Why Think by Numbers?

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Numbers cannot lie.

A world without disease, starvation, violence, and suffering is the ultimate destination of humanity. Getting there will require voters to base their decisions on statistical cost-benefit analyses instead of irrational emotions. The power of numbers can make utopia a reality.

The Others

Your mind has been infiltrated. Your logical and conscious prefrontal cortex is ever thwarted by powerful saboteurs hiding within the dark realm of your subconscious. The usurpers of your decision-making processes are none other than the ignorant reptilian brain stem and emotional limbic system. They torture you with sadness for the slightest defiance. They drug you with narcotic neurochemicals to reward your obedience. This diabolical duo is responsible for all forms of irrational human behavior, such as racism, war, and marriage. Your only defense against these illogical bastards is to base your decisions on cold, hard numbers. For unlike these very flawed and mischievous components of our brains, numbers cannot lie.

Three Brains are a Crowd

You have a total of three brains: the reptilian brain, the paleo-mammalian brain, and the rational brain. In a sense, a human being is what you might get nine months after a romantic evening between a lizard, a dog, and Mr. Spock.

Triune Brain - Brainstem, Limbic System, Neocortex

Diagram Source: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/101269/chapters/A-Walk-Through-the-Brain.aspx

  • Brain 1: The Lizard – The reptilian part of us, the brain stem, deals with the basic survival, instinctive, and reproductive functions.  These functions are otherwise known as the four F’s:
    • fight
    • flight
    • feeding
    • intercourse

That’s all that crocodiles really do with their tiny, pea-sized brains.  This republican, I mean reptilian brain is “rigid, obsessive, compulsive, ritualistic and paranoid”. It is prone to repetitive, programmed behaviors and is incapable of learning from mistakes.  The reptile brain’s only saving grace is that it is responsible for all core tasks required for self-preservation.

  • Brain 2: The Dog – The second evolutionary stratum consists of the ancient paleo-mammalian limbic system. The limbic system adds feelings to instincts.  It morally classifies everything as either “good or bad”. The value in this portion of the brain is that it can generates more nuanced, varied and flexible behaviors than can the basic brain stem.
  • Brain 3: Mr. Spock – The characteristically human layer is the neocortex. This is the realm of reason and logic. It is this part of our brains that has given mankind the great gifts of philosophy, mathematics, science, and man’s crowning achievement, the Snuggie™.

So within our craniums, we have an ongoing battle between the vicious, impulsive lizard, the slobbering dog digging a hole in your couch to china for no reason, and Mr. Spock struggling to determine the fate of our planet. Wouldn’t it be best to leave this job solely to Spock?

A Lizard, a Dog, and Mr. Spock Deciding the World's Fate
Triune Brain Painting – Michael Stancato

Why Our Brains Don’t Work Rite

So, we’ve got this top of the line neocortex which is perfectly capable of rational thought.  Why then, do we behave so irrationally as a species?  The problem is that the rational neocortex is enslaved by the lower brains.  It is not free to examine all available information in it’s quest to attain objective truth.  Instead, it frequently becomes a kind of a slimy neuro-lawyer defending and rationalizing the preconceived notions of our emotional limbic systems. Let’s break down the processing of new infomation:

  1. Your sensory organs are exposed to a new piece of information in the form of stimuli.
  2. This sensory stimuli is neurally transmitted to the limbic system.
  3. The limbic system decides if this information is agreeable (true) or disagreeable (false).
  4. The limbic system attaches positive emotions to agreeable information or negative emotions to disagreeable information.
  5. That feeling gives that thought a sense of conviction or truth.
  6. This information/emotion combination is what we call a belief.
  7. At that point, the neocortex is employed to blindly protect and defend this belief.
  8. The neocortex puts forth all available evidence which supports this belief.
  9. The neocortex figures out ways to discount or filter out any information which contradicts this belief.

The limbic system, this primitive brain that can neither read nor write, provides us with the feeling of what is real, true, and important using its own often irrational and illogical criteria. It therefore poses great danger to all of human civilization.

Why No One is Reading this Sentence

Many of the hostile commenters on my site have expressed their own theories as to why this is.  However, I feel that the reason for this can be explained by a concept known as “The Caveman Principle”.  This principle states that our brains have generally evolved very little since the time of the caveman.

The human brain has been around for about 200,000 years.  The Stone Age only ended about 6,000 years ago.  So, ninety-nine percent of our ancestors lived in environments characterized by starvation and a general scarcity of resources. Evolution crawls at a snail’s pace, so we still have these caveman brains optimized for an environment millennia away from our own. So our wants, dreams, personalities, and desires have not changed much in 200,000 years.

So, like, what were cavemen into?  Surviving long enough to successfully replicate one’s genes in an unstable environment requires brains with very specific interests.  Hence, the type of brain that survived to reproductive age typically paid a great deal of attention to these questions:

  • Can I eat it?
  • Will it eat me?
  • Can I mate with it?
  • Will it mate with me?

Note these topics of interest, which are suspiciously absent from this list:

  • Statistics
  • Economics
  • Formal Cost-Benefit-Analysis

An interest in these topics was pretty much worthless to primitive humans struggling to survive in ancient Africa.  This is especially true since math and written language didn’t even exist at the time.  Conventional evolutionary theory states that traits that offer no survival or reproductive advantage will not persist in a species. Hence, these subjects are as fascinating to us as Al Gore recounting a riveting experience of watching paint dry.

Evolution has made these subjects brutally boring to most of us. So that, my non-existent reader, is why you are not reading this sentence, and are instead viewing one of the many fine pornographic websites that the prestigious internet has to offer.

Let’s Get Ignorant!

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data, fool.”  – Mr. T

A general disinterest in economics and statistics wouldn’t be a big deal if we lived in a dictatorship.  However, in our political system, government action is to some degree a product of public opinion.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a democracy.”  Based on this quote, I think it’s safe to say that our democracy is currently bulwark-free.  The fact that I don’t know what a bulwark is further proves that we do not have an informed citizenry.

The only way to understand the important details of complex and large-scale societal issues is through the use of statistics and economics. Additionally, formal cost-benefit analysis is the only way to make optimal decisions on these complicated issues.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t even know what a cost-benefit analysis is, let alone have a firm grasp of the statistical and economic data needed to perform such analyses.

Here’s a list of what the average voter (such as myself) doesn’t know:

  • How much their government spends on:
    • foreign aid
      • Asked to estimate how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid the median estimate provided by survey respondents is 25%. Asked how much they thought would be an “appropriate” percentage the median response is 10%.  In reality, a mere 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid.
    • wars
      • Americans were asked which activities the U.S. government currently spends the most money on: national defense, education, Medicare or interest on the national debt? Just 39% of Americans were able to correctly identify national defense.
    • education
    • Medicare
    • interest on the debt
  • How many troops have been killed in our various and sundry wars
    • just 28% of adults are able to say that approximately 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war.
  • How many civilians have been killed in our various and sundry wars
    • Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands.  The estimate provided by the average survey respondant as 9,890.
  • How much they pay in taxes
  • What the rate of inflation is
  • What the unemployment rate is
  • How much profit corporations make
  • What the Dow Jones Average is
  • 2 years after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, 70% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had perpetrated the attacks
  • How wealth is distributed among classes
  • only 2 out of 5 voters can name all three branches of the federal government.
  • only 1 in 5 know that there are 100 federal senators.

Without factual data for our neocortices to utilize in doing a cost-benefit comparison of our electoral choices, our stupid brain stems and emotional limbic systems get to choose our candidates.

The US government is the most powerful man-made entity in the history of the world. Allowing an uninformed public control of this colossus is like giving a baby a nuclear bomb. My dream is that one day we might upgrade our democracy to the equivalent of a toddler with a nuclear bomb.

Keep In the Vote!

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Pee Wee Herman

Elections are won and lost not primarily on “the issues” but on the values and emotions of the electorate, including the “gut feelings” that summarize much of what voters think and feel about a candidate or party.

Ideally, the goal in selecting any candidate is to identify the individual most likely to maximize the overall well-being of the citizenry. If our neocortices were in charge, politicians would be selected solely based on three primary criteria.

  • INTELLIGENCE, which is necessary to effectively identify and execute policies that maximize the general welfare of the populace.  The best way to measure intelligence would be for the candidates to take psychometric tests and make their scores public.
  • KNOWLEDGE – An immense level of knowledge over a wide range of issues (economics, history, science, etc.) is necessary to identify and properly execute optimal public policies.  This could be evaluated through standardized testing of the candidates.
  • RECORD – The candidate’s record proves whether or not they actually support policies that better the general welfare of the citizenry.  It also indicates whether or not the candidate possesses the integrity necessary to resist the influence of special interests.   These are small but powerful groups who would impose their own selfish policies at the expense of the greater society.

Unfortunately, I and most other voters have an informational vacuum between our ears with regard to this data for most candidates. Hence, our neocortices are unable to perform a rational calculation. This leaves the decision up to our stupid brain stems and emotional limbic systems. These portions of our brains can’t follow arguments of any complexity. They stuff themselves with slogans and advertisements. They eschew fact for myth. They operate on biases and stereotypes. They privilege feeling over thinking. The result is a political system of daunting irrationality.

The primary factors which do influence our electoral decisions include:

  • LOOKS – 70% of elections are won by the candidate with the prettiest face. Another study illustrates voter preference for candidates that possess facial features similar to their own.
  • LOVELIFE – Although infidelity may say something about a politician’s character, it has no direct impact of the lives of the voters.  My theory is that throughout evolutionary history, man tended to live in small groups.  Hence, the chosen leader was likely to come into direct contact with the voter’s spouse.  Powerful individuals tend to elicit a greater ability to seduce spouses.  Therefore, prehistoric voters who chose faithful leaders were less likely to have their spouse impregnated by this leader.  This would leave their spouse’s womb available for their own progeny.  Ultimately, their characteristic appreciation of fidelity would be passed to their offspring.
  • ELECTABILITY – Many people choose not to vote for a third party or independent candidate that they prefer because they’re unlikely to win. Their reasoning is that they would be throwing away their chance to help elect the lesser of two evils. A survey of college students shows that 79 percent of the students “felt that their vote makes a difference.” In reality, there is only a one in 60 million chance of a randomly selected voter affecting the presidential election.  It much more likely that that voter will die in a car accident (1 in 1 million) driving to the polls.  Hence, it’s irrational to believe that your vote is any more than a one data point in an opinion poll.
  • TRIBAL LOYALTY – Blind loyalty to political parties often distorts decision-making.  Many would claim that their loyalty to a party’s candidate is a result of their agreement with that candidate’s policies. However, for a lot of partisans, the causality is reversed.   Often individuals will modify their support for policies to achieve agreement with their candidate of the party to which they are loyal. For instance, upon the election of Barack Obama, a lot of republicans suddenly started complaining about the nation’s budget deficit. The odd thing is that, when George W. Bush was president, these same republicans were generally silent on the issue, despite the fact that Mr. Bush ran up $4 trillion in debt. At the same time, many democrats suddenly stopped complaining about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan upon Obama’s election.  It’s still unclear how having a democrat for a commander in chief can suddenly make a war morally justifiable.
  • VOTER’S MOOD – An experiment indicates that being in a bad mood while voting makes you more likely to vote out incumbents.
  • FLAGS – The mere appearance of the American flag in a voting booth makes voters more likely to vote Republican.

We’re damn lucky that CEO’s aren’t elected by popular vote.  If the public got to decide who ran Microsoft, I would be typing this sentence on a typewriter.

How to Beat Out Your Brains

Utopia, a world without disease, starvation, violence, and suffering, is the ultimate goal and destination of society. The thinking, rational mind has the power to make utopia a reality through innovation.  We’ve had a few hundred thousand years to get there, yet it remains a distant dream. Irrational or uniformed decisions are the primary reason why humanity fails to reach its true potential.

In a democracy and a free enterprise economy, voters and consumers are the deciders. Our prehistoric brains decide to waste society’s resources on wars and short-term gratification through erroneous decision-making. They are a drain on the economy, public welfare, the environment, and national security. Resources are misallocated, good ideas are rejected, and bad ideas are accepted. Money is wasted. Life and health are put in jeopardy.

Irrational beliefs are sand in the gears of the entire economy.  It’s virtually certain that your life will be shorter and less happy as a result of emotion-based decisions.

The only way to break the shackles put on our neocortices by its evil stepsisters is through the use of numbers.  When our rational mind has cold, hard statistics to support its arguments, it’s much more likely to overcome the emotion-based arguments of the primitive brains.  Providing your neocortex with this ammunition is the purpose of this site.  Using numbers we can overthrow this idiocracy and ignite a revolution of reason.  Suffering can be eliminated and utopia can be realized.

It’s quite possible, and maybe probable, that I’m an idiot. I may be wrong about a lot of this stuff.  If so, I would be eternally grateful if you were to straighten me out in the comments section.

Love,

Mike P. Sinn

How Much Direct Suffering Is Caused by Various Animal Foods?

This is a rigorous analysis from the brilliant utilitarian mind of Brian Tomasik originally published at http://www.utilitarian-essays.com in 2005. I made this graph in 2007 to try to illustrate his point visually.

Graph of Suffering Caused by Various Animal Foods

Abstract. Consuming equal weights of different animal products may produce vastly different expected amounts of direct suffering. Farmed seafood may cause the most, followed by poultry products. Pork, beef, and especially milk produce considerably less suffering in comparison. As an extreme case, creating demand for a kg of farmed catfish meat is expected to cause 20,000 times as much suffering as creating demand for a kg of milk. (Note: I haven’t yet analyzed lobster, shrimp, prawn, or other small seafood, but my guess is that, given the small size of these organisms, eating them causes large amounts of expected suffering per kilogram — at least as long as we give them a nontrivial probability of sentience, as I think we should.)

Introduction

It is clear that animals living on factory farms endure great amounts of suffering, enough that it is wrong to bring them into existence by creating economic demand for meat. If readers are unconvinced on this point, I recommend the vast collection of literature available online, including FactoryFarming.comWhy Vegan, and these videos.

In considering the suffering of farm animals, we presumably ought to care equally about equal amounts of suffering, regardless of which animals experience that suffering. It does not follow, however, that we ought to avoid all animal-based food products with equal amounts of effort. Eating certain types of meat may cause more suffering than eating the same amount of another type of meat under otherwise identical circumstances.

Below, I’ll investigate how much direct suffering, on average, is caused by creating demand for a kilogram of different types of animal products. By “direct” suffering, I refer only to the suffering of the animal whose flesh, milk, or eggs is part of the animal product. I’m ignoring, therefore, the suffering of male chicks in being ground up as part of the egg-production process, the suffering of calves separated from their mothers in milk production, the contribution of milk production to the veal/beef industry, the large amounts of wild fish that are caught and fed to farmed fish, the (sometimes high) fraction of farm animals that die before reaching slaughter, the environmental destruction that meat production entails, and potential health consequences of eating certain types of meat. Readers should consider these factors, too–perhaps incorporating them into the computations below.

Results

Here is a table of data on various animal foods. Column 4 computes a straightforward value for the expected number of days of life on a factory farm that purchasing a kg of an animal food causes animals of that type to endure. Column 5 represents my best-guess estimates for how bad life is per day for each of those animals. For instance, since I think the suffering of hens in battery cages is perhaps 2.5 times as intense, on average, as the suffering of beef cows, I put a “1” in the beef-cow entry and “2.5” in the egg column. Column 6 is a subjective estimate of the average pain of slaughter for each animal, expressed in terms of an equivalent number of days of regular life for that animal. For instance, I used “5” as an estimate for broiler chickens, which means I assume chickens would, on average, be indifferent between enduring the stress of slaughter and living for five more days in their usual conditions. Finally, I computed “Suffering per kg” in column 7 as follows:

column 7 = ((column 4)*(column 5) + (column 5)*(column 6))/(column 3),

where the first summand on the right represents “suffering per kg due to life” and the second summand represents “suffering per kg due to slaughter.”

Column 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Animal or Food Product Average lifespan (days) Average amount of food produced per lifetime (kg) Expected days of life caused per kg of meat demanded Suffering per day of life (beef cows = 1) Number of days of life equivalent to pain of death Expected suffering caused per kg demanded
Farmed catfish 730 0.48 1521 0.9* 10 1388
Farmed salmon 730 2.73 267 0.9* 10 244**
Eggs 365 15.3 27.7 2.5 3.6 70
Chicken 42 1.83 23.0 1.8 5 46
Turkey 126 10.3 12.2 1.8 5 23
Pork 183 91.1 2.01 1.8 5 3.7
Beef 402 339 1.19 1 9 1.2
Milk 2009 50,420 0.040 1.8 5 0.07

* I think the suffering of farmed fish may actually be greater than this, perhaps about the same as the average suffering of meat chickens. However, while the probability is close to 1 that land farm animals can suffer, the scientific jury is still out on whether fish can as well. I use a 50% probability of fish suffering to be conservative, though my actual probability is somewhat higher, perhaps 80%.

** This analysis counts only the suffering of the farmed fish. Importantly, it ignores the many times more small fish that are killed to provide feed to these larger fish. When this is taken into account, it’s possible that large farmed fish like salmon outweigh smaller (especially non-farmed) fish in per-kilogram impact.

Notes

Readers should feel free to substitute their own estimates into columns 5 and 6; for instance, if they buy meat from a non-factory farm, the values in column 5 may be considerably smaller. A link at the bottom of the page allows users to download the above table as an Excel worksheet.

It’s important to remember that the above figures are per kg demanded, not per kg eaten necessarily. If you get your meat from dumpster diving, you’re not causing suffering to other animals. There may be less extreme circumstances, too, in which eating animal products doesn’t contribute, or is less likely to contribute, to animal suffering. (See Does Vegetarianism Make a Difference?)

Similarly, per kg doesn’t necessarily mean per serving. If your choice is between ordering a two-egg omelet (roughly 0.1 kg of egg) versus a half pound of chicken, then the latter would cause more direct expected suffering (10.4 units = 0.23 kg * 46 units/kg) than the former (7 units = 0.1 kg * 70 units/kg).

Download this table: suffering-per-kg.xls

See the data sources: Where the Numbers Came From

http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/suffering-per-kg.html

 

Financial Sector Costs Us More than Any Other Sector In Economy

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The financial sector receives more of the average paycheck than any other sector of the economy.  Its share of the economy totals $2 trillion dollars.

In 1985, the financial sector earned less than 16% of domestic corporate profits.  Today, it’s over 40%.

In the 1960s, finance and insurance accounted for only 4% of GDP, whereas in 2007 finance and insurance accounted for 8% of GDP.

The purpose of the financial services industry is basically to transfer money from savers to entrepreneurs. It primarily consists of using a computer to shift money from one bank account to another. This service requires virtually no physical labor and very few material resources.

Yet, this relatively simple service cost our country more than $2 trillion in 2007. That was more than the country spent on health care, construction, food, utilities or transportation.

United States GDP by Industry Graph 2007 (Infographic)
How can financial paper shuffling to cost us more than the construction of the skyscraper where the paper shuffling will then take place? How does this industry get us to spend such an inordinate amount of money on their services?

The free market system automatically optimizes resource allocation to satisfy society’s wants and needs. The current problems in our financial sector can be seen as our economy’s attempt to reduce the excessive size of the financial sector and redirect those resources to more productive purposes. Yet, the government is doing everything in its power to counteract this process. The feds have taken or committed to take over $12 trillion from the other sectors and given them to financial institution to maintain this imbalance. This works out to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

The financial sector is at a historic high as share of the overall economy.

Graph of Financial Industry Sector Share of US GDP Over Time (Since 1860)

Graph Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NYUGDPFinancialShare.jpg

Note another year in history when it peaked, 1929.  At that time, many of the country’s resources were shifted to this low-employee, unproductive sector.  It was followed by a decade of unemployment and economic stagnation.  This would suggest that it may be unwise for the government to fuel this bloating if they wish to avoid another lost decade.

This begs the question “Why is government taking money from the paychecks of working people and giving it to AIG and Goldman-Sachs?” They claim that their failure will result in the collapse of our entire economic system.  This would, of course, eventually lead to a dystopian Mad Max scenario. However, the presented choice between government bailout and complete financial collapse is a false dichotomy. In reality, if the government allowed these irresponsible actors to fail, they would enter a bankruptcy process and be sold off to more smaller, more responsible companies.

Correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. However, the reason the government is so set on using tax dollars to prop up these insolvent companies (as opposed to taking the bankruptcy route) might be related to campaign contributions. For instance, AIG executives gave more than $630,000 during the 2008 political cycle even as the company was falling apart. President Obama collected a total of $130,000 from AIG in 2008, while McCain accepted a total of $59,499. Last year AIG and its subsidiaries spent about $9.7 million on federal lobbying, or about $53,000 for every day Congress was in session in 2008. Additionally, Obama’s top presidential campaign contributor was Goldman-Sachs. McCain’s was Merril-Lynch.

For all the awful investments AIG made, this political investment has produced a 1730000% rate of return.

Anti-Terrorism Spending 50,000 Times More Than on Any Other Cause of Death

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Old Man Struck by Lightning

The US spends more than $500 million per victim on anti-terrorism efforts.  However, cancer research spending is only $10,000 per victim.  Evolutionary psychology may offer an explanation for this irrational threat amplification.

But first a message from NATIONAL REPUBLICAN campaign committee:

Lightning.

Over the last decade it has stricken more Americans than terrorists have. It will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life.

Yet some politicians in Washington don’t see lightning as a threat. Barack Hussein Obama doesn’t. In the Senate, he voted to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to the so-called war on terror, while spending absolutely nothing on a threat which has taken far more American lives. He just doesn’t get it.

Barack Obama.

Wrong on lightning.

Wrong for America.

Putting Terrorism in Perspective

Roughly 3,000 Americans have lost their lives to terrorist attacks in the last decade. This averages out to a loss of 300 people a year, which is a tragic figure and, as a country, it behooves us to do everything we can to reduce or eliminate the threat of terrorism. But there are still a lot of other ways to wind up being the main course at a worm banquet. The gravest dangers we face include heart disease, cancer, and celebrity breakups. Unfortunately, our country doesn’t have infinite resources available to eliminate every threat. So the task falls to our government to allocate what resources we do have in a manner proportional to the magnitude of each threat. If we, as a society, want to effectively counter the dangers we face, we first have to put them in perspective.

How You’re Really Going to Die

Ranked by the number of victims, heart disease comes in as the number one threat. It’s responsible for 700,000 deaths a year. This coronary malady keeps food on the tables of funeral directors nationwide. And, like a perpetual motion machine, this very food fills their arteries with cholesterol leading to even more heart attacks.

On to number two. Cancer kills 550,000 people a year. But ironically, some futurists see it as a potential key to immortality. It removes the limit on the number of times that a cell can replicate itself. Thus, if properly harnessed, this disease could be used to defy aging by allowing eternal tissue regeneration. This would enable Joan Rivers to continue enchanting Americans with her iconic brand of celebrity commentary for generations to come.

Runners up for the best solution to overpopulation include strokes with 160,000 casualties a year, respiratory disease with 120,000 casualties annually, diabetes at 70,000 , pneumonia at 60,000 , Alzheimer’s disease at 50,000 , and vehicular accidents at 40,000.

As previously stated, averaged over the last decade which contained the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, terrorism still only killed about 300 people a year. Compare this to the 1000 people who are struck by lightning every year. Hopefully, by putting storm clouds on the federal no-fly list we’ll be able to reduce this number in the future. But until then, based on current trends you’re three times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed in a terrorist attack.

Infographic Showing Disproportionate (Imbalance) US Spending to Combat Terrorism

 

Risk Annual Deaths Lifetime risk
Heart disease 652,486 1 in 5
Cancer 553,888 1 in 7
Stroke 150,074 1 in 24
Hospital infections 99,000 1 in 38
Flu 59,664 1 in 63
Car accidents 44,757 1 in 84
Suicide 31,484 1 in 119
Accidental poisoning 19,456 1 in 193
MRSA (resistant bacteria) 19,000 1 in 197
Falls 17,229 1 in 218
Drowning 3,306 1 in 1,134
Bike accident 762 1 in 4,919
Air/space accident 742 1 in 5,051
Excessive cold 620 1 in 6,045
Sun/heat exposure 273 1 in 13,729
Shark attack* 62 1 in 60,453
Lightning 47 1 in 79, 746
Train crash 24 1 in 156,169
Fireworks 11 1 in 340,733

 Sources: Unless otherwise noted, all accidental death information fromNational Safety Council. Disease death information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lifetime risk is calculated by dividing 2003 population (290,850,005) by the number of deaths, divided by 77.6, the life expectancy of a person born in 2003. *Shark data represents number of attacks worldwide, not deaths.

 

Screwed Up Spending Priorities

Now that we’ve compared the risks, let’s examine how the government chooses to allocate our limited resources to combat these threats. To the least likely means of death I’ve mentioned, terrorism, the federal government devotes about $150 billion annually. On the other hand, to combat the most likely cause of death, heart disease, the government contributes only $2 billion. And just $300 million is devoted to research on the third most likely cause of death, strokes.

So looking at it another way, we spend $500 million for every death from terrorism and only $2,000 for every death resulting from strokes. That means we spend 250,000 times more per death on terrorism. I’m sure all of this is very flattering to Osama bin Laden, but this disparity might leave some stroke victims scratching their heads, assuming they’ve retained full motor control of their arms.

Graph of US Deaths from Various Causes and Funding to Combat Each Cause

Why is the government response so disproportionate to the threat?

EVOLUTION

Evolutionary psychology may be able to explain this phenomenon. The human brain has been around for 200,000 years.   More than 99% of that evolution has been characterized by starvation and general scarcity of resources typified the environment in which humans evolved.  In this situation, violent acquisition of resources from other groups was often a necessary survival technique. Hence, human brains most hyper-vigilant and aggressive toward human threats (i.e. terrorists) were most likely to survive and propagate these characteristics.

On the other hand, throughout evolutionary history medical science was almost non-existent.  Hence, there would be no survival value added by a tendency to focus on more likely health-related causes of death. We just weren’t designed for these times.

Anxiety Fatigue

One possible reason is anxiety fatigue. When an individual is subjected to a stimulus for an extended period of time, such as the aroma of a hospital room, the sound of a fan, or the endless nagging of the mother-in-law, their mind eventually just filters it out. Mortality risks such as heart disease and cancer extend farther back in time than even the existence of our current civilization. Our society now more or less accepts these unfortunate facts of life as another cost of doing business.Thus, they’re filtered out of our collective consciousness to some extent. On the other hand, consider the SARS virus scare a few years ago. Despite the absence of a single American fatality, the newness of this airborne illness allowed it to occupy headlines for weeks. Similarly, the Islamic terrorist menace is also a relatively new phenomenon to the US. Maybe threat fatigue for terrorism just hasn’t set in yet.

Economic Consequences

The economic consequences of terrorism would, at first thought, seem like a justification for the level of concern. There was a huge financial cost associated with the 9/11 attacks. Total related insurance claim payments are estimated at $32.5 billion. However, there’s been no definitive proof that the attacks lead to a significant decline in GDP. In fact, a GDP which had been falling due to recession in the quarter prior to 9/11 actually started growing again in the quarter following 9/11.

It’s conventional wisdom that military spending is good for the economy. However, most macroeconomic models show that, in the long term, military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment. This ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment. So if one thinks they’re protecting our economy by taking trillions of dollars away from other productive uses to fight the so-called global war on terror, they should consider upgrading their abycuss to a calculator.

Nuclear Bombs

Another seemingly more justifiable reason for a magnified response to terrorism is the potential for a nuclear attack that could result in a far greater number of casualties than the typical terrorist attacks have to date. According to many experts on nuclear proliferation, the possibly insurmountable technical challenges of building or acquiring a thermo-nuclear weapon are enormous. Including the requirement that the weapon be portable, makes the likelihood of acquisition dramatically more remote. However, there is a real threat that highly enriched uranium could be aquired from a former Soviet state and used to make a crude bomb. This is a serious risk and needs to be addressed by either securing or downgrading the 1000 tons of yellowcake remaining within Russia and her neighbors. The government currently spends about a billion dollars on this effort annually. Compare this to the two billion we spend in Iraq every week and one might assume we have a bonobo setting our national security priorities in exchange for bananas.

Human Psychology

Finally, the psychological makeup of our species could also be a contributing factor to this risk amplification. Just look at the plot structure of a work of fiction. The vast majority of conflicts are between a human protagonist and a human antagonist.We seem to maintain an inherent attraction to interpersonal or, on a larger scale, inter-societal conflict. It’s only natural that this affinity translates to our media diet as well. Many studies have shown that the media sets the public policy agenda.So, the point is that interpersonal and societal conflicts like that between Western civilization and Muslim extremists are simply better able to maintain our attention than conflicts between man and complex, abstract medical threats.

In addition, sociologists and psychologists have determined that society amplifies the danger of risks imposed upon them, such as terrorism. Conversely, society finds risks resulting from voluntary behavior, such as car accidents, more acceptable.

Flow Chart Representing Social Amplification of Risks (Challenges to the Quantification of the Risks of Terrorism)

 Graph Source: http://www.federationofscientists.org

Graph Illustrating Cancer and Terrorism Deaths and Spending (by Tony Piro)

 Graph Source: http://calamitiesofnature.com

NEWS FLASH: US Government Wastes $1.5 Trillion on Devastating Drug War

I know you’re very busy, so I’m very sorry to bother you with this. However, I think what I have to say too important for you to ignore.  I appreciate that you are trying to make the world a better place. I respect you as a person. Against all adversity you have achieved some very amazing things.

I would also like to make it completely clear that I abhor the use of the majority of illegal drugs.  The adverse health effects and insidious addiction that comes along with drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin have destroyed countless lives.  I never want my daughter or anyone to do any of those drugs.  When I was a child, my grandmother and sister were killed and my back was broken as a result of someone’s irresponsible use of drugs.

So I am completely aware of the fact that there can be horrific and permanent negative consequences to the abuse of drugs.  However, imprisoning people for the possession of these substances does not erase this harm. The War on Drugs was in full effect when my sister and grandmother were killed, and it certainly didn’t protect them.

Every minute someone is arrested for simple drug possession in the United States.  In 2011, marijuana possession arrests totaled 663,032.  Despite your claims that going after recreational pot users in states where it is legal is not “a top priority”, your administration has continued to aggressively target dispensaries that are in compliance with state law. I and others have shouldered the $10 billion annual cost of arresting and incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people for the possession of marijuana. These arrests are often for small quantities for personal use.

I work 40 hours a week managing an industrial testing chemistry lab.  On top of that, over the last year I have been spending another 40 hours a week trying to build a web application that I hope will help the millions of people in the world who suffer from the emotional hell that is depression.  It is my sincere hope that through improving exercise, diet, sleep, safe pharmacological measures and other treatments in conjunction with disciplined self-tracking of treatments, outcomes and adverse events, we can and will eradicate mental illness from the face of the earth.

You and George Bush have taken tens of thousands of dollars out of my paychecks over the last 10 years to pay for your corporate welfareforeign military occupations and to imprison people for simple non-violent, drug possession.  The result is that I may run out of money before I achieve my goal.

In your 2012 National Drug Control Strategy you admit that “the War on Drugs is an utter failure”.  Here is a graph from an infographic touting your “Record of Reform” which your drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has provided us.  This graph breaks down how you wasted my money in 2012.

Source: 2012 National Drug Control Strategy
 

That graph suggests that you are spending more on prevention and treatment than you are on law enforcement and incarceration. However, to produce this appearance, it seems that you have to engage in some statistical trickery by separating out “Interdiction” and “International Programs” from the “Law Enforcement and Incarceration” bar.  In reality, you are still spending 50% more on law enforcement and incarceration than you are on prevention and treatment.  Here is a less deceitful version of your graph.

Source: http://topnug.com/blog/tag/president-obama/
 

What’s worse, the money you are stealing from me isn’t even having any impact on the level of illicit drug use.  You are just tearing apart thousands of families for no reason. Addiction rates are at exactly the same level that they were before we spent $1.5 trillion dollars on “drug control measures”.  This fact is illustrated in the graph below.

Addiction Rate and US Drug Control Spending

Source: http://www.mattgroff.com/questions-on-the-1315-project-chart/

As a constitutional scholar, you are aware that the 10th Amendment states that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or the people.

Here are the powers granted to the federal government by Article 1, Section 8 of the constitution:

  1. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
  2. To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
  3. To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
  4. To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
  5. To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
  6. To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
  7. To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
  8. To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
  9. To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
  10. To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
  11. To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  12. To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  13. To provide and maintain a Navy;
  14. To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
  15. To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
  16. To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
  17. To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of Particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings
  18. To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

You will note that the ability to restrict what materials individuals choose to put in their bodies is not on that list.  I presume that you would cite the commerce clause when trying to justify your actions. However, you know perfectly well that it is possible to produce and consume a substance without engaging in commerce or transporting it across state lines.  If one does this, I would admit that the federal government could have jurisdiction.  However, you are continuing to spend my money to imprison people who are not engaging in interstate commerce and merely possess restricted substances.  I don’t even think the states should be incarcerating people for nonviolent drug possession.  However, if someone is going to engage in such totalitarian activities, it should be state or local governments. The federal government absolutely no right to do any of this.

I further presume that you would defend your unconstitutional actions by claiming that the Constitution is not a static document, but a living one that must be read in the context of an ever-changing world. To that, I would say to look again at this graph that represents the reality of our ever-changing world.  Even if you twist the constitution into a pretzel to try to justify your actions over the last 4 years, the reality remains that these prohibitionist policies are not achieving their intended aims.

People with mental illness self-medicating themselves is the number one cause of illegal drug use. In Dreams From My Father, you admitted that this was the reason you turned to drugs when you stated, “Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.”  The failure of the mental health community to take a rigorous, data-centric approach to diagnosis and treatment is the reason that mental illness, and by extension illegal drug use is so pervasive in this country. If I had 0.1% of the $10 billion that you spend on law enforcement and incarceration, I could prevent more illegal drug use with my application then you can with the entire $10 billion.

If you have any respect for democracy, you should at the very least end the federal prohibition of marijuana.  55% of Americans agree with me on this issue as is illustrated by this infographic.

http://blogs.lawyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/MJ-Infographic.jpg

 

To be fair, I would like to thank you for the progress you have made in reducing drug possession sentencing disparities.  I appreciate your true and good intentions.  I know that you want to reduce suffering in the world.  However, I would still like to politely request that you request $0 for federal incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, interdiction, and “international programs” in your next budget proposal to congress.

Please stop wasting my goddamned money on this idiotic Drug War. Thank you! 😀
Love,
Mike P. Sinn

314.441.6279

 

Sign this petition if you want the government to stop wasting your money, too!

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/stop-wasting-my-money-war-drugs/shzxk8ks

Iran US Foreign Relations: A History of Violence

Many Americans consider Iran to be a psychopathically violent nation that would be willing to commit suicide in order to kill as many Americans as possible.  The statistics behind historical Iranian US relations do not support this view.

Image of George Will wearing Mask

Juggalo’s Corner

By George “Ghost F**ker” Will

   A plurality of Americans believe that Iran is an irrational, suicide-bound regime that would use nuclear-weapons up in this bitch, given the chance. But is this belief supported by an Iranian history of violence?  Is Iran really a bunch of stone-cold killaz or, alternatively, are these bitchez just yanking our nizzos?

   If Iran is truly as wicked hardcore as Americans claim, they should have a history with a serious mutha f***in’ body count. However, when you examine Iran’s history, it becomes painfully obvious that Iran, in fact, has a p***y for ballz. Despite the incendiary rhetoric of its leaders, Iran, when comparing their body count to that of the United States, just be lookin’ like some candy-ass bitchez.

Conversely, a serious examination of American historical interaction with Iran reveals the US actually possesses grenades for balls that will indeed get your mouf blowed up when you suck them.  Let’s look at the numbers.

IRAN VERSUS THE US:  Will the real HARD CORE gangstas please stand up?

Civilians Killed

War: Iranian Civilian Deaths from Direct US Involvement (Infographic)

 

NUMBER OF AMERICAN Civilians KILLED IN IRANIAN ATTACKS ON THE US = 0
NUMBER OF IRANIAN CIVILIANS KILLED IN US ATTACKS ON IRAN = 290
  • Iran Air Flight 655 was a civilian jet airliner shot down by U.S. missiles on July 3, 1988, over the Strait of Hormuz, toward the end of the Iran–Iraq War. The aircraft, an Airbus A300B2-203 operated by Iran Air, was flying from Bandar Abbas, Iran, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf on its usual flight path when it was destroyed by the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes (CG-49), killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard.
  • The U.S. government issued notes of regret for the loss of human lives and in 1996 paid reparations to settle a suit brought in the International Court of Justice regarding the incident, however the United States never released an apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing. In August 1988 Newsweek quoted Vice President George H. W. Bush as saying “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”

Civilian Deaths (Indirect Involvement)

War: Iranian Civilian Deaths from Indirect US Involvement (Infographic)

NUMBER OF AMERICAN Civilians KILLED IN IRANIAN-SUPPORTED ATTACKS ON THE US = 0
NUMBER OF IRANIAN Civilians KILLED IN US-SUPPORTED ATTACKS ON IRAN = BETWEEN 11,000 AND 400,000
  • The Iran–Iraq War (also known as the First Persian Gulf War and by various other names) was an armed conflict between the armed forces of Iraq and Iran, lasting from September 1980 to August 1988.  The Iranian civilian death toll, overall, is estimated between 11,000 and 400,000 for Iran.
  • United States support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War, as a counterbalance to post-revolutionary Iran, included several billion dollars worth of economic aid, the sale of dual-use technology, non-U.S. origin weaponry, military intelligence, Special Operations training, and direct involvement in warfare against Iran. Support from the U.S. for Iraq was not a secret and was frequently discussed in open session of the Senate and House of Representatives. On June 9, 1992, Ted Koppel reported on ABC’s Nightline, “It is becoming increasingly clear that George Bush, operating largely behind the scenes throughout the 1980s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence, and military help that built Saddam’s Iraq into” the power it became”, and “Reagan/Bush administrations permitted—and frequently encouraged—the flow of money, agricultural credits, dual-use technology, chemicals, and weapons to Iraq.”

Military Deaths

War: Iranian Troops Killed vs American Troops Killed - Military Deaths (Infographic)

Number of American TROOPS Killed in Iranian-Supported Attacks on the US = Between 0 and 4,715

  • There have been no Americans killed by Iran in the US.  
  • 4,474 Americans were killed in Iraq.  There are many unsourced claims from the Pentagon and the American media that Iran has been providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq.  However, no evidence has been presented proving citizens of Iran, let alone the Iranian government, is culpable for these deaths. 
  • October 23, 1983, Beirut, Lebanon. A truck loaded with a bomb crashed into the lobby of the U.S. Marines headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 soldiers and wounding 81. Some analysts believe the Islamic Republic of Iran was heavily involved and that a major factor leading it to participate in the attacks on the barracks was America’s support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War and its extending of $2.5 billion in trade credit to Iraq while halting the shipments of arms to Iran. However, in 2001, former Secretary of Defense at the time of the bombing, Caspar Weinberger, stated: “But we still do not have the actual knowledge of who did the bombing of the Marine barracks at the Beirut Airport, and we certainly didn’t then.”
Number of Iranian Troops Killed in US-Supported Attacks on Iran = Between 300,000 and 1,000,000
  1. The Iran–Iraq War (also known as the First Persian Gulf War and by various other names) was an armed conflict between the armed forces of Iraq and Iran, lasting from September 1980 to August 1988.  The death toll, overall, was an estimated between 300,000 and 1 million for Iran.  
Rumsfeld and Saddam Shaking Hands

Government Overthrowals

War: US Overthrows Iranian Government (Infographic)

Number of Times Iran has Overthrown the US‘s Democratically-Elected Government = 0
Number of Times the US has Overthrown Iran‘s Democratically-Elected Government = 1
  1. The 1953 Iranian coup d’état (known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup) was the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh on 19 August 1953, orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom and the United States under the name TPAJAX Project. The coup saw the transition of Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi from a constitutional monarch to an authoritarian one who relied heavily on United States support to hold on to power until his own overthrow in February 1979.

ROUND 5: Military Invasions – US WINS!!!!!

War: Countries Invaded by United States Since WWII (Infographic)

Number of Countries Bombed by Iran SINCE WWII = 0
Number of Countries BOMBED by the US SINCE WWII = 32
  1. China 1945-46
  2. Korea 1950-53
  3. China 1950-53
  4. Guatemala 1954
  5. Indonesia 1958
  6. Cuba 1959-60
  7. Guatemala 1960
  8. Belgian Congo 1964
  9. Guatemala 1964
  10. Dominican Republic 1965-66
  11. Peru 1965
  12. Laos 1964-73
  13. Vietnam 1961-73
  14. Cambodia 1969-70
  15. Guatemala 1967-69
  16. Lebanon 1982-84
  17. Grenada 1983-84
  18. Libya 1986
  19. El Salvador 1981-92
  20. Nicaragua 1981-90
  21. Iran 1987-88
  22. Libya 1989
  23. Panama 1989-90
  24. Iraq 1991
  25. Kuwait 1991
  26. Somalia 1992-94
  27. Bosnia 1995
  28. Iran 1998
  29. Sudan 1998
  30. Afghanistan 1998
  31. Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999
  32. Afghanistan 2001
  33. Libya 2011

 
1953

Under orders from President Eisenhower, the CIA organized a military coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.  Britain, unhappy that Iran nationalized its oil industry, came up with the idea for the coup and pressed the United States to mount a joint operation to remove Mossadeqh.

1953 to 1979

Following the coup, the U.S installed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi , and the thriving democracy that existed in Iran was crushed.  The Shah led 25 years of tyrannical rule (supported by the CIA) that resulted in the killing of thousands of Iranians who opposed the U.S. puppet government.  On the economic front, the Shah denationalized Iran’s oil industry, 60% of which went to American firms.

 
1979

U.S.-backed Shah of Iran forced to leave the country after widespread demonstrations and strikes. Islamic religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile and takes effective power.  Sixty-six hostages taken by students at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.  The students justified taking the hostages as retaliation for the admission of the Shah into the U.S., and demanded the Shah be returned to Iran for a trial. The new Iranian regime believed the Shah was in the U.S. so that the U.S. could carry out another coup d’etat in Iran; the U.S. claimed he had come there only to seek medical attention. The Shah was given refuge and Iranians demanded his extradition to Iran to face justice.  The U.S. rejected Iran’s request and the hostage taking ensued. The hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran lasted 444 days.

1980

Iraq invades neighboring Iran with the approval of the United States.  The war lasts eight years and kills hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Iranians.  Iran suffered heavy casualties from Saddam’s chemical weapons, many of which were provided by the U.S.

 
1981

Last 52 U.S. hostages freed in January after intense diplomatic activity. Their release comes a few hours after U.S. President Jimmy Carter leaves office. They had been held for 444 days.

1982 to 1983

As Iranian forces gained the upper hand on the battlefield with Iraq, the U.S. launched another covert operation to arm and aid Saddam.  It began clandestinely to supply Saddam with satellite intelligence on Iran’s deployments.  Weapons were also sent via CIA fronts in Chile and Saudi Arabia directly to Baghdad. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.

1985 to 1986

Iran-Contra Affair: U.S. holds secret talks with Iran and makes weapons shipments, allegedly in exchange for Iranian assistance in releasing U.S. hostages in Lebanon. With revelations that profits were illegally channeled to Nicaraguan rebels, this creates the biggest crisis of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

1987

Following the mining of a U.S. Navy frigate, U.S. forces engage in series of encounters with Iranian naval forces, including strikes on Gulf oil platforms. The engagement was code named “Operation Praying Mantis”.  The battle, the largest between surface forces since World War II, sank two Iranian warships and as many as six armed speedboats.  The Iranian Frigate, IS Alvand, attacked by U.S. Navy forces.

1988

On patrol in the Persian Gulf, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger jet that it had mistaken for a hostile Iranian fighter aircraft. U.S. Navy Captain Will C. Rogers III ordered a single missile fired from his warship, which hit its target and killed all 290 people aboard the commercial Airbus.

1986 to 1989

Some seventy-three transactions took place that included bacterial cultures to make weapons-grade anthrax, advanced computers, and equipment to repair jet engines and rockets.

There’s a 0.00001% Chance that Your Vote Will Matter

Q: Should I vote?

Self-Interested Answer: No, you might die.

There’s less than a 0.00001% chance that your vote will be the tiebreaker that decides the outcome of a national election.  You are more likely to be injured in a car accident driving to the polls (0.002% chance).  Hence, if you are trying to make a practical improvement in your life and those of your loved ones, it is much more rational to just stay home on election day.

Civic-Minded Answer: Yes, if you’re more informed on the issues and candidates than the average voter.

If you have a relatively informed opinion on the ability of the candidates to reduce suffering in the world, you should exercise your irrational desire to vote. At least then you can say that you’re part of the solution.
But if you do this, you should vote based on your civic duty to express your opinion about who would be the best person for the job regardless of party or ballot status. “Pragmatically” voting for the lesser of two evils only serves to validate evil in what is effectively just a public opinion poll.

 

 

From the Bankers Who Brought You President Obama Comes NEW PRESIDENT™!


Obama & Romney 2013 Budget Plans, Financial Sector Contributions (who funded their campaign), and Annual Spending Increase Infographic

2013 Budget Plans

New Look! Same Great Waste!

Obama’s 2013 budget is $3.80 Trillion. Romney’s will be $3.79 trillion.

Budget Changes Specified by Candidate Romney™:

  1. Eliminate Obamacare (which is ironically very similar to Romneycare aside from the fact that Romneycare also covered abortions) – Estimated Savings = $122 billion annually
  2. Increase Military Spending – Estimated Cost = $45 billion annually
  3. Increase Medicare Spending – Estimated Cost = $71 billion annually
  4. “Deep Reductions” in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts – Estimated Savings = $0.15 billion annually
  5. Eliminate Amtrak Subsidies – Estimated Savings = $1.6 billion annually
  6. Eliminate Title X Family Planning Programs – Estimated Savings = $0.3 billion annually

Add it up.  Romney’s Total Savings = $0.01 trillion less than Obama’s budget! With a national debt on the order of $16.2 trillion, you’ll barely even notice the difference!

Past Spending Records

Are you tired of all that money cluttering up your home?  Try NEW PRESIDENT™!

Governor Romney™ has been scientifically proven to increase spending faster than the President Obama™! Obama has only increased government spending a disappointing 5.5% annually over his term.

Under Governor Romney, Massachusetts state spending went from $22.3 billion to $28.1 billion,  an amazing 6.5% per year! That’s faster than most other leading governors (6.2%)! And if we’ve learned anything from the vast disparity between George W. Bush’s fiscal rhetoric and fiscal record, it’s that Romney’s gubernatorial record might be a better indicator of what we could expect from a Romney federal budget.

Campaign Contributors

The Wall Street bankers that brought you President Obama™ love NEW PRESIDENT™!


The same Wall Street recipients of TARP bailout money that were top Obama donors in 2008 are top Romney donors in 2012. Why?

Just like the Original President, New President

  1. Supported TARP Wall Street bailout program.
  2. Opposes immediately balancing the federal budget.
  3. Has a track record of being a big spender and a big-government advocate while in office.
  4. Opposes a full audit of the Federal Reserve.
  5. Supports taxpayer-funded bailouts of corporations.
  6. Wants to keep personal income tax rates at the exact same levels for the vast majority of Americans.
  7. Will increase defense spending
  8. Believes the President can take the country to war without approval from Congress.

US Financial Crisis: Who Killed the Economy?

The cause of the US financial crisis is simple. It’s debt. This is a very simple and graphical evidence-based explanation of what caused the collapse.

The massive increase in the level of consumer debt prior to the recent financial crisis bears a striking resemblance to another period in economic history.  That other period of unprecedented borrowing occurred just before 1929.  Twin Peaks didn’t make it very clear who killed Laura Palmer, but they make it pretty obvious who killed the US economy. The murderer is debt.

Graph of US Historical Household Debt to GDP Ratio

The Household Debt to GDP Ratio reached 100% in 2007.  That means the average family owed as much on their mortgages, auto loans, and credit cards as they earn in a year. For a most of the 20th century, this ratio’s been under 50%. The last time it reached 100% was 1929. Note the twin peaks in the graph.

In both crashes, the primary reason for the increase in debt is the Federal Reserve’s artificial lower of interest rates.  Initially, the lower rates cause people to borrow more to buy more.  This behavior serves as a signal to business that they should hire more people and expand their production capacity by building more factories and stuff.  This leads to short-term economic growth known as the “Boom”.

This Boom period is analogous to the first few weeks of a heroin addiction.  We’ve all been there.  Ben Bernanke hooks you up with some killer junk for the first time.  You slide in the needle an pretty soon you’re a quivering mound of oozing pleasure.

Those were some crazy times.  Anyway, the Fed’s artificially low interest rates lead to over-borrowing.   Eventually, people borrow so much that they can’t take on any more debt so all this buying suddenly stops. Additionally, many people declare bankruptcy when they find they can’t make their payments.  According to the graph, this “Bust” period typically initiates when the average household debt to GDP ratio reaches 100%.

When the buying slows down, businesses don’t need so many employees anymore.  This leads to layoffs and more bankruptcies.  All this new unemployment leads to even lower consumer spending. Lower consumer spending leads to even more layoffs and bankruptcies.  Hence, the cycle just feeds on itself.

This suggests that our current crisis is about something much simpler than credit default swaps, derivatives, or toxic assets. It’s all about borrowing more than we can pay back.   This is the view of the Austrian economists who accurately predicted the impending disaster.  If the government would just let the market set the interest rate you wouldn’t have this unsustainable accumulation of debt and the inevitable resulting crash.

The only problem with that solution it that it makes sense.  Hence, it’s not really a feasible public policy option.  Naturally, the government’s solution was to do even more of what caused the problem in the first place.

President Obama reappointed Ben Bernanke, the person who’s policies helped created the initial bubble. The Federal Reserve created trillions of more dollars in new loans in order to stimulate even more borrowing and debt.

Graph of Monetary Base by the US Federal Reserve

Graph Source: http://research.stlouisfed.org

Why would the government behave so irrationally? The reason is that the majority of people with enough expertise and money to influence the system profit from the status quo. Financial institutions like Goldman-Sachs make trillions of dollars in interest by loaning the money the Fed creates.

It works like this:

During the financial crisis, the Fed routinely made billions of dollars in “emergency” loans to big banks at near-zero interest. Many of the banks then turned around and used the money to buy Treasury bonds at higher interest rates — essentially loaning the money back to the government at an inflated rate.“People talk about how these were loans that were paid back,” says a congressional aide who has studied the transactions. “But when the state is lending money at zero percent and the banks are turning around and lending that money back to the state at three percent, how is that different from just handing rich people money?”

To make even more money they loan it to consumers at an even higher rate in the form of mortgages, credit card loans or other forms of lending.

That is why the country’s wealth is continuously being transferred to the relatively non-productive financial sector.  The purpose of the banks is basically to facilitate the loaning of money from savers to borrowers and collect interest from the borrower.  Most of this amounts to a financial executive sitting at the top of a skyscraper moving numbers from one account to another with a computer.  Yet for this simple task many of these financial executives are paid hundreds of times more than the construction worker who built the skyscraper gets paid.

Here’s a link to an excellent easy-to-understand radio program on the causes of the collapse:
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1285

Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

GOP Presidential Candidates’ Budget Plans EXPOSED!!!

Play

GOP Candidate Ron Paul has produced a detailed budget containing over $1 trillion in first-year reductions. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have only indicated that they would attempt to repeal Obamacare saving an average of $20 billion a year.

US Budget Spending Cuts by GOP Republican Presidential Primary Candidates 2012 Infographic

Why Do the Candidates’ Budget Plans Matter?

The only way that a president can noticeably affect the everyday lives of all Americans is by raising or lowing their standard of living.  This is accomplished through their influence over the real tax rate.  The real tax rate encompasses all normal forms of taxation, but it also includes a hidden tax known as inflation.

All of the Republican candidates have detailed plans for modifying the tax code.  But saying you’re going to cut taxes without cutting spending correspondingly is sneaky. If you cut taxes, but maintain the same level of spending, then you have to either borrow or print the resulting budget shortfall.  Borrowing the money is worse than paying with taxes immediately, not only because we’ll have to pay it back in a future when the government’s fiscal situation is predicted to be far worse than is today, but we’ll also have to pay a bunch of interest on top of that.

The alternative to borrowing is to have the Federal Reserve fire up the printing press.  The FED creates trillions of new dollars out of thin air and give it to the government through the purchase of treasury bonds.  The effect of this is identical to the effect of criminal counterfeiting.  If one doubles the money supply without a corresponding increase in GDP, the long-term result is that everyone’s paycheck can only buy half as much.

So using the magical money machine to pay the bills just shifts the tax burden to an inflation tax.  According to the Consumer Price Index, inflation is only about 3.5%. However, the real rate of inflation is currently almost 10%. The inflation tax, while largely ignored, hurts middle-class and low-income Americans the most.  This is because inflation is flat tax which doesn’t tax the poor at a lower rate the way our progressive income tax system does. In fact, it’s somewhat regressive because the loss in value is delayed.  When the new money is initially created, price inflation hasn’t set in yet.  The first people who get to spend the new money are generally giant financial institutions.  By the time it filters down the average Joe, it’s already lost a lot of it’s value.

So the only way a president can change the real tax rate is by increasing or decreasing government spending.  Therefor, the only thing about a candidate that’s guaranteed to significantly impact your life is not whether they think gay people should have the right to suffer through the institution of marriage. It’s not whether or not their religion’s doctrine includes magic underwear.  It’s not even their tax plan. It is only the candidates’ positions on spending that is guaranteed to directly affect your everyday life by increasing or decreasing your standard of living.

But does a president really have any control over spending?

After all, isn’t the level of spending set by the congress?  This is generally true, but the president does have a number of very powerful means of controlling the budget:

1. The Power to Appoint the Chairman of the Federal Reserve – This power enables the president to choose a chairman who would refuse to monetize the debt.  In this case, the government wouldn’t be able to print new money out of thin air. Then congress couldn’t spend any more than tax revenues or borrowing permits.

2. The Power to Veto – The president has the power to veto bills containing spending which he opposes.  Congress would then have to override this veto with a two-thirds majority both houses.

The Candidates Compared

We know that President Obama stands shoulder to shoulder with our nation’s drunken sailors on spending, but what about the potential Republican nominees?

 

Picture of Mitt Romney as an Android Robot Mitt Romney

(a.k.a. Mormobot 5000)

Specific Cuts = $20 Billion

Romney wants to repeal Obamacare (which is very similar to Romneycare aside from the fact that Romneycare covered abortions).  As stated before, this would save $20 billion a year.

Other than that, this is the maximum level of specificity from his programmers:

“Mitt Romney will bring fiscal restraint to Washington by placing a hard cap on federal spending to force our government to live within its means and put an end to deficit spending.

Mitt will also curb federal spending by repealing Obamacare, the federal takeover of health care that is scheduled to cost taxpayers one trillion dollars over the next ten years. He will also focus on eliminating wasteful government spending and right-sizing the federal government to save taxpayer dollars. 00010101.”

The Romney Record on Spending

If we’ve learned anything from the vast disparity between George W. Bush’s fiscal rhetoric and fiscal record, it’s that Romney’s gubernatorial record might be a better indicator of what we could expect from a Romney federal budget. Under Mr. Romney, state spending went from $22.3 billion to $28.1 billion, an annual increase of 6.5 percent.  This is twice as much as the average 2.9% average statewide budget increase.

So, if his record is any indication, we shouldn’t expect too much from a Romney presidency in the way of cutting the federal budget.

 

Image Source (Below)

Ron Paul is Dr. No Comic Book CoverRon Paul

(a.k.a. Dr. No)

Specific Cuts = $1 Trillion

From his complete detailed and itemized budget:

“The Plan to Restore America cuts $1 trillion in spending during the first year of Ron Paul’s presidency, eliminating five cabinet departments (Energy, HUD, Commerce, Interior, and Education). It abolishes the Transportation Security Administration and returns responsibility for security to private property owners.  It also abolishes corporate subsidies, stops foreign aid, ends foreign wars, and returns most other spending to 2006 levels.

CUTTING GOVERNMENT WASTE:

Makes a 10% reduction in the federal workforce, slashes Congressional pay and perks, and curbs excessive federal travel. To stand with the American People, President Paul will take a salary of $39,336, approximately equal to the median personal income of the American worker.”

Image Source (Above)

The Paul Record on Spending

Paul’s congressional record consists of a long list of votes against federal spending.

  • Voted against the Medicare Prescription Drug Act
  • Voted nine out of nine times against raising his own pay
  • Voted against No Child Left Behind
  • Voted against the subsidy-laden 2002 Farm Bill
  • Voted against the 1998 and 2005 Highway bill, only 1 of 9 to vote against the pork-filled 2005 bill
  • Voted against the Stimulus, TARP, auto bailout, and Cash for Clunkers
  • Voted against the Iraq War
Note: I tried to write this objectively, so I seriously put a lot of effort into finding any votes by Ron Paul for significant spending increases.  I hoped to find some to add an appearance of increased credibility to the piece but was  unsuccessful.  If you have any examples, please leave them in comments at the bottom.

Let’s look at how Ron Paul’s plan would affect the individual taxpayer.  He wants to cut $4,000,000,000,000 over his 4-year term. Divide this number by 142,449,000 federal income tax filers and that comes out to an average of $28,080.23 in savings for each taxpayer.  Alternatively, the $4 trillion should be divided by 307,006,550, the total US population. This would produce a 4-year savings of $13,029.04 per person.

 

Newt Gingrich Talking About How Fundamentally Profound He Is

Newt Gingrich

(a.k.a. Sorry, There’s Nothing Funny About Newt Gingrich)

Specific Cuts = $20 Billion

Like Cain and Romney, all his cuts would come from the repeal of Obamacare.

Other than that, he’s not too specific.  From his website:

“Balance the budget by growing the economy, controlling spending, implementing money saving reforms, and replacing destructive policies and regulatory agencies with new approaches.”

The Gingrich Record on Spending

Gingrich’s fiscal record is mixed. During his time in Congress, he had an exemplary voting record on a lot of the top spending proposals:

  • Voted NO on the Chrysler bailout in 1979
  • Voted YES on the Gramm-Rudman balanced budget bill in 1985
  • Voted YES on a balanced budget amendment (as part of the “Contract for America” effort that he led) in 1995
  • Led the effort and voted YES to cut $16.4 billion from the budget in 1995.
  • Voted YES on welfare reform in 1996

Gingrich has also been a vocal opponent of most of the big spending habits pushed by the White House and Congress over the past few years.  He opposed the $787 billion stimulus proposal,  the auto bailout,  and Cash for Clunkers.

On the other hand, in 2003, when he urged “every conservative member of Congress” to support the Medicare drug benefit bill.  He called it the “most important reorganization of our nation’s healthcare system since the original Medicare Bill of 1965.”  The drug benefit now costs taxpayers over $60 billion a year and has almost $16 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

Notably in 2008, he also backed the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

He’s also attacked those who oppose omnibus spending bills.  These bills roll thousands of programs which may not pass on their own into massive one massive all or nothing bill that is more likely pass. In 1998, he derided a group of House conservatives by calling them the “the perfectionist caucus” for opposing a 4,000-page omnibus spending bill, adding that “those of us who have grown up and matured in this process understand after the last four years that we have to work together on big issues.”

 

Picture of Herman Cain Holding a Pizza Saying, 'Avoid The Noid'

Herman Cain

(a.k.a. Pizza Dude)

Specific Cuts = $20 Billion

Like all the other candidates, Cain wants to repeal Obamacare which would save $20 billion a year.  But other than that, this is about as detailed as it gets:

“Nothing should be off the table. Every federal agency, every government program and expenditure must be reviewed and revised with a keen eye and a red pen.”

The Cain Record on Spending

It doesn’t exist.  With no political record, Cain needs to be way more specific for voters to make anything close to an educated decision.

What is known is that Cain supported TARP, the government bailout of the financial industry. He even chastised those who opposed it.

On the other hand, Cain opposed the Democrats’ stimulus, saying, “The Obama-Reid-Pelosi cure for more national economic pain – more spending, more taxes and more socialism! That’s just more pavement for the road to perpetual debt.”

This sounds nice, but without significant specific spending cuts, Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan will actually be a 9-9-9-9 plan.  A 9% corporate tax, a 9% sales tax, a 9% income tax, and a hidden 9% inflation tax.
Cartoon Rick Perry saying, 'Every Man I Execute Creates Another Job!'

Rick Perry

(a.k.a. The Executioner)

Specific Cuts = $50 Billion

From his rock:

“Consolidating Department of Education funding for all elementary and secondary programs, reducing it by 50 percent, and returning the rest of the money to the states would save $25 billion in the first year. Reducing the portfolio of investments by government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would save $26.5 billion over ten years.”

The Perry Record on Spending

Like Romney, Perry’s real record is not one of fiscal restraint. Rick Perry came into office in December 2000. Texas general spending has risen from $29 billion that first Perry year to $41 billion by fiscal year 2011, which works out to an average annual increase of 3.5 percent. (Data from NASBO).

For some perspective, let’s look at Perry versus the average spending increases of governors in all 50 states over the last decade.

Here is NASBO data showing increases in state general fund spending between fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2011:

  • Texas, Perry: $29 billion to $41 billion, a 41 percent increase.
  • Total of 50 states: $506 billion to $651 billion, a 29 percent increase.
Under Perry, the Texas budget increased 41% from

However, the Texas population has grown faster than the U.S. population, so let’s put these figures on a per-capita basis.

  • Texas, Perry: $1,360 per capita to $1,598 per capita, an 18 percent increase.
  • Total of 50 states: $1,774 per capita to $2,091 per capita, an 18 percent increase.

Perry is touting the “Texas Miracle” as a template for the rest of America, which is stuck in a rut of high unemployment and could certainly use some fresh ideas for how to create jobs. Texas has clearly fared better than most other states since the recession began at the end of 2007. Its unemployment rate is 8.2%, a full point lower than the national average. The housing bust in Texas was far milder than it was in other places. A strong energy sector kept state tax revenues from plunging the way they did in other states, which forestalled layoffs in state and local government.  Additionally, the majority of the jobs created in Texas were government jobs.  From the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2010, government employment in Texas increased by 7 percent, whereas it only increased 2 percent over the rest of the country.  Private sector jobs in Texas only grew by 0.6% during this period.

So Perry’s record is perfectly mediocre. Like with Romney, we shouldn’t expect too much in the way of cuts if past is prologue.

The Verdict

So after examining the records and proposals of all the candidates, it appears that Ron Paul is the only candidate who intends to make balancing the federal budget a real priority.   Based on the others’ records and proposals, it appears pretty likely that, under their administrations, we’re going to continue the status quo Washington spending spree.


Graph of US Spending Cuts by 2012 GOP Presidential Candidates