April 2nd, 2008 by Joseph Carpenter

The current scheme for financial aid for college goes something like this: if you or your family make less than x amount, the government will give you x amount of money to pay for college. Even the most leftist of economists will tell you that handing money to people creates disincentives to work, but the idea is that the people going to college will eventually do something good for the state economically – nurses, lawyers, etc. At the risk of sounding libertarian, I will say that what this has done has crowded the field enormously and many people with college degrees will still be ditch-diggers. Not only that, but because grants rarely cover all college expenses, they will be ditch-diggers with a mound of debt. What the system has done, then, is worsen the problem for some of the poor of America.

The solution is not the free market one – to lower the amount of college demanded by removing grants (effectively raising the price); it is the loans that do most of the damage anyway. Despite its faults, this system does allow the less affluent to close out the class gap, the reason being grants. The free market would see a much larger percentage of school being paid with loans than there are now. A better way than free market? Compulsory service (“draft”).

Peace Corps
Peace Corps
A prerequisite for public colleges and universities ought to be 2-4 years of service to the United Nations, Peace Corps, other national or international public service, or if the applicant chooses, the military. I mention this last option for three reasons: one, it would be much easier for politicians to pitch the program to Americans if the military is included, two, in a legitimate and responsible democracy, the military is a perfectly acceptable form of public service, and three, the current system that the military has is very similar to this new program. This system will pay for four years of college in full to any public college or university.

The positive effects of this new program would be enormous. Not only will there be less college demanded (it would weed out those that don’t care enough about education to devote a few years of their life to public service), meaning more jobs available for recent graduates, but it would strengthen international opinion of America if more of its citizens devoted some time to international relations and aid efforts. It would also do much to negate a lot of the nationalism and aversion to the U.N. that American citizens have (if a reader is unsure that that is a bad thing, I encourage him or her to read the very first post of this blog detailing the principles on which this blog is based). The military will often meet its target rates of recruitment, delighting neoconservatives and hawks.

Of course, without this being mandatory for anyone wishing to attend a public school, the poor would be disproportionately affected. That is why anyone wishing to attend a state college or university must “join up” – all but the most disabled can contribute in a meaningful way.

Of course, this raises the question, “How will we pay for this?” I am working on exact figures, but I’m sure this program would not be light. This is the part where it does not look so rosy, as it never does when looking for money. A higher estate tax is an option. Legalizing and taxing things such as marijuana, prostitution, and online gambling can bring a large amount of revenue. An option that I personally dislike but could prove beneficial is removing welfare benefits for college aid adults – I am unsure if this would significantly raise crime rates, however, and this again hurts the poor and minorities disproportionately. All is not bleak, however. The services rendered to the U.N. could pay off our debt to the organization, and, in time, a deal could be struck with the United Nations to pay us for those that serve. The richest nation on Earth can certainly find a way for this to work.

A post at a later date will follow with estimated figures.

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February 19th, 2008 by Edward Miller

A majority of unskilled jobs are completely unnecessary even with current technology. We are already very much a Robotic Nation; ATM Machines, industrial robots, automated checkouts, e-commerce, computerized help desks, and vending machines have replaced millions of workers. The burden of most unskilled labor can and will be shifted to machines, and the same is true for even a great deal of skilled labor. Yet, currently, it is as if human beings are taking on the role of machines, grinding away day-in and day-out in dead end jobs, all the while, the middle class is shrinking and unemployment is growing. If something isn’t done, there will be some major class warfare.

Leisure is a good thing! Even for our economies it is a good thing. If it wasn’t for the norms and government regulations in our society that produce more leisure time such as weekends, holidays, child labor laws, minimum wage, overtime laws, and so forth, there wouldn’t be nearly as much demand to fuel the enormous industries surrounding music, art, sports, movies, entertainment, etc.

Couple in Hammock | Reuben Maltsberger
Couple in Hammock | Reuben Maltsberger
Unfortunately, we have been infected by the Protestant Ethic meme which sanctifies work. This sort of mentality is prevalent among most of society, from CEOs to workers’ unions. Unions fight for the “right to work” and are deeply fearful of their jobs becoming automated. Ironically, many of the policies they push for make human labor more expensive, which gives further incentive for automation. I argue that workers should rejoice at the possibilities created by human labor becoming obsolete. We should speed up the process. Screw the right to work, we need the Right to be Lazy!

Employment is only valuable if it is performing a necessary service. If we can get our basic needs taken care of sufficiently, unemployment could be a perfectly reasonable option. There are plenty of worse things in the world than doing nothing. Being a marketing executive or politician, for example.I would argue, though, that under conditions of abundance, we should seek to find joy in ways that benefit others as well. Volunteering one’s time to nonprofit charitable endeavors would certainly be one example. Creating art, music, comedy, poetry, movies, video games, and so forth would also be valid ways of contributing to the world.

Thus, as automation progresses, we should gradually and continually strengthen laws regarding overtime, retirement, minimum wage, welfare, universal healthcare, importation from sweat-shop-ridden countries, and so forth, all in the name of making human labor more expensive, and compensating for the displacement caused by mechanization of labor. We should consider simultaneously giving positive incentives, such as tax breaks, for businesses that make strides toward automation, and fund research in that area.

I would go so far to say that once a sufficient amount of our production of basic necessities is automated, unemployment would be a good thing. We shouldn’t just have welfare, but a Guaranteed Minimum Income system. (even Hayek would agree)

Once liberated from needless toil, we will be free to spend more time enjoying the fruits of our material abundance by creating art, playing sports, and loving one another. Maybe our GDP won’t be growing quite as quickly at first, but some things are more important than the quantity of stuff we produced this financial quarter. Feel free to share your thoughts. Is the End of Work near? If so, what should be done about it?

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February 12th, 2008 by Edward Miller

This is a pretty shocking interview of Jim Cramer, host of the popular show Mad Money. He is talking about “blatantly illegal” and immoral business and investing strategies, such as pump and dump and price fixing, as if they are routine, and acts as if the companies that have yet to do those things are idiotic.

He talks about how he manipulated the stock market when he was a hedge fund manager and explains that if you are unwilling to do so you “shouldn’t be in the game.” There is that noble capitalist spirit for you. Some may call this fraud, others call it capitalism. All I know is what Gordon Gecko tells me. “Greed is good. Greed is right.”

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