Zoo Station

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Archive for July, 2006

Sometimes I just love a good argument

Posted by Chance on July 31, 2006

Which is really strange. I consider myself fairly easy to get along with. I’m an easy-going type of guy. However, I love to get involved in discussions with people who disagree with me. I’ve been over at Jesus Politics arguing up a storm. If you are a Christian liberal, you’ll find good company, if you are a Christian conservative/libertarian, you will have a good time as well.

As a side note: not to knock anyone, but I think the term “Jesus Politics” is bold. We all try to apply Christianity to some extent to our politics, no matter what the persuasion, but saying that Jesus and your own politics are one and the same is dangerous, dangerous business.

Edit to add: sometimes I can get a bit snarky on when I comment on blogs like these, so feel free to call me out if I go too far.

Advertisements

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Oil Company Watch

Posted by Chance on July 28, 2006

It’s time to check out what Exxon Mobil is doing with their money. Neal Boortz says

The Associated Press is reporting that Exxon Mobil’s second quarter profits totaled $10.36 billion. That’s the second largest quarterly profit ever recorded by any publicly traded U.S. company.

OK .. get ready for the screams. It’s just a matter of hours before some demagogues in Congress start yelling again for a windfall profits tax. Across the country we’re going to hear screams of anguish from economic ignoramuses who couldn’t tell you the difference from a profit and a profit margin.

Nowhere in the article can you find Exxon Mobil’s profit margin for the quarter. You can, though, find the numbers you can crunch to reach that figure. Total revenues for Exxon Mobil during the quarter were $99.03 billion. Run a little division problem and you come up with a 10.46% profit margin. Not bad at all, but not the best out there either. Most pharmaceutical and banking companies earned a higher profit margin.

The amount of profit earned is directly tied to the price of the product you are selling, and the market for that profit. All these higher profits mean is that the cost of Exxon Mobil’s products (primarily petroleum-based products) has gone up along with demand.

By the way ,,, during the quarter Exxon spent nearly $5 billion of this profit on capital projects and exploration for new sources of oil, and another $7,9 billion was sent to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases. Belinda is one of those shareholders, so perhaps you can blame here for your high gas prices. Besides Belinda, we have some of teacher’s union pension funds out there who invest heavily in Exxon Mobil. These dividends, which came from the Exxon profits, will be spent to cover pension checks to retired teachers. Now that’s pretty nasty, isn’t it! How DARE these teachers receive pension checks funded by investments in a successful corporation like Exxon Mobil when the government could be getting that money thorough a windfall profits tax?

Capitalism does not just benefit the rich. Yes, white-haired old men are getting millions of dollars in salary and stocks, but they get paid to make the company money. When the company makes money, the average Joe or Jane makes money too.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Are Democrats actually Socialists?

Posted by Chance on July 28, 2006

Dan has noted on his blog that Progessives are not necessarily Socialists, and I’ve heard other liberals mention that they are tired of being called Socialists. I don’t really blame them, and I think Dan is right in that the two groups, Progressives and Socialists, are not necessarily the same. Even though I believe that Progressives can have socialist ideas.

Wikipedia defines Socialism as

Socialism refers to a broad array of doctrines or political movements that envisage a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to social control. [1] As an economic system, socialism is usually associated with state or collective ownership of the means of production. This control, according to socialists, may be either direct, exercised through popular collectives such as workers’ councils, or it may be indirect, exercised on behalf of the people by the state.

and Economic Progressivism includes

…things as support for a mixed economy and progressive taxes in order to compensate for the perceived disadvantage to increase their income and sources of revenue to the poor when compared to the wealthy, in order to fix issues with society which are perceived to violate social justice. Economic progressivism draws advocates from all segments of the moderate left-wing, including social democrats and some liberals.

Their opposition includes proponents of laissez-faire.

So, it seems that Progressives can believe in socialist things, such as a more controlled economy, but not necessarily. I would say that progressive taxation is not really a socialist measure, though I believe excessive taxation can limit the free market.

Also, business regulations may not necessarily be a socialist measure, but it depends on the extent, and the type of regulation. Concerning extent, the more laws that are passed regulating an industry, the more control the government has. However, I would not say anyone lobbying or legislating regulatory measures is a socialist; I think it is a spectrum, and being a complete laissez-faire capitalist may not even be a good thing (I am still working out those issues as to how far gov’t should be involved in regulating health and safety in industry). So when I say someone is not a true 100% capitalist, that’s not even a bad thing.

The type of regulation is a bit more abstract. I tried to cover this in a previous post,Foundations of a Free Market, but I don’t even know if I explained it that well. The idea is, it depends on why the regulation is in effect. Socialism typically refers to controlling the means of production, so regulations that attempt to do this, for the very reason of “controlling the means of production”, are typically more socialist. However, regulations that come about for other reasons, such as health and safety, are not necessarily socialist. For instance, labeling laws, or occupational safety laws, are not necessarily socialist, or at least not to a great extent. They do control businesses to some effect, but it is not done so to interfere with the distribution of goods, but done for reasons somewhat external to the production process, namely, the health and safety of the customers and workers. In other words, if one was taking a quiz that placed someone as 100 (pure capitalist) and 0, pure socialist, health and safety regulations would score a -1, whereas laws that control production would be a -10.

In the Foundations of a Free Market post, I listed four main things, which are by no means exhaustive, that separate a Free Market from a Socialist Economy.

1) The right of people to sell a product for whatever price they want. i.e. no gas price caps

2) The right of people to negotiate wages. – i.e. no gov’t caps on CEO pay, at the complete capitalist end, this would mean abolition of the minimum wage.

3) Freedom in choosing what products to sell (not counting moral legislation, which is more of a social issue, not economic). – i.e. an insurance company being able to sell coverage they choose, not in packages determined by a state government, a restaurant owner opening a smoking restaurant (although this is more of a property rights issue), and iTunes selling music in any format they wish.

4) People having the freedom to start their own business – i.e. city governments not making decisions on what or how many businesses are allowed in their towns. For instance, a local government should not be able to say, “we already have enough taxi businesses, you cannot start your own”, or someone starting a business should not have to do a presentation demonstrating why their business should be profitable to a city council.

People may not agree to all of these, or not to a full extent. Again, incomplete agreement does not make someone a Socialist, again, it is really a spectrum. Most people are not either-or. Most Americans support the minimum wage, that just means they aren’t complete laissez-faire capitalists, and whether that is a good or bad thing is not even the point. I am nowhere near an expert on what makes a true capitalist economy, and am by no means the standard-bearer for this issue; I just realize there is some confusion at times on what makes someone a socialist vs. just being a Progressive (i.e. American Democrat). While Democrats are more likely to support socialist ideas, they hardly have a monopoly on them; many of the loudest voices concerning the gas price caps have been Republicans.

The main point is this: socialism primarily tends to mess directly with the means of production, typically through controls of wages and prices, or through determining who can sell what. Other measures may produce less economic freedom, but socialism messes with the market directly.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Is government the friend of the Christian?

Posted by Chance on July 27, 2006

Focus on the Family’s Guiding Principles are:

We believe that God has ordained three basic institutions — the church, the family and the government — for the benefit of all humankind. The family exists to propagate the human race and to provide a safe haven in which to nurture, teach and love the younger generation. The church exists to minister to individuals and families by sharing the love of God and the message of repentance and salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. The government exists to maintain cultural equilibrium and to provide a framework for social order.

I think these are good guiding principles, and I like the work Focus does. They have an Institute that college students can take for credit, they do pro-life work, and they have good books on marriage, family, and development. I understand many people don’t like Dobson, and many do like him, right now for his work concerning the Federal Marriage Amendment, or whatever it’s called.

The Guiding Principles mention the government. I agree that the government is established by God, because it does provide some order. At the same time though, I think Christians can be too trustful of government.

Now, there are some areas where government has to be involved. Should abortion be outlawed? should gay marriage be allowed? etc… At the same time, however, I believe many of the problems we have in the first place is simply too much government. One of my favorite articles in the blogosphere is by Glen Dean. One key paragraph that I’ve quoted before states

Most people do not realize why the framers sought to separate government from religion. It wasn’t because they feared that religion would harm government, as most modern liberals seem to think. The founders actually wanted to protect religion from government. Government is not the friend of religion.

Glen mentions two examples that I bring up often, even in my last post. Education and Charity are two areas in which the church, in the past, has been heavily involved. Through the history of the U.S. however, government has become more involved in these areas, pushing the church out. For instance, Christians often complain about anti-Christian values being taught in schools. I don’t think the way to fight this is simply try to modify what is being taught in schools, but to reform the entire school system itself, so that people are not forced to learn the values of others.

In my view, going through the channels of government is often not the way to fight the culture wars. Now, there are areas where government should get involved. I am pro-life because I believe the chief function of government is to protect innocent human life. Concerning gay marriage, I don’t believe in laws outlawing homosexuality, but I don’t want a government stamp of approval on it either. And this is not an endorsement for libertarianism, and I am not a full-blown libertarian saying the government should abolish all welfare and any laws that don’t directly protect people. But I think people from all political persuasions can appreciate the idea that government should only be grown when necessary (it’s just that we all disagree on when its necessary). I am just saying that we should be weary of government power, and that it should not be our first resort. Government power is a double-edged sword. It may swing in our favor today, but maybe not tomorrow. The government schools that were teaching our kids Christian values a few years ago are teaching opposite things now. Freedom can be a double-edged sword as well, but I believe virtue best flourishes in an atmosphere of freedom.

Posted in Philosophy | 8 Comments »

How should be go about school choice?

Posted by Chance on July 27, 2006

There are basically three ways that people discuss concerning the reform of our public school system. One way is to keep the existing public school system, but work on reform, either through increased funding, or other ideas. There are two more radical ways that involve school choice. One school choice method is to continue public funding of education, but allow school choice through vouchers or charter schools. The much more radical one involves the complete privatization of schools.

I like the idea of complete privatization, but I think it is a little radical for right now, and I don’t think it has much support, primarily because it would cut off universal guaranteed funding. So, the school voucher/charter school method seems like a reasonable compromise, or a major first step. But the question is, would this, in fact, be an improvement, or could it potentially make things worse. Andrew Coulson deals with this question:

Will charter schools enlarge the existing government monopoly in the long run?

We know this is a delicate question, but our own history demands that it be asked. A close historical analogue to a modern charter school is a conventional U.S. public school of the mid-to-late 1800s. In fact, early public schools had greater local control and autonomy than most charters do today.

Look what has become of them.

The natural pattern for public schools has been relentlessly increasing centralization and regulation. Is there any reason to think that charter schools, or any public school choice variation, will escape that fate?

Many private schools are opting to convert to charter schools as a way of alleviating financial pressures, so the eventual result could be a nearly universal government monopoly that is as heavily regulated as are public schools today. Is that a tolerable risk?

The late Harry Browne echoed a similar concern, stating that school vouchers are not really “school choice” and would actually make things worse. Private schools would begin to accept public funds, through the form of vouchers, but with this money, strings would probably be attached. As a consequence, private schools would be molded to fit the public school model, and then private schools would have the same flaws as the public school system of today.

So, the middle road of school choice raises concerns about the fate of private schools. From a religious establishment issue, I still have no problems with private schools receiving money that follows the student, because it is done so by the student’s choice, not through any coercion. However, I have to consider the concerns raised by Browne and Coulson. In an earlier post I stated by opposition to government funding of faith based initiatives, because it would change the nature of the initiative, and I wonder if the same would happen to private schools. At the same time, I like the idea of the money following the student; we are funding the student anyway, why not let him choose where to go? If we could get the funding without the regulation, that would be great, but that is unlikely to happen.

Perhaps a good solution would be to allow school choice, but only in the public arena. This would mimic the situation in higher education. The student would still be stuck in a public school system, but they would have their choice of schools. This seems to work well in the college arena. Where a child lives would not determine what school they had to attend, it would basically be an issue of how the parents are willing to drive. I am not sure how this would work exactly, because it would not be a free market, so I would have to spend time thinking about the ramifications of such a system. The good schools would attract all the students, but what motivation would the school have to grow? Maybe increased funding that eventually means higher teacher and administrator pay. That would provide motivation for schools to do better jobs. But, even then, the school system is still somewhat closed, so I am not sure how good it would do. Just some things to think about.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Having spiritual beliefs do not make you intolerant

Posted by Chance on July 26, 2006

I was visiting another blog and people were discussing the definition of being a “Christian.” The person who blogged at the site stated that a Christian was someone who had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That sounds accurate, and the person was simply giving a definition to their best guess. Someone else jumped on that person, calling them “judgmental” and “self-righteous” and speaking for God for assuming who Christians were.

Now, first of all, the definition provided above is not unreasonable, since the term “Christian” can mean “little Christ”, and implies anyone who follows Christ. Most of the definition is in the term itself. Now, to go from “follower of Christ” to one who “has a personal relationship with Christ”, while most Christians would agree these are the same, to a non-Christian these dots may not connect so easily, but the idea is not that far-fetched, nor self-righteous, in my view.

Secondly, for any religious belief, there has to be some way to define who belongs to that religion or not, such as Buddhists believe in the teachings of Buddha, Muslims follow the teachings of the Koran, etc… There is bound to be debate about who exactly belongs to a certain group, and there is some disagreement among Christians about who exactly is a Christian, for instance, must one be baptized, do good works, or simply have a personal relationship with Jesus as stated by the previously mentioned blogger (which is a view I share)? However, one must understand that people will disagree on this key point, but that does not make them judgmental or self-righteous.

To be honest, I do not know what the other blogger’s problem was with the definition given of Christianity, whether it was too narrow, or simply because they had a definition at all. If the definition was too narrow, well, that’s part of a religious belief. You believe what you believe is the truth; who is to say what is too broad or too narrow? Someone does not have to believe in universal or widespread salvation in order to be tolerant. Concerning the existence of a definition in the first place, that would be highly impractical. I would never be able to become a Christian, because no one would know, or would tell me, what a Christian actually is.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

I’m back (kind of)

Posted by Chance on July 26, 2006

I’m back from vacation. However, it may be a little while longer before I make another post, simply because work is so busy. Now, I know it’s hard, and my blog gives you one more reason to wake up in the morning but it may be another day before I post. Maybe not. Depends how work goes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Off to Gabbatha University

Posted by Chance on July 13, 2006

I’ll be a guest blogger for a few days at my friend Josh’s site, Gabbatha University. I’ll be on vacation for a few days after that. It will probably be a week and a half before I post again on this site. Stop by Gabbatha sometime, it’s a great site.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Random self-indulgent musings

Posted by Chance on July 13, 2006

I have no topic to write about, so I will subject you to my random musings. Explore the deepness and depthity that is the soul of Chance!!! Sit back as I inject you with my wit!!!

A lady was holding a pro-life sign on an intersection on the way to work today. I gave her a thumbs up, but I now wonder if it looked sarcastic.

I often wonder when they will let blood-letting back in as a legitimate medical practice.

I sometimes wonder if my desire for freedom is really just a desire for control.

I wonder if 7th order terms of a Taylor Series polynomial ever have their feelings hurt because they are neglected so often.

Sometimes writing about spiritual things scares the crap out of me. After all, I can BS all I want about political stuff and be completely wrong. Being wrong about spiritual issues is a whole other matter.

I’ve been trying, on various occasions, to insert the term “Hollaback girl” into my conversations.

I wish capes were still a popular fashion accessory.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes Pt. 1

Posted by Chance on July 12, 2006

Dan Trabune has started visiting the site and has brought up many good questions concerning taxes and what they are used for. He asked this question in response to a previous post

It’s a totally unworkable solution, but don’t you ever wonder what would happen if our US Budget were written by The People? That is, if our tax system allowed us to say, “I’d like 10% to go to defense, 10% to helping the poor, 20% towards the environment, 5% to foreign aid…” etc.

Pretending that it were somehow workable, what do you reckon the results of that approach would be (besides a big mess)?

I think there are good and bad things to such an approach. The good thing is that it would provide immediate accountability to where our tax dollars go. If you asked any random person how their tax money is distributed, they would probably have no idea, and I do not either. Government accountability of how our money is spent is something that needs to be addressed.

Another issue though, is that I believe our founding fathers wanted it more like the current situation, in which decisions concerning money are one step removed from the people. Whether this is right or wrong, or best for the people is a whole issue within itself. I think Congress was designed to make legislative and budget decisions for the people, instead of the people doing it themselves. This is what makes our nation a republic, as opposed to a direct democracy. A political scientist could probably tell you more about the differences, and why one is better than the other. I believe it has something to do with legislators being less subject to shifting political whims, as opposed to the everyday person.

It would be interesting, however, to see what would happen in such a situation. Would the distribution be more just? Would it still be subject to simply redistributing money to special interests?

I suppose the biggest issue I have with our tax system is the way it redistributes money from one person to another. As I have said before, I have no problem with a basic welfare system. However, when the objective of the welfare system is to simply redistribute money from the rich to the poor for egalitarian purposes, or simply because “the rich can afford it”, that I have issues with. I am afraid that a direct system would cause this to happen to an even greater extent.

While democracy is a great form of rule, the greatest I can think of, other than a direct rule by Christ, a democratic form of government is not perfect, especially if it is not constrained. As the saying goes, the minority can still suffer from the tyranny of the majority. That’s why we have the Bill of Rights, so that the majority cannot silence speech they disagree with, or jail someone they dislike for no reason at all. I also believe in the enumerated powers doctrine, which says that the Constitution spells out the powers that the government has. A problem with democracy that has so much power over our money is that it can simply transfer money from the minority to the majority. While this is great for when the money is really needed, it could get to the point where democracy is no longer a tool to keep the peace and keep government accountable, it becomes a tool for material gain.

Dan’s question could also point to a greater issue: which is better, a more direct rule by the people, or a more representative republic?

Update 3:52 PM MDT: Made some edits to the last couple of sentences for clarity.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »