Government Priorities (An Adaptation of an OpiWiki Response)

What should our ranking of government priorities be?

This is a very complicated question, because the priorities are not linear. Every dollar of military spending is not the same as every dollar of helping the poor. It’s helpful to think of a hierarchy of needs: A government must achieve the minimum at one stage to move forward, but additional effort beyond the minimum can actually detract from achieving the higher level needs.

A country’s most important requirements are to keep the peace against potential threats domestic and internationally. That means some kind of military, some kind of police force or legal system, and almost always some kind of diplomacy and/or espionage and/or national security. Yet, when I was asked to rank the potential areas of government priority, I did not vote for strong defense in the list of priorities. Why?

The problem is the security dilemma. Every dollar put into defense spending is a dollar that other nations feel they must match. And when nations move from appropriate defense dealing with the actual likely threats they have to deal with to an offensive or power-projection military, the society inevitably suffers in terms of its freedom and prosperity in the long term. Historically, the big expansionist empires very rapidly began to deal with the strain of that expansion. And within today’s technological, social and institutional equilibrium, there’s just too much harm that can be done by even a few people who want to lash back against a group that has gone too far.

So once a government has insured the basic safety of its citizens from crime, disaster and natural happenstance, and foreign threats, what then?

Next it has to secure the civil liberties and basic survival of its citizens. If a society is under attack, shared sacrifice makes a lot of sense, though even then it should be as equitable and free as possible. But the moment there is not an apocalyptic threat to a society, the people in that society need reasonable access to the basics of survival and to liberties that government is not standing in the way of. A society where some have billions and some are starving is not just: The social contract demands too much and gives too little at that point. Nor is a society where people could be free but aren’t just.

At this point, government has to make sure it is not only minimal and efficient but also non-corrupt. Corruption doesn’t matter as much in the earlier stages because the efforts to combat it just can’t be easily afforded. But at this stage of resources, corruption acts as a brake for almost everything else. It imperils public trust and guarantees the wasteful and unequal distribution of resources.

After that, government should move forward with non-coercive efforts to provide services, as long as doing so does not deplete a tax base or cause other harms. That includes providing utilities that it can provide more efficiently than other institutions (e.g. the market), providing public education, subsidizing art and science, etc.

Social security services for the elderly and disabled tend to apply here as well. This is for a variety of reasons. First: No one who is unable to contribute should be allowed to starve. Second: All too often, society contributes to the health issues of the disabled or elderly.

Various other governmental tasks are also relevant at this stage of resources. Public service announcements and proactive public health interventions are reasonable here too, again under the proviso that they are not implemented coercively.

Next, if it can do so efficiently and without harming important stakeholders or threatening civil liberties, government can get involved in the economy. This should generally be through appropriate regulation and enforcement, or through the backing of the society’s currency through an appropriately regulated (and preferably as democratic as possible) central bank.

If, after all this, government can afford foreign aid, and the people through legitimate democratic means express an interest to provide that foreign aid, that is a reasonable agenda.

Throughout all of this, government should make sure it is procedurally lean and as local as possible.

Finally, I do not believe in combating illegal immigration as an objective because by and large no immigration should be illegal. Unless there is an absolute need to control immigration, like an immediate ecological catastrophe, an outbreak of plague, or suspicion beyond a reasonable doubt that the immigrant in question is an imminent threat, migration must be a human right. This is especially true under capitalism, where the system is only efficient when people can seek out the best labor for their skills and capabilities, but remains true even under other social configurations.

This response is an adaptation of my response at opi.wiki. It’s a great community: Check it out!c


Rejecting Militant Atheism and Militant Religion: Toward Curious Spirituality

Militant atheists and the most militant religious people have at least one perverse idea in common: That there are no more questions of the beating human heart and loving human soul left to answer, that the only spiritual answers we can pick are from books that are usually thousands of years old written by only a few people in societies nothing like ours. We need not ever accept that false dilemma.

We should embrace a curious spirituality. We should look for new answers as well as the old. We should reject bad explanations, or ones that are outdated, to find new ideas. That doesn’t mean a religion of science, which is as absurd a concept as a portraiture of novels. It means spiritual answers that match the world we see but answer the specifically spiritual questions we have.

international relations, politics

Daily Solution: The UN

Mikhial Slayton has reminded me that it is vital for me to post an actual solution to something every day.

So, here’s one: Help the UN do peacekeeping.

As this article notes, the UN is presently doing massive peacekeeping in Somalia.

That has had a tremendous effect: Mogadishu is seeing actual culture emerge, while violence against children has plummeted.

Yet in this country, the UN is demonized. And, sure, the UN does arguably have some serious operational problems. That sounds like the kind of thing that US military advisers could do something about.

But even US admirals have admitted that the US has itself often made things far worse (as in Somalia) and that “Sometimes in the United States we spend more time beating the United Nations up than we do figuring out how we can influence it and make it a more capable organization”.

Or we could let Russia illegally bomb groups fighting ISIS while giving them free propaganda.

If we improved the situation in the Congo or Somalia, if our forces were leading targeted peacekeeping missions under international auspices led by people from the region who actually knew what was going on, does anyone really believe we’d see more terrorism?


The Fear of “Obama Death Camps”: Fear is the Death of Reason

Remember how many people warned about Obamacare death camps, seniors dying, care rationing, a dystopian future of big government?

Now consider carefully how many of these politicians and pundits who suggested these paranoid fantasies ever retracted them, let alone apologized.

It’s a human and moral problem to deliberately make people afraid and then not comfort them when the feared event does not come to pass.

entertainment, politics

SNL Democratic Debate Skit Commentary

SNL mostly sucks these days, but this was pretty worth checking out.

“You guys like this? Really? I mean, I lost in 2008, but I was running against a cool black guy. This year, I thought I’d get to be the cool black guy”.

But that would require at least a modicum of courage.

Here’s another reason to vote Bernie: He’d be our first Jewish Senator, which is about damn time, and that would just be like keying the car of every neo-Nazi in this country with slogans of peace, and that’d be a great moment for America. Remember: If a Nazi is crying, an angel gets a burger.


Ross Perot and Trump

This election cycle is making me miss Ross Perot.

Unlike Trump, Perot cared about issues. I disagreed with him, but the man bought airtime to explain his beliefs. He had charts, and he tried to make conclusions (ones I find silly), and none of it was about him.

We deserve someone who will calmly buy airtime and explain issues with statistics, with cogent argumentation. Ross Perot should be the minimum standard.


Conservative Hypocrisy: This Time, It’s the Wall Street Journal… on Unemployment

Allow me to show you a microcosm of conservative dishonesty at play.

First: While the Wall Street Journal is perfectly satisfied to criticize Obama for being ideologically inflexible and for job market participation rates, they decide not to mention that Obama actually cut public sector jobs, as Krugman has pointed out. Bush, meanwhile, by 2006 had actually increased the number of public sector jobs. The “big government” line has always been a lie: Republicans love big government.

Second, and more importantly: The Wall Street Journal upbraids Obama for 350,000 people leaving the workforce (as if those people all must have been grousing about Obama specifically and every factor that caused that must have been his fault instead of Republican lawmakers’ or Bush’s). But then they derisively dismiss “roads and bridges” as a real strategy for job creation, even though infrastructure improvements could create 2.2 million jobs.

There are real criticisms of any President’s economic policies. It’s impossible to satisfy all stakeholders. But ideological conservatives are never willing to be honest. They continue to propose trickle-down solutions even as decades of evidence show that they just do not work to resolve poverty, instead of considering how it might be possible to cut taxes or deregulate while still satisfying every other stakeholder besides business. At least they sometimes pretend to care about jobs and employment… when it’s politically convenient.