Category: Politics

Politics

Four Easy Ways to Rein in Federal Spending

By Indri Schaelicke | United States

The United States national debt currently stands at over $21 trillion. Such a number seemed improbable just 5 years ago. Despite such a clear lack of funds, Congress merely continues to create more government programs. This lack of fiscal responsibility will only lead the US into serious trouble in the future. With federal spending only increasing, it is now more than ever imperative that our congressmen step back and look at the negative consequences for long term debt.

Maintaining a large debt for a long period of time has several disastrous effects. The greatest danger, naturally, comes during a recession. In this case, foreign governments with U.S. Treasury bonds may not trust the U.S. to repay them. Thus, a foreign state may demand its loaned money back, which the United States may not be able to pay. The U.S.’s inability to pay back the amount could spark tensions, tariffs, embargoes, or even war.  

Rising debt also means that government will raise taxes more to cover the gap between revenue and expenses. By taking steps to fix the issue now, Congress can balance the budget and keep taxes lower. It is time for Congress to become fiscally responsible and limit federal spending. The process is not difficult, and through these four steps, Congress can be back on track towards federal spending sanity.

1. Close Overseas Military Bases

The US operates over 800 military bases around the world. Only 11 other nations have foreign bases, combining for a total of 70. The sheer number of bases is a clear indicator of the U.S.’s global policeman approach to foreign policy. If the government is to exist, it must focus on protecting the life, liberty, and property of its own citizens. 800 foreign bases are in no way essential to do this.

2. Cut Programs with Wasted Federal Spending

The United States, over the past century, has sought to maintain peace and stability around the world by solving regional conflict. However, as a result, the government has created countless programs that seek to promote American values in areas they are least likely to work. Ultimately, these programs are wasteful and unnecessary.

For example, the U.S. government built a natural gas station in Afghanistan for $43 million dollars. Afghans have no way of using this, because they do not have cars that use natural gas for fuel. Even if they did, the vast majority of them would not have the money to buy or use them. This project was illogical in design, but sadly it is only one of many. Cutting down on these ridiculous programs should gain bipartisan support. It also should not be very hard to implement. Thus, it is a great way to rein in spending.

3. Abolish the Post Office

The Post Office system is an incredibly inefficient quasi-business run by the U.S. government. This past year, USPS reported a $2.7 billion loss, while in the fiscal year of 2017, UPS, a private company, had a revenue of over $65.8 billion. These statistics show us that, in this industry at least, the private sector is much more able than the state. The reason for this, of course, is that a private company has an incentive to make money.

A government-run business like the Post Office can never shut down due to bankruptcy. They can simply get more money from the state, increasing debt. On the other hand, if a private business remains unprofitable for long enough, they will go bankrupt. This “drive to survive” of the private sector also leads to innovation and improvements. This keeps a business competitive in its field, as opposed to a state program, which has no incentive to improve. Private companies must constantly improve to retain their customers, while government corporations will always be around no matter the financial loss they are suffering. It’s time to abolish the Post Office and allow more efficient companies to take its place.

4. End Foreign Aid Programs

Foreign aid programs are yet another example of policies that seek to benefit other states at the expense of our own. The U.S. government’s primary concern should be with the well being of its own citizens, and not with that of other nations’.

Tragically, foreign aid programs often fail to work. Many times, regional warlords obtain the money as soon as the U.S. drops it off. Aid rarely reaches those that need it the most, and in fact often helps those that oppress the needy. Private charity must replace foreign aid. Knowing the money they have is both precious and finite, a private charity often makes a greater effort to ensure that aid ends up in the right hands.

The U.S. may achieve all of these proposed solutions to rampant government spending quite easily. As all are common sense methods, they all, save the last, should receive bipartisan support. They also would not require a lot of legislation to implement. The U.S. must make a serious effort to reign in federal spending to avoid a debt crisis, and these four solutions are a great place to start.


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Bitcoin Is Not Dead

By Spencer Kellogg | @TheNewTreasury

Contrary to popular belief: Bitcoin is not dead. It’s just sleeping a bit. And perhaps it deserves some rest given the parabolic and insatiable rise in valuation and adoption it has seen in its less than 10-year existence. Think about that: 10 years. In the history of money, 10 years isn’t even the blink of an eye. We are still in those early drunken stages of undisciplined poking about in which everyone is set to knock around the darkened room of questions until we find a door that leads us to the next confounding labyrinth. In truth, we haven’t even seen what this thing is capable of yet.

Over 6,000 years ago, humans first developed a system of market exchange: bartering and trade. Seashells, stone tools, teas, salt, spices and anything else that could provide an agreed upon value was used for the peaceful exchange of goods. Horses were domesticated and became a living currency to many of the native prairie nations that roamed the American southwest. It wasn’t until 600BC that King Alyattes of Lydia minted the first currency, a coin of gold and silver with a lion’s head on the front. Today, the mobile phone credit M-Pesa is used successfully as a unit of exchange in the nation of Kenya. Currencies are diverse and linger most reliably in the eye of the beholder. The-First-Coin-2.jpg

– King Alyattes of Lydia Coin

What is a currency? In the Mike Maloney’s brilliant “Money vs. Currency” YouTube series, he defines a currency as “a unit of account that is portable, durable, interchangeable, and divisible.” From its inception, Bitcoin has attempted to answer each one of these demands through an encrypted network of peer to peer users working in a global, peaceful, and pluralistic system of equals. It strives to help humanity in a way that asserts an individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in face of crushing multi-national governments and banking entanglements that far too often overlook the majority’s interest in favor of wealth and power stratification.

Bitcoin is not nearly as anonymous as it probably should be and the speed/costs of using the technology are still too high in relation to other already viable payment options, but these are issues that are constantly discussed and addressed within the community. Sathosi Nakamoto’s currency requires time to reach a consensus and in many ways, this is how all great democracies have functioned; through anxious debate and slow lumbering changes. Tyrannies are those that are built behind bayonets in the dusk of an economic collapse.

In the Genesis Block of Bitcoin, there was a coded message. It read: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.” Created on the heels of the 2008 financial disaster, Bitcoin was a universal, internet-based alternative currency that rejected both the predatory boom and bust cycles of global Keynesian economics and the ‘injection of cash’ theory that modern governments asserted as they bailed out underperforming banks, mortgages and car companies along the way.

CXyH3c0WEAAbs9C.jpg

– The Times of London Newspaper January 3rd, 2009

Today, the United States national debt stands at a staggering 21 trillion dollars and growing. That’s roughly $64,000 dollars for every single American. For what? So that Bank of America could swallow up a few regional branches here and there? So that Chrysler and General Motors could go on making cars? So that we could torch and murder our way through entire nations only to find the chief architect of 9/11 hiding behind shining palace doors in the US-allied nation of Pakistan? I remember people losing their houses, the country is $21 trillion in debt, millennials are saddled with student loan debt and yet the stock market keeps rising. See anything wrong with the picture? Our leaders are happy enough to forget that any of this ever occurred. They are on to the next fundraiser in Iowa to bang the podium for a fat check. It’s all a farce!

What happens when the bill comes due though? Who do you imagine will pay the price? It will be the global majority of underpaid and overworked servants who are expected to answer the call. The ones who ride the ever-growing line between lower and lower economic classes will suffer most. The men and women who are shipped off to meaningless wars made possible by the various centralized banks of untouchable power and wealth. It is always the already weak made weaker by bloated, selfish governments who suffer the final, eager blows. Whether under the crushing weight of a religious text or the pervasive dogmas of 20th-century neoliberalism, the uber-elite of modern governments have held the final say.

Until Bitcoin. Yes, that Bitcoin. That decentralized, peer to peer, free market, global equalist, anarcho-communist, radical syndicalist, definitionless Bitcoin. We, as a global community, have overlooked it again. The real reason we all ended up with private wallets and paragraph long seeds: freedom. The freedom to opt out of the federal reserve notes that have provided the ultra-capitalist lifeline to an empire of war after war while the dollar devalues with greater certainty each passing quarter. Next, they tell us we must build a great military industrial complex in the sky. We just want bread.

This movement is not about the Hong Kong mansion parties. It’s not about crypto famous edgelords who may or may not have received an airdrop in their ether wallet. It’s definitely not about tacky, gaudy, ugly, pompous, gross Lamborghinis either (at least go for an Aston-Martin for God’s sake). Bitcoin is about what we are witnessing in Venezuela where citizens have turned to the cryptocurrency as a store of value while their own nation’s currency has become completely worthless over the course of one year. The people of Venezuela were neutered by a neo-socialist government that did not care for its people’s wellbeing. With Bitcoin, at least the people of Venezuela have the option of another way. rgplbYc8ClSqfqlrGYQSRebtrCg4wRRpjMreNOevEAo.jpg– Genesis Block Of Bitcoin

The cryptocurrency community is in a sort of collective paralysis at the moment. Somber and gossipy, it’s tripping on a heady mixture of hedonism, jealousy, emptiness, and outright fear. Many were later to the game than they really wish to admit and the general consensus feels bearish. For now. The same greed and power that Nakamoto hoped to disembody have manifested themselves into the community where market vampires and juvenile venture capitalists have accrued en masse. They have unlearned, or never learned, the core narrative of Bitcoin’s original intent: a rebellion.

An American and a Russian and a Kenyan and a Columbian and a Pakistani walk into a bar and they all enjoy the same cold beer. That was always Bitcoin’s mission. Not fame or fortune but to bring differing peaceful people to the same beautiful table of ideas. To sit them down and show how much they each have in common with one another when the brutal nationalism of war and economy have been stripped away. To forge a new and humane way forward. The only question is if we are strong enough to do it.


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Trump is Right: NATO is Cheating Us

By Jack Parkos | United States

Trump recently had a meeting with countries in NAT. He was very upset with NATO because many members of NATO had not been paying their fair share, forcing the US to increase spending. When Trump is upset he likes to tweet about it, and boy did he tweet up a storm. Here are some things he tweeted about in the past couple of days:

Trump isn’t wrong on some of this. NATO was founded almost 70 years ago as a strategic alliance against the Soviet Union, with the idea that all countries would work together. But what good is NATO if the United States is one of the only countries paying? Why must we pay the defense of other countries? We basically are defending  Europe and getting nothing for it. This is extremely unfair to the taxpayers, as our debt continues to spiral and their money goes across the ocean.

Before, NATO was anti-USSR. Now it is anti-Russia. We are supposed to protect Germany from getting invaded by Russia, but Germany trades with Russia. If Russia is such a threat to Germany, why would Germany trade with them? Why would you want to help the economy of a country of that is supposedly going to attack you? Essentially, we are sending billions of dollars protecting a country from an invasion that likely won’t happen. Modern Russia isn’t the USSR, there are no signs they want to take over Europe. Why are we protecting Europe? What is the threat?

There may some debate as to whether we should continue to support NATO, but we can all agree that while we are in disagreement we shouldn’t be spending this much on it. We are getting screwed over by other countries.

Trump has bombarded leaders at the meetings. He came out saying a lot has been accomplished and that other countries will pay there fair share and ties to NATO are strong. However, we don’t have many specifics on what went in the meeting. We can only hope for the best.


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Measuring The True Quality Of Human Life

By Craig Axford | Canada

By now, most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Physical needs necessarily come first, followed by the need to feel safe, loved, esteem, and finally self-actualization. These needs are typically visually described as a pyramid, with the most fundamental physical requirements of existence forming the base.

Our physical requirements also happen to be the ones that can be both most easily defined and objectively measured. The availability of food and water, for example, can readily be assessed by scientists and governments. The same goes for the availability of adequate shelter. Things like adequate educational opportunities and access to healthcare are only slightly more subjective and difficult to quantify.

But as we move into the psychological realm of life, things quickly start to get fuzzy. While everyone may be said to have intellectual and emotional needs, or even spiritual ones, everyone defines and satisfies them differently. There is no guarantee that satisfying the physical requirements of existence will lead to emotional or spiritual well-being.

However, we can assert that failing to meet the physical requirements of life will make it extremely difficult, some would even argue impossible, to meet the needs Maslow placed at or near the top of his famous pyramid. As Gandhi once famously said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

Steven Pinker and others have recently spilled more than a little ink describing the objective conditions in which we currently find ourselves. Pinker, in particular, has made a name for himself laying out the facts about contemporary existence which, when compared to life not so long ago, is quite good by just about every measure.

But however real our progress as a species may be, as a felt force in our daily lives it’s a slippery fish that often gets away. Pinker puts it this way in Enlightenment Now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress:

But it’s the nature of progress that it erases its tracks, and its champions fixate on the remaining injustices and forget how far we have come. An axiom of progressive opinion, especially in universities, is that we continue to live in a deeply racist, sexist, and homophobic society — which would imply that progressivism is a waste of time, having accomplished nothing after decades of struggle.

This statement can be seen as somewhat problematic in so far as it’s possible for systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., to remain even within a culture that has made incredible headway in these areas. Indeed, Pinker nowhere disputes the continued presence of these problems. However, talking about systemic problems generation after generation without also drawing attention to the progress society has made risks causing older individuals, in particular, to become somewhat numb. Without a grounding in a broader historical context, there’s a very real danger progressives might be seen as crying wolf because there’s too little regard for how the nature of our systemic problems has changed in response to various policy solutions or public attitudes over time.

In addition, progress is a cursed concept precisely because we live in the present, not the past, and the better things get the more our expectations build. Greater social and technological development too often lead to the emotional equivalent of tail chasing. However, this curse is also a blessing. A few pages later in Enlightenment Now Pinker writes:

The global momentum toward abolition of the death penalty, despite its perennial popular appeal, offers a lesson in the messy ways of progress. As indefensible or unworkable ideas fall by the wayside, they are removed from the pool of thinkable options, even among those who like to think that they think the unthinkable, and the political fringe is dragged forward despite itself. That’s why even in the most regressive political movement in recent American history there were no calls for reinstating Jim Crow laws, ending women’s suffrage, or recriminalizing homosexuality.

Having hopefully forever removed ideas like slavery and denying women the vote from our bin of “thinkable” options, acquired devices we can hold in the palm of our hands that provide access to the equivalent of many millions of Libraries of Alexandria worth of information, and enjoying many more years of health and vigor than ever previously experienced in human history, you would think we would be much happier than we are. But, alas, subjective things like happiness and fulfillment don’t have simple linear relationships with improvements in human life, rights, technology, education, and healthcare.

Even historians and anthropologists that make their living considering the experiences and difficulties faced by our ancestors find it practically impossible to take the long view. That’s because life in 2018 is fundamentally different from life in 1900, 1500, or during the reign of the Caesars. Changing life conditions means changing context.

We’ve all heard someone make the argument that kids today don’t understand the life challenges previous generations had to face. If you’re over 40 like me, you’ve no doubt found yourself increasingly making some version of this argument yourself. While it’s certainly the case that Americans are, on average, largely ignorant of history, this ignorance isn’t the primary driver behind such complaints. Parents and grandparents in other countries where the citizens are often better informed of the past can be heard offering the same grievance.

That the vast majority of our children and grandchildren can no longer imagine a world where virtually everyone became infected with the measles and mumps sooner or later, let alone a cholera outbreak or the depopulating effects of the plague, isn’t an indication of their ignorance, but of their lived experience. While we want everyone to have a basic awareness of our shared history. But the fact is, no amount of education will truly enable someone raised in the modern developed world to understand what it was like to live in a society where illiteracy and disease rather than instant access to news and an abundance of clean water is the norm.

Pinker and others are right that the pessimism they bemoan is overblown. But it’s also an example of people reacting to their circumstances more or less the way they always have. It’s unrealistic to expect someone raised with a car in the garage that’s capable of crossing the continental United States in less than two days to compare themselves to people that had to do it in covered wagons. Even if they are familiar with the exploration and settlement of North America, covered wagons and vast expanses of unmapped, roadless wilderness are simply not part of their day-to-day lives.

The authors and scholars that remind us that our politicians and the news media are blowing things way out of proportion, if not outright lying to us in order to gin up fear in advance of an election or to get us to click on a story, aren’t wrong. Violent crime is way down, war isn’t nearly as common or deadly as it once was, and we’re living longer healthier lives than at any previous point in our history.

However, these scholars do tend to minimize the role human psychology plays in our perception of reality. Even if the press and public officials were more inclined to take the long view of history and prioritize stories of human triumph rather than tragedy or failure, people would still typically take a darker view than the evidence supports. That’s because the friend or family member with cancer is not only an exception to the story that human health has improved tremendously but a close case that touches our lives in ways that defy objective analysis. A sick loved one has far greater salience than the percentage of the population that experiences illness on any given day, let alone at any given point in history. In fact, that many illnesses have become so rare makes it more tragic rather than less when a rare misfortune befalls us or someone we care about.

Politicians, in particular, have a difficult time walking the fine line between what is objectively true and salience. Anyone who stands before an audience that hasn’t seen their wages rise recently, or only just keep up with inflation, is more likely to get votes by feeling their pain and calling the stagnation they’ve been enduring unjust than by pointing out that they are much wealthier than people doing similar work a century ago.

Donald Trump has proven himself a master of dramatizing current suffering at the expense of historical reality. He understands that a family that lost a loved one to a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant isn’t going to care that immigrants, documented or otherwise, are far less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. Likewise, he knows that a crime victim’s story is something voters can relate to far better than crime data. When confronting Trump supporters with the facts, one often receives a reply that reads something like ‘one American that’s the victim of a crime that could have been prevented is one too many.’

Pinker and other contemporary intellectuals do us a service by calling upon us to place things into a broader perspective. Their function is not so much to set the record straight as it is to offer history as a counterweight to the here and now. Even if we can’t truly relate to the world humanity once inhabited, recalling that we did inhabit such a place tempers the emotions modern living inevitably brings to the surface.

Wisdom resides at the intersection of knowledge, reflection, and emotion. When we stray too far down any of those roads alone, the perspective needed to appreciate nuance and accept a little bit of uncertainty into our lives is diminished. If we are presently at risk of losing many of the benefits we inherited from the Enlightenment, it’s because emotion is currently ascendant. Fear is increasingly untempered by reflection and knowledge is derided as elitism. Reflecting a little on contemporary society’s place in history is one sure way to find our way back to a more balanced perspective.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com

Other articles you may enjoy:

Driving Another Nail Into Dualism’s Coffin
Monism, Emergence, & Bridging The Is/Ought Divide


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The Socialist Myth that is Late Stage Capitalism

By Sean Calvert | Canada

Late stage capitalism, or late capitalism, is an idea that has re-emerged in recent years to explain the purported failures of contemporary capitalism. According to this notion, absurdities and failures in the economy are symptomatic of capitalism’s death throes. These perceived failures, however, are not inherent to the system, as many Marxist economists believe, but are rather due to intervention by the state. As for the absurdities, none provide evidence that capitalism is failing.

While Marx himself never used the term late stage capitalism, he did describe what the final stages of capitalism would look like. In volume three of Das Kapital, Marx described how in capitalism’s last stage, market competition would decline as capital centralized in fewer hands. Marxist economists, such as Michał Kalecki, believed that capitalism was inherently monopolistic and that its fate was to move towards a system that would eventually devour itself.

The term “Late Capitalism” can be traced back to Marxist economist Werner Sombart’s work Der moderne Kapitalismus, published in the early 1900s. In this work, Sombart explains that Capitalism developed in three stages: early (pre-industrial revolution), high (the industrial revolution), and late stage capitalism (World War I and beyond).

The term was popularized seventy years later by another Marxist economist, Ernest Mandel. For Mandel, Late Capitalism is characterized by the rise of multinational corporations, consumerism, and globalization. He argued that the last expansionary wave began with the birth of fascism in Europe and the advent of the US and UK command economies during the Second World War. This expansion lasted until 1972 when it reached its limit. Economic stagnation and class struggle followed.

When Mandel was writing, he was witnessing the very end of the post-WWII boom. He believed that the working class would soon rise in a mass, revolutionary movement.  Obviously, this did not happen. The slump did not create anything resembling the conditions that sparked the revolutions in Tsarist Russia.

Contemporary understandings of Late Capitalism have broadened out from the original definition to include all the deficiencies and absurdities of the current economy. These include the destruction of the middle class, the growing gap between the rich and poor, and popular focus on useless goods, such as wifi-enabled kettles.

The “late” in “late capitalism” implies that capitalism is at the end of its age.  Just as Late Antiquity marked the end of the Classical era and the transition to the Middle Ages, so too does late stage capitalism herald both an end and a beginning. Marx believed that the final stages of capitalism would be marked by the rise of the proletariat and the diminishment of the middle class as wealth was concentrated into fewer hands. These three factors, according to Marx, would result in the emergence of a proletarian revolution. Yet history proved otherwise. Crises, such as the Great Depression, came and went, yet there was no revolution.     

Marx predicted that the advent of monopolies would signal the collapse of capitalism. While it is true that large corporations came to control the economic landscape, their dominion is not natural. Economist Horace Gray found that aspiring monopolies would petition governments to designate them as public utilities to protect them from competition. AT&T enjoyed monopoly status until its government supplied patents expired in 1893. By 1907, AT&T’s competitors controlled 51% of the market.

Income inequality is touted as one of the elements of late stage capitalism. Inequality is not necessarily a bad thing – it exemplifies the choice of the individual in a capitalist society. One person may choose to be a schoolteacher and another become a doctor. The income gap between the two is no doubt large, but the two individuals made different choices, leading to different outcomes.

On the other hand, the wealth gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. is growing at an alarming rate. A Bloomberg article found that between 2010 and 2015 the average annual income between the top 20% and the bottom 20% increased by more than $29,000 to $189,000. New York Times columnist David Brooks reports that wealth inequality is greater in the United States than it is in Iran or Russia. Surely this must be a sign that capitalism is in its final stages.

While this is true, the major reason for the channeling of wealth to the super rich is due to collusion among the state, large corporations, and special interest groups. It is called cronyism, and it is inherently against the precepts of free-market capitalism. Corporations lobby the government to create policies, which range from subsidies to protective regulations, which in turn create barriers for new competitors, effectively killing most competition and funneling wealth up the rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. It is not capitalism per se that has funneled the wealth to the top, but the state and its regressive regulations.

It must not be forgotten that capitalism allows more upward social mobility than alternative economic systems. “Oh, but the middle class is shrinking! Marx predicted this!” No doubt this is true in the United States. A Pew Research study showed that between 1991 and 2010 middle-income households fell to 59% from 62%.

Yet acording to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1967, the number of households which have an income of more than $100,000 has increased from 8.1% to 27.7%. In addition, the number of low-income households, defined as those that make less than $35,000, has decreased from 38.7% to 30.2% since 1967. From these statistics, we can conclude that most households are moving up rather than down the income ladder, contrary to what Marx predicted.

Some who believe that we are in late stage capitalism point towards absurdities and irregularities within our socio-economic system. A $1200 margarita is touted as evidence of decadence. Yet a $1200 margarita undeniably targets the exceedingly rich, and should be regarded as a non-issue because consumers have the choice to pursue lower priced margaritas.

Critics of capitalism fail to recognize is that most of capitalism’s perceived shortcomings are, in fact, not intrinsic the economic system. Rather, they are consequences of the anti-capitalist policies of the state that constrict the free market, and in doing so, give rise to the perception that capitalism is on its deathbed.

Mandel waited from 1973 until his death in 1995 for the proletariat to revolt. Yet his wait was in vain.  If capitalism is as unsustainable and as exploitative as many Marxists make it out to be, we would have already seen a revolution akin to the overthrow of Tsarist Russia. For now, and the foreseeable future, free-market capitalism remains the best economic system we have.


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