Are Unemployment Benefits Unsustainable?

I saw an article on Yahoo! Finance yesterday about rising unemployment taxes for employers:

Companies have yet another reason not to boost hiring: rising unemployment taxes.

Employers around the nation are getting socked with higher state unemployment tax bills as states are forced to shell out more than $1 billion in interest payments this month. More than 30 states have had to borrow billions from a federal fund to cover unemployment benefits for their jobless residents in recent years.

And this is only the first of two tax spikes employers are contending with, on both the state and federal level. Come January, companies in 24 states could have to shell out between $21 and $63 more per employee in federal unemployment taxes.

There are plenty of details at the link as far as how and why the pricing varies at different states and levels of government, but the gist of it is that as unemployment remains high, governments are running out of money to pay the unemployed and are looking at ways to increase that revenue stream. Of course, since that revenue stream comes from businesses, raising those taxes pushes incentives for hiring in the exact opposite direction of what the government wants.

Continue reading Are Unemployment Benefits Unsustainable?

Should Missouri Raise Its Cigarette Tax?

The Show Me Institute helps me stay informed about local politics in my state of Missouri, and from the articles I’ve read they generally take a pretty pure libertarian perspective on things. Yesterday they posted an article about another potential attempt to raise the state’s cigarette tax of 17 cents per pack. Similar attempts have failed twice in the last few years, but the attempts keep coming back because there’s something attractive about trying to raise a cigarette tax rate that’s the lowest in the nation by almost 50%.

Continue reading Should Missouri Raise Its Cigarette Tax?

Who Is Gary Johnson?

I’ve been learning a bit about one of the candidates running for the Republican nomination. Gary Johnson polls about 2% and doesn’t get as much attention as Romney or Perry, but there are some interesting things about him so I thought I’d talk about him a bit here. Gary Johnson is almost like the reasonable version of Ron Paul for libertarian-minded people who are too cool to like Ron Paul because of the way he seems obsessed with the Federal Reserve and conspiracy theories.

Continue reading Who Is Gary Johnson?

How Good Is GDP Growth At Reducing Child Mortality?

Last weekend I wrote about UNICEF’s report that child mortality had declined by large amounts across the globe from 1990 to 2010 (UNICEF defines child mortality rates by the number of children per 1000 live births who do not make it to age 5). Of course, the report did not speculate about how much economic growth may have contributed to this decline, but the capitalist in me wanted to know. Wouldn’t it be good to know if it was better to save children’s lives by encouraging the growth of government programs or by encouraging the growth of the marketplace? So I spent some free time in the last few days gathering data from Wikipedia to see how well GDP numbers correlated with child mortality numbers.

The quick summary is, yes, countries that had stronger GDP growth tended to see greater reductions in child mortality, although the correlation wasn’t as strong as a pure capitalist might like to see. There is perhaps nothing surprising or remarkable about this, but I’m trying to stimulate more discussion of the great news about world reduction in child mortality, which I don’t feel has gotten nearly as much attention as other recent reports like the one on US poverty. A few disclaimers before I present the data:

  1. I am assuming that the child mortality numbers from UNICEF are reliable. Gathering comparable data from every single country in the world is quite difficult, and there was much surveying and modeling.
  2. I am assuming that Wikipedia’s GDP numbers are reliable. (The third Wikipedia link has three different sources for 2010 GDP; I went with the CIA World Factbook source because it listed the most countries.)
  3. I am assuming that I copied and pasted all of those numbers inerrantly.
  4. I decided to compare a percentage of child mortality reduction with a percentage of GDP growth per capita, as opposed to with a percentage of GDP growth, or comparing absolute numbers for any of them. I also did not account for inflation or changes in the value of the dollar. By using the same basic reported numbers for every country I thought this was the simplest and best way to analyze the average rise in living standards per person, but you may disagree.
  5. Because I decided to use percentages, I did not analyze every country in the entire UNICEF report. I arbitrarily excluded countries that had a reported 1990 child mortality rate below 30 deaths per 1,000 live births because I don’t think that a 60% reduction from 10 to 4 says as much about the living standards of a country as does a 60% reduction from 100 to 40. In other words, once your country gets to a relatively decent child mortality number, the marginal cost of reducing that number by a given percent is much higher than reducing that number by the same percent for a country with a much more horrid child mortality number. I’m just looking at the “bad” countries and seeing how much their economy grew on their way to getting better, but you may argue that I should have chosen a different number than 30 as my cut-off. Additionally, you may argue that I should have chosen high or low cutoffs for GDP per capita to exclude outliers from that dimension.
  6. I also excluded a few ad hoc countries for which I could not find GDP data for both 1990 and 2010, but this should not greatly affect the overall averages and trends based on the 134 countries that I did analyze.

So this is not a report on “How Child Mortality Reduction Correlates With GDP Growth By Country.” It’s a report on “How Child Mortality Reduction Correlates With GDP Growth From High Child Mortality Countries For Which I Could Find Decent Data Under A Variety Of Hopefully Reasonable Assumptions.” Here we go…

Continue reading How Good Is GDP Growth At Reducing Child Mortality?

The Politics of Abortion and the Death Penalty

Yesterday, a man named Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, thanks to capital punishment. I haven’t taken time to familiarize myself with the details of the case, but apparently there was evidence that led many people to doubt his guilty sentencing. This set off a firestorm of political debate over the interwebs about the death penalty and the political groups most likely to oppose or support it and whether or not that opposition or support is logically consistent or morally wrong. I’ve seen a lot of zingers flying back and forth in my Twitter feeds. It kind of irritated me because these zingers were wrapped in arrogance, and as you should know by now, arrogance is one of the 3 things that greatly irritate me about political commentary, so I thought I would come along and try to give some perspective to both sides.

Continue reading The Politics of Abortion and the Death Penalty

Religion in France: Paris Bans Praying In Street

The Muslim tension in France has reached a new level. Praying in the streets has been banned in Paris, and it may be extended to the rest of the country. After reading several news articles, I learned that thousands of Muslims have been blocking the streets with their prayer mats on Fridays – apparently because there are not enough mosques – and the secular French have had enough of the weekly obstruction to their public roads. “The street is for driving in, not praying,” the French interior minister Claude Guéant said. This is only five months after France became the first European nation to ban the burqa, partly because the full covering undermined the French ideals of openness and equality.

It is well-known that the Muslim population is growing rapidly in Europe, due partially to the declining birth rate among Europeans and the very large birth rate among the growing Muslim immigrants. France is said to have the largest Muslim population, numbered at five or six million, and it’s fascinating to watch the unfolding tension between them and the sophisticated, secular French state.

Continue reading Religion in France: Paris Bans Praying In Street

Huge Reduction In Child Mortality Across the World

When the report on a slight increase in U.S. poverty rates was released on Tuesday, I saw it on headlines every time I checked a news website or Google News. I saw it discussed across many political and economic blogs, and I made my own attempted contribution to the discussion. However, when UNICEF released an updated report on child mortality across the world, it barely made a ripple. I happened to notice it while checking Twitter’s top tweets feed, but I never saw it in news headlines or read any commentary on it. I want to bring it to your attention because it’s very good news, and I think we need to have a debate about what factors are contributing the most and how to help those factors contribute even more.

Continue reading Huge Reduction In Child Mortality Across the World

Townhall Spotlight: 2012 Horrific Predictions…

Somehow I’ve gotten myself on a conservative mailing list called the Townhall Spotlight. Their mailings tend to be a little too confident and arrogant for my tastes but I’ve never unsubscribed because it’s kinda fun sometimes to see what theyre up to. Yesterday I got an apocalyptic message from them titled “2012: Horrific Predictions,” and it lays it on pretty thick:

Continue reading Townhall Spotlight: 2012 Horrific Predictions…

Things Conservatives Like #1: Guns

Conservatives love guns. And I don’t mean that in a “I’ve-got-a-small-firearm-locked-in-my-closet-in-case-a-gangster-breaks-into-my-suburban-house” kind of way. I mean it in a “I’ve-got-five-pistols-and-eight-rifles-in-my-basement-next-to-the-freezer-holding-seven-hundred-pounds-of-buffalo-that-my-wife-and-I-brought-down-last-weekend” kind of way. If you’re going to understand conservatives, this is the most important lesson in the world.

Continue reading Things Conservatives Like #1: Guns

Is Poverty In the United States Getting Worse?

The U.S. Census Bureau released an updated poverty report yesterday, and the headlines were plastered across the news media. “U.S. Poverty Rose to 17-Year High,” said the Washington Post. “U.S. poverty totals hit 50-year high,” said the L.A. Times. Like all statistics, it depends on how you count it and adjust for history, but the broad point was that the number of people living in poverty in the United States rose last year to some of the worst levels we’ve seen in a very long time, and it was headline news everywhere. The anti-Obama peanut gallery in the USAToday article pretended it was evidence of Obama’s personal failure, while those on the left tend to view it as evidence that government needs to do more to help the poor.

I read several articles and commentaries yesterday, but I wasn’t ready to offer my own opinion. They do say that the income level that defines the poverty line is adjusted for inflation, but I wasn’t sure if that properly counted technological progress. I knew that The Heritage Foundation report on poverty from July claimed that 99.6% of the “poor” have refrigerators, and 97.7% have a television. In addition, those televisions are probably of higher quality than the televisions of a decade or two ago, and the higher quality of technology is almost certainly enjoyed by the almost 40% that have personal computers or 55% with cell phones. If 30% of the poor own video game consoles, how poor can that 30% really be? My gut reaction was that this reported increase in poverty was not taking into account some very important things, but I know that gut reactions can be wrong, so I waited.

Continue reading Is Poverty In the United States Getting Worse?