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Politics

The State of Political Discourse#

In 2016, as Donald Trump was rising as a contender in the Republican primary, I noticed the political discourse online was so far removed from reality, people weren't having conversations in the same universe. My main goal in entering politics was to bring reasonableness into online political conversations, or to at least ground the disagreements in fact so the conversations could be more productive. Unfortunately, most of my conversations have been unproductive and hardly qualify as "intellectual discourse."

I believe most content creators suffer from the following problems:

  • They tend to be uninformed about the ideas they are discussing (e.g.: many lefties don't know Labor Value Theory; many online Republicans don't know anything about immigration or sociology).
  • They don't read any of the material they are covering (e.g.: many people only read headlines, or just take a Twitter thread and repeat the information from it without reading the linked articles or sources).
  • They are more concerned with monetary gain, optics, and advancing their careers than they are with advancing their expressed ideologies (e.g. they will eschew politically effective or more righteous actions in favor of things that further their own career, such as collaborating with only the most popular politicians they can or promoting causes which will also grow their own popularity).
  • They are often blatantly hypocritical when comparing their lifestyles to the ideas they advocate for (e.g.: they will oftentimes talk about the importance of transparency in public figures or make fun of celebrities for donating very little money to social causes while they will hide their income and commit little to no resources to causes they support).

My general goal with online politics is to:

  • Give an informed opinion about, or bring in experts or expert material concerning, current events and interesting topics.
  • Have an informed discussion that involves reading through the articles or sources being discussed on stream.
  • Move people to take politically effective action.
  • Exemplify my political and ethical values in the way I live my life.

I think that political positions should be the result of a consistent system โ€” namely, an underlying ethical and epistemic framework. For a more in-depth explanation of this, please see the page on why philosophy is important.

Affirmative Action#

I don't have a strong position on affirmative action. It can be a powerful tool, but only when implemented properly; it is a political lightning rod which makes it very hard to reasonably discuss.

Affirmative action tends to run into trouble in universities where huge mismatch problems occur โ€” minority students who are given too much preferential treatment in admissions will massively under-perform their peers, causing them to dropout at disproportionately high rates. Though some argue ( 1 | 2 ) in favor of aggressive affirmative action for higher education, they often only look at the enrollment rates as indicators of success, rather than actual college achievement.

Outside of universities, one can go too far in forcing integration as well, for example: California's "woman quota" for corporate boards.

Affirmative action programs that incentivize students to take part in additional education opportunities to prepare them for a college environment would be more in-line with my view of effective policy rather than simply shoving them into classrooms with more qualified peers and expecting them to perform at competitive levels.

Additional reading:

Diversity#

Diversity is a good thing, and has been shown time and time again to benefit both countries ( 1 | 2 ) and companies ( 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 ). Countries and companies that engage in high levels of diversity seem to outperform their less diverse counterparts, and it seems to be the case that having a more diverse representation across your population and workforce can be an advantage in and of itself.

Though it seems hard to imagine, just having a more diverse workplace can be predictive of your ability to outperform average returns in a given environment ( 1 | 2 ). There are modern examples of avoidable problems that boil down to a company simply lacking a diverse team. One well-known example is racial discrimination that occurs in face recognition technology. Another example is soap dispensers not recognizing black hands over white hands.

Global Warming#

Global warming is real and anthropogenic (i.e.: caused by humans).

It seems that the best approach to dealing with climate change is with the aggressive incentivization of greener energies and the implementation of carbon pricing policies. The former polls incredibly well with Americans and the latter is almost universally agreed upon by economists to be effective in moving markets to aggressively seek out more carbon-neutral ways of operating ( 1 ).

The Green New Deal#

I do not support the Green New Deal, a policy championed by the Justice Democrats.

While I support strong action being taken to curb the effects of climate change, I don't necessarily think it's appropriate to pair these changes with other, non-environmental policies, e.g. a federal jobs guarantee. I think that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed both through policies that have been demonstrated to work (e.g. cap and trade) and through innovative policies and technologies.

Immigration#

Coming soon!

Illegal Immigration#

It's incredibly hard to precisely measure the impact of illegal immigration, although it does appear that undocumented workers have a negative impact on state and local budgets and can apply some downward pressure on native wages ( 1 | 2 ).

The most effective way of dealing with illegal immigration would likely be some form of amnesty, similar to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1986. The IRCA conferred benefits unto the workers who were able to adjust their status as well as to the state and local governments who were able to more effectively levy taxes, though it also had a small, negative impact on competing native workers and future immigrants and caused an increase in government transfer to the newly legalized population ( 1 ). Any well-designed amnesty program would do well to pay attention to these benefits and drawbacks to ensure that we can appropriately capture the benefits of any such amnesty in order to benefit the population as a whole, without causing targeted harm to more vulnerable sections of the labor force.

International Trade Agreements#

I am highly in favor of international trade agreements, especially large binding agreements like the now-dead Trans-Pacific Partnership that Obama championed. This is mostly for two reasons:

  1. International cooperation โ€” International trade agreements lay the groundwork for even more international trade agreements. Ever-increasing cooperation is one of the only hopes we have at solving global warming.
  2. American soft power โ€” In forfeiting the TPP, America cedes ground to China and their Belt and Road Initiative. Soft power is more important than you might think. Without it, we lose the ability to exert pressure on other countries to respect the values of democracy, personal freedom, political freedom, and basic human rights.

Reparations#

After the civil war, former slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule by William T. Sherman. This was approved by President Lincoln. Later, the federal government reneged on this promise, which seems pretty unfair.

There are many different reasons for wanting reparations, but I think that the best one is purely for the purposes of finally repaying a debt that was promised.

Logistically, implementing reparations would be difficult (Who exactly gets the money? How much money is equivalent to 40 acres, adjusted for inflation?). I acknowledge that reparations are probably not politically feasible.

Social Justice#

It is incredibly important to incorporate notions of equity into our view of the world when it comes to enacting policy or new laws. I think it is vital to recognize that many people have had disadvantages throughout US history and that the outcomes of those disadvantages are still noticeable today. Any policy we design should take these differences into account.

Also, see the section on systemic racism.

Systemic Racism#

Systemic racism is racism embedded into a system. The important thing to note about systemic racism is that no-one in the system is necessarily to blame. For example, say that the hypothetical police force of Oceania was systemically racist โ€” it had a computer system programmed to assign more police patrols to black neighborhoods than white neighborhoods. In this system, it is possible that every single police officer in the force is a black-loving certified anti-racist, yet the police would still be functioning as a racist institution.

We have strong evidence that there are some lingering forms of systemic racism in the United States. For example, by looking at maps of where redlining was practiced, we can see that the effects of redlining still affect outcomes (in a statistical, on-average way).

Just like in Oceania, this doesn't necessarily mean that ordinary people are to blame. Of course, there are probably racist people in the country somewhere still in charge of bank loans or city planning โ€” but, for the most part, I think that we have that sorted out. We need to focus on the more complicated problems.

I believe that systemic racism clearly exists in some forms. I don't have a strong opinion on the best policies to address it.

Also, see the section on reparations.

Voting#

Voting is important.

People in America (and around the world) have problems right now that need to be solved. And that's best done by working within the current system, building coalitions with like-minded people, and voting for the best candidates (at both a local and a national level).

Ideologies#

The Alt-Right#

I do not support the alt-right, nor any of the prescriptions they make for society. I do believe it is important, however, to acknowledge some of the conditions that lead people to becoming radicalized (feeling disconnected from society, having no sense of purpose, feeling economically left behind, etc.) and how these beliefs translate into political action. I believe some on the alt-right are effective at identifying frustrations that one might have with our current economic or social system, but they offer no realistic solutions to any of these problems, and their explanations for said phenomena are often mired in anecdotes.

My debate with Erik Striker & James Allsup is emblematic of most discourse that I've had with alt-right figures; when confronted with challenges to their ideas, they retreat to anecdotes and offer no solutions. Most concerningly, the policy positions they offer for political change generally require some extreme amount of state-sponsored violence and are highly unrealistic in achieving any positive end.

"Protecting our Demographics"#

Many on the far right express a great concern over protecting the demographic make-up of whatever community they reside in. They might allude to "western values," "white values," "euro-centric values" or some other type of "values" that they are trying to protect. Generally they state the reason to protect these values stems from both an earnest desire to preserve their culture as well as protecting their voting interests.

I believe that this endeavor is futile for several reasons:

  • I reject the notion that there is a consistent and coherent definition of "American values."
    • e.g. City dwellers from San Francisco aren't going to have very many "shared values" with rural inhabitants of midwestern states.
  • I don't believe there is any way for an individual community to control who is allowed to immigrate there without it violating the rights and interests of other states.
    • Immigration policy is set for the benefit of the nation at the federal level; states exercising local immigration policy would run counter-intuitive to the rest of the state's rights to determine federal immigration policy.
  • I don't believe a group of people have a right to indefinitely maintain their representation irrespective of immigrants (from other states, or countries).
    • The idea that one group of people can live somewhere forever and reject foreign immigrants simply because they have a different voting preference is nonsensical.

Capitalism#

I consider myself to be a capitalist.

At a high-level, capitalism seems to be the best-known economic system to generate wealth. I believe the responsibility of any economic system should, first and foremost, be to allocate resources in an economy as efficiently as possible to create the largest possible base from which to draw taxes to redistribute to those who need it most. I recognize in many western countries, especially the United States, we seem to have a big problem with the "redistribution" part.

There are different kinds of capitalism, ranging all the way from laissez-faire (e.g. free market) to state capitalism (e.g. China). Completely free-market systems have serious downsides (e.g. monopolies, unequal bargaining power) and don't properly account for negative externalities (e.g. pollution, global warming) without government intervention. Thus, I believe that capitalism should be tempered by a strong government that tries to correct for these problems, similar to how Nordic countries function. Not surprisingly, this is the economic model of nearly all advanced economies in the West.

Libertarianism#

Libertarianism is concerned with maximizing liberty and personal freedom. I viewed myself as a libertarian when I was a teenager and have read books by Ayn Rand.

I am still pro liberty and pro freedom, but my political views have evolved. Libertarianism does not seem to do a very good job at solving some major problems, like social inequality and global warming. The latter, in particular, seems likely only to be solved by regulation and governmental cooperation at a global level.

"Omniliberalism"#

In politics, it can be useful to know which particular ideology someone subscribes to. However, I do not fall perfectly in-line with any particular ideology. I describe myself as an Omni-Liberal, which is a made-up, tongue-in-cheek term to encapsulate the general position of:

  1. Having the core values of liberalism (e.g. freedom and equality).
  2. Taking the best parts of all different kinds of political ideologies and using them together in a pragmatic way.

I don't feel dogmatically attached to any particular form of government or economic system. If it can be demonstrated that some economic system (socialism, capitalism, etc.) can consistently produce better economic and social outcomes for a given society, that would be the economic system I would advocate for. As of right now, I believe that free markets with strong social safety nets (see: Scandinavia) are the most effective way of achieving these ends.

Populism#

I do not support populism.

Populism is usually defined as "the people" versus "the elites." This happens on both the right (e.g. the alt-right & Donald Trump) and the left (e.g. Bernie-or-Busters). Populism is powerful because it feeds off negative emotions, but is often not based on facts.

Socialism / Communism#

The Academic Arguments#

While exploring more socialist ideas I've come across a number of people attempting to defend their ideologies. I've had discussions with many people who identify as socialists, including Michael Albert (an economist, see this video), Ben Burgis (Jacobin columnist, see this video), and many, many more (Search YouTube for "destiny socialism").

My primary disappointment with most socialists is the broader lack of understanding concerning the general functions of their economic systems. A few issues without satisfactory answers are:

  • What level of violence is acceptable to attain a socialist state?
    • It is often stated that capitalists are to be expected to side with fascists in order to defend their capital interests, and it's stated that capitalists will use any means necessary to defend the status quo. If that is true, then does the advocation of a socialist state necessarily advocate for violent revolution? If this is something we could simply achieve through voting, and if the people truly wanted such a state, why have we not realized it by now?
  • How do we decide which businesses are allowed to exist in a socialist society without allowing capital investment?
    • Is this done via some government bureaucrat or citizen council? If one cannot get their idea approved, or find sufficient other workers to operate their business with them, is that new business simply not allowed to exist?
  • Is any form of investment whatsoever allowed in a socialist society?
    • How do businesses raise additional capital for expansion? If one wants to expand their business and open new stores, is it contingent upon them finding other workers willing to buy in and own part of one's new expansion of business? If that new expansion grows, is one diluting the ownership of one's current work force? Does one need to dilute every employee's ownership every time a new worker is brought in? How does that affect one's democratic leverage in the business?
  • How are labor markets determined in a socialist society? What if everyone wants to become a teacher?
    • What if everyone wants to become a teacher? If we remove profit incentives and wages from society and socially dictate where goods and services are allocated, what incentive would anyone have to pursue a socially necessary job that they do not wish to pursue?
  • How can we calculate which goods/services a nation needs if we do away with the commodity form?
    • The calculation problem has never been adequately addressed or solved for any country, and even in the case where it is brought up within businesses, your final inputs and outputs are still decided by market conditions, not votes or councils.

Online Socialist Activism#

A lot of the online discourse (e.g. on Twitch, YouTube, and Twitter) around socialism comes from people who are willfully ignorant or misinformed on economics and how capital markets work. A number of prominent, socialist content creators seem to display fundamental misunderstandings of fact, such as Philosophy Tube's video on housing, and tend to respond negatively to even the slightest bit of push back against their beliefs.

While there are plenty of highly intelligent people who identify as socialists, my interactions with "online socialists" or "online lefties" from 2018 to 2020 have generally left me with a very low opinion of the community at large.

Co-ops#

Co-ops, or cooperatives, are businesses owned by the workers. Many socialists, especially market socialists, seem to point towards co-ops as being an effective step away from a fully capitalist society, or one where businesses have private ownership

I don't believe anything is inherently wrong with co-ops, and I support them in the cases where they lead to greater economic productivity. Despite the slight increase in productivity, however, there doesn't seem to be any good way for co-ops to effectively raise capital. Also, I still question whether co-ops would retain their benefits if everyone in society were to join one, rather than the select few people that have the necessary capital and/or skills to join one of the few co-ops that exist today.

Political Ineffectiveness#

A major gripe that I have with "online socialism" is that it is politically impotent.

All government policies have pros and cons. As citizens, our best course of action is to debate these policies to determine which will be the most effective and to pressure our representatives to push those that are politically feasible.

Inversely, most socialists that I talk to have no actual policy positions. They:

  • live in a land of fantasy where all capital is abolished
  • lack meaningful plans to achieve that end
  • have no plans for solving real world problems that we face right now

Also, see the section on voting.