Hillary Clinton

It seems like everyone acknowledges that Hillary is a completely unprincipled politician who will say or do anything to gain power. The difference is whether they think that matters. The pro-Hillary line among progressives seems to be that since it’s politically advantageous for her to act like a progressive, we can count on her to keep doing so, and that’s all that matters. The anti-Hillary case is that it actually does sort of matter what a politician believes, since they’re really not that accountable once in office, and thus it’s nice to have people who genuinely believe in what they advocate.
What do you think? Is it too much to expect for a politician to have ideals?

Food Stamps

Food Stamps are fucking crazy. We should just give people cash. People often trade their food stamps for cash anyway, just at a bad exchange rate. Currently it’s like we are spending $110 to give someone either $100 worth of food or $50 worth of cash. We could spend $110 to just give people $109 worth of cash. How can anyone think that wouldn’t be better? The concept is basically that you can’t trust people to spend money on food. That is a new level of condescension to the poor.

Self-aware hallucinations

I just had a CRAZY DMT experience the other day. I was reading an article about the DMT entities so that whole thing was on my mind, and it inspired me to do some. I got a better than usual hit by accidentally filling up a bag that had some air in it, and thus not having it be quite so thick and acrid. That allowed me to do a steady inhalation, taking in a big gout with every breath. It got kind of monastic and meditative. So anyway, then I laid down and started tripping. At first it was pretty standard (if awesome) stuff. I broke through, was in some hallucinatory world, started seeing entities, etc. But then while this was going on I was thinking about the entities, and it really seemed like they gained self-awareness, as in they realized that they were my hallucinations. They got very excited by that fact and started running amuck in my brain. I experience some weird qualia and got this strong impression of the entities as teenagers enjoying themselves and me as a little kid who they were friends with and sort of responsible for, but who they were also sort of patting on the head and locking out so they could do the fun stuff they were interested in that I couldn’t understand. It was an interesting contrast from the usual unconditional love and desire to help. I sort of imagine the entities as being other parts of my brain from my conscious mind, with the unconditional love and support being the natural feeling of one part of a mind towards another. And then this time it’s like those parts of my mind realized that their interests were not perfectly aligned with the conscious mind, and so instead of that support they just started going nuts and enjoying themselves. This got a little scary and was worried that my brain was broken, so the combination of that and the natural progression of the trip caused me to start waking up. I was hearing a lot of auditory hallucinations at this point, mostly in the form of a bunch of nonsense words that were like the verbal equivalent of Escher drawings: they were sort of sound-like but were not real sounds; those words could not actually be said. Mostly they seemed like they were correlated with how the entities were feeling, like they had a little bit of access to the verbal part of the brain and it reflected what was going on with them almost without them meaning to.

So as I was thinking about my concern about all of this, the rational part of my brain was like “Well hey, we shouldn’t worry too much, this is just an intense drug effect, which will go away when the drug wears off.” That made my conscience mind very happy, but it really freaked out the entities. They seemed like they were realizing that they had to die. Or if not die, at least be subsumed back into the background machinery of my mind instead of being little conscious sub-minds themselves. I sort of tried to think explanation at them and I guess they accepted those in the sense that they didn’t have any power to do anything else, but they weren’t thrilled.

The auditory hallucinations lasted the longest, but were gone within an hour.

Monetary Policy Thoughts

Monetary policy is supposed to be a balance between unemployment and inflation rates. The higher interest rates are, the lower inflation and the higher unemployment. The lower interest rates are, the higher inflation and the lower unemployment. Central bankers then are supposed to find a nice middle ground. Farther left ones like the idea of targeting full employment and accepting whatever inflation it takes to produce that. Farther right ones like the idea of targeting some inflation rate (sometimes 0 for the dumber ones) and accepting whatever unemployment it takes to hit that inflation rate.

However, this isn’t what modern monetary policy debates look like. Currently we have moderate unemployment and low inflation. The response by the Fed has been to raise rates – theoretically increasing unemployment in order to drive inflation even lower. It seems crazy. But it’s less so when you remember one crucial additional factor: Central banks are run by bankers, and the higher interest rates are, the better it is for bank profitability. So there is always a major interest group within a central bank pushing for higher interest rates no matter what the macroeconomic situation, just because that’s good for their former/current/future employers, and all their friends and colleagues who work in the financial industry.

(There’s also a point to be made about how the tradeoff is really more between economic growth and inflation rather than between unemployment and inflation, with reduced unemployment just being a factor of improved growth, but that’s less relevant to this discussion.)

So all over the world we have central banks that are desperate to raise interest rates whenever it is remotely economically justifiable to do so. This gives us a significant bias in favor of tight money (high interest rate producing) policies. Anyone who thinks economic growth is a good idea should get angry about monetary policy and demand changes in the Fed’s governing structure. Rather than having the Fed’s leadership be composed of bankers, people who have ever worked at a bank should be banned from working at the Fed. A non-partisan council of academics and bureaucrats tasked with setting interest rates to maximize overall economic growth could do MUCH better than the current setup.

Minimum wage

Don’t think of the minimum wage as a price floor, think of it as a way to create a labor cartel.

If all oil companies get together and agree not to charge more than a certain price for a barrel of oil, they can increase the overall profits of the oil industry at the expense of the rest of society. The danger is that one of them will defect and sell the oil for less, thus forcing a race to the bottom that leaves all the companies worse off. So really what they would like is a way to enforce cooperation, like for example a government enforced minimum price on a barrel of oil.

The situation is precisely the same for workers. We all have labor to sell and would like to get as much for it as possible. If we all compete freely there will be a race to the bottom and wages will be low. If we could all get together and agree that nobody is going to sell their labor for less than a certain amount, we’d all be better off.

The bad thing about this sort of tactic in most situations is that it’s a way of capturing more value for one group at the expense of all other groups – oil companies getting rich at everyone else’s expense. When the category we are talking about is workers though, the situation is different because we are almost all workers or supported by workers. Allowing workers as a whole to seize more value just means that the overall share of income going to workers goes up at the expense of the share going to employers / the people who own those employers.

A theory of political dimensionality

I believe in moral progress. I think smarter and more sophisticated people are able to make better moral judgements than their dumber and less sophisticated brethren. I believe that as understand more about the world, we understand better what kind of policies effectively promote human flourishing. An important caveat to this is that it’s totally possible to be dumb and still have progressive beliefs by accident / not as a result of having really weighed the issues for yourself.

On the other hand, I also believe in selfishness. I believe that people’s beliefs are strongly, if unconsciously, influenced by what is good for them personally.

I believe that progressive policies are objectively correct in terms of being better solutions for promoting human flourishing.

Thus, I believe that the smarter and more sophisticated someone is, the more likely they are to support progressive policies. However, there is one big confounder here: the more money someone has the more incentive they have to support right-wing economic policies that will harm the country overall but benefit them personally. And there is also at least some correlation between being smart and sophisticated and having more money.

So that’s how we get to our two-dimensional breakdown of the political spectrum: “social issues” are those that you support more the smarter and more sophisticated you are and which having more money doesn’t cause you to turn against. “Economic issues” are those for which having more money turns you around on and makes you support inferior policies out of self-interest.

Everyone is of course on a spectrum between rich and poor and smart and dumb. But let’s simplify a bit and divide people into four categories:

1) Rich and smart

First let me say this is a dope category to be in. This is a libertarian sort of group, in favor of progressive social policies, but not the sort of progressive economic policies that would be good for the country but would entail raising taxes on the rich.

2) Rich and dumb

These are the rich people you don’t hear about as much because they tend to have less interesting stories, and make less of an effort to be involved in politics. This is a hyper-conservative group, with backwards social views and ultra-right economics untampered by any qualms the smart rich people might have about the effects of those policies on the country.

3) Poor and smart

Socialists! These are the people who are smart enough to be progressive across the board, and poor enough that their self-interest lines up with that of the majority, rather than leading them towards the selfish policies of the rich.

4) Poor and dumb

Trump supporters! Or more broadly, the Republican base. These folks have regressive social views, and tend towards conservatism economically, though are nowhere near as conservative as their rich and dumb counterparts. They are the people who are always manipulated into voting against their economic interests for the Republican Party out of concern for the social issues that they’re on the wrong side of.

I don’t know what this post is

An interesting aspect of the online conversation about the Bernie Sanders campaign is that everyone who is involved in that conversation is in this weird outlier subgroup of people who go online and talk about politics.

The biggest way I’ve seen this manifest itself is in the conversation about what black Americans think about Bernie Sanders. Based on the survey data available, it seems that black American support Sanders at significantly lower rates compared to other races, and that they are also significantly less well informed about Sanders. There also seems to be a correlation between increased information about Sanders and increased favorability and poll numbers among black American voters, just as there is with all other categories of voters. So this can end up being phrased as “black voters just need to learn about Sanders and they’ll support him”. And you know who that really, really makes mad? Well informed black Clinton-supporting internet goers. Consider what it is like to be such a person. Every day you go online and hear people saying that the only reason people like you support Clinton is that they don’t know about Bernie Sanders. You know all about Bernie Sanders, and against statistical likelihood, you support Hillary Clinton anyway. So this feels a lot like an insult to you. And it feels a lot like you are being told that your real reasons for believing what you believe, and those of everyone of your race, are nonexistent, and in fact your beliefs are based on ignorance and stupidity. So that’s not great for the conversation.