A Political Manifesto in Two Letters

My current “editorial board” positions for this blog.

I was cleaning up some of my files today and I found an old set of emails that seem like they would be worth publishing for posterity. I’ve never done a broadly political post like this and it’s kind of scary, but I hope this correspondence serves to add to the set of moderate voices in the nation at a time when people seem unable to communicate at all.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Andrew Malone
Date: Sat, Mar 12, 2016 at 12:36 PM
Subject: WTF is going on in America?!?!
To: a friend

Dear Friend,

First, I need to preface this. I will be putting my full support behind the Libertarian Party* candidate and hopefully their nominee, Gary Johnson (former governor of New Mexico). He’s a good dude with a great heart, excellent history of governance and all round solid candidate. Our First Past the Post system is flawed and I wish it were easier for third party candidates, but for me, I will not be cowed into voting for the lesser of two evils.

*If the LP nominates anyone else, particularly John McAffee, I will not support anyone.

I think I finally was able to put my finger on why I’m more concerned about Sanders than I am about Trump.

1) Pre-Nazi Germany was facing a choice between Bolshevism and Fascism*. They came down on the side of the Fascists. If you look at the long arc of history, when faced with that kind of bullshit choice, the Germans actually chose the least of the two evils. The Bolshevick states suppressed free speech and caused economic disruption that killed, beat and starved far more people than Hitler was ever able to kill. Worse, they planted seeds that developed into countries like China (particularly bad from the 1950’s-1990’s), North Korea and Venezuela.

We live in a softer time, so I don’t think we can reasonably compare either Sanders or Trump to their logical extremes, but I do think the forces of Fascism are easier to fight out in the open than the forces of Communism. I believe both men are far more moderate than Stalin and Hitler though, so probably this won’t be an issue for at least a couple more cycles.

*I found this podcast episode from Strong Towns very helpful and a little depressing.
Strong Towns Podcast – The End of the Ponzi Scheme

2) Secondly, and this is probably the most important, while Sanders seems to have identified the right problems, I don’t trust his dogmatism. Trump is perhaps the biggest pragmatist I’ve ever seen. He might sell his own mother if he thought it would net the most profit. That’s scary, but it also means that the future is not pre-determined. I think it is far more likely that Trump would surround himself with smart bi-partisan thinkers than Sanders would. The fact that Sanders (who’s talking about the exact same topics Ron Paul was back in 2007/2011) is correctly discussing some of the right issues means that those issues are discoverable. I trust Trump to discover them more than I trust Sanders to fix them.

3) I watched a full Trump rally and a full Sanders rally.

I actually saw Trump speak back in 2011 at a wealth building conference called the Learning Annex. Listening to him speak now is almost perfectly parallel to listening to him then. His timing, pacing, humor, etc is all designed more for entertainment and engagement than it is for the truth. I suspect that his take-away from the Learning Annex events (which featured Tony Robbins, and other famous speakers) is that people don’t act on logic, they act on emotion and find logical reasons to support those actions later. The format of Trump’s speech was a traditional persuasive speech. Introduction, key points, call to action, conclusion. It had very little to do with policy for the (in my opinion) good reason that he knows he doesn’t know enough of the details to make informed statements about what he’ll do if he gets elected. If you take out all the inflammatory stuff which may or may not be inserted for the free press it generates, Trump’s actual points were mostly common sense.

  • We use our military to support the wealthiest countries in the world (KSA, Europeans, Japan) and don’t get much in return.
  • ISIS doesn’t fight fair and we shouldn’t treat them the same way we treated enemy national armies in the past.
  • The US isn’t getting a good return on our educational dollar.
  • The government wastes a lot of money and there’s room to dramatically cut costs by eliminating waste.
  • Then a humorous call to action to vote for him in the primary and a reminder that he’s a good negotiator and can fix this stuff.

Similarly, taking out all the fluff, Sanders speaks about the topics below. I’ve made comments in brackets after each statement. I will say that because he is willing to actually present his policies I find him a lot easier to disagree with. Trump refuses to be pinned down really. Considering how many times I’ve watched presidential candidates make promises they can’t possibly keep, maybe that’s not such a crazy thing, but it sure does make me nervous. Commentary on Sanders’ speech as follows:

  1. Wall street is evil, corporate America is greedy and SuperPacs (campaign finance vehicles) control the conversation. [disagree, Wall Street responds to regulation and incentive, the Federal Reserve and fractional reserve banking is evil. SuperPacs are a result of previous efforts at campaign finance reform. The only way to limit the impact of wealth on elections is to control free speech; which is a trade I’m not willing to make (and no one else should).]
  1. The corrupt campaign finance system is undermining American democracy [I don’t believe this] – thinks billionaires and superpacs are buying elections [demonstrably false, there is no systemic voter fraud where people are being prevented from voting or paid to vote a certain way a la Tammany Hall or numerous other historical examples]. Calls out Koch brothers (I know people on staff there). [but conveniently forgets to mention George Soros or Warren Buffet who support Democrats – this is a common thing with the left. They only complain about wealthy conservative voices, but naturally rarely complain about the influence of wealthy donors on their team, nor do they consider that the university system is essentially loaded with left leaning academics who attempt to train diverse political discourse out of our next generation].
  2. We have a rigged economic system. [agree, but for totally different reasons]:
    • wealth inequality discussion [but omits the much more important conversation about wealth mobility]
    • we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any (major) country on earth [extremely doubtful, in the US we define poverty as a percentage of the average national wage, so for a single person you have to earn less than $12,000/year to qualify as impoverished. Most dance instructors I know fit that description but get free travel, housing and board as part of their ‘job’. To intelligently assess this claim we should be comparing income to essential costs. Rice and beans in the US are not that much more expensive than they are in sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty in the US is not the same as poverty in Asia or Africa and it’s dishonest and reprehensible to suggest it. This article nicely summarizes my feelings on US poverty.]
    • 58% of new income goes to the top 1% [Maybe, but so what? Does it mean that the fundamental cost of survival has increased dramatically? At even moderate American income levels we can afford things most people in the developing world wouldn’t even dream of. And does wealth concentration make me less likely to be able to become a millionaire myself? So far the answer seems to be no.] 
    • Are you ready for some radical ideas? [maybe]
  3. Create an economy that works for everybody. [Ok, if we were talking about increased mobility and lower startup costs (for example reducing or eliminating trade licensing restrictions would be one thing, but that doesn’t appear to be what he has in mind.]
  4. Tell the billionaire class they cannot have it all. [meh]
  5. When the rich get richer they’re going to have to pay their “fair share” of taxes. [There aren’t enough rich people to tax in the country to pay for everything, cuts in spending will have to be made (Bernie knows this). Furthermore, it’s foolish to suggest that wealthy people won’t find new ways of tax avoidance as taxes increase.]
  6. Broken criminal justice system [agree] – discussion of stats on high US incarceration rate (2.2M people in jail). [yep, it’s a problem, it would be great if other politicians would talk about this too]
  7. Minimum wage is too low. [but of course that’s supposed to be a training wage not a ‘living wage’.] “If you work 40-50 hours per week you should not live in poverty.” [Disagree completely, you should get paid for the value you produce regardless of the number of hours you work. The idea that you should be able to earn a living based solely on hard work is literally straight out of the Soviet playbook or George Orwell’s book 1984. Flipping burgers for 40 hours isn’t necessarily a living unless you invented a great burger that everybody wants and you own the joint.]
  8. Pay equity gap; women aren’t paid the same as men – $0.79/$1.00 women/men split. – [This is tired and has been disproven over and over again. Basically the 79/100 idea is average wages of women/men and doesn’t take into account income-breaks for child rearing or disparities in career selection. Freakonomics has a great podcast on this topic.]
  9. Wants to expand social security. [Eh, expand? – No thanks. But I’m in favor of protecting it so that people can get the money out that they put in. I do think it’s unsustainable because it’s not tied in any way to improving average national lifespan. Able bodied 65 year olds should not be entitled to early retirement simply because they live in the right country. That said, we pay into the fund and I’d like to see people get everything they’ve put into it and more back. So until you can opt out, I see no way of changing the program.]
  10. Affordable healthcare. [Yes, it’s a problem. National single payer coverage won’t make it any cheaper or better though. Obamacare might be an improvement because it guarantees that you can’t be kicked off your plan for pre-existing conditions. While I’m in favor of reducing the number of exclusions sneaky insurers can use to wriggle out of payment obligations, the ACA rule change has driven costs up, not down. I frequently think that a quicker and more transparent judicial process for evaluating insurer vs. patient disputes would be a better solution to many of our concerns about insurers. Lots to talk about there.]
  11. Kids shouldn’t go $50k-$60k in debt to get a decent education. [agree, but corporate subsidies to universities aren’t the way to do it]. The nature of the world and economy has changed [disagree-ish]. People need more education. [people need effective education] We should make colleges and universities tuition-free [that’s just another way to suggest a crazy corporate subsidy which he’s against in other areas]. Debt forgiveness or dramatic student loan interest rate deductions. [I think they’re inequitable at best. Using tax dollars in this way is technically regressive. BUT admittedly I’d rather spend money here than on planes for Pakistan or Wall Street bailouts. That’s a false choice really.] Suggests that debt forgiveness or reduction would be paid for by a tax on speculative trading because Wall Street got a bail out and the people deserve one. [That’s a dumb way to pay for it. Also, while I disagree with the ethics behind a Federal Government owning shares of companies, the bailout wound up paying for itself in loan repayment, share appreciation, and dividends. Instead of further taxing or manipulating companies we should use that $64b surplus to pay down student loan debt or buy private student loan debt and offer subsidized interest rates.]
  12. Comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship. [agree]
  13. Climate change is real and is caused by human activity [agree] and it has the potential to get seriously bad [probably true]. We have to take on the fossil fuel industry and transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy [true, see Elon Musk arguments here and especially here. But I’m not sure what “taking on” an industry means exactly – sounds scary]. The state of Florida should be a leader in producing solar energy [maybe, but Presidents don’t decide that]. The Koch brothers don’t want republicans to tell the truth on this [generally false, I think their stance is that it’s hard to identify the magnitude of the threat].
  14. Pro-choice [great, me too – and so is the US Supreme Court. This isn’t much of an issue these days but politicians keep bringing it up. There is an outside chance that a sea-change in the Supreme Court would open the door to a new challenge, but they’re a conservative bunch and don’t overturn precedent very often.]
  15. Universal healthcare. We’re the only major country that doesn’t do it. The Affordable Care Act has done a lot of good things, but many people are still under-insured with high deductibles and co-pays and we all pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. [agree] Meanwhile the top drug companies made $45b in profit last year. [good… and I hope they will continue to re-invest it in additional research and development or pay their shareholders the profit in dividends, I hope they DO NOT use it to lobby congress to make it harder to introduce new drugs into the market or shut certain foreign manufactures out (which of course is exactly what they will do because the Federal government holds enough of the strings that lobbying is worthwhile)]
    • “I believe that healthcare is a right.” [NO, negative rights are not rights. See Natural Rights theory. But it might be a wise and soft hearted policy prerogative if it were a well thought out system. Telling people it’s a right is stupid and dangerous. We can agree that it could be a privilege of citizenship commensurate with a nation’s ability to pay.]
  16. Sanders can beat Trump. [maybe] The US does not want a president who insults immigrants, minorities, women, etc. [agree, but they do want a president to stand up for them and make sure we’re able to be the most competitive, free, safe and prosperous nation in the world. Americans have been told the US is the best country in the world their whole lives. Shortly after WWII that wasn’t a very high bar, but since the fall of communism and a global embrace of market based economics, it’s getting harder to compete. There are a lot more great countries in the world than there were fifty years ago and Americans are beginning to wake up to that fact for better or worse.] History shows that love trumps hatred over time. [I hope so and would like to believe that too.]

Last, but not least… I know this is super long already, but you might be interested to read what I wrote to my Aunt last year when she asked me if I was worried about Chinese conspiracy to destroy America. In short, no I’m not, but I am worried about a lot of other things. The links in my response are solid and worth reading/watching if you have some more time on your hands.

-Andy

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Andrew Malone
Date: Mon, Aug 24, 2015 at 2:11 PM
Subject: Re: China’s plan to destroy America ?!?!
To: Aunt V

Hi V,

I think, like all good conspiracy theorists, the author is basing his statements on kernels of truth. I don’t believe there is a malicious and intentional plot by the Chinese to destroy America and frankly if there was it would be so contrary to their own interests it would be a new level of crazy. Like Kim Jong Il crazy.

The author has three heads of claim:

  1. Attack on the US dollar – we’re doing most of this on our own and don’t seem to need much encouragement from abroad to destroy our currency. If China decided to create a gold backed (or commodities backed) currency it would be an amazing and unique development in modern history. Ever since the US was taken off the gold standard in the 70’s there isn’t a single world currency based on precious metal. Fiat currencies grant governments a lot of power to manipulate the economy and I can’t see China giving that up anytime soon. What I can imagine is that they are holding gold as an internal investment and hedge against the inflation that all the fiat currency countries are driving via their own Federal Reserve monetary policies.

Peter Schiff is worth watching on this topic:

He’s not wrong, but it’s almost impossible to get the timing right so we’ll see what happens and when.

It’s also important to remember that China holds a ton of US debt and wants to see those loans paid off. Killing your debtor is generally a bad way to collect outstanding funds.

  1. Cyber-warfare against US businesses – if China were to create a gold-backed currency, they wouldn’t need to use cyber-attacks to sink US businesses. As I mentioned above, they hold a ton of our debt, a strong Yuan (gold-backed or otherwise) would be big disadvantage to the people and organizations who own those loans.

I do think they are working on building a strong militarized hacker squad that they would be happy to use in strategic ways. No doubt it’s a risk, but I just don’t see the motivation.

  1. Space wars against US satellites – again, I think they would be wise to figure out how to shoot enemy satellites out of the sky, so if they are developing this capability (and I’m sure they’re trying) it would be useful. BUT for normal commercial satellites it wouldn’t make sense to attack because a lot of the services provided by those are shared and used by all of us. I firmly believe that the increasingly complex ties from trade and correspondence via the internet are binding all humans closer together and making war much less profitable and much less likely.

See the Slate article, The World Is Not Falling Apart by Steven Pinker.

If you ask me, the biggest threat to America is actually two-fold:

  1. Federal debasement of our currency – as discussed above by Peter Schiff. Combated by owning your home (ideally outright) and subsequently investing in property or precious metals. I don’t believe the political machine will be able to pull their heads out of their asses long enough to stop this and I do believe we’re in for a big default in my lifetime (probably yours). A default, while unpleasant, would be survivable if our towns and cities didn’t also need debt to keep operating, leading to my second threat.
  2. Economically unsustainable towns and cities – covered very well by Strong Towns – this can be personally combated by carefully selecting the neighborhood in which you live, involvement in local government and learning how to garden/embracing local food.

Summary video here:

In depth discussion here:

Outside of the town planning/financing stuff discussed above, important subsets of the unsustainable places problem are:

2a) Food Production & Security as discussed at length by Joel Salatin in his excellent book Folks, This Ain’t Normal, or here if you’d rather watch a video.

2b) Multi-generational and sustainable building practices discussed very well by Steve Mouzon at his blog and in his book. Also, it’s worth seeing the work that Hope for Architecture is doing in Clay Chapman’s excellent presentation video here. Permanent, high-quality, re-usable buildings are an excellent way to pass wealth from one generation to the next without relying on currency.

*One further sub-point I should make; I think a lot of major global problems are actually on the cusp of being solved. Functional solar energy is currently a bit expensive, but Google is about to solve the value analysis problem for early adopters and I expect it to be a mass market technology in under a decade. Elon Musk’s work to convert our transportation system to a mostly electrical standard plays a big part in making that useful. Very valuable reading on this topic is at Waitbutwhy.com here and especially here.

AND the clean water problem seems to be nearly solved as well by the inventor of the Segway (Dean Kamen). I suggest reading Popular Science’s article here. Sell your utility bonds now! This is an epic time to be alive.

Conclusion

Ironically, I think the author of your article’s call to action is pretty much spot on, but not for any reason related to international defense. His call to action pretty much lists the minimum steps we should be taking to ensure we don’t just simply fall apart USSR style.

But no, I don’t think China, or really any other countries, are actively interested in overthrowing the U.S. Most of them just want to be left alone.

-Andy

P.S. If you follow all of those links you should get a gold star.

P.P.S. One thing I noticed as I was putting these links together is what a fusion of old (pre-1930’s) and new all of these solutions are. Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns likes to remind people that we are players in literally the largest social experiment in human history and we have no idea if the land development patterns developed from the 1950’s onward will work. It’s a powerful point to remember.