Category Archives: current events

news/politics

Universal Basic Income and Robots

Megan McArdle discusses the recent defeat of a Swiss referendum to give every citizen a guaranteed basic income here. As usual, she’s an interesting read, but this is the part that I found most thought-provoking:

Handing out a universal benefit of any size at all will be fantastically expensive. You can make it smaller, of course, but then you don’t get any of the vaunted benefits: It doesn’t prevent the benefit cliffs, doesn’t encourage entrepreneurship, doesn’t lessen the distortions of all the in-kind benefits you’ve left in place.

I suspect this is why the advocates of a UBI have recently become so interested in the problem of robots taking our jobs. The idea is that automation will make human labor so worthless, and make humanity so fantastically wealthy, that we practically won’t notice if we siphon a considerable amount of that money into a benefit that will, effectively, allow people to be permanently unemployed without starving to death. I’m skeptical of this story for a number of reasons — starting with the fact that “the machines are about to put us all out of work” has been a staple of science fiction for a century without coming noticeably closer to science reality. This time may be different, of course; even the boy who cried wolf eventually did come across a predator.

I’m not skeptical of robots taking jobs. This will become a problem, and as much as I’m reflexively against the idea of a UBI it might be a solution, at least for a short term, as robots massively disrupt society both economically and culturally.

A Hunting Ban Saps a Village’s Livelihood

Alternate title: “Western Neo-colonialism Imposes Economic Regime that Wrecks Native Lives”

Unintended but foreseeable consequences:

Since Botswana banned trophy hunting two years ago, remote communities like Sankuyo have been at the mercy of growing numbers of wild animals that are hurting livelihoods and driving terrified villagers into their homes at dusk.

The hunting ban has also meant a precipitous drop in income. Over the years, villagers had used money from trophy hunters, mostly Americans, to install toilets and water pipes, build houses for the poorest, and give scholarships to the young and pensions to the old.

I loved this quote:

Ms. Kapata said. “In Africa, a human being is more important than an animal. I don’t know about the Western world,”

I find hunting just for a trophy distasteful, but it seems to me there’s probably a middle road between an outright ban and unfettered hunting.

Trump being Trump

Trump gets interviewed on a potential run for president in 2016:

You’re getting better numbers in some polls than several candida—

I’m the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far. Nobody’s ever been more successful than me. I’m the most successful person ever to run. Ross Perot isn’t successful like me. Romney — I have a Gucci store that’s worth more than Romney.

and

Specifically, what would you do to address the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria?

I have an absolute way of defeating ISIS, and it would be decisive and quick and it would be very beautiful. Very surgical.

Military on the ground? Drone strikes?

If I tell you right now, everyone else is going to say: “Wow, what a great idea.” You’re going to have 10 candidates going to use it and they’re going to forget where it came from. Which is me.

Do you have advisers on issues like this?

With very successful people, we sort of have our own ideas. A lot of people hire consultants. Well, if the consultant’s so smart, why aren’t they rich?

Very entertaining.

Speedy justice for Zimmerman

Almost exactly three years after the event and a year and a half after being acquitted of both 2nd degree murder and manslaughter, the DoJ decides not to prosecute George Zimmerman for a hate crime. Imagine having that cloud hanging over you for three years just because somebody suspects you might harbor Unapproved Opinions.

From the official DoJ release:

“Although the department has determined that this matter cannot be prosecuted federally, it is important to remember that this incident resulted in the tragic loss of a teenager’s life,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “Our decision not to pursue federal charges does not condone the shooting that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and is based solely on the high legal standard applicable to these cases.”

Europe disarmed

A lot can change in 70 years. Two former members of the Axis would struggle to muster a well prepared or sizable fighting force.

Germany’s formerly world-defying military machine is all busted:

The lack of equipment does not come as a surprise to close observers of the German army. Last year, the parliamentary defense committee was informed that out of 89 German fighter jets, only 38 were ready for use. The list of damaged items also included helicopters, as well as a variety of weapons.

. . .

According to the confidential report that was leaked on Tuesday, the German NATO task force would face serious problems if it had to intervene abroad. More than 40 percent of the task force’s soldiers would have to do without P8 pistols, and more than 30 percent lacked general-purpose machine guns, known as MG3. Operating at night would be particularly difficult for Germany’s armed task force, given a lack of 76 percent of necessary night viewers.

Italy has Isis making noise south of it but only has a few troops:

Last weekend in Italy, as the threat of ISIS in Libya hit home with a new video addressed to “the nation signed with the blood of the cross” and the warning, “we are south of Rome,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi shuttered the Italian embassy in Tripoli and raised his fist with the threat of impending military action. Never mind that Italy has only 5,000 troops available that are even close to deployable, according to the defense ministry. Or that the military budget was cut by 40 percent two years ago, which has kept the acquisition of 90 F-35 fighter jets hanging in the balance and left the country combat-challenged to lead any mission—especially one against an enemy like the Islamic State.

Note Italy’s PM later said they would rely on UN security forces if action needed to be taken.

With Russia aggressively taking over Ukraine and ISIS on the loose in northern Africa and the Middle East, I hope these countries start getting serious.