POLITICAL OPINIONS#58: KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS AND THE AUSTRIAN SCHOOL

INTRODUCTION:

When it comes to the economic schools of philosophy and application there are two that come to mind. The two schools being Keynesian and Austrian school.  The significantly more prevalent of the two, the  Keynesian school is regarded as being the universally accepted form of economics.  It is championed and utilized by both mainstream Conservative and Liberal economists. Considering the relative obscurity of the Austrian school of economics is seldom discussed as a viable alternative economic philosophy.  In the vast majority of undergraduate economics courses it may only mentioned in brief passing. Potentially noted with a hint of parenthetical derision and ridicule.  With no serious consideration of the Austrian school it is viewed as more of a theoretical footnote. It can be argued that the Austrian school has been periodically maligned unfairly considering the Resistance to actively apply it.

 

However, while the Austrian school as been marred as a punchline to many economists it has been undergoing a reemergence. In the ravages of the 2007 and 2008 economic crisis which was punctuated by the integral contribution of the “housing-bubble”, more Americans grew incredulous of  our economic policies. The mounting evidence of the failure of the status quo economic policies, methods, and philosophies brought forth the opportunity for alternatives. The Austrian school would begin to as it continues to reach a broader audience.  No longer being confined to the circle and associations of libertarians and fringe economists. The major impetus for the increase in  mainstream exposure being the Presidential campaign of then Texas senator Dr. Ron Paul. His 2008 campaign coincided with the economic turmoil of the recession and provided ample opportunity to present suggestions to remedy the carnage. Dr. Paul having longstanding ties to organizations such as the Mises Institute which have been enduring proponents of Austrian economics. The organization taking it’s name from Austrian economist Ludwig  Von Mises. Paul utilized his platform the become one of the most vociferous allies of Austrian economics in mainstream politics.  It spoke of the kind of fiscal conservatism that appealed to those rattled by the volatility of the contemporary economic market.

 

The whole point of this blog entry is not to be a slanted and partisan indictment of Keynesian economic theory. This entry will be more of a side by side comparison and introduction to the two theories. The two paragraph preamble above is merely there to demonstrate how Austrian economics has been ostracized by the majority of economists. Which is more so why it is important for me to include in equal consideration of that of Keynesian theory. If we do not contemplate the potentials of both theories we are falling short of intellectual honest and otherwise just passively capitulate to conventional wisdom. To do otherwise would merely making us victim of the appeal to authority fallacy which is far from  a prudent means of arriving at the best answers. While I will not provide any direct commentary on the follies and positive attributes of either theory, I will do so in subsequent blog entries in the future.

 

BACKGROUND OF KEYNESIAN  ECONOMICS:

The roots of  Keynesian economics  stem back to the economic conceptualizations of English economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes book General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, solidified the principles of the pillars of his theory [1]. It remained unchallenged until the 1970’s when the economic principles of Monetarism became more prevalent. Right around the 1971 expiration of the Bretton Woods Agreement, that move the United States away from the gold standard [2]. Many of the sound money advocates grew silent as the 1980’s rolled on. The Keynesian system remained in favor and once again came under scrutiny  in the 2007-2008 recession. Theorists refined current methodology to adapt to the current economic climate and has been viewed as relative successful [1].

Keynesian Economics will have its   legacy encapsulated as the prevailing form of economics for the 20th century. Considering the reforms made to it back during the global fiscal crisis of 2007-2008, it has demonstrated its fungible malleability of it has a theory. While being open to adaptation and pragmatic evolution , the fundamental difference between the two schools needs to be established. That is the role of government in economic affairs. Economists of this economic paradigm tend to belief that government intervention can have positive results on employment rates and demand/ production of goods and services. Generally through manipulating “tax policies” and “government expenditures” [1].

 

CORE ASSUMPTIONS OF KEYNESIAN THEORY:

 

The Keynesian school of economics did arise from the Keynes attempts to analyze the causes of the Great Depression. The theory assumes that lowering taxes and increasing government spending mimics market demand and can counteract an economic depression. Through utilizing government intervention it can optimize economic performance and circumvent slumps. [3]Through artificially impacting aggregate demand or  “measurement of the sum of all final goods and services produced in an economy, expressed as the total amount of money exchanged for those goods and services”  [5].

The Keynesian theory of economics postulates that aggregate demand is impacted by decisions made in public and private sector. Which essentially can be distilled to the fact that decisions made in regards to momentary and fiscal policy impact aggregate demand. Keynesian theorists use to  purport that monetary policy had no impact and modern theorists have relinquished this view. Policies regarding spending, taxation, and currency all have an integral impact on this metric.[4].

 

A second talking point of Keynesian theory is that changes in aggregate demand have a short-term effect on output and employment, but not on prices. Subscribers of this theory believe that long term consequences cannot dictate short term and we live in the short term. This notion exemplified by  inflation only slightly rising when unemployment decreases. Pronounced repercussions of  monetary policy are only significant if prices are rigid and wages do not appropriately adjust. The injection of  more currency to the more supply would have a similar influence on prices. If  government spending increases and all other forms remain the same , commercial output will increase. They apply the concept of multiplier effect to explain how subsidy from the government increases output. [4].

 

 

A third core doctrine of this economic philosophy is that wages and prices are slow to respond to supply and demand resulting in surpluses and shortages. [4].

 

The fourth central component of  Keynesian economics do not find a typical arrange of unemployment to be acceptable due to it being contingent on aggregate demand and the slow rate of price adjustment. Keynesians have a proclivity to view unemployment to high and variable across the board. They view that in economically tumultuous periods “…efficient markets respond to unattractive opportunities..”. In other words, even if it is a recession, you should not stave off hiring more employees. [4].

 

The fifth notable attribute of Keynesian economics is that proponents support activist stabilization policies. Such as example would include a moderate increase to the money supply to combat a higher unemployment rate as a means of artificially re-calibrating  balance. [4].

 

The six and final characteristic of Keynesian though would be seeing more peril in unemployment than inflation. Many of this school of thought perceive the costs of inflation as being a small consequence. Which clearly demonstrates the train of logic used in their economic stabilization  theories. This acceptance and justification of aggressive government action rests on two assumptions, (1) the ebbs and flows of macroeconomics are overall detrimental and (2) the government has the capacity to remedy any issues in the free-market. [4].

 

BACKGROUND OF THE AUSTRIAN SCHOOL:

 

In a figurative sense, if  Keynesian economics had an arch nemesis it would be Austrian economics. While Keynesian school of though regard governmental adjustments  and institutional oversight, the Austrian school is its staunch reciprocal. In stead of artificial safeguards and invitations, Austrians economist would rather allow the market to operate in a natural fashion. Allowing the complex system of the economy adjust through the actions of actors in the private sector versus the parental stewardship of the public sector.

 

The genesis of Austrian economic theory can be traced back to the late-1800’s in the country of Austria. The key architect of  being  founder Carl Menger and his myriad of various followers Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk  and Friedrich von Wieser. Influence of such economic theories were continued in the twentieth century by some of the most renowned  theorists, including the likes of  Ludwig von Mises  and Friedrich August von Hayek, “who was awarded the Nobel prize in economics in 1974…” [6]

 

Menger engendered the enduring legacy of Austrian economics through the publication of his book  Principles of Economics 1871. The book fixated on historical studies of  entrepreneurship, time structure of capital goods, banking and money, business cycles,  dynamic markets, critiques of government intervention  and knowledge as decentralized [7]. Menger  postulated that the value of a commodity was  subjectively derived, however, the marginal of a commodity is its true value. The more scant a commodity is the it will be utilized in a more important manner. Single-highhandedly rectified Adam Smith’s “Diamond-water paradox” of how Diamond which are nonessential to life put cost more than water. Menger’s direct students would then advance upon these principles of marginal utility. [8].

 

His student Friedrich Von Wieser applied  marginal utility  to not value of a commodity but to the premise of consumption. The value of productive resources would be attributed to their contribution the final product. Wieser also applied the concept of opportunity costs to the costs of  production [8]. Opportunity costs being the opportunities lost in exchange for choosing one expenditure over another.[9]. Eugen Von Bohm-Bawerk  derived his theory of price from marginal utility.  However, Bohm-Bawerk’s  true contribution to economics was his research on capital and interest. Specifically concentrated how time factored into value, interest being a form of compensation to  a lender for the use of capital with no direct payoff. The percentage rate of the interest being determined by the size of labor pool, amount of capital in the local market, and ability to increase productivity. [8].

 

The contemporary legacy of Austrian economics was land-marked by the theories of  two Austrian economists that ended up stateside. The two prominent economists being the revered F.A. Hayek and Ludwig Von Mises.  In a broad sense both theorists asserted that complex economies cannot be planned due to ” true market prices being absent…” making it impossible to procure information for planning [8]. The seeds of the backbone this fiscally conservative tradition came about in 1945 when Hayek arrived to the United Stated for a lecture tour. Hayek embarked upon the tour in support of his renowned classic  The Road to Serfdom.  His book garnered much attention and landed him on the cover of Reader’s Digest. While impressive, Hayek’s connections to business man and free trade organizations is would made his career enduring.The organizations he formed and even his salary as a lecturer over at the University of Chicago can be cemented by these professional ties. [10].

 

KEY ASSUMPTIONS OF AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS:

“There, he offers 10 propositions that define Austrian economics.

  1. Only individuals choose.
  2. The study of the market order is fundamentally about exchange behavior and the institutions within which exchanges take place.
  3. The “facts” of the social sciences are what people believe and think.
  4. Utility and costs are subjective.
  5. The price system economizes on the information that people need to process in making their decisions.
  6. Private property in the means of production is a necessary condition for rational economic calculation.
  7. The competitive market is a process of entrepreneurial discovery.
  8. Money is nonneutral.
  9. The capital structure consists of heterogeneous goods that have multispecific uses that must be aligned.
  10. Social institutions often are the result of human action, but not of human design.”

[11].

 

DISCUSSION:

As is evident in the side by side juxtaposition of these two competing economic philosophies are their sharp distinctions.  It would be fair to say it is to the extent that they are nearly polar opposites. One body of theories places faith in governing institutions and the other does in the markets. Austrian economics views markets as a true complex systems analogous to an environmental ecosystem. Imposing artificial restraints merely causes destructive chaos. Impositions of regulation and misguided manipulation merely results in disruption. Similar to how eliminating a food source from an ecosystem  devolves into biological instability, relinquishment of equilibrium. Which is why Austrian economists generally favor less institutional intervention in economic matters. Setting aside any ideological biases I possess I can honestly state that it is line of logic that could be seen as rational.

 

However, the reasoning behind the core principles of Keynesian economics is not lost on me. While being a staunch reciprocal of the Austrian school it almost seems equally as cogent in a superficial sense. It easy to see the validity of the two body of theories when ideological predispositions and data are out of the equation. The  Austrian school of economics  may seem reasonable  if you have you are fiscally conservative or have studied biology. However, I should interject that it is counter intuitive to some extent.  The ardent emphasis on formal structure in society is so instilled in us ,even most libertarians have difficult side-stepping these tendencies. Maybe not in terms of policy, but in terms of personal judgement. From the time that we are children are constantly bombarded with  rules that shape our behavior and help us conform ideas and forms of conduct. Even examples as trivial as the rules of a board game such as Candy Land align for this cognitive bias for formal structure. I am not judging it so much as this is merely an observation.

 

The trepidation and fear of allowing economic transactions to exist without an abundance of regulation has its origins in our conditioning towards formal structure. While it denying the stability of naturally occurring equilibrium, it is not an outlandish notion. Humans are wired for self-preservation, part of the evolutionary mechanisms behind this is to address the most base and repugnant motives of human nature.  Many individuals see it as whenever there is an opportunity to capitalize, someone is getting victimized. The question becomes are the regulations truly an objective force of  moral good if they are the invention of man?  State sanctioned laws are merely  constructs, the conceptual by product of human though. The have the potential to reflect aspects of moral truth, however, they also can be slanted to favor certain individuals.  The agenda behind the lawmakers thought process are just as suspect as the motives of  your neighbor selling  his 1969 Mustang car. The key difference being your neighbor has quite a bit to lose in reputation when compared by the senator who chooses to vote for oppressive regulations. The senator can hide in obscurity, while your neighbor will likely not do so well in future transactions, having violated the variable of trust. Trust a key component of reducing transactions costs.

 

While economic regulations in theory could be well-intentioned, they are certainly open to scrutiny.  Few metrics can really examine with regulations are effective especially when dealing with a dynamic complex system such as economy. Where you are dealing with a Wealth of Nations style  free-market  or a heavily regulated market, the foreboding peril of human nature is always present.  If the inherent risk is always omnipresent, would you rather live by your own will or the will of others?  This open rhetorical question is not an attribution of judgement , but  rather food for thought.

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1]. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Keynesian-economics

[2]. https://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/bretton_woods_created

[3]. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/k/keynesianeconomics.asp

[4]. https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/KeynesianEconomics.html

[5]. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/aggregatedemand.asp

[6]. http://austrian-institute.org/en/the-austrian-school-of-economics/

[7]. https://www.progress.org/articles/austrian-economics-explained

[8]. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Austrian-school-of-economics

[9] https://www.britannica.com/topic/opportunity-cost

[10] https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/159020

[11]. http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2010/11/what-austrian-economics-is-and-what-austrian-economics-is-not.html

 

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POLITICAL OPINIONS# 57: JONES ACT

INTRODUCTION

In recent years, the prevalence of protectionist economic policies has increased with the Trump administration. President Trump campaigned during 2016 presidential election under the slogan of “America First”. Such a broad statement leaves a load desire in a summary of a campaign platform.  However, it is certainly a slogan that is concise and appealing, like most political slogans.  “ America First” is not only a simple saying but reflects a paradigm shift in regards to foreign policy and economics. If interpreted from a superficial standpoint, it could be viewed as a sentiment of supporting American exceptionalism. The cynics in the room would be more apt to be rightfully dubious of such assertions in the absence of concrete evidence. Is it really a substantiation of American exceptionalism to forlorn capitalism for protectionist trade policy? Capitalistic trade between the United States and foreign trade allies is a big part of what has made the United States an economic superpower in the past. Considering the interconnected and global nature of the current economy, it seems unrealistic that isolationist trade policies could be anything but detrimental. In light of the decades of rises in labor costs and production regulations, it was inevitable for globalism to come about. Outsourcing labor has helped facilitate competitive pricing in the market.

 

I understand that many may be disgusted that I am speaking of outsourcing in such a positive light, but there are often two sides to every coin.  As a nation’s economy becomes more technologically advanced certain occupations become obsolete. Many of the manufacturing jobs are outmoded when compared to the skill set of the majority of the United States, keeping these jobs domestic is only increasing the MSRP  of the goods. Many who voted for Trump, rather than adapting to the demands of the market, want to utilize government intervention as recourse to artificially reorient the market. The Trump has attempted to make such corrections through import tariffs. Using such methods will only hurt more consumers when compared to the minuscule number of jobs it will save. I would surmise that the overall cost of living is high enough without artificial measures raising the costs. Merely to appease a minority the American population.

 

Needless to say, I am far from a proponent of protectionist economic trade policies and can see nothing other than peril and illusion in them. They always seem great on the surface; however, they tend to only exacerbate current economic issues. Now that I have demonstrated for purposes of transparency my biases in regard to trade policy, I feel that I can proceed. It is clear that I am a free trade absolutist, however, I will try to provide both sides of the argument for the Jones Act in as impartial of a manner as I have the capacity for. In order to become a better thinker, I will attempt to provide an even account of the positive and negative attributes of the Jones Act. However, I do not see how place economic constraints on the United States is putting “America First”. My instinct is to view such rhetoric as smoke and mirrors, however, it is important I do not let my incredulity override this blog entry.

 

WHAT IS THE JONES ACT?:

 

Many of you who are not privy to contemporary American trade policy may have never heard of the Jones Act.  This piece of legislation has remained relatively obscure and would be a periodical talking point on the Senate floor garnering little publicity. However, since the Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and President Trump acted against his protectionist campaign platform and temporarily waived it to assist with disaster relief, the issue has become more prevalent over the past year [1]. While not a typical mainstay on the stage of political commentary the policy is far from new. It harkens back to the isolationism of President Woodrow Wilson. The Jones Act was a subclause of the  Merchant Marine Act of 1920 under the article: (46 U.S.C. § 30104).  The original intent of this article of the  Merchant Marine Act of 1920 was to protect shipping industry of the United States against foreign competition and to provide a provisional naval auxiliary in times of war [2]. The original intentions of this legislation were certainly reflective of the political climate and sentiments of the  Woodrow administration.  It provides a similar purview into the political climate of the time in a similar manner as the Trump admiration’s trade tariffs. Sometimes the policies of a specific era are reflective of the circumstances specific to that time in history. Throughout America’s history, we have gone through several periods of economic and diplomatic isolationism for a litany of various reasons.  In the future, historians maybe expounding the Trump era import tariffs as a reactionary policy to country job outsourcing and lack of domestic production. Analogous to how I am reflecting upon the Jones Act now.

 

While we have above we have an overview of the Jones Acts, but we have not addressed the parameters of the legislation. As implemented how does this act seek to protect the American shipping industry? How this statute works to protect American Shipbuilders and carriers through making it illegal for foreign ships to move American goods from U.S. port to U.S. port. The vessel needs to be American built, be American owned, have American Crew manning the vessel and be masked with an American flag [3]. However, contrary to popular misconception, a foreign vessel can make landfall on one port and then discharge at another if it is all foreign freight. I use to work for a Steamship Line where we had a vessel schedule where the U.S. bound ships would discharge cargo at Port of Long Beach and then move up the coast to the Port of Oakland.  Such vessel rotations are legal by the fact this routing was for the discharge of imported freight.  However, if Matson ( one of the few Steam Ship Lines to service Hawaii, I believe) would be prohibited to move freight from Hawaii to Alaska with a Korean built ship. Please note that the U.S. built a ship and American crew is also applicable to commercial fishing in U.S. waters [3]. While the Jones Act is currently a valid statute, it can be temporarily suspended to assist with FEMA aid in times of emergency [4].

 

 

ARGUMENTS FOR THE JONES ACT:

 

The 2017 Forbes Article, Why Repealing The Jones Act Could Be A Disaster For The U.S., provides 4 core arguments in favor of the Jones Act.

1.       Without the Jones Act, The Navy would need to spend many billions of on New Sealift vessel.

The Author Loren Thompson asserts that the navy would need to invest in more vessels during the time of war. Versus appropriating commercial vessels for the transportation of military cargo. 36 percent of U.S. masked ships are utilized on the Jones Act protected routes. If repealed these ships could be registered in other countries pushing the Navy to obtain new ships.

2.       Without the Jones Act, The Navy would be Hard-pressed to crew the sealift vessels it already has.

While vessels can be commissioned, retired, and re-commissioned, the same cannot be said for the crew. Approximately 90 percent of all mariners work on trade routes supported by the Jones Act. Without the Jones Act, the Navy would not have a trained pool of civilian sailors to assist in times of national emergency.

3.       Without the Jones Act, U.S. Construction of Large Commercial Vessels would Cease.

Per the article, “1981, the Reagan Administration abolished the “construction-differential subsidy” provided to domestic shipyards without seeking reciprocity from other shipbuilding nations.”.  Reducing overall U.S. ship production to 1 percent of all the world’s large capacity commercial ships. Repealing the Jones Act would completely destroy the shipyards in the U.S.

4.       Without the Jones Act, foreign ships and mariners would take over critical U.S. economic infrastructure.

The vast majority of steel is transported via the Great Lakes in the interior of the United States. To relinquish the interior waterways to foreign sailors and ships would posse risks to national security.

 

[5]

 

ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE JONES ACT

 

While many of the concerns expressed in the article mentioned above are valid, there are always two sides two every story. It is reasonable to want to hold national security and domestic job security in high regard. However, do any of these benefits come with any drawbacks and if so are they more costly than the benefits. I will be the first to mention it is hard to get an unbiased answer to these questions from most written sources. The author is either discrediting the Jones Act or sing its praises, neither perspective genuinely neutral. The article I am going to reference the arguments against the Jones Act was written by the Cato Institute. It is a very well researched and extensive article. The one caveat is that it is overwhelmingly in opposition to the Jones Act and is such an extensive article I am only referencing a portion of it. I welcome my readers to view the article in its entirety, just check out the website link in the footnotes.  Just beware the Cato Institute is a libertarian-leaning public policy research organization.  There is a certain pejorative (at least in my eyes) term that can be applied here as well (Think tank,  public policy research organization= think tank). I apologize if my dry attempts at humor are not too captivating.  For the sake of brevity, let’s look at the 4 ways that the article addresses how the Jones Act has been an economic burden to the United States.

 

Prior to getting into the specific ways the Jones Act adversely affects the U.S. economy, we should look at past research done the legislation’s ramifications.  There were a few studies conducted over the 1990’s by U.S. International Trade Commision that estimated that “… $656 million to $9.8 billion…” [6].   U.S. International Trade Commission has not provided any follow-up estimates regarding overall costs of the Jones Act. However,  this only seems to ignore true economic consequences for the United States. The costs impact lost revenue,  Environmental costs, Transportation costs, and Infrastructure cost.

 

  1.  Lost of Domestic Revenue

The decrease in domestic revenue engendered by the Jones Act is evident in several various ways. The emphasis on the utilization of domestic carriers increases costs while diminishing profit margins. Even when the cost of the commodity is approximate to its foreign counterpart it is the costs of the domestic carrier or vessel that makes foreign carriers more advantageous. For example, cattle ranchers in Hawaii route their ocean shipment through Canada and even utilizing air freight solutions. These options may work in the short term they overall reduce potential profits. In general, the costs of using Domestic carriers reduce profits at home.

It also should be considered the amount of oil that the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, imports from Venezuela versus from domestic oil reserves. It costs a mere $2 per a barrel to ship oil from Gulf Coast to Eastern Canada. In contrast, a Jones Act compliant vessel it would cost approximately $6 per a barrel to ship from the Gulf Coast to Northeastern U.S.  A 1999 study conducted by the Government  Accountability Office found that the Jones Act exempt oil shipping route from Northern Alaska to U.S. Virgin Islands  cost three times less than from the Gulf Coast. Even though this route which encompasses taking a circuitous route which takes twice as long. [6].

 

2. Environmental Costs

The environmental costs of the Jones Act are more oblique and peripheral consideration, but a still valid cause of concern. Many goods that could be transported by ship through interior waterways (for example the Mississippi River) are done so by truck. The World Wide Shipping Council cites that marine transport of goods is the most efficient mode of transport in regards to carbon emissions. Carbon Emission being a major contributing factor to air pollution.  Transportation by ship produces merely:

“….10-40 grams of carbon dioxide to carry one ton of cargo one kilometer. In contrast, rail transport produces 20-150 grams, and trucking — whose tonnage is forecast to grow 44 percent by 2045 according to the Department of Transportation — produces 60-150 grams” [6]

While environmental detriment inflicted by the Jones Act tends to be more of an implicit cost. There are more explicitly monetary costs that result from this increase in air pollution. The cost of carbon emissions from vehicles idling in traffic is estimated reach $7.6 billion dollars by 2030 (from 2013 to 2030). Many of these losses in money and productivity manifest themselves in environmental improvement initiatives and other countermeasures.

[6].

3.  Transportation Costs

It can be said that the Jones Act has artificially increased domestic shipping costs by eliminating competition. The requirements of having a U.S. built a ship, U.S. Manned crew, U.S. Owned, and have the vessel registered in the United States restricts the number of potential vendors. Lifting many of the Jones Act requirements it would increase the number of vendors that could service the interior waterways of the U.S.  By increasing the number of vendors to service  U.S. ports it would decrease shipping costs. Beyond the principles of supply and demand, the costs are also impacted by higher than average operating costs. 2010 study found that the operating cost of U.S. commercial vessels was 2.7 times higher than that of foreign vendors.  The daily operating cost for U.S. Commercial vessel is estimated to be $20,053 per day. It is also surmised that 68 percent of that cost is related to to the crew versus 35 percent of daily operation costs for foreign vessels. [6].

 

4. Infrastructure Costs

Utilizing land-based modes of transportation of goods cause wear and tear on our countries in-land infrastructure. The obvious consequence of this are the costs of maintenance and repair on our roads and railways. Similar the Environmental costs the Infrastructure costs tend to get obscene by some of the more salient repercussions of the Jones Act. Per 2014 Congressional Office Budget Report annual capital spending on highways encompassed $93 billion and $73 billion for operations and maintenance.  The article also mentions how commercial trucks account for 10 percent of total highway traffic, but 75 percent of maintenance costs. It was also suggested that road maintenance amounted to approximately  23 percent of the total federal deficit.  While infrastructure is a necessity, if it is possible to alleviate unnecessary weathering, it would certainly be fiscally responsible and prudent to do so.  [6].

 

DISCUSSION:

 

I apologize for my ire-filled rant spanning two paragraphs in the introduction, it was not based on facts, but rather on my strong convictions on economic policy. I choose to keep those two judgemental and aimless paragraphs in for a reason.  Too often we are susceptible to faulty thinking and faulty logic. In the age of wanton social media consumption, we all have the propensity to be enveloped by our own self-indulgent echo-chamber. However, my diatribe against protectionism does have some truth attached to the visceral reaction. The ” America First” policies are all too often what all political slogans are, a marketing campaign. There is little thought or practical policy data that goes into the formation of these slogans. What is truly vexing about them is that they are often giving the constituency faith in broad abstract ideas that are short-sighted.  These slogans such as ” America First” or ” Change we can believe in” are short and are very salient.  Often the campaign platform for a political candidate represents the vague sentiment but fails to truly demonstrate who these policies will be effective. Nevermind the process of implementation. Personally, I feel that President Trump was merely trying to appease and tap into a forlorn constituency that is looking to survive for today versus contemplating the consequences of tomorrow.

 

When placed in a similar position as the rust belt demographic  Trump voter you do not have the luxury of analyzing the facts nor inoculating yourself against faulty logic.  I personally feel that the “America First” mantra is not inherently pernicious,  but is misguided. While I really attempted to see the value in trade tariffs and Byzantine trade regulations such as the Jones Act, I do not see much value. While such policies are superficially appealing to some they are abjectly shortsighted. When I really look at the significant amount of data in regards to the overall costs to the United States for protectionist policies, such as the Jones Act, it is impossible for me to support such measures. I really attempted to see the other side of the issue, however, I cannot reasonably do so. The opposition to the Jones Act seems to be armed with more hard data in regards to the economic effects. While the proponents tend to base their arguments on the hypothetical. Unless someone can tell me when the provisions of using commercial ships to supplement our naval fleet have been advantageous, I can only see it has a strawman argument. Then again, I could be wrong. That one highly improbable hypothetical consideration is not enough of practical concern to justify the Jones Act. Especially when faced with the significant costs engendered by the Jones Act.

 

In actuality how many American Jobs were precisely preserved by the Jones Act? I tried to find statistics on how many Americans are estimated to work as Merchant Marines. The main occupation that would be preserved by the Jones Act and would speculate that constitutes a small percentage of American Jobs. The jobs that are saved by this legislation is only a minute fraction of jobs, it is a relatively small segment of the job market. I do not see how the gargantuan economic costs are outweighed by the small number of jobs that are saved. I will dedicate an entire blog entry to address whether or not Jones Act achieves its ends as a national security measure.

 

So far we have only examined the broader aspects of the Jones Act that do not directly impact the average person. While conducting my research for this topic I came across a lot of information on how Jones Act has impacted the cost of living in Hawaii. Per the Grassroots the cost of living is 12 percent higher than the average state in the country [7]. In my opinion, is an excellent parable of who protectionism hinders the United States. This policy is making the cost of living in Hawaii artificially more expensive than it needs to be. From my perspective, that isn’t helping the Americans who live in that state it is only hurting them. I would surmise that there are more people who suffer financially living in Hawaii than the number of U.S. Merchant Marines that benefit from the Jones Act.

 

 

[8].

 

 

 

 

FOOT NOTES:

 

[1]. https://newrepublic.com/minutes/145057/waiving-jones-act-wont-solve-puerto-ricos-problems-right-now

[2]. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/jones_act

[3]. http://www.maritimelawcenter.com/html/the_jones_act.html

[4]. https://transportationinstitute.org/jones-act/

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/lorenthompson/2017/10/17/maritime-security-five-reasons-the-jones-act-is-a-bargain/#7bea525d3d96

[6]. https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/jones-act-burden-america-can-no-longer-bear

[7]: http://www.grassrootinstitute.org/2017/04/the-jones-act-in-perspective/

[8]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58txZlurgLk

 

 

 

 

 

POLITICAL OPINIONS #56: THE ROLE OF THEOLOGY IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION VS. FRENCH REVOLUTION

INTRODUCTION:

For those of you who have active imaginations, attempt to picture the results of the American Revolution if the Brittish had won.  An interesting juxtaposition when compared to the current state of history and an engaging exercise for those into the whole alternative history scene. While imaging the byproduct of the United States still being under English colonial control in 2018 maybe engrossing idea to entertain, let’s stack the chips a little higher. Hypothetically, what if the American colonists emancipated themselves from colonial rule, however, their efforts devolve into divisive chaos. The idealistic principles behind the revolution failed to maintain order and a political power vacuum is created, waiting for the lurking totalitarian to seize control. For many patriotic Americans, this may parallel the dark prophecies conveyed in dystopian science fiction novels. However, the events described are actually a loose interpretation of the French Revolution.

The question becomes why was the American Revolution such a political and philosophical success and the French Revolution was such an abject failure? Historians and political commentators have a litany of hypotheses addressing this inquiry. However, one particularly interesting claim made by Conservatives was the philosophical backbone supporting both revolutions. The French people were definitely influenced by the success of the American colonists, however, their philosophical principles varied.  The French Enlightenment philosophers were well known for their criticism of religion. The philosophical core of France’s secular culture is ingrained in the country even to the present day[1]. All you need to do is read Voltaire’s Candide to really demonstrate France’s tradition of staunch secularism. France’s core unifying philosophical tenant, with little to no moral safeguards, was logic. The Conservative critics overwhelmingly attribute the failings of the French Revolution to the moral shortcoming of the French secularism.

 

In contrast, the founding fathers of the United States were much more influenced by the theological principles of Christianity. The founders of the United States were influenced by the Enlightenment philosophers of England and Scotland. While the majority of European philosophers only saw the folly in religion the English/ Scottish philosophers remained unwavering in their faith [2]. Much of the founding principles of the United States were basic in Judeo-Christian ethos and solidified by the premise of natural rights that are divinely allocated. In a sense, it was a more egalitarian inversion of the divinely decreed ” Divine Right of Kings” championed throughout Europe a few centuries prior. The principle of a divinely sanctioned equality of man certainly has the rigidity that logic and reason does not. The fungible nature of logic and reason means that you can utilize these tools to fit your agenda. In contrast, the word of God is Gospel, with little leg room for manipulation if you are an orthodox Christian. Coupling the rights of citizenhood with faith works in regards to justification as faith is not be questioned.

In an attempt to clear the air here, I feel as if I should expound upon theological biases, I may have. My theological convictions reside in a purgatorial expanse between belief and disbelief. For categorical purposes, I would proclaim myself to be an agnostic. I do have a degree of openness when it comes to exploring these ideas. I just wanted to reassure the readers that I am not slanted towards any undue praise of Christianity.  If it works as a moral framework, even if it is situationally successful, I cannot outright condemn. Particularly on the grounds of intellectual honesty.  While Christianity does have its shortcomings there are also highly positive attributes about it as a moral philosophical belief system. The atheists are also imbalanced and have the disposition to deny any positivity that can be yield from religion. I certainly feel like I am at an advantage in being able to discuss this topic because I am not beholden to a strong conviction on their side of the dichotomous divide.

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION:

The events leading to the  French Revolution were complex and cannot be pinpoint as one sole cause being the harbinger of the revolt against the King. Under the reign of King Louis XVI’s involvement in the American Revolution and ostentatious spending left France in financial ruin. As a countermeasure, the king raised taxes which was met with looting and riots. The discontent with the fiscal climate in the country was only compounded by the rise in population of the non-aristocratic populace. While they the peasant class out vote the aristocracy they were stifled by the “noble veto” making their efforts for political engagement futile. They band together to form what became known as the Third Estate in an attempt to gain more political representation. On June 17th, 1789, the Third Estate convened a meeting in an indoor tennis court. The formally adopting the title of the National Assembly. The members took the  Tennis Court Oath, professing not to leave until reforms have been made to the Country’s constitution  (fiscal, judicial reforms, and the privileges of the nobility). By June 27th most of the “.. Clerical deputies and 47 liberal nobles…” had joined with the National Assembly in the demonstration. King Louis XVI reluctantly complied with their demands.

 

By July of 1789, there were numerous rumors of a military coup transpiring in France among the nobility.  This rumor came to fruition on July 14, 1789, when rioters stormed the Versailles fortress in search munitions. This became the spark that started the revolution. This widespread rebellion against the French upper class became known as “The Great Fear” or “la Grande peur”. The efforts of the revolting class became recognized once the old feudalistic system was abolished on August 4th, 1789. This marked the beginning of a new Era in French History.

[3].

 

DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN:

Finally on August 26th, 1789 the National Assembly approved the Declaration of The Rights of Man. Mirroring the similar ideals as the Declaration of Independence in the United States, minus the allusions to a higher power. The document created an egalitarian overlay that provides political rights to citizens regardless of socio-economical status with 17 articles comprising the document.

Articles:

1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. Nobody nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

5. Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.

7. No person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law. Anyone soliciting, transmitting, executing, or causing to be executed, any arbitrary order, shall be punished. But any citizen summoned or arrested in virtue of the law shall submit without delay, as resistance constitutes an offense.

8. The law shall provide for such punishments only as are strictly and obviously necessary, and no one shall suffer punishment except it be legally inflicted in virtue of a law passed and promulgated before the commission of the offense.

9. As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all harshness not essential to the securing of the prisoner’s person shall be severely repressed by law.

10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

12. The security of the rights of man and of the citizen requires public military forces. These forces are, therefore, established for the good of all and not for the personal advantage of those to whom they shall be intrusted.

13. A common contribution is essential for the maintenance of the public forces and for the cost of administration. This should be equitably distributed among all the citizens in proportion to their means.

14. All the citizens have a right to decide, either personally or by their representatives, as to the necessity of the public contribution; to grant this freely; to know to what uses it is put; and to fix the proportion, the mode of assessment and of collection and the duration of the taxes.

15. Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration.

16. A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.

17. Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.

[4].

The Declaration of the rights of man was a step in the right direction in regards to increased equality within France. However, it was not enough to quell the discontent of radicals such as Maximilien de Robespierre. More moderate members of the assembly were looking to establish a Constitutional Monarchy which did not sit well with individuals such as Robespierre. [3].

 

THE STREETS RAN RED WITH BLOOD:

 

The darkest period of the whole French Revolution was known by historians as the Reign of Terror. On September 5, 1793, after the revolutionary factions took over the government they enacted a campaign of terror against suspected nobles, clergymen and anyone against there misguide crusade for equality. Executions for those who impeded their cause ran rampant throughout France from Paris to the countryside. For the lower class people that were still religiously observant, there was a de-Christianization program spearheaded by Jacques Hebert. The  Committee of Public Safety headed by Robespierre held totalitarian control over the government. In a paranoid state of rage, the government limited political opponents on the left and right of the political spectrum in 1794. They suspended the of a legal defendant trial or legal assistance leaving with the jury only able to acquit or convict them. It estimated that the number of people arrested during this era was approximately 300,000, 17,000 officially executed, and 10,000 died in prison without trial. The chaos continued from the failure of the French Revolution did not fully subside until Napoleon Bonaparte took the control of the country in the late 1700’s- early 1800’s. Mr. Bonaparte may have brought order but was far from a champion of democracy and had his own lust for conquest. [5].

 

THE FAILURES OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE:

It is quite evident that the French revolutionaries were drastically opposed to religion, especially Christianity. If you look at the origins of the intellectual principles behind the revolution it is clear that the many French citizens at the time saw religion as a divisive force. [1]. Whether or not religion does engender socio-economic stratification is open for debate. What is quite salient is how the absence and lack of tolerance towards impacted the actions of the revolutionary government.  If you really examine that portion of the Reign of Terror period of French history, the religious conservatives that fault the lack of religion in the French Revolution seem to be more credible.

 

The article from the Christian publication The Christian Post did a comparative overlay between the American and French Revolutions. 2014 article demonstrates how the philosophical differences between the two can be seen as the primary reason for the variance in results. The author states how the French revolution was the philosophical appeal to the “… human assertions of truth…”. Conversely, the American revolution was based on natural law which had divine justification. The French revolution attempted to depart from the virtue of religion and misplace a twisted sense of divinity on the “ruler”. Which post-Reign of Terror ended up being the warmonger Napoleon. The value that Christianity places on the individual is what was imparted to our Constitutional rights. Emphasized protection of human rights versus veneration of the state.

[6].

 

DISCUSSION:

As a skeptic of Christianity and all other formally organized religions, I do approach the benefits of religion with a healthy amount of incredulity. However, I am not one to argue with positive outcomes. To play Devil’s advocate here (no pun intended), we cannot necessarily confirm that the causation of the corruption and collapse of the French Revolutionary government was due to a lack of religiosity. It is something that we cannot methodically replicate, therefore we can only speculate as armchair historians. I should state that the religiosity of the American revolutionaries and the French was the most salient difference between the two. While we cannot prove the causation of the chaos and disarray of post-revolution France, is likely a multitude of different factors. It should be noted that French revolutionaries never set up comparable checks and balances systems as was set up in America. Unchecked executive power will lead to tyranny.

 

I can certainly see how the philosophical framework of Christianity could lend itself to establishing a government that protects the rights of the people. Christianity is a religion that focuses on the individual. The individual possesses freewill to either go on the righteous path or to sin. Because God gave people free will us should be able to exercise our natural rights without oppressive restriction from the state. In early civilizations, the Emperors of Rome or the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt declared divinity as justification for the totalitrian rule. A kind of government authority that takes no consideration for the rights of the constituency, but the desires of the king. It has to be accepted because the king is a god. Due to Christianity’s prescriptions against false idols, it can be surmised that giving too much power to a political leader or the government is heresy.  This because Christians are to worship God not the government.  The framers of the U.S. Consitution being privy to their Christian roots knew enough to place restrictions on the state and to avoid intermarrying the government with religion. Once you combine the two,  only unsavory things can happen whether you are a Christian or not.

I know that many secularists may be under the impression that there is the too much religious influence in American government. Anyone under the impression that we live in a theocracy is being melodramatic. If anything the Christian principles of putting God above the state has protected us from tyranny in an abstract manner. As we mentioned early how in France there was not the same emphasis on checks on executive power. It can be speculated that the checks and balances are there to keep us from putting government before faith. I will not be attending church anytime soon, however, I am thankful our Founding Fathers were Christians. Not because I believe that it is a superior religion to any other. It is because I value the built-in safety guards against over-concentration of governmental authority. If it happens to be derived from a specific theological perspective, then it is merely another feather in the cap of that religion. The irony is that many American atheists owe their freedom to deny the existence of a higher power to protections provided from the ideals of Christianity.

 

 

 

 

 

Foot Notes:

[1]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3325285.stm

[2]:https://mises.org/library/scottish-enlightenment-and-presbyterianism

[3].https://www.history.com/topics/french-revolution

[4]. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/rightsof.asp

[5]: https://www.britannica.com/event/Reign-of-Terror

[6]: https://www.christianpost.com/news/the-american-revolution-vs-the-french-revolution-123275/

PHILOSOPHICAL RANTS #19: A DISCOURSE ON OBJECTIVE TRUTH

DISCUSSION:

Yesterday, I found myself attempting to excogitate the concept of objective truth, an idea that I have grappled with for quite some time. While there most likely is an objectively fixed manifestation of truth, is there any degree of variance on the number of perspectives that reflect it? I am willing to accept the hypothetical notion that there is such a thing as objective truth. Even when it comes to issues concerning morality. However, I do surmise that there are divergent means of reaching the truth through various stipulations, paradigms, and methodology.  The old saying “there is more than one way to skin a cat” seems to be poignant considering the inquiry at hand.

 

Any of the diversified paths to truth may vary. However, it would not be a radical departure from the conventional means of arriving at the truth. It should be noted that the number of correct assumptions or methods are self-limiting. Limitations being predicated on the defining principles and attributes of the concept or idea that is true. Considering the limitations there are only a finite number of permutational results that do not conflict with the truth. The more removed from the defining attributes of the truth a concept is, the increased aptitude of it being false. Parenthetically there are multiple appropriate angles to see the truth. The best way to illustrate this point in a concrete manner is through mathematics. While the equations themselves are symbolic abstractions they represent what is reflected in the natural order through “written” computation.  There are various examples of several numbers being prevalent throughout human history and nature. The natural propensity towards equilibrium and symmetry are essentially a representation of balancing proportions.

 

EG.)

2+2=4,   8-4=14,  16/4= 4,   3-1+2= 4

 

The overall truth or factual expression demonstrated in the equations above is that they are all equal to the number 4. As is evident above there are several correct operational expressions that are equal to the number 4.  The computational expressions above demonstrates how they are several different correct ways to compose an equation that is equal to 4.

EG.)

2+1= 4

 

In contrast, the above equation is not a variation that is true. Due to the fact that it would be impossible by numeric logic for this equation to equal four, it has to be seen as false. In other words a radical departure from the truth. The core defining attribute of the veracity of the equation is whether or not the sum of the equation is numerical congruent with the sum.  If not, then we cannot accept it has a valid perspective of viewing the truth. It is too drastic of a deviation from the more conventional routes of reaching the number 4 by computations.  It directly conflicts with the parameters of the laws of mathematics.

 

Some individuals may argue that the examples provided above are too rudimentary to substantiate objective reality. In contrast, I would argue that it provides a preview of how some universal principles are resolute and cannot be altered by subjectivity. The fact that a quantifiable principle can be replicated and extrapolated makes an outstanding case for the existence of objective truth. Where this is most important is in the arena of morality. The ethos of our morality is the bedrock of our civilization, without it we would fall into the throes of anarchy and discord. While it is common in Post-modern circles to apply radical subjectivity in regards to morality, it’s not something to be taken frivolously. Without a cohesive moral philosophy, a myriad of reprehensible transgressions can be justified. To merely distill it down to a matter of opinion, is pernicious. If we as a society to tolerate all sorts of atrocities they will become more and more common. Ethical boundaries need to be delineated, regardless of the beliefs or internal narratives liberated by the disinhibition of the moral fluidity of Post-modern thought. The natural order has a confirmed truth with room for some variety and the same can be applied to the realm of morality as well.

POLITICAL OPINIONS#55: UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME- PROS AND CONS

INTRODUCTION:

When it comes to government-funded entitlement program there is much controversy and contention engulfing the topic. All you have to do is extrapolate the debate in regards to Universal Health Care to get a purview into the depth of discord. Similar to Universal Health Care there is a plenitude of horizontal arguments competing for substantiating veracity. Even with the diversity of economic, social, and moral considerations; most people will capitulate to our proclivity fall within one of the two dichotomous perspectives. Pro-Universal Basic Income or Anti-Universal Basic Income. The true misfortune is that with all the gears and components comprising the structure of the issue, a linear for or against argument may not be the best approach. Especially when the nuance that needs to be addressed when debating the validity of Universal Basic Income is so intricate. However, I comprehend how easy it is to surrender to our own philosophical and political biases without evaluating all the facts and joining one of the two diametrically opposing camps.

 

While our tendencies to pick one side over the other without ample analysis of the issue based on our own predispositions, we may need to overcome this fallacy of thought. Particularly when this logical fallacy is applied to Universal Basic Income. This topic becoming a serious contender for political debate is right on the horizon. Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has incorporated implementing Universal Basic Income as a key pillar of his presidential campaign. Beyond Mr. Yang bringing this topic to the front door of the American political scene, other countries are have implemented UBI policies. Even if we were to completely negate the rising prevalence of Universal Basic Income in American politics, the increasing numbers of people suffering from job displacement due to certain occupations being outmoded. In the ashes of a manufacturing empire that are now known as the Rust Belt, it is critical to find solutions for the myriad of obsolete jobs. The economic and philosophical cost to the region has been dismally compounded by and correlated with the ravages of the opioid epidemic. As much as the potential benefits of Universal Basic Income can be speculated, personally I am incredulous of  UBI as a policy. While it sounds like a good policy, is it effective in the long run? No one really has any hard data with any range of historical depth to corroborate that it is an effective policy.  Without any hard evidence, how do we know that it is any more effective than putting a band-aid on cancer? My reservations extend beyond the lack of applicable results, by nature I distrust the government to effectively implement  Universal Basic Income in a manner to curtail abuse and be applied in a fiscally responsible manner.

 

WHAT IS UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME:

Before we get deep into the arguments supporting and countering the validity of Universal Basic Income, we should have an operational definition for it. It can be best defined as a regularly scheduled distribution of money that is unconditionally provided to all citizens by the government [1].  Generally, it is provided under the pretense that it will help assist with providing supplemental assistance for satisfying the costs of living.  It should be noted that this is in reference to assisting with basic essentials such as food, clothing, and shelter versus luxury expenses. There are five key attributes that define an implemented Universal basics income policy [1].

  1. Periodic: it is paid at regular intervals (for example every month), not as a one-off grant.
  2. Cash payment: it is paid in an appropriate medium of exchange, allowing those who receive it to decide what they spend it on. It is not, therefore, paid either in kind (such as food or services) or in vouchers dedicated to a specific use.
  3. Individual: it is paid on an individual basis—and not, for instance, to households.
  4. Universal: it is paid to all, without a means test.
  5. Unconditional: it is paid without a requirement to work or to demonstrate willingness-to-work.

[1].

As is evident from the list of crucial identifying attributes, there are key defining characteristics that distinguish UBI from other forms of monetary government assistance. The most notable would probably be the absence of any sort of conditions such as being under a certain income bracket or employment requirements.

 

ANDREW YANG’S PLAN:

Certainly not by happenstance, democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has quite a bit of information regarding Universal Basic income on his campaign website for the 2020 election. While I learned of Mr. Yang’s efforts to support this issue from pursuing the internet, his appearance on the Waking Up podcast hosted by Sam Harris really solidified him as a serious champion of this policy. At least in my mind.

[3].

 

However, let’s examine some of the reasons why an individual such as Mr. Yang might actually be pushing Universal Basic Income as a reasonable solution to work displacement.  Especially when you consider the number of jobs that have been outsourced abroad or have automated. Most experts tend to believe that this is a trend that will not be stifled any time soon. However, some experts would tend to assert that the displaced jobs will be filled by comparable positions, it is most likely too early to tell [4].

 

Presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s campaign website claims that a third of all Americans will lose their jobs to automation in one form or another within the next 12 years [2].  Yang’s website also presents the statistics that the current labor participation rate is at 62.5 percent and that one out of five “working aged men” are currently out of work [2]. While this numbers might be to some extent concerning and it is obvious that regardless of whether automation further exacerbates this issue or not, the displaced workers still need a means of obtaining currency.  For the out of work coal miner in West Virginia, Universal Basic Income would be able to provide them with a means of being able to purchase food, clothing and other essentials.  Yang also explains due to the fact that people are having their basic needs met they can pursue a less-dangerous and more meaningful task. Going back to school taking care of family members etc [2].

 

While Andrew Yang has some of the broad benefits well defined, how does he plan on implementing this policy?  As is evident from the operational definition in the section above, there is a certain criterion that needs to be met to be considered Universal Basic Income.   A presentation of the core parameters would certainly be advantageous. Well, Yang does provide this information on the website. The parameters set on his campaign platform would entail that every U.S. Citizen ages 18 to 64 years old would be entitled to a $1000.00 check monthly. Regardless of employment status or other contingencies.  One notably stipulation is that U.S. Citizens 65 years old and older would not be eligible and would still continue to collect social security [2].  One point to exemplify is that the amount that Yang, as allocated, is clearly meant to be supplemental entitlement versus a free lunch.  I can state for the record I cannot live off of $1,000.00 a month and I am not particularly extravagant with my expenses. I would surmise that would be the case for the majority of Americans. While I am intrinsically skeptical of UBI as a policy, I can applaud Yang for not getting too extreme in regards to the amount of the monthly entitlement. However, the economic feasibility is still murky in my mind.

 

So far Yang has done a noteworthy job of presenting the finer mechanics of his implementation plan for Universal Basic Income. However, he has not addressed the most agonizing aspect of the whole policy.  Which is, how are we going to pay for it?  It is common knowledge that the United States is drowning in an exorbitant amount of debt. We are talking about trillions of dollars worth of debt.  We cannot implement such a pervasively large entitlement plan without sufficient funding. While compassion for and wanting to improve the lives of less fortunate Americans is a laudable goal, it needs to be realistic. Fiscally this country has already been crippled by nearly twenty years of warfare in abstractly defined theaters of combat and other poorly execute social and corporate welfare policies.  Well, Yang is purposing that we utilize a “VAT (Value-add tax) on goods and services produced by companies” which is considered a fair tax that is difficult for larger operations to hide [2]. Yang is looking to apply this 10 percent tax to fund this venture into UBI. Below are some of the other considerations Yang’s platform has for funding UBI:

1.  Current spending.  We currently spend between $500 and $600 billion a year on welfare programs, food stamps, disability and the like.  This reduces the cost of Universal Basic Income because people already receiving benefits would have a choice but would be ineligible to receive the full $1,000 in addition to current benefits.

2.  A VAT.  Our economy is now incredibly vast at $19 trillion, up $4 trillion in the last 10 years alone.  A VAT at half the European level would generate $800 billion in new revenue.  A VAT will become more and more important as technology improves because you cannot collect income tax from robots or software.

3.  New revenue.  Putting money into the hands of American consumers would grow the economy.  The Roosevelt Institute projected that the economy would grow by approximately $2.5 trillion and create 4.6 million new jobs.  This would generate approximately $500 – 600 billion in new revenue from economic growth and activity.

4.  We currently spend over one trillion dollars on health care, incarceration, homelessness services and the like.  We would save $100 – 200 billion as people would take better care of themselves and avoid the emergency room, jail, and the street and would generally be more functional.  Universal Basic Income would pay for itself by helping people avoid our institutions, which is when our costs shoot up.  Some studies have shown that $1 to a poor parent will result in as much as $7 in cost-savings and economic growth.”

[2].

 

While it is all well and good  Yang has done a better job of thinking through the logistical issues of implementing such a widespread entitlement program than the likes of Bernie Sanders, there are still other considerations to be addressed. This would seem to be a relatively conspicuous example, does UBI actually work?  A question that any sane taxpaying voter should be allowed to indulge when confronting a presidential candidate. Even if Yang’s means of funding this program are sound, if it is ineffective we are merely squandering taxpayer dollars for a failed pipe dream. Yang believes that he does have some hard evidence for the effective nature of UBI. However, I will be the first to point out that while there may be some that confirm the positive effect of UBI, there isn’t an abundance of longitudinal data. The few countries that have implemented such policies are still in the infant stages of noticing the impact. If there was a country that had 30 plus years of data that has been proven to be able to be replicated, I would be more apt to accept Yang’s claims of effectiveness. The website claims that there are over 461 research papers since 1998 proving the effectiveness of UBI and that it does reduce poverty without people overwhelmingly using the money for destructive means such as drugs and alcohol [2].   The lack of data presented on Yang’s website is compensated by the link provided to the studies substantiating the impact of UBI. For further reading please see below:

https://basicincome.org/research/ [5]

 

COMMON ARGUMENTS AGAINST UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME:

 

While it may seem as if am biased towards Universal Basic Income based on the bountiful amount of positive aspects provided above, nothing can be further from the truth. I am very skeptical of UBI as an effective policy, however, I am attempting to approach in an impartial manner. However, my incredulity in regards to the positive ramifications of this policy cannot be stymied by the angle presented on Mr. Yang’s campaign website.  I feel in order to intellectually honest we must also investigate the drawbacks and potential follies of Universal Basic Income as well. Much like another entity whether conceptual or material, nothing is necessarily a complete fallacy. Most well-intentioned ideas tend to exist on a spectrum of validity with vary degrees of correctness. However, the inverse is also true, regardless of the intentions, there has to be some degree of shortcomings.

 

The well-established think tank  Foundation For Economic Education is well known for propagating and defending the virtues of fiscal conservatism. Certainly, a source that I personally find to be reliable when it comes to commentary on economic policy. FEE published an article back in September 2017 addressing the three commonly verified issues concerning  UBI, in the article The Top Three Arguments Against Universal Basic Income.  The article cites a study conducted by the Roosevelt Institute demonstrating how  Universal Basic Income if implemented, is projected to expand the U.S. economy by $2.5 trillion dollars (by 2025) [6]. While this appears to be a  tremendous incentive to pursue implementation, it is merely speculation. Speculation that glosses right over any potential detriments. The first issue the article references is the overall expense of implementing such a policy. With the current operating social entitlement programs in the United States, there are barriers such as income per a household that limit the pool of recipients.  However, under a UBI policy, everyone would receive money regardless of finical circumstances [6]. It may end up being a more costly program than the current section 8 and Snap programs currently being utilized.  However, the study by the Roosevelt Institute proposes funding by either deficit spending or higher taxes, neither being an economically viable solution [6].

 

The second consideration posed in the article is the ineffective nature of government handouts. This argument is derived from the psychological principle that we lack appreciation for what we do not work for.  While this may sound like a bit of a cliche that is overused by conservatives consider some of the welfare reforms enacted by the Clinton administration.  By placing a work necessity contingency to incentivize recipients to find employment, Clinton actually increased the employment rate [6].

 

The third core argument against imposing a UBI retributive policy is that wouldn’t relinquish the welfare state. There has not been much discourse on the steps and phases for the abolishment of contemporary programs such as SNAP, WIC, etc [6]. From the standpoint of political shrewdness, it would be completely rational for the topic to be circumvented. For social entitlements such as  Social Security to be revoked, it would engender a vitriolic and visceral response from the voting public [6]. The aptitude that UBI will be a replacement program in the light of public outcry and lack of a transition plan is minuscule. It will merely be added on as other gear in the costly and monstrous U.S. welfare platform.

 

As for an emotional appeal and moralistic considerations of Universal Basic Income Andrew Yang’s argument excels. However, it lacks caution when it comes to fiscal feasibility and practical implementation.  While I am personally sympathetic to individuals who have lost jobs to automation and outsourcing, we cannot do it at the expense of the rest of the country. I certainly can comprehend the lukewarm and often regurgitated axiom of “The rich need to pay their fair share”, which is equally as haggard and sickening of a cliche as you can imagine. Almost comparable to the assumptions of the archaic  “Trickle-Down Effect”. While Yang believes that adding a 10 percent Value-add tax on goods and services will fill in the gap enough to fund this program, I personally have a few concerns. For one, I have to side with the FEE in regards to the detriment of supporting this policy through higher taxes. There are a plethora of others who would agree. According to the Tax Policy Center that “… high marginal tax rates…” discourages commerce, investments, and business growth [7].  From the stance of pure logic, this makes sense from the superficial level. What drives business is the cycle of consumers purchasing goods and services and companies producing. If consumer confidence is slighted by new taxes imposed, they will stop buying which will put production into a tailspin. Which would stunt economic growth versus affirming the assumptions of UBI proponents.

 

UNLIKELY SUPPORTERS OF UBI:

This section of the article is not so much about presenting arguments for or against Universal Basic Income. I am intending for this section as an addendum to the topic that presents some stimulating food for thought. Stereotypically we would not predict or assume that proponents of fiscal conservatism would support Universal Basic Income. During Andrew Yang’s appearance on the Waking Up, he mentions in passing how  F.A Hayek and Milton Friedman both supported UBI. I was immoderately skeptical that either man would support such a policy considering they were prominent Austrian economists. The Austrian School of Economics at its core espouses the virtues of Laissez-Faire trade and market liberalism, in other words, limited governmental authority in policy [8]. So the question which is as foreboding and lingering as a thinly veiled apparition is why would individuals who have been steadfast in nonintervention fiscal policy support UBI?  Yang’s claims appeared to be pandering towards advocates of fiscal conservatives and Libertarians, both audiences that are vehemently opposed to governmental encroachment in economic policy. To my surprise, after some quick research apparently, Yang was right, contrary to my prior assumptions both did support UBI as a valid concept.

The Atlantic article The Conservative Case for Guaranteed Basic Income references Hayek and Friedman’s support for UBI in passing. The article itself is fixated on deriving an appeal to conservatives for UBI on the basis it would curtail current welfare spending. Please note that we have already pointed out some of the faulty aspects with this argument in the previous section above. The article mentions how Hayek “endorsed” UBI before the concept was a mainstage political talking point [9]. However, the article goes a little further into Friedman’s account for the policy’s veracity.  It was detailed that “… Friedman advocated a minimum guaranteed income via a “negative income tax”.  [9].   There may be a few of you who are questioning precisely what a Negative Income Tax is.  The genesis of this concept can be traced back to  Friedman’s 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom [10].  How NIT works is it sidesteps the bureaucratic red-tape, it is “….based on the amount by which their incomes exceeded the threshold for tax liability, NIT beneficiaries would receive payments (“negative taxes”) …” [10].

 

Personally, I really revere Milton Friedman as an economist, however, I am still apprehensive about U.S. implementation of UBI.  However, there does seem to be a real deficit of real longitudinal data that corresponds to long durations of research and reproducible results. The fact that Finland, who has run the largest UBI active test in any European country cut the two-year trial short to focus on Social Security reform it noteworthy [11]. Noteworthy in the sense that it should be a glaringly conspicuous red flag, that UBI is not something to haphazardly implement. Considering the larger recipient pool and the different culture in the United States, even if UBI works in the Nordic countries, how can we be sure that those results can be extrapolated to the U.S.? What we would risk by doing so would be either further comprising our economy through deepening the dark trillion dollars plus chasm what is our deficit.  The other alternative being we increase taxes and let’s be forthright here, few Americans want that.  I certainly understand the social consequences and moral imperative to assist displaced workers.  I am not willing to put my faith and confidence in UBI, however, maybe it might be effective. All I know at this point I am very skeptical.

 

 

 

 

FOOT NOTES:

[1]. https://basicincome.org/basic-income/

[2]. https://www.yang2020.com/what-is-ubi/

[3]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhjlPyxNu_M

[4]. http://www.dpaonthenet.net/article/155867/Research-shows-that-automation-will-create-as-many-jobs-as-it-displaces.aspx

[5]. https://basicincome.org/research/

[6]. https://fee.org/articles/the-top-three-arguments-against-a-universal-basic-income/

[7]. https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/how-do-taxes-affect-economy-long-run

[8]. http://lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=Austrian-economics

[9]. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/08/why-arent-reformicons-pushing-a-guaranteed-basic-income/375600/

[10]. http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/NegativeIncomeTax.html

[11]. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43866700

PHILOSOPHICAL RANTS #18: REALITY AS A SIMULATION?

INTRODUCTION:

 

As human’s we often have the propensity to take a lot of things for granted. Especially when it comes to the status quo of what constitutes consensus reality. When assume the perceptual experience we encounter on a day -to-day basis as the absolute or true nature of reality with little question or forethought to the possibility of alternate cosmic permutations the true essence of reality. I am not an evolutionary biologist or evolutionary psychologist, however, I can certainly see the evolutionary advantage in passive acceptance of the state of reality in the linear sense in which we directly perceive it. As far as conventional wisdom goes, for basic it survival it may be the most efficient tool.  However, as the overall quality of life has increased in the western world we have been allotted the luxury of exploring alternate possibilities to the favored heuristic of conventional wisdom. Even with advances in quality of life most people in the western world find any premises challenging the construct of proper consensus reality to be quite jarring. Hence why in western society, there does tend to be a greater abundance of Persisting Perception Disorder engendered by hallucinogenic substances [1].  With no context for such a drastic departure from the status quo reality, it could potentially trigger psychological pathology in those pron to such category of  disorders.

 

Needless to say, it may be a bit challenging for the average modern American to contemplate the notion of alternate dimensions, realities, etc. Maybe the engrossing and immersing nature of hallucinogenic compounds is slightly too intense and abstract of a method exploring such potentials. However, we do see the potential for alternatives to consensus reality in our entertainment specifically  through the media and literature genre of Science fiction.  One such salient example would be the proliferation of the concept of reality being a simulation.  While the apogee of such a notion in our fiction based entertainment was probably the mid to late 1990’s and particularly prevalent in the Cyber-Punk sub-genre of Science fiction. Films ranging from the 1980’s cult film Tron and 1999 film  The Matrix, both explore this possibility.  The potential that everything that everything we take for granted as being objectively true passed on our interpretation of sensory input could the result of code generated by a programmer. Over the past couple of years, theorists have a referred to this as simulation theory.

 

As real as the nature of our consensus reality my seem to be and  as outlandish as the notion of simulation theory seem, there could be some validity to it. It runs into the Godel/Liar’s paradox, where we have the potential of a true statement, however, not means of validating it [2]. While we could analyze the litany of philosophers and theorists that attempt to develop an operational solidification  of the concept of reality, however, each theory has its proponents and detractors.  If we do not have an objective and proven understanding of reality we ,half-witted, saunter  right into the buzz saw.  Most people proudly do so and reject with incredulity  the alternate theories as novel concepts, but not a sober grounding for defining reality. However, isn’t it hasty and board line intellectual sloth to apply Occum’s Razor, when we have not completely unraveled the ball of yarn? I believe that we should more thoroughly exhaust the alternate theories of reality before we reject them with patronizing derision. Without solid evidence disproving simulation theory , it should still be fair game for speculation. After exploring some of the more biological aspects of human perception and understanding how much we adaptive ignore, simulation theory looks significantly less faulty.

 

REALITY AS  SIMULATION AS A PHILOSOPHICAL THEORY:

 

While the premise was originally manifested as contrived novelty for fiction nearly twenty years to it being brought to light in academia. It was not until University of Oxford Philosopher Nick Bostrum postulated this outlandish possibility in 2003 [3]. Bostrum’s hypothesis encompasses the notion that an exorbitantly more advanced civilization was simply running computer generated simulations of the lives lived by their primitive ancestors [3]. The hypothesis claims that this simulated stated of reality is so pervasive that the majority of perceptions of reality are that of the projected simulations of the reality experienced by the ancestors [3]. While the theory itself may seem to be outrageously far-fetched there are a plethora of sober-minded intellectuals open to this possibility.  World renown astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson asserts that their is a fifty percent chance that this hypothesis presents the true nature of reality [3].  While Dr. Tyson is certainly a compelling figure in the arena of science, he is far from the only mainstream figure open to simulation theory. Massachusetts Institute of Technology  Cosmologist, Max Tegmark, due to the rigidity of the mathematical laws of our Universe would parallel coding that is reflected in Video Games and other computer generated media. Tegmark stated :

“If I were a character in a computer game, I would also discover eventually that the rules seemed completely rigid and mathematical,”

“That just reflects the computer code in which it was written.”

[3].

 

Tegmark’s perception of this hypothesis has been substantiated by University of Maryland  theoretical physicist James Gates. Gates states :

“I was driven to error-correcting codes—they’re what make browsers work. So why were they in the equations I was studying about quarks and electrons and supersymmetry? This brought me to the stark realization that I could no longer say people like Max are crazy.”   [3].

While apprehension towards blindly accepting simulation theory as being a valid perception for the true reality of the world is understandable, we cannot discount  this possibility. As what is demonstrated  by Tegmark and Gates is that some of the idiosyncratic aspects of our natural world hint towards this possibility. If you accept the fact that there are specific mathematical theorems and equations that seem to be prevalent in the natural world (as most physicists do believe), it does seem at least on the superficial level seem as if it could be the byproduct of programming coding.  If you consider how humans have an affinity for symmetry. It is well documented that humans subconsciously seek facial and physical symmetry in copulative  partners. People also seek symmetry in regards to institutional and social situations, mean push for equality of outcome. Right or wrong from a moral or logical standpoint, the lower and middle class of the successes of the affluent upper class mirrors this natural drive for symmetry.

It would appear that in the reality that we all accept as the consensus reality we all passively accept, their is in in grained drive for symmetry. Whether in the physical manifestation of appearance or in more abstract applications. This honed focus, on congruence is analogous to what we expect from a computer application or a mechanized machine.  When faced with encoded programming there is always the rigid attempt to balance out deficits. Hence why when our computer is infected with a virus, it still attempts to function as it would normally. Considering the physical laws of nature always reverting back to cathartic homeostasis.   For example, gravity, what is physically in the air must come back to origin due to the magnetic pull of gravity with few exceptions. Which as the uncanny and unwavering bias towards symmetry and rigidity possessed by computer programming.

 

ARGUMENTS AGAINST SIMULATION THEORY:

Speculation is all well and good, however, there is not any hard data or any real way to test the veracity of the claims asserted by simulation theory. The genuinely hard nosed empiricists would still view such claims with an oppressive amount of derision without adequate means of proving this premise through experimental results. Anyone who has had any exposure to the scientific method, even at the undergraduate level, you are generally aware of the fact the ability to replicate results is crucial.

While on a broad and theoretically level, on paper so to speak, simulation theory does seem to fit a specific logical stream of logical. However, we need to test the veracity of this natural observations in an applicable experimental conditions. In the world of science if you are unable to test a hypothesis, you must accept it as being untrue. Essentially, we out of necessity of the pillar of the scientific method accept the null-hypothesis, which asserts that simulation theory is not the correct nature of reality.  Even if we were to apply Occam’s razor with no further analysis, we would have to reject this notion. Just on the principle that simulation theory is too implausibly convoluted and therefore most likely a faulty hypothesis. While Occam’s Razor was originally devised to keep fact and opinion starkly segregated, it is at times obtusely blind to the full range of possibilities[4]. Sometimes the true explanation is a little more complex than the simple and clean explanation scientists crave and revere.

However, regardless of the correct and incorrect aspects of the assumptions imprinted by the scientific method, it is imperative we explore the counter-arguments of simulation theory. As with any scientific hypothesis or manifesto in aesthetic art there tends to be detractors. However, within science unless there is unanimous acceptance of a tested a hypothesis , it can transition from a theory to a scientific law.  Considering there is descent we need to explore the counter claims against simulation theory.

The NPR article Why We Are Not In A Video Game- And Why It Matters from March of 2017 certainly reflects such sentiments. The article suggests that there are three main assumptions that need to hold true for simulation theory to remain true: 1.) Humans will likely never survive to reach the evolutionary “Post-human” stage, 2.) Any of the advanced “programmer” civilizations are unlikely to reflect their own evolutionary history in the simulations and 3.) There is a 99.9 percent chance we are absolutely living in a computer simulation[5]. Which in defense of the skeptics are some pretty radical claims to accept at face value.  However, given the assumptions listed above, this would mean that the previous manifestation of the human race has died out with the subsequent species succeeding would be controlling us like video game characters. This one entail for one that free will would be a complete illusion with no degree of autonomy. [5]. Also, the issue becomes if our realities are simulated how do we ascertain that the realities of our “programmers” are not simulations [5]. what happens from  there is that the whole theory devolves into a infinite subdivisions of simulated realities, however, what advanced civilization of beings are the master architects of this litany of simulated Universes?

While the precise point of genesis for the infinite spawn of simulated Universes is certainly a valid bone of contention, there are other valid arguments against this hypothesis.  For example, what precisely would be the motive of simulating the contrived realities of their long lost evolutionary ancestors? Wouldn’t they have had other means of extracting information about their past ancestors from other means? [5]. However, I suppose that they could take interest in ancient history, in a similar capacity that the perceived humans do in this simulated reality. Potentially they are history aficionados.  As much passion as there is for history in our current consensus reality, few are calling for digital  replications of the daily lives of the hominids (an evolutionary ancestor to humans). We also encounter the moral philosophical argument of if we are truly  computer generated simulations, why should we avoid descent into nihilistic self-destruction [5]. This is typically a moralistic consideration that has a significant amount of covalence and a direct relationship to the free will question. However, the question becomes whether or not this is a true perception of the nature of reality, is it a responsible idea to proliferate to the general public?

 

PER SCIENCE HOW OUR PERCEPTION OF REALITY COULD SUPPORT THIS HYPOTHESIS:

If you found the premise of  reality being a simulation to be perplexing and paradigm shattering, then this next one will really be mind-bending for you. What if I told you that our reality is merely a hallucination and that there is ample scientific evidence to substantiate  the hypothesis. Maybe the last part was slightly hyperbolic, however, is it more outlandish than simulation theory?  It can be said that  University of Sussex professor of Neuroscience Anil Seth sees  this hypothesis of as being a possibility. Professor Seth believes that the nature between reality and perception is that reality is generated by with in the brain through the interpretation of sensory input [6]. Due to the fact that the majority of human beings agree in regards to specific interpretation of sensory input that is how we derive consensus reality[6].

The common reality that is perceived by those free of perceptual disorders and psychological pathology. The reason for our brains taking such liberties with sensory input is to bring order from the dizzying array of sensory information that we perceive at any given moment [6].  Back when I was in college I took a bio-psychology course, what was emphasized was that our brains are wired through evolutionary advances to take short-cuts to more efficiently function.  If it was adaptive from  an evolutionary standpoint our bodies would adapt to it. My professor utilized the example of having photographic memory, the vast majority of people do not  have such a robust memory. Why?  As the testing as revealed, those with photographic memories tend to suffer from issues of comprehension of information. Mainly due to the fact that our brain only has so much  capacity and bandwidth to function, overloading it with detail will only hinder cognition.

However, getting back to Seth’s hypothesis, he essentially asserts that  what we perceive to be reality is merely a byproduct of our brain’s interpretation of the sensory information[6]. The byproduct may or may not be necessarily the true nature either from a visual, tactile,auditory, olfactory , or other qualities of the object, place, being, entity, etc we are interacting with. Like I was stating earlier about our evolutionary propensity for perceptual short-cuts. We are very susceptible to optical illusions and the best example I can think of is the Impressionist style of painting that was the premier emerging aesthetic of the 19th century.  The works of Claude Monet are merely broad, loose brush strokes, blotches if you will. It this becomes very salient to anyone the closer you get to the painting, you really see how most of the objects in the painting are not well defined by hard edges. But rather dissolve abstractly into the background with little fine detail. However, the further you move away  from the painting the more the forms and objects resemble those that we are perceptually familiar with. Soon the abstract blobs transform into a ship at sea fighting the bludgeoning wrath of aggressive waves and breakers. This transformation would not be possibility if  we were not predisposed to attempt to derive order from chaos, if our brain were not wired for continuity. Our susceptibility to optical illusions has profound advantages and disadvantages.

 

Many of you are probably contemplating about how this all pertains to the validity of simulation theory. That is certainly and understandable inquiry. How it relates is that if our present, baseline , consensus reality is being projected upon on us by what is generated by our brain, we in a sense do not perceive the true essence or a unfiltered account of the attributes of the world. What we see, touch, hear, smell, and taste are all projected upon us internally versus externally.  Essentially our brain is attempting to grapple with external stimuli in the most efficient manner possible.  Considering the perception that is being projected on to the world is internal, how can we truly pinpoint the true origin. Sure we have imaging technology and other means of tracking what centers in the brain are triggered by specific stimuli and input, how can we clearly delineate that is is coming from the brain versus a highly functioning illusion. If the locus of origin is internal, the byproduct can be in theory from the result of a computer generated program. If our whole world is a cohesive hallucination, how do we know for sure that continuity is not merely a built in feature of the computer program. When the counter arguments are equally as enigmatic  and  lacking  as the arguments for simulation theory we run into the same issues we do with the whole believe in a higher power issue. You really cannot prove or disprove the existence of god, nor can you simulation theory.

 

PHILOSOPHICAL APPLICABILITY OF SUCH A HYPOTHESIS:

As it seems quite evident at this point to make any definite claims about the truth of simulation theory is short-sighted and a colossal leap of faith. You can no less prove the truth or the inaccuracy of this claim in a manner analogous to the existence of God. In the face of science, I would state that we should not automatically condemn claims we cannot test. However, they need to reside in a purgatorial gap between what we define as true and what is assigned as being false. However, as you probably can piece together reality is heavily influenced by what appears from a perceptual standpoint to be the nature of reality. So figured we should probably explore some of these claims in relation to reality made by legendary philosophers. For instance renown Political Philosopher John Locke, made a distinction between the primary (sensory attributes) qualities and second qualities (the metaphysical aspects of an existing entity). That we need to determine the difference between the true nature of reality and what the superficial appearance is [7].  So from a Lockean sense the idea of a simulated reality would demonstrate the logical struggle of superficial appearance and  reality.

While there are a myriad of other philosophers that have their hypothesis in regards to perceived appearance and reality, I will provide one more example. This is due to the fact that if I were to continue I would have  enough material to write a book versus a blog entry. Also, I will provide a hint on who it will not be from, John Sartre. I have attempted to be neutral through out the majority of this blog post, however, my frustration with Post-modernism is well founded. Post-Modernism is great in the sense that it does promote the dissolving of    boundaries, which gives us wonderful hybrids such as Asian Fusion restaurants ( or other forms of cuisine which fuses recipes from multiple cultures).  So  Post-modernism has certainly disinhibited our previously contrived creative limitations. However, in my opinion over application of satire and aims to disrupt societal hierarchy through insincerity is sophomoric. It is akin to a pestilent teenager in their parent’s basement making smug and snarky commentary about a world they barely understand, with no solutions.  The Dadaism movement in art is a fine example of postmodernism, it is merely a self-indulgent exercise mocking society rather than attempting to correct it.

I digress folks, sorry about that absent-minded rant. We are going to go from the 1600’s Scottish Enlightenment all the way to Pre-Socratic Greece. Parmenides who was well known for his direct critique of the  Heraclitus and Milesian  school of philosophers [8]. He rejected their notion of that whatever has come into existence is derived from an existing entity [8]. He rejected the premise of change, whatever IS or is currently in existence cannot be taken out of existence or it never did[8]. He reasoned that change is not possible as we cannot alter the status of something that does exist to no longer or never have existed and vice versa [8]. He asserts that the nature of reality is that it cannot be altered and that it cannot be destroyed as it cannot be “uncreated”[8]. As this may appear to be a faulty game of semantics by a hard-nosed contrarian, this was the forerunner for the concept in physics the Conservation of Energy theory. Our inability to destroy or create energy [9]. How does this relate to Simulation theory, it does in the sense that if Parmenides was to be  a proponent of this premise it would be only under the grounds that the programs had a set code that could not be altered once devised.

FOOTNOTES:

[1]. https://www.dualdiagnosis.org/drug-addiction/persisting-perception-disorder/

[2]. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-goumldels-proof/

[3]. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-we-living-in-a-computer-simulation/

[4]. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/08/occams-razor/495332/

[5].https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/03/09/519376356/why-reality-is-not-a-video-game-and-why-it-matters

[6]. http://www.businessinsider.com/neuroscientist-explains-why-reality-hallucination-meaning-2018-3

[7]. Socrates To Sartre: A History of  Philosophy, 5th Edition, Samuel Enoch Stumpf, 1993, Page 269.

[8]. Socrates To Sartre: A History of  Philosophy, 5th Edition, Samuel Enoch Stumpf, 1993, Pages 16-17.

[9.] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/energy-can-neither-be-created-nor-destroyed/

 

POLITICAL OPINIONS#54: TORTURE AND THE TROLLEY PROBLEM

INTRODUCTION:

In comparison to the previous administration, the Trump administration is looking to loosen restrictions on torture policies of the United States government.  The president has even if gone so far to proclaim that torture is an effective form of cohesion in  coping with enemy combatants [1]. I am not seeking to play America’s favorite game which malign the commander-in-chief, but would rather analyze the ethics of governments utilizing such measures against enemy combatants ,those guilty of treason, and prisoners of war. Is it ethical to use torture as a form of cohesion to obtain vital information?  If so, under what contingencies is it acceptable to be implement and when is it not? Where do we draw the line? I see much more value in assessing the moral efficacy of state sanctioned torture and if it is acceptable, where do we delineate the perimeter of moral acceptability.  It is certainly a more engaging conversation than partisan tug-of-war with each camp in their totality representing there perspective tribe.

 

While I understand the arguments against torture, I feel that it is important to address the grey area. Typically, no procedure,policy, tradition, or implementation is completely moral or amoral.  But rather exists in spectrum of morality, nuanced by a myriad of contingencies. However, politically I can foresee the potential for civil rights violations and other over extension of authority of the state. I certainly see the noble intentions of those who suggest that the state should not be able to legally do anything  private citizens can do. It is difficult to claim definite statements in regards to morality of torture, especially when the byproduct could potentially save lives of innocent people.  Rather than admittedly push the Pro-torture or Anti-torture paradigm, we should discuss and unpack the positive and negative consequences of torture and then weigh them in regards to the circumstances at hand. When addressing morally complex topics it is most advantageous to look at as a venn diagram, rather than an absolutist dichotomy. A simple “yes” or “no” response is a little too obtuse to incorporate all the facts and possibilities.

 

While it is tempting to give an inclusive and resolute answer regarding a topics as visceral and divisive as torture or capital  punishment, however, I would challenge most to find a more a centralist position.  While we do not want to violate civil rights, basic human decency, the Constitution,  nor give the government undue authority, we need to also acknowledge the other side of the proverbial coin. If the use of torture could save the lives of innocent people through the information extracted, then the levity of the byproduct is more apparent. It is no longer aggressive political rhetoric, but rather tangible life saving results.  When you have the ominous and looming threat of innocent lives at risk, the stakes on the roulette wheel become much greater.  Which certainly parallels the premise of rising the anti in Poker, however, maybe the analogy of Russian Roulette may be more appropriate considering the levity of the risk.

 

MORAL ARGUMENTS AGAINST STATE SANCTIONED TORTURE:

 

Below are a list of arguments against torture from the FIACAT organization’s website, presented in a 2011 article: Arguments Against Torture. FIACAT is an international organization centered on human rights, with no governmental ties. FIACAT main focus is on relinquishing capital punishment and torture.

 

Torture – why it is not fitting for us:

- Torture destroys the victim and the perpetrator. It breaks the latter by making him sub-human and debases those who commit it.

- Every human being deserves respect. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recalls the rights and duties of all of us.

- Mankind, in order to survive on earth, must limit the extent of his violence and put a stop to certain types of destructive behaviour.

- We are responsible for each other which means we must ensure full respect of our rights and the dignity of our fellow men and women.

- Torture is always an evil for those involved; there is no such thing as “good” torture, nor good reasons to torture. The end does not justify the means.

- The consequences of torture remain with an individual throughout his life; his soul and his body will bear the marks of his suffering until the end of his days.

- Torture is useless and does not lead to the truth: “at best the tortured individual will tell you what you want to hear; at worst you will obtain nothing”.

- Torture does not make people talk; it makes them keep quiet.

Christian reasons for refusing torture:

- Man was created in God’s image and part of him is “sacred”. In Jesus’ name we are called upon to protest against everything that degrades man.

- Torture is contrary to the message of love in the Gospel: whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

- Christ was tortured on the cross, but God also overcame death and raised up those who had fallen. He gives hope and strength to those who suffer and leads them to the Resurrection.

- In the gesture of the Good Samaritan, approaching the wounded man on the road, Jesus shows that love is at the heart of the alliance between God and mankind.

- We must work towards a better and more harmonious world; that means never resigning ourselves to barbarity and meanness.

- The Church of Christ has not always remained faithful to the word of the Gospel and has sometimes mistreated men and women and justified the use of torture. Today, however, Churches and Christians fight and pray for both victims and torturers in order to put an end to these inhuman practises.

- Christ calls on all men, even those who commit torture, to “change” and to convert. The love of God reaches even the hardest of hearts.

- The Gospel makes watchmen of us all.

[2].

 

I will certainly admit from a humanitarian standpoint many of these arguments against torture are very compelling.  The organization even attempts to persuade the more  socially conservative among us, with justification from Christian theology to prohibit torture.  The points made in regards to psychological well being such as “dehumanizing” the “victim” and how the harms can even traumatize the torturer. Which is logically congruent when you think about the prevalence of combat trauma/ PTSD among combat veterans. Even among operators of drone strikes have been found to be subjected to such psychological trauma, even though  they are not directly in the line of fire.  In a 2011 survey, it was found that out of 840 drone operators, 48 percent suffered from some variant of “operational stress” [3]. While not precisely the same phenomena it is merely an extrapolation of the similar principle. Unless you are a psychopath or sociopath, humans are not wired to harm other people, unless it is in self defense. Concepts such as theory of mind, empathy, altruism ,etc. are naturally occurring social tendencies that brutal warfare and torture are at odds with. Hence why many people suffering from quite a bit of cognitive dissonance when off of the battlefield or the torture facility.

 

While the psychological and physical costs of torture are certainly well documented, how can this address the hard nosed pragmatists? Even if all of the standard humanitarian arguments and even theological arguments are inconsequential in your opinion, what would  be a variable of considering for you opposing torture?  Results. The key arguments above hint towards the inaccuracy of the information extracted from utilization of torture. One point being the individual being interrogated either refusing to speak or providing false information just to curtail or stifle the discomfort.  In other words, they are claiming that torture either makes the individual more headstrong or makes them capitulate to the adverse stimuli and tell the integrator what they want to hear. Truth certainly not being a key competent of the answer. However, is this true? The 2017 article from Psychology Today: Does Torture Work? suggests that torture in fact does not in regards to extracting information. One study found that detainees were 14 times more likely to give accurate information early on in the interview if rapport based techniques are used versus torture [4]. It was even found in a 2014 Senate Select Committee report that CIA use of “enhanced torture techniques” was found to be largely ineffective methods of collecting information [5].

 

MORAL ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF TORTURE:

While many of the arguments against torture above might be extremely compelling, you may be thinking, who could you possibly argue for torture on a moral level?  Well, I have found  2005 article from Huffington Post, written by no other than Philosopher and scientist, Sam Harris. Really ironic that the left leaning publication let Sam publish this article, however, I do believe the political climate was a little different 13 years ago. Harris starts the article off by providing a depiction of a scenario where:

“…. a known terrorist has planted a bomb in the heart of a nearby city. He now sits in your custody. Rather than conceal his guilt, he gloats about the forthcoming explosion and the magnitude of human suffering it will cause. Given this state of affairs—in particular, given that there is still time to prevent an imminent atrocity—it seems that subjecting this unpleasant fellow to torture may be justifiable….”

[6.]

This hypothetical scenario is probably one of the most well known moral justifications for torture, known as the “Ticking bomb” case [7.].  Harris illustrates how this scenario can be applied at the micro and personal level (someone abducts your daughter) and the macro level ( the circumstance being a nuclear bomb, greater explosion radius, fallout, etc.).  [6]  When you place such contingencies on the scenario it really illustrates how it makes it less of an abstraction, but puts a real face on the situation. The more distant you are from the hypothetical example, the more foreign the ethical rationale will be. I believe that most people would drastically adjust their moral norms if their lives or the lives of their loved ones are in jeopardy. It is always easy to condemn something when you have never experienced it. When you are an arm chair commentator (like myself) with no skin in the game. However, does that mean that we can devolve to utilizing the callous torture tactics glamorized in American action movies? Do we need to bring to summation Quentin Tarantino’s ultimate wet dream?  I would say if we are going to use torture we should be reasonable about the amount of force we are going to use. I would say use the minimum necessary.  Apparently I am on the same page as Dr. Sam Harris. He condemns the transgressions of the interrogators of  Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and even postulates the concept of more humane pharmacological possibilities, even an idealistic  ” torture pill” [6].

 

There is also another argument in favor of torture The Beating Case study per the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The scenario details a situation where a  man steals a car from a Mother with a her three-year old son, stops at the gas station to fill her gas tank. The mother finishes up filling up her gas tank and goes inside the store to pay for her gasoline and she accidentally left the keys in the car. Then a man steals the car with the mother’s son in the back seat, ends up abandoning the car with the three year old boy still in the back seat locked in the car. It is an extremely warm summer day. The boy is facing the risk of suffering from death or brain damage due to the interior heat of the car. The car thief ends up being apprehended by the police and the interrogator well aware of the physical risk the boy is facing, starts to beat the man to obtain the location of where the car was abandoned in an effort to save the boy’s life. [8] This specific scenario is similar to the “ticking bomb” case due to the fact that both are time critical situations where the potential for loss of human life being a potential repercussion.

 

HOW THE TROLLEY PROBLEM RELATES TO TORTURE:

The Trolley Problem was a philosophical premise devised by Oxford moral philosopher Phillippa Foot in 1967. The scenario entails that you are a conductor on a runaway train you are approach a split on the rail track. If you veer to the left, there are five men working on the tracks [9]. Which way do you go right or left? Now, lets say the five men are single on the left side and the one man on the right is a father. Does it make it more morally just to kill the five men merely because they do not have any children? All of the moral contingencies that can be applied to this philosophical exercise/ cognitive puzzle are so numerous, I could do a whole blog entry dedicated to the Trolley problem.  However, if we know nothing more about the men and we follow the linear line of conventional wisdom, we would have to make a decision based on a harm deduction model. Which would mean minimize collateral damage by killing as few people as possible. That would  mean veer right and only killing the one rail road worker. In regards to minimizing damage or losses the same moral principle can be extrapolated to the subject of torture. While the detainee and the interrogator may be harmed in some capacity by engaging in the processes of torture, wouldn’t it at a moral level out weigh the the lives saved in a time critical situation?

 

DISCUSSION:

 

Ascertaining the morality of torture is certainly a convoluted labyrinth of ethical considerations. However, the biggest inquiry to surface based on the research for this article would be is it ethical to  engage in a potentially harmful practice if it is proven to be ineffective? That genuinely rises  plethora of different questions regarding the United States using torture as a technique of extracting information. Which leads me to believe that if all the research is saying that it does not work, then the proponents of torture are merely posturing. They are merely pushing torture as a practice to make the United States look tough. An imagine in the minds of many hawkish proponents of foreign conflicts feel has been greatly tarnished by the previous administration. In my opinion if torture does not work and you are merely using it to maintain a certain image, it is merely pageantry. No distinction between that and a military parade, merely the peacock displaying its feathers to us.

Even if we find it to be moral here in the United States, there are many countries through out the world that do not have the same perspective. The Geneva Convention has a plethora of depictions of how torture is prohibited under the terms of the treaty [10]. Technically, the United States has been in violation of international law in regards to torture most likely through out the duration of the Bush administration. So regardless of the moral imperative of it, it still is illegal under international law.  However, if  it has the potential to safe lives couldn’t the prospect of violate international law be justified.  If we are to use torture it should only be in dire situations where lives are at stake and should be done in the most humane manner possible. Minimum necessary force. However, we need to monitor the government’s use of such tactics make sure that it is only used when it is a necessity and to never be used against U.S. Citizens.

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1.] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-38751516/donald-trump-waterboarding-absolutely-works.

[2.] http://www.fiacat.org/arguments-against-torture

[3.] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/us/drone-pilots-found-to-get-stress-disorders-much-as-those-in-combat-do.html

[4.] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/slightly-blighty/201701/does-torture-work

[5.] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/we-rsquo-ve-known-for-400-years-that-torture-doesn-rsquo-t-work/

[6.]https://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/in-defense-of-torture_b_8993.html

[7.]https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/torture/#CaseStudTerrTickBomb

[8.] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/torture/#CaseStudBeat

[9.] https://philosophynow.org/issues/116/Could_There_Be_A_Solution_To_The_Trolley_Problem

[10.] http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/text-images/Geneva_POW.pdf