Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to End Poverty, Help the Economy, and Save the Environment Part 2

I know that a while back I made a list of things that I would do if I was dictator of the US. I have mostly the same opinions with a few addendums. I don't have much to say about health care and Social Security.

  • Raise teacher salaries (a lot). I'm thinking paying public school teachers $100,000+ a year. More in cities, more in poorer districts.  (liberal)
    • Lest you think I think teachers deserve everything I think we should end tenure (conservative)
    • Also increase education requirements for teachers and make sure they get at least a Master's. Ideally, people will choose teaching over becoming a lawyer, doctor, nurse, or businessman/woman. (neither)
  • I don't really know enough to know whether vouchers are good or not (dunno)
  • Make sure everyone can afford college and doesn't need to work two jobs (hopefully at most one part-time job) to do so.  (liberal)
  • No affirmative action. However, for college admissions, poverty level/upbringing should definitely matter. (conservative)
  • Let colleges increase in size to meet the demand of a growing educated populace (neither)
Federal Economic Policy
  • Of course, implement a rising carbon tax (liberal but supported by conservative economists)
    • Read my other posts on it
  • End minimum wage and replace it with a guaranteed living wage that rises as necessary. Unlike some conservatives, I don't think this would necessarily increase economic efficiency (due to the necessary extra taxes to give out so much money), but it would actually be more progressive than current policy. (mostly conservative in theory)
  • Implement a VMT Tax and slowly phase out gas tax (liberal but supported by conservative economists and some politicians)
    • Driving has its own externalities, largely unrelated to pollution in America due to vehicle regulations (more to congestion, accidents, and road use)
      • use it to cover road use, congestion is addressed later
    • Carbon tax will mostly cover the pollution impacts for driving
  • End the homeownership tax credit (neither politically, supported by all economists)
    • absolutely no reason to subsidize buying houses. This is hugely destructive, encourages sprawl and disconnected communities, encourages people to live beyond their means, encourages driving, etc
  • Cut defense (liberal)
    • big time. Don't need so many wars
  • Cut wasteful spending (conservative)
    • A lot of spending is wasteful. Don't give local subsidies
  • No more highways (liberal)
    • We have enough roads. Maintain the ones we need, get rid of what we don't need
  • Don't waste money on high-speed rail if there isn't likely to be a demand for it (somewhat conservative although I'm not against all high speed rail)
  • End pretty much all corporate subsidies (liberal, but conservative in theory too)
  • End the ethanol mandate (both, but more of a conservative policy)
    • No brainer
  • Invest a lot in basic research (liberal, but some support from conservatives)
    • but be careful. Should be practical, but some spending should be on "cool stuff" like underfunded private space exploration, some high-risk, unlikely technologies
    • on this note, more government investments in GMOs!
  • End farm subsidies (liberal somewhat, but supported by small-government conservatives)
    • all of them. no price floors, no encouraging of American-made products
  •  Legalize marijuana (liberal/libertarian)
  • Jail reform-less jail, more rehab (liberal)
  • More non-military foreign aid (liberal) 
  • Spend money on adapting to climate change (whether infrastructure or innovative solutions) (liberal)
    • allow insurance companies to "price gouge" risky areas so people don't live there (conservative mostly)
Regional/Local Policy
  • Dynamic electricity pricing (liberal mostly)
    • Can smooth out grid, leading to lower infrastructure costs and fewer peaker power plants
    • however, not so necessary if storage is cheap
  • Encourage density
    • End restrictive zoning codes (like in Palo Alto) (liberal, but should be supported by small-government conservatives) 
    • new apartments are great, building up is good, mansions are bad
    • livable, mixed-use neighborhoods (liberal, but largely a problem of aforementioned zoning issues)
      • restaurants, shopping, and housing all together. I don't like Walmart, but a great example of mixed-use is a Walmart in DC that has apartments above it! Oh how great it would be to live in an apartment that is right above a grocery store (and not one owned by Carmel Partners!!!)
    • eliminate parking minimums but charge a market rate for parking. I would love to live in an apartment without parking and not own a car (again, liberal, but liberatarian in theory)
      • Empty lots are terrible. Eyesore, hurt walking/biking
    • transit
      • often a Bus Rapid Transit system may be the best option when rapid metro isn't feasible (liberal)
      • consider bike-share a form of public transit as well, but only implement it where there is enough density and if it will actually benefit the municipality (liberal)
      • encourage ride-sharing and carpooling. Work with employers to set up carpooling. Reduce taxi quotas and don't overregulate Lyft and Uber (liberal)
      • End transit subsidies (this might be more federal policies)-encourage people to live near where they work. No reason to subsidize suburbs (liberal, but again, smaller government)
      • again, high speed rail maybe, but density and regional transit are bigger issues.  (liberal)
    • Better biking infrastructure (liberal) 
      • look up to the Netherlands, not Portland, as an example of what ALL cities should strive for
  • Congestion charges (liberal, but some support from conservative economists)
    • same idea as parking-if there's high demand, people should pay more to use roads
  • again, don't waste money on roads (liberal, but smaller government)
  • adaptation to climate change (liberal)
    • may include evacuating some areas
  • encourage grey-market sharing economy (neither really, but smaller government)
    • organized local exchange of used goods, ride-share and car-share as mentioned, clothing rentals, Air-BnB type apartment rentals to compete with hotels, etc
  • Indoor air quality standards (liberal)
    • not something I had thought much of before, but it appears to be a major problem in homes, offices, and schools
Some additional general notes
  • Take advantage of technology but don't overuse it. We don't need "smart" everything. Sensors all over every location are going to cost a lot, not be extremely reliable, and may give people too much information. Not every parking spot needs a sensor for example, and not everything in a city needs to be interconnected.
  • Plan for what you (realistically) hope the future will become, don't straddle the past.
  • Density is good for the environment, Net-zero-energy single-family homes are not
  • I haven't mentioned health care or social security. Major problems, but not stuff I'm super interested in. I'll just use the same notes as last time: make social security slightly more progressive, raise retirement age, European-style healthcare

So yeah, I'm pretty liberal. However, if you look at what I've proposed, most of it is endorsed at least in theory by conservative economists. And consider this tally:

Education: 3 conservative, 3 liberal

Federal policy: 12 liberal, 5 conservative. However, of the 12 liberal policies, 4 are endorsed by some to many prominent conservatives. And I count 11 out of 18 policies actually reduce the size of government, with 2 (VMT replacing the gas tax and replacing minimum wage with Basic Income) that are neutral or ambiguous. A carbon tax won't necessarily increase the size of government either if other taxes are reduced accordingly. Jail reform would hopefully reduce spending. Investments in scientific research are supported by many conservatives, although what constitutes "basic" research is a cause for debate. So spending money on climate change adaptation is the only truly liberal, big-government proposal (even conservatives who believe in climate change will say that the market will adjust with a proper carbon price. I would support things like forced relocation if it comes to that)

Local/Regional Policy
Again, much policy is involved with reducing regulations. Other suggested policies involve a setting a market price for goods (parking, driving, electricity). There is only one new proposed regulation (indoor air quality). There are some proposals for infrastructure spending (bike-share, public transit), but even there I think there is a strong place for corporate-funded transit (whether it be funding bike-share or corporate buses like Google buses)

My environmental policy:
1 area of new regulation (indoor air) that can't really be set up with a good market
3 new taxes/fees (carbon, congestion, parking)
1 reduced tax (gas, but also maybe income, payroll, and corporate taxes can be replaced with the above taxes)
3 elimination of subsidies/reduced spending (home ownership, transit, corporate subsidies, roads)
4 reduced regulations (parking, zoning, ethanol, insurance requirements)
3 increased spending (transit, adaptation to climate change, increased research)

So I guess I'm not that surprised, since I have read mostly economics. But despite the fact that I am overwhelmingly liberal and often come across as a supporter of big government, I generally want less government intrusion. I want to end many subsidies, including subsidies that generally help the poor. I am strongly supportive of wealth distribution, but I would like to see it heavily concentrated in education rather than a mishmash of inefficient subsidies. I would probably vote for a libertarian who only supported my small-government policies as long as they weren't openly hostile to other things that I strongly believe in. I am a big supporter of social engineering, but in reality, every government policy is a form of social engineering, the only question is, what are your priorities?

I think that the government should prioritize: equitable, strong education; efficient, dense communities; living wage for all, but this is obviously not a comfortable living; a healthcare system that focuses on keeping people healthy rather than curing sickness; a clean, safe living environment. I honestly don't think the government should prioritize job creation really. It should provide a realistic system of regulations that encourage the growth of business (without undue environmental destruction), but the government should not consider whether jobs will be created or destroyed. More jobs are not necessarily good, fewer jobs are not necessarily bad. Generally, the government should be there to maintain or improve the overall standard of living for Americans as well as foreigners. That said, there is perhaps a place for fiscal policy in times of boom or busts to moderate cycles.

I think the biggest thing that I have come to realize is that the best thing we can do for the environment is to promote density. Although I love electric cars compared to gas cars, I am hopeful that the future will involve almost no cars. Perhaps a self-driving taxi service charged at a rather high rate can provide emergency transportation, but I hope that the future brings cities closer to the Netherlands with biking, walking, and public transit. I believe that even today it is entirely possible to get by without a car in much of the Bay Area, if somewhat difficult. With kids, it is certainly more difficult-who is going to take the bus to a Little League game for example? But there will still be a place for private vehicles, just a reduced need, helped by ride-sharing, car-sharing, and autonomous vehicles. In addition to reduced transportation costs, density is a much better use of land and energy, allowing for more preservation of wildlife and lower overall pollution output per capita.

Thoughts? I think I have changed over the past few years. I have become much more conservative and skeptical of government. I will listen to you even if I disagree. I didn't used to support marijuana legalization and used to be a huge supporter of high speed rail. From my self-review, I can see that liberals aren't necessarily supporters of big government. That said, many of my views clash with prominent liberal groups (unions especially). There are many suburban "liberals" who don't want their neighborhoods to be turned into cities. Most liberals don't share my enthusiasm for regressive taxes. Many in both parties are unwilling to eliminate subsidies (home ownership, transit). Nearly all of my economic policy views are fairly noncontroversial among economists on both sides. That may be because I read a lot about economic policy. In practice though, there is incredible opposition to all of them (except maybe a VMT, but even that's getting flack from libertarians. And Bob McDonnell in Virginia wanted to replace the gas tax with a higher sales tax that exempted gasoline!).

Short summary: end restrictive zoning, end inefficient anti-urban subsidies and spending policies, more Pigovian taxes, pay teachers a lot more