Diatribes - Computer, Economic & Political

This blog is really just for me. If you find something interesting on it, leave me a comment. If you disagree with something, let me know what and why. In this blog I am just putting some of my thoughts for computers, the economy, politics, and other topics in writing.

25 October 2008

Obama v. McCain - they both suck

This is a response to an email from someone. It was good in parts, and absurd in others. I wrote out this long diatribe, and thought I'd be remiss not to post it here. As you can see, this response is freakishly long, so I'll summarize. McCain is as bad as Obama on most major issues. There are points where they each outdo each other on bad policy, but most of the real issues aren't talked about by either candidate, and Obama is as good (or as bad) a choice as McCain. Don't feel like you need to read the rest.

About the founders, they certainly were against government dole. But I don't think it was because they thought indolence should result in starvation, or handicapped people without family should go away. I think it had to do with their theory of government. The basic idea is that in order for individuals to be free to vote their conscience, they need to have independence from the government & financial stability. Stability is important because if you don't have food, you'll vote for any plan or candidate that gives you food. Independence is important because if you're getting food from the government, all other concerns are subjugated to continuing the food stream. Hence the idea that only land holders could vote - it was thought they were the only ones stable & independent enough to vote their conscience. I think a lot of things have changed since then, but the principle holds. In any event, I'm not about to go toe to toe with a history teacher about the founding fathers.

I also think the political spectrum is hooey. As you mentioned, both sides want more government intervention. Right wingers want the government to mandate moral issues - ban abortion, restrict pornography & sex, block gay marriage, etc. Left wingers want the government to mandate social issues - anti discrimination, welfare for the poor, gun control, etc. Libertarians on the other hand want the government not to meddle with any of it, and statists want the government to shape all of it. I'm with you on the federalism bit though - more should be left to the states. I'm also for slashing the federal budget 50% - that includes (especially) military funding.

And lets be honest, current republicans aren't fiscally conservative. They may be morally conservative, but by speaking loudly about the deficit, debt, & spending - all the while spending more than any democrat has ever spent, they've proven they can't be trusted with money any more than democrats.

Neither candidate is talking specifics about a widespread government cutback. McCain's 1 year spending freeze (except on the military, surprise surprise) doesn't do anything if in two years budgets increase extra to make up for the loss, not to mention it would disproportionately affect certain areas above others. McCain's aspirations for a balanced budget are particularly insane when you consider the war in Iraq. Joseph Stiglitz, a nobel prize winner, has estimated the cost at $3,000,000,000,000 - and has cited this government spending as the largest retardant of our economy. Obama has promised to go through the budget with a fine toothed comb, but since the budget is transparent already, I think it is clear why he hasn't already done so & shown us what he'll do. Either it would upset too many people or he can't cut as much as he says or both.

As for McCain's promise to veto all pork barrel spending, it is absurd. Earmarks are 3% of the budget, and they're always attached to "bread for orphans" bills. If someone attaches an earmark to a military spending item (the biggest place they're attached to now), is there any chance McCain would veto it? I didn't think so. It is good to expose this stuff to public scrutiny, and it is good to oppose them, but to make them the central budget issue is deceitful or ignorant. Only Obama is talking about cutting military spending, and no one is talking about the impending social security & medicare costs which are about to explode.

As for government intervention, markets *do* need some regulation - they just need the right kind. I won't go into stuff you know, like externalities and other market failures, or technical issues like the game theory behind collusion, but I think the collapsing credit derivative swap market is an excellent example of a market without regulation. Regarding drilling for oil, this is one of those things where anti-drillers will point to externalities. If consumption of oil causes externalities (pollution for one, perhaps global warming), then we'd want to reduce our consumption. Making oil expensive is a good way to do this, although taxation would be a smarter way to achieve this goal. Cheap alternative energy is a good idea too - though I think we can all agree ethanol is an indefensible subsidy to farmers & tax on food. However, both candidates were strongly pro ethanol & alternative energy subsidies in the primaries.

About taxation, I do think we're taxed too much - businesses too. Obama wants to give a cut to everyone making less than 250k/year, and keep revenues about the same. McCain wants to give a cut to everyone, which would slash federal revenue. Never mind it is congress who passes tax law, not the president. Slashing revenue is a good idea, but *only* if accompanied by related spending cuts, which neither candidate is serious about. Cutting revenue when we're already over $10,000,000,000,000 in debt, and we're about to face the most drastic increase in federal payouts (social security, medicare, etc) - is nothing short of reckless. And the "starve the beast" idea can't even be given credence anymore. McCain has a trickle-down approach, and that's fine if he believes it (even if good economists no longer do), and Obama has a targeted approach (which is just wealth redistribution). However, McCain insists on painting Obama's tax plan as a tax increase (when it is revenue neutral), so no one is having the real debate.

Another big problem with taxation is unequal tax rates. When certain companies are given good deals via taxation, it distorts the market supply & consumption. So giving tax cuts to industries we want to thrive will come at the expense of all other industry. If you ever wondered why we've ditched manufacturing & gone to intellectual property - look at the great deal copyright offers, you can profit from something practically forever. Inconsistent trade restraints create similar problems. Sugar tariffs are a backwards subsidy to corn growers (since those making food use less sugar & more corn syrup). Farm subsidies, which make grains cheaper, also make meat cheaper - which has contributed to the obesity issues here. So I'd agree we need less government intervention generally, but I think making the intervention more even handed is just as big an issue. Neither candidate will talk about subsidies, selective tax cuts, or jagged tariff rates.

McCain & Obama have both changed their minds on issues, and I'm ok with that. Whether you call it being "wishy-washy" or just education, is a matter of preference. So long as they're changing their minds based on new/better information & analysis, rather than political pressure, it is a good thing.

The last bit attacking Obama is indefensible. Obama does put his hand on his heart during the national anthem sometimes, here are two pictures. And if not putting your hand over your heart all the time makes him hate America, Bush Sr. & Bush Jr. must hate America too. Reverend Wright is a nutjob, but knowing someone well doesn't mean you agree with their ideas. I've got plenty of friends in law school with whom I disagree with on nearly every issue. McCain was friendly with Harry Haldeman (the infamous Nixon aide) and Charles Keating (and may have helped protect him in the S&L scandal), does that make him unfit to be president? I don't think so.

As for the Che flag, Che was clearly a mass murderer, a despot, and is only famous because he died young & handsome. Che's big complaint was that the endemic poverty in Latin America resulted from an imported class system and monopoly capitalism - and he was largely right - but what does the flag mean? Does it mean Obama wants to overthrow the government & setup a new system driven by moral rather than economic incentives? Doubtful.

As for Bill Ayers, he was part of a terrorist group in the 60s – but Obama knew Ayers in the 90s. I believe people can change. If they can't, then is McCain still a wife-cheating philander? I don't think so, but if you thought no one could drop a terrible past like that, you might think so. Ayers is a professor now at the same university at which Obama taught - it shouldn't be a surprise they know each other. More importantly, what does this mean anyway? That Obama is a sleeper terrorist? No, it means he knows a guy who used to be a revolutionary in the 60s.

As for Fannie & Freddie - both campaigns have close ties and neither saw the financial crisis coming. Actually Ron Paul is the only candidate who did, and he saw it coming as early as 2001. I won't go into the specifics here, as this reply is already horrifically long, but neither candidate has a good idea of what to do. Both supported the bailout - which increased the money supply & federal debt in order to solve problems caused by having too much money in the housing market & too much debt. And as long as we're being honest, neither candidate seems to acknowledge that inflation, driven by federal debt & spending, is a hidden tax on people - no matter whether the spending is for the military or social programs.

The bit about communism is interesting. Communism means several different things - it means the equal distribution system envisioned by Engel & Marx, and it means the autocratic system implemented by Russia & China. Obama has never suggested we get rid of the market system, democracy, money, or anything of the kind - calling him communist is baseless.

I guess my point is that neither candidate is a great choice. Obama's anti trade rhetoric during the primaries was scary, McCain's military leanings are scary. Neither are talking about most of the real issues that matter. Neither seem to have a good handle on the the economy. Both candidates are interested in redistribution of wealth, as is anyone who advocates uneven taxation, subsidies, tariffs, deficit spending, or any social programs. Obama is maybe more overt about it, but neither is against it entirely. Personally, I'll be voting for Baldwin, but McCain's hawkish leanings make me seriously reconsider voting for Obama. If the government is going to spend money it doesn't have, I'd rather it spend those dollars at home than on the military abroad, and I'd rather a brilliant professor from Chicago shaping the spending than a bottom 10% naval cadet.



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