Saturday, December 19, 2009

Malian drug runners

Does the normal criminal justice system work for terrorism defendants? A case in the Manhattan US District court might be a good test. Three Malians, according to the NY Times, are accused of conspiracy to commit drug trafficking and support terrorism. Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure' and Idriss Abelrahman arranged to transport columbian cocaine through west Africa to spain and claimed to be tightly connected with the local Al Qaeda.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Moral Foundations

Watch Jonathan Haidt's TED talk on moral roots of liberals and conservatives. He claims that there are 5 innate moral values and liberals and conservatives (on social issues) differ in their appreciation for them.

  1. Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy.
  3. Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."
  4. Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
  5. Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class

The video lecture The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class: Higher Risks, Lower Rewards, and a Shrinking Safety Net by Elizabeth Warren (wikipedia) came to me by way of The Big Picture.

First Aired: 6/11/2007, 57 minutes
Distinguished law scholar Elizabeth Warren teaches contract law, bankruptcy, and commercial law at Harvard Law School. She is an outspoken critic of America's credit economy, which she has linked to the continuing rise in bankruptcy among the middle-class.

The huge economic shift that brought the median family in America from being a 1 income household in 1970 to a 2 income household in 2005, a single generation. Income for fully employed males has been flat to slightly negative over this period. Savings went from 11% of disposable income to nothing. Revolving debt as a percentage of annual income went from 1.4% to 15%.

Surprisingly, typical 2-kid family spending has dropped on several staple items. Clothes have gone down by 32%. Food has dropped by 18%. Appliances down 52%. Per-car cost has dropped 24% because people keep cars longer and spend less on repairs. Imports are cheap. Retail works on thin margins.

But spending on mortgages has popped up by 76%. This is magnified for houses in decent school districts. Health insurance is up 74%. Most people have 2 cars. Childcare is a new expense not present in 1970. The tax rate has gone up by about 25% for this family.

The income of this typical family has gone from 32k to 73k, but after the big-ticket fixed expenses, the two-income family has less money than their one-income parents. The two-income family is much more precarious because they have less slack (no spare worker), income is more volatile, health care expenses have gone up.

While volatility has increased, the safety net has eroded. Risk on healthcare has increased, we've shifted from defined benefit retirement to defined contribution. The educational bar is higher and college is paid for by the family rather than government. (As is preschool.)

Families with children filed for bankrupcy at a rate of 15 per thousand in the early 2000's often due to illness, job loss, or divorce. People hide bankrupcy. We're moving from a three class society to a two class society. The solid american middle class drives our economy and gives us a stable democracy. She paints a picture a weakened insecure middle class, where, if you don't get sick, divorced, or fired you do OK, but any of those events will push you over the edge of a cliff into the underclass.


A political economy

A recent piece in the Economist ( A new anthology of essays reconsiders Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” , May 20, 2107) ends with these words: &q...