Friday, February 5, 2016

The impact of campaign funding

As decided at last week's meeting our next discussion topic will be about campaign funding and its impact on elections and political decisionmaking. The following article mentions the two parties we were talking about at the last meeting:

Questions to consider:
1. Are you for or against campaign spending limits?
2. What do you believe is the impact of campaign spending on the election? On political decisions?
3. How would you recommend changing the current campaign laws?

We will likely focus our discussion on the United States but you are welcome to bring in examples from other countries.

When you write your blog post please cite your sources in some way. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Price is no object.

The Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case has opened the door for corporations to donate to political campaigns.  Many people are concerned with the idea of "unlimited money" in political campaigns, and this week's article addresses this issue. 

The article writers found that money spent on advertising yielded significant, measurable gains for political candidates when it came to changes in polling.  More importantly, in cases where a candidate was not advertising regularly, their opponent(s) would enjoy an advantage at the polling station that would increase depending on how disparate the difference in advertising was.  This means that candidates are punished for not maintaining parity when it comes to advertising, and the effect of an advertising blitz by a campaign with deep pockets over a less well-heeled campaign could result in a shift of 2-4 percent.  To put that in perspective, 13 presidential races have been won with margins of less than 4%, many in the modern era. 

The Koch brothers are often vilified for their stated desire to influence political campaigns.  They are well-known conservative businessmen who have promised nearly 1 billion dollars to political figures in 2016.  Many people see this as the brothers putting politicians in their pockets.  However, I think this is only one possible interpretation.  Many people fail to consider the case of the "true believer".  Charles and David Koch are engineering a world where their beliefs and morals are shared by people of importance in the three branches of government, and their expenditures can't be simply written off as the cost of doing business.  While our ability to sculpt society through its leaders may be limited to our single votes or putting a sign up on our lawns, the Koch brothers are in a position where they are able to actively affect multiple political contests in multiple locations through their donations of large sums of money.  The candidates that win then go on to rescind "objectionable" laws, write new bills, appoint similar-thinking judges, ratify trade agreements and mobilize our military forces.

It has never been more clear that money is political and social power.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Spring 2016 SWEET Scholar application

The SWEET Scholar Spring 2016 application is now open.

All submissions must be received by 11:59PM Sunday January 31 for full consideration. All applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application.

The first SWEET meeting of the semester is scheduled for Wednesday Feb 3rd at 4PM.

Click here to access the application.

If you have any questions you can email us.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Not as easy as it looks

I really thought that the interactive article was good because it really highlighted how difficult it is to seek asylum. Before reading these articles I had just assumed that refugees just went to the nation they wanted to live in and applied for asylum, but clearly that is not the case. I think that in modern times we as a global nation should be more accepting to freedom of trade and movement than we are displaying with the refugee crisis in Europe. I also think that many of the European countries could use more migrants especially because of their increasing populations of elderly citizens. Many of the refugees coming from Syria are coming with a highly educated background, and these are people who can make significant contributions to a nation's economy.


I believe the current refugee crisis demonstrates the nature of the barriers existing in the world economy that simply should not exist. The redistribution processes, refugee caps, and physical land barriers do not improve the the free movement of people. I understand that sovereignty implies countries are not obligated to let everyone in, but the refugee crisis seems to highlight just how labor restrictions can affect people. Also, I did not understand how illegal actions were taken by countries when even what's legal is still not enough for what needs to be done. I do not think we are doing enough to help people in need. There is so much unwillingness to allow the free movement of goods, services, and labor in the world economy. I think many of the restrictions hinder the growth in wealth and well-being of the collective. Just because we might not like something or because it does not benefit us directly does not mean we should impose numerous restrictions on virtually everything. After doing the interactive and making mistake after mistake it showed how complicated some simple things can be when there is so much on the line. Something as simple as going to Europe is not actually that simple or easy in reality. The illegal actions taken by various powers in the process do not help the situation and only stand as restrictions that hinder free movement that we learn in economics as being beneficial.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


I'm not really sure how this article has to do with economics, and is rather politics. The politics can be correct or incorrect. I really do not know and nobody really does for certain in reality. However, I think the article makes some sort of implication that we should spend less on military and allow greater numbers of people to enter the country for work. Not sure if the article really says that, but that's pretty much the only economic implication I'm getting from it. The rest seems like lots of politics. I understand economics has relation to politics, but they are not the same thing. What I'm trying to say is I do not entirely understand why terrorism is talked about in every topic. It's almost like the whole world is engulfed by the Syrian crises because of the refugee crises it created. The refugee crises in Europe has a lot to do with the economy of that region, but the article was talking about it being in the United States. With regards to Europe, the refugees are in a sense a burden on the taxpayers if they will need social programs for support, but at the same time if many of them find meaningful employment it would actually help the European economies. Europe has a labor shortage in the sense that they have very low birth rates, but in a sense they do not have a shortage when many European economies are stagnant. The countries already receive many immigrants that help fill the void caused by low birth rates, but a lot of this is because many of those that move there are the more qualified migrants from their respective origin. I think there is too much resistance to the immigrants and/or refugees when I think they should actually be welcomed as they were recently in Germany that is starting to feel the consequences of its low birth rates. What I'm trying to say is with the current demographic problems the living standards and hegemony in many European countries is not sustainable without refugees or immigrants. This problem is not as acute in U.S., but we should accept immigrants as a nation that is almost entirely immigrants. In that sense, I agree with the article.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

(True)If, B is false then A and only A is False. If B is false, Capitalism is Bad. If B is false, Capitalism is Bad.If B is false, Capitalism is Bad.If B is false, Capitalism is Bad.If B is false, Capitalism is Bad.

  The fact that people are tending to turn against capitalism is a bit comical in my opinion. No, it's out right false. Let me put it this way, 70% of Americans believe that phones are detrimental to our well being but roughly 85% of Americans still maintain a cell phone. If people always stood by what they said they believed, then logically their use should be less than or roughly equal to 70%. One possibly explanation to this phenomenon though could feasibly be related to media in which I call the Facebook Phenomenon. I base this on the assumption, no the truth, that people are constantly being bombarded with information about things. This allows for large amounts of information. The quality of this information is a different matter altogether. So, in order to actually assess the validity of this claim I would want to look at two things: how well informed about the economic well being Americans actually are, and compare that to the rates of consumption to see if the actions back up the words.

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.” -Daniel Kahnman. 

 I theorize that people are using their emotional cognition to look at capitalism more often than rationalism. Why? Because it's easy. What I'm curious to see now is to what degree do people actually believe what they say.

Does it matter?

It's very apparent to me that many people are against capitalism and I think that comes from the media giving that story to the people. I still think there was a shift in American politics that favors more capitalism than in other decades because of the tremendous growth of finance since the 80's. Finance is gaining more prominence each year, so I do not think that capitalism is somehow becoming a thing of the past. Just because people might be turning against it doesn't mean that capitalism is all of a sudden not able to fulfill it's most important functions. There is a lot of politics involved with whether the country should be run with free enterprise or with the government. I think that there's nothing wrong with the government taking care of the poor and doing its best to make the country as fair as possible, but that does not mean I would support some form of socialism without great evidence that is for the better. This goes both ways because it would also require some evidence to have certain things run as free enterprise such as healthcare. Essentially, I think that life in improving in America and the world thanks to capitalism, but that does not mean I will blindly say that there can be no alternative that's better because it would be unscientific to say that. I think a scientific approach is the best to decide whether people are wrong or right, but what the public thinks can be influenced with certain interests that may have interests other than truth.

To understand economics

I think that the problem of the public not understanding economics is very similar to the problem of people not understanding personal finance.
There are two schools of thought in regards to solving this problem of financial illiteracy: teaching people more about finances when they are younger, and increasing the supply of financial advisers. Both of these solutions would solve the issue of people not handling their finances well, but both of them also have consequences.
If we teach people more about finances in school, theoretically, they can handle their finances better throughout the rest of their life. However, the time that they spent doing that could be better spent learning about something that truly interests them, something that they can offer the world.
If we increase the supply of financial advisers (through whatever method seems most appropriate) that people can hire, then people can increase their overall wealth by gaining from the trade of their money for the advisers service. However, people will have to give up their independence to handle their finances if they need to hire an adviser to do it.
This dichotomy holds true for the economic literacy and democracy as well. If we spend our time and resources on educating the public more in depth about economics our opportunity cost is a public that could specialize in other departments. If we give more control of government to highly educated economists we decrease the democratic voice of the individual.
So with these solutions we have to ask ourselves: How much democracy are we willing to give up?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What is Greatness?

What makes a country truly the greatest? I think that this question is impossible to answer due to the fact that every person you ask is going to have a different answer. Some people enjoy being in sunny warm places where they can lay on the beach and relax. Their country may be super poor, and they have no money, but the citizens are happy to live in such a wonderful place. Other people like to live in modernized areas where they can have lots of money and materialistic things. Their countries most likely have very high GDP's, and very high standards of living. You could also have people who enjoy living in socialist countries where everything is catered to you by the government, or have people that enjoy living in a place where there is no regulations and unlimited freedoms. In terms of economics, we can look at residents of different countries as consumers. Every consumer has different wants and needs, and therefore they will seek out the place that best fits their wants and their needs. Due to this phenomena, I do not think we can truly define or say what the greatest country is.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Can we measure greatness?

I do not think there can be a greatest country in the world classification. I think a country be the most influential or powerful in certain spheres or regions, but being the ultimate country in the world doesn’t even make any sense. I consider it to be nationalism and a sense of pride for the people. America is obviously a very wealthy country and a large one, but I’m not even sure wealth is a good measure or that wealth of a people can be measured with a nominal gross domestic product. Even adjusting for prices does not really reflect the different basket of goods and culture that can influence how wealthy people can consider themselves to be. I think a lot has to do with what people find important and there is a lot of bias when people say their country is the greatest because otherwise they would have moved elsewhere. It’s like asking residents of a certain area what location they think is the greatest place to live, and I can assure you many would choose their place of residence because they live there and have a sense of pride for that. In other words, I do not even know what the greatest country in the world even means. How do we measure something that cannot be measured? If it cannot be measured then I won’t believe in it. I don’t think making random claims is very scientific. Like if someone said America is the most powerful country in the world then maybe I would agree because of how much influence the country has on what other countries decide to do, and maybe that can be measured better than greatness. We all think we are the greatest, but what we think doesn’t really change reality. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Greatness, TM

What is the greatest country in the world? A vague question isn’t it? That term great is defined, simply, by far above average. The average of what? What country is the farthest above average in the most amounts of ways?

            Ok, lets take a look at per capita income. The positives of this approach are that it an average of the whole population and can thus be seen as decent approximation of how well “the ol’ average joe” is doing. Good However of course, this is very susceptible to outliers that can, and will throw off the population. The negatives: the population (such as Luxembourg) could be small and rich. As such, it shows that their CPI is higher. Thus this makes them better. But the CPI of small island with a population of 10 millionaires is by no means a proper measure of the countries greatness.

What about GDP? Is that the appropriate marking of the difference between the country and the rest? If that were the case then American, by about 6 trillion, give or take a couple hundred billion, is the greatest country in the world. To speak about the validity of this is somewhat questionable. At major points in history, I’ll save you the details, the many have owned gargantuan amounts while the few have only a few. This actually is the case in the US at the moment. The 20% own 80% while the 80% own 20%. But that’s a conversation for another day. If GDP is the measure of a countries well being, then the Russian Federation is better off than Luxembourg, by 65 GDP rankings to be exact. Of course, this doesn’t make sense if we actually take a look into how the citizens within these two countries live. Luxembourg’s average life expectancy is 80.2 years while the Russian Federation is 70 years. So, how can we determine that Russia is better off by 65 rankings (additional measurement is needed for actual betteroffness) than Luxembourg? 

Now it seems that we are in a more jumbled mess than we began with. GDP can contradict CPI and seemingly great countries, such as China (GDP of 10 Trillion) can be seen in a new light depending on the measurements. Which leads us to be able to say, “greatness can be arbitrary.” This means that the measurement chosen can change the weight, and consequently ranking of which country is the greatest.

            An excellent point made in the video is that America is not ranked number one in just about any category besides GDP. That means, unless GDP has a greatness rating of 99%, that America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. If that’s the case, what is? How can we determine it? I doubt we can simple state that answer as matter of fact. I’d compare a possible solution to this problem in terms of budgeting. If you set a standard, a budget, you can then prepare a performance sheet of a country over a period of time. I believe, that there needs to be a standardization of a country’s well being. Getting into the technical stuff I can’t say what the proper weighting of each factor should be but, regardless, this should be the best way to determine how well we are doing, and where are we going wrong. Just like a budget.