Econ and “Other Issues”

I have taken some heat over time for my “liberal” politics. I am actually very much a centrist, but no matter. Much of my liberal leanings, and support for the current president, are predisposed on my understanding of economics. I do not fancy myself some sort of expert, I do, however fancy multiple men and women holding PhD’s in economics to be experts. The simple fact is that Obama and his team’s economic vision is quite close to the prevailing wisdom of the majority economists while the Republican vision, especially that of Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan, is considered to be mere hokum by the aforementioned economists. But recently I was challenged on the fact that many conservative leaning people disagree with Pres. Obama, and Democrats in general, on a multitude of other issues, and that even if his economics are right those other issues lead this person and others to vote against him. Knowing the person this came from fairly well, I can be quite sure I know exactly what those issues are: Abortion, the “Welfare State”, and Gun Control. I believe he, and others, fail to understand that these issues tie back to economics in many ways. Certainly we can argue the level of effect that economics has on each issue, but it is clear from the evidence that economics does indeed have a significant effect on them. Here I will attempt to lay out some reasoning why I believe this is true, based on available evidence, and why opponents of these issues should change their vote and work (with me) to change the way that democrats look at these issues, and especially their focus on certain aspects of the debate, instead of following Conservative ideology which talks a good game but does things which are economically contrary to the desired outcome.

Let us start with Gun Control. The Liberal viewpoint, in a nutshell, is that there is a vast amount of crime that involves guns, and the way to solve it (at least relatively quickly) is to remove the guns from the equation. I personally believe this to be misguided, but that is the general idea. What I know from the data is that violent crime is not driven by gun possession, it is driven largely by poverty. Admittedly, there are gun crimes that are not in some way tied to poverty, domestic violence is one such situation in which poverty is not often related, however the majority of gun related crime is.

These two, related, sites, http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/neighborhoods/crime-rates/top100dangerous/ and http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/neighborhoods/crime-rates/top100safest/ list the 100 safest and the 100 most dangerous according to the site administrator’s rankings. I chose it because they use the exact same methodology to come up with both lists. If one looks deeper than the lists themselves, they will find that those who rank high on the most dangerous list have a poverty rate that is very high and those cities on the safest list have poverty rates that are extremely low. This trend follows wherever you look, places in which the residents are already predominantly poor have poor schools, lower economic mobility than average, and overall low levels of opportunity abound. Having very few opportunities for a good paying job, and very few if any opportunities for a good education to help you get a good paying job, brings many people who might otherwise be productive members of society to resort to theft, dealing drugs, and ultimately armed robbery and murder to protect your (drug dealing) territory. Simply put, poverty breeds desperation which breeds crime which ultimately includes gun related crime.

So, if poverty ultimately increases crime rates, then reducing poverty should decrease crime rates. That would be the prevailing wisdom. All this traces back to the Democrat’s focus, economically speaking, on increasing middle and working class incomes, opportunities for the poor, on investments in education and bringing the cost of college down, among other things. Contrast this with the Republican vision of economics predominantly focused on tax rate reductions for the rich which never trickle down as they say they do and are proven to be a redistributive mechanism for the aforementioned rich to take a larger slice of the economic pie leaving less for the rest of us(see here: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/news/business/0915taxesandeconomy.pdf .)

If creating more opportunity and increasing middle class and working poor wages ultimately reduces gun crime, and if we want to cut gun crime, then the democratic vision of economics is the clear answer we are looking for. Simply put, less gun crime leaves the gun control crowd with a significantly reduced, if not eliminated, argument for gun control. That is the way we want to go.

A very similar argument is made on the abortion debate. It’s all about economics, education, and employment. There are many studies that show that women who have more education and higher incomes have lower rates of unintended pregnancies, and fewer that result in abortions. While the reasons for this are multiple, the most cited are; lack of access to contraception, lack of education about the use of contraception, and an inability to care for the resulting child of their unintended pregnancies. Women with better education and higher income are more likely to have a job with good health insurance ensuring access to birth control, are more likely to be taught(and understand) proper use, and they are more likely to feel secure in their ability to care for a child should a pregnancy occur. These factors are so strong that the rate of unintended pregnancy for women at or below the poverty line is five times that of women who attain income of 200% of the poverty level.

There is another, separate, point that needs to be made here. That is the direct intent of lawmakers when it comes to abortion. We hear all the time from one national candidate/office holder or another how they are against abortion. The reality is that this means nothing. There is absolutely zero they can do about abortion directly. Take note that this is most true of presidential candidates. The usual argument for a conservative presidential candidate is they will appoint a conservative justice to the Supreme Court who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. This is just plain malarkey. Let me explain: Roe v. Wade was decided nearly Forty years ago by a conservative leaning Supreme Court. Since that time we have had both conservative and liberal presidents appointing both conservative and liberal leaning justices to the Court. After each and every change in the Court, they have had an opportunity to revisit the Roe v. Wade decision. They have either refused to hear a case(therefore upholding the decision by default) or have heard the new case and directly upheld it. The simple fact is that the original constitutional reasons for the original decision still stand: Protection of life only extends to those that can be absolutely scientifically proven to be living viable humans, and the only reliable dividing line between “viable” and not is live birth. Either medical science must advance dramatically or we must amend the Constitution to explicitly include the unborn. We can’t even get an amendment prohibiting burning the flag passed, good luck doing it for abortion.

I myself am no fan of abortion, especially abortion of choice, however we are not going to make inroads into ending or even decreasing abortion through eliminating funding to a certain well known abortion provider or finding a way to ban it outright. These sorts of ideas will only serve to push abortion back to the back alleys where women die next to their aborted children. We must eliminate the reasons women choose abortion, and those are based in economics. Good jobs, good healthcare, good education are the keys to ending abortions of choice. We get there by focusing on policies that increase workers share of the economic pie, by investing in education, by enacting policies that help bring the cost of higher education down, and increasing access to contraceptives and education on their proper use to people of all income levels.

Lastly, the welfare state. Many Conservatives have a very bad opinion overall of programs designed to aid the poor and the out of work. Handouts, gimme society, the “welfare queen” myth, I’m pretty sure I have heard them all. The fact is that there are several good things economically and societally about welfare. Transfer payments, as economists call them, actually increase economic activity and help us get out of recessions. Food stamps, for instance, allow people who would otherwise be (even more) monetarily distressed to purchase food, which keeps grocers, food manufacturing companies, and farmers working during tough economic times. They also free up some money that would otherwise be spent by individuals on food to buy other items, including essentials like soap(bath, laundry, and dish), deodorant, and toilet paper. Cash payments, Section 8 housing, and other programs have similar effects. And yes, we have all heard stories about people abusing the system. These people are few and far between and do not represent the vast majority of people on welfare. These stories are often overblown. Both Republican and Democrat administrations have done studies on how to curb these kinds of abuses. They have found that the levels of this kind of activity are in reality so low that the resources, the money, needed to track them down outweighs the gains from catching them. The system relies heavily on citizens to take notice of and report improper usage of programs.

The likelihood that a dollar in the hands of someone with low income will be spent is much higher than that of high income individuals(Marginal Utility of Income). This means we get a bigger bang for our buck, economically, from money in the hands of lower income people than we do high income people. This is an important factor when looking at tax policy, welfare policy, and things like unemployment.

As a nation we must look at how to limit the number of people who are in need of assistance. Which returns us to economics. If we are focusing on education, opportunity, and jobs for the poor, the working poor, and the middle class we reduce the need for assistance. Our society has a need to put a focus on providing these things. Without that focus we will continue to see growth in the need for a welfare state. None of us wants that, but if we continue to focus on handouts to the very rich, which have been proven to not increase economic growth, we will continue to see the need for handouts to the poor.


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