Due to the fact that my computer has been down for several weeks, work on this Blog is hereby suspended until further notice. I don’t know when I’ll write and post another article here; that being said, I do accept submissions if anyone reading this Blog wants an article they wrote posted here. Thank you.
Ethics in a Capitalist Society
Published By Vox_Veritas
Okay, so a lot of people aren’t really satisfied with capitalism. And some of their complaints do have merits; after all, income inequality is a very real phenomenon in the United States. Furthermore, the “competition principle” won’t stop companies from ripping their clients off whenever they have a monopoly. Even whenever there is competition, sometimes several companies conspire to keep prices high. Many people are jobless and homeless; many of those who aren’t struggle to make ends meet.
The problem is very easy to identify; Karl Marx was able to do so in the 19th century, and countless social critics have continued to do so since then up to this day. Implementing a solution? Eh, not so much.
Most people can agree that full-blown communism as it existed in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc was perhaps a worse solution than the problem which it solved. But still, even if Marx’s vision was extreme, some moderate steps in the Marxist direction will help society, right? Social welfare programs and new legislation can help the poor and needy and stop companies from ripping people off, right?
Well, it really isn’t that simple. First of all, the question of merit aside, many of the programs that progressives want won’t end up being enacted. Republican opposition to socialism is strong enough that only moderate gains in these areas will be made in the foreseeable future. Second, the positive effect of these measures is in question. Some have argued that the black nuclear family has been destroyed by the welfare state set in place in the 1960s, which as a result bred crime and further poverty. Others have said that the war on drugs, which is arguably a progressive program (similar programs during the early 20th century, such as Prohibition, were given the progressive label in their day) has further destroyed the black community by resulting in high incarceration rates for a relatively victimless crime. The minimum wage has arguably lessened America’s competitiveness in the global market (and, as a result, increased unemployment). Extensive federal and state-level regulations on housing have probably increased the price of housing. In short, these measures are arguably hurting more than they help. Third, social welfare programs paid for with someone else’s money are inherently immoral, even if the architects of these programs have good intentions, for it amounts to theft.
Still, people are reluctant to throw in the towel. Surely there must be something better than the system we have now, right?
Well, be happy to know that the answer to that question is yes. A better system can emerge than what we have now, but this change won’t come about through more theft and more bureaucratic red tape. Rather, the change must come from you.
If there is any upside to free market capitalism, it’s that within this system people are free agents. They can choose to do with their money what they please. They can start a business (provided, of course, that they’ve got the money or that they’re willing to take out a bank loan). Like many people have chosen to use this freedom to pursue their own self-interests and the accumulation of material wealth, you likewise have the option of using this freedom and the money at your disposal to change the world for the better.
So, I’ve got a question for you:
Healthcare is ridiculously expensive. In many areas patients are being ripped off by the medical establishment. What can you do about it? How can you change the system? Well, you could go to college and get a degree in medicine. Then you could devote your life to opening hospitals/clinics which provide high quality service for the most affordable prices; your motivation would not be money. If anything, money would be a tool to open more hospitals/clinics and so to share your cheap, high-quality service with people in other areas. Perhaps you can find others who would like to participate in this noble cause, and if you work together with these people this dream will come closer to reality.
This is just an example, though. If you feel that in any area the customers are being ripped off by greedy businesses, then the best way to alleviate the situation is to enter that market yourself, armed with a pure heart, your determination, courage, and a strong work ethic. If you can’t fix the problem nationwide, then at least you can fix what’s wrong in your local area, and if enough people are determined to help then eventually the entire country will see improvement.
Likewise, if you have enough money to live comfortably, then ask yourself, “What am I doing to help the poor?” Give what you can; don’t demand that some rich dude you’ve never met be taxed excessively so that the stolen money can be given to the poor.
Sure beats lobbying for a new set of laws or a new social program, doesn’t it?
After Putin: Russia in 2018
Published by Vox_Veritas
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has served as the President of Russia from 2000-2008 and then again from 2012 to the present. In the past, term limits in Russia have been set for 4 years. However, in late 2008 term limits were extended to 6 years, though Dmitry Medvedev, the recently elected President of Russia at the time, only served a 4-year term. Given this, the next Russian Presidential Election is scheduled for 2018.
At the time of publication there do not appear to be any strong candidates in the Russian opposition to run against Putin. Vladimir Putin is firmly entrenched as the national leader, and he has ruthlessly eliminated his critics. On February 27 2015 Boris Nemtsov, an activist protesting against of the Russian military involvement in Ukraine, was murdered. On October 7 2006 Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian human rights activist and a critic of Putin, was murdered. On November 23 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, another critic of Putin who had fled Russia and taken asylum in the UK, died mysteriously of radiation poisoning. It has been widely alleged that the Putin regime was behind their deaths. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s leading critic, has been forced to live overseas in order to maintain the freedom to protest against Putin’s regime and his assassination could happen any day. Garry Kasparov’s efforts to launch a campaign against Putin have failed to gain lasting momentum, finally fizzling out around 2008.
Liberal reformers appear to pose no threat to Putin’s regime at the moment. Furthermore, liberal reformers are not as popular in Russia as one might think. According to one poll conducted in early 2013, 85% of Russians were strongly against the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and 87% were opposed to the idea of regularly holding gay pride events in their cities. According to this same poll, support for same-sex marriage had actually declined by 9% since three years prior to this poll. On June 29 2013 federal laws were passed banning the distribution of “gay propaganda” to minors. Furthermore, in contrast to Western ideas of democracy and national leaders having constitutional limits, there is a deeply rooted nostalgia in Russia for strong leaders, including the murderous Josef Stalin. According to one poll taken in early 2016, 34% of Russians believe that “leading the Soviet people to victory in the Second World War was such a great achievement that it outweighed the Soviet dictator’s vices and mistakes.” Additionally, according to the poll 20% of Russians believe that “Josef Stalin was a wise leader who made the Soviet Union a powerful and prosperous nation.” According to a 2011 poll, only 42% of Russians approve of their country’s transition from communism to capitalism (given the oligarchy which now dominates the Russian economy this shouldn’t be too surprising), and only 50% of Russians approve of the transition from a single party state to a multi-party state.
So if Russia will not see liberal reform, then that more or less leaves the country with three options. First, the current Russian establishment, the United Russia party which is led by President Vladimir Putin. Second, a return to the old communist regime (or at least a government led by the communist party). Third, a nationalist/ultranationalist government.
One thing which you must understand is that while the communists and the nationalists are significant political forces within Russia, neither group nor both groups together have been able to overtake Vladimir Putin and the United Russia party since the year 2000. In the 2000 Russian Presidential Election, Vladimir Putin won by 53.4% of the popular vote. In the 2004 Russian Presidential Election, Vladimir Putin won by 71.9% of the popular vote. In the 2008 Russian Presidential Election, Dmitry Medvedev won by 71.2% of the popular vote. And in the 2012 Russian Presidential Election, Vladimir Putin won by 63.6% of the popular vote.
The reason for this is relatively simple: under Putin and the establishment, Russia has been pretty well off. Under Putin, Russia was brought out of the dire economic straits which were the 1990s decade. In 1989 (while still part of the Soviet Union), Russia had a GDP of 506.5 billion dollars. By 1999, that had decreased to 195.906 billion dollars. Under Putin, the situation reversed drastically. By 2013 Russia had a GDP of 2.231 trillion dollars. That is, the Russian economy grew 10 times in size within 14 years. Whatever the cause of this, regardless of whether or not this was even Putin’s doing, it’s hard to argue with that kind of smashing success. In the eyes of the Russian people, strongman Putin stopped the economic freefall that weak leader Boris Yeltsin failed to halt and he restored the Russian economy to its glory days.
However, Putin seems to be reaching the limits of what he can do for the Russian economy. From 2013 to 2015 the Russian GDP shrunk by about 900 billion dollars. Though economic growth is reported to return in 2017, the Russian people probably don’t think of Putin as the same economic miracle worker as they once did.
Arguably more important than the economy, however, is foreign policy. In continental Europe (not counting the Nordics) there is a “wall” of NATO member states to the west of Ukraine and Belarus. These states include Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland. All of the states comprising this wall were at one point members of the Warsaw Pact, an alliance which stood in opposition to NATO. After the communist Eastern Bloc fell, NATO began an eastward expansion into the former Warsaw Pact. Into that region which was once the undisputed Russian sphere of influence.
And now NATO’s moving beyond even this. At the beginning of the First World War, the Russian Empire’s territory included Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and much of modern Poland (there was also Central Asia, but that’s irrelevant here). The Soviet Union incorporated more or less the same territories as the Russian Empire did, with the exception of Finland and Poland (which was nonetheless part of the Warsaw Pact). In the eyes of the Russian people, these countries have been part of Russia until very recently, and at the very least they should be part of the Russian sphere of influence (if not eventually reunited with Russia). And yet three countries right on Russia’s periphery (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) joined NATO in 2004!
Still, the Baltic states only comprise a small border with Russia, and until recently NATO hasn’t deployed large number of troops to this region. But now NATO is sending troops to the Baltics, and NATO is also trying to expand its reach to other countries that border Russia. The way most Russians see it, NATO has already expanded into the countries which have been in the sphere of “Russian influence”. Now it’s expanding into countries which were for a very long time territories of Russia. Soon, they fear, every country bordering Russia outside of Central and East Asia will be part of NATO!
In what could be called the Putin/Medvedev Doctrine, the ruling regime has used military force to prevent any further countries bordering Russia from trying to join NATO or the European Union. In 2008 Russia fought a war with Georgia to prevent the tiny Caucasian country from joining NATO. In 2014 it intervened militarily in Ukraine in response to a pro-West revolution which overthrew the pro-Russia President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. In short, Russia has used force in an attempt to keep NATO away from its borders and to keep whatever remains of the Russian sphere of influence within that said sphere.
In order to bolster support for said military interventions, the ruling regime has used patriotic propaganda to rally the country for war. Indeed, medals are given to those soldiers who participated in the Russian occupation of Crimea, and statues have been erected in Crimea to honour those “Little Green Men”.
However, this bolstering of nationalism is a two-edged sword. It is a weapon that Putin must wield very carefully. While helpful during military adventures and in boosting Putin’s approval ratings in the aftermath of said adventures, if nationalist fervour in Russia grows too strong it could pave the way for a charismatic nationalist candidate to defeat Putin in an election. It appears, unfortunately for Putin, that he doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter. Nationalist fervour in Russia will grow if the right conditions are present. I will name some of those conditions:
First, a national enemy, a common foe for the country to rally behind. NATO’s eastward expansion provides such a foe.
Second, the belief that military force is the solution to the problem presented by this national enemy. Few Russians believe that their country could defeat the entirety of the NATO alliance. However, even to outside observers it is questionable whether NATO would really defend fringe member states such as the Baltics from Russia, a costly course of action which could spark a world war. To the major players in NATO (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, etc) the Baltics are fairly insignificant. Furthermore, were Georgia or Ukraine to join NATO there would be nothing to gain from defending those countries from Russia and risking a world war. All that it would take is for Russians to believe that military intervention in the Baltics (or Georgia or Ukraine) would successfully kick NATO out of the Baltics (or Georgia or Ukraine), and that NATO would not defend the Baltics (or Georgia or Ukraine). If NATO’s behaviour is seen as inconsistent (being both willing to bully Russia and unwilling to stand its ground if Russia fights back), then this will only encourage the Russian people. Furthermore, Putin’s foreign policy will be seen as inadequate and lacklustre.
Third, a charismatic nationalist candidate who could defeat Putin in a presidential election in 2018. Without such a person, Russia will continue its present (fairly moderate) foreign policy, even if nationalist fervour among the Russian people is aroused deeply. Like I said before, nationalist parties in Russia are part of the somewhat influential but ultimately impotent opposition to the ruling regime.
In my opinion (I am not an expert on Russia so this really is nothing more than my opinion), there will probably be a dark horse nationalist candidate running against Putin in 2018. In the forums awhile back I predicted that Igor Girkin (AKA “Igor Strelkov”) would probably be this figure, and I still believe this to be the case, though I have no evidence to back this up.
Whoever it may be if faith in Vladimir Putin wanes, if the Russian people continue to feel threatened by NATO and if this feeling only grows within the next 2 years, and if a nationalist dark horse candidate does indeed rise up to challenge incumbent president Putin in 2018, we could see the rise of a Russia which is not only willing but eager to challenge NATO in Eastern Europe and rebuild the Russian sphere of influence/Russian Empire by force. For those who wish for peace in this world, you can only hope that I am wrong.
The Rise of Donald Trump
Published by Vox_Veritas
The present US Presidential Election is one of the most controversial and notable in American history. It has seen Donald J. Trump, a political outsider, become the presumptive GOP nominee despite a campaign filled with extremely controversial statements and a relentless media campaign against him from both the Left and the Right. In this article I will explain why Donald Trump has been so successful.
The first factor is the economic plight of Trump’s base. At least as of the first quarter of 2016, Trump’s support base was rooted in poor white males without college degrees. He had the support of 50% of voters who made less than $50,000 a year. Why is this? Well, the most probable reason is that while conditions in America have overall been improving over the decades, they have arguably gotten worse for white males without college degrees. In 1990 the full-time, full-year employment rate of men without a bachelor’s degree was 76%. In 2013, that number was 68%. While real wages have grown in the past 25 years for men and women with a four-year college degree, they have decreased noticeably for men and women without a college degree without one. In West Virginia, the mortality rate for middle-aged white men has increased since 1980. But why is this? Well, there are two reasons. The first is illegal immigration. The twentieth century yielded a massive influx of undocumented immigrants to the United States, primarily but not exclusively from Mexico. In 2014, there were an estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Of these, approximately 49% were of Mexican nationality. In this year undocumented Immigrant workers constituted 5.1% of the US labor force. In 2009, 47% of undocumented immigrants between the ages of 25 and 64 had less than a high school education, compared to the US-born resident average of 8%. The 2007 median household income of undocumented immigrants was $36,000 compared to the US-born resident average of $50,000. Obviously, such people would work in low-paying jobs, which is reflected in the statistics. In 2008, 17% of construction work, 10% of transportation and material moving, 25% of farming, 12% of food preparation and serving, 10% of production, and 19% of building, grounds-keeping, and maintenance jobs were filled by undocumented immigrants. These constitute low-paying jobs, which are easy places for undocumented immigrants with few job skills to find work; finding work is certainly easier whenever you are willing to work for less than the legal minimum wage, and many undocumented immigrants do just that. The end result here is that uneducated white males, who often can only find work in these low-paying jobs, have to compete with undocumented immigrants who will work for even lower pay, giving them a competitive edge. This makes it harder for poorly educated white males to secure jobs; since they are white, affirmative action policies which help increase employment do not apply to them. The second reason for the economic plight of poor, uneducated white males is the prevalence of offshoring. As of 2014, 3.2 million American jobs have been lost due to offshoring since 2001…to China alone. This obviously doesn’t include manufacturing powerhouses like Japan and Mexico. Wherever the minimum wage is lower than the minimum wage in the United States, there exists an incentive for American companies to send jobs there. This having been explained, Donald Trump’s appeal to the poor, uneducated white male becomes obvious. He has denounced free trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPP, which lower trade barriers and encourage offshoring. He has vowed to deport all of America’s undocumented immigrants and to build a wall to keep out any further undocumented immigrants. What the poor, uneducated white male sees in Donald Trump is a man who will bring back American jobs from the hands of the illegal immigrants and countries like China. Donald Trump, despite being a billionaire, is seen as the savior of the poor, uneducated white male.
The second factor is the issue of national security. In February 2016, 79% of Americans considered international terrorism to be a critical threat. 52% identified the influx of refugees into Europe and America to be a critical threat. 75% considered Iran’s development of nuclear weapons to be a critical threat. In December 2015 (a month after the terror attack in Paris that killed over 100 people), 46% of Americans supported a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants to the United States; 40% opposed the ban and 14% were unsure. In 2014, 70% of Americans believed that undocumented immigrants would “threaten traditional US beliefs and customs”. In July 2015, 53% of likely US voters believed that illegal immigration increases the level of serious crime. Given this, it seems only natural that the American people would find a candidate who supported a temporary ban on Muslim immigration and the deportation of illegal immigrants appealing. Furthermore, in early 2014 a Gallup poll found that 53% of Americans believed President Obama was not respected on the world stage compared to 41% who believed that he was. Trump has repeatedly stated that the international community has no respect for the President of the United States, with the clear implication that this would change if he got elected.
The third factor is a disillusionment of the GOP among those people who constitute the traditional Republican base. The GOP is the party which supports the free trade agreements that Trump supporters feel are destroying their economic prospects. Furthermore, though Americans are fearful of the future and desire national security, they seem to desire quick wins instead of long-term engagements. According to Gallup, in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq, 67% of Americans were “satisfied” with the United States’ position in the world compared to 30% who were dissatisfied. By 2004, whenever it became clear that US forces would have to stay in Iraq for a long time, the number of “satisfied” people dropped to 47% and the number of “unsatisfied” people rose to 51%. In the years afterwards the number of unsatisfied Americans would rise even further. The GOP, the party that was responsible for the war in Iraq, naturally declined in popularity as a result of the Iraq War. Donald Trump, who claims to have opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, stands out from his peers. Americans apparently do not like idealist wars but rather only those which serve to make America visibly more secure, unlike the GOP. Finally, the GOP’s overall stance on morality is out of touch with the values of most Americans. In May 2014, 55% of Americans supported the nationwide legalisation of same-sex marriage. While Donald Trump has stated that he supports traditional marriage, he has not been particularly vocal about this, and in September 2015 he stated that gay marriage is now the “law of the land”. He is not a moral majority Republican, and this sets him apart from, say, Ted Cruz. Overall, according to Gallup in June 2016 only 16% of Americans approved of the GOP-controlled congress while 80% disapproved. With numbers this high, it is clear that even most Republicans disapprove of our current Congress (and with it the GOP). Given this, the prospect of a political outsider may be much more appealing than it otherwise would be.
In light of all these factors, Donald Trump’s rise can now be understood.
The Decline of the American Workforce
Published by Vox_Veritas
The annual US GDP growth rate is not what it used to be; today’s highs are moderate compared to the growth rates which existed decades ago. There are, of course, a myriad of factors which explain this. However, one commonly overlooked factor is the decline of the American workforce. In this article I will give the reader a quick rundown of the current state of the American workforce.
The first thing I should point out is that the commonly cited unemployment rate should be taken with a grain of salt. Allow me to explain. According to Wikipedia, the unemployment rate is measured as the percentage of members of the labor force who are counted as unemployed. This methodology is inherently flawed, and I’ll show you why.
According to a FAQ page from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which exists to answer questions about its methodology, a person is counted as employed by the BLS if they reported having done any form of paid work during a Survey Reference Week. If a person had a job during a Survey Reference Week but was not at work due to being on vacation, being ill, experiencing child care problems, on maternity or paternity leave, taking care of some other family or personal obligation, involved in a labor dispute, or prevented from working by bad weather, then that person is counted as “with a job but not at work”, which still counts as employment. According to this same source, a person is counted as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for (paid) work at some point within four weeks prior to the Survey Reference Week, and are currently available for work. A person is counted as “not in the labor force” if a person has no job and is not looking for one (which most likely means X person has not looked for work within four weeks prior to the Survey Reference Week). People commonly in this category include students and retired people.
Now do you understand? If you’re not looking for a job, then you’re now counted as being in the workforce, and as such you do not count as unemployed. A better methodology, then, would be to talk about an employment rate rather than an unemployment rate.
According to the census.gov’s population clock, on May 3, 2016 the US population was at above 323 million people. According to another BLS webpage, in March 2016 the total Civilian Noninstitutional Population was 252,768,000. The BLS defines the Civilian Noninstitutional Population (for brevity’s sake we’ll just use the term “CNP”) as the population of Americans who are not in the military and are not institutionalized in a prison, psychiatric hospital, or retirement home. Of these 252,768,000 people 158,854,000 were counted as either employed or unemployed. If we round to 2.53 million people equaling 1% of the CNP, this amounts to an actual employment rate of around 63%. Even this number is fudged a bit because one still has to take into account those 70 million institutionalized/non-civilian people. There were 1.133 million law enforcement officers in the United States in 2008 (assuming that we should count them in the CNP category) according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Department of Defense had 3.23 million employees in 2009. This still comes up to less than 5 million people out of 70 million (or 1/14th). A large number of prisoners are employed to some capacity, but in 2011 there were only 2,266,800 adult prisoners in the United States. There is still a very large number of institutionalized/non-civilian people remaining who aren’t prisoners, soldiers, or police officers. People in retirement homes and people in psychiatric hospitals generally don’t work, so this should drive up the total percentage of Americans who are part of the labor force below 63% (possibly below 60%).
My second point is that Americans are working fewer hours than ever before. To demonstrate this point, I would like to point out that in the 19th century a 60-hour workweek was commonplace, whereas such an arrangement is fairly rare today. As of August 2013, the average American works 1703.55 hours annually, which translates to 32.76 hours a week.
My third point is that more Americans are of retirement age than ever before. In 1900, 1 in 25 Americans were 65 years old or more. In 1994, that number had risen to 1 in 8 (which amounts to roughly 12.5% of the population). In 2013 that number was 14.1%. In 2011 it was projected by the Administration on Aging that by 2030 72.1 million Americans would be 65 years old or more, despite the fact that the US population at this point is projected to be 359.1 million (just shy of 360 million). This amounts to slightly over 20% of the US population being over the age of 65 by 2030.
In this article an important cause for slowing US economic growth has been exposed. As economic growth continues to decline, expect for the US’s economic superpower status to wane. As this happens, also expect for the US’s influence in the world to decline. For Americans, the prognosis isn’t good. The only remaining question is…will America change? Can it change?
April 13, 2016:
This is a test post.