Posts tagged politics

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It’s Official: Nobody in Power Cares What You Think Unless You’re Rich

Surprise surprise!

Today, the idea of popular democracy seems more fairytale than fact. It feels more like government of the rich people, by the rich people, for the rich people. But a study of 1,779 policy outcomes over two decades has come to a stark conclusion: it’s official – the collective opinion of ordinary citizens doesn’t matter.

The study ‘Affluence and Influence’, conducted by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concludes that:

“economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

So is this just an inflated statement to make more nuanced findings more sexy to news editors? Sadly not.

The statistical analysis revealed that the collective views of ordinary Americans have a negligible impact on the policies rolled out by government. In fact, the collective sentiments of the economic elite (defined here as the richest 10%) are 15 times as important.

As Kevin Drum writes for Mother Jones:

When the preferences of interest groups and the affluent are held constant, it just doesn’t matter what average folks think about a policy proposal. When average citizens are opposed, there’s a 30 percent chance of passage. When average citizens are wildly in favor, there’s still only a 30 percent chance of passage. Conversely, the odds of passage go from zero when most of the affluent are opposed to more than 50 percent when most of the affluent are in favor.

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Enron, far from being a creature of the free market, was the quintessential mixed-economy firm, using its crony connections to gain financial backing from government and using its mastery of regulatory minutiae to create the appearance of profitability.

Moreover, Enron’s employees demonstrated an ethos, not of capitalist creators, but of postmodern Potemkins that capitalism’s leading philosophers have warned against for centuries.

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Housing is most cost-effective treatment for mental illness: study -- "For every $1 spent providing housing and support for a homeless person with severe mental illness, $2.17 in savings are reaped because they spend less time in hospital, in prison and in shelters".

For every $1 spent providing housing and support for a homeless person with severe mental illness, $2.17 in savings are reaped because they spend less time in hospital, in prison and in shelters. That is the most striking conclusion of a study, obtained by The Globe and Mail, that tested the so-called Housing First approach to providing social services. Beyond the cost savings, the new research shows that placing an emphasis on housing gets people off the streets and improves their physical and mental health.

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History Shows That Capitalism Begets Plutocracy

Wages constitute the lowest share of U.S. GDP, and profits the highest, since the end of World War II. And with heightened accumulations of wealth come heightened accumulations of political power — a shift toward plutocracy to which last week’s Supreme Court decision, permitting the wealthy to contribute to as many electoral campaigns as they wish, adds a helpful push.

Piketty’s primary contention is that it is inherent to capitalism that the returns on capital generally exceed the growth of nations’ economies, save in times of epochal population growth or rare technological breakthroughs, and that this leads to ever-rising concentrations of wealth and power.

"No self-corrective mechanism exists" within capitalism to retard this descent into plutocracy, he writes. Rather, he concludes, its prevention requires political action: He suggests a global tax on capital, which, he admits, is a utopian solution, though others — empowering workers again, increasing the social provision of goods and services — are more readily attainable.

Lewis gives us a great read on today’s latest scam. Piketty gives us the most important work of economics since John Maynard Keynes’ “General Theory.”

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After the ruling by the Supreme Court yesterday, this could be the twilight of campaign finance law. 

We are all equal but some of us are more equal then others.



After the ruling by the Supreme Court yesterday, this could be the twilight of campaign finance law. 

We are all equal but some of us are more equal then others.

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European Parliament passes strong net neutrality law, along with major roaming reforms

Good work, EU. The free roaming anywhere in the EU is a big win for me. The net neutrality loopholes don’t sound good to me, but you’ve got to start somewhere I suppose. At least they can’t block certain types of traffic.

European fans of the open internet can breathe a sigh of relief: the European parliament has passed a major package of telecoms law reform, complete with amendments that properly define and protect net neutrality.

The amendments (PDF) were introduced by the Socialist, Liberal, Green and Left blocs in the European Parliament after the final committee to tweak the package – the industry committee – left in a bunch of loopholes that would have allowed telcos to start classifying web services of their choice as “specialized services” that they can treat differently.

It’s a good thing the net neutrality argument didn’t sink the whole package, as it also includes new laws to eliminate roaming fees within Europe, creating a truly single market for telecoms services. Now the whole package gets passed through to the next Parliament (elections are coming up in May), then the representatives of European countries for final approval.

10253 Notes

When one door closes, another one opens.

When one door closes, another one opens.

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Russia, the West, and ‘Moral Equivalence’

Most of the things I read about this issue are extremely heavily slanted to one side or the other. This article does a pretty good job of weighing up how different what Russia is doing to what the West has done.

First, throughout the Cold War the U.S. did resort to a number of “masked operations,” such as with the Bay of Pigs effort in Cuba or the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran. After 1989 such practices became unnecessary, but Russia is correct in pointing out that many of the activists who instigated and led the Color Revolutions, and now the overthrow of Yanukovych, were sponsored or trained by Western NGOs. One might ask what the problem is with furthering and teaching democratic/liberal values, but the answer is obvious: Russia doesn’t do the same in the West. What would demonstrations against Western governments during the current economic crisis look like if what Gregory calls “lefties” had financing and education provided by rival foreign governments and NGOs? Indeed, when other governments do provide such financing and education, the West cries foul, as with Saudi-funded Wahhabi/Salafist madrassas across the world.

Second, other countries have indeed annexed territory, or tried to, in recent history, including Egypt, China, Indonesia, India, Armenia, or South Africa. Even Western or Western-backed states such as Turkey, Croatia, Morocco, and Israel have made similar moves—not to mention ongoing disputes between a number of Western states themselves, as for example in the occasional tensions around Gibraltar.

Third, the notion of humanitarian grounds is a bit shaky. While the West always reacts with outrage at any major human-rights violation, the truth remains that it is not always ready to act. If human rights were our primary concern, then recent Western interventions should have occurred primarily not in Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East but rather in Africa and Asia, where rule of law and humanitarian norms are truly lacking. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been accused of being an African court because it focuses much more on African war criminals than Western ones. Yet the ICC is guided by a simple principle: “to act where it is most needed.”


Well that’s unfortunate..

Well that’s unfortunate..

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The Math That Predicted the Revolutions Sweeping the Globe Right Now

It’s happening in Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand, Bosnia, Syria, and beyond. Revolutions, unrest, and riots are sweeping the globe. The near-simultaneous eruption of violent protest can seem random and chaotic; inevitable symptoms of an unstable world. But there’s at least one common thread between the disparate nations, cultures, and people in conflict, one element that has demonstrably proven to make these uprisings more likely: high global food prices.

Just over a year ago, complex systems theorists at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned us that if food prices continued to climb, so too would the likelihood that there would be riots across the globe. Sure enough, we’re seeing them now. The paper’s author, Yaneer

Bar-Yam, charted the rise in the FAO food price index—a measure the UN uses to map the cost of food over time—and found that whenever it rose above 210, riots broke out worldwide. It happened in 2008 after the economic collapse, and again in 2011, when a Tunisian street vendor who could no longer feed his family set himself on fire in protest. Bar-Yam built a model with the data, which then predicted that something like the Arab Spring would ensue just weeks before it did. Four days before Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation helped ignite the revolution that would spread across the region, NECSI submitted a government report that highlighted the risk that rising food prices posed to global stability. Now, the model has once again proven prescient—2013 saw the third-highest food prices on record, and that’s when the seeds for the conflicts across the world were sewn.

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In one year, use of force has dropped by 60% after police started wearing cameras.

In one year, use of force has dropped by 60% after police started wearing cameras.

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Six Policies Economists Love (And Politicians Hate)

I love stuff like this. Policies that would make everyone richer and better off in the long run, but which will never get implemented (with the exception of legalizing marijuana) because we will never get past the knee-jerk emotional reaction that politicians can use against such policies. I was disappointed that a universal basic income didn’t make the list, though.

One: Eliminate the mortgage tax deduction, which lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. Gone. After all, big houses get bigger tax breaks, driving up prices for everyone. Why distort the housing market and subsidize people buying expensive houses?

Two: End the tax deduction companies get for providing health-care to employees. Neither employees nor employers pay taxes on workplace health insurance benefits. That encourages fancier insurance coverage, driving up usage and, therefore, health costs overall. Eliminating the deduction will drive up costs for people with workplace healthcare, but makes the health-care market fairer.

Three: Eliminate the corporate income tax. Completely. If companies reinvest the money into their businesses, that’s good. Don’t tax companies in an effort to tax rich people.

Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you’re taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.

Five: Tax carbon emissions. Yes, that means higher gasoline prices. It’s a kind of consumption tax, and can be structured to make sure it doesn’t disproportionately harm lower-income Americans. More, it’s taxing something that’s bad, which gives people an incentive to stop polluting.

Six: Legalize marijuana. Stop spending so much trying to put pot users and dealers in jail — it costs a lot of money to catch them, prosecute them, and then put them up in jail. Criminalizing drugs also drives drug prices up, making gang leaders rich.