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An Innovation Isn’t (Necessarily) A Job

February 11, 2012

Last week, I noticed Amir Bakshi’s recent post on CNN’s Global Public Square Innovation blog (to which I have, in the past, contributed) asking whether the relatively small number of US jobs that go into making an iPad – as reported by The New York Times – means that we have to “innovate faster and faster.” The post overlooked the rather obvious fact that China’s main competitive advantage in making iPads, inasmuch as there is one, appears to lie in allowing companies like Foxconn to treat their workers like garbage – perhaps this makes me a soccialist, but factory dormitories don’t seem like something we should aspire to. Perhaps the post was suggesting that in order for a developed economy to compete with the cheap labor and abysmal conditions readily available in China, we need to leverage our supposed advantage in innovation.

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The 99% Margin of Error

October 14, 2011

There are some valid criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street movement. That they are a bunch of whiny college grads who should have known better before taking on student debt isn’t one of them.

I have very, very little student debt. I could pay it all off tomorrow if I chose to. I’d love to be able to say that this means I am better than those supposedly delusional saps with degrees in design or music and $50,000 or $100,000 or $200,000 in student debt and a job in retail. It would be awfully nice to think I am better than an entire class of people.

It would also be a bunch of self-serving bullshit.

Look: that I do not have a student debt problem is a lucky circumstance. I am, surely, not the only one whom fortune has smiled upon in this way.

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A Simple Case Against the Death Penalty

September 27, 2011

In Saturday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat uses the Troy Davis case to make an unusual case in favor of capital punishment. You should probably just read the whole thing here, but to summarize the argument: there are numerous abuses in the criminal justice system, many of which could probably be swept under the rug were the specter of death not hanging over much of it. Further, our prisons are often in such bad shape that, one could argue, lifetime imprisonment is more “cruel and unusal” than death. The death penalty, therefore, should be reformed, but not abolished.

This point appeals to me, in a sense. It is also entirely backwards.

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Staring Decline in the Face

July 28, 2011

“An unstable, barely governable country presenting a grave risk to the international system of corporate governance and exchange mechanisms.” – Chinese Central Banker Li, a character in Gary Shtegyngart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story, on a fictional, near-future United States.

I’ve written before about Super Sad True Love Story, and I’m thinking about it once again. The novel describes an America in terminal, nihilistic, decline, and is set about twenty years in the future.

“Coming from abroad, this country seems as if it is beyond dysfunctional. It looks like a banana republic on the verge of economic collapse.” – Andrew Sullivan, July 22, 2011.

When I was a boy, I once asked my mother about the difference between Republicans and Democrats. At the time, she was politically noncommittal but leaned vaguely Republican, and so she replied that Republicans wanted the government to leave individuals alone and Democrats wanted the opposite. So I became a little Republican, which seemed about as rational a position as anything to my eight-year-old mind. I believed in the individual, or thought I did, in as much as small children are capable of figuring out what individuals are and are not capable of.

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What’s the Point of Billionaires? A Thought Experiment

July 6, 2011

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about billionaires. The number of billionaires has risen dramatically in the past few decades, even as the middle-class has shrank. And the more I think about the more I can’t help but wonder: what is the purpose of the billionaire?

Before you go decrying me as some kind of pinko-commie-red, just think of this as a thought experiment: in terms of pure economic utilization, what is the point of each marginal dollar that goes into the billionaire’s bank account? We already know that, when middle-class and poor people get more money, it has far greater economic impact, because they spend it, whereas the wealthy may not. Now, suppose the government just instituted an arbitrary cap on wealth of $1 billion, or even $500 million – what could the government do with all that extra money? It could pay down the debt. It could fix roads or build high speed rail or provide cash to public university systems. All of these things would have direct, significant and tangible economic impacts for everyone, especially the middle-class.

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Debt Ceiling Blues

June 30, 2011

This past Friday, I was listening to NPR’s (highly reccommended) program On Point. The subject was the Congressional war over the debt ceiling, and Eric Cantor’s recent, hugely irresponsible decision, to walk away from the talks. I listened for awhile, then turned it off. I couldn’t bear it any longer. This happens a lot when I listen to, or read, things about the debt ceiling debate.

Is there any better example of the paralysis in our political system that is slowly making our country ungovernable? I mean, this is a pretty straightforward task. Congress can simply vote to raise the debt ceiling, and then the government can function, and total economic collapse can be avoided, and we can try to seriously fix our many problems. It really should not be particularly complicated, or controversial, do something that everyone agrees we need to do in order to avoid collapse.

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Quick Thoughts on Retirement

June 14, 2011

I wrote this in response to this Andrew Sullivan post earlier this month. It was originally a letter to the editor. I probably should’ve posted it sooner.

I happen to believe that this is largely correct about long-term viability of retirement benefits. However, whenever anyone exhorts us young people to save, save, save, for our far-off retirements, I get a little testy. Sure, this is something I worry about sometimes. But the people who tell us this are invariably older and typically quite well-off, so they overlook one obvious fact: most young people simply cannot afford to save that much. Read more…