This post was written on December 13, 2014. Therefore, some of the details within might be dated. For one, the national debt has topped $20 trillion a few days ago…and outweighs our total economic output. However, the overall issue contained within, as well as the conclusion, are still just as relevant.
You’ve probably heard that within the last week or so, the United States has now attained a national debt level of over $18 trillion. The national debt (also referred to as “public debt” or “government debt”) involves deficits owed by the central government of a country or state (In the U.S., as with other federal countries, that includes the debts of the states, municipalities, and local governments) which come usually through borrowing based on issuing securities, government bonds, and bills. Since the government derives it’s income from the population (or at least some of it), the national debt is an indirect debt of taxpayers.
The United States is 6th in the world when it comes to the ratio of it’s public debt in relation to it’s GDP (about 102%; Japan has the highest ratio at about 228%), but does in fact have the largest debt burden of any nation just as a product of the size of it’s economy. Most of the debt held by the United States is domestic, with about 34% being held by foreign nations. China holds the largest share of our debt of any individual nation, with Japan being second. From 1974 to today, the debt has had double-digit expansions in three decades since. In fact, we have been in the red in all but 4 of the past 40 years.
What led to this outcome? One possible cause could be the decision by President Nixon in 1971 to take the American dollar off the gold standard, creating a “fiat” currency with no precious metal backing it up. This had the impact of expanding the abilities of the American monetary system to grow in various ways, but also had the unfortunate side-effect of also removing any balance in the system which keeps the printing system in check. Without the gold, the only thing to back up the currency, as with other fiat currencies, is the full faith and credit of the nation itself. With no balanced budget requirement, as well as no stopgap, government officials of any origin were free to overspend as long as they could get their bills through Congress. Fiscal and monetary drags through politics and the Federal Reserve have also not helped the situation, and though yearly deficit levels have lessened of late, the government is still adding about a little over half-trillion dollars to the national debt every year.
Is debt inherently bad? Not necessarily. In a vibrant economy, it is in fact vital. The reason for this is because most individuals, and organizations, can’t afford to pay straight cash to purchase high-ticket items such as a house, car, or certain programs. Without the ability to borrow money, the economy would halt in growth quite quickly. However, such debt intake is balanced according to moderation. As long as it is sustainable, an individual or nation won’t be swamped with the threat of bankruptcy (though a nation like the U.S. can’t technically go bankrupt since it can “produce” it’s own money…though there is a consequence for that activity). It is when that is ignored that an individual or nation can suffer a “debt spiral”, which can be exacerbated thanks to higher interest rates and payments on the debt. A nation’s global perception can be damaged if the trust in a nation’s ability to pay it’s bills becomes lessened due to continued haphazard financial policies. Indeed our nation hasn’t come to that scenario quite yet, but it truly is just a matter of time until those problems present themselves. Entitlement payments as a share of the budget are growing significantly. The United States, when accounting for all the eventual payments for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other obligations, has unpaid liabilities of well over $100 trillion. Former Federal Reserve officials expect debt accumulation to eventually pick up once again within the next decade as these payments grow, assuming nothing changes. There have already been attempts by other nations, including China, in recent years to push for a new reserve currency outside of the dollar. Standard & Poor’s, one of the major credit rating agencies around the world, recently downgraded the U.S. rating to AA, the first time in several decades that the U.S. had been downgraded. And as a previous post of mine made clear, though there are other concepts that show there is more to the story, China has surpassed the U.S. in certain economic mechanizations.
All of this demonstrates that we stand at a crucial branch point with dealing with our fiscal house. The hardships in Europe and elsewhere have granted us a valuable reprieve to putting things in order so that the American dream can still be available to future generations. If we don’t take advantage, that might not be a guarantee. Many claim that such an issue couldn’t happen here because “this is America”…but history is full of nations and organizations that used similar reasoning when met with serious circumstances. They aren’t here…or at least, not with the glory they used to have. Something is what it is…until it isn’t.
The firing of engineer James Damore at Google has galvanized different views on the matter, from some criticizing the engineer who wrote the memo to others denouncing Google for it’s response (https://techcrunch.com/2017/08/07/google-fires-memo-author/). In truth though, there is blame to go around.
Contrary to the inflammatory headlines concerning James Damore’s circulated memo being “anti-diversity”, it was hardly the case in reality. Mr. Damore took the time in his 10-page submission to criticize the manner in which Google undertook it’s diversity efforts, pointing out that in the name of instituting diversity among it’s employee ranks (according to arbitrary quotas), the company…according to Mr. Damore…was diminishing respect for ideological diversity and adherence to merit in it’s practices (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586-Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.html). Indeed Mr. Damore mentions biological and philosophical differences between men and women, but such a thing is not necessarily a product of not respecting other people. By firing Mr. Damore in response to such a memo, Google in fact validated many of his criticisms regarding the topic at hand. If it were truly a beacon of diversity as advertised, the act of merely voicing an alternative viewpoint wouldn’t have been a fire-able offense. By such logic, those who advocate for better practices for women in the workplace, like Sheryl Sandberg for example (https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/03/29/sheryl-sandberg-interview-lean-in-four-years-later/99749464/), would have been fired for just such a similar raising of biological differences. Coupled with recent news that some of Google’s managers keep “blacklists” on those that they disagree with (https://www.inc.com/sonya-mann/google-manifesto-blacklists.html), and the reality shows the company to be hardly the supposed champion of free thought and diversity it touts itself to be.
This doesn’t mean that Mr. Damore is without criticism himself necessarily. He has threatened to sue Google for firing him over the memo…which basically undercuts his arguments involving ideological diversity by muddying the line between public and private venues (assuming it isn’t a violation of any contractual agreement under when Mr. Damore was hired). The First Amendment doesn’t apply to a private company, only to the government. Otherwise, everyone would be entitled to the use of someone else’s microphone/platform…a violation of their expression and speech since it would involve the encroachment of the state to enforce. It is understandable to be angry at an employer over the act of firing you, but government force involving associations is hardly an answer.
All this showcases how for many people, on all aisles of ideological inquiry, diversity is more of a word in defense of what they believe to the exclusion of all else. Such a belief, instead of being an enlightened position, only showcases a lack of faith in one’s own values. After all, if one is assured of their ideological position (particularly when they champion the importance of free thought and diversity), the presence of alternative viewpoints shouldn’t be a threat. How is one to grow as a human being if they are never challenged, which can only come in a truly open environment of inquiry and debate? Something to think about.
Perhaps what is also missed in cases like this is discussion of the legal structure that encourages companies to preemptively punish employees for their views rather than face lawsuits later. This doesn’t absolve Google of it’s hypocrisy, but definitely something to consider – https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/legal-background-might-have-shaped-incentives-google-memo-case
As with most things President Trump does, the response to the news that transgender soldiers will no longer be allowed to serve in the military has involved multiple expressions, with the typical one usually involving charges of the move being unnecessary or an act of discrimination. Those who support the president’s tweet claim that such policy is needed as a result of medical costs. Which side is correct? Well, both in a way.
The comment concerning costs from the tweet seems to come from a RAND study that the Pentagon commissioned last year. In it, the conclusion was that including transgender soldiers in the military would lead to incurring anywhere from $2.4 to 8.4 million in increased medical costs (http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_briefs/RB9900/RB9909/RAND_RB9909.pdf). The number of serving transgender soldiers isn’t truly known, but various studies (the RAND study being one) estimate the number being around a few to several thousand. Interestingly, the same RAND study also looked at 18 countries which permitted transgender soldiers to join their armed forces, and didn’t find any problems with readiness or unit cohesion. Such an outcome therefore does undercut the supposed concern of disruption. Also, while there is indeed concern of budgetary bloat in the military, it doesn’t require something as excessive as an outright ban. It also ignores the vast bounty upon which much of military activity is based. The defense apparatus (DoD, VA, etc.) offers much in the way of expenditures and benefits which don’t line-up with battlefield concerns, as well as incompetence, inefficiency, and mismanagement with contracting, rank growth, endeavors overseas, and veterans care among other things. Such bloat covers billions…or even trillions…of dollars to reconsider (https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-f-35-is-a-terrible-fighter-bomber-and-attacker-and-unfit-for-aircraft-carriers-c6e36763574b; http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2013/07/24/the-pentagon-has-too-many-troops; https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/withdrawing-overseas-bases-why-forward-deployed-military-posture; https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/va-improperly-spent-6-billion-on-care-for-veterans-senior-agency-leader-says/2015/05/13/ab8f131c-f5be-11e4-b2f3-af5479e6bbdd_story.html; http://nypost.com/2017/07/26/us-military-blows-millions-a-year-on-viagra-for-its-troops/; http://hotair.com/archives/2017/07/28/government-needs-end-military-freebies-recruitment-tactics/). If public officials and others are concerned with attempted abuse of medical procedures covered under military budgets, like the media-covered controversy of gender reassignment surgery, such freebies could simply be removed. Such a change seems much more viable than completely locking out capable individuals from serving their country irrespective of whether they are seeking aid or not….a collectivist form of punishment if there ever was one.
If nothing else, just as with the travel ban (and recent comments against the filibuster), this episode shows how much President Trump doesn’t much care for process. While he claimed in his tweet that he had sought the advice of his generals, it turned out that the Joint Chiefs and other defense officials were blind-sided by the announcement (http://thehill.com/policy/defense/344290-mattis-appalled-by-trump-tweets-announcing-transgender-military-ban-report). Therefore, they have refused to make any changes to policy until further notice. Indeed Trump isn’t constitutionally obligated to do so, being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces (Article II), but it usually isn’t a good idea to blindside those who will be tasked with making sure that policy is carried out. It also is rather unnecessarily rushed on the part of the president to announce such a change to military policy, when the Department of Defense was already reviewing it’s policy on transgender enlistees to determine if they affect “readiness and lethality”. It is set to release the review in December (http://redalertpolitics.com/2017/07/26/lgbt-gop-group-members-white-house-blindsided-trans-ban/). Such findings would have added to the data mentioned above, and therefore could potentially have offered more substance to the conversation. Perhaps it might have even given support and political cover to President Trump in a potential policy of reform. Instead, the chief executive decided to throw such proceedings out the window for a post on Twitter. Why? I don’t know. Then again, as I and many have come to experience over the past several months, there doesn’t seem to be much logic in a lot of what President Trump does. Unfortunately, that activity might serve to darken sentiment toward other forms of policy that could have positive implications, such as tax and regulatory reform. Not a good sign.
Here are recent technological advances and discoveries that could aid in alleged issues of genetics, climate change, disease, energy, hunger, birth, safety, sexuality, medical costs, convenience, and production among other things. Such capabilities showcase why making sure our society remains as open and free a marketplace to growth, ideas, and endeavors as it can is so important, so that such outcomes are more likely to occur. Who knows what else lies around the corner.
Other genetic projects (DNA, aging molecules, gene therapy) –
Telemedicine and health care automation –
Somatic cell transformation/nucleotide hijacking –
Molecular change/process tweaking –
Cleanup tech –
3d printing/production –
Autonomous/flying vehicles –
Genetic engineering –
Microchip implants –
In the constant stories of how alternative views are punished on many campuses, nice to see some universities like Clearmont McKenna taking a stand toward upholding what institutions of education should be, venues of free inquiry and debate. Instead of allowing students to get away with blocking access to an event and speaker that they didn’t like, the college suspended and blocked degree access for those who violated institutional rules (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/07/18/claremont-mckenna-suspends-5-students-blocking-speech). Such a defense was probably put best by the University of Chicago, when they released letters to an incoming freshmen class last year. In them, the university proclaimed that “fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related university priority…building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds.” (http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/univ-chicago-pushes-back-trigger-warnings-safe-spaces). Such an exchange ultimately involves even sharing peacefully those ideas which might be shocking or unpopular. If an idea is truly superior, it doesn’t need walls or boundaries erected around it against challenges, for it wins on it’s own merits. The students involved in the McKenna case took it upon themselves to get in the way of an event that was voluntarily set up by other groups on campus, and therefore showcased themselves not only to have little faith in the values they supposedly care about, but also to stand in opposition to educational prudence. Glad to see that Claremont McKenna took action, and hopefully others will join in that cause.
Instead of dealing with the understanding that the public school system has become increasingly problematic to families and students, the union American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten chose to offer only inflammatory rhetoric about school choice advocates, a demonstration of ad hominem argumentation (http://nypost.com/2017/07/21/teachers-union-president-calls-charter-schools-polite-cousin-of-segregation/). How the ability of people to have more control over the quality of their education is “racist” I have no idea. Contrary to her assertions over the so-called dangers of school choice, studies show such alternatives to have either neutral or positive results…with none finding anything negative (http://www.justfacts.com/education.asp#choice_gov; http://www.nheri.org/research/nheri-news/nationwide-study-finds-high-academic-achievement-by-the-homeschooled.html; https://fee.org/articles/3-reasons-to-support-school-choice/). This as opposed to public school sectors, which have produced stagnant results despite extensive budget support over the years (https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa746_2.pdf; https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/12/how-do-american-students-compare-to-their-international-peers/509834/; http://www.gallup.com/poll/1612/education.aspx). On the subject of diversity, charter schools have been shown to be remarkably integrated and a boon for minority students (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgb.asp; http://www.publiccharters.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/The_Color_of_Success_Full_Report_20110402T222340.pdf; http://www.newschoolsforneworleans.org/education-in-nola/data-and-analysis-old/), while public schools have actually been shown to be increasingly segregated according to a report by the Government Accountability Office…perhaps because many are leaving for better options (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/05/17/gao-study-segregation-worsening-us-schools/84508438/).
Perhaps instead of demonizing those who seek alternative choices in the quality of their education, Ms. Weingarten should focus on the devolution of the public school moniker, and how the teacher unions…especially the organization she leads…have played a role in the mess, being more focused on political causes rather than educational success, and supporting bad teachers (http://freebeacon.com/issues/seven-unions-top-kochs-in-super-pac-spending-and-thats-just-the-money-we-know-about/; http://watchdog.org/240956/aft-union-politics-2015/; https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000000083; http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-court-rejects-bid-to-end-teacher-tenure-in-california-marking-huge-win-for-unions-20160414-story.html; https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-teachers-no-one-wants-1499989012). Then again, perhaps that is too much to ask of those who have been all too comfortable to enjoy their power over struggling families and students.
Some other ways that education is becoming more decentralized and diverse in application, particularly on the ever-budding information superhighway:
A good PBS program looking at the struggles of the education sector, and how some are trying to break through – http://www.pbs.org/wnet/school-inc/
With the passage of a new law, New Jersey joins a couple of other states (Hawaii and California) and districts in raising the smoking age (http://fox8.com/2017/07/22/new-jersey-raises-smoking-age-to-21/). This despite the fact that cited studies on the matter are mostly speculative, and that such a change is nothing less than a paternalist encroachment on individual liberty…particularly focused on what people decide to put in their own bodies.
The article above cites a 2015 National Institute of Medicine study that mentions alleged lives that would be saved by the law change (http://tobacco21.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Public-Health-Implications-of-Raising-the-Minimum-Age-of-Legal-Access-to-Tobacco-Products-Institute-of-Medicine.pdf)…but that is all that such statistics are, merely alleged. The study itself flatly admits that there is no baseline data that exists regarding the law changes (given the fact that the laws have been changed only recently in those few states and districts), and that other factors could be responsible for the decline in jurisdictions it considers…such as Needham, Massachusetts. Instead, it relies on models to try to anticipate teenagers getting cigarettes from retailers and older friends and family in a world with a nationwide smoking age of 21, and then tries to extend the rates of smoking and smoking related diseases out to the year 2100. Not only is such a thing obviously speculative, it also ignores the realities of the mechanics which take root in a prohibitionist marketplace. The change is also just as likely to provide the impetus for a black market to offer those who are underage the ability to garner cigarettes themselves. Alcohol laws concerning age could potentially offer a window into how such a thing could work out. Issues concerning binge drinking, fake IDs, and safety concerns have caused some campuses to begin reconsidering how age laws stand on the issue (https://fee.org/articles/lower-the-drinking-age/). Such a thing shouldn’t be a surprise considering how historical insight from previous attempts at prohibition, and how the current War on Drugs, have worked out concerning public safety concerns. An analysis conducted by the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study in 2015 found that teenage smoking rates have fallen across the United States independently of whether jurisdictions raise their smoking age (http://monitoringthefuture.org/pressreleases/15Ecigtbl.pdf).
In the end, such a change doesn’t match up on closer scrutiny. Instead, what this drive plays into is merely rescinding the rights of perfectly capable adults according to speculative theories…the calling card of a nanny state. In all the supposed concern that the adults in question get “better maturity and understanding” of the situation, there appeared to be none extended to the worry of whether they could attain those qualities toward taking out student loans, joining the military, getting married, casting a vote in an election, driving a car, etc. After all, those are all things that 18 year olds are able to do. If they are able to do those activities and face the consequences, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to enjoy a cigar and a beer too. Being able to make choices…even if they may be unwise…is part of what being an adult is, otherwise what is the significance of having an “age of majority” distinction at all? Adults of all ages should be able to enjoy their lives in peace without the state putting up needless roadblocks like this.