Thinking About Things: Money, Demographics, and Politics

This is my inaugural column for The Chesapeake Observer. My topic will always be “Thinking About Things”. I do not know what I will be thinking about any given day, week, or month. In general these days I intend think about the ongoing breakdown and accelerating dysfunction of our political parties and, more broadly, our entire political system. I intend to think and write about these things (among others) in small bites, and in a reasonably orderly way. I expect to stay grounded in facts to support views. --Money: Where It Goes-- The expenditures of our country are hiding in plain sight in this mesmerizing website. The captivating first page will tell you at a glance that federal spending is approximately $4.5 trillion; federal tax revenues are approximately $3.5 trillion; the US national debt is more than $22.5 trillion; the ratio of federal debt to GDP has increased from 34.7% in 1980 to 105.6% today; and much more. And you can see that total student loan debt is more than $1.6 trillion while total credit card debt is just a smidgen over one trillion dollars. Such numbers are at the center of most policy issues. ... Read More

The Ugly Face Behind the Mask of Socialism

As American politics becomes more polarized, a number of candidates jockeying for position around the leftward pole label themselves “Socialists.” Others, not quite so ideological, travel with them by supporting policies found in the socialist package. Polls of voters also show surprising numbers in favor of socialism, though digging deeper reveals that the respondents’ understanding of socialism is weak. In particular, few seem to understand the cultural devastation and poverty that full-blown socialism has produced in practice. The classic definition of socialism is a system based on abolition of private property with government ownership of the means of production, free provision of many goods and services, and a planned economy. Socialists today advocate policies that are part of the classic definition -- such as wealth taxes, Medicare for all, universal guaranteed income, free college education and other services -- but they do not mention the abolition of private property and control of incomes and industry. As a result, a 2018 Gallup poll revealed that 37% of the American population had a positive view of socialism, rising to 51% for the 18-29 age group. C. C. Pecknold stated it well: “Socialism is in vogue because no one is sure what it is. The classic definition … no longer applies. More people today believe that socialism means ‘equality’ than ‘government control.’ Six percent told Gallup that socialism is ‘talking to people’ or ‘being social.’” This vagueness about the meaning of “socialism” has generated positive attitudes toward a system with consequences that should appall its current supporters. These consequences can be illustrated at both a micro and a macro level.... Read More

Mass Shootings: What Next?

With 5-10 million so-called "assault rifles" and a far larger number of functionally equivalent firearms legally owned in the US, the push to outlaw certain types of firearms is unlikely to deprive aspiring mass shooters of weapons. Indeed, long guns of all types represent a very small fraction of the weapons used in either homicides or suicides in the US. We argue below that one of the serious gaps in our system for preventing these terrible events is the absence of a credible and workable system for limiting the access by the small number of seriously mental ill individuals with a history of violence and substance abuse to firearms. No single solution for mass shootings in the US is at hand, but there are steps that could help ward off future tragedies. Mass shooters fall into three - often overlapping - categories: severely mentally disturbed individuals, domestic terrorists and evil individuals who are neither insane as defined in law nor motivated by political beliefs. Disrupting future attacks arguably will require departures from current practices of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor social media to identify those who display attributes of extreme hatred or mental instability. This will require new legislation and clear safeguards to prevent abuse. When individuals “of concern” are identified by social media posts or expressions of concern by family, friends or acquaintances, the next step will be searching criminal history databases, a relatively straightforward exercise. However, our criminal justice system routinely bargains away serious charges to avoid trial or to achieve progressive changes to the criminal justice system itself. As a result, potentially dangerous individuals escape identification because their names are not submitted to the FBI’s database as ineligible to possess firearms. ... Read More