pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I have had many criticisms of Obamacare. I thought it was a sop to insurance companies and could only control costs by destroying innovation. But even I was not so cynical as to realize it was in fact another attempt to force the poor to subsidize the middle class.

The Obamacare plans, even the gold plans, have very high deductibles. I should be in favor of this, because low deductible plans are just prepaid health care, not insurance. But there's a wide range of health care that's...discretionary. There's my long health slog, of course, but you'd be surprised what becomes discretionary when you can't afford it. Urgent care for a heavily burned finger that will probably heal on its own. An ER visit when you're almost certainly not having another heart attack. A tooth ache.

Obamacare plans make some preventative care free. But otherwise it doesn't cover anything until you reach your deductible, and is pretty expensive until you reach your out of pocket maximum. The insurance doesn't really pay off unless you spend a lot. Who has the money to do that? By definition, the richer you are, the more money you have, the more likely you're going to reach your out of pocket maximum.

I think the poor are still covered in the event of true catastrophe, because you don't have to spend your out of pocket maximum, you just have to incur it, and hopefully the hospital will extend you credit on that after you've been hit by a bus. But the people this law was supposedly trying to help? They can't afford the premiums on the plans where they can afford the out of pocket maximums, even with the subsidies. Which means the subsidies are not going so much to them as to the people in their risk pool with the resources to meet their deductible (whose premiums are being artificially lowered by community rating and the premium ratio cap). Saying they have equal coverage is insulting and a break from reality.

But adults with wealthy parents can stay on their insurance until age 26, which is nice.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
There are a lot of policy proposals, mostly but not exclusively progression, that I find troubling. I agree that the thing they are aimed at is negative, and that if their policy works as proposed it will weaken the effect, but I don't trust it. I either end up criticizing the proposals on libertarian grounds or just expressing a vague sense of unease, neither of which has the slightest effect on proponents.

Affirmative action used to fall into this category, but I now have some more articulate objections. Affirmative action is premised on the idea that the solution to black poverty is for white people to give them things. Not that the jobs are charity, but they're still given at the whim of white people, and ensure that the most rewards go to minorities who are best at assimilating into white middle class protestant culture. I would much rather have funded black entrepreneurs so they could be successful on their own terms. Or maybe just extended the protection of law so that white people didn't burn down their businesses *quite* so often. Or not used eminent domain to tear down black businesses to build housing projects, nominally aimed at helping the poor, and structured bidding so only white firms had a chance.*

Now I can move "fighting inequality" out of the inarticulate-unease/libertarian-sputtering category and into the real reasons category, thanks to Ezra Klein. He suggests that while inequality is bad, unemployment is worse, and we change priorities accordingly. I agree, but that's not impressive because I don't think inequality is bad. I also think most government efforts to increase employment are counterproductive and harmful. But Klein brings up the excellent point that there's at least one thing the government does that actively raises unemployment, and all they would have to do to lower unemployment is stop doing it.

They're not doing it for no reason, of course. They do it in the name of fighting inflation, which is generally considered to be good. But why? And have we ever measured how good low inflation is, relative to the costs of high unemployment? Unemployment makes people really fucking miserable. Moreover, inflation hurts net savers (i.e. wealthy people) and helps net debtors (i.e. poor people). And the closer we run to full employment, the less employers can get away with the soul crushing shit they pull on McJob holders (i.e. poor people). So prioritizing low inflation over high employment benefits the rich at the expense of the poor in every possible way.**

My conspiracy theory? The proposed solution to inequality is usually taxes. Taxes will always be worst for the people with the least flexibility. Flexibility increases with wealth. So in general, taxes will be worse for the rich than the truly wealthy. But there is no dodging inflation. That will hit the wealthy and there is very little they can do about it.***

Inflation also incentives people to invest in high-risk/high-reward ventures (which have a higher likelihood of creating jobs, although also a higher risk of royally fucking up the economy. Tto be fair, that risk will hit the rich harder than the wealthy) as opposed to letting it sit in bonds. It fights entrenched wealth by reducing the value of it, without the nasty side effects of an estate tax. It pushes everyone to keep creating rather than rest on accumulated wealth.

Let me note that as a net saver, I'm advocating against my own interests here. But however bad inflation may be, I think the moral thing right now is to tolerate a bit more of it in exchange for higher employment.

*Source: The Pruit-Igoe Complex

**Note: I'm assuming the alternative to low inflation is higher but *steady* inflation. Hyperinflation and unexpected spikes are still really bad for the economy as a whole.

***I'm not an accountant, I think that overseas investing might be an option, and that would have consequences for the US.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Everyone reading this should know that except under very specific circumstances you donate cash to charity, not goods. And you never, ever, ever buy goods for the purpose of donation. Either acknowledge this charity is better than you at fulfilling its goal or do it yourself.

Work is having a big donation drive for an anti-starvation-in-Africa charity. Specifically, they distribute plumpynuts. It's pissing me off on a number levels. For one, I don't like a large, rich corporation trying to tell me the moral thing to do with my money. I work for them, they pay me, end of transaction. TI love their donation matching program, but that is them being generous with *their* money towards a thing *I* chose. This is pretty much the opposite.

Second, I don't like the charity. It advertises itself as "curing hunger", when what it means is "give profoundly malnourished child nourishment for six weeks". Hunger isn't a disease you catch and fight off and then it's all good. Unless you've fixed the underlying conditions that led to that starvation, you've done nothing. At best. There's a million ways charity can make things worse.

it nags at me because the African poor are objectively worse off than the American poor that are helped by the charities I donate to (Modest Needs and Treehouse for Kids). I give to those American-focused charities anyway because I feel competent to asses their goals, approach, and a bit of their implementation. Not perfectly competent, because the whole transaction is premised on them having better information than me, but competent enough to be confident enough I'm not making things worse. But in the back of my mind I keep thinking "when it's your kid, it's priceless." I feel like I'm throwing up my hands and saying "sorry African kids, I'm going to leave you to suffer specifically because your suffering is so immense."

I guess the fact that this bothers me so much means I should at least look around for good charities addressing 3rd world poverty. I feel helpless in the face of it, but there are indirect routes. If I can't asses efficacy directly, I can find people who do, and I can assess them. It's not perfect, but I don't think perfection is a fair expectation here
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
When the Mother Jones article on worker condition inside an Amazon warehouse came out, I was not sympathetic. Yes, the company wants you to work fast. I don't consider it damning that a writer on an assignment was unable to meet quota for a highly physical job. Okay, it sounds mean that they will fire you for saying "This is the best I can do" but again, they have the right to retain the fastest workers. It is weird that they will fire you for missing a day your first week, no matter what the excuse, but then hire you back. That's expensive to them and could be fixed with some discretion. And not giving employees lockers is a total dick move. They can't even keep their keys or phones on them in the warehouse, so they have to hide them and pray. Making all the employees break at once is pretty cruel too, given the bottlenecks of metal detector and bathroom.

Debt talks a lot about how slavery, debt, and ripping people from their contexts are intimately linked. Slaves don't get to have social networks like owners, or even poor free people. Slavery often originates as a way of paying off debts/response to debts unable to be paid. Debt itself is about removal of context- people will do things to get out of debt they never would have for the the same amount of money outright. People will accept treatment of debtors for being debt that they would never accept as conditions for getting out of whatever caused the debt in the first place. Somehow the gap between original conditions (sick child) and when the payment comes due changes the moral calculus. And since money's entire purpose is to reduce the context necessary for economic exchange, it does the same thing.

I've had shitty jobs, but I never had a McJob, and I am beginning to recognize the importance of that distinction. I have never felt interchangeable. My shittiest job was summer school tutor. The teachers didn't even want me, my position was funded by a federal grant meant mostly to help the tutors themselves, finding people qualified to take the position would have been trivial... and yet, once I was in the classroom and working with kids, I was an individual with an individual position. I was not irreplaceable, but replacing me had a cost. If I had screwed up, the school would have had reason to pause before letting me go. The thing about McJobs is that no matter how good you are at them, you're replaceable. Even the fastest warehouse picker can be replaced by a finite number of other pickers. It's not until you get late 90s level unemployment levels that unskilled labor any leverage over your employers.

Which explains the unmeetable picker quotas. But why can't they get some g-ddamned lockers? I know the employees are replaceable and the margins low, but I can't imagine there wouldn't be some productivity benefit to employees not spending their entire workday wondering if their car will be there when they get back, and that that benefit exceeds the cost of the lockers. I'm having trouble typing this because I feel like a dirty commie*, but I believe my friends' explanations that it's a deliberate attempt to keep the workers down. That if you consistently tell them they're not even worth lockers, they won't be able to ask for more. I've talked about government and sick systems in poverty, and those are at least nominally designed to help people. Corporations will proudly state they're not allowed to have morals.

Yesterday I talked about the gaslighting involved in subtle racism: why wouldn't the same thing apply here? Once you've accepted that employers want you to fear losing your phone every day, it's not crazy to wonder if they're deliberately setting your quota beyond what a mortal is capable of so they can yell at you. Especially when they will fire you for not promising to try harder, regardless of what your numbers do. Maybe the McWorkers aren't in a position to judge exactly where economic rationality ends and arbitrary cruelty begins and letting that devalue their point is choosing to let the toxin win.

*And then I swing around to "only an unfeeling neocon would be feeling that"
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
As is my custom when sick, I've been watching depressing documentaries on Netflix. Here are my opinions:

Hot Coffee: opinion piece saying tort reform has been driven by corporations, that said corporations have used money to corrupt the justice system to their advantage, and that the popular examples of lawsuits gone awry were legitimate suits distorted by the media. They raise some interesting points that run counter to my existing beliefs, and I want to acknowledge that this makes me defensive. Nonetheless, I think documentaries are a bad medium for disputes of fact, and it fails to do a good job at documentaries' natural role, sharing the emotional truth of something.

Bully: follows five children who were viciously bullied. This did a great job of conveying emotional truth, in that I WILL KILL THAT BITCH PRINCIPLE IF IT IS THE LAST THING I DO HOW DARE YOU TELL A VICTIM IT'S THEIR FAULT FOR BEING BULLIED BECAUSE THEY REFUSE TO PRETEND IT'S NOT HAPPENING. Bully is this illness's winner of the coveted "I'm stupid for watching this when I'm low on cope" award.

The House I Live In: "The drug war is bad and not motivated by genuine concerns of public safety." Somewhere in between. It's definitely advocating a position, but it also works to show some of the feelings of devastation the drug war brings. I was already well on board with its position, but I did learn a new fact or two. I don't have a single friend who isn't already convinced the war on drugs is an excuse to control and destroy poor people, and I can't judge how it would do with the uncoverted.

Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home: how life feels to residents of Skid Row, Los Angeles. This is what documentaries are supposed to be. It makes me retroactively downgrade The House I Live In because it's so much better at being a documentary.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I have finally found a convincing counterargument to my belief that cash aid is better than in-kind and restricted aid (e.g. public housing and housing vouchers). My belief was based on the following:

  1. Data showing that cash transfers are better at lifting people out of poverty than specific aid.
  2. Intuition that people are generally better at knowing what they need than the government
  3. Intuition that if they don't, they need to learn, and this is how to do it.
  4. A willingness to let mentally competent adults starve for their own bad decisions.
  5. Belief that the government claiming to best know how people should spend their money was inherently paternalistic and poisonous to a healthy citizenry even when it's government provided money.

My goal in anti-poverty intervention is not to eliminate poverty or suffering, but to make sure that an individual's suffering is mostly a result of their own, recent choices, and not bad luck, environmental factors outside their control, other humans, or shitty choices they made when they were 15. Or even mildly poor choices they made a month ago, depending on the cost to do so.

Here are two things I have thought of recently. One, decision fatigue is a thing. There is space to recognize and accommodate that without creating a cycle of dependency. Of course, our current programs often manage to be condescending and induce decision fatigue, so this is no defense of them, but the theory is there.

The second specifically applies to housing, and other consumables requiring extended contracts. Low, and especially high variance, income can easily lead to a poor credit rating. Poor credit makes housing harder to find, lower quality, and more expensive- and justifiably so, since tenants with low credit ratings are more likely to miss payments. You can compensate with a higher deposit, but that doesn't help the poor. A dedicated housing allowance that is paid to the landlord in a timely manner (which the current housing voucher system demonstrably does not do) credibly commits you to paying for housing. That insulates people not only from their own past poor decisions, but from the decisions of other poor people who have created the statistical association between poverty and irregular payment. Stable housing is almost fundamental in establishing a stable life and pulling out of poverty.

I am more and more seeing poverty not as a problem of too-low income, but of unpredictable income. And some sort of minimum income guarantee makes a really credible solution.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
The Lottery (available on Netflix Streaming) is a documentary on Harlem Success Academy, a chain of charter schools in NYC. To state my biases up front: I think charter schools and vouchers are good things. Not because private companies are intrinsically better than the government, but because they are given more opportunities to fail. Failing teachers can be fired, instead of just traded to other schools. Failing principles can be replaced. Failing schools are themselves shut down, at a frequency and speed unheard of for public schools. I believe that over time this will up the quality of charter schools relative to traditional public schools, even if quality for individual schoolsqw is a random walk.

In the specific case of Harlem Success Academy, they seem to be doing good work, in that their students can read and count and students who applied but lost the lottery by and large can't. This is amazing and good for children and I am so glad that HSA exists and is able to rescue some of the children from the wasteland that is poverty stricken public schools.

And yet, when Harlem Success Academy says their goal is for every one of their students to attend college, I cringed. I have spent weeks thinking about this and I think I'm starting to understand why.

First, it's a low bar. There are some shitty schools that will accept absolutely anyone but do nothing for their students, and it's a disservice to children to pretend that these are worth aspiring to.

But assume they restrict themselves to a certain quality bar of college. It's still outsourcing evaluation, and it's evaluating for very specific things. Some of those things are literacy and numeracy, which I'm prepared to acknowledge as blanket good things. But it's also heavily weighted to those who can sit down and shut up. To quote Alex Tabarov: " A big part of the problem is that the United States has paved a single road to knowledge, the road through the classroom. "Sit down, stay quiet, and absorb. Do this for 12 to 16 years," we tell the students, "and all will be well." " We tell children it's college or nothing, and those that don't thrive on the college track are left to rot.

On thing Off the Books made abundantly clear is that people in urban ghettos are incredibly creative and entrepreneurial. They're unable to harness that into fully supporting themselves in the manner to which they wish to become accustomed for a variety of reasons, some of which are fixable. What if we taught kids how to scale their hair braiding or unlicensed cab companies into full businesses? * What if we gave them apprenticeships in plumbing and electrical work and the know-how to turn that into a business?

I'm not saying these kids categorically don't deserve to go to college or aren't good enough for it. I'm saying that some of them would be better served by a different goal, just like a lot of white upper class kids. I also see this push for college as symptomatic of a devaluing of critical thinking skills on at least two different levels. And that makes me sad.

Contrast with this TED talk:

In it, Freeman Hrabowski, present of University of Maryland Baltimore County, talks about how he and UMBC worked to decrease the dropout rate of black students in STEM majors, and then applied these same ideas to help other students in other fields. This is a very different problem than working with desperately poor 5 year olds, so I'm not going to pretend you could just plop Hrabowski in and fix everything I dislike about Harlem Success Academy. And he is measuring a lot of his success in # of MD-PHDs produced. And he says a lot of the same things as HSA about working to remove obstacles for students. But he emphasizes how his students succeed on their own terms. He's helping them keep their dreams, not telling them their dreams are shameful and they should adopt these better ones.

*For that matter, what if we fixed tax and licensing laws so this was possible without hiring lawyers? Not the school's issue, but a thing I think would do a lot of good.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
My municipality has public (government funded) assistance programs to help people make the balloon payment required to rent an apartment (security deposit/first + last month's rent, etc). As assistance programs go, I'm pretty okay with this one: it's a one time investment that helps people get into long term better, more stable, cheaper living arrangements. It increases mobility and threat of exist from bad situations. I like all those things.

But why is it necessary? At least part of the reason is the insane tenants' rights laws. If it takes three months from missed payment to eviction, landlords will demand three months rent up front. A friend of my is being evicted because he missed a payment. The landlord isn't out any money yet because my friend paid last month's rent when he moved in, but he doesn't want to risk a repeat next month. If they could evict on two day's notice, the economically optimal thing would be to take a more wait and see attitude.

Except those rules didn't come about for no reason. I couldn't move on two days notice, and allowing my landlord to force me to do so would give him an extraordinary amount of power. It becomes trivial to extort people, and it's most effective against the most vulnerable, which is the opposite of how I like my extortion to go.

Full disclosure: I already dislike laws that give tenants substantial lead time before eviction, because 1. they're unfair and 2. they push us towards more professional landlords and fewer individuals renting out spaces, and thus hurt both small time capitalists and renters, to the benefit of large capitalists.

This is a thing I've been thinking about a lot since I read Debt. It makes the point that medieval European peasants tended to be heavily involved on both sides of the free market. A household was extended credit by the miller, but they were themselves extending credit to the cobbler. It kept the system from spiralling into wage slavery* or debt peonage, while still giving useful signals about what things were and weren't wanted. It bears a striking resemblance to the ghetto economics described by Sudhir Venkatesh in Off the Books. I'm hoping that things like lyft and airbnb will move more of us back to that, but as they grow they're running into tax and regulatory obstacles.

And we have those regulations on hotels, and taxis, and restaurants for reasons too. Food poisoning, bed bugs, and kidnappings are real things that I think the government should work against. Regulatory capture makes it worse, but that's a distraction from the fact that every safety regulation disproportionately discourages new and small entrepreneurs.

Third, initially unrelated thing: I've been thinking a lot about parenting lately, and how we tend to emphasize protecting children from dangerous things, or teaching them to protect themselves. Avoiding dangerous situations costs them a lot, both in good things they miss out on, and bad things they would have learned from. If I have kids**, I want to emphasize resilience and recovery from trauma, not avoidance out of fear.

This is relevant because the government's current tact is a lot more like wrapping your kid in bubble wrap, and a lot less like teaching them to stand up and brush themselves off. Speculatively, what if we lessened food safety restrictions but provided free treatment for food poisoning? What if anyone could run a cab but everyone had a panic button that could summon the police immediately? I already think the government should spend infinite money in the War on Bed Bugs because fuck bed bugs it's a public safety issue. New reputation mechanisms are arising that could substitute for the closeness of a medieval village.

Once again I have no closing paragraph, just a bunch of thoughts.

*A phrase I still find ludicrous and diminishing to the horror of genuine slavery, but am now beginning to see what it's getting at.

**A thing I have been feeling more positive about since the hypochlorhydria was treated.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I'm currently neglecting normal savings in favor of squeezing the last penny into my 401k. I can do this because I can be really sure I will not need that money until I am 65. I have a large cushion, and if anything truly catastrophic happened, my parents would help. I assure you I am extremely motivated not to let this happen, but I can't escape the fact that in case of expensive cancer, I can break that glass. I have friends who make more money than me who cannot do this. They need a larger cushion because not only can their parents not rescue them, they might have to rescue their parents. Or siblings. Or in laws. And come 65 (under current tax codes), even if my friends never actually gave money to their parents and I never actually accepted any from mine, I will have more money than them, because I had the flexibility to put more in my retirement account. And these are people high paying, highly secure jobs.

This strikes me as a flaw in programs like 401ks and Flexible Spending Accounts: they're more useful the more flexible your money, and flexibility is directly tied to wealth. Not even income, but wealth.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I think the commenters at boing boing are accusing wal-mart of free riding, by paying a wage that qualifies its employees for aid. That just seems sort of weird to me. It's predicated on the employees' health being a public good, a thought I find profoundly disturbing. In fact, it creates that same sort of unease when I heard people describing individuals' health as a public good to justify government funded medicine. It's just too close to owing other people your health.

It's also a little frustrating when people justify high taxes on the rich by saying it will be invested in public goods like health care, and then object when the rich actually receive some benefit from it. That just seems unfair to me.

And if you want to argue that Wal-Mart is able to offer lower wages because of that aid... yeah, that's plausible. Libertarians and conservatives have been shouting about that for years, only we/they were using it as an argument against the aid. Don't call me mean for pointing out the rain and then get mad when you get wet.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)

I am lucky to have always had access to frequent top notch dental care. I give dentistry a hard time for handling my trigeminal neuralgia so poorly, but the truth is that without electric toothbrushes and 4x/year cleanings by very good hygienists, I would be in constant oral pain until I died at 40. It's one area I just lost the genetic lottery in.

My dentist talked me into a cleaning with local anesthetic. I kind of thought this was bullshit: we weren't hitting the limits of my pain tolerance, we were hitting the limit of the hygienist's ability to listen to my pain. Which then lowered my pain tolerance because she would stop working and make me reassure her that I was fine, which broke up my attempts to process and not notice that someone was repeatedly stabbing me in the gums. But I agreed, and it turned out to have been a really good idea. Judging just by the amount of blood, She really got in there. Sober, I couldn't have sat still if i wanted too. Numbed out on lidocane, it was basically the world's worst manicure. I'm not having fun, but it is nice to have an hour where nothing is expected of me. I am really lucky to be able to get both the cleaning and the anesthesia without having to sacrifice in other areas.

Money probably does this in a lot of other places too. Even if a rich person and a poor person are suffering nominally the same thing, money lets you escape some of the consequences. Everyone has to go to the DMV, but it's a lot easier when you have flextime. Anyone can use the unemployment office's online system, assuming they have the money for a computer. And so on.

Suppose I could afford the cleaning but not the anesthesia. After the last anesthesia-free cleaning, I was useless for an entire day. I was just too pained and too pissed off at the dental office to accomplish anything. After the anesthesia cleaning, I felt fine. I still took the day off because I already told work I was going to do it and I had a lot of anxiety going in to the appointment, but it wasn't necessary.* I don't enjoy losing a day's pay, but I can afford to do so. Presumably I wouldn't have done that if I absolutely needed the money. But cope is a limited resource, and if I hadn't been able to get it back by staying home and watching Once Upon A Time, I would have found some other way. Alcohol. Abdication of parental duty. Putting off other necessary work. You pay for it somehow.

So I have two points here. First, if you have the money, totally use it to drug yourself during teeth cleanings, even if you have to pay for it out of pocket. I refused for a long time out of some sort of misguided puritanism, plus I was insulted that my dentist kept implying I needed it. Now? I would ask for narcotics if I didn't find them horribly unpleasant. Let modern medicine do one of very few things it's actually good at. Also, don't let your dentist try to talk you into an hour and a half if your back starts complaining half an hour in and the anesthetic lasts an hour. Just come back another day.

Second, it's good to consider what else you're able to buy yourself out of. You don't have to stop doing it, because suffering is not zero sum, but it's good to be aware

*Which is good, because the hour we spent was enough to do exactly one quandrant of my mouth, and I need at least three more of the same, and possibly another cycle after that, at which point I *might* be able to go down to every three months, although it'll take eight appointments because we'll have to do top and bottom separately.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
The most beautiful expression of Christianity I've ever read

Near the end of my shift, I watch in horror as a regular participant stabs wildly into his neck with a needle. He has been trying desperately to inject into his neck in order to find his jugular vein. When I intervene, he consents to letting me try to find him one in his arm. Midway through, however, he changes his mind and grabs my arm. "Don't!" he says. "I'm not worth it."

I look him in the eye. "Yes, you are."

He glares at me...and holds out his arm. I tie the tourniquet wordlessly and find him a much safer vein. He injects himself, and then gruffly thanks me, tears welling up in eyes that refuse to meet mine.

This is grace, manifest in care of desperate persons, flesh and spirit. This is harm reduction. And I do it because it is simply the Christian thing to do.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I have had a lot of housing stress lately. The downward spiral with my landlords is hitting critical mass, and while it will temporarily abate in the spring as the heating system becomes less critical, it is time for me to leave. Finding a new place, whether I rent or buy, is incredibly stressful. Especially because when I contemplate living in a condo with an HOA it triggers all the stress of coping with my landlords, but when I contemplate buying a house, it's much more expensive and in much less desirable locations. Or I could rent, but it's not any cheaper, I could face all these problems with a new landlord, and I'm morally indignant about being asked to pay huge pet move in fees (I'm sorry, "non-refundable deposits") and then a monthly fee on top of that. I can afford it, but it's not just.

Yesterday, I ran into a friend who is also moving, only under much worse circumstances and with much more urgency. As he talked, it occurred to me that only one of us was really worried about shelter, and it wasn't me. What I was worried about was money. Quiet a lot of money, and not something I feel bad about taking seriously. But it is fundamentally different than needing to move *now*, being restricted to a very narrow (and expensive) geography, and having financial constraints that mean you are genuinely unable to afford everything you've seen so far.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Both major political parties seem to yearn for the 50s: Democrats for the tighter wage distribution and the fact that people could raise a family of five on the salary of one person with a high school diploma working forty hours a week, Republicans because they view it as a time of "traditional values". If you ask them they say they mean less sex and more marriage, but liberals accuse them of yearning for the racism and sexism as well. And they're probably right: some conservatives actually wish we would go back to Jim Crow; some others don't, but also prove their points with statistics that register a woman who is regularly beaten but can't afford to leave as a marriage success.

I don't think this places the liberals on the winning side of the issue, however. Because when we reflect on how nice it was for people to walk from high school to union jobs, where they could earn a solid income until they died, we're really reflecting on nice it was for white men to walk from high school to union jobs, where they could earn a solid income until they died. White men had essentially created a cartel of labor through which they extracted a larger share of corporate profits, which was great for them, but hurt everyone else who would have liked to work. Slow food? Dependent on the mother having all day to cook. The "good death" at home? Dependent on free labor from women. Cheap schools with excellent teachers, and caring nurses with all the time in the world to take care of you? Dependent on women being unable to work in other industries.

There's also a pretty good argument that meritocracy will lead to a widening of the income distribution. If you were a smart kid born poor, the best strategy for you in the 50s was to unionize, so you could harness the power of all the other workers to raise your salary via collective bargaining, which the collateral effect of raising theirs as well. Now, the best strategy is to study and get a middle class job (which is not as easy for you as it is for middle class kids, but vastly easier than it would have been in the 50s), which leaves the average-intelligence-and-poor out in the cold. It also allows people who are good at investment, or thrift, or are simply incredibly hard workers, farther up than they would go in a more class limited system.

It would be nice to get the best parts of the good old days without the associated bad parts, but I think those are a lot more entangled than we'd like to believe.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
First, I think that we, as a governmental unit, have a problem when there is actual case law deciding whether or not the X-men count as human.

The issue arose because many years ago, US doll manufacturers wanted to stave off foreign competition, and so got the tariff on dolls raised. This created a legal distinction between things-to-be-played-with-that-are-human (dolls), and things-to-be-played-with-that-are-not-human (toys), with dolls having something like 2x the tariffs. Marvel's lawyers went to court to argue that because the x-men were not human, they should be taxed at the lower toy rate.

Regardless of how the case was decided, this was a stupid argument. I think people everywhere on the political spectrum recognize this. But they (tend to) think the solution is to remove this one stupid law and move on (with liberals and conservatives disagreeing on exactly which laws are stupid). I view this as merely merely the most ludicrous example of the problems that arise from writing very specific laws, and that as long as you have that power, it will lead to bad results. This would be true even if there was an actual reason to tax dolls higher than toys: the burden isn't just to prove that we'll experience n% more growth if we tax dolls at a higher rate, it's to prove we'll experience experience n% more growth if we tax dolls at a higher rate after we've spent a bunch of money arguing exactly what a doll is. The money spent on lawyers and judges for that court case is a completely dead weight loss to society.

To use a more serious example: I'm conceptually fine with taxing junk food at a higher rate than food with nutritional value. But I don't think the benefits outweigh the costs of legally defining junk and not-junk, and the creepy symbolism of the government deeming what we should eat.

Second, there is an DEA created shortage of anti-ADD meds. They don't see it that way, of course. They don't even think there's a shortage, because you can still by full-priced name-brand Adderall and Ritalin. Every year the "the D.E.A. accepts applications from manufacturers to make the drugs, analyzes how much was sold the previous year and then allots portions of the expected demand to various companies." The original patent holder can choose how to distribute their allotment between the (expensive) name brand or (cheaper) generic. In something that comes as a complete shock to all of us, when there's no competition from other generics (because demand exceeds supply), they choose to make the thing that makes them more money. The DEA's official response to this is that there's no shortage if the name-brand is available, and if people can't afford it, that's the manufacturer's fault for being mean.

Supply restrictions create price increases. That's what they do. That's not even econ 101, it's just true. All this is being done against the scourge of college students using ritalin as a study aid/party drug. Which may not be good for the individuals in question, but I'm not seeing how stopping them is a public good. And no one else would either, if they hadn't been trained through generations of drug wars to expect that fun + chemical = government crackdown.

And the people using it recreationally are probably less affected by the shortage than legitimate-but-poor users. The recreational users will have on average more money and more connections. The poor people with ADD will find it harder to go to 20 pharmacies to find one with generics, not only because the usual transportation-while-poor-issues, but because they have ADD and I hear that sometimes makes it hard to focus on a finicky but boring task.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
There seems to me to be a conflation of the issues of poverty and inequality. These are different things, and fixing one does not necessarily help the other. First, poverty tends to be measured as income, and inequality tends to be measured as wealth. But ignoring that, you could halve the consumption of the top 1% without making a damn bit of difference in the lives of the poor. Or you could double the income of the bottom 20%, and it still wouldn't noticeably impact measures of inequality.

But, more frustratingly, it wouldn't make a difference in the official poverty percentage either. Government statistics define poverty relative to the spending of a family in a certain percentile. While this doesn't fix the poverty percentage at the exact same number forever, because you can have a lumpy curve, it does make it impossible to eliminate, or even particularly make progress against, poverty, as defined by the government.

If someone came to me with some charts and graphs showing "people require X, Y, and Z to reach goal A, which is what we've established as the minimum a human being should live at. X + Y + Z cost $n, we should make sure everyone has at least $n", I could probably be talked into it. I could definitely be talked into it if A was defined as "the threshold at which hard work and other virtues are rewarded" a.k.a. the amount necessary to keep people out of a sick system. $n would still move around, because new things (like cars or computers) become necessary (raising n), but then get cheaper (lowering n). Although this still wouldn't change the measured poverty rate, because that does not count government benefits as income, which means at every government program to decrease poverty by dispensing money fails by definition (same source as above).
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, commenting on Andrew Sullivan's video explaining why he never made an It Gets Better Video:

I think one of the reasons I write as I do about race is because I never really saw myself as a direct "victim" of racism. I thought there were many things that would impede my life--but white people never really ranked among them. I understood--and understand--that racism is a powerful systemic force. I understand red-lining, block-busting, slavery, Jim Crow etc. I don't demean them as forces in American history. But there's a difference between understanding how society views your group and being daily taunted as a faggot or a nigger.

This resonates with me, because as far as I know, I have never been a victim of sexism. No one ever told me "girls can't do that", except my parents teaching me how to respond. I have, on the other hand, heard a lot of anti-sexism. Somehow I was always the representative to the empowerment seminars. One published a book with essays from all the attendees. Mine said "I didn't learn anything here". I crippled my mom with embarrassment when I called a state official at a career panel on referring to men as boys (my dad was super proud of me, especially because I was motivated in part by specific political criticisms he'd made of her months earlier). I can recall several incidents of being told I was a shoe in because they needed women, and none of the reverse. Which doesn't mean sexism doesn't happen to other people or even that it hasn't happened to me in a subtle fashion, but the lack of first hand experience plus the fact that my life is just extraordinarily cushy means it has no resonance for me. In my personal experience, talking about sexism has caused more problems than sexism.

But I have been a pretty severe victim of racism. Or rather, some combination of classism, anti-nerd bias, and sheer cultural differences that got expressed as racism. I was a white, middle class kid moved from a mostly white, middle class private elementary school* to a poverty stricken middle school where I was the only white kid in the class, and I was tortured for it. I think making me poor, or having gone to a public elementary school would have done more to change how I was treated than changing my skin color.** But this is something I figured out years later: it felt like racism, and to this day I'm a lot more passionate about racial, poverty, and educational issues than feminist issues***.

*I feel like I should note this was a school for the children of aging hippies, not an andover prep school.

**As I heard it, the one hispanic student at my elementary school, who came from a very poor family and was on scholarship, went to one of the best public high schools in the city, and got eaten alive, because even if his home life was tough, he was used to be the scariest one at school.

***Reflected more in my charitable giving than my writing because I maintain a healthy skepticism of my ability to educate Ta-Nehisi Coates about poverty and race. ***

****Actually, I did write him once explicitly to give him new information, on a racial issue, and it was well received. But I assume a key part of this was that I was passing on actual scientific data.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Things like the 99%/quintiles/etc are ordinal rankings: they use the same math as the median. Average wealth/income uses the mean. When you have a distribution that has a hard stop on one end (due to both practical limits and bankruptcy), and no cap on the other end, you get what's called a long tail. So naturally the absolute gap between the top quintile and the second quintile is greater than that between any other quintile.

Additionally, the top quintile is the only one you can't leave by earning more money. Mathematically, the most you can ever raise the mean of a quntile is by ((income of lowest earner in the next highest quintile) - (income of lowest earner in quintile of interest))/(number of people in quintile), because once someone in the quintile earns enough to move into the next quintile, they stop contributing to that number. On the other hand, if someone in the top quintile earns more money, that's reflected in the numbers the way our intuition says it should. So comparing mean income between quintiles is only slightly more meaningful than saying "the average income of people earning $100,000-$110,000/year is more than twice that of people earning $40,000-$50,000/year."

I will listen to arguments that certain people are too poor and we need to address it, or that certain people are crooks and we need to address it. I believe that taxes should be progressive, although I don't think that automatically means no new taxes for people earning <$250,000/year. And as a libertarian, I am all about the argument that people above a certain threshold are using their money to buy power to buy more money without contributing anything to society, although my solution is probably not what the Occupy people want. But the only way to address the complaint that "the top quintile makes too much" (be it absolutely or proportionally) is to ban people from having too much money, even if it was acquired in fair exchanges from which both parties benefited. And I'm never going to agree with that.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
The tone of a lot of "Why don't poor people favor wealth redistribution/taxes on the rich?" articles bugs me. There's an implicit "Those yokels, too stupid realize this is better for them, or to vote in their own self-interest." Now, some people have been manipulated into voting against their economic interests by identity politics- but some other people have chosen to sacrifice their own self interest in favor of a moral principle. Who is who depends on your own moral principles. The liberals who laud Warren Buffet but decry poor red staters who vote against SNAP seem to me to be condescending to the people they claim to be trying to help.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Everyone but the people involved have noticed that homophobia, or at least vehemence of homophobia, is correlated with the number of things you do that the bible tells you not to. It's like they think you can make up for lust in your heart, or you know, killing people, by making life miserable for some other sinners.

One of the tragedies in Angela's Ashes is the father's pride. I put his pride in three categories:

  • Pure bullshit. Example: forcing his pregnant wife to carry packages because it's undignified for a man to do so.
  • Even if you spot him the principle, bullshit in application. Example: telling his wife she needs to wait at home for him to bring the money, because it's shameful for her to go to his job/welfare office and take it from him. Even if you think that's shameful, he should have thought of that the first ten times he drank his entire paycheck while their children went hungry.
  • Sort of noble principle, still bullshit in application. Example: wanting to refuse charity and make do with what they have. There's some nobility here. But if it's so important to you that your children not accept boots from the church, don't drink the money you could use to buy them boots. Being generous with other people's suffering is not virtuous. Keep in mind that at this point in the story three of his five children have died, with malnutrition as at least a secondary cause, and he still views any money he earns as his to drink.

    This strikes me as a lot like the Christian right and homosexuality: a strong desire to be virtuous, but an unwillingness to give up anything they actually want. That's why having a gay relative works so well on them: suddenly their homophobia has a genuine cost.


pktechgirlbackup: (Default)

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