Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The government has to print money to keep going after tax cuts

Though I don't agree, it's interesting to hear Senator Rand Paul criticize other Republicans (and Democrats) for passing the corona virus relief bill. He's one of 6 Republicans who voted against it.

He's definitely worried about the rising federal debt. He says we are just printing money and giving it away.

He criticizes something called Modern Monetary Theory which downplays concern about the debt; under certain circumstances at least. If inflation doesn't appear to be rampant, Modern Monetary Theory downplays worry about creating new money to cover the debt.

Rand Paul mentions former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney as one who pushed deficit spending, wasting billions on a useless war in Afghanistan.

Interesting to see Republicans quarrel among themselves.

About the virus, he believes we should just allow business to open up again. Allow indoor dining, bars and so forth. Don't spend money to allow people to wait out the virus.

I got to thinking that we would have to accept a higher death rate under his type of libertarian (small government) thinking. We now face the problem of hospitals being overwhelmed, but we may have to accept more death without going to the hospital first. A harsher reality; like on the American frontier of 150 years ago. Harsher than people are used to today.

Most people would, probably, still survive a higher death rate from the virus, so some folks ask, "what's the problem?" I think much of libertarian thinking has roots in the America of years past; in many ways a harsher time.

As for printing money over the past decades, we could have had higher taxes. There are a lot of wealthy people, including even a big number of upper middle class.

Raising taxes might have slowed down some of our greedy and wasteful expectations, but it could have brought revenue more in line with government spending. It would have been more "pay as you go."

We didn't do that. Instead we have expanded the money supply greatly. I think there is no shortage of money, however.

More money has lead to inflation, but future generations can just move the decimal point over a notch. The idea that we have "stolen" from future generations doesn't seem quite accurate.

Future generations just move the decimal point over and go on with their lives. Houses that sold for $50,000, when I was in college, are now well over $500,000. For the most part, we survive and life continues.

Problem is that not all things inflate at the same rate. Some prices and wages are still closer to what they were in my college days making it harder for people and businesses, in those sectors of the economy, to keep up with the rest of the economy.

Inflation has been a reality in certain sectors, but not across all parts of the economy, so it's tempting for folks advocating Modern Monetary Theory to say that inflation isn't a problem.

Advancing technology has created so much nearly free wealth that it's tamped down inflation in many sectors, but it also threatens to inundate the planet. For instance inundated in plastic.

Money is basically just an accounting tool that we tend to take too seriously.

The quality of life, which may be harder to objectively measure, is really the bottom line in my opinion.

Thinking about libertarian versus traditional republican thinking can provide useful insight into how society has gotten into the predicament it is in. Both share the dream of very limited government, but republicanism is more of an impure mix. Libertarian ideals are at it's base, but political expediency morphs it into not making the harsher choices that purely libertarian folks would make. Not having government funded Medicare, for instance. Sharp reductions in spending for military and veteran's benefits, for instance. Less government even means a form of defunding the police.

We have become accustom to a certain level of comfort and safety so cramping down dramatically on government spending is a political non starter. At the same time tax cuts remain popular; thus the rising national debt.

Republicans push a form of hybridized libertarian philosophy.

Another element of republicanism that is less evident in pure libertarianism is religious values. Pure libertarians are more likely to be pro abortion as one means of reducing the costs; especially reducing the number of less productive people in society with birth defects and so forth. Survival of the fittest.

I believe that there needs to be a healthy balance between government and free enterprise. Yes, government can go too far. There can be government overreach. A balance seems most healthy.

Different people set that balance point in different places. I tend to avoid the extremes.

Extremes are a problem while another problem is hypocrisy; especially in mainstream republican thinking. Cutting taxes is popular, but, for obvious reasons, republicans can't really cut spending. They can talk about it, but just about anyone trying to slash spending runs into the fact that we have become accustom to a fairly high level of government services in our modern society.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Should one wear a mask while bicycling?

It does look kind of funny seeing someone wearing a mask outdoors far away from anyone else. Sometimes it's just easier to keep it on, rather than taking in on and off all the time; especially when riding a bicycle.

Sometimes, wearing a mask is just to not rock the boat around other other people who shutter at the sight of a mask less person passing them. I almost always wear mine when in crowded areas outdoors and, of course, for indoor public spaces.

When I bike pass people on trails, I sometimes hold my breath; especially if I don't have my mask on. That might work as well as the mask, if not better, in short passing. I wouldn't know. One seldom hears anyone talk about briefly holding one's breath. I would think this can work walking past people as well.

I usually don't wear my mask while biking on roads. Especially on long rides, or going up hills, the mask can get wet and become (I think) less effective. It also slows down breathing, but I could live with that, if I had to, by just riding slower. I don't ride real fast anyway.

It's hard to keep taking it off and putting it back on. I bike back and forth from streets, where everyone is in cars, to trails. For this reason, I often just leave it on. I usually leave it on downtown.

Some people have the mask around their chins and pull them up when passing a person outside. I find that my mask falls off if I just keep it around the chin. Might have something to do with my bike helmet straps. I usually have it in my pocket. Not as handy to pull up though.

One vaccine safety worry that I haven't heard discussed.

Here's one worry I haven't heard anyone express about the vaccines. Since some of them have to be kept real cold in shipment, what happens if a few doses get inadvertently too warm in the distribution pipeline? Would this mean a dose that is not effective? My main worry would be that it would create a false sense of security. Someone thinking they have been vaccinated, while still being vulnerable.

Who should take credit for Operation Warp Speed?

Some people would say that at least Trump authorized Operation Warp Speed which led to the amazingly quick development of vaccines.

Yes, he did lift the pen and sign some documents, though the real heavy lifting was from many people, including great scientists.

Something he didn't do could have led to success as well. He, and Republicans in Congress, could have been such deficit hawks as to refuse government funding for research. 3 trillion dollars was made available, last spring, for relief efforts; including the research.

It made my head spin that even "the Grinch that stole Christmas," Mitch McConnel signed onto that original relief bill. Some folks might say that government has no role in helping us. Let the private sector do this.

From what I understand, the first vaccine, produced by Pfizer, was more privately funded; rather than from the Operation Warp Speed research grants. Still, according to an NPR show I heard, Pfizer benefited from the community of research that's happening. Having a proven vaccine, the government is now buying doses, from Pfizer, for public distribution.

Vaccines from other pharmaceutical companies, such as the hopefully soon to become available Moderna Vaccine, came more directly from the Operation Warp Speed efforts. There are even more versions of the vaccine in the pipeline. Big pharma is another controversial thing in society, but it seems to be coming through when we need it.

Both government and private enterprise play valuable roles in our economy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Maybe don't worry about anti vaxxers yet since there isn't enough vaccine to go around, at first, anyway.

Maybe we shouldn't worry, too much, about people who are reluctant to get the vaccine since there isn't enough to go around at first anyway. If some folks don't want to get it, others will move forward in the waiting line.

After enough vaccine has been rolled out to vaccinate everyone, then, maybe, we should worry, if not enough people want the vaccine for us to reach the 70%, or so, herd immunity. By then we may need to do more to coax folks into getting vaccinated, if that becomes a problem. By then, the vaccines will have already had a track record in the hundreds of millions. Reluctance to get it may be marginal.

There is the issue of Social Darwinism, though. Do folks, who are skeptical about the vaccine, deserve to be more at risk? Skepticism is said to be higher in some minority communities.

These are questions to ponder.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

When vaccines protect more vulnerable folks, can people go back to more normal living due to the natural immunity of less vulnerable people, even before we reach herd immunity? Good questions.

Things are looking pretty bad in Sweden now. Hopefully the vaccines can curb this worldwide pandemic.

Remember, Sweden tried a different strategy allowing businesses to remain more open while trying to protect the most vulnerable. The idea seemed to make some sense, but now it's looking worse.

This is a new disease since late 2019. A lot has been learned, even since last summer.

Of course, now, we seem to have learned how to make vaccines, but it's going to take time rolling the vaccines out to the public. A while ago, I had a thought that when (and if) vaccines succeed in protecting more vulnerable people, other folks (younger and more healthy) might be able to go back to more normal business. Maybe even bars opening again.

Sweden was banking on natural immunity that seems to be stronger in younger people. They thought they could protect the more vulnerable while allowing others to go on about more normal living. That hasn't worked as well as originally thought.

They also thought that exposing people naturally to the virus could bring a form of natural herd immunity. I think that strategy proved to be a lot more deadly than waiting till the vaccine brings immunity.

After vaccines protect more vulnerable folks, it's tempting to think that we can go back (to some extent) to business as usual. I think this may happen to a better outcome than what happened in Sweden and other countries, such as USA that attempted to reopen Last summer when things were looking better. This time, maybe the better numbers can last? I'm no epidemiologist, but we might be able to see vast imporvement, even well before herd immunity is achived. I'm reluctant to advocate this, but it's a thought.

It's going to be quite a few months before enough vaccines roll out for us to achieve "herd immunity." Vaccines are the best way to achieve herd immunity, but, at best, that situation is months down the road.

In the meantime, it is tempting to think that before we reach the panacea of herd immunity, we can also count the natural immunity of younger and healthier people. This, plus the vaccine, even before being fully deployed, could bring us to more normalcy. I am reluctant to advocate it, however. I leave that up to the experts.

There are also quite a few young and healthy people who have had serious outcomes and death from the virus. One has to weigh the risks. I keep saying that it's kind of appalling that people still drive cars knowing that around 35 thousand folks die, each year in USA, due to traffic accidents.

How much death and carnage are we willing to accept in the name of business as usual? I'll admit, I'd like to go back to dancing in the bars and events such as Pride Parades and naked bike rides again. Outdoor things are safer than indoor things. Masks are easy for most people to keep using as a fairly easy remedy, compared to something like a lockdown.

Normal life can wait, however. Just how long is a matter of judgement. There's never going back to an old normal. Climate change is still lurking. Telecomuting is more popular. The future keeps unfolding.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Arecibo: A use for intelligent and educated minds.

Article with a video of Arecibo Telescope's collapse.

Hopefully they can rebuild and hopefully basic scientific research can be a priority. It's science that's bringing us the vaccine; at warp speed.

Arecibo has also been a source of employment on the island of Puerto Rico. A use for intelligent and educated minds.

I got to thinking that people often say education is an important priority of society. One sometimes wonders what education is for given our lives and jobs after our school years.

That's something that scientific research provides. Employment for the mind. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit. It can also be a way to lift up people in troubled parts of the world.

I still think, maybe they could restore the dish and not have to replace the old, complex antenna structure that was suspended over the dish. Couldn't they use drone technology to place the secondary antennas? I wonder how that's done at the FAST Telescope in China? That's the world's largest radio dish. Even larger than USA's Arecibo was.

Too bad about China's human rights violations, but it is an upcoming power in science.
On the human rights front, I think improvements can come incrementally. Often when they are pushed too fast, they bring pushback that makes things even worse. Incremental change means pusing for improvements, then resting a bit to consolodate gains and then pushing a bit more. A long term strategy.

What really saved the Republic from Trump

Interesting article in New York Times.

It may be the goodness of people, rather than totally the Constitution itself, that is saving us from the prospect of a ruler remaining in power in spite of the vote. People like independent judges and local officials doing their jobs; a lot of folks, even some Republicans, that protected us.

I'd add (not mentioned in the article itself) that the Constitution includes the Electoral College; an old institution that helped Trump get into power in 2016. That didn't happen in 2020, but once in power, Trump is the kind of leader who is doing whatever he can to stay in power.

It's people and honesty. Possibly it's the spirit of the law, more than always the letter of the law, that protects us.

The vaccine should be a lot easier than "bending the curve." Both will be needed for a while

I'm glad the vaccines are on their way. It looks promising.

Without them, we couldn't control this epidemic. Shutdowns, lockdowns, masks and social distancing have been the main tools we've had, up till now, to prevent spread and save lives.

Given the nature of our culture, those tools haven't been as effective as, maybe, they've been in some other countries. To some extent, they've even been sabotaged, in this country, given the need to pay bills, loneliness and the political climate.

Even testing and isolating outbreaks of the disease hasn't worked that well, in this country at least.

Lives have been saved, but can we function like this indefinitely? Good thing the vaccines are on their way.

To save lives, we will continue to need to function under pandemic guidelines, but it looks like the vaccines will bring a more effective solution in several months.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Partial List of things to look forward to in slowing the pandemic

Vaccines starting with certain professions, vulnerable people and working their way to larger numbers of people.

Continued measures to reduce the spread. Physical distancing, masks.

Continued public health measures such as closing higher risk businesses and activities. These can be phased out over time.

Warmer weather toward spring making it easier to do things outdoors.

The natural immunities of younger and healthier people as more vulnerable people start to get vaccinated. Also, maybe, the immunity of people who have already been exposed and recovered.

Better testing and treatments.

The Joe Biden Presidency. I think that will also be a benefit in coordination of things at the national level.