Andrew Yang’s big idea

Andrew Yang is running as a Democratic presidential candidate. His flagship idea is to give out a universal basic income or a monthly dividend of $1,000 to every American. He often cited the dividend from Alaska Permanent Fund as an example for his policy. Let’s take a look at the idea and the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Would it be passed as laws?

I don’t know, but I think it’s highly unlikely. The partisanship in the government will make it so difficult that if he becomes the President (a big if), he will still have to garner enough support from both parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I don’t know the practicality of passing it with Executive Order, but given the financial implication of this policy, I really doubt he can do it without support from both sides of the aisle.

How would it be financed?

$1,000 a month for every single one of more than 320 million Americans is a phenomenally expensive bill to pay. Yang said he would find income from properly taxing tech companies. It sounds good, but keep in mind that companies pay a lot of money on lobbying to make sure that lawmakers are as friendly as possible to them. So, it may not be easy to pass laws that can generate enough money from companies to pay for his idea

Would it work?

Let’s say that he found a way to make it a federal law and pay for it. Would it bring the results as he wanted? It depends.

If he wants to make Americans happy, it would do the job. We don’t need academic studies to know that folks become happier after getting from free money. But in case you need one, take the experiment in Finland as an example. Finnish government ran a two-year program in which they gave out 560 euros each month to a select test group of citizens aged 25 to 58. The results are that the recipients of the grant became happier, but there is no favorable impact on employment rate.

Since Andrew Yang is fond of using Alaska Permanent Fund as an example, let’s take a look at that. Alaska Permanent Fund was signed into laws in 1976 by a Republican governor named Jay Hammond. The fund gives out an annual dividend to residents who live in Alaska for a full year and intend to stay indefinitely. In the past year, the dividend was worth around $1,600/year. According to a study by Jones and Marinescu, the fund’s results are as follows:

The employment to population ratio in Alaska after the introduction of the dividend is similar to that of synthetic control states. On the other hand, the share of people employed part-time in the overall population increases by 1.8 percentage points after the introduction of the dividend and relative to the synthetic controls. The unconditional cash transfer thus has no significant effect on employment, yet increases part-time work

The Labor Market Impacts of Universal and
Permanent Cash Transfers: Evidence from the
Alaska Permanent Fund

What it means is that it cannot be statistically proven that the dividend decreases the employment rate, even though does increase part-time work. However, it isn’t proven to increase employment either.

As the two cases of Finland’s experiment and Alaska Permanent Fund show, whether Yang’s proposal would work depends on the questions asked and what outcome is desired. If it’s happiness, the answer is likely Yes. If it’s meant to increase employment, it remains to be seen.

One thing to keep in mind is that Finland is a small country with a population of around 5.5 million people and high with homogeneity. Alaska, I would think, has more or less the same conditions. Applying the Universal Basic Income to a small test population with people from the same background, mindset and needs is one thing. Doing so to a population of more than 300 million people with various backgrounds, mindsets, cultures and needs is a totally different issue.

Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act vs BELIEVE Act

A few days ago, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act was passed by the House. If it’s passed by the Senate and signed by the President, it will have dramatic implications for immigrants coming to and living in the US. That prospect; though, faces challenges from a few Senators from both sides of the aisle.

Apparently, no country in the world is allowed more than 7% of the total green cards handed out by the US government every year. For workers from China and India, due to high demand, there is a current backlog of applications that it can take up to 50 years to receive the green cards.

The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act plans to eliminate the capped amount per country. Doing so will benefit high skilled workers from China and India the most, but at the expense of, well, almost everybody else from other countries. The backlog of current applications from India and China will take years to clear and after that it will mean 8-10 years for folks from low-demand countries like myself from Vietnam to get my turn.

The bill essentially seems to tackle only one problem in a myriad of problems with immigration. Hence, it is said to create other issues, per path2usa.

Senator Rand Paul introduced a different immigration bill called Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement Act or BELIEVE Act. The act is aimed to change immigration on a broader level and tackle more issues than the Fairness for High Skilled Immigration Act. Cato.org has a pretty good summary of what BELIEVE Act can deliver here. This is a snippet, in case you are too lazy to click and read the article

There are a couple of problems with skilled immigration that the bill doesn’t address—including the outdated H-1B limit and the burdensome and nonsensical labor certification process for employers—but overall, the legislation would make the United States far more competitive for foreign talent than current law and prevent the removal of hundreds of thousands of skilled workers. This legislation would benefit the U.S. economy enormously.

Cato.org on BELIEVE Act

Political Debates

I watched half of tonight’s Democratic debate and a little bit of yesterday’s. Here is how I think about these debates

They are where people say something without saying anything of substance. One of the candidates said that she should be the one because she listens to people and that’s how she gets things done. Another guy said that he should be the one because he can build coalition. No disrespect to either, but that’s a bit too light on details.

They are where folks set aside decency and talk over one another. Sometimes, there are some subtle attacks here and there.

They are where candidates from the same party talk about the same things just in different ways. It’s normal and fine since the issues must be popular and obvious. Plus, each candidate is given too little time to articulate on the details which essentially are the only differentiation points, well except if you speak some Spanish :D.

They are where candidates are asked to strip down issues that are complicated and full of nuances to one or two word answers in about 10 seconds. I mean, what is really the point of the “what is the most existential threat to us?” question?

They are where candidates juggle from one serious issue to another in a span of seconds. I saw them talk about healthcare in one second and then the effect of environmental policies, food policies on our health in another. Or the focus was switched from jobs to immigration. If you are given 30 seconds to speak or so, the more topics are covered, the less depth there will be.

I don’t really have a solution to this. Personally, I don’t find anything of substance from the candidates from all these debates. It may be helpful to some who might learn a thing or two about the folks running for the Presidency, especially the less known. But given that the ones who spoke the most during the events spoke for 10 minutes, how much can you know about a person in 10 minutes? How much can you learn about loaded issues in 10 minutes?

On the other hand, how many of us actually spend time on their websites to read pages of documents on their proposals? How many of us spend time at their rallies or town halls to ask for specific details? I don’t blame the politicians. They are trying to do their job and be as popular as possible to a tough crowd.

Discussion on socialism on the Internet and the news

Socialism is one of the most polarizing topics out there, either in politics, on the news or on the Internet. Whenever socialism is mentioned, the two extremes are often cited: the social democracy in Scandinavian countries and failures such as Venezuela.

What I found troubling with the use of socialism on the news is that it is closely associated with social equality. Whenever the discussion on increasing social benefits to citizens starts, the term socialism follows. Proponents cite Scandinavian nations as examples of success while critics use countries like Venezuela to demonstrate how horrible socialism is.

In my opinion, increasing social benefits to make the playing field more even isn’t equal to socialism. If that were the case, why Scandinavian countries haven’t failed or plunged into oblivion and chaos yet? The problem lies in the state-owned privatization of industries, the suffocation of free markets and corruption. It is not the social benefit programs that plagued Venezuela’s economy. It is the catastrophic privatization by the government, the removal of free markets and the extreme reliance on oil which is turbulent.

American politicians who oppose social benefit programs use Venezuela as an example to stop those programs, but I think they are wrong. And what’s wrong with leveling the playing field a bit more? America is obsessed with working hard and defying the odds. Yet, having a leg up or a bit of help in the beginning doesn’t take anything away from the triumph in the future. Folks in Western Europe still have to compete and work hard to excel in life. Nonetheless, at least on average I think they have better help from the government than Americans.

This is not a declaration of my political view. It is just to say that the term “socialism” is falsely used to scare off folks when it comes to any discussion that can benefit citizens. It shouldn’t be like that.

Midterms and why you should vote

I do discuss politics, but with my friends only or those who are open-minded enough to do it without engaging in a shouting match or escalating it to another level. I don’t want to talk politics on this blog because it’s a black hole. But today I want to.

Midterm ads

As the midterms are coming around the corner, I have seen more ads on YouTube. Mostly attack ads that are sponsored by  a candidate to attack his or her opponents. That’s pitiful. A lot of money is spent on attacking opponents. Instead, such money should have been spent in a more meaningful way.

Politics in America is about the extreme. It’s either one end of the stick or the other end. Nothing in between. It’s common to advance by attacking others. Meanwhile, plenty of important issues in our life go unnoticed or misunderstood by the public. Issues such as foreign policies, trade or healthcare are highly complicated and most of us don’t quite get them. Even if we understand, the compartmentalization and secrecy born out of how governments work in general, not just the US government, make information inaccessible and misunderstanding more palpable.

Call me an idealist, but if public servants as these politicians all claim to be want to serve the public, wouldn’t it benefit the public if they spent their money on educating their constituents on important issues, instead of attacking their opponents? I am not talking about last-minute vids when campaigns start. I am talking about a year-long constant effort on trying to help constituents understand issues more. It’s likely that they wouldn’t understand some highly highly complex issues anyway, but at least they would understand more what is going on. And that is the essence of serving the public.

In business, the surest way to attract users/customers is to be helpful/useful to them. It should be the same here. Politicians wouldn’t need to be helpful for the public. They could do it for themselves. By making themselves a reliable source of information and knowledge on what matters in constituents’ lives, I believe politicians would find it easier to earn trust. Even if things go wrong, they could always say: hey, I have been telling you that we have to compromise in politics and things are not straightforward 9 out of 10 cases. That’s the truth, provided that these politicians are forthcoming and transparent.

Sadly, it is not the case.

The importance of voting

I have talked to a few folks in Nebraska. Some didn’t vote in 2016 because they didn’t like either candidate. Low turnout is not really that uncommon here. But I’d like to talk about what happens on tonight’s episode of Madam Secretary, a show I talked about in the past.

On this episode, the Secretary had to find a way to work with a dictator in Philippines to retrieve the bodies of dead American soldiers who died in, probably, WW2 (I don’t remember the show mentioning it clearly but it was 1945, so WW2 was my guess). The dictator refused to endorse the request to retrieve the bodies, unless America gave him money that would be used to buy weapons and suppress his citizens in the future. Some compromise would be required here.

Meanwhile, her daughter worked for a candidate who pledged to campaign on student loans as one of his principles. But he left it out of his agenda. Her daughter quit the campaign because of that. Listen to this clip to see how the Secretary taught her daughter on the importance of voting.

I was about to go to bed and like I said, politics is not what I like to talk about on this blog. Nonetheless, I figured I had to do this because it mattered. If you read this and are eligible to vote in a few days, do vote. Like the Secretary said, many died for you to be able to vote. And why wouldn’t you? It will affect your life for years to come. It will also affect the world for years to come. If your representative is a decisive vote on a bill that will affect other countries, imagine that.

Do a quick research on your representatives, senators, attorney generals or governors. Any position that is on the ballot. Chances are you won’t agree with everything a candidate has to offer, but it’s life and it may be because some compromise had been made and you don’t know about it. Nonetheless, do vote.