Why voting 3rd party is the only way for me not to waste my vote

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This is a part of my series of posts on Why I am voting third party. This is a long post that you may not agree with, so this is your trigger warning. Read at your own risk.

Some conservative friends and family members I have spoken with in regard to this election and my support of Gary Johnson have lamented me wasting my vote. However, to the contrary, this is the first election that I feel my vote will actually matter. I live in Georgia, which is a strongly Republican state. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the state by 300k votes. In 2008, McCain won it by 200k. in 2004, Bush won it by 550k votes. No matter who I voted for in those elections, it would not have made any difference. In fact, I didn’t vote four years ago, and it didn’t matter. The reason I didn’t vote in 2012 is that I didn’t feel I had the time to truly sit down and evaluate each candidate. I don’t believe in blindly voting.

So, for this election, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to go all-in. I spent upwards of 30 hours over the past week thinking about and writing about this. I copied and pasted all of the combined posts into Word and found that I have written nearly 25,000 words and nearly 50 single spaced pages. I delved deeply into every issue I could find. I put years of pondering, questioning, and seriously chewing on issues into words. I searched economics journals. I scoured news sites. I dug up and watched videos from over a decade ago. I spent more time on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s websites than any rational human should be forced to. I read reports critically, compared sources, and I cited everything I could along the way. Then, I threw it all out there to be consumed. I got plenty of positive feedback, with half a dozen people contacting me privately saying they agree wholeheartedly and have been trying to come to terms with that just as I have.

However, along with the positive feedback, I got plenty of negative. I received multiple messages from friends and family members telling me to reconsider my views or to “pray”…lamenting that not pushing a certain button on a screen would lead to the destruction of our country and way of life. I know I was inviting this, and I honestly expected it. However, after this past week, I have some things to say on that. I’ve been calm and cordial throughout this, but now it’s time to get real, because it matters.

Want to know what’s destroying our country? Want to know what’s truly pulling us down?

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s assumptions.

Friends and family assumed I would be voting Republican this election. They assumed Clinton was so morally corrupt that there was no way a good Christian man who was historically conservative could even consider her getting into office. They assumed I could overcome the vitriol that Trump has spouted since the campaign began. They assumed I would fall into the conservative Republican mold and go with the party. They assumed abortion was big enough of an issue and close enough to my heart that the supreme court seats would be enough to convince me.

However, the assumptions don’t stop there, and they’re definitely not limited to just me. People assume Trump is a good businessman and so has good economic policies. People assume he will actually follow through with nominating the supreme court justices he has listed. People assume he will be able to make Mexico pay for the wall, and that batting around our 3rd largest trading partner won’t lead to any negative affects. People assume deporting undocumented immigrants will help the economy and that trade tariffs will protect our native industries with no negative consequences.

Assumptions aren’t limited to just one party, either. People assumed Clinton could get by on her experience. People assumed some disappearing emails weren’t that big of a deal. People assumed it was a fair democratic primary. People assumed Donald Trump was a joke candidate. People assume that doubling minimum wage won’t have any negative effects. People assume the deficit doesn’t matter.

People assume minorities are criminals. People assume abortions are always for convenience. People assume religion causes violence and oppression. People assume all businessmen are corrupt. People assume illegal immigrants are dangerous. People assume Muslims are terrorists.

Where do all these assumptions come from?

I’m no political scientist, but as a programmer and aspiring economist, I know a broken system when I see one. Assumptions are a mechanism our brains use to sort through the massive amounts of information we run into every day. It’s a big world out there, and we have limited time and resources, so we work off of assumptions to get by. The problem is that working off of assumptions means we often miss the truth of a situation. Economists understand this deeply. Changing an assumption in an economic model can massively change the results. In fact, most of the disagreements over the results of economic studies come from the assumptions that were used.

In economics, it’s quite easy to change assumptions in a model. In reality, it’s very hard to change assumptions. This is because many of our assumptions are built off of other assumptions. If we encounter information that doesn’t match our assumption, we usually just assume the information is wrong instead of actually considering that our assumption is wrong. Some people can’t ever get past this point, and thus they never grow. I can understand this. One breach in the dam of our assumptions and our whole worldview can come tumbling down. That’s a big mess to clean up, and it takes a whole lot of time and emotional effort that many aren’t willing to take.

How does this relate to the election and third parties

We have a two party political system, a first-past-the-post, and a winner-take-all electoral college. Much like assumptions, these systems help us to make sense of the vast number of different political viewpoints out there. They help us easily and quickly see which candidate won the vote. However, like assumptions, they also limit our ability to actually grow as a nation.

Everyone talks about how bad polarization is and blames the other side for it. However, the natural outcome of a two party system is polarization. When you throw everyone who generally believes one thing into one party and everyone who generally believes the opposite thing into another party and run them up against one another, what do you think is going to happen? I blame 95% of the polarization in this country on the political system. Not on the media, not on any one party, not on religion or race or gender, but on the political system. The two parties would be fine if there was one issue on the table, like Brexit. However, we’re not voting for a single issue, we’re voting for the president.

There are, at minimum, 3 different spectrums for determining how a candidate stands: social issues, economic issues, and foreign policy issues. Historically, Republicans are generally seen as social conservatives, economic conservatives, and having an aggressive foreign policy. Democrats are generally seen as social liberals, economic liberals, and having a restrained foreign policy. So, what about people who are socially conservative but economically liberal? What about people who are socially liberal but economically conservative? While the system does theoretically allow for these, the actual outcomes are never that. Right now, to win a primary, a candidate never has an incentive to state their actual views. Their incentive is to be as far to the right or left as possible so as to get the support of the party base. Then, in the general election, the candidate has an incentive to move as far to the middle as possible to pull over supporters from the other side. Both sides complain about the opposing candidate flip-flopping while simultaneously applauding their candidate’s developing views on an issue. In truth, we’re all hypocrites, because the system makes us to be so.

If it was a simple case of a messed up political system that doesn’t cause any harm, this wouldn’t matter. However, the polarization created by this system has gotten out of hand. We’ve got people being attacked at rallies. A church was burned just a couple of days ago. We’ve got #blacklivesmatter vs #alllivesmatter. We have lifelong Christians…individuals who have always placed their trust in God and God alone…stating that the only hope for this country is in a man who gloated of sexually assaulting women. We have lifelong supporters of peace voting for a woman under whose tenure wars were started in Libya and Syria with U.S. assistance. At some point we can’t blame the other party…or the gays…or the racists…or the immigrants…or the sexists. At some point we have to take a look at ourselves and ask when we lost the ability to compromise. We need to ask when we lost the ability to empathize. We need to ask when we all got so angry and scared…despite living in one of and/or the greatest country in the world (depending on which side you ask). Either way, I don’t think limiting our choices of the person who leads our country to two people with fully opposite views is doing anyone any favors. It feeds a system of assumptions built on assumptions that causes us to continually judge situations incorrectly and make decisions that are harmful to ourselves and others. There’s a reason both parties have a position called a “whip.” It beats divergent ideas into submission and demands adherence to the basic set up assumptions that underline the party platform. There is no questioning or your constituency’s interests are ignored. There is no compromise or your re-election funding dries up.

We all complain about corruption and manipulation. We all want change. We all feel the country is run by an oligarchy of heartless rich businessmen or manipulative lifelong politicians. However, we all seem content to sit by and watch as the best representatives of both groups block anyone else from participating in the debates or receiving any federal funding. We’re fine with a first-past-the-post electoral college system that blocks any other candidate from even competing, as well as keeping independents out of congress. We assume it won’t affect anything, but it will, and it is.

Where this leaves me

I voted third party in this election because Gary Johnson’s platform was the one that best matched my beliefs. However, I also am proud to be voting third party because I’m contributing my vote to breaking a system that allowed, and even demanded, an extremist like Trump and a business-as-usual politician like Clinton to win their primaries. I’ve chosen not to waste my vote meeting someone else’s expectations by supporting a candidate I don’t believe in. In every other election, this vote probably would not matter, much like my votes for Republicans never did. However, this time, it has people worried. It’s making them think. Hopefully, it leads to some change.

Why I’m voting for Gary Johnson

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This is part three of my series of posts on Why I am voting third party. This is a long post that you may not agree with, so here is your trigger warning. Read at your own risk.

So, now we’re down to it. I’ve written at length about my opposition to Donald Trump and my unwillingness to to vote for Hillary Clinton. I’ve called one an ass and the other incoherent, though many would likely say the titles could just as easily be swapped. Now comes the crux of the matter, why I’m choosing to vote for third party candidate Gary Johnson. Despite what many may believe, this is not a protest vote. I’m also going to argue at length that it’s not a wasted vote. My vote for Johnson is actually a vote for the individual whom I consider the best current candidate.

Economic issues

As a libertarian, Gary Johnson supports policies that generally seek to avoid meddling in free market economics. While he doesn’t go into great detail on many of his policies, the ones that he does align with my thinking on them.

Tax reform

Trump wants to cut taxes. Clinton wants to raise taxes. Gary Johnson is the only candidate that has consistently supported an actual full reform of the U.S. tax system. I’ve been talking about the need for system-level tax reform for years. If you’re wondering, I support a European-style value added tax (VAT) for a host of reasons, many of which have to do with ease of collection and economic efficiency.

Gary Johnson, in contrast, is a proponent of the FairTax. This is a complete re-work of how taxes are assessed and collected. His plan would get rid of income taxes, estate taxes, and pretty much every other federal tax entirely. It would replace them with an across-the-board consumption tax on all goods  and services. The core idea and justification for a consumption tax is that the amount one pays in taxes will scale with one’s spending. If you spend more, you pay more in taxes. In the minds of its advocates, this is quite fair. However, one of the biggest arguments against consumption taxes are that they are regressive. This isn’t the simplest economic concept to explain, so I’ll let Investopedia do it for me.

Imagine two individuals each purchase $100 of groceries per week, and they each pay $7 in tax on their groceries. The first individual earns $2,000 per week, making the sales tax rate on her groceries 0.35% of income. In contrast, the other individual earns $320 per week, making her grocery sales tax 2.2% of income. In this case, although the tax is the same rate in both cases, the person with the lower income pays a higher percentage of income, making the tax regressive.

Clinton has consistently called for the wealthy to “pay their fair share.” What this means, exactly, is open to interpretation. However, I think most could agree that taxing a low-income individual 2.2% of their income just to purchase groceries while taxing a high-income individual only 0.35% for the same seems wrong. In this way, the FairTax would not be very fair.

In order to offset this, the architects of the FairTax proposed issuing a “prebate,” in which the federal government would send out a check each month to every household that would provide funds to offset the taxes that would be paid that month. The amount of the prebate would be based on the poverty rate and the consumption tax rate. Here’s the table provided by FairTax.org assuming a tax rate of

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When I first heard about this plan back in my undergrad, I thought it was brilliant. After doing lots of research, I still think it has some merit, but is not the best option. I find it interesting that it was actually considered under the Bush administration and was found wanting. Bush’s Federal Advisory Panel on Tax Reform evaluated a number of different tax plans, of which the FairTax was one. Here are some excerpts from their full assessment:

The Treasury Department’s proposed targeted cash grant program would cost $780
billion in 2006. It would represent 30 percent of total federal government spending,
and would dwarf all other federal entitlement programs and exceed the combined
size of Social Security and Medicaid. To implement the program, the government
would need to collect 34 percent more revenue and redistribute an additional 6
percent of GDP. The Panel concluded that this substantial increase in the amount of
revenue collected from taxpayers and redistributed by the federal government was
undesirable. Some Panelists were also concerned that the precedent set by the large
cash grant program could set the stage for further growth in the size and scope of the
federal government. To pay for the targeted cash grant program and remain otherwise
revenue-neutral, the tax rate would need to increase to at least 37 percent, assuming
low evasion and using the Extended Base.

This brings up an interesting conundrum for the libertarian. While it would massively simplify the tax system and therefore avoid complexities and loopholes, it would create a massive federal entitlement program, perhaps the largest ever. Granted, the entitlement is simply the inverse of the current “tax rebate” system we’re used to. However, it does make me wonder if he’s thought through this.

For my part, I’m in support of tax reform, and it’s a simple jump to move from the FairTax to a VAT. The nice thing about either is that they are easily adjusted, though not without economic costs. There would have to be significant studies that would take place to determine the correct tax rate, and numbers like 37% scare some people. However, it’s important to remember that this tax replaces basically every other tax. There would be no income taxes. Businesses would no longer be covering their half of payroll taxes, and workers would not be covering their half either. In addition, everyone would be getting a check at the beginning of the month which they would likely spend, increasing sales for businesses.

If you want to read why I support a VAT over the FairTax, here’s a short post with an example. I’m in support of systematic tax reform, and Gary Johnson is the only candidate even considering it. If you support the idea of universal basic income (UBI), this is also very likely the quickest path to it, as the prebate concept is essentially the same thing.

Decreased regulation

Regulation does a lot of great things. Antitrust regulation keeps industries from becoming too concentrated where competition fails and monopoly power kicks in. Food safety regulation keeps us safe from food borne illness. Wallstreet regulation keeps banks from making bad loan decisions and then offloading risk in ever complicated circles that are ready to collapse. However, excessive regulation can hurt competitive forces and damage markets. I’m generally against regulation unless a very strong case can be made for it. Gary Johnson agrees with this stance.

Illegal immigration

I’ve already spoken my peace on this at length on this topic. I think Gary Johnson has the most coherent approach to the issue, which is “creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society.” I fully agree with this approach.

Social issues

Marijuana

Gary Johnson is the only candidate proposing significant effort at the national level to promote marijuana legalization. I agree with this viewpoint for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile, prisons continue to fill up with thousands of individuals caught with an ounce of a plant that I would argue is at worst as dangerous and likely less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. I say legalize it and allow states to tax the heck out of it and reclaim some of the massive spending.

Abortion

I’ve written at length on my views on abortion and where I think the dialogue needs to go. Gary Johnson’s views are very close to mine. He is personally opposed to abortion generally, but does not think the courts are the best place to fight that battle. He opposes late-term abortion and wants to defund Planned Parenthood. I can respect a person who, unlike Hillary Clinton, is forthcoming about his private views differing from his public stance. I also appreciate that, unlike Trump, Johnson hasn’t pre-selected supreme court justices and would therefore give himself the flexibility to select an individual whom he truly felt would fill the role well.

Privacy

Johnson is the only candidate with an actual position on privacy, in which he advocates for it. Clinton and Trump have said little about it, which I take as a tacit endorsement of the Patriot Act and the massive surveillance apparatus that has been set up over the past two presidencies. I don’t know that I believe in a universal right to privacy, but I know that I would like the government to move towards more privacy rather than away from it.

Internet freedom

As a web developer and avid user of the internet, I am a massive advocate of net neutrality and internet freedom. I’m also a fan of encryption and avoiding backdoors that the government or others can use to get into my devices. Clinton has come out in support of net neutrality in the past, but Trump has no idea what those words mean, and many other people don’t either.

Net neutrality prevents ISPs like Comcast or AT&T from charging you more for certain types of content or access to certain websites. This image provides the best explanation I’ve yet seen for it.

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Imagine having to choose an “internet plan” based not on speed or data caps, but based upon what types of files you want to download or what websites you want to be able to visit. Like current cable and satellite television packages, you would likely get a certain base set of websites you could visit or file types you could download. To expand this, you would have to pay. $5/mo extra for google, $10/mo extra for Facebook, $20/mo extra for Netflix. Want videos…$10. Want images…$5. This is the reality of a system without net neutrality.

Now, imagine a world where a police officer can take your iPhone, plug in a small piece of plastic, and download all of your texts and photos for use as evidence against you. If encryption is not allowed, this is a reality that could come true. Trump raged against Apple’s support of encryption. Clinton’s support of encryption is murky. I’m all for net neutrality and encryption, and Gary Johnson is the only one saying anything about them right now.

Foreign policy

I have a life goal of never being an apologist for any candidate’s blatant shortcomings, and I’m not going to try to defend Gary Johnson’s gaffes on foreign policy. Whether it’s asking what is Aleppo or not being able to name a foreign leader he admires, he came across as an idiot. Granted, I wouldn’t have known what Aleppo was offhand either, but I’m not running for president. I get that he’s a libertarian and is focused on domestic issues, but at some point you’ve gotta step up your game. This is by far his weakest area, and that is more than a bit concerning.

Having said that, I do like his commitment to deliberation on the use of military for and his deference to congress. The issue page on his website says:

As President, Gary Johnson will move quickly and decisively to cut off the funding on which violent extremist armies depend. He will repair relationships with our allies. And he will only send our brave soldiers to war when clearly authorized by Congress after meaningful, transparent deliberation and debate.

I’ve been a critic of the expansion of executive powers for quite some time, and it seems like in this Johnson and I agree. I really wish someone would have asked Trump for his thoughts on Aleppo, because I imagine he would have given a similar response. Trump hasn’t shown me any more qualifications for his foreign policy experience than Johnson has, so in this I consider them equal. Given a choice between the two of them, I’d go with Johnson’s restraint over Trump’s aggression every time.

Where this leaves me

Having gone through Gary Johnson’s stance on a variety of economic, social, and foreign policy issues, I find I agree with his stances on nearly everything. I do have concerns about the effects his cutting spending would have on the economy, and I really wish there was more solid math behind his tax plan. I have some concern about his foreign policy experience, but appreciate his commitment to restraint and deference to congress. In the end, he’s the candidate whose views most match my own, and he’s someone I can trust. I will be voting for him.

Quick example of benefits of a VAT over a consumption tax

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This post was written in connection with a larger post, Why I am voting third party, so I’m going to take a decidedly election-centric approach here. Sorry if you stumbled upon this looking for a more generic discussion.

One of the biggest issues with the FairTax is that a tax rate of 25-40% creates significant incentives for businesses to perform untracked cash transactions or otherwise attempt to avoid paying the tax.The main benefit of a VAT is a very practical one, in that it makes enforcement easier by collecting taxes throughout a product’s development instead of completely at the end.

As an example, let’s take a $100 wooden rocking chair sold at a small furniture store for $137. Under a 37% FairTax, the store would owe $37 in taxes on the desk chair. The store might choose to have the customer pay cash and not report it, and then that $37 of taxes would be lost. Under a VAT, much of that $37 would have been paid before the company ever reached the showroom. The idea of a Value Added Tax (VAT) is to charge taxes throughout the production and sales process on the “value added” by a particular company. So, somewhere out there, a company cut down a tree, processed the wood, and sold it to a furniture production company. It cost them basically nothing to do that and they sold the wood for $40. They pay a 37% VAT on that $20 in added value. Then, the furniture company takes this $40 worth of wood, cuts cuts it into chair pieces, and packages them. It sells the chair to the furniture store for $70 and pays a 37% VAT on $30 (the difference between what it bought the materials for and what it sold them for). The furniture store then sells the chair to you and pays a 37% VAT on $67 (137-70). Even if the furniture store failed to pay its taxes, that would only be a loss of 67 * .37 = $24.75 instead of the full $37 from the FairTax.

The nice thing about a VAT is that it is somewhat self-enforcing. In the example above, the furniture store would actually be responsible for proving that all $37 of the taxes had been paid for the chair. It would do this via providing VAT receipts that were given to it alongside the actual chair itself. If it did not receive these receipts, it would be responsible for the entire amount. Because of this, it is in the store’s best interest to only purchase from suppliers that actually pay their taxes. It’s rare that there are legitimate market mechanisms to incentivize businesses to pay taxes. I’ll take them where I can get them.

As a final note, VATs also allow taxes to be captured on products that are made in the U.S. but are eventually sold as exports which would otherwise be missed by the FairTax.

Why I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton

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This is part two of my series of posts on Why I am voting third party. This is a long post that you may not agree with, so here is your trigger warning. Read at your own risk.

As I explained in my previous post, Donald Trump is a terrible person running as a terrible candidate with terrible policy ideas, nearly all of which I disagree with. I’m confident that his campaign has already been disastrous for the credibility of the Republican party and Christian churches in America, and a Trump presidency would provide disastrous for the country. On the other side you have one of the most seemingly qualified candidates ever to run. A two-term senator from New York, former first lady of Arkansas and the U.S., former secretary of state, and former runner up for the democratic nomination. She should honestly be winning by a landslide right now.

I’ve been a moderate-leaning-conservative for a long time, but given how strongly I oppose Trump, I could have easily seen myself crossing the aisle this election. If the final candidate had been Bernie Sanders, I would have had to have a serious talk with myself over it. Sure, many of his policy ideas were also pretty terrible, but I felt he was at least a candidate who appeared consistent and believed in the things he advocated. Instead we have Clinton, and so the post begins.

I’m going to do my best to give an honest evaluation of the current policies Hillary Clinton is advocating and my feelings on them. I’m going for a bird’s eye view here, because her platform is absolutely massive. Unlike Trump, Hillary also has a political history, a voting record, and a lot of emails that can be reviewed. I’m going to do my best to pull in some of that information as I go.

Economic issues

Tax plan/revenue

Hillary’s campaign has focused on a number of economic issues, but almost all of them are wrapped up in the idea of changing the tax code so that “the wealthiest and the largest corporations” end up paying “their fair share” in taxes. She’s serious about this. Really serious. Really super serious. Nearly every issue on her website she promises monetary outlays, and every one of those is to be paid for by taxing wealthy individuals and large corporations at higher levels.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation did an assessment of Clinton’s tax plan last month. They found that the plan would lower GDP by 2.6%, lower wages by 2.1%, and cause the loss of 697,000 jobs. In return for this damage to the U.S. economy, they found that it would increase government revenue by $663 billion over the next decade. That equals out to roughly $66 billion annually, or about 2/3 of a Bill Gates. This number doesn’t mean a lot to me by itself, so I decided to give it some context by looking at the current federal budget of the United States and the current U.S. deficit. For fiscal year 2016, the U.S. planned to spend about $4 trillion. This includes $940 billion on social security, $585 billion on medicare, $350 billion on medicaid, and $650 million on “other mandatory programs,” which covers things like retirement income for federal employees and military personnel. We also planned to spend $1.2 trillion on discretionary programs, which includes $631 billion on defense and $563 billion on everything else you typically think of the government doing (food stamps, unemployment, housing assistant, NASA, the park service, education, humanitarian aid, infrastructure, and so on and so forth). Oh, we also planned to pay $283 billion in interest on the national debt. Much of this spending is already covered through existing taxes. Anything not covered is borrowed, and the total amount borrowed each year is referred to as the deficit. For fiscal year 2016, the congressional budget office estimated the deficit to be $590 billion. $66 billion a year is an incredible amount of money. If spending was kept at the same levels, this would reduce the annual deficit by 11%. So, given those numbers, I had to ask myself if it is worth the 697,000 jobs and an across-the-board decrease in wages of 2% to get that extra $66 billion. For you, that might be the case. For me, it isn’t. There are a number of reasons for this.

The first reason I don’t think Clinton’s plan is worth it is one of practicality. These extra taxes would actually have to be collected, and the wealthy are really good at avoiding paying taxes. Closing every loophole is impossible, and even if actually happened, the wealthy have the means available to them to move themselves and their investments elsewhere in the world. There’s a reason so many U.S. businesses are based in other countries. While thousands of people threaten to move themselves and their money to Canada every election year and never do so, the wealthy are actively moving money outside of the U.S. all the time.

The second reason this isn’t worth it to me is that the wealthy make a significant percentage of their money through capital gains, which is when they sell stocks and other investments for higher prices than what than they bought them for. Clinton’s plan ramps up taxes on capital gains across the board, but especially for investments held for short periods of time. Taxes on investments held for less than two years more than double from 15% to nearly 40%. While this does affect the wealthy, it also affects many in the middle class who dabble in the stock market, and it discourages investment because of it. It is perhaps for these reasons that the Tax Foundation estimated this particular part of Clinton’s tax plan would actually decrease revenues by $50 billion over 10 years.

Spending

A third reason this isn’t worth it to me is that Clinton already has plans in place to spend all of that extra revenue, and way more beyond it. Take her $275 billion infrastructure plan, her $60 billion clean energy plan, her $10 billion manufacturing plan, and her $50 billion youth employment plan. These are just the programs with definite numbers attached. Let’s take a look at one of her other platform planks: the issue of housing. This hasn’t gotten any media play during the election that I’ve heard. Yet here it is, on her website. One of the key policies she proposes is to offer to match up to $10,000 of a down payment for first time homebuyers. This is incredibly relevant to me as I’m about to purchase my first home…and I also work for a nonprofit that helps people purchase their own homes. I love the idea. The National Association of Realtors reported total home sales of 5,760,000 in 2015. They also reported that 32% of these were first-time home buyers. Do some math and you find that Clinton’s plan could have cost $18 billion last year. I realize that some people put nothing down and that this number is likely very high, but I also expect this would incentivize a lot more people to buy a home. Just this one tiny policy in her huge platform full of them has the potential to eat more than a quarter of the new revenue. I would love this policy, I would have taken full advantage of it, and other people would be paying for it. This is just one of the 7 or 8 policies she proposes on housing alone, and taking all of the together, I’m sure just this one issue could approach $20 billion. How the heck does she plan to offer a free community college education to everyone?

Clinton is promising to pay for all of these things with the money gained from increasing the taxes on the rich, but the money just isn’t there. I actually like some of these ideas. I’ve been worried for our infrastructure for years, and it only takes a few minutes of conversation with a sewer worker to discover how terrifyingly bad off we are. I really like the idea of promoting renewable energy. I think youth employment is a great thing to pursue. I like the idea of encouraging kids to pursue technical diplomas through community colleges. I think all of these could promote future growth, but I just have no idea where she plans to get the money to pay for them, and that feels incredibly irresponsible and deceptive to me. Oh geez, I’ve already said it. I was hoping I could at least make it through this first section without having to state my mistrust of Hillary Clinton, but now it’s on the table. You’re going to hear a lot more about that, so brace yourself.

Minimum wage

This is a big one, so it gets its own post. I actually didn’t know what I really believed on minimum wage before writing this post. I had always wanted to take some time and really research it, so it’s been a fun one to write. It’s also the main reason this post took so long to put together…it was a lot of research.

Outsourcing jobs/production

Clinton states on her issue page concerning manufacturing that she wants to “Crack down on companies that ship jobs and earnings overseas and create incentives for companies to bring back jobs to the U.S.” That second part sounds great. Provide all the incentives you want. That first part sounds awful. I don’t support efforts that try to prevent companies from hiring foreign labor for identical reasons that I don’t support tariffs and I don’t support deporting undocumented immigrants. Namely, because higher wages nearly always lead to higher prices, which decreases the real effective income of everyone else in the economy. They also almost always lead to fewer buyer options and lower quality products in the long-run.

I know this sounds incredibly un-American. Arguing against “made in America” is tantamount to burning the flag or shooting an eagle or saying positive things about France. I agree that things made overseas are often of lower quality, especially in industries like electronics and accessories. I agree that losing American jobs is bad. However, maintaining artificially high prices for the sake of keeping U.S. jobs hurts the economy in its own ways. Anytime you remove competition, you remove incentives for businesses to actually meet the needs and wants of their customers. Look at Comcast, who suddenly decided it was time to invest in fiber in Atlanta shortly after Google Fiber came in. Look at Mylan, who raised the price of life-saving Epi-pens by 400% this past year and saw few consequences due to a lack of viable competition. Look at Verizon, who just this year significantly slashed the price of their mobile plans as other carriers began to gain more market share. Look at the Subway at the Peachtree Center Mall who finally decided to start making sweet tea, probably in large part because I asked about it every time I came and the Firehouse subs right next door offered it. Sure, some of this could be avoided by more regulation, but regulation often serves to reduce competition itself.

This all comes back to what I used to call the Walmart conundrum. They’ve done a lot to improve their image recently, including raising their minimum pay rate to $10. However, lots of people think Walmart is terrible. I think it can be objectively stated that it has treated its employees badly for most of its existence. It often leads to the closing of family-owned businesses. However, lots of people are obviously shopping there, or else it wouldn’t have had nearly half a trillion dollars in revenue last year. I’ve seen so many movements over the years urging people to shop elsewhere, but the fact of the matter is Walmart is extremely convenient in the variety of things it carries and it does often have the loweest prices on many items. Sure, many of these items are incredibly low quality, especially those generic kitchen accessories, furniture, and sporting goods. However, people still buy them. If you want a good knife, you go to William Sonoma. If you want a cheap knife, you go to Walmart. Some people can’t afford William Sonoma, and Walmart actually provides them with additional choices that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

Labor unions

I don’t like unions. I think they’re a blunt bludgenoning instrument that did great things for worker health and safety in the early 20th century but now primarily serve to increase labor costs, prevent competition, and otherwise add unnatural rigidity to labor markets. Having said that, my dislike of them is more philosophical than economic. I think they often have the effect of making members of a profession even more beholden to people in power (the union leaders) rather than empowering the individual worker. I think they’re prone to corruption and can cause massive inefficiency. Way before super-PACs were legal, unions were throwing around huge amounts of money and leveraging their influence to push through policies that may have been more for the union’s good than the good of the members they were meant to represent. Hillary strongly supports unions, so in this she and I disagree.

I will also fully admit this is one of my more blind viewpoints. I make every effort I can to have frank discussions with people on the other side of most issues, but I’ve thus far not found a lot of union members to talk to about their views. I never took a course in my economics program that focused on the economics of unions. I also fully admit that I have had relatively relaxed jobs throughout my professional career and have not had to stress about supporting a family or dealing with regulations or bad policies that directly affect my profession. I’d be willing to change this stance, but I honestly don’t even know where to start here.

Immigration

I could actually get behind much of Clinton’s immigration plan. A lot of it aligns with my own feelings on the matter. The only thing I mainly disagree on is a bit convoluted. In a paid Wall Street speech, Clinton stated that her dream “is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.” She clarified in a later debate that she was referring only to energy policy. However, I think this is a good point of clarification for me as well. I’ve argued at length that I am in support of immigration. However, due to the significant costs associated with our welfare programs, I am not in support of completely open borders. I am in support of huge numbers of worker visas as long as welfare restrictions are placed upon those. That said, I am in support of open trade. Tariffs are dumb.

Foreign policy

As I stated in my post on Trump, I feel foreign policy is my weakest area of knowledge on how to evaluate a candidate. However, given Clinton’s history as Secretary of State, we have a unique opportunity to see ahead of time how a presidential candidate will conduct foreign policy. From this, Clinton looks incredibly pro-conflict to me, especially for a democrat. The New York Times featured a whole article about the topic.

I don’t know whose fault it is that Libya collapsed, but every source I read seems to tell the story as one of President Obama pushing for restraint and Secretary Clinton pushing for aggression. The New York Times gives a very piquant perspective on that decision in their exposé on the fall of Libya, saying:

This is the story of how a woman whose Senate vote for the Iraq war may have doomed her first presidential campaign nonetheless doubled down and pushed for military action in another Muslim country.

If the Times is to be believed, intervening in Libya turned out to be a catastrophe, with the failed state becoming a haven for terrorists a the death of president Gaddafi. Ripples of that failure spread out, leading to escalation of the Syrian civil war, increased terrorist activity in countries near and far, contributed to the growth of ISIS, and added to the foundation of the current refugee crisis. This of course, leads into the Benghazi situation, which I don’t want to go into detail on. I don’t know if it was directly Clinton’s fault or not, but it feels like she has to bear at least some responsibility for it. If nothing else, two former Secretaries of State seem to agree privately agree on that, and I think they probably have a decent perspective on the thing.

I can appreciate a bit of firmness in foreign affairs, especially with the recent aggression from Russia and North Korea. However, the extent to which I see that in Clinton is more than a bit concerning. Part of me wants to see something significant done in these situations, an intervention to assure U.S. security and influence. However, given the catastrophic results of the Iraq war and Libya intervention, I’m definitely far less interventionist than I used to be. I could be completely off base on Clinton’s hawkishness, but I haven’t seen her campaign do much to combat that perspective. In the end, I’m less concerned with Clinton’s foreign affairs perspective than I am with Trump’s, but I still feel very uncomfortable imagining her in charge of our military given her record.

Healthcare

I wish I had more time to cover this in depth, and perhaps I’ll return to it for further discussion on a later date. Suffice to say the economics of it are quite complicated, and my feelings on it are even more complicated. I liked the idea of the ACA initially. The goal was to expand insurance coverage, which is something I could get behind. Everyone knew it would increase premiums, and I was extremely wary of the extent to which that would happen. My premiums are increasing 5% this year. From talking with friends, it seems all of them are experiencing at least that, while many of them are facing double digit increases. While this is only anecdotal evidence, I would still call that excessive. I don’t know if there’s a good answer here, so I’m going to just say this doesn’t significantly affect my vote.

Social issues

Hillary Clinton has official stances on a huge number of social issues. It’s actually pretty impressive how many she covers. These range from general policies such as affordable childcare and criminal justice reform to extremely specific provisions such as providing first responders with pharmaceuticals to reverse opioid overdose. I don’t have time to cover anywhere near all of them, but I’ll hit the high points that matter to me and seem to matter to other people.

Gun control

As I said in my writeup on Trump, I don’t think gun ownership will ever be outlawed in America. I think a lot of the things democrats tend to fixate on, such as banning AR15 rifles, are simply to placate their base and will have few actual effects on gun violence. I don’t see anything excessive in Clinton’s official plans for this. She seems to be keeping it pretty minimalist. so I’d say this one is a wash for me.

Marijuana

In what is perhaps a first, from what I’ve read, Clinton seems to be in agreement with Trump about letting states decide on marijuana legalization. I’d prefer it to be legalized at the federal level, so I guess I disagree with her here.

Abortion

Abortion is one of the most important moral issues to me. It’s a very complicated issue that I’ve written extensively on. Nearly 25 years ago, Bill Clinton ran on the belief that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Clinton agreed with this view in 2008. I’ve actually looked back for years about that statement, because I think it’s probably the most productive approach that someone who supports abortion can take on the issue. Despite my complete opposition to abortion, that would have been a statement that I could consider productive. That said, the Hillary Clinton from 2016 doesn’t seem to fully agree with the Hillary Clinton of 2008. I’ve heard safe and I’ve heard legal, but rare seems to have vanished. It’s very obviously excluded from the issue page on her website.

I don’t know what that means. Perhaps Clinton has embraced the view of abortion as a means of population control. Perhaps she’s finally fully bought into the idea that a fetus is just a bundle of cells and therefore it’s entirely a women’s rights issue. However, one of her discussions about this issue in particular has continued to bother me. Back in April on an episode of Meet the Press, Clinton was asked about abortion. Reading through the transcript, Clinton said this:

My position is in line with Roe v. Wade, that women have a constitutional right to make these most intimate and personal and difficult decisions based on their conscience, their faith, their family, their doctor and that it is something that really goes to the core of privacy.

And I want to maintain that constitutional protection under Roe v. Wade. As you know, there is room for reasonable kinds of restrictions. After a certain point in time, I think the life, the health of the mother are clear. And those should be included even as one moves on in that pregnancy.

The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can, in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support.

It doesn’t mean that you don’t do everything possible to try to fulfill your obligations. But it does not include sacrificing the woman’s right to make decisions. And I think that’s an important distinction, that under Roe v. Wade we’ve had enshrined under our Constitution

Well, under Roe v. Wade that is the law. And as I said, I support the reasoning and the outcome in Roe v. Wade. So in the third trimester of pregnancy, there is room for looking at the life and the health of the mother. Now, most people, not all Republicans, not all conservatives even agree with the life of the mother. But most do.

Where the distinction comes in is the health of the mother. And when you have candidates running for president who say that there should be no exceptions, not for rape, not for incest, not for health, then I think you’ve gotten pretty extreme. And my view has always been this is a choice. It is not a mandate.

I get that this was a live interview and things sometimes don’t come out clearly, but this is one of the worst conglomeration of viewpoints that I could imagine. As I covered in my post about abortion, the entire pro-choice argument depends upon the assumption that a fetus is just a fetus. It’s a clump of cells. It’s no more a full person than a cyst or a tumor is a full person. The fact that Clinton referred to a fetus as an “unborn person” and then goes on to say that it has “no rights” is just baffling. She also went on to discuss her vote against a bill that would ban late-term third trimester abortions, which take place after the baby has become viable. This discussion was echoed in the third presidential debate, in which she said she voted against the bill because it did not leave exemptions for the life of the mother, rape, or incest. The fact that she is willing to even consider a late-term abortion ban is encouraging to this pro-life supporter, but also confusing. If an unborn human doesn’t have rights, then why would she even consider banning late-term abortions at all? She received very vocal criticism from both sides on this statement, and for good reason.

To me, Clinton’s stance is completely incoherent and has no logical consistency. If she’s willing to ban late-term abortions as a concession to her opponents, then she should just say so. If she’s willing to ban it because she believes a viable “unborn human” should be given a chance at life, then she should just say so, and she should reconsider her views abortion generally. This is one of the few cases where I’m actually fine with people believing either extreme because it is somewhat required for consistency’s sake. She seems to believe a fetus is actually an unborn human, but one that has no rights…that it should be given a chance at life, but not in some cases…that it’s “one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make“…but is also just a routine medical procedure for women. All of this makes me feel like she’s trying to appeal to every viewpoint at once despite where her morality would carry her, and that is somewhat terrifying.

Character flaws

So, now we’re to the final topic. Having written everything I have, this one actually doesn’t need nearly the mass of text I was imagining. When it comes down to it, I think Hillary Clinton states the situation quite well in her Wall Street speeches, the contents of which were leaked through various channels:

politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position

I think this is the core issue, and is the reason why Hillary Clinton continues to be seen as untrustworthy. Despite her claims that she is running the most transparent campaign in history, there is still so much that goes unexplained. Despite the fact that she goes into great detail on 20+ issues in depth on her campaign site, the things she says in public (and private) seem to indicate that she may not actually believe these things. Even on issues that she seems to have a clear view, like abortion, the view itself is not always internally consistent and seems to be up for modification as needed. Part of me appreciates this…politics sometimes requires compromise. However, over and over I get the feeling that her actual objectives do not actually align with what she says. Granted, Trump’s don’t either, but I’m pretty sure I can just chalk anything he says up to self-aggrandization and personal advancement. With Clinton, I assume the end game is something similar, but the fact that I can’t be sure of that is disconcerting.

Along with her trustworthiness, I have serious concerns about her ability to run a modern nation. This doesn’t have anything to do with the foreign policy or economic or even social issues I mentioned earlier. This has solely to do with the fact that she’s of a previous generation and, in my opinion, has never been forced to modernize to such an extent as to be able to do what needs to be done. People have argued that it’s a stupid excuse, but the fact that FBI director Comey stated that Clinton wasn’t “sophisticated enough” to know she was risking national security is perhaps even more concerning to me than if it was intentional. As Politico put it, Clinton appears to be

a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology, working with a small, harried inner circle of aides inside a bureaucracy where the IT and classification systems haven’t caught up with how business is conducted in the digital age. Reading the FBI’s interviews, Clinton’s team hardly seems organized enough to mount any sort of sinister cover-up. There’s scant oversight of the way Clinton communicated, and little thought given to how her files might be preserved for posterity—MacBook laptops with outdated archives are FedExed across the country, cutting-edge iPads are discarded quickly and BlackBerry devices are rejected for being “too heavy”

The article is almost offensive in its tone, essentially describing Clinton as the proverbial out-of-touch grandmother in the ways of technology. It says that “according to multiple aides, [Clinton has] never even learned how to use a desktop computer.” Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a computer programmer, but having someone who doesn’t know what a mouse is in charge of nuclear launch codes, stealth bombers, and other such advanced technology feels a little concerning. It almost seems inevitable that her emails would be hacked, given the lax security protocol and adherence to highly outdated technology the article shows. From all this, Clinton’s assertion that she is “kind of far removed” sounds quite believable.

Combining all this with the evidence found on Reddit (the fact that the often liberal-leaning Snopes hasn’t denied it yet is telling, at least to me) and the recent discovery of additional emails, I’m torn. I’m quite convinced that someone high up in Clinton’s campaign asked for emails to be deleted or modified, but I’m not sure if it was her. If it was, I tend to agree with Comey, that she probably had no idea what that actually meant. In this case, I wonder about the trustworthiness and competency of her top advisors and employees. That said, ignorance does not a defense make, and if solid proof was found of illegal behavior, I think it needs to be searched out and an indictment issued.

Beyond this, there are plenty of incidents that just scream “corrupt” to me. You’ve got the multiple incidences of countries or their leaders donating money to the Clinton foundation and shortly after receiving contracts or preferential treatment. You’ve got large donors to the foundation receiving ambassadorships. I’ve tried to avoid bringing her husband into this, but you’ve got Former President Clinton meeting with Loretta Lynch on the eve of the investigation into Hillary’s emails. If Clinton really is trustworthy and aboveboard, she certainly seems to make a lot of stupid decisions that bring that into question. This is, of course, leaving out all of the issues surrounding the DNC coordinating with her in her defeat of Bernie Sanders, but I’ll cover that on my post for why I’m voting for the third party candidate himself. Suffice to say, maybe it was all the DNC’s fault, but I don’t see her pushing back on the “help” she was getting at any point.

Finally, I try not to buy into conspiracy theories, despite the host of them surrounding Clinton and her staff involving various deaths, connections to ISIS, and worse. The seemingly universal antipathy from many conservatives is astonishing, honestly. I don’t remember this much hate for John Kerry. It was all swift boats and “he’s a coward” and that was it. Sure, plenty of people saw muslim connections in Obama and there was the big birther movement that Trump himself was connected to, but this feels like something even more. The mistrust and loathing of both candidates this cycle seems to have reached a level unprecedented in recent history.

Where this leaves me

I was surprised at how many positives I found for Clinton while going through this. As I said earlier, this is the closest I’ve ever come to crossing the aisle. However, I still can’t bring myself to vote for her for a variety of reasons. While I like some of her economic ideas, I think she’s being misleading in her assertions that increasing taxes on the wealthy can generate enough revenue to cover the cost of them. I can’t agree with her stance on raising minimum wage without additional evidence that will not be available for another couple of years and I’m opposed to unions. I’m extremely nervous that her aggressive foreign policy would bring pain and suffering to people in places that don’t need any more of that, as well as tying our interests up in such places. I’m against her views on a few social issues, and am strongly against her incoherent views on abortion. I see significant character flaws that cause me not trust her and seriously doubt her ability to successfully navigate modern issues in a modern world. I also feel that she is corrupt to some extent. She came out better than I expected and it was a close thing, but in the end, I can’t vote for her.

Why I’m against increasing the federal minimum wage to $15…for now

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This post was written in connection with a larger post, Why I am voting third party, so I’m going to take a decidedly election-centric approach here. Sorry if you stumbled upon this looking for a more generic discussion. This is a long post that you may not agree with, so here is your trigger warning. Read at your own risk.

Hillary Clinton has aggressive plans to fight poverty. Her main way of doing this is by raising the minimum wage to $15/hr nationwide. So, my primary question is…will this actually affect poverty rates? My secondary question is…what unforeseen positive and negative consequences could result in? Let’s dive in.

I’m going to start with a little bit of general economics mixed with a bit of intuition. People have jobs because people buy things. People buy things because they have money. People have money because they have jobs. Pretty straightforward. If people buy more things, businesses need to produce more, so they create jobs. If people buy fewer things, businesses don’t need to produce as much, so they get rid of jobs. If people don’t have jobs, they have less money to spend, and will therefore buy fewer things. If people do have jobs, they have more money to spend, and will probably buy more things. If people make more money, they can buy more things. If people make less money, they can buy fewer things. If prices are lower, people can buy more things. If prices are higher, people can buy fewer things. To add some complexity to this, the people buying things doesn’t just include the American public. It also includes American businesses, the American government, people in other countries, businesses from other countries, and governments from other countries.

As you can see, all of these things are interrelated, and the extent to which each of them changes when a policy is enacted is what the study of economics is all about. Out of all of these, the democratic platform always seems to focus on wages. If we increase people’s wages, they can buy more things, and they’ll be better off. On the other side, Republicans and other opponents of minimum wage increases tend to only focus on job losses, saying that businesses will have to cut jobs in response to having to pay higher wages. As usual, both of these are incredibly narrow viewpoints. If your income doubles and prices also double, you are effectively no better off than you were before. If minimum wage doubles but you lose your job, you are no better off than before. Clinton, to her credit, does talk about prices on a few things. She wants to lower rent prices by building more housing. She wants to enact regulations to prevent price increases on pharmaceuticals. However, she says nothing of price increases at large or job losses that could come from many of her policies. This is somewhat ironic to me, because she actually argues that inflation (price increases) is causing the erosion of the value of the current minimum wage. Conservatives, for their part, do little to address the why or how much of job losses, ironically leaning on the Keynesian economic theories that they eschew in many other circumstances. So, that’s where I’m going to start my effort. I’ll build a case and I’ll work my way down from there.

Does increasing minimum wage lead to job losses?

For years, classical Keynesian economic models answered this question with a resounding “yes.” If there are people willing to work for less than the prevailing wage, and the prevailing wage can’t be decreased due to regulation, then there will be a shortage of jobs and unemployment will result. If the minimum wage increases, then more people will want to work more hours, but fewer businesses will be willing to hire people at that rate. I could show you a labor market supply and demand graph of this, but from teaching undergraduate economics, I know that no one likes those. Actually, why am I even discussing Keynes? No one wants to hear about him. Let’s just jump forward a few decades and dive into some new intuition.

The current conservative economic intuition says that if businesses suddenly have to pay their employees significantly more, business owners will either have to eat that extra cost through lower profits, raise prices to compensate, or lay off employees, all of which have negative consequences. I know that was my perspective on this for a long time. Of these three issues, it seems like laying off employees gets the most press.

On the other side, the current liberal intuition says that that employees who are paid more would be incentivized to work harder and stick around longer. This would lead to higher productivity, efficiency, and revenue as well. It would also decrease costs from employee turnover, offsetting higher wage costs so that employers wouldn’t need to fire anyone. Even if those things didn’t cover the increased wage costs, they argue inequality is rampant and business owners should share their profits with their employees.

So, which of these viewpoints that I have dramatically oversimplified is true? Well, in my research, I found that both sides significantly undermine the ingenuity and options of business owners, as well as missing many of the actual economic effects. John Schmitt performed a meta-analysis in 2013 for the Center for Economic and Policy Research that covered the results of dozens of studies on minimum wage increases over the years. From these, he identifies eleven different channels by which businesses can offset increased wages. These are:

  1. Reduction in hours worked
  2. Reductions in non-wage benefits
  3. Reductions in training
  4. Changes in employment composition
  5. Increased prices
  6. Seeking general efficiency and cost savings
  7. Cutting wages of higher paid employees
  8. Increased efficiency from employees being happier with higher wages
  9. Reduction in profits
  10. Increases in demand/consumer spending
  11. Savings from reductions in turnover

After reading through the explanations and various arguments for each and taking into account the areas where very little evidence was found, I’ve compressed them down. I cut reductions in non-wage benefits because near-minimum-wage employees rarely actually have non-wage benefits, and the studies showed this to have nearly no effect. I cut general efficiency improvements because businesses should be trying to do these anyway, so considering this as a catalyst is a bit ridiculous to me. I rolled reductions in training into the turnover topic.

Here’s what’s left:

  1. Changes in employment composition
  2. Reduction in hours worked
  3. Wage compression
  4. Increased demand/consumer spending
  5. Savings from reductions in turnover and having happier employees
  6. Reductions in profits
  7. Increased prices

Throughout this discussion, I’ll be using Walmart as an example. This is because they decided in 2014 to implement a two year plan to increase their minimum employee wage to $10. It appears that they used all of these channels to some extent, and so provides an interesting and timely case study.

Changes in employment composition

Conservatives often argue that the majority of the people making minimum wage are teens that need to build experience and are willing to work for lower rates because of this. I want to discuss this one right off the bat. If true, the likely outcome of increasing minimum wage will not be to address poverty, but simply to put more cash into the hands of teenagers. This topic is quite controversial, which is odd given that the IRS, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the Census all have quite accurate data on how old workers are and how much money they make. The BLS statistics show that around 30% of people earning minimum wage are between the ages of 16 and 19. Another 25% are between 20 and 24 years old. This means that over half of all minimum wage earners are under 25 years of age. This doesn’t really support or undermine the republican argument.

Most studies do show that if anyone is losing jobs from an increase in minimum wage, it is likely the least experienced individuals, meaning these teens. However, these losses often are shown to come not from general job losses, but from changes in employment composition. The higher wage appears to attract more experienced and higher skilled employees, most of which are older. They get hired in place of teens due to higher levels of productivity. This says little about poverty on its own, though older individuals may be more likely to have dependents that could benefit from increased wages.

Reductions in hours worked

An increase in minimum wage is not technically an increase in the cost of having an employee, but is instead an increase in the cost of having an employee work for an hour. Due to this, employers could offset the higher hourly rate by simply cutting total hours. The extent to which this is viable depends on the particular business, of course. Walmart is reported to have cut the hours of many of its employees after raising wages. Individuals who earn minimum wage are largely concentrated into the leisure, hospitality, and retail industries, most of them in restaurants and retail outlets. While it may not be of great concern to Walmart, I have to think that decreasing hours worked would affect the operating hours and the total revenue amounts for many of these businesses.The evidence from various research shows that reducing work hours is still a big question mark, but I definitely think it would be considered by many businesses.

This could potentially be great for employees, if they were able to work fewer hours and still make the same amount of money. That doesn’t really directly address the issue of poverty, though, as the employee’s real income may not change at all. However, it could address it indirectly by allowing employees to save money on childcare or even by allowing employees to take on an additional job.

I can’t finish up this section without bringing up automation, which would definitely serve to lessen the number of employee hours required. I don’t have time to touch that one, but I definitely think it will become a more and more attractive option in the near future.

Increased demand/consumer spending

Individuals with lower levels of income tend to spend a bigger percentage of their money and save less than those with higher levels of income. Because of this, an increased minimum wage will tend to put more money into the hands of people who will likely spend it. Walmart’s CEO Greg Foran noted this as one of the reasons the company raised its minimum wage to $10, saying “Our wage hikes give workers more money to spend in our stores.” Since beneficiaries of the higher wages are likely to spend that money, this should offset some of the higher wage expenses for businesses with new revenue.

So, the big question here is to what extent increased consumer spending would be enough to offset the increased costs from higher wages. Most people argue that it is impossible for the costs to be completely made up by increased demand, and it’s an argument that is hard to refute. Take the Walmart example…say an employee is now making $20 more per day and the cost to Walmart is that full $20. The employee can choose to spend the entirety of that new income at Walmart. With that $20, Walmart covers the cost of acquiring the goods it just sold the employee as well as the overhead that enabled the company to sell the item and keeps what is left over as profit. Walmart reports a gross margin of around 25%, meaning that 75% of that $20 goes to the companies that produced the goods. It also currently reports a profit margin of around 3%, meaning that another $4.40 already goes to paying salaries, mortgages, rent, and the like. After all this, only 60 cents is left of the $20 revenue. So, even if an employee spends the full amount of extra income he or she receives at Walmart, the company will, at minimum, still have to make up 97% of that, or $19.40, from one or more of the other channels. Other industries with low wages such as retail clothing stores and restaurants have much higher margins, but the numbers will still never work out completely.

That said, the situation I described only represents a static view of a single point in time. To really see the full effects of increases in consumer spending, you would need to use a dynamic model that can account for all of the moving pieces over time. Such a model would incorporate the velocity of money and the resultant multiplier effect, which are two of my favorite obscure economic concepts. They basically say that an increase in demand/consumer spending that is introduced by giving a consumer an extra dollar actually causes a further increase in demand of more than a dollar due to a portion of the dollar being spent over and over again. I don’t have time to give an example, but the implications of this effect are one of the main reasons democrats often argue that increases in spending are a better way to stimulate the economy than tax breaks. Politifact actually gives a pretty fair treatment of the topic, if you’re interested in reading more about it. While it is not likely that the spending multiplier will be high enough to contribute much to the discussion, it’s always fun to throw out.

Wage compression

Wage compression means decreasing the wages of employees at higher pay levels to offset the increases in wages for employees at lower pay levels. People generally don’t like having their pay cut, and therefore the main way the evidence shows this happens is through decreasing the size of pay raises given to higher paid employees. While I do not feel this would significantly offset costs, it does offer a channel that would not have any significant negative outcomes save for upset employees. Walmart implemented this as part of its efforts to offset costs related to raising its minimum pay scale.

Efficiency gains

One of the primary arguments I’ve seen used by supporters of minimum wage increases is that employees will be happier working for the higher wage, will be less likely to changes jobs, and that higher quality employees will begin to apply. The logic goes that this will lead to significantly less time spent in employee hiring, onboarding, and training, and that higher quality employees or employees that stay around longer will have more experience and therefore higher productivity. These factors would lead to lower costs and higher revenues, thereby offsetting the higher wage expenses.

These arguments actually make a lot of sense, and I think they’re very applicable in professional settings. I myself have seen how turnover in my own professional workplaces can lead to decreased productivity. However, I feel that they break down a bit when talking about many of the industries that predominantly hire low wage workers. To achieve gains through efficiency improvements, they must lead to actual reduced costs or increased revenues that prevent employees from losing their jobs.

Increased revenues

Having higher quality, more experienced employees can definitely increase productivity and lead to more positive customer experiences. However, I question the extent to which these will actually lead to increased revenues in low wage industries. Take food service, for instance. High quality service and efficiency can go a long way towards getting repeat customers buying drinks and dessert in the restaurant business, but I don’t think it does quite as much for fast food. In retail, having more knowledgable, courteous employees could very possibly lead to more computer or television sales at Best Buy. However, I don’t see this having as big of an impact at The Dollar Tree or Ross, where people generally know what they want and there aren’t as many up-sell opportunities. That said, Walmart has actually seen customer satisfaction skyrocket and same-store sales increase following its wage increase, so perhaps there is something to this.

Reduced costs

Searching for job candidates and going through a selection process can definitely take time, but the extent to which that incurs actual monetary costs or decreases revenues in low wage industries is difficult to determine. As previously stated, I don’t feel training is a significant expense in most low wage industries, so I don’t think significant cost reduction will come from that. The main way I could see these come into play is if the time spent on hiring and training take the businesses owner away from other cost reduction or revenue generating tasks, but quantifying that is nearly impossible.

One way cost reduction could definitely come into play is if reduced hiring or training requirements or increased efficiency means some employees are no longer needed. Businesses may choose to reallocate HR functions to the owner or another manager and get rid of hiring or HR officers. If two new employees are able to do the work of three previous employees, the business may choose to get rid of the third position. I always approve of increased efficiency. However, the goal here was to find ways that businesses could avoid cutting jobs, and this seems like a great path towards cutting jobs.

The evidence shows that these effects do indeed occur, with my thesis advisor Barry Hirsch having performed one of the key studies on it. However, they appear to be somewhat weak effects

Reductions in profits

Many individuals who support minimum wage increases argue it’s a means of achieving more equality in society. They contrast rich CEOs with minimum wage employees and argue that taking profits out of the hands of the 1% and giving it back the employees is something that should be pursued. Thus, we have this channel, where instead of getting rid of employees, business owners will eat the costs of higher wages. While this is a valid way of avoiding firing employees, it does have its own set of consequences.

First off, many businesses that hire minimum wage workers are small and individually owned. I’ve watched Gordon Ramsey yell at enough small restaurant owners to know how tough the restaurant business can be on both the employees and the owners. There are plenty of rich small business owners out there, but every source I’ve found, and I’ve found many, shows that the average small business owner makes around $60k to $70k annually. While this is nothing to scoff at, it still only puts these individuals solidly into the middle class, and that says nothing of the huge amount of responsibility and hours many of them work. Granted, this only covers salary and does not speak to net worth or accumulation of assets, so the number is not completely helpful.

The second consequence of reduction in profits is that it may discourage future entrepreneurs from taking on the risk of starting a business. Decreasing profits means the returns to capital are lower, a fact that will likely make many individuals wary as this decreases the rewards for taking on risks. Small businesses drive the economy, and decreasing the rate of individuals founding them means long-term economic consequences.

The third consequence of reduction in profits applies specifically to publicly traded companies. While some minimum wage advocates may view decreasing profits as sticking it to the proverbial man, the problem is that said proverbial man is just as likely to be the advocate’s parents as anyone else. Sure, wealthy individuals own millions of shares of large retail companies, restaurant chains, and the like. However, millions of other shares of these companies’ stock also sit in the portfolios of teacher’s pension funds, company 401ks, and nonprofit 403bs. Companies disburse their profits to shareholders in the form of dividends, and fewer profits often means lower dividends. Share prices are connected to dividends. Even if dividends do not immediately decrease, the expectation that will often lowers share prices, which means lower retirement income for thousands of people across the income spectrum.

Walmart’s wage increase was implemented in two waves, jumping up to $9 at the beginning of 2015 and then to $10 at the beginning of 2016.The company’s profit margin declined from an average of 3.5% to an average of 3% over this time. While this may not seem like much, it represents $2.5 billion in extra costs given that Walmart has half a trillion dollars of revenue every year. The stock experienced a significant drop in its share value at the beginning of 2015 that continued through the end of the year, eventually putting it at its lowest point in the previous 3 years. While it recovered somewhat in 2016 and has not yet decreased its dividend, the full long-term effects of the changes on profits are yet to be seen.

Increased prices

This is the final channel I’m going to discuss, but it is probably the most important. If owners of a business can’t find enough additional revenue or cost savings using all of the previously mentioned channels and are not willing to face reduced profits, they can always instruct the business to increase prices. This can have significant effects on various aspects of the economy, many of which I have already covered in my discussions on tariffs and illegal immigration. However, the main effect I want to discuss here is the effect of increased prices on poverty.

The primary stated objective of Clinton’s proposed minimum wage increase is to reduce poverty. To determine if something will help reduce poverty, it’s important to know how the U.S. defines poverty. As stated by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research in Poverty, “the U.S. Census Bureau determines poverty status by comparing pre-tax cash income against a threshold that is set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963, updated annually for inflation, and adjusted for family size, composition, and age of householder.” So, poverty in the U.S. is entirely based upon the price for a family to buy food. Food is generally sold in retail grocery stores and at restaurants. Together, these two industries contain over 50% of the individuals making minimum wage or below. So, if increasing minimum wage leads to businesses increasing prices, and these businesses primarily sell food, and the poverty rate is based off of food prices, the level of income required to escape poverty will increase.

I hope it’s obvious now that the extent to which prices increase following an implementation of a new minimum wage law has serious implications for how much of an actual impact that law will have on any meaningful metrics. Walmart would be a great example for this if the data was there. Their entire business model is built upon the concept of low prices, so seeing them increase prices significantly would be a smoking gun of sorts to this channel. However, in lieu of having that data available, I’ll turn back to academia.

Studies have generally shown small increases in prices following implementation of minimum wage increases, but the scope of these price increases and whether they is difficult to determine. A meta-analysis from 2004 states that most of the literature up to that point had found that most studies found that a 10% US minimum wage increase raises food prices by no more than 4% and overall prices by no more than 0.4%. A study from 2010 found “a positive and significant impact of the minimum wage on prices. The effect of the minimum wage on prices is, however, very protracted. A change in the minimum wage takes more than a year to fully pass through to retail prices.” One study published this year found that raising wages to $15 an hour for limited-service restaurant employees would lead to an estimated 4.3 percent increase in prices at those restaurants. A regrettably named University of Missouri study found prices of both McDonald’s burgers and Pizza Hut pizza increase with the minimum wage, and that these increases are quite large, amounting to roughly 50% of the increase in payroll due to the minimum-wage increase. In the less trustworthy sources category, one paper found no increases, but I never trust authors that only cite papers they helped write. A working paper from a Ph D student at the University of Chicago is the only one I was able to find that focused specifically on grocery store prices, and it found that a 10% minimum wage hike raises prices in these stores by about 0.7%.

One last study

Before sharing where I land on minimum wage increases now, I want to bring in one more study. It’s from the group that is looking into the effects of Seattle’s move to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15, which is the same rate Hillary Clinton is advocating for. The wage increase is to take place slowly over a number of years, so the effects seen thus far are only covering the period in which the minimum wage increased to $11.

In this preliminary study, the team found:

  • The minimum wage itself is responsible for a $0.73/hour average increase for low-wage workers.
  • The minimum wage appears to have slightly reduced the employment rate of low-wage workers by about one percentage point. It appears that the Minimum Wage Ordinance modestly held back Seattle’s employment of low-wage workers relative to the level we could have expected.
  • Hours worked among low-wage Seattle workers have lagged behind regional trends, by roughly four hours per quarter (nineteen minutes per week), on average.
  • Low-wage individuals working in Seattle when the ordinance passed transitioned to jobs outside Seattle at an elevated rate compared to historical patterns.
  • Increased wages were offset by modest reductions in employment and hours,
    thereby limiting the extent to which higher wages directly translated into higher
    average earnings.
  • Seattle’s low-wage workers who kept working were modestly better off as a result of the Minimum Wage Ordinance, having $13 more per week in earnings and working 15 minutes less per week.
  • We do not find compelling evidence that the minimum wage has caused significant
    increases in business failure rates. Moreover, if there has been any increase in business
    closings caused by the Minimum Wage Ordinance, it has been more than offset by an
    increase in business openings [due to a better overall economy].

Where does all this leave me?

I’m a moderate-leaning conservative, and like many with similar beliefs, I came into this post with the assumption that increasing minimum wage will lead to job losses. What I found was a much more complicated situation. Minimum wage increases may lead to job losses among teens in particular, but they most definitely seem to lead to employees working fewer hours, lower turnover rates, higher quality applicants, increased customer satisfaction, decreases in annual raises for higher wage employees, slightly higher consumer spending, and definite price increases.

Given the multiple negative effects that came about because of an effective wage increase of only $13 a week in Seattle, I have to wonder if it was really worth it. Having never worked for minimum wage, I don’t know how much an extra $50-75 a month means to these individuals. However, this only counts as a real increase in wages and will only address poverty if prices don’t go. The current U.S. poverty line for a family of two (think…single mother or sole-income couple) is $15,930. Remember, this is calculated off of food prices. In order to erase the full amount of increased wages ($13 * 52 = $676), food prices only have to go up by 4% (676 / 15930). That is an increase of only 8 cents on a $2 loaf of bread or 12 cents on a $2.50 gallon of gas. I’m not convinced that this won’t happen.

I am interested in and somewhat concerned about what effects will occur when the future increases happen as well. As to whether I support Clinton’s policy of a $15/hr minimum wage nationwide, I’ll defer to the lead author of the Seattle study, Jacob Vigdor. When asked by NPR about the effects they saw, he had this to say:

What I can tell you is that to think one minimum wage is going to have the same impact everywhere at all points in time, that’s not really consistent with what we’re observing so far. Higher minimum wages are thought of as a way to maybe allow some of the spoils and the profits of society to be distributed towards the lower-income workers. And spreading those profits and that wealth around, it’s a lot easier in a town like Seattle, where there is some wealth to spread. And it might not work so well in a place that is uniformly higher poverty, doesn’t have as many of these tech sector jobs or other types of high-income employment to make it all work. So that is one thing that I can tell you. We are going to be paying close attention. One thing that we have heard from employers is that the minimum wage is working just fine for them now, but that’s not necessarily going to hold the next time a recession comes along.

I don’t think there’s enough actual data on the effects of large minimum wage increases on real earnings, prices, or poverty to merit taking the risk of raising it at the national level. Most of the larger studies come from the 90s and early 2000s, and technology and society have advanced significantly since then. If Clinton committed to waiting until her second term to implement such a change, during which time additional data on Seattle, Chicago, and other places where the minimum wage has been significantly increased, I would consider it. However, as it stands, I find it difficult to support a candidate who is blindly advocating for such a sweeping policy to solve a problem that the policy has not been demonstrated to have any significant effect on.

My views on abortion

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This post was written in connection with a larger post, Why I am voting third party, so I’m going to take a decidedly election-centric approach here. Sorry if you stumbled upon this looking for a more generic discussion. This is a long post that you may not agree with, so here is your trigger warning. Read at your own risk.

Everyone oversimplifies the issue of abortion. One side says it’s simply an issue of women’s rights while the other says it’s straight up murder. From my point of view, it’s actually an incredibly complicated issue, and one that has very little real middle ground. This is the result of years of attempting to come to terms with it and to try to find some middle ground. First off, let’s start with some of my basic assumptions. People support or oppose abortion for a variety of reasons. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to assume that individuals on both sides are actually being forthcoming with the reasons they state. I’m going to assume for the sake of this discussion that a woman’s right to control her body and make her own choices is the foundation of the pro-choice argument and that a desire to avoid the killing of a child is the pro-life argument.

Despite what people say, this is not always the case. I’ve had conversations with lots of people on both sides. I’ve read hundreds of posts on the internet. There are pro-choice individuals who argue for abortion because it’s a women’s rights issue, when they really support it as a form of population control. Some say they support access to abortions for poor individuals because it’s a women’s rights issue, but they really support it because they believe it will prevent crime and poverty. On the other side, there are plenty of “pro-life” people whose primary objective is to press women towards chastity or punish women for making their own independent decisions. It’s obnoxious and disgusting. All of these are noble goals in the minds of those who support them, but they are also paths that lead to complex conversations independent of the issue of abortion. I’m going to touch on them at times, but they’re not going to be the primary focus here.

So, having gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the foundations of both sides’ arguments. The pro-choice arguments rely upon the assumption that until birth, a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus is not a human child and does not therefore have any rights. This viewpoint is clearly spelled out in-depth on the ACLU website. If this is true, it proceeds that the fetus is simply a part of the woman’s body, and as such, she should have full rights to do with her body as she pleases. The pro-life arguments, on the other hand, rely upon the assumption that a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus is actually a human child even before birth and should have its own rights.

Any situation where the rights of separate individuals come into conflict is very complicated. It is for this reason that we have a government…to determine who should have rights and whose rights should get precedence. Sitting atop the legal system are the courts. Even if a law is proposed by the legislative branch and signed into law by the executive branch, the courts still have the ability to declare it unconstitutional. It makes sense, then, that the battle over rights has been fought primarily in the courts. It also makes sense that the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, is seen as the key to any significant legal challenge to abortion. Giving the multiple potential vacancies that could occur during the next presidency, the issue of abortion has taken center stage this election cycle. So, having laid out the foundation, now it’s time to do some digging into where I land on it.

My beliefs

I’m about to say a lot of things that a lot of people disagree with. I realize this, and I just ask that if you read the following, you continue past it and read the rest. I promise it gets better. 🙂

I believe that from the moment of conception, a new human life is formed. Given the right conditions, this human zygote will develop into a human embryo, a human fetus, and then be born as a baby. I believe that at every stage, this human should have inalienable rights. I believe that this means everything possible should be done to nurture, preserve, and develop this life.

I have a variety of reasons that I hold these beliefs. One main reason I initially developed this belief was that I saw so much conflicting information and conflicting opinions on the issue. I’ve met multiple women who aborted an unwanted fetus early in life and then mourned over losing a baby to a miscarriage later. Despite mostly rulings in favor of abortion, even the courts are still confused on it. I’ve seen cases of criminals who attack pregnant women and cause them to lose their pregnancy charged with murder. At some point I had to wonder why something is a human with rights worth defending and mourning if it is wanted and simply a part of a woman’s body if not. This confusion is what the ACLU is attempting to combat via its opposition to fetal rights.

Everyone seems to agree that a newborn baby has rights. Walking back through the process of pregnancy from there, I cannot see another point other than conception at which one can argue with logical consistency that this organism becomes a human with rights. If it’s a human with rights when it exits a woman’s body, why isn’t it a human with rights 15 seconds before it exits. If it’s a human with rights before it exits, why isn’t it a human with rights at any point after it could survive viably outside the womb? If it’s a human with rights when it can viably survive outside of a womb, why isn’t it one when 10 more minutes of development would make it able to do so? Can one be a human without a heart? How about without a brain? Well, what if with another 10 days it could get a brain or heart? Back and back I go, until I arrive at fertilization, in which a zygote is formed with a unique genetic code. In-vitro fertilization, in which a zygote is created by humans, kept in a growth medium for a few days, implanted into a woman’s uterus, and then carried to birth can lead to a human being born. So, why stop anywhere before then? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my Christian faith plays into this to an extent. However, it mostly plays in through the fact that I believe that every human has intrinsic value given by a loving God. I believe denying the value of any life not only has consequences for the life in question, but for the lives of many others. I don’t believe in exemptions for rape or incest, because I don’t believe a child born out of rape or incest has any fewer rights than any other. I am hesitant to support exemptions for health of the mother, because pregnancy can be a dangerous thing and from what I have read, determining when the mother’s life is at risk is complicated.

Yes, I know all this this sounds like lunacy to many people. It sounds like lunacy to me sometimes. You see, I’m also a strong pragmatist, and I realize that this is a nearly impossible standard to hold to. Aside from its legal effects on abortion itself, it would have far-reaching consequences. It would make IVF incredibly complicated legally. It would eliminate the possibility of supporting any birth control methods that prevent implantation by thickening the uterine lining or damaging the zygote. It would bring into question a woman’s legal responsibility for smoking or drinking during a pregnancy. I keep returning to the fact that a lot of policies and laws put in place are impossible to uphold. Take speed limits, for example. These laws are put in place to protect people, but everyone goes 5 over. As I’ve sat and thought about this issue, I’ve asked myself which pieces of this belief are bend-able. Which are practical? Which are enforceable? How do we get as close to this goal as possible, if this is my gold standard (this is a figure of speech…I don’t support the gold standard…that is dumb)?

The current reality

I’ve studied economics, and I have a very healthy appreciation of consequences. I have studied public policy, and I have a healthy appreciation for the challenges of implementing laws and policies. In 2012 in the U.S., there were an estimated 700,000 abortions performed. I’m not a woman, so I can never fully understand the pressures that come with pregnancy. Having said that, being raised by a single mother, I got a firsthand view of how incredibly hard that was. Having watched many of my friends go through pregnancies recently, it’s an incredibly difficult experience, physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and professionally. Each of those 700,000 abortions represents a woman facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, trying to determine how to continue living her life in light of it. She could have the child, taking on a decades-long financial and emotional commitment. She could put the child up for adoption, but that means going through a long, challenging pregnancy, often without the support of the “father” who ditched her. She could have an abortion and deal with any emotional consequences down the road.

I wonder sometimes how many pro-lifers really understand the full impact of their beliefs and what their coming to fruition would do. How many really sit down and spend time thinking about those 700,000 women, or to make it more realistic, one of them. I wonder some times how many actually care about that woman or that child, and what they would be willing to give up to stand behind their caring. The pro-life movement has so often thrown its energy and resources to the courts, and I honestly think it’s hard to see them as unjustified in doing so. Most oppressed groups can at least speak out on behalf of themselves, but pro-lifers like myself believe each of those 700,000 fetuses were actually humans that can’t speak or advocate for themselves. If we truly believe it is the taking of a human life, then shame on us if we don’t speak out. However, I can’t just turn my back on the consequences of what a legal victory would bring. Sure, I think some of those unwanted fetuses would become incredibly loved children after their mother met them. Sure, I think there are some women who probably make the decision without seriously considering the implications. However, that does not in any way take away from the fact that many, and more likely most of those women sat down, measured the costs, and found that abortion was their best option.

The sad part is there’s really not a whole lot of middle ground here. Take Hillary Clinton’s statement that an “unborn person” has no constitutional rights. She pissed everyone off. It’s either a person or a fetus. If it’s just a fetus, then any restrictions on abortion are oppressive, unnecessary, and even tragic for women. If it’s actually a person/human with rights, then any allowance for abortion is oppressive and tragic.

So, where does this leave me?

I wish every day that there was a freely available and highly effective method to transfer a recently-conceived human zygote, human embryo, or human fetus from one woman to another. I would pay hundreds of dollars in taxes or donations to that. There are so many women and couples facing infertility, aching for the chance to have an infant, and I have seen significant numbers of additional families who would be willing to adopt infants. However, I haven’t seen anything yet that shows that as a possibility any time soon.

It seems to me that we’ve had serious problems in the past in our country with people trying to decide what was a full human based on their own interests and needs. At one point, we essentially decided some people were only worth 3/5ths of other people based on how they looked, and that “compromise” didn’t really work out so well given that we now see it as a tragic time in our country’s history. I think we can all agree that humans in general are really bad at seeing past our own interests, so I think the only way forward is for us to have some honest conversations and be willing to put some things on the table.

I think the court battles need to continue to happen, because I think they’re necessary. However, I don’t think that’s the only hope for decreasing the number of abortions that take place. In fact, I wonder sometimes if it’s even a good hope. Look at Brexit. Everyone thought it was a good idea until it happened, and now everyone is sitting around wondering if they really wanted the change they voted for. In the meantime, I wish people from both sides get together to try to come up with a plan to simply minimize the number of abortions that happen, because I think that’s the only middle ground available at the moment. 

I depart from many conservative Christians in that I think a good starting point is funding sex education and ensuring availability of contraception for all people. However, I realize beliefs have some effect on that, as even I take issue with most non-barrier methods due to them preventing implantation. As much as it bothers me to do so, I think I just have to give in on this one. I think conservative families have to step up to the plate on adoption, especially from foster care, to prove to the world that we’re serious about this. Until these things happen, I don’t think the pro-life movement can be taken seriously. Perhaps these things make me a hypocrite. Perhaps I’m not standing strongly enough for what I believe in. However, I’m looking for a path forward…motion…progress…something.

I think liberals need to ask themselves how much they’re willing to risk here. If there was a true, strong moderate/conservative running for president this cycle, there is a decent chance, through supreme court appointments, that the legality of abortion could be challenged and even overturned within the next 4 years. Just sit back and think about that. Seriously, do it. Are you ready for that eventuality? That’s really the only option on the table at the moment, and for the first time in decades, it has potential. Now, realize this. This one, single issue, might turn out enough voters to get you President Trump. Assuming ya’ll are really for women’s rights, let’s sit down and talk about how serious you are about it. What are you willing to give up to make sure those are maintained? Would you be willing to negotiate a sex-ed curriculum with people who have a fundamentally different approach to sex as you? Would you be willing to give up federal funding of Planned Parenthood and make up that funding yourself? Yes, I know abortions are only 1% of what they do, but you’re sitting across the table from people who believe that 1% of some of their taxes are going to murder. Yes, I understand you feel the same way about some of your taxes going to a military that sometimes accidentally bombs civilians. Hey conservatives, come sit down. Let’s talk about military funding.

Yeah, that’s kinda funny, but it’s the truth of the situation. This isn’t easy, and I don’t think it should be, but I think we’ve come to a time where we have to get serious about this issue and try to find a way past the impasse that’s held it steady for years, because we’ve gotten incredibly close to it shifting via the courts.

How does this affect my vote?

I don’t feel that I can ever support a candidate who outright endorses abortion. I ache over the issue of abortion. I pray and am brought to tears by it. I honestly wish for it to be made illegal. However, I also don’t feel that I can support a candidate who is willfully blind to the consequences that making abortion illegal would create.

How does this affect my faith?

For the Christians out there. I trust God. It’s hard to write that, because a lot of times it’s not true. However, believing in God demands trusting God, and as much as I try, I cannot escape believing in Him. Here’s something I’ve learned over the years. I prayed for years for revival, for thousands to believe the gospel. I prayed for it, I fasted for it, I ached for it. I wanted others to know the hope that I had found. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the church isn’t ready for revival. So, I turned my efforts to asking what it would take to prepare for revival. We’re told over and over again to prepare the way of the Lord…to prepare for His coming. Well, I think the same thing is in play here. I don’t think we’re ready for abortion to be illegal. As much as I ache for it, I have turned my efforts towards preparing for it. I’ve tried my best to understand the plight of the poor, those who are struggling with the question of how they can support a child. I’ve donated to friends adopting children. I’ve set it in my heart to consider foster care and invest in communities in need as I can. Yes, I know many of us do that already, but do it with renewed vigor, knowing that it could prepare the way for that which many of you have ached for.

I don’t believe that me choosing not to vote for Donald Trump dooms millions of children to death. I don’t believe it makes me a bad Christian or conservative. I don’t believe it makes me a supporter of abortion or means we’ll be losing the country. I believe the situation is far more complicated than that, much more is at stake, and I earnestly hope and pray that the single choice I make in a booth will be eclipsed by hundreds of decisions I make on a daily basis for the cause of Christ. I trust God.

 

 

Why I am voting third party

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It’s time to vote, and for the first time in my life, I’m voting third party. I’m a moderate-leaning-conservative on many issues. In every other election, I’ve begrudgingly voted for the republican candidate despite a host of flaws because I aligned more with them. In this election, however, I can’t bring myself to do that for a variety of reasons that I will expound upon in a series of posts. In fact, if there was any democrat running other than the current one, this could have been the first election I crossed the aisle. However, it isn’t so, and therefore I’ll be voting third party.

My unwillingness to vote for Trump and my turning to a third party has been a point of contention and distress amongst many of my friends and family members. That said, I’ve had it relatively easily. I see social media posts on a daily basis full of arguments and anger. It seems that the vigor with which Clinton and Trump have repeatedly attacked one another has spread to the masses. I’m a white Christian, as are the majority of my friends, and so many arguments center around a few key issues. Along with the aggressive arguments, I also see passive-aggressive posts lamenting the state of this election from both sides. If only Christians would vote for Trump, he’d win easily. The Supreme Court appointments are all that matter, so vote based on that. If you don’t vote for Clinton, you’re voting for Trump and aligning yourself with him. So, here’s my unapologetic take on the election and why I’m voting how I am, for anyone who cares.

Why I have opposed a Trump presidency from the beginning

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I’m a #neverTrump hipster. I was calling out his awfulness before it was cool. Actually, that’s not completely true. I’m not #neverTrump, because the best way to beat Trump would be to vote for Clinton, and I can’t do that for reasons I’ll post later. However, I have opposed his candidacy from the beginning. Back before he grabbed her by the *****, before #speechplagiarismgate, before he started winning primaries by the dozen, I actually sat down and read Trump’s platform and did some digging. What I found was a man who either had no basic understanding of how international economics and diplomacy work (doubtful) or was choosing to ignore said knowledge for political gain (probable).

Economic issues

Everyone knows Trump was (is?) going to make Mexico build a wall. However, the manner in which he planned to do this was ridiculous, comprising impounding remittance payments from undocumented immigrants (unenforceable, unestimable, and likely illegal), massively increasing visa fees for legitimate entry into the country (hurts trade, tourism, and diplomatic relations with our 3rd biggest trading partner), and worse of all…creating trade tariffs. If you want to know why tariffs are bad, I wrote a post just for you. The short version is they nearly always lead to fewer consumer choices, lower quality goods, and higher prices, which is another way of saying inflation. If you don’t have time to read the post and want a good one-liner on why this happens, consider this quote from Donald Trump during the second debate concerning insurance companies freely competing across political lines:

Artificial lines, where we stop…companies from…competing…gives the…companies essentially monopolies. We want competition.

As bad as the wall debacle is, his tax plan was arguably worse. I’m all for lowering taxes whenever possible. From an economic perspective, they distort the actual costs of decisions, create artificial incentive structures (like sending all your money to the Cayman Islands or founding your business in Ireland), and lead to higher prices (like tariffs). Fiscal conservatives generally love the idea of lower taxes. That said, they also generally hate the idea of the national debt increasing. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation found in January that his original plan would increase debt above-and-beyond its already increasing levels by $10 trillion over a decade, effectively adding 50% to its currently constant-increasing level. The nonpartiscan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget cited his plan increasing the debt by far larger amounts than Clinton’s plan.

Over the past year, Trump updated his plan with significant changes, leading the Tax Foundation to change their estimates of the decrease in revenues in September. Their current estimates describe the effects over the next 10 years as increasing GDP by around 7-8%, increasing the levels of capital investment (the strongest driver of long-term growth) by 20-24%, increasing wages by 5.5 to 6.5%, and creating around 2 million jobs. This is a much better plan than his initial one. Like, it’s hard to explain how much better of a plan this is. However, these economic gains come at a price, and that price is decreased government revenues by $2.5 to $4 trillion over the next decade that come from his significant tax cuts. This number actually started out much higher, at $4.5 to $5.9 trillion, but the positive economic outcomes from his tax cuts would grow the tax base and offset some of the lost revenue. Remember this, as it’s going to come into play soon.

Every fiscally conservative republican candidate up until now has paired decreased taxes with massive decreased spending. The numbers never actually line up, but they at least make an effort. Trump’s views on decreased spending are murky. He’s suggested getting rid of the department of education and used to support decreasing military funding. However, now he supports increasing military funding, has proposed a half trillion dollar infrastructure fund, and wants to build the aforementioned multi-billion dollar wall. I actually don’t care all that much about the national debt for reasons I’ll explain in a later post, but for strong fiscal conservatives and debt hawks, this should be a non-starter. The national debt is currently approaching $20 trillion, and the annual deficit is around $590 billion. Trump’s plan would increase the national debt by 10-20% without any changes in spending, but it would likely be even more with the additional spending he has proposed.

There are plenty of other economic missteps from Trump that could be covered here, including his disastrous statements that we should consider refinancing the national debt. I was opposed to Trump from the beginning looking solely to his economic policies and their seeming incoherence. Granted, his tax plan has gotten better over time. However, his plans for immigration and trade would damage the economy, serving to  counteract significant portions of the economic gains from his decreased taxes. This would drive the national debt far higher, likely increasing it by 30% or more. Given this, I’m still strongly opposed to Trump’s economic plans. Now, let’s turn to some other issues.

Illegal immigration

This topic gets its own heading, and also its own full post. This is because I believe this issue is the one that really launched Trump’s campaign. Building a wall made his name big, and you build a wall because you oppose illegal immigration. If you want the full version, read the post. However, here’s a key excerpt.

From all this research, I’m convinced that from an economic point of view, illegal immigration is a net positive for the state and national economies. The expense required to lock down the borders and increase deportations is massive, on the scale of hundreds of billions of dollars. However, the harm it would cause to the state and national economies to suddenly have labor prices jump up in a number of key industries would be worse than that. Due to this, I will never support an across the board deportation for these purely economic reasons. I think it is incredibly foolish and harmful to the economy.

I would support efforts to massively increase the number of work visas available to provide legitimate means of work and as a means of collecting more taxes. I would consider supporting paths to citizenship for individuals who have worked here for a period of time, though that would have to be balanced against the cost of the benefits (social security, etc.) that would be provided. It gets much more complicated when looking at local level effects, as most of the costs of undocumented immigrants are incurred in education and healthcare funded by local governments. I would support efforts to have the federal government provide more funding to schools and healthcare for communities supporting undocumented immigrants or those with temporary work visas. I would support efforts to provide more scholarships and funding for technical schools so unskilled U.S. citizens can learn skills and move away from competing against immigrants who are lowering their wages.

I would support all these things not based on morality, but based solely on economics. Some might say this is not a conservative viewpoint…that I’m moving to the left. Well, border patrols, massive walls, and deportation are incredibly inefficient ways of dealing with the realities of a labor market that wants cheap labor and individuals who are willing to take great risks to provide it. Since when did conservatives abandon giving the free market what it wants? When did they abandon the goal of coming up with inexpensive, small government-focused, efficient solutions to challenges? I agree with Cato institute’s Alex Nowrasteh, who said, “even if the fiscal costs of immigration were consistently larger than the fiscal benefits, there are far easier and cheaper methods to lower the cost than scaling back or outlawing immigration. Reforming welfare, charging immigration tariffs, or allowing more immigrant workers could all redress a possible net fiscal cost.”

That’s my stance. Trump is the opposite of this. #nodice

Foreign policy

From what I can find, Trump hasn’t spoken much to foreign policy. Most of the things he talks about as foreign policy are really domestic immigration policy and domestic tax policy, which I’ve already covered my feelings on. I think this is probably an area many Americans feel strongly about but have little real knowledge of. I definitely feel I have little ability to analyze foreign policy. I can’t see classified intelligence. I don’t know what our long-term objectives are.

Trump does emphasize focusing on fighting ISIS instead of Syria, and I think I can probably agree with that, though I honestly can’t parse through much of that current situation. He puts emphasis on not being the world’s police, but he also said in a debate that he can’t take anything off the table (including nuclear intervention) and complained that we’re doing nothing about North Korea. I get a sense of isolationism mixed with a desire to ambitiously protect the U.S. and its interests. I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with his tendency to strike out at people mixed with a nuclear option.

Character flaws

Donald Trump is an ass. He may have a personality disorder. He may be completely disconnected from regular people. He may be racist or sexist or misogynist. He may be “a good businessman that knows how to push people around and get what he wants done.” It all equals ass for me. Lots of people are deciding to vote against Trump because of these things. I decided not to vote for Trump months ago based on previously mentioned issues, so any character flaws are just the icing on the cake for me.

Trump has a weird superpower of being able to inspire assery in people who support him. Watching good people try to get around his character failures is just sad to me. Maybe this is a superpower granted to all political candidates, seeing as I experience the same sadness when I watch Clinton supporters try to dismiss her corruption and her husband’s obvious licentiousness or when I watch supporters of my congressional representative, Hank Johnson, try to explain how he wasn’t actually asking if Guam would tip over if we put another military base on it. Sigh. However, I’m here to talk Trump. Clinton will get her own soon.

I’ve watched Trump supporters…women even…argue that his “locker room talk” about sexual assault is just what men do. I was raised by a single mother and a grandmother to respect and honor all people, which actually does include women. My faith calls me to do the same. I’ll admit I’ve had a regrettable number of sarcastic and negative conversations about women over the years. I’ve also had a large number of conversations about how men are all stupid. Cynicism comes with the millennial turf. However, Trump actually had the means and opportunity to do the things he said, and I am willing to believe he actually did them. There’s a term for that, and despite the vocal opposition to it from many Trump supporters, I think sexual assault is actually quite accurate.

Conservatives attacked Bill Clinton’s moral failures. They now attack Hillary for defending his moral failures. Maybe you can understand my cognitive dissonance when I see them supporting Trump despite his. As I stated before, I decided not to vote for Trump based solely on economic issues, so much of these points are moot for my voting decision. However, I think the real losers here are Trump supporters, many of whom are Christians. I’m sad for Christianity as a whole because of this election season and I wonder how much the church has been harmed by Christians choosing politics over morality. The gospel itself endures, the pure message of salvation through faith in Christ cannot be tarnished. However, I see rough times ahead for the church.

Moral policy issues

So, now that I’ve taken all of Trump’s biggest economic and international issues off the table as well as his character flaws, we’re left with domestic issues, most of which are moral. It’s time to talk about gun rights, marijuana, and abortion. I think a lot of conservatives have finally begun to realize what I did…that Trump’s an ass and his economic policies are terrible. However, I’ve seen many still clinging to these three issues.

Gun rights

I honestly don’t care that much about this issue. I don’t think gun ownership will ever be outlawed in this country. I think restrictions will eventually be put on it…most of which will be ineffectual at actually curtailing gun violence. The overemphasis on so-called “assault rifles” from the left is baffling. The misunderstanding of automatic versus semiautomatic firearms is baffling. I’d put more time into this, but it’s just not that important to me. If this issue matters so much to some people that they are able to overcome every other negative about Trump through it, then that’s their prerogative. To me, gun rights are important, but not to such an extent that I would trade it for the negatives of all of Trump’s other terrible policies.

Marijuana

I’ve never tried it. If I ever go to Colorado, I probably will. In the meantime, I think it should be legal. In this way, I definitely depart from the Republican party, and from most moral conservatives. However, I think this is an incredibly fiscal conservative stance. I’m not going to go into a full discussion of the economics of this because I don’t have time. However, suffice to say that we spend billions of dollars annually to try to prevent marijuana use through policing and incarceration, and millions of people still use it. I say legalize it and tax the heck out of it. Is it dangerous? Potentially. Is it more dangerous than smoking and alcohol? I don’t think so. Also, the fact that people are against prescribed medical marijuana is absolutely ridiculous to me. My grandfather died of multiple sclerosis, a condition that has viable treatments with marijuana. If there was potential for it to improve his life at all, I think it’s abhorrent that it was denied. I support it for the thousands suffering from MS or similar conditions. Trump supports it for medical use and opposes its overall legalization. I support it for both. That’s all I have to say about that.

Abortion

So, now we come to abortion. I’m putting it last because it was the hardest one for me to write. Abortion is one of the issues I’m most opinionated and passionate about. I really had to sit down and take a serious look in the mirror for this issue. I wrote a post on where I ended up. It’s raw, it’s earnest, and it’s heartfelt. I’m not even going to write a summary here. If you really want to know my thoughts on it, read the post.

Where this leaves me

Having covered all of this, I cannot and will not vote for Donald Trump.

Is illegal immigration bad?

Standard

This post was written in connection with a larger post, Why I am voting third party, so I’m going to take a decidedly Trump-centric approach here. Sorry if you stumbled upon this looking for a more generic discussion. This is a long post that you may not agree with, so here is your trigger warning. Read at your own risk.

I’ve seen four primary arguments against immigration in recent days and over the years. They are:

  1. They’re taking our jobs
  2. They’re taking from our institutions without putting anything in
  3. They’re dangerous
  4. They don’t speak our language/they’re running down our cities/I just don’t like them

So, let’s address all of them, shall we?

They’re taking our jobs

A Rasmussen report survey conducted in August of 2015 found that 51 percent of likely U.S. voters believe undocumented hispanic immigrants are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens. In contrast, much of the economics literature shows that undocumented immigrants do not take jobs from Americans, but instead create more jobs and higher wages for natives. So, where is the disconnect?

For immigrants to be taking jobs away from natives, employers would have to be hiring immigrants instead of natives when both were pursuing the same job. This is challenging to prove, as it would require demonstrating that:

  1. natives are actively pursuing the same jobs as immigrants
  2. employers have incentives to choose immigrants over native workers

Are natives actively pursuing the same jobs as immigrants?

The idea that natives are not actively pursuing the same jobs as immigrants is the one I hear most often used when arguments are had about this topic. So, I’m going to try to cover my thoughts on it.

The pew research show that immigrants tend to work in low-skilled professions, such as service (maids, cooks, groundskeepers), construction, production, agriculture, forestry, and mining. Lots of immigration supporters make the case that these are undesirable professions, many of them manual-labor intensive, and that natives therefore do not pursue them. However, determining the desirability of a profession is not the easiest endeavor. The field of organizational behavior is dedicated to questions such as this, and researchers have proposed a variety of theories to attempt to categorize and evaluate various characteristics a job to determine how much satisfaction they bring. The professions that immigrants tend to work in do not score very well on many of the standard rating characteristics, such as variety of work, workplace safety, work conditions, job security, and independence, making them appear undesirable. That said, I’ve yet to find an ordered list that ranks jobs that has a strong enough methodology for me to buy into it. Buzzfeed just doesn’t do it for me.

The desirability of a job is not only based on the satisfaction the work itself brings, though. There are many other factors, including the level of education required, the experience required, the location, cost of living in that location, and perhaps the biggest one, how much the job pays. The North Dakota oil boom provides a great example. Those jobs scored low on many of the work satisfaction criteria. In addition, the housing was terrible (if it even existed) and rural ND doesn’t offer many amenities. Despite this, thousands moved there due to the six-figure salaries with minimal education and experience requirements.

The 2015 U.S. Census showed that 10% of the U.S. population did not finish high school or complete a GED, and 67% don’t have a bachelors degree. As usual, they (regrettably) failed to include technical diplomas. However, given that there are around 200 million working-age adults in the U.S., this means there are at least 20 million adults (and likely many more) who are dependent upon acquired skills and experience to find jobs in lieu of education. For those who are unskilled and have little experience, there are not many options. I find it difficult to deny that many may find themselves applying for the same jobs as undocumented immigrants, undesirable or not. This discussion has only focused on the so-called “undesirable” blue-collar jobs, while the pew study found that over 25% of undocumented immigrants work in what would be considered white-collar jobs. So, the chances of competition with natives are even higher. Given this discussion, I’d say it’s fairly likely that undocumented immigrants and natives do apply for the same jobs at times, so I must now turn to the employers and ask why they would hire undocumented immigrants over natives.

Why would employers choose undocumented workers over natives?

So, now we get into the messy part of this. In my experience, many people are often quick to blame undocumented immigrants for the sin of taking jobs. However, someone had to offer them those jobs. If the previous discussion is to be believed, it’s even worse…someone had to offer them those jobs instead of offering them to a native. Why would a business do this? The fact is that there are significant downsides to hiring an undocumented immigrant. They often don’t know English. They could, at any time, be caught and deported. In many states, the business could be fined for knowingly hiring an undocumented individual. Given these downsides, why would a business hire them? Well, businesses make hiring decisions based on a number of factors, and I’ve already talked enough about organization behavior today. However, the short version is, the key pieces are how well the individual will do the job, how well the individual fits with the organization, and how much the business will have to pay to hire and maintain the employee.

This is where the controversy starts, because people start throwing out arguments on how immigrants have a greater work ethic and Americans are lazy. I don’t even want to touch that, but that’s why economics is called the dismal science. We have to touch it, because we need to find the reasoning here. So, let’s make it more science-y and less offensive. If undocumented immigrants have a higher level of productivity due to any source (strength, endurance, work ethic, punctuality, ability to learn quickly, experience, whatever) and they are willing to work for the same wage as a native, then the business should definitely hire the immigrant over the native worker. Free-market economics would say hiring the native here would be stupid. I’ve found that most who support deportation and stronger efforts against undocumented immigration are generally strong supporters of free-market economics, so there should be some cognitive dissonance here if you’re in that camp.

The funny thing is, even with an identical wage, we’re still not talking about a 1-to-1 substitution here. There are still significant downsides to hiring an undocumented immigrant. The amount of productivity that the immigrant has over the native would have to be to be large enough to eclipse the language barrier, potential for deportation, and potential fines. Are Americans really that unproductive? Well, the assumption here was that the business would have to pay the same wage to the immigrant as they would to the native. Is that truly the case, or can businesses pay undocumented immigrants less? Well, this is where most of the economic research has been, because this is where the discussion always eventually leads. I could have just started here, but I hear it’s more about the journey than the destination anyway, and it helps to demonstrate why this is the key to it all.

So, we’re finally to the big question. Can businesses pay undocumented immigrants less than natives? This question has interesting implications for the whole discussion. If they can, then wages in industries where undocumented immigrants compete would be lower than they would otherwise. The fact that wages in these industry are so low might discourage natives from applying for positions at all. If this is the case, then we’re back to the initial question, except with a different result. Perhaps natives aren’t applying for the jobs at all because of the suppressed wages, and so the undocumented immigrants have not only stolen those jobs but may have stolen the entire industry!

It’s quite fortunate that this all comes back to wages, since wages are one of the easiest data points to gather. So, what do the studies show about wage effects of immigration? Well, the answer is pretty clear. Borjas found evidence of suppressed wages in his 2013 study, as well as lower employment among groups with lower levels of skills and education. The State of Texas’ Comptroller’s Office in a 2006 study found that deporting all undocumented immigrants would result in an increase in wages of roughly 0.5%. A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study from 2013 also showed decreased wages would result for a time after creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, though those increases would eventually turn to increases. Similar outcomes were found by Chassamboulli and Peri and Furtado and Hock. David Card, in his meta-analysis, found similar. So, case closed, right? Undocumented immigrants suppress wages and therefore steal jobs from natives. Well, the story’s not over yet.

One main way to look at economics is the study of consequences. There are fairly interesting consequences at play when wages go down generally, and in this case in particular. When wages go down, business owners have higher margins and can make more profits. Eventually, assuming it’s a competitive industry, one of them will realize they can lower prices, still make the same profits they used to, but get more business. The others will have to follow, and prices will fall in the long-term. Lower prices mean people can buy more stuff, and when people buy more stuff, businesses tend to hire more people to produce that stuff. To attract employees, these businesses may need to raise their wages. So, while undocumented immigrants may be putting downward pressure on wages and “stealing jobs” in some industries, their willingness to work for lower wages should eventually create jobs and may increase wages in other industries. Much of the research supports this. The same Texas study mentioned earlier shows that while wages would go up by 0.5% if all undocumented immigrants were deported, income would actually drop by 2.6%, disposable income would drop by 2.8%, and the employment rate would drop by 2.3%. This seeming conundrum is the source of much of the contention in the matter. Individuals who support deportation quote the increase in wages and job opportunities for individuals in industries competing with undocumented immigrants. However, due to eventual higher prices, people can’t buy as much stuff, businesses start laying off employees, and therefore the net effects on real wages (how much stuff you can buy with your money) and employment rates may be negative.

So, where does this leave us? Well, all economic outcomes are based upon millions of individual decisions made by people every day. We can never predict perfectly how people will make these decisions, but our best models to simulate these decisions and estimate what will happen show that illegal immigration increases our economy’s output, likely decreases the wages and job opportunities for unskilled native workers, temporarily increases the income of business owners, and may, in the long-run, increase the wages and job opportunities across industries. As Rasmusen said in his 2016 paper, “whether the total income of natives rises or falls with immigration is open to doubt.”

This puts policymakers in a precarious position. Since illegal immigration is actually increasing the economy’s output, reducing it or deporting undocumented immigrants would likely lead to a decline or even a recession. Since the estimates of wage and employment affects seem to be unpredictable, deportation just isn’t a very good blanket policy. An arguably better policy would be to enact job training programs for unskilled natives and those with low educational attainment so that they can get the jobs being created by people buying more things due to prices falling from immigration. Since undocumented immigrants are actually helping the economy and are willing to work for low wages, let them do so.

They’re taking from our institutions without putting anything in

I finally made it to the second point! Much of this point precedes from and informs the previous one. Even if illegal immigration may increase wages and decrease unemployment, some would argue that it is still draining resources from our institutions and is therefore a net loss. Is this true?

Revenue

Many people argue undocumented immigrants don’t pay any taxes, but it’s pretty much impossible to live in the U.S. and avoid all taxes. The nonpartisan Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy released a paper in February that provided very good data on how much immigrants pay in taxes. As stated in the paper, they pay sales and excise taxes when they purchase goods and services (for example, on utilities, clothing and gasoline). They pay property taxes directly on their homes or indirectly as renters. Many undocumented immigrants also pay state income taxes. The best evidence suggests that at least 50 percent of undocumented immigrant households currently file income tax returns using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs), and many who do not file income tax returns still have taxes deducted from their paychecks. Collectively, the paper estimated that undocumented immigrants in the United States pay an estimated total of $11.64 billion in state and local taxes a year. The Social Security Administration in 2010 came up with far higher estimates, stating that undocumented immigrants and their employers paid $13 billion into just the Social Security Trust Fund.

Expenses

Now that we have an estimate of revenue, we need an estimate of costs. Well, this is where things get messy. There are a number of studies that show revenues exceed expenditures on undocumented immigrants, but most of these are specific to certain states. A 2006 paper indicated that annual costs for unauthorized immigrants in Colorado were between $217 million and $225 million for education, Medicaid, and corrections. By comparison, taxes collected from unauthorized immigrants at both the state and local levels amounted to an estimated $159 million to $194 million annually, leading to a deficit. The Iowa Legislative Services Agency reported that the estimated 70,000 unauthorized immigrants in the state paid between $45.5 million and $70.9 million in state income and sales taxes in fiscal year 2004. The report did not quantify the costs of providing specific services to unauthorized immigrants. Rather, it estimated an average benefit of $1,534 per state resident based on total spending from the state’s general fund and the number of state residents (including unauthorized immigrants). Using that average benefit calculation, the estimated cost for providing all services to unauthorized immigrants was $107.4 million in fiscal year 2004. In contrast, the 2006 Texas study mentioned earlier estimated expenses on healthcare, education, and incarceration of undocumented immigrants and found them to be lower than tax revenues, causing a net revenue gain of $17 million. However, it also noted that there was an estimated expense to local governments of $1.4 billion that the state didn’t subsidize.

On the national level, the studies I’ve seen most often cited by opponents of immigration are those by the Heritage Foundation and the Federation for American Immigration (FAIR). Both of these organizations cite massive costs of illegal immigration. The 2013 FAIR report puts the costs at $113 billion annually. The Heritage Foundation report from 2013, on the other hand, put the cost at around $54 billion annually under current law. So, are these accurate? Well, the fact that the numbers from one conservative think-tank are double those of the other are concerning. I don’t have time or space to do a full critique of the FAIR report, so I’ll let another opposing group do it for me. While I’m at it, here’s a fun note. A paper by the libertarian Cato institute actually dismisses the FAIR report, encouraging the reader to “see Ruark 2010 for examples of poor fiscal impact analyses.” The Heritage Foundation report is less extreme, but appears to weave back and forth between citing numbers for undocumented immigrants and illegal immigrants, which really destroys its credibility. So, now that those two bastions of conservative numbers are out of the way, what are we left with? Well, let’s assume for a moment that the Heritage Foundation’s numbers are actually correct, and undocumented immigrants incur $54 billion in costs. This number dwarfs the $12-20 billion in revenues stated earlier. Between this and the earlier state and local results, it would be a closed case, right?

Well, here’s the problem. Economics is the study of consequences. We found in point number 1 that the downward pressure on wages from undocumented immigrants actually causes people to buy more things and jobs to be created. When people buy more things, they pay taxes on the things they buy. When jobs are created, they pay payroll taxes on their new wages. So, while undocumented immigrants only pay $12-20 billion directly in taxes, their willingness to work for lower wages creates forces in the economy that cause tax revenues to be much higher. This is how the Texas paper found revenue exceeded costs. When you start looking at these effects, you move from a static model looking at a single point in time to a dynamic model that looks at effects over time. In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office ran a dynamic model to determine the effects of senate bill 744, a bipartisan bill that would have completely reformed the immigration system in various ways. It would have provided paths to citizenship, increased worker visas, and a host of other pro-immigration reforms. They found the bill would boost GDP by upwards of 5% over 20 years and would lead to increased tax revenues of $1.2 trillion dollars. The Bipartisan Policy Center found a similar result in their analysis. When you divide $1.2 trillion by 20 years, you get $60 billion annually, which significantly exceeds even the Heritage Foundation’s estimate of costs.

They’re dangerous

Now that I’ve covered the economic costs and benefits, it’s time to turn to the argument oft-used by Donald Trump. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” If this is true, we should see significantly higher rates of crime and incarceration by undocumented immigrants in studies.

So, from what I can find, pretty much all the studies by any group whose name does not start with Heritage or FAIR find that this is false. Given their previous failings, I’m not terribly inclined to trust them. Most of the studies, once again, seem to be mixing all immigrant data (documented or not) in to their reports on the matter. In contrast, here’s a long quote from a 2009 study by the Police Foundation, a nonprofit group that attempts to help police do their jobs better through research.

Data from the census and a wide range of other empirical studies show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans, who make up the bulk of the undocumented population. These patterns have been observed consistently over the last three decennial censuses, a period that spans the current era of mass immigration, and recall similar national-level findings reported by three major government commissions during the first three decades of the twentieth century, as did another U.S. commission in the 1990s. Given the cumulative weight of this evidence, the rise in immigration is arguably one of the reasons that crime rates have decreased in the United States over the past decade and a half—and even more so in cities of immigrant concentration. A further implication of this evidence is that if immigrants suddenly disappeared and the U.S. became immigrant-free (and illegal-immigrant free), crime rates would likely increase. The problem of crime and incarceration in the United States is not “caused” or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status.

Bianca Bersani’s 2014 paper agrees, saying “foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course.” Akins, Rumbaut, and Stansfield’s 2009 paper explored the rising homicide rate in Austin, Texas to determine if it was caused by the rising immigration rates. They found that “After controlling for structural predictors of homicide and correcting for spatial autocorrelation, our findings indicate that recent immigration is not associated with homicide.”  Akins and Rumbaut followed this up with a 2013 paper focused again on Austin in which they found “that recent immigration is not associated with an increased rate of burglary, larceny, or motor vehicle theft once important structural predictors of crime are controlled for.” I don’t have time to investigate all of the methodologies of these papers, but to me, the evidence here is clear. Immigration does increase crime rates, because whenever there are more people stuffed into a small area, crime seems to go up. I’m sure some undocumented immigrants commit crimes. However, the evidence shows that they do not commit crimes at a higher rate than natives.

They don’t speak our language/they’re running down our cities/I just don’t like them

I’m sorry to hear that. I do like them. The Venezuelan hole-in-the-wall restaurant near me is incredible. Buford Highway has amazing Mexican and latin American food. As to the language, I’m positive most of them would really love to learn English. Having lived in Spain for a summer, it sucks not knowing what people are saying. However, learning a language is incredibly hard as an adult, and even with significant training, it’s intimidating to speak it with natives. Yes, it’s occasionally slightly annoying that I have to wait one more second for the automated voice thing to tell me to “Marque numero dos” to “continuar en español,” but I’ll get over it.

So, where does this leave me?

Economics

From all this research, I’m convinced that from an economic point of view, illegal immigration is a net positive for the state and national economies. The expense required to lock down the borders and increase deportations is massive, on the scale of hundreds of billions of dollars. However, the harm it would cause to the state and national economies to suddenly have labor prices jump up in a number of key industries would be worse than that. Due to this, I will never support an across the board deportation for these purely economic reasons. I think it is incredibly foolish and harmful to the economy.

I would support efforts to massively increase the number of work visas available to provide legitimate means of work and as a means of collecting more taxes. I would consider supporting paths to citizenship for individuals who have worked here for a period of time, though that would have to be balanced against the cost of the benefits (social security, etc.) that would be provided. It gets much more complicated when looking at local level effects, as most of the costs of undocumented immigrants are incurred in education and healthcare funded by local governments. I would support efforts to have the federal government provide more funding to schools and healthcare for communities supporting undocumented immigrants or those with temporary work visas. I would support efforts to provide more scholarships and funding for technical schools so unskilled U.S. citizens can learn skills and move away from competing against immigrants who are lowering their wages.

I would support all these things not based on morality, but based solely on economics. Some might say this is not a conservative viewpoint…that I’m moving to the left. Well, border patrols, massive walls, and deportation are incredibly inefficient ways of dealing with the realities of a labor market that wants cheap labor and individuals who are willing to take great risks to provide it. Since when did conservatives abandon giving the free market what it wants? When did they abandon the goal of coming up with inexpensive, small government-focused, efficient solutions to challenges? I agree with Cato institute’s Alex Nowrasteh, who said, “even if the fiscal costs of immigration were consistently larger than the fiscal benefits, there are far easier and cheaper methods to lower the cost than scaling back or outlawing immigration. Reforming welfare, charging immigration tariffs, or allowing more immigrant workers could all redress a possible net fiscal cost.”

So, there we go. Those are the economical arguments for immigration. What about morality? Well, on this note, I once again find myself echoing Nowrasteh, who said “A worldview that seeks to judge whether immigrants are beneficial based on their fiscal impact, where the chief value of an additional American is determined by the size of their net-tax contribution, is fundamentally flawed and a testament to how dehumanizing a large welfare state can be.” So, let’s turn to some moral conversations.

Morality

As far as morality goes, a dozen arguments can be made that unless you’re a full-blooded Cherokee or Siuox, you also are an immigrant…about how we’re a melting pot and we’ve lost something of that, how we should still believe in the American dream and giving people opportunities. I could talk about how deporting a child of an undocumented immigrant to Mexico who was born in the U.S. and doesn’t even speak Spanish is a moral failure.

However, the most opposition I’ve seen to immigration has, sadly, come from friends and family who are Christians. So, that’s the angle I’m going to take. I really want to get messy here and question when we as Christians started putting personal safety, comfort, and financial stability above the goal of spreading the gospel to people who are coming to our communities in such need. However, my goal here is not to speak out against anyone, but to just share my beliefs. So, as a Christian, I believe in these scriptures:

  • Hebrews 13:1-2 – “…show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels…”
  • I John 3:18 – “…Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
  • Jeremiah 7:5-7 – “if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.”

The first one sounds like an opportunity, the second a command, and the last a promise. Given my feelings on adoption and abortion, seeing a verse that is often trumpeted in those two causes while ignoring the first part of it is heartbreaking. Scripture tells me I am a stranger in a strange land, not home yet, and that I am to be a peculiar person. I pray that I would be given the grace to be able to live into all of these things and be a friend to the foreigner.