30 days of yoga – day 3

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I’m a rock climber. I want to get better at it, and having done it for a couple of years now, I’m beginning to realize where my weaknesses lie. Two of the biggest ones are balance and stability. I already climb 1 to 3 days a week. Any more than that and my fingers and wrists would probably fall off. So, I’ve been looking for good cross-training activities. My search has led me to yoga due to its emphasis on balance, stability, and the fact that I can do it in my pajamas. So, this week I started a 30 days of beginner yoga Youtube channel.

I’m on day 3, and it’s been going all right so far. I hate “shop talk” and specific terminology, so I don’t think I’ll ever call myself a yogi. The stretches and sustained positions have gone all right so far, though I found very early on just how weak my quads are. I’ve got about 5 seconds worth of runner’s lunge before I’m done. Beyond the exercises themselves, it’s been kinda weird. Apparently yoga is about breathing more than anything…or “the breath”…which I assume is some mystical way of saying breathing. It’s a bit odd trying to take deep breaths and relax while straining to hold my body in a position that seems designed for maximum complexity and minimum practicality in daily life. I’m sure there’s some mind-over-matter piece I’m missing here. I’m also apparently supposed to come with an intention…but thus far my intention is to make it through the 30 minutes so I can go back to not doing yoga. I’ve also been informed that joining my third eye to the earth helps me fully love myself, but I’ve yet to figure out what either of those things mean. I think it means putting my forehead on the carpet, but by that point I’m usually hating myself for being to cheap to buy a mat.

Anyway, I’m off to do more asanas, pranayamas, and other things that sound like Rafiki would hum before bashing Simba in the head. I have to do it now because I planned on doing it this morning, but I ended up saying namastay-in-bed instead. You’re welcome for sharing my practice.

What does the end of net neutrality really mean?

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What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality means Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must view all data sent from your computer to websites and all data returned from those websites to your computer as identical. This means that you can pay a single monthly price to Comcast, Time Warner, or AT&T and they are required by law to give you access to every website in existence, including Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and everything else.

For this single monthly price, they are required by law to let you view and download text, photos, videos, word documents, PDFs, music files, and all other types of files. By law, they must let you make phone calls on services like Skype or Google hangouts. They have to let you stream television shows. They have to let you download video games. They must view every piece of content as identical when delivering it to you, no matter what type of content it is or what the source is. In addition, they cannot charge the owners of the content extra money to let you access them, regardless of how large or small these websites are and how much traffic they get. This means Facebook doesn’t have to pay Comcast for you to be able to access it. It also means you don’t have to pay Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T separately for access to their users.

5 situations that will likely arise if net neutrality is overturned

1.) ISPs will be allowed to charge you to access certain websites

This is the most often stated consequence of net neutrality being overturned. Graphics like this have been floating around the internet for years. If net neutrality is overturned, this could become a reality. However, I don’t think it’s all that likely in the immediate future. The first changes are likely to be because…

2.) ISPs will be allowed to charge website owners to get access to their users

If net neutrality is overturned, ISPs can charge whatever fees they’d like to website owners. Here are a few potential situations that could arise:

  1. You set up a website for your wedding on TheKnot.com. You buy a $10 domain name “JohnAndJessicaSmith.com” to point to it. As of now, everyone can get to your website! If net neutrality is overturned, you could be required to pay $10 to each ISP that you want your website available to. Your parents are on AT&T? Sorry, but they can’t visit your site unless you pay the AT&T fee.
  2. You invent a new product and start a small online business selling it. You set up a website and start making sales. Your product goes viral and now you’re getting thousands of hits. You get a call from a Verizon sales rep. “We’ve noticed you’re getting a lot of traffic from our customers…congratulations! However, you’ve actually passed your free visits quota. If you’d like to keep getting traffic from our x million internet subscribers, we’ll need you to open an account with us at a rate of $x per 1,000 visits”
  3. Comcast owns NBC/Universal, the company that produces Saturday Night Live. It’s pretty well documented that the company has a strong liberal leaning. In the next election cycle, Comcast could require conservative/Republican candidates to pay them millions of dollars to allow Comcast users to visit their campaign websites. This sounds a lot like…

3.) Censorship! ISPs will be able to block access to whatever websites they want, meaning idea/thought censorship with no oversight

A few days ago, a group that supports net neutrality set up the website comcastroturf.com to oppose Comcast allegedly submitting fake anti-neutrality comments to the FCC under its own customers’ names and addresses. Comcast sent a cease-and-desist letter to the owners of the site. If net neutrality was not the current law of the land, Comcast could simply block its users from accessing that site with no legal repercussions. In addition…

4.) ISPs will be able to prevent users from accessing services that compete with theirs, strengthening their monopolies

Pretty much every major ISP offers phone and television service in addition to internet. If a company sees a lot of its customers dropping cable service to just use Netflix and Hulu, then they could just block access to Netflix and Hulu…or charge large amounts of money to get access. Why compete when you can completely destroy a competitor? Do you use Skype instead of a phone line? Or maybe a VOIP service like Vonage? AT&T could block VOIP protocols and you’d have to use their higher priced service or pay a fee.

5.) ISPs will be able to take steps to prevent users from accessing VPNs, thereby removing one of the few remaining privacy methods

Earlier this year, the FCC decided to allow ISPs to sell your internet browsing history. The only real way to get around that is to use a VPN service to encrypt your data to protect yourself. ISPs will be able to slow encrypted traffic to a trickle and block individual VPN connection points, meaning your VPN will likely fail and your browsing history will be available for all the world to buy. I hope it’s clean!

What does this all mean?

While ISPs argue they wouldn’t do any of the above and would be on their best behavior, multiple past court cases and FCC fights show they’ve already pushed the limits of what they can get away with even with neutrality in place:

2005 – Madison River Communications was blocking VOIP services. The FCC put a stop to it.

2005 – Comcast was denying access to p2p services without notifying customers.

2007-2009 – AT&T was having Skype and other VOIPs blocked because they didn’t like there was competition for their cellphones.

2011 – MetroPCS tried to block all streaming except youtube. They actually sued the FCC over this.

2011-2013 – AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon were blocking access to Google Wallet because it competed with their pay services.

2012 – Verizon was demanding google block tethering apps on android because it let owners avoid their $20 tethering fee. This was despite guaranteeing they wouldn’t do that as part of a winning bid on an airwaves auction. They were fined $1.25million over this.

2012 – AT&T tried to block access to FaceTime unless customers paid more money.

2013 – Verizon literally stated that the only thing stopping them from favoring some content providers over other providers were the net neutrality rules in place.

2016 – Netflix already has to pay ISPs to not slow with their traffic to you.

2017 – Time Warner Cable slowed down connections to League of Legends servers, while they were negotiating contracts with Riot in an effort to force Riot into paying TWC money. Spectrum ( bought TWC ) is now being sued by the state of New York over this.

Some argue that competition would prevent ISPs from engaging in any of the above. However, at least 10 percent of Americans have access to only one ISP and therefore will not benefit from competition. This is both from rural areas that only have a single provider as well as many urban and suburban apartment complexes that only offer a single option. Even with two options, collusion is very likely between the companies. There’s a reason we have the term duopoly.

The cable industry (and their $50 million in lobbying money) have continually argued that net neutrality creates overbearing regulations and harms consumers. The previous administration rejected these arguments and had the FCC put in place strong language to support it. However, the currently Republican-led FCC is rapidly moving toward ending net neutrality. This is really sad, as it opposes the free-market ideals Republicans claim to support. While declassifying the internet as a utility and ending net neutrality would not be the end of the world, it is extremely anti-competitive and anti-freedom as it supports cable monopolies and duopolies and allows them unparalleled censorship and price gouging opportunities. While ISPs argue that they would use additional revenue to improve infrastructure and service, they have already shown they don’t care about that by the millions of dollars in dividends they distribute annually in place of infrastructure investment and their consistent bottom rankings on the customer service charts.

Having said all that, the sad part is that very little can be done about it. Millions of pro-neutrality comments have been sent to the FCC, yet nothing has changed in their plans. Politicians still foolishly refer to net neutrality as “Obamacare for the internet.” For better (for the ISPs) or for worse (for every other person and business), it seems the $50 million bought what it was meant to…the destruction of the free internet. That said, you can still do you part by visiting https://www.battleforthenet.com/ and using the form there to send a message to the FCC and congress. I encourage you to do so!

Lunch with a Liberal

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I grew up in north Georgia. Though I spent most of my early years back and forth between the suburbs of Marietta and Woodstock, I claim the rural city of Jasper in Pickens county as where I was raised. While I only spent 3.5 years of high school there, it’s where I made most of my early friends, where I learned to drive, and where I really began to learn who I was. I absolutely loved growing up there. While there were still cliques as there are in most schools, they seemed to be a little less exclusive than they were in the suburbs. Perhaps this was because of the odd intersection of backgrounds and social classes. There were many students who came from working class, blue collar families, as would be expected from a primarily rural county. While some of these families were quite well off, having large farming establishments, most were on the lower end of the middle class or below. Along with these students, there were upper-middle class former suburbanites like myself whose families were expanding the suburbs north (despite being 85 miles from downtown Atlanta, Jasper is still considered part of the Atlanta metro area). Finally, there were a number of students who lived in the resort-style mountain neighborhoods, among them children of current or former physicians, attorneys, and executives.

While there was a decent amount of class diversity in Jasper, it was still a pretty insular place. Depending on where you lived, it could be a 20 to 30 minute drive to get to a grocery store, upwards of 45 minutes to an hour to get to a movie theater. However, the majority of the homogeneity was found in the realm of race, culture, and ideas. 2015 census data shows that despite it being over a decade since I lived there, the population is still 95.6% white. I think there were about 5 minority students in my class of 100+. I have one black friend who was a heck of a pianist, but that was about it. I’m still convinced the most diverse day in the history of Jasper was when we played MLK in the high school football playoffs. As to culture and ideas, from my perspective, much of it revolved around school and churches. If you wanted live music, you could either drive towards Atlanta or you could attend church or go to a choir concert. If you wanted to make friends outside of school, you could play sports, join the FFA, or join a youth group. I know a couple of athiest and/or agnostic students in Jasper, but not many. I knew a couple of openly gay students in Jasper, but not many. In addition to the racial and cultural homogeneity, in 2016, the county voted over 83% for Donald Trump. While in school, I knew there were a few families that leaned democratic (a couple in particular stand out :), but I knew little of what that meant practically. Attending the University of Georgia didn’t really help much with my exposure to ideas. While it tries its best to promote diversity of race and thought, and it’s there if you search for it, I didn’t organically happen across it all that much.

So, with this background, a few years ago I was trying to decide between two job offers. One option was at my dream employer…an extremely conservative, Christian organization on the west coast. Being very Christian and very conservative, this was really appealing. The other was at the most diverse and progressive college in the state literally at the heart of Atlanta. This was honestly kinda terrifying. The drive for the interview was literally the first time I’d ever driven downtown by myself. During the decision process, I spent a significant amount of time really evaluating the question of what type of people I would likely spend most of my time around. Every personality test I’ve ever taken has me split introvert/extrovert, and I really enjoy making real connections with people. I knew I’d want to try to make friends wherever I ended up, and I wanted friends who would challenge me. Maintaining my traditional beliefs had been easy up until this point. I wanted something different. So, I ended up going with the job at Georgia State University. Yes, it was mostly because the job itself was better, but having the opportunity to experience diversity of thought on a day-to-day basis was important to me.

I gained so much from my time at Georgia State. From having chats about their boyfriend(s) with openly gay co-workers to discussions about marijuana legalization with regular users to chats about faith with muslims and atheists and discussions about what it’s like to be in a new country as a refugee, I grew significantly in my perspectives on issues as well as just an understanding of people from working there. Whether it was a conversation over coffee in the break room or a quickly lunch grabbed before a meeting or a multi-hour conversation with another programmer while we wrangle code in my shared office, I think these interactions were some of the best I’ve ever had.

While there, I’d always had this half-joking phrase floating around in the back of my mind that “lunch with liberals” was fun and I should do it more. Well, it’s halfway through January, so it’s probably too late to make a resolution, but I’ve decided this year that I’m going to try to make this a regular thing. I’m going to try at least monthly to have lunch with a liberal. I think this is really important, and here’s why. You see, liberals (most often democrats) aren’t having a great time at the moment. Yes, I know it’s fun to laugh at people melting down over Trump. I know it can feel good to finally get to stick it to the immigrants that are taking our jobs. I know it can make you feel safe to refuse refugees who could be terrorists. However, in each of these situations, there is a person that is actually affected by it. Take just a second and think back to when Barack Hussein Obama was entering his first days of the presidency. Back when he was, in many conservative minds, just a front for Bill Ayers and had muslim ties. Back when you thought communism was coming and guns would be confiscated and the economy would tank and churches would be persecuted and we would have a police state. There was real fear for yourself and your families. Well, here we are again, except the roles are reversed. Conservatives screamed for compromise and truly hoped that their voices would be heard and that they wouldn’t lose so much they had fought for.

The phrase compassionate conservatism used to be a thing. Sadly, it seems it’s been replaced in large part by angry conservatism…bitter conservatism…smug conservatism. Yes, you can blame some of this on the media and some of it on Obama and some of it on democrats as a whole. However, in my opinion, the majority of it has to be placed on the fact that we’ve forgotten that there’s a person behind every comment. There are people under every drone strike. There are thousands of individuals behind every policy change. There are faces and ideas and hopes and dreams who are truly feeling confusion and fear and sadness behind abortion, refugees, immigration, and gay marriage. I’ve watched some of the most friendly people I know…some of the most outgoing…some of the most encouraging and loving and optimistic for some reason fight bitterly to the pain over Donald Trump.

So, I’m issuing a challenge. Part of me wants to make it ice bucket challenge-ish, but calling out people in this way just seems rude. However, for any conservative who wants to take it up, I challenge you to have lunch with a liberal.

First you have to find said liberal, but that’s not all that hard. Just ask the one that you’re thinking about blocking on Facebook, or the one that has conversations with your cubicle neighbor that you always want to jump in on with some sarcastic quip about Obama, or the one that you want to laugh at because they seem to actually be seriously afraid. If you’re an introvert or otherwise avoid/hate people, you can ask them over Facebook. Once you find them and invite them to lunch, here are the ground rules:

1. The first rule of lunch with a liberal is that we don’t talk about conservative stances on policies. You’re not allowed to argue, or even talk very much. You’re there to listen.

2. The second is that we don’t talk about conservative stances on policies. I’m serious about this. You’re going to ask questions. Ask about what they think about Trump. Ask about what they think about Republicans. Ask if they’re afraid of anything in particular. Listen to the fears, listen to the concerns, listen to the challenges they’re facing. Bite your tongue when you want to interject or call them a name or think that they’re naive. The point of this exercise is that you’re here to learn. You’re here to put a face behind the candidates and policies you’re supporting. As a great nonprofit journalist once told me…when you’re trying to demonstrate the pain of thousands who lost their homes due to a natural disaster, you don’t tell a thousand stories…you tell one, or two, or three…and then challenge the listener to multiply that a thousand times. If we’re going to be compassionate conservatives, we have to actually have compassion, and the only way to have compassion is to know the real effects of the things you believe and are supporting. If they ask you for your views, you can share them, but do so in a way that is respectful and considerate. If you do so, ask them afterward if they have any feedback on how you view things and things that you’re missing.

3. The third is that you’re going to be chivalrous. You asked them on this weird-pseudo-date, so you are going to consider offering to pay for it, because that’s what a compassionate, traditional conservative would do. You don’t have to, but it’s a nice gesture.

4. The fourth is hard, but it needs to be done. You’re going to actually sit down and think about the things you heard. You’re going to find something they are concerned about that struck you as important. Perhaps it’s that they’re truly afraid of climate change. Perhaps it’s that they have friends who are immigrants. Perhaps it’s that they are hurt and scared and angry by police brutality towards minorities.

5. And…now you’re going to do what might be one of the harder things you’ve ever done. You’re going to make a pledge to take 1 practical step towards supporting something they believe. You don’t have to change your beliefs or compromise. However, you have to do something, because that’s what a compassionate person would do. If you hear someone is hurting, you try to help them. If they’re worried about climate change or environmental issues, it could be a pledge to go out of your way to recycle. It could be that you’re going to choose not to eat beef once a month since cow farming contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. If they’re concerned about police brutality, you could pledge to choose to not make instant judgements that the individual was at fault. You don’t have to abandon supporting the police, but you are choosing to abandon making assumptions. If they’re concerned about abortion being made illegal, perhaps you pledge to make a donation to support foster care or adoption. Perhaps you pledge to offer to babysit for a single mother. You don’t have to donate to planned parenthood or do something else that outright opposes your beliefs, but you have to do something that shows them that you have heard their concerns are are willing to make a conscious effort to make a small compromise. Yes, I know you’re ready to jump in and say that it actually won’t change anything because these issues are so big, but I’m not worried about you solving these issues. I’m more concerned about you being willing to be thoughtful, compromise, and dare I say it…compassionate to the needs of someone different from you. If you can’t think of anything, talk with someone else about what ways you can address the issue. If you’re up to it, go back to the person you had lunch with and ask them what you can do.

6. Ok, here’s the last thing. You’re going to both inform the individual you took to lunch of what you’re doing as well as consider publically writing about it. No, this isn’t gloating or virtue signalling. This is you showing that you are making an effort to understand the struggles and hurt and fear that people are currently feeling and are doing what you can to help address that in a way that you can. Approach it with a simple “Hey, I was thinking about what we talked about the other day, and though I’m still not completely sold on the idea, I think you made a good case. I’m going to start doing X because I think it’s important. I know it’s small, but I want to contribute what I can.”

So, that’s that. Happy lunching! I’ll be posting soon about my experiences, and I hope to see others doing the same.

2016…by the numbers

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Life events

  • Houses purchased: 1
  • Pets kept alive: 1
  • Weddings attended: 1
  • Funerals attended: 2
  • Births attended: 0

Work

  • Websites launched: 3
  • Web applications started for fun but never finished: 3
  • Online games started for fun but never finished: 2
  • Job changes: 0
  • Raises: 1
  • Promotions: nonprofits lol
  • Highest number of hours worked in a 24 hour period: 17
  • Public speaking opportunities: 1

Travel

  • Trips taken: 4
  • Countries visited: 3
  • Total miles traveled: ~25,000
  • Flight legs: 7
  • Hours on a party bus: 10
  • Holidays missed: 2
  • Airplanes jumped out of: 1
  • Bridges jumped off of: 1
  • Feet fallen: ~15,150
  • Hotel accommodations: 1
  • Hostel accommodations: 3
  • AirBnB accommodations: 4
  • Beaches visited: 3
  • Photos edited: ~30
  • Photos left to edit: ~700

Hobbies

  • Blog posts published: 22
  • Blog posts unfinished/drafted: 7
  • Camping trips: 0
  • Hikes: 7
  • Blacksmith classes: 2
  • Times on a tennis court: ~6
  • Kayaks purchased: 1
  • Afternoons spent in a kayak: 1
  • Gym memberships: 2
  • Times I was asked if I even lift (bro) at the gym: 0
  • Times I was asked if I even lift (bro) by friends: dozens
  • Visits to the climbing gym: ~25
  • Climbing routes completed: ~75
  • Average climbing route difficulty completed: 5.9
  • Best climbing route difficulty completed: 5.10 on-sight
  • Most failed attempts at a route in one visit: 9
  • Longest run (time): ~30 minutes
  • Longest run (distance): ~2.5 miles
  • Hours spent drawing: ~10
  • Hours spent painting: 0
  • Hours spent writing: ~50

Media

  • Movies watched: ~12
  • Movies watched in a theater: 4
  • Movies watched on a plane: 6
  • Video game hours played: ~200
  • Hours of Twitch streams watched: ~300

Culture

  • Orchestra performances attended: 5
  • Non-orchestra concerts attended: 3
  • Museums visited: 5
  • Cathedrals visited: 2
  • Botanical gardens visited: 4
  • Georgia aquarium visits: ~10
  • UNESCO world heritage sites visited: 3
  • Kangaroo leather hats purchased: 1

Food

  • Cheesecakes made: 1
  • Steaks broiled: ~10
  • Fish broiled: ~20
  • Ducks confit’d: 2
  • Attempts at homemade pasta: 2
  • Successful attempts at homemade pasta: 0.5
  • Deep frying attempts: 1
  • Types of tots made: 3
  • Times I set off the smoke detector: ~8
  • Beers tried: ~20
  • Wines tried: ~5
  • Cocktail recipes memorized: ~10
  • Clif bars eaten: ~50
  • Pounds of rice cooked: ~20
  • Pounds of quinoa cooked: ~5
  • Times hand burned on pot/oven/stove: ~5
  • Scallops eaten: ~20
  • Shrimp eaten: ?

Health

  • Doctor visits: 36
  • X-rays: 2
  • MRIs: 1
  • Other procedures: 3
  • Ligaments/tendons injured: ~5
  • Bones broken: 0
  • Weight gain/loss: -10
  • Average pants size: 33/32
  • Weeks unable to walk: 3
  • Weeks able to walk: 49

Dating

  • First dates: 7
  • Second dates: 3
  • Third dates: 2
  • First dates cancelled day-of: 3
  • Dates to restaurants/coffee: 8
  • Dates hiking: 2
  • Dates to shows: 1
  • Dates to the aquarium: 2

Miscellaneous

  • Socks worn through: 3
  • Haircuts: 4
  • People I voted for who won an election: 0

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.

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.