17 July 2012

Quiz it

There's a political quiz here: http://www.isidewith.com
Which appears designed to deal with the problems routinely found in an uninformed electorate voting wildly upon issues that they may or may not care much about for candidates that may or may not actually share those views or act to carry them into law.

I went through and took this. For the most part, I find that the questions lack enough sophistication for more nuanced positions, more radical positions, or more... unique positions.  I have some quibbles with the scoring system as well, but not many. They seemed for instance to properly identify Obama as a drug warrior rather than as a drug-reformer or drug-decriminalisation advocate as is sometimes claimed, nor as an anti-war candidate as was commonly believed during the 2008 election (see Afghanistan), and there doesn't appear to be much "socialist!" idiocy. I also quibble with the fact that there isn't much dealing with the Iraq war or the Libya incursion, at least directly, for foreign policy.

Going through, these would be my more specific responses. (And short version, they didn't get into monetary policy enough for me to greatly distinguish Ron Paul from Gary Johnson and that abortion and immigration had to be relied upon. But both of them crushed everyone else. This should not be surprising)

Foreign policy

Should the US intervene in the affairs of other countries? I picked the "only if it serves national security", which to me read as the proximate statement for "realist concerns benefiting a strong or vital national interest only". That does not include "humanitarian" missions employing military force use for the most part and definitely doesn't include regime changing occupation missions.

How should the US deal with Iran? I went with "Maintain diplomacy while discouraging the use of nuclear weapons" My actual position would be something akin to "continue to attempt to slow development if possible or practicable of actual weapons, and use international law/treaty and diplomacy to enforce non-proliferation rather than military force". I'm not sure what "discouraging the use of nuclear weapons" means in practical terms but it could mean providing a nuclear deterrent against their use (M.A.D style?), or it could mean arms reduction treaties to limit the scope and size of any possible nuclear wars along with disarmament or IAEA/NPT compliance for other countries. Given that there's a lot of preposterous fear mongering relating to Iran's technical capacities for missile launches and conventional payloads (both of which might at best represent threats to Israeli security, for which they are amply supplied to defend or counter by themselves, and neither of which represents any severe danger to American security), I'm guessing that only our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented outright warfare by diminishing the public appetite for additional conflict.   

Should the US maintain a presence at the UN? "Yes". Generally speaking diplomacy is cheap, even if it doesn't always provide gains to us, and as a "great power", we have veto powers to prevent things that we perceive as against our interests from happening through diplomatic means (much as China and Russia do). As a realist, while I recognize the international community won't always function according to legal dictums, it serves our interests to a) appear to go through the motions such that when rare actual forceful actions are necessary, as they might appear to be motivated by more noble concerns and thus shared in by others (obviously this has not been the case in our choice of recent actions), b) to use the existing structure to preserve or achieve power by avoiding tedious and expensive wastes of conflict for our blood and treasure by securing interests in other ways, and c) to provide diplomatic channels to secure and demonstrate alliances of convenience to hegemonic power or to cushion the decrease in relative power to a multi-polar world.

Should the US end the war in Afghanistan? "Yes". I also went with a stronger constraint on the War Powers Act, such that wars should be declared more affirmatively by Congress and only carried out by the CINC powers of the Presidency. Drone warfare should be included in this, even if it has more vague powers of declaration associated with it. The idea that "military leaders" should be allowed to determine whether any political or national interests are served by continuing a conflict is totally ludicrous to me. They can tell us whether those missions of vital interest could be carried out, what resources are required, and engage in military discipline and strategic planning with some latitude, but deciding whether or not to stay in a country for us? Stupid.

Should the US continue to support Israel? "No". In so far as we should provide aid if they were attacked and invaded (foolishly) by a rival country, fine. I can see that argument, much as we might if Western Europe or Australia were attacked by some (largely fictional) enemy. Those scenarios are extremely unlikely given the relative power of any allied military to their enemies for possible invasion (even South Korea could win against North Korea rather handily, just the terribly high cost of civilian infrastructure and population in the South prevents such a conflict). I can see arguments for sharing intelligence on terrorist networks for global purposes also. In so far as we should unilaterally or even tacitly support whatever Israeli policies are internally, or projected into Palestinian occupied territories, no.

How should the US handle the genocide in Sudan? "Don't get involved". I'm not sure how our involvement would or could resolve the situation. See Kosovo or Somalia for how interventions don't work out. Or Libya for a more recent example. Sudan also sounds like less of a regime matter and more a local tribal conflict that the regime has exploited and expanded, and which would require a very considerable investment on our part to dial down successfully (essentially a large occupation/peacekeeping force positioned for an indefinite period and effectively supporting one or more of the rival factions). To boot, the US does not have substantial diplomatic ties with the current Sudanese government on which to carry any influential weight as it is in the Chinese or Russian sphere of influence. Official US policy should be non-intervention. Private citizens may lobby the Chinese if they want as was done with a modest success in the South Sudan situation.

Should the United States end its trade embargo and travel ban on Cuba? Generally I am opposed to embargoes on any country. The type of country which a trade ban or boycott or other restriction is likely to have useful effect is likely to be the sort of country we are unlikely to use such things against (that is: a country with a democratically accountable government and a large developed economy). There are types of embargoes that may more penalise the intended targets (such as by trying to track and freeze the assets of corrupt regime leaders when moved to foreign and aligned countries, which limits opportunities for investment and growth of those private assets), but wide scale embargoes accomplish little but to impoverish, even starve or otherwise endanger, the general public of a rival country at the expense of providing a cheap propaganda point on which a dictatorial leader may rally support against our initiatives. For no probable gain on our behalf. Eg, they are counter-productive. It is sensible that US interests may be served by limiting military technology or friendly espionage with rival countries, but this is not what the trade and travel bans intend. Trade and travel restrictions should really only be used during a time of active war and conflict.


Should children of illegal immigrants be granted citizenship? I went with "yes if they were born here." In general I see citizenship as distinct from open borders policies for residency or trade and labour. People should want to definitively associate themselves as "Americans" to participate fully and for civic purposes in our society as citizens. But in so far as it would then be necessary to make distinctions from current American citizens being born here instead of just getting citizenship, I don't see any reason to make such a distinction to shut off immigrants receiving citizenship at birth in the same way that other residents do.

Should illegal immigrants be given access to paid health care? "Yes". Medical ethics demands this to some extent. I am not convinced that this is a substantial driver of costs (The "ER use" mythology is very powerful). Essentially I think the same arguments against immigrants being denied care would have to apply to any poor person or anyone who lacked insurance, etc.

Should illegal immigrants working in the US be granted temporary amnesty? Again, yes. I would prefer some combination of the following: auctioning off work visas to businesses rather than requiring businesses to prove need, increased allowances for entrance through this means, and especially a simplified means of accessing citizenship rather than extension hoop jumps we use now. We are generally enriched by immigration for cultural and economic reasons and I don't see a reason to reduce this enrichment by worrying about boot millions of people out of country.


Do you support the Theory of Evolution? I suppose this is a proxy for other social conservative value assessments. (Eg, a way to provide additional emphasis to anti-gay or anti-abortion stances). Otherwise, I'm not sure what filtering value this question serves. Being anti-rational or anti-humanist isn't exactly an unpopular political view in the US, and is actually something that takes the format of being influenced by other political ideological views. Liberals end up being more likely to take views opposing GM foods or vaccinations or nuclear power with more seriousness because they hold anti-corporate views just as social conservatives take creationism and abortion and homosexuality with more seriousness than the science would indicate is deserved because of faith-based views. 

Should the federal government fund stem cell research? If the grant proposals involved in such research are very promising, I suppose a case can be made here. I'm skeptical that this is actually the case for much stem cell research that the government needs to be encouraging it in some special way that the private market doesn't have incentives to do already. The question here also simplifies the disparity between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells; which is where most social conservatives seem concerned, though for my purposes, it doesn't matter. I'm opposed to subsidizing this sort of thing not on moral grounds but on economic grounds. There are more promising or more directly practical lines of medical and genetic research available to lavish with public monies.

Should the US increase our space exploration efforts and budget? Other than satellite surveillance or communications, or things like GPS, I'm not convinced the US requires a public space programme. If private enterprise wants to do space tourism, exploration, or maintain orbital platforms for their own use, I'm fine with that. I don't think this should be a NASA centric effort and there are other ways to exhort Americans to take up the cause of science and mathematics in ways that they presently do not.

Health Care

Should marijuana be legalised in the US? Yes. With the additional requirements of a) a regulated open market, including possible medical uses for anyone and recreational use for adults and b) the reduction or elimination of criminal penalties for nonviolent offences associated with marijuana (or other narcotic substances).

Do you support the PPACA (Obamacare)? There really wasn't a good response here. My preference is a universal catastrophic coverage system provided by the government in exchange for taxes or mandated medical savings, basic subsidies for people who are poor or lower income or medically disabled, and then open it up from there to anyone who wants first dollar coverage or augmented elements to the private insurance market (which should be cheaper to provide if catastrophic care is augmented with government payments). This idea is some version of Singapore, Wyden-Bennett, and to some extent the Ryan plan. This also feeds into the next question...

Should we expand or dismantle our medicare programme? To which I would reply dismantle. It is an unsustainable economic model in the American polity to ask poorer working young people to pay for the health care of richer retired old people. Asking working people to pay for health care for poor people might be a justifiable system. Asking them to pay for the elderly on the basis of an arbitrary retirement age being reached is stupid. This idea should be phased out, starting with means testing benefits, then a general overhaul of medical insurance structure such that people when they retire ought to have some amount of funding available for their own needs privately held (eg, mandated HSA style accounts). This is but one example of vast transfers of wealth from poor to rich within our system (Home mortgage interest deductions are another), an idea which is both socially unjust and economically unsustainable.

Domestic policies 

Do you support increased gun control? I am opposed on some general liberties and Constitutional rights, and am agnostic about the efficacy of gun control setups that have been used. Some were genuinely bad and counterproductive, others seem to have at least "noble" goals and had minimal harm on the public they were enforced against (assault weapon bans for instance or constraints on ex-felons or mentally ill). I am however not all that fond of a social mindset that sees guns in the home and on one's person as essential. I just don't see that there are many sensible legal ways to restrict this attitude. Other than to make it less feel less essential (eg, make people aware that crime is rare, for instance, for most of us). So "no".

Do you support the Patriot Act? There are probably some provisions in there that were or are still of actual utility (some position of unified intelligence and intelligence sharing between various bureaus for example, if they were ever to use such a system might be beneficial. They do not appear to have done so very efficiently). But most of it read like a laundry list of law enforcement wants that exceeded Constitutional mandates, and offered little actual anti-terrorism effects. The general effect of security theater policies, especially in the formation of the Homeland Security cabinet position and the arbitrary methods of the TSA, does little to inspire confidence that other government provisions were of any necessity either. So "no".

Should the government regulate the internet to deter online piracy? Generally no. I am opposed to stronger intellectual property rights defenses, and support weakening of public domain laws and patent trolling powers. I do think that piracy of movies and music, along with video games, is a legitimate concern for those industries, but it does not appear to cause sufficient harm to their abilities to make creative works, distribute them, and to profit by them. Indeed, piracy itself seems heavily related to either a) distorted price controlled markets or b) items of considerable popularity. That is: something being pirated a lot ought to tell us that something is really, really popular already and is probably already making a lot of money. It would better if people weren't pirating it.. but the music industry finally seems to have twigged to resolving a partial solution by using digital distribution methods like itunes, and movies or TV shows will eventually concede to things like Netflix streaming or ala carte cable subscriptions as a method of generating revenues for consumption of their works. These methods do not eliminate piracy, but seem to alleviate it by offering ways to buy into the market and participate as a consumer without the old methods of having to consume entire albums, or to purchase on reserve copies of DVD/Blue-Rays for movies and shows that we may enjoy but probably don't want to own.

Are you in favor of decriminalising all drugs? Yes. As with marijuana, the problem is generally medical, not legal. It should be treated as such rather than as locking up addicts and providers with no other basis. I am skeptical that mere possession ought to be a basis for sending people off to drug treatment centres either (seems like a wasteful lack of filtering), but this is quite a bit better than locking such people up in prisons and jails and implementing invasive and aggressive police tactics to deal with non-violent criminals. If drug dealers are killing each other or their violence and aggression challenges a neighbourhood for other reasons, we should naturally be concerned. But just selling and possessing and using things ought not to automatically concern us.

Should we limit federal funds to public schools that do not meet performance standards? If we had some means of school choice, I should think this would be handled by parents and markets without need for federal decisions for implementing standards based testing that is probably counterproductive to providing a broad based general k-12 education and lacks effective enforcement methods at this time. I see several problems with this: one the current methods are ineffective, two, it's difficult to present what federal standards ought to be, or a basis for why they should override local or state standards, and three, who monitors these standards and how is a punitive method by reducing funds to a trapped school district a means of effectively improving the quality of education available to students and parents in that neighbourhood or city?

Do you support affirmative action programmes? "No, but we should offer social programmes to address poverty regardless of race or ethnicity". I see this as far more useful than automatic assistance to ethnic minorities. Given that there are disproportionately poor minorities, poverty based assistance would still provide substantial racial disparity in public benefits, without assisting people who have limited need of our public aid. The "sin of slavery" is an important historical reference point, but it should be possible to redress it by alleviating poverty and opportunity inequalities in occupation and education for all people.

Environmental issues

Is Global warming a threat to the environment? Yes. But I'm not sure what government plans would do much to help with it. The US already is among the largest reducers of CO2 reduction in the developed world for example by way of reducing CO2 intensity in our economy. Without much in the way of direct intervention and in spite of still substantial government largess for fossil fuel production (coal and oil) and use (highway subsidies rather than congestion pricing). There are existing government policies that should be abolished that may be exacerbating the problem as a result rather than a pressing need for additional government policy. A carbon tax or congestion pricing or gasoline tax would be probably sufficient if more action is necessary after those actions are taken (in exchange for reductions in other taxes at the federal or local level). A greater emphasis on densification rather than current policy favoring suburban settlement would also help (ideally we would do little to encourage either. Better schools and lawns provide incentives to live in the burbs, while access to culture, "public" transit, and other creative class benefits should provide incentives to live in cities).

Should we expand our offshore drilling? Generally speaking we should stop promoting it with additional support in the form of subsidies but other than basic regulation of environmental damage, I'm not sure we should be preventing it either. Without government support, it's possible these would still be economically useful to energy companies, but I'm not concerned if that were to be the case or not. The government should neither support nor oppose much offshore drilling.

Economic issues

Should the government raise the federal minimum wage? No, the federal government should abolish federal min wage standards altogether. These have the effect of depressing low skilled employment. Competition among such jobs would ensure that wages would not be "too low". What would be of greater importance is a general welfare reform that takes on the format of a universal basic income or negative income tax, such that people would receive transfer payments in cash rather than most in-kind forms of assistance for housing, food, and to some extent health care, etc. This would remove some of the inefficiencies in the design of these programmes such that they would not "phase out" when people cross income thresholds and allow people to earn additional income without fear of losing essential public benefits. 

Should Congress raise the debt ceiling? Yes. My preference is for Congress to reign in spending of all kinds and conduct an extensive tax reform. Since it won't do those things, I would prefer we not default on debts. Any ideas that we can cut spending without touching defence, and entitlements are absurd as is most "balanced budget amendment" talk. This is pandering rather than solutions. That money is already effectively spent and accounts for the overwhelming percentage of our expenses.

Should the US have bailed out the major banks during the financial crisis of 2008? Not as such. What should have been done was a NGDP target, or at least an inflation target that the Fed actually tried to hit, combined with a negative interest rate on reserves. This might have meant that some big banks would fail, or be broken up, but it would have discouraged hording of money by large institutions of all kinds (regular corporations for instance) at a time when the economy required liquidity and a higher velocity of money. Simply giving money to businesses that made very poor decisions does acknowledge some amount of government complicity in those decisions (eg, that they were encouraged to make them), but it doesn't do much to resolve the underlying problem that they were in fact poorly run institutions that made stupid decisions.

Do you agree with President Obama's 2009 stimulus plan? They probably should have provided more specifics here, but in general the answer was no. Things like unemployment compensation to some reasonable extent are uncontroversial in my view. And the sort of ad hoc manner that states would balance budgets by slashing payrolls in police or teaching would not be carried out in the most effective manner (by firing and retiring ineffective or abusive members of those institutions for example; partly because the methods of dismissing public employees are already fraught with legal complexity). But infrastructure spending is by now fraught with all manner of complicating and competing regulation fights that make it inefficient stimulus and to boot wasn't in most cases all that well designed to get projects of necessity off the ground. An ideal infrastructure stimulus programme involving infrastructure could have been to improve and maintain the already existing infrastructure rather than to supply incentives to produce more.  Of an often dubious utility. This would have had the advantages of more immediately providing work to people in a heavily displaced economic sector and providing some benefits in a more functional road network, efficient electrical grid, or updated water or sewer lines, some of which date to the 19th century, and so on without the need for boondoggle projects in high speed rail or subsidized clean energy.

Should the federal government subsidize farmers?
Nope. Next question.

Should we keep or dismantle our Social Security programme? I think this can function as a mandatory retirement savings system if reformed. It is less economically insane than medicare for example that old people should draw an income in their retirement than that we should then also provide medical care for all such people. I am however very skeptical that it should be monopolized and run by the government to the exclusion of other options (in the same way that I do not think a monopoly on schools is satisfying to the public externality of providing a quality education). Some variety of asset distribution or private control would be preferred here. Arguments like "look what happened to the stock market" do not concern me much here. In general that bashed the public's retirement assets because people who are retired shouldn't have very much money left in stock anyway and the problem was financial illiteracy and complexity of financial instruments. That is a separate if related issue but one which isn't as easily resolved as the relative freedom to do with money as we see fit money which is designated to be our own at a later date. Note: that could include investment in public bonds or allowing the government to manage the money in exchange for a possibly lower return on investment.

Do you believe the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 should be extended? They should really also be called the Bush tax cuts of 2010 and, probably 2012. But okay. The answer is I don't care about the Bush tax cuts one way or the other. My real concern with the tax code is that it should be simplified and greatly reformed. A general tax structure in my ideal world would include any or all of the following:
A huge reduction or elimination in all federal corporate taxation combined with both
A relative increase in the rate of capital gains and dividend earnings taxation to be closer to that of regular wage income (retaining the same sort of progressivity, and thus ending the private equity trader exclusions of carried interest also and the absurd manner in which middle class stock earnings can be taxed at regular rates while actual investment income is not)
And elimination of most forms of corporate welfare

An overall shift toward consumption taxation, possibly with a graduated effect from earnings potential (again, including capital gains type earnings) and income excluded from taxation for basic needs. This might include a VAT, carbon or gasoline taxes, other excise taxation (alcohol, narcotics, expensive first dollar health care insurance, etc). It could also included a heavily modified (less regressive scale) version of the Fair Tax proposals generally replacing income taxation of any kind.

Abolition of many tax exclusions like home mortgage deductions combined with a roughly flatter and lower overall tax rate on the increased base of money available to be taxed (this is essentially what was done during the Reagan years but not during the Bush years and also during the Kennedy and Coolidge administrations). 

No tax proposal is going to actually abolish the IRS. A bureau will exist to enforce tax laws and collect revenues. It might be smaller, and it might have very different mandates to carry out, perhaps against different sectors of the economy than the manner of taxing income. But the tax men are still going to exist. Sorry to disappoint.

Social issues.

Should abortion be outlawed in the US? No. I am persuaded that varieties of birth control access (making it OTC for example would help in addition to subsidies or cash transfers for the poor), more comprehensive sex ed, streamlined adoption methods, and other social services could actually help achieve the purported goal of reducing the likelihood and frequency of abortions. Bans would also reduce these but at the cost of increasing risks to women's health through illegal markets for provision of abortion and decreased ability to carry out medically necessary abortive procedures for the preservation of a woman's life as well as carrying enforcement costs, probably through invasive and insensitive police tactics made necessary to insure things like miscarriages are not actually abortions, etc. If the goal is actually to reduce abortions, there are better ways than by imposing enormous limitations on the liberty of women to conduct their health and sexuality (with no such restrictions imposed upon men), both for personal liberty and economic reasons I oppose bans even before entering into other moral arguments. There I favour allowing people to make complicated moral decisions themselves without fear of penalty so long as the harms committed to other human beings are limited. I am further persuaded that there is little moral certainty or clarity  that fetal and embryonic development is a "person" endowed with unalienable rights and much scientific evidence to suggest otherwise through the persistence of pregnancy difficulties in other formats, like miscarriages and failures to implant fertilized embryos in the uterine walls, to suggest that nearly any time frame of "person" prior to birth is inherently arbitrary. Positions of viability are possibly instructive as providing points of limitation and restrictive access, but not total bans.

Should gay marriage be allowed in the US?  Yes. Federal policy should be amended to provide federal legal benefits in accordance with state laws and licensing at the very least. It is also possible that federal policy should need to be amended under equal protection clauses in the 14th amendment such that ALL states would need to legalise such arrangements but I am content that demographic change on this issue will suffice to provide it in the near future to enough US residents and citizens as to make it universally approved.

Should the government require health insurance companies to provide free birth control? In general I oppose the government mandating what insurers must provide. I think the government's role here would be to provide sound scientific or transparent evidence that provision of particular methods, medications, etc is medically sound and reasonably cost effective such that insurers ought to do this. But I don't see why, say, a woman in her 50s should be receiving an insurance plan that automatically covers birth control (maybe there's some medical reasons, but it wouldn't be what we traditionally associate with the drugs and devices) simply because the government has decided that insurance companies need to provide it. I also disagree with first dollar insurance for health care more broadly anyway and think of things that are usually only modestly expensive and regular expenses (check-ups, birth control, etc) to be things that we ought to simply budget for yearly rather than to expect anyone else to pay for us. It ought to be reasonable socially or culturally to expect men and women to share the costs of provision while in a regular sexual relationship also. As an additional step, birth control of many varieties could be made OTC, which would render it cheaper and more accessible to millions of women, men, and their families or significant or occasional others by eliminating a largely extraneous step of seeing a doctor to obtain it. Women with specific and significant health risks could be filtered out by pharmacists issuing the drugs, prior consultations with doctors,etc (and the primary risks of note are "do you smoke?") without imposing costs on the vast majority of the population.

Where this became an issue politically was not mentioned in the question. The problem is that many Americans receive their insurance through their employers and employers then get to exercise their own moralising impulses upon their employees types of plans. I do not see a basis for preventing people from opting out of mandates of this kind (as opposed to more general mandates for health care provision of any kind), nor for preventing them from accessing types of care and coverage that they find perfectly acceptable when they work with or for people who do not feel likewise. The problem is more the employer provision in my view here and less the mandates.
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