Justice for minorities

Suppose Donald Trump were handicapped (physically) would life become easier for all the handicapped people in the United States?

This question is in reaction to an opinion piece in the Guardian defending the leaders of the British Labour Party’s youth movement for organizing a conference from which straight, white, and able-bodied men were barred because “Luckily for them, they are not oppressed in politics.” As an older, white, straight and formerly able-bodied male this blogger feels uncomfortable with this article not because I am not eligible to attend but because I think it is a misguided way to solve problems.

I have three concerns.man-in-wheelchair-800px

The first is a fundamental problem with a parliamentary system, that of asking one person to represent a group. Most electoral areas have within them a range of interests and opinions. The person who gets elected may represent some of them but maybe not even everyone who voted for him or her. Some representatives use their position to support the interests of just a few friends. Most of us wear several different hats and it is expecting lot to expect an elected representative to wear all the hats worn by his/her  constituents.

A second concern is that I like to make distinction between speaking for and speaking about a group. This came up in Canada recently when it was found that a writer who had written novels about native people had a minimum if any of native blood in his body. He was being asked by media to speak for native people some of whom objected to this. This blogger lived on an Indian reserve for four years and knows the truth is that nobody can speak for all natives because they are a diverse group of people with vastly different life experiences. However some people, myself included, can speak about natives and some of us may see things differently from how they see themselves. When these young people exclude some people from their conference they may be excluding some very caring and knowledgeable people. Some of the excluded people may be hurt by this policy. Two wrongs do not make a right.

My third concern is that we all have disabilities and there is lots of injustice in this world. Probably most of us experience some injustice during our lives. Who is to say one person’s disabilities or injustices are worse than another’s? We should be sympathetic to all disabilities and oppose all injustice. Is it legitimate to ask governments to correct all injustices? That is asking for a lot intrusion into our lives.

An article in a recent The Economist about women in the board rooms of European corporations says there is little evidence that wide-spread quotas for directors has either improved corporate performance or done anything for women at lower levels of the corporation. This is not promising for those who want minorities to be more represented in government.

It appears this conference was trying to address two issues by not allowing some people to attend. Politics is highly competitive and complex. One way to win any competition is to eliminate the opposition. The other issue is injustice which most of us have to deal with. That too is a complex issue . There may be more rewarding ways to deal with injustice than trying to win elections.

If Donald Trump lived in a wheelchair my guess is that he would still be Donald Trump and about half the people would still hate him.

Emotions and denial in the U.S. election

Some of us were raised to believe elections should involve a rational discussion of issues and voting for the candidate which best represents our point of view.  The current U.S. election appears to ignore this tradition and be based mostly on emotion and denial.

I believe the major economic issue facing the world today is that we have used up the most easily accessible energy and mineral resources  Yes, there are lots left but they are so difficult and expensive to extract that they are probably not useful to us.  The result is that we are heading into a prolonged period of economic decline.

Lots of people recognize we are experiencing some serious economic problems although very few understand the problem or agree with the above explanation.  Too many people, especially economists and politicians believe  with the right policies we will soon return to economic growth.

From where this blogger lives, about 200 miles north of the Canada-United States border, it appears one of the candidates is basing his campaign mostly on a strong appeal to emotions, especially fear.  This is a problem as generally emotions overrule rationality.  All the rules of managing an election and predicting its results are out the window. Rational responses to outrageous statements are meaningless to those swayed be emotion.

The outcome of this election is very uncertain.  Most if not all writers have biases even if they think they are being objective.  Therefore we need to be careful in evaluating analysis of this election.  A lot of what is being written many be wishful thinking.

The other side of this election is based on denial that there is an economic problem.  They want us to have faith that she will be able to solve impossible economic problems.

This guy has written a book about how to adapt to a down economy.  (See the top of this weblog.) It will be difficult and a lot of people will have to accept a lower standard of living.  The fear is justified.

Whoever wins this election the economic problems will still be there along with all the emotions and denial.  Not a promising outlook.

Governments, competition and subsidies

Is it legitimate for city governments to get involved in the economy as The Economist reports a number of mayors are doing?  Governments have been involved in their economies for millenia.  For us this involvement helps a some people make profits and when the economy is tough it helps a few people get jobs.

There are two ways governments get involved in economics – by passing legislation that restricts competition and by giving subsidies either in cash or tax exemptions.

Most economic legislation at the national level works to restrict competition. Patents, copyright, licensing and tariffs all limit competition and allow the firms protected to charge higher prices and make profits they would not otherwise have had.  It may be the most  valuable business skill is government relations and lobbying.  During the recent golden age of prosperity with constant economic growth the higher prices have hardly been noticeable and for most people not relevant.  As we go into a period of economic decline already lot of people are hurting.

The other way governments influence the economy is with subsidies or tax exemptions.  

There are three concerns about government involvement in the economy.  

The first is that protection from competition and subsidies distort prices and encourage inefficiencies in the economy.  It might be cheaper and more efficient to make wing nuts in one place but subsidies alter that.  It may be that competition is now to determine  which, city or state/province has the deepest pockets for providing subsidies.  When firms can go where they get the largest subsidy, there is an element of blackmail and it is not clear this is a good way to start a relationship.

The second concern is that most of us most of the time make decisions for our own short-term interests rather than the long-term interests of the community.  For most of us a job today is more important than the future health of the planet or even survival of the human race.  Also one has to suspect that in this respect politicians are at the head of the line especially when they want to get reelected.

A third concern is that subsidies are good at providing jobs for a lucky few people but provide no benefit for the rest of the unemployed.  I believe subsides should be given to consumers rather than producers so that they don’t distort prices and can provide assistance to all who need it.

DI_404_SUCKZ_Stephen_HarperOne can make lots of arguments against government involvement in the economy, but one is fighting a lot of short-term interests.  The Canadian prime minister is the chief executive officer of corporate Canada.  This applies to the incumbent and probably to most past and holders of that post.

Economic growth and thinking outside the box

This column in The Economist leaves me feeling extremely uncomfortable because it speaks for all those economists (and others) who are in denial about the reasons  for the economic crisis and the need for thinking outside the conventional economic box to deal with it.

For some time The Economist has been saying the economic crisis must and can only be solved with more growth.  And the way to attain economic growth is innovation and increasing productivity.  This column claims aging workers become less productive than younger workers and the aging workforce dooms us to decreasing rather than increasing productivity.

clownIf only older workers could increase their productivity then all our problems would be solved.

Another article in the same issue talks about the economic crisis around the world.  I find it a bit of a stretch to think that all these problems are a result of an aging workforce in the rich world countries.

One has to observe that in the last few years the marginal cost of a lot of energy and mineral resources has gone up.  This means the most easily extracted of these resources have now been used.  What is left will require more energy to extract.  This has to have a negative impact on our economy.   It could even mean that future growth will be difficult if not impossible.

This is a much more serious issue than what most people can admit.  Rather than asking people to work harder and to use  Google glasses we need to look for ways to organize our economy so that our welfare does not depend upon continued economic growth.

 

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

Trading freely or controlled

Free trade is a controversial topic which won’t go away.  The Canadian government is currently negotiating with the European Union and the United States is thinking about it.  Some Canadians are still debating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

ShippingFree trade is attractive because the law of comparative advantage tells us that two countries will be better off and have improved production efficiencies if they specialize and trade.  Also we can  observe that countries which have tried free trade have done very well.

The difficulty is that introducing free trade means some people may have to change their occupations or even spend the rest of their lives unemployed.  This wouldn’t be so serious if we would arrange our economy so that life didn’t depend upon having a job.  It would also be nice if the improved efficiencies were to result in more leisure time.

The term “free trade agreement” is something of an oxymoron.  It is really a negotiated, controlled trade agreement.  There is nothing free about it.

If a country really wants to benefit from free trade it should do it unilaterally.  Just remove all restrictions on imports and don’t worry if other countries don’t reciprocate.  If they don’ want the benefits of free trade, that is up to them.

Co-operatives and competition

Here’s an article from The Guardian promoting the virtues of  co-operatives as an alternative to the profit-motivated capitalist system of organizing economic activity.

I am not sure the ownership structure of a firm is relevant to how it behaves within the economy.  Whether it is state-owned, community owned, privately owned or cooperatively owned it still has to acquire the resources (capital) with which to start and operate the business.   It also has to arrange for management.  A lot depends upon the personality of managers.  There are many dominant people who are skilled at manipulating democracy and consensus decision-making.  The exception is that state-owned firms may have deep pockets and may make decisions for political rather than economic reasons.

I see co-ops as a reaction to excessive profits of private firms. Generally firms are able to make profits because governments pass legislation which restricts competition.  Probably the best way to deal with excess profits is to repeal the legislation that restricts competition.

The U.S. election – meanness or dominance

As a Canadian I have been trying to ignore the U.S. election.   However when I saw where some libertarian market economics people were excited about the appointment of Paul Ryan as the vice-presidential candidate I decided to have a little look.

What I found is that while Ryan supports a market economy and smaller government he has proposed a 16 per cent reduction in U.S. spending on social programs.  This goes against my belief that we should have a collective responsibility to ensure everyone has the opportunity for the same standard of living as everyone else.

Another concern is that this reinforces the view that market economics is heartless and mean-spirited.   An income support scheme of some sort has to be an essential part of market economics.

On the other side of the political divide there are a lot of people who appear to believe they have a right to tell others how to live their lives.  One would expect these people to support a political party that promised to interfere in the economy and people’s lives.

So there you have it – a choice between dominance and meanness.  If I were American I would probably deliberately spoil my ballot.

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

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