Thoughts on the Arizona Teacher Strike

https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2018/04/05/arizona-teacher-strike-hurts-kids-spend-money-better/482859002/

As the above article points out, Arizona school teachers go on a strike in an effort to regain taxpayer funds for public education.

A NY Times writer, Paul Krugman, believes that a number of state governments fell into the hands of “extreme right-wing ideologues,” who are trying to usher in a low-tax, small-government, libertarian utopia.

He states some Republicans have been willing to learn from experience, reverse tax cuts and restore education funding.  But he also notes all too many are responding the way Matt Bevin, the conservative Republican governor of Kentucky, did: “Instead of admitting, even implicitly, that they were wrong, they’re lashing out, in increasingly unhinged ways, at the victims of their policies.”1

I agree with Mr. Krugman that perhaps some Republican politicians should better relate to their constituents with respect to the issue of public education funding.  I do not agree necessarily with his proposal to reverse tax cuts and restore education funding that way.  I would like to see education funding in public schools, but it should be done through voluntary community donations and not through mandatory taxpayer money.

As Republican leaders push for school choice, they will inevitably invite backlash from those who support the status quo of public education.  I would prefer that conservatives do not retreat from their long support of school choice, but rather that they recognize that reformers have erred in casually ascribing critiques of dysfunctional big-city systems to all of the nation’s 14,000 districts.  Such a view would recognize two legitimate, competing visions of localism – one geographic, and one voluntary/market-based.  Both have much to recommend them.

Practically speaking, this would mean the following, as proposed by a writer from the National Review:

First, approach school choice as part of an education agenda rather than the sum of it. For instance, career and technical education has such appeal because it’s an inclusive, practical way to address a real concern of countless families — whether their kids will be prepared for the world of work. Expanding online options and dual-enrollment models are examples of choice-based reforms that could complement local systems.

Second, promote school choice with an eye to respecting, rather than slighting, concerns about how “disruption” can upend communities. This means talking about school closures as regrettable, not a bloodless consequence of vibrant markets. It means empathizing with, rather than ridiculing, suburban parents concerned that school choice might disrupt their communities. And it means acknowledging that conventional notions of school choice are frequently a poor answer for much of rural America, where the next-closest junior high might be 40 miles away.

Third, seek policy solutions that respect the healthy desire for both community and choice. For example, some cities have allowed charter schools to employ “neighborhood preferences,” meaning the school remains primarily choice-based but local families have a better shot of getting in. And in New Orleans, most of the charter schools are now overseen by an elected board. While the details matter immensely, there’s real value in seeking ways to empower families while also respecting geographic communities.

Lastly, part of what fuels nervousness about school choice is the sense that communities and their heritage are being sacrificed in the service of some grand policy agenda. This concern can be strongest in conservative communities. In smaller towns, when they talk about schools, residents and community leaders frequently bring up the importance of high-school sports or the ways that elementary schools help bring new parents into community networks. State and local leaders working to expand school choice should explore ways to protect the civic goods offered by local systems, for example by permitting students in choice-based schools to participate in the sports teams of traditional public schools and encouraging partnerships that enable alternative and traditional schools to cooperatively raise funds for good causes and host community activities.2

To summarize the above points:
-approach school choice as a supplement to public education as opposed to a replacement
-respect that transitioning to school choice will raise understandable concerns and politicians should do what they can to comfort their constituents with the transition.
-politicians and their constituents should seek policy solutions that respect both the local community and choice; in other words, treat public education and school vouchers as “both-and,” instead of an “either-or” situation.
-State and local leaders working to expand school choice should explore ways to protect the civic goods offered by local systems and encourage partnerships that enable alternative and traditional schools to cooperatively raise funds for good causes and host community activities.

Also as I already alluded to earlier, public schools could benefit from private citizens in the form of parent-teacher associations, instead of asking the government to provide the funds to support their education.  Parents, especially the affluent ones, should be able to contribute to their public schools if they choose to do so.  That’s the idea behind school vouchers, if I understand the idea properly.  School vouchers are essentially tax money given back to parents, and they can decide how they wish to spend that money, whether it’s back in their local public school or in an alternative school that would teach their child better.

I would also support the idea that parents could partner with schools in less affluent areas and forge a fellowship over time.  As one writer said, “In better understanding that public education extends beyond the five-mile radius of their communities, parents might be willing to share a portion of their considerable resources and social capital to benefit other kids.”3

I love the idea behind school choice, but its proponents, especially among state and local officials, should approach school reform in a manner that’s sensitive to the concerns that their constituents have as we transition from a nearly monopolized public education system to a more innovative one.

In addition, I would propose that public schools seek public fundraising campaigns from their local communities through parent-teacher associations and other non-profit organizations.  I would even invite parents from other school districts to consider donating funds to provide school supplies to students who live in less well-off school districts.  I would much prefer this approach to raise money for public education over asking the government to raise taxes.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/opinion/teachers-protest-education-funding.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage
  2. https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2018/03/19/education-reform-local-schools-key/
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/rich-parents-school-inequality/431640/

A Biblical Perspective on UBI

I think Christians should consider the UBI from the perspective that 2 Corinthians 8-9 provides.

Speaking of the Macedonian believers, Paul states, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5)

Christians should be known as a people that are zealous to give generously. In a sense, giving and contributing to a UBI-like system is a matter of conscience, but the Christian faith is peculiar in that our personal preferences are involved as well.

If we are truly redeemed by Christ through the acceptance of the gospel, then the Spirit should be working on our desires so that our personal preferences gradually conform to the moral expectations set upon us by God through our conscience.

John Piper stated it quite beautifully, “There is built into the Christian faith an inner impulse by the Holy Spirit through the gospel to make sacrifices so that others have their needs met. And there is no such impulse built into human nature or the human heart apart from God’s grace. It is so vital that this kind of love and mercy and sacrifice be free and uncoerced that this is laid down as a principle by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9 and by Peter in 1 Peter 5 as he instructs the elders.”

The UBI, in principle, sounds much like the scene portrayed in 2 Corinthians Chapter 8 where Paul encourages the Corinthian believers to participate in the relief of the saints in Jerusalem.

“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Cor 8:13-15)

One of the assumptions behind the UBI is the idea that even when some of our neighbors are working several odd-jobs at once, they still cannot make ends meet, and so they do not even meet the national poverty line.

Ideally, Christians should spearhead the effort to mobilize churches and influence the greater society to form non-profit organizations that are dedicated to supplying the need of our less fortunate neighbors.

Covenant Church already did something similar to what I have in mind: https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Local-Church-Donates-100000-Eliminates-10-Million-in-Medical-Debt-478514693.html

The Bible does describe an economic redistribution between the rich and the poor, but the key difference between what the Bible describes and what people like Andrew Yang have in mind, is that the economic redistribution in the Bible is voluntary, while Andrew Yang’s idea involves coercion.

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:6-8)

As one can plainly see, God prefers voluntary donations from believers who want to give. Taxes, by their very nature, are coercive and compulsive, because if you do not pay them, you will face repercussions from the IRS.  Socialism is essentially economic redistribution accomplished through coercion.

Piper stated the case well: “In other words, Socialism borrows the compassionate aims of Christianity in meeting people’s needs while rejecting the Christian expectation that this compassion not be coerced or forced.”

The primary reason that God prefers voluntary donations is because such actions are a reflection of His own character:

As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” (2 Cor 9:9)

Christians should consider ways to support the well-being of their less well-off neighbors whenever possible because such actions have a missional flavor to them and bring glory to God. Voluntary generous donations also help our neighbors see that our ultimate treasure is in Christ (“confession of the gospel of Christ”), and not in our riches. Ideally, our generosity will attract them to the riches of Christ Himself.

“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Cor 9:11-15)

As for 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat,” yes, this sentiment should be included in our considerations for how we help our neighbors.

There is a particularly helpful case study in 1 Timothy Chapter 5 where Paul tells Timothy to make a distinction between deserving widows and undeserving widows:
“If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” (1 Tim 5:16)

Included among his instructions is the following statement: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8)

So we should do what we can to supply the needs of our poor neighbors, but not in such a way that we enable them to live an idle life. Just as Paul told Timothy to “care for those who are truly widows,” we should “care for those who are truly needy,” as opposed to those who are not actively searching for a job. Therefore we should have an administrative program that can effectively screen people and distinguish those who are already working jobs but still cannot make ends meet from those who are not seeking a job.

Bottom line: A UBI is one way that Christians can demonstrate their generosity as we could invest our resources into helping genuinely needy people. Voluntary donations help our neighbors see that our treasure is in Christ, reflect God’s generosity, and attract our neighbors to Christ. We need to discern between genuinely needy individuals and those who are living an idle life.

For further reflection:
Ask Pastor John podcast: “How Should Christians Think About Socialism”:
https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-should-christians-think-about-socialism

On Universal Basic Income

Andrew Yang, UBI, and the VAT

A friend of mine pointed this article out to me: http://www.yomyomf.com/entrepreneur-andrew-yang-is-running-for-potus-2020/

If you read the article, you find out about a man named Andrew Yang, who is running as a Democratic candidate for POTUS in 2020. He has proposed that all American citizens between the ages of 18-64 should receive a government check of $1000 every month. This is called a Universal Basic Income payment (UBI). The premise behind the idea, in Yang’s mind, is this: the US has a lot of resources, but those resources are not distributed to the people effectively.

Why $1000 a month?
-recommended by former Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern
-$12,000 a year brings an individual close to the US poverty line, which is $12,752 per person per year for those under the age of 65, according to the US Census Bureau.
-$1000 a month UBI has been studied and modeled by The Roosevelt Institute (It could grow the US economy by 12.56 percent after 8 years if paid for by increasing the debt).
-$1000 is low enough to help assuage a common criticism of UBI: that it will discourage people from working (It would make a huge difference for families, but not enough to lead one not to work.)

Yang believes UBI will encourage entrepreneurship, as it will improve mental well being.

Under Yang’s plan, the UBI payment would be funded by a value-added tax (VAT) of 10 percent on goods and services a company produces, particularly those produced by companies benefiting the most from automation.

Yang states that VATs will become more important in the future as we cannot collect income tax from robots or software.  He believes that this plan would generate between 700 to 800 billion dollars in revenue.  He bases this estimate on a study done in 2010 by Eric Toder and Joseph Rosenberg of the Tax Policy Center.

Under Yang’s plan, current welfare and social program beneficiaries in the United States would be able to keep their existing benefits if they prefer.

A Review of Economic Principles

Basically Yang states that a UBI is necessary because technological advancements are putting more and more people out of work.  There are so many robots doing jobs that people used to do that millions of people will be unable to work. Unskilled labor workers will have no other choice but to depend on wealth redistribution in order to survive.

However this scenario does not seem to be likely in the near future any time soon.

The very field of economics exists because of the existence of scarcity.  This world of ours simply does not possess enough resources, goods, and services for everyone to have limitless amounts.

Thomas Sowell said, “The Garden of Eden was a system for the production of goods and services, but it was not an economy, because everything was available in unlimited abundance. Without scarcity, there is no need to economize – and therefore no economics” (Basic Economics)

In other words, in a post-Eden world where scarcity exists, economics must exist unless we find a way to recapture the unlimited abundance of a pre-Fall world.

Even if robots do take over an increasingly higher number of jobs traditionally filled by humans, the reality of scarcity in the economy will not change. It still takes resources and labor to build and program these robots, and the robots themselves must use resources to produce goods and services.  More resources still will be required to service and repair these robots when they break down.   Therefore a more technologically driven economy will not change the fact that there are costs to produce goods and services and entrepreneurs will only continue to produce the goods and services so long as there are sufficient profits to leave them better off.

If the world of Disney’s Wall-E is ever realized, where robots will do literally everything including build and repair other robots and so humans will be able to simply relax all the time, then I suppose a UBI would be necessary, but I would not count on this scenario happening any time soon.

Therefore even assuming the robot takeover happens as all these doomsday technologists claim, the laws of supply and demand will still apply to the economy, even with a universal basic income.

Next, history has already given us many examples of jobs that became obsolete due to innovation.  For example, when was the last time you were walking down the street and saw a business that produced and sold saddles and horseshoes? There are still some around, but there were far more before the invention of the automobile. Nonetheless did a massive amount of unemployment result for ranchers and merchants who sold horse related equipment? Maybe for a short time, but the reality is that people simply found other lines of work that resulted from the technological shift itself. The creation of automobiles improved long distance travel and high-capacity shipment giving rise to a boost in the road construction and transportation industry.

As another example, despite whatever jobs may have disappeared as a result of the world wide web, I do not think anyone prior to 1995 could have predicted how many people would be earning 100% of their income solely by using the Internet.  The bottom line is even if the advent of technology predicts a shrink in a given industry, history has shown that it will inevitably lead to a boost in another new industry. If and when robots can literally do everything there is to do, we will have a different discussion but I just do not see that happening.

With these two things in mind, the continued existence of the laws of supply and demand and the eventual shift of people from one industry to another, let us continue.

Application of Scarcity and History

If there is a robot or machine that give you everything you want or need as UBI proponents predict, then we will have achieved the world of Wall-E.  We will have achieved the unlimited abundance of Eden instead of continuing to live in the scarcity of a post-Eden world.  There will be no entrepreneurs because robots will be doing literally everything. However because of the reality of scarcity, there will never be a robot that can give you literally everything you want or need.  Until a robot can create resources out of thin air this statement will remain accurate.

It has been said that Internet sales replace retail workers, diagnostic apps replace health care workers, and self-driving cars will replace drivers. According to a study by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, almost half of all US jobs are at risk of being automated in the next 2 decades.

However, we need to consider the job figures that will be created as a result of these technological advances. There still have to be people to build, service, and repair these self-driving vehicles. There will be competition amongst app developers and internet sales platforms. Even if we can predict that some jobs will disappear wholesale, history has already shown that we cannot possibly predict what new jobs will result.

The UBI experiments

UBI proponents like to point to studies (Oxford, The World Bank, MIT, Science Magazine) that have shown that people who receive free money do not stop working initially at least.  However, the biggest failure in economics is the failure to see the long-term consequences of a policy.

Hilmar Schneider noted, “Experiments are made that are supposed to demonstrate empirically that people would not or would only insignificantly reduce their working hours after the introduction of a UBI. These experiments are financed “externally,” and as such, the incentives for earning more than the UBI remain attractive because there is no necessity for internal financing. Furthermore, these experiments always cover temporary periods. People might therefore not quit their jobs just because they receive greater income temporarily, since they would risk longer unemployment after the experiment ends.”

So these studies have either been done on a small scale or are privately funded with money coming from voluntary donors outside of the small-scale economic decisions of the participants. Therefore there is a problem with extrapolating from the results of these studies to support a larger scale, permanent version.

If the money is coming voluntarily from private donors, the results of that study will not tell us anything about whether or not a UBI would be effective coming through the force of taxes in a large country like the United States.

As a thought experiment: If someone just offered you an extra $1000 would you turn it down?  Of course not. It is not surprising then that if people rich and poor alike are temporarily given some extra money for a few months, they will use it to enrich their lives with a new computer, help pay their school bills, or to make a new investment. This is the same principle behind what private employees do when they’re given a one-time bonus or a temporary pay increase.

However consider what happens when a UBI is permanently implemented on a large scale for a large country like the United States. If you simply provide everyone with a modest amount of cash but not enough to live on, all that will result is a form of inflation since everyone has a little more money to spend, when they all go out to spend more, prices will rise to compensate for the increased demand. The initial spenders will get lucky but once the price raises take effect, everyone will be no better off than before there was a UBI.

When money is redistributed from the wealthy to the poor, the poor will come out and start buying things that they were not buying before. Since there is now an increased demand for the things that the poorer demographic wanted but previously couldn’t have, the prices of these goods and services will rise to compensate for the increased demand. Just because it is not overall inflation caused by an increased currency supply (from printing more money, for example) does not mean this redistribution will not cause inflation in the very markets that affect the demographic that the UBI is supposed to help.

The Cost of a UBI

What if we give a UBI that can be lived off of without working?

David Freedman states: “Economists are quick to point out that whatever savings might result from cutting out the existing safety net bureaucracy, they are likely to be far outweighed by the cost of handing an annual check for, say, $10,000 to every adult in America. (Proposed amounts vary, of course, and are likely to be adjusted for those supporting children. It’s generally assumed that existing health-care financing programs would remain in place, as would Social Security.)  A rough calculation suggests that a $10,000 basic income, enough to lift the vast majority of Americans above the poverty line, would be at least twice as expensive as current antipoverty benefits and overhead, adding between one and two trillion dollars to the federal budget.  Halving the size of the check would go a long way toward solving that problem, but that would leave millions below the poverty line with fewer other programs to help.”

Ted Cruz pointed out in a debate with Bernie Sanders that even if the US confiscated 100% of the earnings of all Americans who make more than 1 million dollars a year, it only produces about a trillion dollars in tax revenue. What does this mean? It means that in order to provide a UBI of $10,000, it will mean massive tax increases on both the rich and the middle class.  Financing a UBI of just $10,000 a year would cost far more than could be paid for only by those who make a million dollars or more a year.

So coming back to Yang’s idea.  To support his annual UBI of $12,000, we would need at least one or two trillion dollars, and his VAT plan would only provide between 700 to 800 billion dollars in revenue.  To make up for the remainder, we would need to increase taxes on both the rich and the middle class.

The Problems with Increasing Taxes on the Rich and the Middle Class

Whether it is through the VAT or other taxes, profit earners will have to finance the UBI. Once the UBI becomes sufficiently expensive, those profit earners will no longer earn profits high enough to motivate them to keep working.  Once this happens the whole system will collapse.

As Margaret Thatcher once said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

Does a basic income create a floor from which people can lift themselves up? No, once you reach a certain threshold your basic income will simply be your own money being given back to you since the money is obtained through taxes. The tax rates that will finance the UBI alongside all other forms of government spending to include universal health care and other programs that most UBI proponents also support will mean that even middle-class families will likely pay up to 50% income tax or more.

It is extremely doubtful that government spending will ever go down or that people will stay happy with a UBI of $12,000 a year. It is practically human nature as this verse from Proverbs 27:20 astutely points out: “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man.” Over time there will be pressure to raise the UBI and in doing so increase tax rates even further. This will discourage people at the top from working hard and innovating.

UBI might appear to be successful in the short term but eventually it will bankrupt the country especially once the people at the top stop working as they see their success stolen from them.

The Problem with Socialism in General

People should be allowed to keep the money that they worked for.  Socialism, through its use of governmental coercion,  takes other people’s money and gives it to people that did not earn it for nothing in return.  This is theft, plain and simple.

There is a significant moral difference between donations and taxes done through socialism.
-Donations: voluntary; “I am giving money because I want to give money.”
-Socialistic taxes: militarily coerced; “I am giving money because people with guns will come for me if I do not”

As Friedrich Hayek said, “There is a difference in the world between treating all people equally and attempting to make them all equal.”

The more you steal from Peter to pay Paul, the less incentive Peter has to work hard and try to earn more the next year, which means this will only accelerate the spiral of failure that results from penalizing good behavior like smart work decisions with higher taxes and rewarding bad behavior like perpetual unemployment with free money. Eventually you run out of other people’s money.

What would a nationwide UBI look like?

Quite possibly, in the first year that a UBI is implemented, thousands of people will rejoice if not millions.  Although the higher income earners will groan as they see even more of their hard-earned profits stolen from them, there will still be enough low income earners who see it as free money. The media will run tons of stories showing poor women going to the store to buy enough groceries for the first time or proudly driving down the street in her new car. Everyone will praise the US for its progress.

There will be a significant amount of people who decide to simply leave the workforce and try to live off their UBI. What will be the result be? With fewer people willing to perform basic labor, prices of all goods and services will rise.

Schneider said, “Price reactions are likely if nobody can be found who is willing to perform low-wage labor. Wages for such work would have to be higher than under the status quo. Although UBI proponents see this development in a positive light, it would actually lead to a worsening of the real income situation of households, since the accompanying wage increases would be reflected in rising consumer prices.

Conversely, if for some reason the wages for these types of jobs did not rise, the UBI would dissuade workers from performing them. Consequently, households would be forced to spend their own time on tasks they would otherwise pay other people to do, such as housework or food preparation. In both cases, these households would be worse off than before, because they would either have to spend additional money or additional time to get what they used to have.

Due to the increased tax burden, the UBI would increase incentives for illegal employment and create even more financing needs. Furthermore, a UBI would destroy incentives for investing in one’s education. Not only would it lead to increased unemployment among unskilled workers, but it would also enlarge the group of workers with low qualifications.

Finally, a UBI would serve as a tremendous pull factor for immigration, which would consequently increase financing needs even further.”

Those who choose to live off the UBI will not be satisfied with a $10,000 per year income. Legitimate question: When is the last time you heard a welfare recipient say “I have enough, please don’t give me any more welfare?” Before long people are going to be complaining about how the UBI is not high enough and how the rich need to pay their fair share, even though by this time the highest earners will likely be paying more than 90% income tax.

Only the politicians who promise to raise the UBI will be able to get elected and as more and more of the rich stop working when they see their earnings stolen from them, the system will collapse into bankruptcy.

As I have repeated before, I will say again: The problem with socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s money.

How Socialism Undermines Motivation

Under any form of socialism to include the implementation of a UBI, the more successful you are at your job, the more you will be penalized by having the fruits of your labor stolen from you.  Where will the motivation to do difficult jobs come from?  Who is going to bother going to medical school when they see that being a doctor will not leave them any better off than a garbage man or someone who simply does not work and lives off his UBI. The personal satisfaction of work is not strong enough to motivate a high enough number of people to do these types of work.

Concluding Thoughts

To recap:

The problem that a UBI is meant to address: the lack of jobs that automation will bring, does not truly exist.
-we have not yet made a robot or machine that can create resources out of thin air and thus gets rid of scarcity, which is the very foundation of economics.
-when jobs are lost, people simply move from one industry to another industry; it may take time and be inconvenient at first, but people do eventually adjust.

A UBI could work well if it is done on a small scale, voluntary, and temporary basis.  But to replicate the results on a larger, permanent scale will be problematic.

The cost of a national, permanent UBI would require higher tax rates on the rich and middle class than what they already are.  This places a heavy financial burden on the rich and middle class, and if they chose to stop working, the whole system collapses.  The pressure to stop working will almost certainly come when the government and poor individuals ask for more money.  Also mandatory taxes are fundamentally different than voluntary donations.

The prices of all goods and services will increase because of inflation due to increased demand, and when a significant amount of people decide to simply leave the workforce and try to live off their UBI.

A national, permanent UBI may possibly work if the following conditions are met:
-the rich and the middle class are willing to shoulder the financial burden of financing the poor individuals of society
-government spending goes down and people stay happy with a UBI of $12,000 a year
-people continue to seek and stay in the workforce instead of living off their UBI.
However these conditions are unlikely to be met for very long due to human nature.

Ideally, we could replicate the results of the UBI through voluntary donations, not through socialistic taxes.  As already alluded to in the UBI experiments, people have  voluntarily invested their resources to participants on a small scale and temporary basis, and the results have been great.

I am personally fine with financing through voluntary donations a UBI done on a targeted, small scale, and temporary basis, which is a far cry from the mandatory, military coerced taxes that a national UBI would require.

The Collection of Private Information

 

I do find this meme humorous, and it raises an important issue.

Some thoughts that came to my mind when I saw this:

Information is power. There are questions about how that information is obtained, who accesses it, and how that information is used.

The Dark Knight (2008) had an excellent scene regarding this issue of invasion of privacy vs public safety: Batman used Lucius’ sonar idea on the people of Gotham’s cell phones to locate the Joker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kr7AONv3FSg

The government may invade our privacy for a stated purpose of protecting the public from potential terrorists among us. Or it may use that knowledge to manipulate us into supporting its agenda.

Mark Zuckerberg may invade our privacy and give that data to a political data firm for an efficient marketing strategy. However he is somewhat better than the government, since he generally gives potential Facebook users a notice beforehand that our data may be collected and thus there is more of an emphasis on consent.

So both the government and Mark Zuckerberg are guilty of invading the people’s privacy, albeit for different reasons.

Generally, our privacy should be protected, but there are times when an invasion of privacy is warranted if it is done for noble pursuits. It is similar to how HIPAA permits a covered entity to disclose protected health information to law enforcement if there is a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the patient or others.

Collecting our private information for marketing purposes is a little different. Ideally the collector would be transparent about the gathering of data and ask for permission to collect said data. They also need to be careful about how they use that data. They may obtain it for research/academic purposes or to subtly manipulate public opinion and behavior.

All in all, transparency and accountability are key.

Generally, private information should be obtained by consent.
There are exceptional times when invasion of privacy is warranted, as in the case of public safety, for example.
There is a moral expectation that the information gathered should be used in a responsible manner and respects the autonomy of others as much as possible.

Whether it be the government, Mark Zuckerberg, political data firms, marketing firms, and the like, these are some of the guidelines that should be followed.

Looking at Syria through a Prophetic Perspective

Regarding the situation in Syria, I find this passage from Jeremiah particularly apt:

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:1-2)

God might as well be saying all this to Bashar al-Assad and to the leaders of Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia who amplified the civil war in Syria.  Bashar had a responsibility to lead his people well, but he has been and continues to use his authority for evil, even going so far as to wage chemical warfare on his own citizens.  Perhaps one day God will soon attend to Bashar for his evil deeds in one form or another.  Perhaps Russia will be effectively rebuked and Putin will actually pressure Bashar to stop using chemical warfare against his people. Perhaps the United Nations will be able to effectively call for a temporary ceasefire in the land so that much needed humanitarian aid can be given to the citizens still living in Syria. Perhaps the United States will find a way to intervene in the crisis to bring the conflict to an end sooner. Only God knows.

“Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:3-4)

God might as well be saying all this to the Syrian refugees, who like ancient Israel, are scattered throughout the world from their homeland.  I hope that one day, these refugees can come back to their homeland to leaders who look to their interests better than Bashar ever did.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:5)

Ultimately, the best hope I can offer to Syrian refugees is the Lord Jesus Christ.  God already sent and raised up the Davidic King Jesus.  He is not the Savior of just ancient Israel, but the whole world as this passage in Isaiah greatly clarifies:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

Therefore the offer of salvation and deliverance that Jesus offered to Israel is also available to Syrians and so if these refugees accept Jesus as their reconciled Lord and Savior, perhaps they may come back to their land filled with the peace, joy, and forgiveness that Jesus can bring.  In other words, they can experience the blessings of His reign in their hearts, no matter where they are, and perhaps, Lord willing, they will return to their land in external peace as well.

On Racial Bias in School Discipline

So this article came up in my Facebook feed, and here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

Ideally, this should be the standard: a person guilty of an infraction should be given the same degree of punishment as another person committing the same infraction.
This article claims: “Black students continue to be disciplined at school more often and more harshly than their white peers, often for similar infractions.”

I will try to outline the important points of the article below:

An Obama era guidance in 2014 urged schools to examine the disproportionate rates at which black students were being punished.  The guidance was established to respond to data that showed that in 2012, black students were suspended at 3x the rate of their white peers.

The guidance informed schools that wide racial disparities could signal discriminatory practices that could result in a federal investigation and loss of federal funding. It also suggested a number of strategies for managing nonviolent behavior without resorting to kicking students out of school.

The Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.) found that black students were the only race in which both boys and girls were disproportionately disciplined across six disciplinary actions examined, which included corporal punishment, in- and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and school-related arrests.

The agency found that black students were suspended more often than their white peers in schools of all poverty levels. In the most affluent schools, 7.5 percent of black boys had been given out-of-school suspensions, while 1.8 percent of white boys had.
This finding challenges a common claim that poverty, more than race, may be driving disproportionate rates of disciplinary actions.

Other research shows that even black boys raised in rich neighborhoods were likely to earn less than their white peers. This finding further shows that poverty is not explaining the disparities. The article concludes that there’s a racial discrimination problem, and that statement can no longer be disputed.

The G.A.O.’s findings apparently underscore the need to strengthen the guidance, not rescind it as some have recommended.

Critics state that the report’s scope was too narrow to draw broad conclusions.  They believe that discipline reform is being applied unevenly and that this study does not answer whether there are some specific districts and schools that are responding particularly poorly to this. The study also does not answer whether racial bias accounted for all the disparities.

Basically, the article believes that there is a racial bias in school discipline, and I believe the article could have done a better job in defining “racial bias” better.

When people hear “racial bias,” they might imagine that school officials are going out of their way to accuse an innocent black student of school offense and thus they are punished unjustly.  However this may not be the case.

It is important to keep in mind that black students are justly accused and disciplined for offenses that they actually did commit.  So the racial makeup of people being disciplined should be representative of the racial makeup of people who commit an offense.

However, with that said, we do see disproportionately more black students disciplined than white students.

The all important question is “Why?”

Is it because prejudice causes more black students than white students to be convicted of offenses that they did not commit?
Is it because, on average, a black student is more likely to commit a school infraction than a white student and therefore more likely to be disciplined for what they’ve done?

It is true that we have individuals, who happen to be black, making bad choices for which they have to deal with the consequences.

The laws are fair and just on paper. But the system does not deliver fair and just results. After all, why do individual black students deserve more frequent and harsher disciplines relative to other races?  It is appropriate that these students are punished for their infractions, but should not the severity of their punishment fit the severity of their infraction?  Do their infractions warrant more severe punishments than those of their lighter skinned peers for essentially the same infraction?

If black student infraction rates justify high discipline rates, what is the cause of the higher infraction rate?

Personally I feel that a societal argument, namely culture, best explains the reason for this high black student infraction rate.  However that culture is heavily influenced by a past history of institutionalized racism in America. Here I define racism as the ideology that believed some races are intellectually and morally superior to other races because of genetics.

When you codify such a sinful idea into law, it will take time to undo the consequences of that sin in the generations after the removal of those laws.

We had institutionalized racism and oppression from the birth of this country to the mid 1960s when Jim Crow laws still enforced the idea of racial segregation. That is quite a long period of racism and oppression, and certainly such a long period will still have lasting effects on our society in one way or another. If those in power enslave a given race, prevent them from getting education, break up their families, confiscate their belongings, deny them the vote, subject them to a post slavery period where for generations they are forbidden by law from attending the best schools and all other rights afforded the majority, these laws will have lasting effects.

Institutionalized racism placed our neighbors in bad positions.
Our legislation has gradually changed to give our neighbors civil rights.
But the legacy of institutionalized racism still exists.

Poverty and black culture in the US is in large part created by this history of oppression.
When white people actively oppressed black people for such a long period of time, it should not be surprising to see that black individuals will possess a culture of rebellion and dissent that will be seen by the majority as punishable offenses.  In other words, sometimes a people group will engage in rebellious behavior precisely because they were so overly regulated and restricted that they had to rebel just to survive.

Say there was a law that forbid you from breathing.  The mere act of breathing to continue living would make you a rebel.  Essentially, your very existence is considered a crime.  The fault is not because of the individual but because of a horrible law and institution.  Now what happened to our black neighbors is not to that extreme, but the laws that governed them back in the day certainly nearly approached that level.  Racism is an ideology that practically believed that individuals of African descent were a crime of nature.

Now that the restrictions are loosened, it will take time for the current culture to adapt to the new freedom and use the freedom responsibly.   Now that does not morally excuse the misbehavior of black individuals, but it does caution us to consider to do what we can to reverse the lasting effects of institutionalized racism.  Racism may no longer be institutionalized, but the effects of that ideology are still felt in our society.

The effects manifest itself in black culture, which may, on average, be resistant to authority precisely because that authority was once used to oppress them.  If there was such bad blood between African Americans and authority figures such as law enforcement officers and judges, it will take time to gain that trust back.  So if black students engage in infractions that are punishable by the school, it is likely because they lived in a society that was born and raised in a context of rebellion under an oppressive regime.

The effects of institutionalized racism are also seen in the facts that black citizens are generally associated with poverty, less education, and more crime.  These socioeconomic realities came about because of an ideology that believed that black Americans were inferior to their neighbors by genetics.  In other words, a socioeconomic reality produced the same results predicted by an ideology that operated on the basis of genetics.

Racism is a self-reinforcing ideology.
-When employers and federal administrators think people with dark skin, by genetics, will be poor, less intelligent, and violent, then they are not likely to invest resources into them.
-With the lack of resources, people of color will end up and continue to be poor, less intelligent, and violent.
-The continued state of being poor, less intelligence, and violence becomes justification for continued refusal to invest resources into them.

Even when the racism, with its emphasis on genetics, is removed from legislation, the effects of it and the outcome can still look the same as before.
-Employers and federal administrators see that people of color are poor, less intelligent, and violent, and so they are not likely to invest resources into them. Not by genetics, but because that is the current socioeconomic reality.
-With the lack of resources, people of color continue to remain poor, less intelligent, and violent.
-The continued state of being poor, less intelligence, and violence remains justification for continued refusal to invest resources.

The difference is very subtle but the outcome becomes the same.  Racism believed that people with dark skin were, by genetics, intellectually inferior to people of lighter skin.  Racism as an ideology may be repealed, but its effects is still felt as a potential employer still associate people with dark skin with higher crime rates and low education, not because of genetics but because of socioeconomic factors.

So institutionalized racism operated on a basis of genetics.
The legacy of racism operates on a basis of socioeconomic factors.

So when we are saying “racial bias,” the phrase should not be taken to mean that school officials are going out of their way to accuse an innocent black student of a school offense and thus they are punished unjustly.  Rather the phrase should be taken to mean that there is a high black discipline rate in a response to a high black infraction rate that stems from an incomplete reversal of the lasting effects of institutionalized racism.

School officials are not punishing black students on the basis of their genetics, but they are punishing them more often than their white peers because that appears to be the socioeconomic reality.  I will give the school officials the benefit of the doubt and assume that they punish black students justly for things that are legitimately considered misdemeanors.  However, this article claims that they are punishing them more severely than their lighter skinned peers for the same infraction.  I agree that such a disparity deserves further investigation. I am also interested in further investigating the reasons why black students in even affluent neighborhoods are still punished at higher frequencies than their white peers.

Ultimately the high black discipline rate is a symptom of a deeper problem.  America may have done away with racism as an institution, but the effects of its history still remains, and it will take this country some time to sufficiently reverse the legacy left behind by the generations of lawmakers who came before us.

Institutionalized racism actively restricted people from obtaining the opportunities they need to thrive and prosper in our society.  Personally I wish we could help rebuild the neighborhoods and inner-city regions that were left destitute by lawmakers who refused to invest in our neighbors.  Institutionalized racism left our neighbors without a strong foundation to launch their productive careers, and we should consider what we can do to help them rebuild.

In order to fix this problem, we need to change the outside world and system, just enough to facilitate our neighbors’ abilities to participate in the greater society, and at the same time, emphasize personal accountability, hard work and entrepreneurship. Both aspects need to happen.

To conclude:
So we see there is a disproportionate rate at which black students are punished in school.
-Is it because of racial bias, in the sense that school officials are punishing black students on the basis of their genetics? I believe for the most part, this is not the case, as officials are punishing black students more often than their white peers because these students misbehave more often.
– However, I am interested in seeing why black students are punished more severely than their white peers for the same infraction. If this is truly the case, that would be an example of an injustice, that may involve racial bias, which needs correction. School discipline reform would be merited in this case.
-I am more interested in preventative measures.  Why are black students misbehaving more often, or at least engaging in behaviors that the school deems worthy of punishment?  I feel that such behaviors come from a culture of a distrust of authority that was born out of a long history of authority that was misused to oppress an entire people group.  A proposed solution in this case is to find ways to rebuild that trust and faith.  So I do not simply seek school discipline reform, but I want to find the root cause of the student misbehavior and find appropriate solutions.
-I want to see reduced suspensions, but not from refusing to suspend students when they commit offenses that deserve suspension, but by helping them to pursue upstanding behavior, and finding out why they would engage in bad behavior in the first place.

 

Seeking Common Ground on the 2A

The 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The premise behind the 2nd Amendment is that American citizens should be able to protect themselves against a tyrannical government by having access to firearms.  For the security of a free country, citizens should be able to purchase and keep firearms.  Thus our Constitution classifies civilian access to firearms as a fundamental human right.

The phrase, “shall not be infringed,” is rather problematic, though.  If we were to consider guns and ammunition as consumer products, the phrase “shall not be infringed,” would come off as justifying unfettered capitalism.  Gun manufacturers could produce any weapon that they want without any federal safety regulations, and their customers may consequently suffer from bad product designs.  In addition, if background checks are seen as an infringement on citizens’ 2nd amendment rights,the general public may suffer from people exercising their 2nd amendment rights in an irresponsible and destructive manner when there are no effective background checks in place.

The situation with the relatively easy access to our guns appears similar to what this country had with food poisoning before Upton Sinclair wrote his book, “The Jungle,” which led to Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In addition to regulating the meat industry, the FDA also regulates the production, sales, and use of drugs to maximize public health.  Without federal safety regulations, both the meat and drug industries would lead to greater harm to the public.  I fear that a similar situation has come about with our current legislative status regarding guns.

My proposal for reducing gun violence in America would be to create and enforce an universal background check for all gun sales, so people who are likely to use guns for malicious purposes and less likely to get guns through legal avenues and have gun violence restraining orders where if someone demonstrates an intent to harm themselves or others, then their 2nd amendment rights are temporarily restrained until they get the help and counsel that they need.

The situation for gun violence restraining orders is not unlike where if you have a child that is about to run around with scissors, you would temporarily prevent that child from possessing the scissors and then proceed to teach the child the importance of not running around with scissors.  Likewise, if someone demonstrates an intent to harm themselves and others, then a close friend or family member should be able to petition the local court to temporarily remove their access to firearms and then get them the mental health service that they need to work out their issues better.

I would also like to see an analogous system for purchasing firearms that we already have with our automobiles.  We have driver’s education classes and applications for a driver’s license before people are able to legally drive cars, even if they purchased one for themselves.  I do not see why we cannot have mandatory gun safety classes where a professional firearms instructor mentors people about using guns in a safe and responsible manner.  We could require citizens to go through rigorous checks before they receive a license to purchase and carry firearms.  These kinds of systems would help reduce the number of people killed by gun violence.

Now I have been hearing “since the premise of the 2nd Amendment is to give citizens the ability to fight back against a tyrannical government, why would we give the government the power to strip us of the very right that would help us fight it?”

To me, I feel this calls for a medical analogy.  2A Defenders are like cells that secrete immunosuppressants (strike down gun control laws) for fear of an autoimmune response (tyrannical government).  However, their immunosuppressive effects are to the point that the whole body (the country) suffers from secondary infections (irresponsible gun owners who purchased guns through legal means).  If we were to empower the immune system (the government) a little better, we could prevent some of these secondary infections from happening.

In other words, sometimes the gun lobbying has been acting like HIV and giving this country AIDS with respect to gun violence and the country is suffering from some preventable secondary infections of gun violence.  Now granted, not all acts of gun violence come from legal avenues, as criminals by definition, will find ways around the law to pursue gun violence, but we had a few incidents that could have been prevented or at least delayed if we had tougher gun laws.  So why should we give the government the power to strip us of our right to fight back? It is to help promote public safety in protecting them from citizens exercising their 2nd amendment rights in an irresponsible manner.

I am not asking for a mass confiscation of guns, but a very targeted confiscation of guns from people who show signs of using them in an irresponsible and destructive manner.  Now granted, perhaps we should not give the government this power for fear that someone could hijack the system and label us as political opponents and use that as justification to disarm us before forcibly imposing a hostile agenda on us.  But I feel that perhaps we could still keep our government accountable and be vigilant for any signs of such a hostile takeover from happening.  We can still protect our neighbors from preventable instances of gun violence and still keep our 2nd amendment rights and keep our government accountable to us.

However, if for whatever reason, we still decide not to let the government have the power to infringe our 2A rights, could we not still hold civilian access to firearms accountable through other means?  I already argued that safety regulations would benefit the gun industry just as they already have with automobiles, drugs, and meat.  If such regulations do not happen at the federal level, they would have to be at least from the lower levels, such as state or local.  The presence of safety regulations should be a given, but now it becomes a question of how do we enforce such regulations effectively, if we were to forego federal aid.

Also I am against gun-free zones, as I feel responsible gun owners should be free to carry their weapons in public for self-protection if need be, but only in conjunction with a standardized regulatory structure.  Again it would help if we had something equivalent to the DMV where you can get a license for gun ownership and such a license was state-specific, but recognized in other states as well.   Also schools could use armed protection, whether it be by teachers who volunteer or by school resource officers.

Another thing I would consider are mandatory fingerprint recognition gun safes or equivalent for those gun owners who store their weapons at home and have small children present.  Considering the case of Jesse Osborne, he might have done less harm if his father’s guns were locked away in a safe (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-south-carolina-school-shooter-20180303-story.html). Now granted, his motivation would have pushed him to seek guns nevertheless, but at least it would have been harder and longer for him to do so.

These are some of my thoughts.  I like the idea behind the 2nd amendment, but I am against any irresponsible interpretations of it where it is considered an unrestricted, unlimited civilian access to firearms.  I am also against the other extreme, where we give the government too much power that we systematically disarm all citizens from possessing firearms.  So my middle ground is that we protect the 2nd amendment but perhaps we give the federal government, or some other regulatory agency, the power to regulate and temporarily restrict civilian access to firearms to protect people from preventable instances of gun violence.   I understand that not all instances of gun violence are preventable, but some of them can and should be.