community and can easily be held up as a model for “integration.” However, he is just one person. I sometimes wonder how different things might have been if there had been even one or two other Iranian families living on our street. …

Don’t Get Fooled Again: The Continuing Necessity of Anti-Communism

Socialism is having an unprecedented moment in America: opinion polls show its increasing popularity, especially among youths; membership in the Democratic Socialists of America continues to swell; mainstream publications, such as the Washington Post, publish pieces arguing that it is time to give socialism a try; and academics articulate the merits of taking an anti-anti-communist stance. The root cause of each is the same: all people in all times are concerned with flourishing to the greatest extent possible and in darker times the ever-optimistic views of socialism’s proponents have an attractive force not unlike that of the flame to the moth. As history has shown, this attraction is equally dangerous. Most contemporary socialists—such as Kristen R. Ghodsee and Scott Sehon, in defense of their anti-anti-communism position—do not dismiss the historical crimes of communist states and recognize that “states governed under communist ideology did many bad things.” Instead, they seek to defend Marxist socialism against the charge that it is inherently authoritarian, meaning that all such experiments “will always and inevitably end with the gulag,” and thereby to …

A New Kind of Economy—An Interview with Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang is a 43-year-old American entrepreneur who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020. His campaign focuses on solving the problem of job losses to automation—an issue many politicians seem happy to ignore. Starting right now, Yang wants to create a whole new kind of economy from the ground up, in which automation is transformed from a threat into the foundation for widespread human flourishing. Briefly, his policy proposals include implementing a form of Universal Basic Income (also known as UBI, or what he calls the “Freedom Dividend”), universal healthcare, a “digital social currency,” and a redefinition of GDP that more accurately reflect the health of the nation. If this sounds like socialism then, according to Yang, your thinking about the economy might be antiquated. He contends that the capitalism/socialism spectrum is no longer relevant or useful if we take an honest look at the modern world. The following is a transcription of my phone conversation with Andrew Yang, lightly edited for length and clarity. *     *     * Peter …

Why Assumptions About ‘Rising Inequality’ Are Wrong

The past year has seen a spate of books worrying about the decline of Western liberal democracy. One of the lazy and unexamined assumptions in these books is the idea that “rising inequality” is a causal factor for the current wave of so-called populism witnessed in Europe and America. This cliché is trotted out by writers across the political spectrum. For example, in Why Liberalism Failed, the conservative Patrick J. Deneen points to “a growing gap … between wealthy haves and left-behind have-nots.” In How Democracy Ends, the centre-leftish David Runicman writes, “a driver of populism [is] rising inequality.” Similarly, Edward Luce in The Retreat of Western Liberalism reports in glib and journalistic prose that we live in “times of stark and growing inequality.” The problem with these platitudes is that they bear virtually no relationship to the lived reality of millions of people in the West. I will explain why. Recent Inequality In Great Britain, with changes in the type of work people do, and as capital has been reallocated from manufacturing to services, …

Democratic Socialism is a Scam

When I attended a rally with my family in Little Havana for then-Senator Barack Obama in 2007, our old neighborhood greeted both us and the future 44th president as if we were traitors. Older, conservative protestors yelled “Comunistas!” at us from across the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. We brushed off the attacks because we knew they came from understandably traumatized exiles and, to paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, as Cuban Americans, we know socialism when we see it. Obama was no socialist. In fact, his message resonated with us, in part, because of his emphasis on helping those who were struggling by giving them a hand up, rather than a hand out—that was our story. My mom came to this country shortly before I was born and worked as a social worker while she studied English. The pay wasn’t great, and she sometimes had to work a second job, but the hours were flexible and she had good healthcare benefits for our family. After 15 years, she was able to save enough money …