The Democrats’ New Direction

January 13, 2007

In a comment on an earlier post, Cyril from Defunct Games (aka my only most loyal commenter) refers to the Democrats’ six proposals for their first hundred hours:

It’s probably worth mentioning that [a minimum wage increase] was just one of the many
things they are working on in the first 100 hours, so I can’t wait to
hear your thoughts on the rest of their ideas.

It’s a good question, so here are my current thoughts on the six proposals:

1. Implementing 9/11 commission recommendations:

I don’t know too much about the specifics here. The only major objection I’ve seen from Republicans is that the requirement to scan 100% of shipping containers is practically impossible and incredibly expensive. Though I think that’s probably true, it doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to oppose the bill as a whole, so I would probably support this one. The real test will be whether it ends up a merely symbolic gesture or whether it actually ends up making us safer.

2. Increase the minimum wage:

Nope. Don’t support this one at all. If we want an effective poverty-fighting tool, the Earned Income Tax Credit is far superior and does not distort pricing in the labor market nearly as much. That said, I expect to see relatively little effect from this bill either way, since most states already have higher minimum wages and very few workers actually earn the federal minimum currently. It will be interesting to see if the islands we discussed in previous comments have decreased employment from this change, since they will be making a greater change than most states.

3. Expand stem cell research

From what I understand, this did not receive enough votes to overcome a veto, so it is probably moot. However, on the merits, I oppose the federal government spending money on embryonic stem cell research. We could go over the specific arguments concerning the fact that embryonic stem cells have yielded many fewer promising results than adult stem cells, but I also think that this type of research would be done by private entities if it held as much promise as its proponents claim.

4. Allowing medicare to negotiate for lower prices:

I think all of health care in our country is messed up, and I’m the first to admit that I don’t know how to fix it. We don’t have a truly free market for prescription drugs due to the insurance structure and other factors. The other day, I went to fill a prescription from my doctor. The generic version of the medicine was 90 dollars. While checking out, the pharmacist off-handedly mentioned that it was the exact same medicine (same dosage, etc.) as was available for 30 dollars over-the-counter, and the OTC option purchased more pills. Copyright law on medicine is also a very tricky subject and the extent to which it is valuable to allow a monopoly to one company for a limited period of time is uncertain to me. That said, I don’t really see much of a reason to oppose Medicare’s negotiating drug prices in the current climate. If companies want to sell to Medicare, then they can agree on a mutually beneficial price. However, I think we need to be very careful that Medicare does not use the power of the government to force companies into a position where they have no other options. No rent-seeking allowed.

5. Cut interest rates on student loans

I go back and forth on this one. On the one hand, I think education is one of the best investments government can make and one of the best ways to create a more meritocratic society. However, I have a suspicion that the already low interest rates on student loans are major contributers to the skyrocketing prices of higher education. If schools, especially the elite schools that would most benefit middle and lower class students, know that government will bear the burden of higher costs, there is little reason for them to try to compete on price. It is a very inefficient process, so I’m not sure if lowering interest rates will really help students.

6. Repealing oil subsidies and investing in renewable fuels

Yep. I don’t like oil subsidies (they distort the true cost of oil by the time it reaches the American consumer) and I’m in favor of researching alternative fuel sources. Now, can we apply the same principles to most other government subsidies? Corn, for example?

So… that’s my take. Is it what you expected? By my count, that’s three issues on which I (mostly) agree with the Democrats and three on which I disagree or am uncertain. My opinion on some of these might change if I hear new information or arguments about them, but those are my initial thoughts. How about you, Cyril (or others)? Do you agree with all of the proposals?

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17 Responses to “The Democrats’ New Direction”


  1. Since you called me out by name (and linked my site, which I appreciate) I will go through your points one by one. Well, not all your points, just the ones I disagree with …

    Minimum Wage –
    You disagree that the minimum wage should be higher than $5.15? If you add inflation the minimum wage back in the 1960s was higher than it is today. You say that this won’t have much of an effect because “most” of the states have higher minimum wages, but that’s simply not true. Yes, 28 states have minimum wages that are higher than $5.15, but it’s a minority that have wages higher than $7.25 (the proposed hike).

    You also suggest that “very few workers actually earn the federal minimum currently.” But that too is inaccurate. There are millions of people currently making the minimum wage, and 71% of those are people 20 and older (source: EPI).

    Stem Cell Research –
    Not to go all psychic on you or anything, but this is one of the reasons that in 10 – 15 years Americans will be going to other countries (the countries that funded these studies) for medical reasons. I honestly don’t understand why people would not support something that could help cure diseases. Most of the “moral” reasons are batted down simply because they come from people that do not know the facts and the science. Let’s not forget, there were actually republicans that thought you could get AIDS from crying (thank god they were voted out of office).

    Oil –
    Yeah, I’ll agree with you on this one. In fact, the oil companies even agree, since they were the ones that went into the deal to begin with. What pains me is that while Bush talks about wanting to do something about the environment and gas/oil, it seems like he opposes it every step of the way. The only way he will do it is if the oil companies agree with it, and that’s never going to happen. Hopefully when we can get this short-sighted religious zealot out of the office we can FINALLY start working towards a cure.

    I’m sure there are other things I disagree with, but that’s my take on my first trip through. I’ll check again and see if I disagree with anything else.

  2. Jake Savage Says:

    Cyril,

    Thanks for the comments. It looks like we’re in agreement on most of the issues, but I’ll respond quickly on the two points of disagreement you identified.

    Minimum wage:

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the standard arguments about the effects of minimum wages vis a vis unemployment, inflation, etc so I won’t rehash them here. Suffice it to say that I believe that the minimum wage has a distortionary effect on the labor market and I would probably oppose it for that reason alone.

    In addition, the minimum wage is not a good tool for fighting poverty because it does not target the people that its proponents seem to believe it will. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers for 2005 (available at http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2005.htm) indicate that about a quarter of workers earning $5.15 or below are age 16-19. About half are under the age of 25, and minimum wage or below workers also make up a higher percentage of workers who are 65 or older than of workers who are 25 or older (note that these data do not contradict your statistic of most minimum wage workers being 20 or older, but they certainly paint a different picture, which is probably why minimum wage supporters prefer the vague statistic). Also, six percent of part-time workers earn minimum wage or below, compared to about one percent of full-time workers. All of these numbers combine to suggest that a minimum wage increase is not primarily going to benefit full-time workers raising families, as supporters of an increase claim and seem to expect.

    Regarding your comments on most states having higher minimum wages, I was – as you guessed – referring to the current federal minimum rather than the proposed minimum. Since the increases in states with higher minimums will be smaller than $1.10, the overall impact will be even less than it would have been. Incidentally, why would this not be a matter better settled at the state level, since different states have vastly different costs of living?

    Regarding your disagreement that “very few workers actually earn the federal minimum currently,” the same BLS numbers I cite above suggest that of the 75 million American workers earning hourly wages, only 479,000 earn exactly $5.15. I don’t expect that many salaried workers earn $5.15 an hour on average, so your suggestion of “millions” of minimum wage workers seems a little high to me.

    Now, it is entirely possible that there are millions of people earning between the current federal minimum and the proposed minimum of $7.25, not to mention union workers whose contracts are tied to the minimum wage and other workers who will expect a raise to remain differentiated from their entry-level co-workers, so there are probably a number of people who will receive some small benefit from this change, a number of people who will get laid off or have their hours cut, and a vast number who will face higher prices. However, this is definitely not the targeted assistance to the poor that supporters of a minimum wage increase believe it to be.

    The government already has a far better tool for fighting poverty: the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is why I suggested that as an alternative. I think we both agree that these people are in need; we simply disagree on the proper method to address that need.

    Stem Cell Research:

    This is a very difficult issue for me and one on which I readily admit ignorance. That said, President Bush has not banned stem cell research, nor has he stopped scientists from pursuing this research. He has only specified that federal funds will not be used to fund embryonic stem cell research except in specific cases. This seems like a fairly reasonable position given the large number of Americans who have moral qualms with this research and especially, as I mentioned, given the lack of progress made on this front in comparison to other types of stem cell research. I don’t want to get into a debate on abortion or on the time when human life begins, but I will say that I think people’s concerns about such things need to be taken seriously and not dismissed out of hand.

    Jake


  3. “Incidentally, why would this not be a matter better settled at the state level, since different states have vastly different costs of living?”

    That’s simple enough, it’s because there are some states out there that give the bare minimum that they can give out. I would say that Kansas is a good example of this. I will go back and read the origins of the minimum wage, but if I remember my facts correctly it all started because people were being paid almost nothing.

    The whole issue of it effecting business, inflation, etc. is all debatable. My state has the highest minimum wage in the country, and yet there has been little to no difference in employment. If anything it has improved the quality of life for a lot of people. You can scoff at the idea that it’s just 20 – 25 year olds, but they are adults and if you’re trying to start a new life it sucks working for $5.15 an hour.

    “President Bush has not banned stem cell research, nor has he stopped scientists from pursuing this research.”

    While this is “technically” true, the federal funding he actually gave was a joke. His idea was that scientists could only use what was already available, which wasn’t that much of a help to begin with. You’re right that private parties can fund this research, but there’s something to be said about getting a large sum of money from the government. Especially when a majority of this country agrees that our tax dollars should fund it.

    “This seems like a fairly reasonable position given the large number of Americans who have moral qualms with this research and especially, as I mentioned, given the lack of progress made on this front in comparison to other types of stem cell research.”

    Two things …

    1) A large number of Americans? Okay, but an even larger number of Americans disagree with those people. Sorry, but every current poll shows people siding with the doctors on this one.

    2) Lack of progress?? I’m sorry that no cures were discovered in 12 months of research! Jesus Christ! This stuff is really, really hard. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no scientist, but the idea that something should happen immediately just seems short sided. Look at all medical advancements, none of them happened because of just a few months of research. Heck, some of this stuff takes 10 – 15 years before we see results. Maybe it’s just me, but 10 – 15 years isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things … and it’s a whole lot better than not doing anything at all.

    This isn’t a new thing, the government has put money in to fund AIDS, cancer, and a lot of other diseases. We’ve learned a lot in the 15 – 20 years we’ve been funding that research. Do we have an out and out cure? No. But isn’t it better to keep trying? And let’s not forget, it’s not like they are asking for money we don’t have. They are asking for what is about 1 or 2 days worth of war in Iraq. I don’t know about you, but I would rather fund a cure for diseases than pay for one or two days worth of our troops being killed.

    “I don’t want to get into a debate on abortion or on the time when human life begins, but I will say that I think people’s concerns about such things need to be taken seriously and not dismissed out of hand.”

    You do realize that the stem cell that is not used is simply discarded, right? I know that there are people who believe that it’s a life and all that stuff, but isn’t it more nobel to use this for a cure and not just throw it away?

    And why shouldn’t I dismiss their views out of hand? They dismiss my non-religious beliefs out of hand. For a government that is supposed to be representative of the people, this government really only represents the religious. All of them, from the extreme left to the extreme right, they are all religious. It’s not like we’re electing athiests and agnostics. But that’s for another show. Maybe I’ll be back with more facts, or maybe I won’t.


  4. It’s me again. πŸ™‚

    To follow up on what I was saying about Stem Cell research, I have a site you should check out. It has dozens of articles on the subject, quite a few different views, and a whole guide to how it’s done, the moral dilemma and so on. I recommend you check it out, I found it to be rather insightful. I think a lot of the problems people have with this is simply because they don’t know how it works. Here’s the site …

    http://www.time.com/time/2001/stemcells/#

    As for the minimum wage stuff, a lot of the statements you make echo what George Will said not too long ago in the Washington Post. The EPI sent a letter to the editor explaining the inaccuracies in his piece. I recommend you check it out, it talks about the numbers and who will be effected. It’s not very long, either. It’s only two paragraphs.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/07/AR2007010700955.html

    Hope that link went through okay.

  5. Jake Savage Says:

    Thanks for the links and info. Your dedication to reasoned debate is admirable. I’ll try to take a look at the stem cell research info, since I probably should learn more about the various arguments. Regarding minimum wage, let me quote from the EPI letter you linked:

    “Our research shows that 5.6 million low-wage workers have earnings that place them in the affected range and thus would directly benefit from the increase. These workers are mostly adults (70 percent are 20 or older; half are 26 or up). About 40 percent of them work full time, and a similar share work more than 20 hours per week. While many are not officially poor their incomes typically place them within the bottom two-fifths of the income scale (less than $36,000). In other words, millions of American workers need and deserve this long-awaited raise.”

    I follow all of the statistics, but I don’t see how they justify the final conclusion. If 60 percent work less than full time, then they are less likely to be the primary earner for a family. Similarly, if “many” are not officially poor, why do we act as if the minimum wage is meant to fight poverty? This is analogous to the Republicans’ claim that family farms are lost due to the estate tax. It is possible in theory, but not common in reality. If the minimum wage increase mostly helps young people and part-time workers, why do we always hear about poor families of four?

    Also, no matter who is affected by the policy, why do we believe that making it harder for employers to hire and keep low-skilled workers will make them better off?

    I would still be interested to know why you would prefer a minimum wage increase to upping the Earned Income Tax Credit, which most economists I’ve read think is a better targeted poverty-fighting mechanism and which does not come with all of the inefficiency and unintended consequences caused by a minimum wage.

    One more thing: the language about a “long-awaited raise” is deceptive. Not many minimum wage workers stay at minimum wage for long. I especially dislike the way that many media outlets have reported this as the first raise for minimum wage earners in ten years. If a person has been earning minimum wage for ten years, there is something wrong that won’t be fixed by a mandatory wage hike.

  6. Jake Savage Says:

    “A large number of Americans? Okay, but an even larger number of Americans disagree with those people. Sorry, but every current poll shows people siding with the doctors on this one.”

    “And why shouldn’t I dismiss their views out of hand? They dismiss my non-religious beliefs out of hand. For a government that is supposed to be representative of the people, this government really only represents the religious.”

    First, you shouldn’t dismiss people’s views out of hand because that removes any possibility of a reasoned debate. They have every bit as much right to their opinions as you have to yours. Second, the fact that most of our politicians express some religious faith *is* representative of the people, who overwhelmingly possess some religious belief. Third, the first quoted statement above seems to suggest that we should go with the simple majority on this issue, but the second quoted statement prefers considering the opinions of a minority as well, a position I believe you have also supported on the issue of gay marriage. Which is it? Does the vocal argument of a minority deserve attention, or should it be dismissed without thought?


  7. I think you might have misunderstood what I was saying, but that may have been my fault. I’m certainly not suggesting that people in government should not be religious, but at the same time it seems kind of one-sided. Did you see the kind of response that some of the Republicans had when a Muslim was elected into office? And I don’t know how many articles I’ve read that flat out say that a Mormon cannot get elected President.

    My point is that this is not a 100% religious country, yet our government is 100% religious. This is fine for people that are religious, but for people (like myself) that do not believe it’s kind of frustrating.

    My dismissing comment was meant as more of a joke. But at the same time, a lot of people who have these moral problems have them because they are scared or simply don’t know the facts. I have a lot of religious friends who are absolutely against a lot of this stuff … but then when they actually do the research they realize that they were against it out of ignorance and not for any factual reason. I’m not saying you (or everybody) is ignorant, but the moral problem with stem cell research is clearly a minority at this point. And like I’ve had to accept that my non-religious views are in the minority, sometimes other people have to realize that faith cannot dictate everything about the government. The idea that people refuse to do something because they feel they have a monopoly on the truth seems backwards to me, that’s how we get into these problems to begin with.

    As for your third statement/questions, I don’t think it’s an either/or. I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to all points of view, but you were saying that a large portion of this country opposes it. You’re technically right about that, but a large portion of this country doesn’t actually understand the issue.

    Also, to be fair, I think there’s a difference between a large group of people wanting federal funding and gay marriage. One is a money issue, the other is a human rights issue. Those two things are not on the same level. They just aren’t.


  8. “One more thing: the language about a “long-awaited raise” is deceptive. Not many minimum wage workers stay at minimum wage for long. I especially dislike the way that many media outlets have reported this as the first raise for minimum wage earners in ten years. If a person has been earning minimum wage for ten years, there is something wrong that won’t be fixed by a mandatory wage hike.”

    I don’t think this is what they are saying. I don’t think anybody believes that there are people who are waiting on this minimum wage hike because they’ve been stuck at the same income for ten years. The reason they say that is because people who go and get a job now (or recently) are technically making less now then they would have 40 years ago. I think you are reading too much into what the media is saying, it’s true that the minimum wage has not been increased in ten years. That’s just a fact. And all this time we’ve seen the government officials (such as the “do nothing congress”) giving themselves raises.

    Also, while the article says that people making $5.15 are not considered the poorest in our society, it’s hard to support a family (or even yourself) on just $5.15 an hour. And you’re right, many people will get raises. But how many raises is it going to take before they go from $5.15 to $7.25? I personally feel that it’s better for people to start at $7.25. Would you rather have a 50 cent raise from $5.15 or $7.25? I think that’s a no-brainer.

  9. Lucas Says:

    If I may, I’d like to comments made by Jake on the Democrat’s six point plan.

    Minimum Wage-

    Good point. I’ll remember to think happy thoughts as I serve customers their crappy food at my next minimum wage job, so I can purchase in one hour, a meal of the same caliber at the very same restaurant so I can become a fat, lazy American that can only afford a crap meal at McDonald’s and not something healthy and decent from the grocery. But hey, at least I’ll be an EMPLOYED fat, lazy American!

    Stem Cell Research-

    Mommy! Mommy! Why is one of my legs shorter than the other one and why do I smell colors whenever Spongebob says the word “Krabby patty?” Because, you’re retarded dear. Now, go tell your gun loving, NASCAR watching father that his toast is blackened and it’s time for mommy to have her back waxed. It’s Sunday and we’re late for church. Your 19 sisters are already in the pickup.

  10. Jake Savage Says:

    Cyril,

    The response to Ellison’s election was disgraceful. I absolutely agree with you on that.

    As for the difference between gay marriage and stem cell research, I think you need to recognize that opponents of embryonic stem cell research do see it as a human rights issue rather than a money issue, since they believe that it involves taking a human life. As a side note, I do understand that we are talking about embryos that already exist and would be thrown away anyway, but the argument on the other side is that if you reward something, you will get more of it, and funding embryonic stem cell research may lead to a demand for more stem cells. Again, I am very conflicted on this issue, but I certainly see both sides of the argument.

    Regarding the minimum wage, the problem is that it’s not a simple matter of the government magically saying everyone who would have started at $5.15 will now start at $7.25. This change in the price of labor will result in a change in the demand for labor. It will be harder for people to start working and harder for companies to keep them long enough to get a raise if they aren’t immediately productive enough to be worth $7.25 an hour. Which would you rather have, $5.15 an hour for a few months and then a 50 cent raise, or nothing?

    Jake

  11. Jake Savage Says:

    Lucas,

    Quick responses:

    Minimum wage –

    If you are worth more than $5.15 an hour, go find a company that will hire you for a higher rate. If you want to eat healthier food, it doesn’t necessarily take much more money, but it does take more work. Accept some responsibility for your quality of life and you might see an improvement.

    Stem Cell Research –

    …no response needed

    Jake


  12. “I think you need to recognize that opponents of embryonic stem cell research do see it as a human rights issue rather than a money issue, since they believe that it involves taking a human life.”

    I do understand that, however, what I don’t understand is why this is such a moral issue since those stem cell lines are going to be destroyed anyway. I think that is the problem here, most of the people I have spoken with that disagree with this research seem to think that the options are “kill it for research” or “use it for life”. But those aren’t the options.

    I’m sorry, but the idea that funding stem cell research is going to make people want to have abortions is simply ridiculous. I’ve heard that before and I understand where it comes from, but there is absolutely no proof that this will occur. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been around a woman who has had an abortion (a fresh abortion, one that was recent), but I can tell you that they are not lining up to do it again. It’s an emotional thing … even if they aren’t morally against it.

    As for minimum wage. I do agree with you (shock, amazement) … but not for the reasons you think. I agree that if you set it too high it could negatively affect jobs, etc. HOWEVER, the point I think that is missing here is that I’m not asking it to be raised to some huge number. I’m simply saying that we should keep minimum wage current. It should increase with inflation, something that is clearly not happening. I don’t think $7.25 is unreasonable, and there is certainly research to back that up. If this discussion was about going from $5.15 to $15 then I would be on your side, but this is about raising it two dollars in ten years. I’m not sure that’s really going to effect the balance as much as you seem to think it will.


  13. One totally off the subject point …

    This has been fun, and I really do enjoy debating (not fighting, since I genuinely believe that both of us respect each others opinion), but can I make a quick request?

    Okay, so you advertise Defunct Thoughts on this very page here. And don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate it (and truthfully, it’s probably the only reason I found the site). But Defunct Thoughts (or as we call it now, the NEWS section) isn’t really the main part of the site. I was wondering if you might just go ahead and replace that link with a link to Defunct Games (http://www.defunctgames.com). You did that with this post (which I thank you for), but it would be nice if you could have it on your links section. Defunct Games updates daily … but you would never know it if you only go to that news section you have linked. Gives off the wrong impression, you know. πŸ™‚

    Thanks in advance. Now, back to the debate!

    PS – is there any rhyme or reason to the political links you have on the side? Not trying to complain, but why advertise those no-name left wing sites when there are more popular (and much better) left wing sites on the web? Just curious.

  14. Jake Savage Says:

    Cyril,

    I have updated the link to Defunct Games. Thanks for clarifying the status of the news section.

    Regarding the left wing blogs I have on the site, they are mainly the ones I have read most often or ones I found early in my blog-reading career. I also try to link only sites that offer reasoned and civil arguments rather than partisan bickering. If you have other suggestions, please let me know.

    I too have had fun with this discussion. I think we were able to find several points of agreement and pinpoint where our fundamental differences lie, which I think is the purpose of a true debate.

    Thanks,

    Jake


  15. I agree with your reasoning about the websites, however I do feel that there are a few that could be added. Especially if Warblogger Michelle Malkin is on there (don’t even get me started on her). Here are a few places I tend to go.

    Media Matters (http://www.mediamatters.org) – does a good job of taking clips from the media that they feel tilt to the right and details what they feel is wrong about it.

    The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com) – Not really a blog, just kind of a news center for left leaning types.

    Think Progress (http://thinkprogress.org/) – A great resource that not only has good articles but also features video content.

    There are more, but those are three that I would recommend. I would be more than willing to discuss the merits of any one of them.

    PS – thank you very much for changing the Defunct Games link. I really appreciate it. Not sure if you generally go to the front page or not, but if you haven’t you will probably see that there’s a lot of content.

  16. Jake Savage Says:

    Cyril,

    Thanks for the suggestions. I have added them to the site. I’ve liked Think Progress for a while – their election coverage was particularly good – so I have no problem adding them. Media Matters is often very good, but sometimes their ideology gets in the way of their accuracy. Still, they probably do more good than harm keeping people honest. The Huffington Post is hit or miss, depending on who’s writing, but I agree that it’s probably worth a read now and then. Let me know if you think of any others. I’m partial to blogs or sites that have great content but a smaller audience (though I do tend to link to several “big” names as well).

    Thanks,

    Jake


  17. I particularly like The Huffington Post because of the people they get to blog. Of course you’re not going to agree with everybody that writes, but they have something like 30 contributors. And it’s not all left leaning writers, they have a few bloggers that are conservative. Plus, their podcast is actually very well done. It’s Left, Right and Center … which is a debate show with somebody from the left and right. It’s not a show about yelling (like so many debate shows), but rather reasons discussion. You probably won’t like everybody on it, but that really isn’t the point now is it?

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