Categories
Economics

Saturday Morning for Basic Income

On Saturday morning we took a trip over to the building of my opponent, incumbent Jerry Nadler, to take part in the Income Movement‘s push for basic income. Needless to say Jerry was not there. We spoke to a few people who liked Jerry, but also were interested in hearing about basic income.

As foot traffic was slow, we moved to Broadway and had some interesting conversations there. One with an ardent Jerry supporter, maybe even a staffer. What about basic income, or the Jones Act, or housing and safer streets? No we need to get rid of Trump! Well yes, but has Jerry done that?

I also talked to a Republican (a rarity on the Upper West Side) who didn’t basic income because she thinks income should be earned. I agree income should generally be earned. But many of the people earning their income in March are now are unable to do so through no fault of their own. Disruptions like this are why I support basic income – to get people through the rough patches.

My most interesting conversation was with a woman from the Bronx, a NYCHA resident who is absolutely sick of the neglect her complex is getting. I suggested an opinion which is not always popular: that the solution is not pouring more money down a broken system, but building an abundance of housing, so that rents go down and if your landlord is neglecting you, you give them the finger and move across the street. I was preaching to the choir. We had a good conversation.

Categories
Economics

What if the Yankees went #BuyAmerican

Joe Biden seems intent on continuing Donald Trump’s #MAGA campaign (oh but the phrase #BuyAmerican sounds so much nicer). Even Jacobin Magazine is calling him out (okay they’re calling Trump out but SSDP):

“Buy American” campaigns have historically done more to intensify xenophobia than improve workers’ conditions.

As the Who song Don’t Get Fooled At tolls in my head, I reflect on who the Yankees would lose if they did #BuyAmerican:


They’d lose half their potential starting rotation, their star closer, and more than a third of their starting lineup. Would that make the Yankees better?

Players we’d lose around the league include Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, and Shohei Ohtani.

The historical icons we’d have to erase is a long list but includes Mariano Rivera, Rod Carew, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramizez, Ichiro, Juan Marichal…

Like baseball teams, American consumers are best off when they have the right to access the best the world has to offer at the best price. And remember that many of those consumers are firms — if they’re hampered by MAGABuyAmerican requirements, they lose competitiveness. Without those requirements are American firms going to wilt? Somehow I think Apple, Microsoft, Google and Tesla will be just fine.

Do MAGABuyAmerican restrictions save jobs? Unlikely. Look how the quintessential MBA reg, the Jones Act, has destroyed our shipping industry. And when the government is overpaying to meet some amorphous expensive local content requirement, it builds less. Builds less means you get less bridges and workers get less bridge building jobs. Lose Lose Lose.

Don’t get fooled again.

Categories
Economics

Stretch that Basic Income

Is a free-market economist supporting basic income a contradiction?  Hardly.  Milton Friedman supported it.  When you think about it, basic income is the perfect complement to the free-market economy, which creates social wealth and is eliminating poverty, but is also very disruptive.  Basic income as part of the free market should be as controversial as skydiving with a parachute. 

In 2020, can we afford a basic income which covers life’s basic necessities? (I’m not talking living large — you have to work for that.) I’m not sure, but I know how to get there: relentless cost-cutting to make the necessities of life as cheap as possible.

This is happening on the grand scale of things.  And I notice it more and more for everyday expenses. I pay $240/YEAR with Mint Mobile and get 8GB 4G data. Previously I paid $40/month with T-Mobile for 2GB data.  My new sub-$200 Xiaomi phone is much closer to top of the line than my previous $300 Motorola was.  Act used to sell me 3 bottles of fluoride mouthwash for over $20. Now I can get 4 for $16 from Amazon (Act has since lowered its price too). From Halloween costumes to cloud computing services and web hosting for my campaign, prices continue down.

One area where costs are cratering (and quality, measured as less pollution, is improving) is energy. The inexorable price declines in renewables could save the average American hundreds of dollars per month in lower heating, transport, and power costs. The cost of anything needing energy to produce (ie most everything) will also fall. And less pollution means less healthcare spending on things like asthma.

Unfortunately, one area where costs are not going down is most people’s biggest monthly expense: housing.  Why?  Because we of very restrictive policies on building housing, from zoning to preservation to NIMBY lawsuits, which limit the amount of housing we build and make building more expensive.  In New York City for instance, we’ve built less housing in each of the last five decades than during the Great Depression.

Covid has shown us how quickly rents can fall when supply exceeds demand.  Covid is a demand destruction story, but a supply boom has the same punchline.  In the 1920s when you had that huge NYC supply spike, prices fell so much that when rent control lapsed, nobody cared! 

Let’s get rid of these regulations, keep our markets free and competitive, and let relentless cost cutting stretch our incomes.  I look forward to the day when the average American can adequately pay for the basic necessities of life, including rent, with a basic income.  Sounds fantastic? In 1900, 40% of our population were farmers, meaning we needed 40% of our nation’s labor just to feed everyone.  Today we do it with less than 1%.  With ever accelerating technology, automation and productivity gains, there’s no reason we can’t pummel our other everyday expenses, so everyone knows they are covered even during the rough patches.

Categories
Economics

Qualified Immunity and Software Development

What does qualified immunity have to do with software development?  Not much.  But a couple of bills to end qualified immunity illustrate different approaches to getting things done that a software developer would have opinions on.

What is qualified immunity? It’s a doctrine that shields government officials from misconduct charges.  Like many government regulations, its has mutated well beyond its original intent. Now it shields police and other government officials from theft, violence, wanton destruction and even murder.

There are currently at least two bills to end qualified immunity in Congress. Libertarian Justin Amash has sponsored one with Democrat Ayanna Pressley.  It quickly garnered widespread  support from progressive Democrats including Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar and even  Republican Tom McClintock.  The bill is four pages long. It deals with qualified immunity and only qualified immunity.

Not to be outdone, the House democratic old guard launched their own bill, the Justice in Policing Act.  This bill deals with at least 10 different issues and has 57 different subsections. 

Software Developer Take

What is a software developer to make of these proposals?

Among the principles which make software development successful are incremental development, granularity and loose coupling, and quick feedback loops.  These suggest that, barring compelling dependencies, it’s better to deal with a set of problems as small independent pieces.

Do the provisions of the Justice in Policing Act depend on one another?  Provisions include qualified immunity, banning chokeholds, establishing a national police misconduct registry, prohibitions on racial profiling, body camera regulations, and others.  Would ending qualified immunity help even if passed without the other provisions.  Yes, and I think we can say the same for the other provisions. 

But not everyone thinks so, and since the provisions are coupled together in one bill, there is no chance the bill will pass. Meaning we are currently unlikely to get any federal police reform whatsoever.

Incidentally because of Republican opposition, the qualified immunity bill is also unlikely to pass. But some provisions such as the police misconduct registry have bipartisan support and could pass standalone.  Getting these provisions into law would give us feedback and make clearer what needs to be done next.  It would in no way prevent later reconsideration of contentious issues like qualified immunity.  It would be MUCH preferable to getting nothing done.

But I guess bills like the Justice in Policing Act are how Congress works.  Seems that introducing bills with no chance of passage, but which set you apart from the other side, is much more important than getting things done — which has the additional risk of upsetting constituencies.  That’s how Congress works, but not how Congress should work.  Might I make the humble suggestion we need more software developers in Congress?

Categories
Economics

A big dollop of government, or small

The divide between big and small government supporters is often portrayed as those on the left want more government and those on the right want less (or at least they used to claim this).

Is this true though?  Who wants more or less of the following?

  • Military
  • Foreign wars
  • Corporate handouts
  • Fossil fuel subsidies
  • Farm subsidies
  • Prisons and criminalization of victimless non-crimes
  • Licensing regulations

I would think most on the left would join traditional economic conservatives in wanting LESS government spending and involvement in those activities (as do I).  Which is why I urge those on the left to go after this spending FIRST, before clamoring for more taxation.  We may need more taxation, but if it means we just continue spending on things that are not only wasteful, but actually harmful, what’s the point?

I have a list of other government regulations which help no one but the special interests and politicians who feed off of them.  Whatever your political leanings, I think you’ll agree they don’t serve the people and need to go. I hope you’ll join me in my campaign to Simplify.

Categories
Economics

Foley Square Protests

I went to the George Floyd protest in Foley Square yesterday. Unlike Brooklyn, it ended without violence(though I did see two arrests).

When I arrived at 3:15pm, the protesters where concentrated in Foley Square chanting. The police were lined up across the street. Chants ranged from “I can’t breathe”, to “Black Lives Matter”, to “Fuck the Police”. Every now and then the chanting would stop and someone would speak, but it was hard to hear over the noise from the helicopters above. As the chanting continued, another column of protesters marched in. The police observed, but let them pass.

I did see at least one incident of a police woman giving what appeared to be hand sanitizer to a protester. I also saw a beefy out of uniform cop having a cordial conversation with a black photographer, but it seemed like they knew each other.

I moved across the street and was watching near the courthouse steps on the other side of the police cordon. Occasionally someone would stray into the street, and one of the three women cops near me would mechanically tell them to go on the sidewalk. Traffic continued to flow.

Then the crowd spilled into the street. There was a moment of tension when cops and protesters mingled together. Clearly previous instructions to keep people on sidewalks were not going to have effect. Luckily, a couple of white shirts stepped in and pulled their officers back. I tried to thank one of the white shirts for the skillful de-escalation, but he barely looked at me.

The crowd lingered then moved north. The police followed at a distance. As we got to the Criminal Court building, police formed a cordon to keep people from entering the building, though I doubt anyone in the crowd had that intent. Protester were getting very close to police and yelling in their faces. Chants rose up of “white cops are guilty”, “black cops are guilty”, “silent cops are guilty”, and “NYPD suck my dick”. The police remained stony-faced and eventually the crowd moved south and took a left on Leonard Street.

When I got there, a bunch of cops started taking out truncheons from the police vans and looked like they were forming up to jump the protesters further down the street. They had that look on their face like they were ready for action. But eventually they moved in the other direction and some of the vans drove off. I can only wonder if they were headed to Brooklyn and the demonstrations there prevented violence here. There were a couple of cops in front of an SUV where the mass of the thinned out demonstrators remained. One of them, a tall muscular guy with a crew cut, was jawing with protesters with a smirk on his face. Maybe not the best guy for job, but besides the smirk, he stood unmoving, almost as if at attention, and no violence resulted.

Similar confrontation at the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge, protesters venting their anger at cops, mostly silent, a few not paying attention, but most with a look of resentment peering out from their stony faces. Was this resentment at being blamed for something they also found disturbing, or the fact they were being restrained, or simply that no one likes to get yelled at?

As I headed to my bike, many of the police officers “guarding” the subway entrances were bunched up and on their phones. A couple officers were ogling a pair of young women as they walked by. When I made eye contact, one of the officers gave me a knowing smile. Not that I’ve never been guilty of this, but seemed unfitting for the occasion. But maybe this is the face of many (most) of the officers of NYPD. They just want to put in their hours, enjoy any simple pleasures they can, and go home.

NYPD showed restraint. I even saw a couple interactions with protesters that almost seemed friendly. Not quite the community engagement one might hope for, but there was no violence and no property destruction, and I hoped NYPD had learned a little bit about restraint and de-escalation. In the evening I saw all the shit that happened in Brooklyn and realized this was wildly optimistic.

Categories
Economics

An Immigrant Song

Immigration – Challenges For New Americans – Page 2 – Legends of ...

I was born in St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City, the Philippines during a Halloween typhoon. My mother, a Westinghouse Science Talent Search finalist who probably would have gone to Harvard or Yale had that been allowed back then, was teaching math in the city of Baguio when she met my father. We arrived in New Rochelle, New York several months later.

On my mother’s side, I am a mix of various Northern European countries. My maternal grandfather, Royal Davis, was descended from Welsh Quakers who came over with William Penn, yes the guy who put the Penn in Pennsylvania (wuh!), and by extension…Pennzoil (I think). He married Marion Goodkind, his fellow student at the Ethical Culture School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. On the maternal side, she was of Alsatian Jewish descent, her family having emigrated after the Franco-Prussian War since the patriarch didn’t want his sons serving in the Prussian Army. But they couldn’t escape the Germans completely and ended up intermarrying with the eponymous Goodkinds.

I got to meet my Pilipino relatives in 1979, when we took a 3-week trip to Japan and the Philippines. The country was in the throes of the Marcos dictatorship, but everything seemed fairly orderly for a kid. I’m sure I saw poverty, but I don’t remember it. The trip from Baguio to visit my grandparents in Bontoc — a cold nighttime trek in an open truck along a dirt road on the side of a precipice — was certainly not something you would do in the States. I suppose the fact that our uncle, a colonel in the military, was able to ferry us to Cebu on an air force cargo plane wasn’t either.

I had a more extended stay in the Philippines in 1993 after two years teaching English in Japan on the JET program. I had many more cousins now — 15 as opposed to the 2 on my American side. The Philippines was recovering from the Marcos dictatorship, which had looted the country and left it with creaking infrastructure. There were brownouts and water cutoffs most every day. You would just hope the power was on for the Simpson’s at 7pm, those being pre-Youtube day, when if you missed it, you missed it. Driving was an interesting experience when the traffic lights went out, but order developed. The cars on one street at the intersection would go for a while, then the cars on the other side would start honking and edging their way in, and so it would continue.

In what I’m sure is a similar experience to young Americans visiting their middle to upper-middle class relatives in other developing countries, I found myself reverting to the — how should i put it — more independent, plebeian lifestyle I was used to in the States than that of my relatives. My aunt the general’s wife was very impressed (with perhaps a touch of condescension) that I figured out the jeepney routes from her house to where I was staying with my other aunt. She of course had a driver and was chauffeured everywhere, and most middle-class families had helpers to do mundane daily tasks like food shopping and prep.

Many of my relatives are happy in the Philippines which, while still not a rich country, has seen its growth rate accelerate. Many other relatives have migrated here and have successful careers in healthcare, the military, and we have one lawyer.

The immigrant tradition continues with me. My two kids have a Colombian mother, my best friend Karla. My partner, Lily Ying Meng, hails from Tianjin, China. She became a citizen in 2018.

Image

I sometimes wonder, when immigration is so deeply woven into the American experience, why there is such the backlash against it we see today. But then I reflect that opposition to immigration has just as venerable a pedigree that dates back to at least the 1840s and the Know Nothings. Just about every major ethnic group which has come to our country has faced discrimination, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that a president with an immigrant wife who naturalized her parents rails against chain migration. Not that he’s the only one. Anti-immigration spans the political spectrum and ranges from MAGA supporters to labor activists claiming immigrants are stealing American jobs. And perhaps immigration should be seen within the wider context of exclusionary policy. US communities of all political stripe make nimbyism and exclusion a fine art, from redlining to Mara Gay telling “gentrifiers” they don’t belong.

I suppose the battle to keep our country and neighborhoods open will be a constant struggle despite the great benefits we get when people move. I, for one, will remain true to my immigrant roots and favor openness and dynamism.

Categories
covid-19

Antibody Positive

I got my Covid antibody test today. Funny how usually when you get tested for something disease-related you’re hoping for negative, but in our topsy-turvy covid world, we of course hoping for positive and the prospect of immunity.

I got my test at the Northwell GoHealth clinic on West 23rd Street based on this Gothamist article. I chose GoHealth because it is using the very accurate Abbot and Roche tests and insurance should cover. Chelsea was the closest to my apartment that is taking appointments.

When I arrived for my Saturday 9:34am appointment, I was the only patient there, and as far as I could tell they were staffed only by a receptionist, nurse and PA. I had already done the paperwork online, so after a short wait, I was taken to an exam room. There I was left for a few minutes but could hear the nurse and PA discussing procedures outside. Should I worry they don’t have their act together, I mused? But sounded like this was the first time these particular people were working together and the discussion sounded rational, so I didn’t worry too much.

The nurse was efficient and friendly. I did remark she didn’t have a device so was writing my medical history on a post-it. I asked her which part of town she lives in, because that’s what you do as a candidate. Queens – not my district unfortunately! I asked her if she subways in and she said yes. She wasn’t too happy about the delays, but at least it isn’t too crowded in the mornings. After drawing blood, she realized the band-aid she had was the kid-oriented kind with dolphins. I jokingly demanded a new one, but then had to convince her that I was in fact ECSTATIC about the dolphins and not to trouble herself getting a new one.

The PA came in next and seemed poised to give me the long script on testing. I told him he could abbreviate which he did happily. I asked to verify which test was used and he said he thinks Chelsea uses Abbott. He mentioned other offices he works in uses other ones. On the way out, I asked if it was hard traveling from office to office. He said not too bad — he had actually been unemployed for six weeks! Hard to imagine in a health crisis, but he had been working at a neurological institute and like many other things, non-Covid-related healthcare is in the dumps. He mentioned that this job allows him to help with the crisis and also secure his income.

It takes 2-3 days for the lab to do their work, so I should have results by the middle of the week. Hopefully it will accentuate the positive!

Categories
Economics

Simplify

Why have we adopted Simplify as the unifying theme for our campaign? Because:

It shouldn’t take you days of work or hundreds of dollars to do your taxes.

The tax code shouldn’t be so complicated that it makes sense for rich people to pay an accountant millions of dollars to get tens of millions back and end up paying a smaller percentage than the rest of us.

When you’re opening a gym in New York City, you shouldn’t have to spend $50k to prove you’re not actually opening a brothel!

New England and Puerto Rico shouldn’t have to import LNG from Russia because shipping  laws make it prohibitive to ship US gas.

We shouldn’t allow modern day versions of the “Cubic Air Ordinance” (designed to criminalize Chinese renters) prevent us from building the housing our communities desperately need.

Overzealous historic preservation shouldn’t prevent us from addressing housing shortages, or combating climate change, or from building what might become the architectural gems of the 2020s to save parking lots.

Our meat supply shouldn’t be in danger because of complex “safety” regulations written by large meat processors and having nothing to do with safety and everything to do with offing smaller processors.

It shouldn’t take thousands of dollars and up to three years to get a green card for your spouse (I experienced this personally).

Why are we spending vast sums to deny foreign professionals such as doctors the opportunity to enrich our country?

Because of the crisis, we’ve partially waived a tangled web of restrictions on allowing healthcare workers to cross state lines and do telemedicine.  We should get rid of them completely.

A nurse shouldn’t have to EMPLOY A DOCTOR to allow the nurse to give someone a diabetes shot.

We need to stop spending billions of dollars to criminalize victimless acts like sex work and low-risk drug use which burdens law enforcement, clogs our courts, and ruins people’s lives.

We shouldn’t need to circumvent a thicket of obscure legal doctrines to prosecute police when they’ve committed acts of brutality.

We shouldn’t countenance regulations which cause shortages of technical training by keeping skilled professionals out of the classroom.

Should you really need to worry about your chef’s hairstyle to get a good restaurant grade?

Regulations like these are a huge waste of money, of time, of life.  They breed special interest and corruption. We need to get rid of them.  And when we consider new regulations, no matter how well-meaning, let’s consider whether they add real value, or just complication.  

Simplify

Categories
Economics

Define Capitalism

One problem when discussing capitalism is that definitions vary. I’ve had many discussions where I assumed someone supported capitalism because we agreed on a policy, such as getting rid of a government handout to industry. But when I welcomed them as a capitalist, they vociferously denied it.

Then we have examples like this:

When I say capitalism, I mean markets function with minimal government involvement. A huge bailout is not capitalism by my definition. For AOC apparently it is. Again, we agree on the policy — less bailouts for well-connected companies. — but disagree on definitions.

What about the following?

  • the mortgage bailout
  • fossil-fuel subsidies
  • corporate private jet fuel perks
  • carried interest deduction used by hedge funds to reduce taxes

Many call these capitalism, or crony capitalism. I call them cronyism, and in my book are the exact OPPOSITE of capitalism.

What is my definition of capitalism? Basically a marketplace like Etsy, where artists are free to create what they want and price as they wish, and consumers decide what they like and are willing to pay. This doesn’t describe all markets. Healthcare has political, maybe even economic, concerns that make market capitalism difficult. And we definitely need to adjust markets for bad things like pollution (there are simple market-based solutions for this). But it should be easy to distinguish my capitalism from what some call capitalism, and I call cronyism.

Going forward, we could continue to argue about terminology, but since most of us agree that cronyism sucks, how about we get rid of that first? Later, we can discuss terminology over a beer.