Religious tolerance, Fanaticism, Political beliefs, other thoughts

My political beliefs

“Don’t you ever forget, that Republican economic policy caused the national debt to quadruple in the 12 years before I became president, and double in the 8 years after I left office.” – Bill Clinton

A lot of people at my work have been surprised that I “liked” Mitt Romney on Facebook, believing that I was somehow a typical liberal Canadian. A bit of history about my political beliefs – I’m a strongly opinionated person – I became a conservative once I started working and participating more in church activities. The strongest reasons why I am a political conservative is because I believe in fiscal conservatism, and being a Christian. Therefore the core foundations of the Republican party – supporting small business, free enterprise, personal freedom and liberties, lower taxes, a strong national defense, reducing the deficit, cutting spending, upholding strong family values – those are what I believe in.

So why do I seem like an Obama supporter? Because ironically enough, Obama’s policies come closer to these foundations than the modern Republican party does! The modern Democratic party is essentially the Republican party of old (Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower). The modern Republican party today is some extreme right wing mutation of Reagan’s policies that are too extreme for even Reagan to support if he were alive! The modern Republican party cuts taxes too much, spends too much on defense, and too intolerant of religious freedom. They added to the deficit instead of reducing it. The national debt quadrupled in the 12 years before Bill Clinton took office, and doubled again in the 8 years after Clinton left office (Thanks to Reagan and both Bushes). That’s not fiscal conservatism at all!

Which is why I’m supporting Obama this election. I liked Romney before when he was the moderate governor of MA, instead of the crazy right winger now. I’m a moderate Republican, which is kind of rare these days.

Religious beliefs

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” – Luke 9:23-24

That brings me to my religious beliefs. I’m a Christian, but not strongly slanted to any denomination. What kind of Christian am I? My beliefs most closely align with Catholics and Presbyterians, but what I think is the most important is the core belief in the Bible, the scriptures, the Gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ, and adhering to the good points in the Bible. The Bible isn’t all good, but it does teach us some good things to live by, which I think is important.
A person is not kind, nice, smart, etc based on the virtue of being a Christian, but rather based on the virtue of that person’s personality, but if one takes all the good things taught by the Bible to heart, then it could enhance that person’s virtues. At least that’s my belief anyway. A lot of people say they are “Christian” but frequently commit sin in their lives, which is not being faithful. How many Christians murder? lie? cheat? steal? Probably a larger amount than you would think.

I’m gonna rant now about one of the things I dislike about overly religious, which is intolerance. I have a friend who’s currently dating a girlfriend who’s strongly believes in Adventism. So Adventism isn’t a normal Protestant belief, it’s more of a cult, similar to Scientology, Jehovah’s Witness, Church of Latter Day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ Scientist, among others.

So you wanna know how insane this church is? Let me list some things the pastor says (from my friend):
1) You aren’t allowed to watch movies, except documentaries
2) You aren’t allowed to listen to secular music, which is most of classical or modern music
3) You aren’t allowed to eat ‘unclean’ food, such as pigs, ducks and fish without scales.
4) You aren’t allowed to do anything on Saturday but pray. And Saturday is the Sabbath, not Sunday.
5) A woman named Ellen White formed Adventism and is considered their prophet. She speaks the absolute TRUTH and anything contradicting her is heresy.
6) Jesus will come back “soon” and annihilate everyone who isn’t an Adventist. There isn’t a hell in Adventism, so everyone just disappears.
7) Other religions, pagans, atheists are satanic and will be annihilated.
8) Other Christians, including Catholics are FALSE Christians (they compromise with the world) and will also be annihilated. The Pope is satanic, and so are nuns, bishops and other Catholic positions.
9) People don’t have assholes in heaven, because people don’t eat or sleep or do anything in heaven other than play harps for Jesus.
10) Even babies will be condemned to annihilation, because of “original sin”
11) An advanced civilization who were homosexuals created Dinosaurs and were wiped out in the Great Flood.
12) Jesus actually descends from the Orion Nebula when he comes back.
13) Anyone who doesn’t love Jesus will be annihilated.
14) Wearing Jewelry, crosses, makeup, etc are prohibited.
15) You cannot have sex until you get married, and you cannot even think sexual thoughts until that time. (How you figure out how to have sex when the time comes is not explained)
16) Being gay is a choice, and you will be annihilated if you are gay.
17) Drinking, Smoking, Gambling, etc are all prohibited.
18) There’s a global conspiracy by the Roman Catholic church and United Nations (NWO) to force Sunday Law (praying on Sundays) on everyone.
19) It’s ok to kill, but not murder. (Killing is god approved, murder isn’t)
20) There is no evolution, God created the world 10,000 years ago, and Modern Science and Technology is because of Satan.
21) All animals were created vegan, until Adam sinned and they all became carnivorous.
22) All US presidents except JFK were 33rd degree freemasons and Freemasons will take over the world.

I’m not making any of this up. This is actually what the church teaches. It’s insanity.

Additional things
In American society, if you are a good sociable person, then you are more highly valued in society than being a smart engineer or scientist. Think about this. The athletes, actors, musicians in America are all rich and famous, while nerds, scientists, inventors, etc are all virtually ignored by the masses. Everyone knows who Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson are, but does the average person know who Dennis Ritchie was? In this society, the jocks are the ones treated with respect, rather than the nerds. And why is being nerdy or geeky considered a bad trait anyways? Being nerdy just means you are passionate about something, that you’re really into a subject. Its not a bad thing, but carries a social stigma with it. And if anything, who contributes more to society? the entertainers and athletes? or the scientists and engineers and inventors? Who causes our society to progress more, though under appreciated as they are? That’s one of the sad truths of reality, unfortunately.

Another update on my Korean studies:
Verb becoming a noun has several different ways. 보다 = To see, to watch. Seeing/Watching = 보는것 = the thing which sees. It can also be 보기. Making “seeing” the topic = 보는것은 (보는건 for short) = 보기는 (보긴 for short). Making “seeing” the subject = 보는것이 (보는게 for short). Making “seeing” the object = 보는걸 / 보길. So:
verb + 는것 / 는거 / 보기 = making verb a noun
verb + 는것은 / 는건 / 기는 / 긴 = making verb a noun and turning it into the topic
verb + 는것이 / 는게 = making verb a noun and turning it into the subject
verb + 는걸 / 보길 = making verb a noun and turning it into the object.

Also, I’ve been watching Vineyard Man recently, a great Korean romantic comedy. I recommend watching it.


The United States crises

The United States, though being the wealthiest, most influential and most powerful country in the world, for all its strengths, has its weaknesses as well. Being an economist, I want to discuss three points in particular that I’m worried about concerning the U.S’s future and status as a superpower. In this article, I argue that if the U.S government keeps on maintaining the same policies as the last 20 years, it will gradually wane and may even go bankrupt.

1) Medicare, Social security, and healthcare expenditure: Right now, it is projected that over 77 million baby boomers will retire within the next 2 decades. This will have a dramatic affect on the cost of Medicare and Social security. The congressional budget office predicts that if we maintain the same level of health care benefits, health care costs will soar to about 40% of government spending in 2020 and gradually cause the U.S debt level to be 100% of its GDP, if we extend it to 2085, the projection is that debt will reach 600% (!) of U.S GDP. That is truly a scary number. It is directly a result of a pay-as-you go system, where seniors retire and push the costs of their retirement to future generations. To close the fiscal gap, the solution is to cut medicare benefits by 2/3s (a scary thought), double income taxes (another scary thought) or cut government spending by 134% (not feasible nor possible). Another solution is to privatize social security and medicare entirely, or to raise retirement age to around 70. Either way, something has to be done in the near future.

2) Taxes: Despite Americans thinking that they pay too much tax, actually from an economists point of view, they don’t pay enough. The optimal amount of marginal tax rate in the highest bracket is determined to be about 40-50% (where marginal revenue is equal to marginal benefit). Right now, with the Bush tax cuts, they are about 35%. When you compare taxes in the U.S to that of Canada or Europe, Americans actually pay much less tax. Another thing is that the U.S has no VAT (value added tax) at the federal level. Some states have no income tax, no sales tax, or both. The US provides farm and gas subsidies that are much higher than other developed countries (which is same thing as not getting enough tax). All these low taxes have the effect of not producing enough revenue for the government. As a result, we run into the same problems as in 1), how can the federal government or state government pay for retirement and healthcare benefits without having enough tax revenue. At current levels, clearly it’s unsustainable, and its clear that eventually taxes will have to be raised.

3) Pensions: State governments are in crisis right now, not only is the country in a recession, but they have to pay large amounts of pension benefits to many people, part of this is due to a loophole where the highest salaried government job determines what pension you get. As a result, people can ‘double dip’ and earn six figures while also receiving six figure pensions. Clearly this is unsustainable, and the reason why many states are on the brink of defaulting. California for example, has already had to slash its budget on many expenditures such as education, raise tuition levels, etc, and it’s still in a big hole. Again, mostly because of unsustainable pension payouts. New Jersey is predicted to be the first state to default, according to its expenditures, in the next decade, pension payouts will constitute 100% of the state expenditure (!).

All of these points raise truly terrifying prospects for the future generation of Americans. The situation in the U.S is bleaker than that of many other developing countries, because of the way Americans have been living on a life of low taxes, a pay as you go health care system, and broken pension costs. Eventually these issues will have to be dealt with, if politics prevent any of these solutions that I mentioned, then the U.S will be on its way to bankruptcy, and having unimaginable debt levels. Truly, something will have to give eventually, it’s only a matter of time. Let us hope that politicians will (eventually) put country ahead of politics, and aim to reform the broken pension, health care, and tax systems.

Edit: Now that it’s certain that current tax rates will continue (actually lower because of the 2% reduction in payroll taxes), the projected deficit with current spending levels and tax rates is projected to be $55 trillion by the time that a person my age will retire (around 2050).

L.J. Kotlikoff, 2006, “Is the United States bankrupt?” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, 235-250.
Alan Auerbach, “Deja vu all over again: On the dismal prospects for the federal budget”, NTJ 2010.

Politics School/Work

Thoughts today after lecture (big vs small government)

For the first time in college, I disagreed not with the professor, but with what he was teaching. The class I was in is called Public Economics, and it was about what role the government should have in the free market. Naturally, this topic is subject to political bias and the part I disagreed with was what was referred to as the ‘Second fundamental welfare theorem’ which essentially stated that the government should redistribute wealth in lump sum payments between individuals in order to make the market more efficient.

I disagree with this on several levels. Firstly, that the professor mentioned Pareto efficiency had several problems, one of which was that it introduced inequality. I argued that one of the consequences of capitalism was that it produced inequality, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and here they are treating it as something which must be fixed. I also argued that redistribution of wealth was socialism; the government should not tax one group (ie. the wealthy) to benefit another group (the poor) for the sake of equality. I argued that the principles of capitalism is that there exists a social hierarchy where one group could be better off than the other. This makes the economy more competitive. The power of the free market will hold true, mostly. The Panics of 1873, 1893, 1907, the Great Depression, and the current recession being examples of where government intervention was needed to prevent total economic collapse, so I believe a minimal amount of regulation is needed (the Fed Reserve was created after the 1907 panic). Some regulation is needed, but not too much so that it doesn’t interfere with private enterprise.

The professor’s response was that socialism wasn’t necessarily bad, but I think that this is a point of ideological contention. Liberals would agree, but me as a conservative would disagree with government taking such a big role in society. Health care is another issue, that I think should be left to private enterprise. One reason is that businesses are able to use money more effectively than government. If the goal of every business is to make profit, then the quality of private services should always equal or exceed that of the government, which doesn’t make profit, therefore has no incentive to provide good quality. Second, it gives individuals choice. If I want health care then I will pay for it, even if the premiums are higher, so what I am getting better quality. And if someone who is poor can’t afford health care then so be it, that’s the nature of survival of the fittest. If I don’t want health care, then I don’t pay for it, and I’m not taxed to provide health care to others (which is what the single payer system does). To me, health care is a privilege, not a right.

Here is the fundamental difference between the US and Canada; the US promotes little intervention by the government in the free market, they have a food stamp system for low income earners; Canada has the welfare system. The US’s ideology is to cut taxes for people, but especially the high income earners, in the belief that they will use that tax money saved to invest more and hire more workers, which is trickle down economics. Canada’s ideology is to tax the rich and middle class more such that public goods such as healthcare and subsidies could be provided to the lower class.

I do not agree that society should somehow be more equal; that is on the path to communism, and eliminates the competitiveness of the economy. When everybody is equal, no one has incentive to move up, and therefore productiveness and competitiveness fall. This is why I believe Canadian workers and the Canadian economy is both less productive and less competitive than the American economy. In Canada, because of this huge social safety net, one has less incentive to do better, whereas in America, people have the desire to achieve and aim higher because everyone is out for themselves.

In short, though I disagree with the professor and the material he teaches, I can’t drop this course, so I will have to do my best to push aside any political commentary I may have. I do question the ‘fundamental’ theorem though, because being a theorem, it assumes that it’s always right, and there are lots of economists in the US, along with me, that would disagree with that assumption.