Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why I Hope Obama Wins

Here are a couple of simple reasons that I strongly support Barack Obama over Mitt Romney for the presidency: he supports a more progressive income tax, and is more fiscally responsible.

President Obama recognizes that some tax increases are going to be necessary to reduce our national debt long-term. I like his Buffett Rule: that people earning over $1 million/year should pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent. I think this is in line with the literature on optimal taxation (like the excellent Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez paper), which not only supports the idea of progressive taxation, but always (to my knowledge) concludes that we should have a tax system that is much more progressive than it currently is.

Mitt Romney's tax proposals would significantly raise the national debt, and are fiscally irresponsible. The assumptions made to argue otherwise are questionable at best. Reagan and Bush after him are responsible for running up the national debt unnecessarily during good economic times. The recession that began at the end of Bush's term has caused the national debt to continue to increase under President Obama, but I think the ultimate cause of that was deregulation, and that increase was necessary during an economic catastrophe. Obama supports regulating Wall Street to prevent something similar from happening again. An increase in tax rates on high incomes will reduce the deficit and will not significantly hurt the economy because people with high incomes are more likely to save their money during a recession anyway. Tax cuts on people with low incomes and direct government spending tends to stimulate the economy during a recession, because that money gets spent, and not saved.

Barack Obama is simply more fiscally responsible and has tax proposals that are more in line with the interests of middle-class Americans, rather than the very rich. His proposals make good economic sense.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Principles in Finding Truth

Some of my suggestions for any seekers of truth out there.

1. Read widely

I see a lot of people on Facebook who seem to have simply absorbed the ideas that were around them as they grew up, and now believe those things to be absolute truth, without having been exposed to or seriously considered other beliefs. What they don’t seem to realize is that their real reason for their beliefs is that they were born in an area where those beliefs are common. This obviously isn’t a good way of determining what is true. The best antidote is reading widely. This is a good way of getting exposure to lots of different ideas, preferably by people who actually believe those ideas. If the only things you know about liberal political ideas are the criticisms you’ve heard from conservatives, then you haven’t given them a fair shot. Read a popular book by a liberal, and one by a conservative. Read a book by a theist, and an atheist. Give them both a chance.

2. Trust yourself

On some issues, you’ll be able to identify experts, and it’s okay to trust experts. However, on some basic issues like whether God exists, it’s not really possible to “be humble” or trust someone else on the matter, because you’d be the one choosing who you should trust, so you’re the one choosing what to believe either way. If you’re choosing to trust that person because you know them (even if he or she is also a very good and smart person), you’re falling into the same trap of believing something because it’s the local tradition. If you’re interested in truth, you can’t just rely on someone else. Find out for yourself by hearing out many different ideas.

3. Don’t be afraid of information

Growing up, I was sometimes be made to feel afraid of “anti-Mormon” literature. If you’re a real seeker of truth, you cannot choose your destination. You must follow the evidence, wherever it leads. If there’s information that can convince you of something, then maybe you should be convinced of that thing. Never be afraid of knowledge.

4. Assume as little as possible

If a creationist is determined to interpret all available information inside the framework of creationism, he will never be convinced that creationism is false. He will make up alternative explanations for fossils, DNA, and anatomical evidence. It’s like he’s wearing creationist-tinted glasses that he sees the world through. Similarly, if someone is determined to interpret all evidence according to a Mormon, Catholic, or Muslim framework of thought, no evidence will ever convince him or her that their perspective is false. If you assume that reading the Book of Mormon and praying will tell you whether it is true, you’re still wearing Mormon-tinted glasses. To find the truth, you must be as unbiased and objective as possible, and that means make as few assumptions as possible. It’s okay to assume that logic will lead you right, and that the world basically is as it appears to be. If those assumptions are false, then knowing the truth is impossible anyway. But assume as little else as possible.

5. It’s okay to be unsure

You don’t have to “take a stand” or “choose” your beliefs. If you are an altruistic seeker of truth, you have an obligation to help your fellow seekers by being honest about what you’ve discovered and how confident you are about it. Don’t claim to be more sure about your beliefs than you really are. Let the evidence guide you, and say it exactly as you see it. Be honest.