I have some things to share with the 7 or so people who might read my website:

Why I am apolitical:

I’ve always stated that I am apolitical, neither democrat, nor republican, nor centrist, nor libertarian.  But I have strong ideas about politics and the role government can have in our lives…very strong ideas.

So as I watch the bailout of the financial system and the endless debate on healthcare reform everyone agrees in theory needs to happen…..I ask myself:  Why am I  not more political?  Here is why: because there is no substantive difference between the democrats and republicans.

We think of them at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, but they are not.  They argue loudly about small difference they make seem big while rarely addressing anything substantive.

I’ll use the example of the financial system bailout:  Both the republicans and democrats wanted to bailout the financial sector; they just argued about the amount (both amounts being very large) and how to spend the money.  The Republicans started the bailout and then the Democrats inherited it, and continued the same basic policy.  Neither party addressed why it happened in the first place; no one (except maybe Ron Paul) wanted to discuss the structural issues of a monetary system based on debt and a fiat money controlled by unelected officials making decisions behind closed doors (the Fed).  Neither party has addressed the “too big to fail” issue (not only that, but the big financial companies have used the bailout money to buy up the smaller companies that failed during the crisis; they’ve actually become bigger).

Here is another example:  9/11.  Both parties wanted retribution.  No party was brave enough to say:  ” 2993 died today in a terrorist attack.  6,744 people die a day on average everyday, so to put that in perspective, America is not under attack.  This was high profile and a great tragedy, but to upend our way of life, to start long costly (very costly) wars on foreign soil with unclear means of success in which more men and women will certainly die…..to restrict and lose, in the name of increased security, the very freedoms and civil liberties we would claim to go to war to protect…..this is not acceptable.  If this is our response to terrorism, then certainly we have already lost.”

This brings me to my next point.

Why Republicans want healthcare reform to fail:

I do not think the Republican’s opposition to healthcare reform is 100% genuine and in the interest of their constituents (even if you include the healthcare companies as their constituents). Republicans want healthcare reform to fail because if the Democrats pass the reform the people want, the Republicans may not see the inside of the White House or a majority in Congress for a generation.

The point, is that neither party has a genuine interest in doing what is best for us….they have an interest in getting re-elected.  They pass laws based on that and little else.  Democracy works because the two can definitely overlap; if you pass laws people want, you get re-elected…..but their are other ways to go about it as well:  money can also get you re-elected (so pander to companies); being less-bad than the alternative can also get you re-elected (just bash the other party and say great things about yourself).  In short, there are alternative ways to get re-elected.

This brings me to my next point.

Why I want to go back to school:

I’ve been kicking around the idea of going back to school to get a PhD in Economics.  In the long term, its a good life to be a college professor, and in the short term it would allow me to follow these ideas to their natural conclusion.


People are neither good nor bad; they act, en masse, according to the situation in which they find themselves.  Modify the incentives and you modify behavior.

I would like to study some form of behavioral economics that would allow me to construct a system of incentives to help people avoid all these situations.

The economic system in which we operate works together with government/law to create the set of incentives that control our lives.  I would like to draw lines in the sand, to establish some facts and some subtlety:

The free-market can fail to reach optimal outcomes. We must accept that these textbook perfect market conditions don’t exist in the real world, and even if they did they would still produce monopolies, corruption, inequality, price fixing, etc.

Economy doesn’t exist w/o government….therefore government has a role to play…not as a spender of money, but as a regulator, a system-maker.  We need to accept that the invisible hand of capitalism produces anxiety, inequality and pits us all against ourselves.  This produces crime, mistrust and ill-health.  We don’t want to live in a country like that.

GDP is a horrible measure; lets replace it:  It promotes over-consumption, doesn’t differentiate between types of spending, and you can’t subtract from it.  Here is an example:  The US has the largest economy in the world with a GDP of 12 trillion (per year).  I can turn the tiny nation of Uruguay (or any country for that matter) into the largest economy in the world:  Let them borrow 13 trillion dollars from someone and spend it all on rat poison next year.  They will be horribly in debt and have a country full of rat poison…..but they will have a 13 trillion dollar GDP.  You might be thinking “that’s not how it works, surely!?!?!”…..but oddly enough, it is.

Monetary policy is the basis of our society, because money controls/influences most of our actions.  Fiat money created by debt is the structural issue that has caused our current crisis, and yet few seem to understand that (so no one addresses it).  Money systems fail (and empires fail with them).  To create a lasting society, you have to create a lasting money.  Our current system is unsustainable; it allows the government to confiscate our wealth through inflation.  Taxes are cheap in comparison.

I would like to clarify these ideas, to write my own Das Kapital; furthermore to elaborate it using agent-based computer modeling so that it isn’t all theory, you could potentially model changes to law/monetary policy to see the potential effect.  It would be akin to what weather forecasters use; imprecise, but better than nothing.

What do you think?  Quit my job and go back to school or continue as is?

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2 Responses to “Incentives: The key to understanding everything”
  1. Russ says:

    Hey Elliott, I have been following you on and off for a few years, if I recall I think it was before you were in the current job you’re in. I think when I initially found you your site it was through your old travel writing. Anyway, my thoughts on this would be based on whether or not you have found happiness in working and your current career. Does it challenge you and do you enjoy it? Do you feel like a sheep going to an office every day or does it bring you pleasure? If you are truly happy in doing what you do, you could continue as is and just pursue these issues in spare time. But if you think you will get complacent staying corporate then go with school. Seems that being a college professor would be a nice, fairly relaxed type of work for someone who likes an intellectual environment as long as you wouldn’t mind the actual teaching class part of it.

  2. yokohama butterly says:

    It would appear that this is something that is not just a hobby for you. You read economics books for pleasure for God’s sake and to be honest I don’t know how to process that. I guess some people woodwork, some take pictures of rocks that resemble genitalia, and some explain healthcare expenditures to those of us who take pictures. I would go back to school if I were you after asking these questions with satisfactory answers. 1) What does your fiance think?
    2) Will you regret not doing it?
    Nothing else matters.

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