The Health Care Debate

Cunning realist expresses my thought about the health care debate rather concisely.

… in the United States we are getting near an era of civil unrest with hussein Obama pushing Socialism/Nazism on the people …

During the past few weeks I’ve alternated between alarm and uninterested contempt. I’m still not sure which is more appropriate.

I, too, am not sure which i should feel. The level of the public debate has certainly been depressing. Alonzo Fyfe has recently done quite a lot of excellent work detailing just how depressing.

Why I am voting for Obama

I watched the third presidential debate last night. Overall, I would say that not much new ground was covered. However, there was one moment that I thought was quite telling. At one point John McCain suggested that school vouchers are the solution to all our education woes. Barack Obama replied, “I disagree with him on this, because the data doesn’t show that it actually solves the problem”.

And that, my friends, exemplifies why I will be voting for Barack Obama. I think that of the two Obama is much more likely to search out relevant data and let it inform his decisions.

The radical right may believe that unregulated markets are the solution to everything, and the hard left may believe that capitalism is the root of most of our ills. Frankly, I don’t care what anybody thinks if they have derived it from the first principles of their ideology. If you don’t have evidence to support your plans I am pretty damn sure that they are wrong. Most likely, badly wrong.

Outcomes are the only thing that matter. I want a government that is more interested in implementing policies that will achieve the outcomes we all want – economic prosperity, physical security, reduced poverty, etc. – than ones their ideologically imprisoned “base” would approve of.

This is where the new Progressive movement could enter the political arena for real. What we need are a new set of politicians who are focused on addressing the issues that actually affect our country. People who want to restart our recently stalled progress. Leaders who will search out the relevant data and use it to construct plans that have real chances of succeeding. Or, at the very least, not our waste time and money on ones completely doomed to failure. We need a new ideology of evidence based governance. And we need it now.

On a related note, the Science Debate 2008 is quite interesting. I highly recommend reading both the candidates’ responses.

The rule of law

I just finished watching a talk by the new president of the ABA1. It covers a lot of good material. I am particularly interested in the World Justice Project.

I have recently been realizing how deeply important the rule of law is. I have reached the conclusion that both liberty and prosperity rely almost exclusively on the rule of law. This seems somewhat obvious to me now. However, the justice system in the United States is most often discussed in the context of lawyer jokes and complains about “activist judges”. I think it is quite possible that we in the US have mistaken the cause of our success. Rather than democracy being our key asset I think it may, in fact, be the importance we have, traditionally, placed on the rule of law.

I think some of the bad sentiment regarding the US justice system is a result of propaganda intend to weaken the rule of law. Not some grand conspiracy, mind you, just a lot of people who don’t mind the idea getting the best justice money can buy because they can afford it. Unfortunately, the law community has not really helped much. The fact that the middle and working classes are largely excluded from the justice system leads to a lack of respect. That lack of respect is easily exploited for propaganda purposes. What a nasty cycle.

Here’s hoping we can improve rule of law in our country so that it really does provide justice for all, and not just for those who can afford it. It is a worthy, though quite daunting, goal. Certainly, any improvements the ABA is able to foster will greatly appreciated.

Against Torture

I don’t often write about affairs of state in this space. This is not due to a lack of interest. It is due more to the fear that I hold many of my political views rather too strongly to communicate them effectively. However, there are issues that I think it would be immoral not to oppose publicly. Torture is one of those things.

Mr Krulak and Hoar have written good piece about the practical downsides of torture over at the Washington Post (go read it, I’ll wait). Their basic argument is that torture enhances the ability of terrorist groups to recruit new members, which is the opposite of what is needed at this time.

If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.

I think they are correct that, even on a strictly functional level, torture is huge net loss for us. However, even if torture where an effective weapon against terrorist organizations I would still be against it.

Arguments in favor of torture generally hing on the assumption that when the terrorist lose we win. Unfortunately, this assumption is completely false. The world is not a zero sum game. Every combination of winners and losers is possible.

By allowing torture we lose, regardless of it’s impact on terrorists. We lose the respect of the rest of the world. We lose our right not to be torture. We lose the very essence of ourselves.

As Gregory Djerejian points this out in his commentary on Mr Krulak and Hoar’s piece

history doesn’t advance in linear fashion defined by consistent progress, but perhaps moves more cyclically, with advances in human civilization constantly threatened by reverses.

Hopefully, we can regain what we have lost in the last few years. It would be shameful if my generation were the one to allow the start of a long slide backwards.

Wasted Votes

I finally got around to reading my ”blue book1 for this election last night. Even though the ballot measures this election are pretty much a waste of ink I am happy that I live in a state that has ballot measures. In fact, in most elections it is the only reason I vote. Almost everyone’s vote is wasted in most of the office races. I say that your vote is wasted because in most places in the US you have two choices:

  1. Vote for the candidate the most truly represents your views. This candidate with almost certainly lose because they are a third party candidate. Even if you think that you are a Republican or a Democrat I bet that if you actually read up on the third party candidates you would find one of them that better matches your views than the major party candidate you are planning to vote for.

  2. Game the system by voting for the major party candidate you dislike the least.

Either way you are almost garrenteed to end up with a candidate that will not represent you very well. In practice almost everyone chooses option 2 but damn that sucks. If you want your vote to count at all you are force to vote against the candidates with which you agree the most and for one of the two candidates anointed with the two “best” letters in the alphabet.

If you are lucky one or the other of those candidates will be corrupt or a wack-job so the choice will be clear. When choosing between the lesser of two evils is easier if one is obviously more evil. But that does not change the fact that you will have probably voted against a good candidate because they didn’t have enough money or bad taste to bombard you with annoying, mean-spirited and laughably implausible attack ads (I mean, really, no one is against motherhood and apple pie).

Is it any wonder that there are so many people apathetic about voting? It does not surprise me. Any sane person can look at the system and see that their vote is wasted. Rather, I am surprised how many smart people actually think that voting is useful and meaningful.

The most common approach of rationalizing the usefulness of voting is to latch onto one or two issues and vote based entirely on those. You can usually find a major candidate that agrees with you on a couple of issues. If you decide that the other issues don’t really matter then it does not matter that your candidate of choice disagrees with you.

Others just choose not to vote, either out of apathy or out of protest. I have often chosen not to vote out of protest in the past. The very act of voting legitimizes this obviously broken system. On the other hand, there are ballot measures, non-partisan races and the occasional crook/incompetent that you really should vote against at all costs. And no one really counts the non-votes so as a protest measure it is not particularly effective.

There are a lot of voting systems and almost any of them would be better than what we have now. A better voting system for would not break the strangle hold the major parties have on the the US political system but it would be a good start. With something like approval voting you could vote for the candidates you liked with out increasing the risk of the candidates you dislike getting in to office. That would mean that some those really good third party candidates would have a fighting chance. We have the power of ballot measures in Colorado, would someone please use that power to get us a better voting system.

Until that happens I will continue go to the polls and vote knowing that, for the most part, my vote is both counted and wasted.

  1. For those of you not in Colorado the “Blue Book” is a small booklet provided by the state government with information about the ballot measures. The texts of the ballot measures are provided but the real value of this booklet is the analysis. I am always impressed with the quality and impartiality of the analysis it provides.

Hiring Should be Obsolete

Paul Graham has a new essay, Hiring is Obsolete. As usual it is quite insightful, though perhaps just a little self serving in light of his latest venture.

I feel just a bit disappointed when I read about other people’s experiences related to founding startups. Now that I have a family the risk founding a startup is too high. I wonder how much wealth would be generated if I did not have to risk my family’s health and well-being to be involved in a startup. Until then founding startups will remain — primarily, at least — domain of the young (or rich).

Regardless of what your emotional reaction is to universal health care and a social safety net, there is no denying that they would reduce the risk of founding a startup. I think that risk reduction would be a massive boost to the economy. It would allow anyone with a good idea to pursue it without having to worry about what would happen if your child gets sick, etc. Unfortunately, it would be at the short-term expense of entrenched interests (read: owners of congress people) so things are not likely to change anytime soon.

Pretexts Are Easy

You should read this ABC article on “Operation Northwoods” if you have ever thought that any government can be trusted. Basically, it boils down to a plan by the US military to attack the US and blame it on Cuba so that there would be public support for an invasion of Cuba. And Operation Northwoods was not the only “pretext” plan. The most disturbing part is that it took 40 years for the story to come out.

We need a much more transparent government. Until that happens, just remember this story the next time you are told that a war is necessary and wonder it if really is.

Fixed a mis-spelling (thanks, Cliff).