President Trump’s actions after the 2020 election were reckless and immoral.

It deserves much repeating this year that–as admitted on Congressional record by the Republican leader of the Senate–the 2024 GOP presidential candidate was “practically and morally responsible” for provoking an attack on the U.S. Capitol and our representatives. And worse, while he remained in office, sworn to protect the United States, he didn’t lift a finger to stop the attack for hours, and by accounts from his own staff was pleased and hoping his mob of fans could help him overturn an election that had already been legally contested, investigated, recounted, and certified in every state. The will of the people had been counted and recounted and he didn’t like it.

The Capitol attack and dereliction of duty of the President as it unfolded was a national embarrassment watched by millions live, and he’s not only unrepentant but continues to lie and even lionizes and promises to pardon the criminal attackers. The only punishment has been of his post-election team, as they lose enormous defamation cases and their freedoms, with courts being one of the few places where baseless, fantastical lies aren’t permitted as part of the game of politics.

No conservative should be expected to vote for a Democrat, but consider writing in a conservative who will stand by election outcomes and protect the U.S. when it’s attacked. These are low bars and we should demand Presidential candidates step over them.

(McConnell’s speech from the Senate floor, emphasis mine)

January 6th was a disgrace. American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of domestic business they did not like. Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President. They did this because they’d been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry he lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty. The House accused the former President of quote “Incitement”. That is a specific term from the criminal law. Let me just put that aside for a moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago. There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.

The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President and having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole, which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth. The issue is not only the President’s intemperate language on January 6th. It is not just his endorsement of remarks in which an associate urged, quote, “trial by combat”. It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe. The increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was somehow being stolen. Some secret coup by our now President.

Now I defended the President’s right to bring any complaints to our legal system. The legal system spoke, the electoral college spoke. As I stood up and said, clearly at that time, the election was settled. It was over, but that just really opened a new chapter of even wilder and more unfounded claims. The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things. I and sadly many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally, but that was different. That’s different from what we saw. This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out. The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence actually began.

Whatever our ex-President claims he thought might happen that day, whatever right reaction he’s says he meant to produce by that afternoon, we know he was watching the same live television as the rest of us. A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name, these criminals who are carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. He was the only one who could. Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the administration. The President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored. No, instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election. Now, even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in serious danger–even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters–their President sent a further tweet, attacking his own Vice President.

Now predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as a further inspiration to lawlessness and violence not surprisingly. Later, even when the President did halfheartedly began calling for peace, he didn’t call right away for the riot to end. He did not tell the mob to depart until even later. And even then with police officers bleeding and broken glass covering Capitol floors, he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals. In recent weeks, our ex-President’s associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to reelect him as a kind of human shield against criticism. Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That’s an absurd deflection. 74 million Americans did not invade the Capitol, hundreds of rioters did. 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did, just one.

Make America a better place to raise kids

Except for the upper class, parents in the U.S. have it very, very hard. Today’s generation sees the lack of mandated parental leave and work benefits compared to every other wealthy nation, and they know the underlying costs don’t justify the enormous rent increases squeezing them of every penny. We are radicalizing a generation to see capitalism as a tool for the wealthy to hoard wealth and for previous generations who enjoyed decades of housing appreciation to pull the ladder up behind them.

Demand that Congress guarantee some parental, sick, and vacation benefits to all workers.

Demand that corporate landlords provide transparency of their costs if they impose large rent increases.

Demand that your city legalize the construction of higher density housing.

Start paying attention to what works in other countries.

We’re all being cooked

I believe nearly every American who follows politics or has political opinions at all is being “cooked” by a set of pressures caused by the media, social media, and bad voting systems; and it’s all making us a little weirder and way more tribal than we arguably should be under more natural conditions.

If you need to solve a thorny problem outside of American politics, I think you can take ten people almost at random, put them in a private room with a good lunch and basic rules, and end up with a solution that’s far better than nothing. Some days will have more contentious and heated debate, but lunch will come, they’ll at least bite at the sides of the problem if they can’t tackle it all, and they’re not going to spend their time being righteous in front of cameras.

Instead, legislatures are arenas for grandstanding, insults, owns, and walking out with glaring problems unfixed, with most everyone likely to be re-elected to do it all over again. One side can on occasion become dominant enough to get everything they want, but it will swing back and forth to please one side and anger the other. Hard problems—that only Congress can fix—don’t get addressed at all. “We’ll get everything we want next time, you have to vote harder!” What Congress really agrees on is hollowing out the legislative calendar so they don’t have to be around one another. Some of them can barely hide their disdain for Americans who think differently.

We’re putting the wrong people there and giving them bad incentives, and their behavior in the Capitol and in the media is routinely unreasonable if not loathsome, and it’s driving partisanship through the roof.

Reforming media and social media, even if we could, wouldn’t fix this. I believe there’s one path with the fewest barriers: Voting reform to get rid of First-past-the-post voting.

“You have to vote for the lesser of two evils because otherwise you’ll throw your vote away” is only true under this crummy system, which is why it’s proven to be terrible at capturing the will of voters. And, worse, it delivers candidates who don’t have to think about their duty to represent everyone in their district. So they don’t.

That system and the politics it’s created over decades has made most of us feel like we’re going crazy: Both sides are yelling “all the extremists are on the other side and how can they not see it?!”

We’re all being cooked—the people, the politicians, the media—and without powerful forces to reduce tribalism, it’s going to keep delivering more extreme, combative politicians; to keep distorting our perceptions of politicians, the media, our neighbors, and family members; to keep pushing us to pick a side on virtually everything; to keep compelling us to defend everything our team says and does.

I hold on to hope that most of the reasons we find to despise each other are caused by these forces, and that fixing voting systems can put in place some good incentives to mitigate those forces.

Let’s try that, please.

Voting Reform: The only fix I see for rising partisanship

The first-past-the-post voting systems we’ve been stuck with for too long create very bad incentives for politicians, even if they were “good people” that got into politics for all “right reasons”:

  • In negotiation, giving even an inch to the other party offers ammunition to your primary opponents, even if an available compromise would please the vast majority of citizens.
  • If your party’s base is strong enough in your district, you’ve little incentive to be nice to the other team when interacting with the media. Bad-mouthing the other team might even make you more-liked by your base.
  • The same goes for interacting with more fringe/partisan media outlets. Why not go onto some podcast or radio show that regularly demonizes the other side? The most partisan of your base will really love it.
  • Once you’ve alienated the other party’s voters completely, you need your base fired up hot to remain in office. Solving big problems does not fire up a base.
  • Your mantra eventually leads toward, “the other guys blocked us because they’re awful, but I’ll fight even harder next time!” and your base will keep sending you back.

All the above feed on each other, fooling voters into believing, “we can get everything we want once we finally demolish our opponents” instead of wondering about what could be achieved if negotiation were possible.

If any organization outside politics proposed problem-solving in a way that ran all negotiations into the ground with everyone left despising each other, it would seem absurd. That is what first-past-the-post voting yields.

One reform of many fine options is Approval Voting. The idea and implementation is simple: Same ballot, but you can vote for any and all candidates. The candidate with most votes still wins, but you no longer have to fear your vote “going to waste”. Every vote for every candidate counts.

Of course there are other solutions to reduce partisan animosity, but every other one I see faces extreme headwinds while alternatives to FPTP voting are gaining popularity. I think people are sick of choosing the lesser of two evils and ending up with someone in office that adopts more extreme measures that they’d like, or gets nothing fixed.

Really whether you can put in place Approval or STAR or Ranked Choice voting, any of these free voters to much better express their true preferences without fear, and they heavily incentivize a corner of politics to be less caustic and held hostage by extreme partisans and stalemates.

The time is right for Annual Leave reform

The United States is, save a few tiny islands, the only place in the world where employees have no guaranteed paid vacation or holidays, and there’s simply no great excuse.

The effect of this gigantic hole in our labor policy is that about 23% of Americans–over 30 million–work some of the hardest jobs without any paid time off, 1 in 3 have no paid sick leave, and the bar remains low for employers who do offer PTO. For people on their feet in waste and food service jobs, the access to PTO is abysmal.

I think most of us don’t realize what a scandal this is, and it’s the right time to fix it.

  • Unlike extremely hard problems like reforming our healthcare system or finding the ideal minimum wage in a nation of wide-ranging costs of living, this is an easy one with 187 existing plans to choose from. Canadians are guaranteed 16-30 days off a year. The British 28. Germans 29. Russians 33. Chinese 16-26. Japanese 10-20. Indians 24. The French 36. Brazilians 24. Italians 32. These are just the big economies. If Congress is concerned about the disruption, phase it in one day per year.
  • We haven’t had a significant labor reform in generations and polling shows this has wide bipartisan support. If Congress wants to really improve the lives of millions of Americans and be heralded for their efforts for decades to come, this is low-hanging fruit. Americans desperately need a reason to come together and this is one will benefit Americans across the political spectrum.
  • For the first time in their lives many millions of Americans will take vacations and get to travel the country they love. Americans already having PTO will benefit by many employers raising benefits to compete, and just through the new chances to join more friends and relatives on holidays and vacations.

This reform isn’t sexy but is super pragmatic, and as much as hardworking Americans deserve the benefit, we could use a national cause to celebrate.

Protesters, MLK, and Partisan Urges

Young protesters urgently need to go watch “Selma” and in general pause and think, “what would MLK do?” The Selma marchers gracefully expressed their humanity and decency with their faces visible, and created a clear contrast from the opposition’s hate and savagery. The scene and imagery created were more powerful than any weapon, and turned 800 marchers into 25,000 at the end. It was masterful leadership. Continue reading  

Monuments to a Government’s Failure

The Civil War is a strange case where the oppressors and terrorists, upon losing, were basically let alone to continue countless awful misdeeds, and the biggest slave owners retained all the power of government. The “freedom” blacks gained was purely notional until many decades later.

Imagine an alternate history where, instead, former slaves had been given real, meaningful citizenship: The right to vote unobstructed, to hold office, to receive the full protection of the law, and the opportunity to really be known and understood by the white population as fellow Americans. In this more just outcome, do we really think the citizens of the South, almost half black, would’ve chosen to publicly celebrate—with monuments and names of counties, towns, and streets—the cause to continue enslaving their children and neighbors?

We can’t know the answer, but I think it’s “absolutely not.”

These monuments exist because of the dismal failure of the government to protect its citizens from abuse; by fellow citizens, police, the courts, and the law.

If a community or its elected representatives desire it, they should come down in an orderly fashion, with the goal of preserving them. Communities deserve the freedom to decide what they will celebrate for the next few centuries.

The Civil War is better documented than it’s ever been, and if American schools and parents fail to teach history, a statue isn’t going to do it. What we’ve definitely failed to teach are the stories of the generations of Americans that lived under terror and de facto slavery after the war’s end, and through Jim Crow.

The Google Memo

I had a great conversation with Kathleen about the “Google memo”. We talked about her experiences and the greater context of several previous generations of women from the trailblazers to those who later entered workplaces in mass to find they were boy’s clubs.

We already had decades of the golden age of “free debate” workplaces where the topic was often whether women–or minorities–were “cut out for this line of work.” See the first few Mad Men eps, or ask a woman who went to work before the mid 80s. The fully “free debate” workplaces were found wanting and we rightly took some topics off the table. Absolutely some censorship in workplaces is critical! Over the years I’ve heard plenty “ideas” at work that created hostile environments, or would have in a more diverse group. It’s a shame the memo writer didn’t run this by a few women, ideally coworkers, before dumping to Google’s whole workforce. It may have sharpened his arguments and led him to a better approach to reaching his goals.

Naturally our culture around work formed under the assumption of women at home rearing children. Over decades millions of decisions were made without the idea of working women and raising families with both parents working. This isn’t a value judgment, but it means that firms who value diversity still have really big levers they can pull that make the consideration of miniscule biological differences just not that important. Firms will of course forever have to balance their diversity desires with the law’s prohibition of discrimination; the memo’s author basically accused Google of discrimination against men, and that’s for the courts to figure out.

I’ll give him this, he’s right that political viewpoint diversity is probably very lacking at Google, as it is nearly everywhere in America due to our acidic hyper-partisanship and geographical self-sorting. He referenced the Heterodox Academy and I’m a fan. In general diversity is so hard because humans don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations or get pushback on their ideas, even if weeds out the weak ideas and yields better solutions.

To some extent each firm has to consider whether actively fighting against a nationwide polarization trend is worth the hassle, but the more politically homogenous businesses will probably be the first to majorly mess up in public and “out” themselves as saying nasty things about half their customers.

Revisiting the outcomes of the 21th century Chinese import boom

The conventional wisdom among economists is that the post-2000 Chinese import boom—which we know rapidly devastated the American manufacturing base—was overall good for the U.S.; that (as I argue) artificial barriers to trade generally make both parties poorer, and over the long run trade ends up lifting all boats. While I think it will always be true that trade barriers increase the price of products, a lot of the other assumptions may not be true. Continue reading  

Why wouldn’t a Basic Income be consumed by inflation?

Interest in the Basic Income is definitely picking up. This recent piece from Andrew Flowers, like most, doesn’t at all mention the possibility that the BI amount could be somewhat or completely eaten away via increased prices.

The BI will give rent collectors—landlords, near-monopolies like AT&T/Comcast, state/local governments, on and on—large incentives to increase rents, prices, and fees. Of course it will have some level of inflation.

If the inflation effect turns out to be large, BI would be a waste of time and scary to roll back, but there’s also a danger it could be regressively redistributive. I think it’s likely Congress would pass the BI only if it also reduced more direct help to the poor. If Congress took away that help, inflation—if occurred—would effectively force the poor to turn over what’s left to the rent collectors higher up the wealth distribution.

BI is still an interesting thought experiment to me, and it’s cool that studies are underway, but those studies need to be large and long enough to detect for inflationary effects, and articles discussing BI should mention that risk.

There are plenty more feasible ways to help the poor: increase wage subsidies like the EITC, target wage subsidies toward those having particular trouble finding work, or even some WPA jobs.