Trump’s Atrocious Trolley Trade-off

Recently, some Republicans have suggested that social distancing measures are not worth the damage they cause to the economy. This was explicitly suggested by Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who wanted to sacrifice senior citizen’s lives. But it was also suggested by Trump who said,

We have two very, very powerful alternatives that we have to take into consideration. Life is fragile, and economies are fragile.

So they’re seeing it as a trolley problem: do you save the people on the tracks, or do you maintain the trolley schedule? Oh, won’t somebody please think of the trolley schedule!

I’d like to take this moral dilemma seriously, for the sake of argument. At the end, I will estimate, just how many Hitlers are we talking here?

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Election meta

cn: more board gaming than election politics, really

Usually around election time I write up a post about what I’m voting for on the ballot. Most things on the ballot are local, and not relevant to most of my readers, but I think it’s important to highlight and normalize the research process for smaller elections. The presidential election is important and all, but in all likelihood you’ve already made that decision so surely you can spare some time to research the smaller elections?

Unfortunately my last ballot didn’t really have any interesting local votes, so I guess we’re stuck talking presidents. Well shoot.

You know what, I want to talk about board games instead.

In games with three or more players, players are often presented with a choice to attack one of their opponents. This opens up a fair amount of strategic space, which board gamers sometimes sometimes refer to as “politics”. Common political strategies include:

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On panhandlers

Dear readers, what is your attitude towards panhandlers?

My husband and I have adopted different attitudes, with him preferring to completely ignore them, and me preferring to politely refuse them. I want to acknowledge their personhood, he is afraid of encouraging them to accost us further.

Maybe that doesn’t make a difference, as neither of us are offering money. I’ve given money to panhandlers a few times over… ten years, but this is an area where I reach moral satiation practically immediately. Giving money to panhandlers feels so bad, because I overthink it afterwards. My whole life I’ve been told that charity feels good but you know what it doesn’t so stop lying to me.

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Retrospective on Hobby Lobby

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014, on the (then recent) Burwell v Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, which ruled that owners of for-profit corporations could withhold certain healthcare benefits (i.e. contraceptives) if their owners had religious objections.  I was reminded of this one because of Trump’s recent rule allowing federal contractors to discriminate based on religious views.  While only tangential to the present issue, I thought it was a good explanation of the rationale behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and how one might argue around religious exemptions.

As I may or may not have mentioned before, my boyfriend has a law degree.  So I get to hear a lot of lawyerly opinions on the recent Burwell vs Hobby Lobby decision, both from him and his friends.  And they seem to contrast with the opinions I get from atheist blogs, where there’s lots of panicking about the consequences, but very little explanation of the mechanical details of the decision.

The Hobby Lobby decision was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law from the 90s.  The RFRA says,

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

Laws specifically targeted against religions are already unconstitutional, but the RFRA adds religious protection from neutral laws.  For example, if a company bans hats among employees, that is a neutral rule that disproportionately affects certain minority religions which mandate wearing hats.
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Guns, terrorism, and distortion

Generally I prefer not to comment on “news”, and I will continue that trend here. But we all know gun violence in the US is bad, right? You don’t need to pay attention to the news to know that! You can just read Wikipedia. (And I’m being lazy in my research to demonstrate just how easy it is to find this stuff.)

In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 persons), and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” (10.6 deaths per 100,000 persons). These deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides, 505 deaths due to accidental or negligent discharge of a firearm, and 281 deaths due to firearms use with “undetermined intent”.

This is vastly higher than it is in other wealthy countries, and it’s only gotten higher in recent years.  I used to think that the death rate by guns must be dwarfed by that of car crashes, but no, it’s actually quite comparable (although with a lower injury rate):

In 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 crashes, 30,296 deadly, killing 32,999, and injuring 2,239,000.

Here’s what’s not comparable: number of deaths by mass shootings. If you only pay attention to mass shootings in the news, this will vastly underestimate gun violence in the US.

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Cap and trade

In my series discussing capitalism and socialism, a commenter said that both frameworks have problems with externalized costs.  According to the internet, “Externalized costs are costs generated by producers but carried by society as a whole.”  For example, pollution.

I want to discuss externalized costs through the lens of a specific concrete example: cap and trade policies in California.  I choose this example because I have a friend willing to explain it to me because I live in California and know all about it.

Generally speaking, cap and trade is a policy to reduce carbon emissions (or greenhouse gasses).  The government auctions off “allowances” that give companies permission to produce a certain amount of carbon emissions.  There are a fixed number of allowances available (that’s the “cap” part), and further carbon emissions are restricted.  The companies are free to buy and sell the allowances at prices of their own choosing (that’s the “trade” part).  The number of allowances decrease over time in order to meet the government’s pollution reduction goals.

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The primary election is the election

I’ve seen many people lamenting that the US has this two-party system, and since one of the parties is a garbage fire, we basically have the one Democratic candidate foisted upon us, regardless of whether we actually like them. And, well, yes. That’s what democracy is, the foisting of popular candidates upon people who don’t necessarily like them.

But if I may point out the obvious, we do in fact get a say in the Democratic candidate, during the primary election. Heck, we don’t even have to vote for a Democrat during the primaries, since one of the major candidates is still an independent. As far as my own vote is concerned, the primary election is the election, and the general election is a formality.

I think everyone knows this, so what I’m really advocating is a shift in thinking. The primaries, which occur between February and June 2020, are the time to pick your favorite candidate, and let your political ideals shine. The general election, in November 2020, is the time to put out the garbage fire.

Of course, thinking about it this way, there are certainly aspects of the Democratic primaries that are disappointingly undemocratic. In 2016 there was a lot of talk about superdelegates, but I don’t actually think that’s the worst problem. (Anyway, superdelegate rules have been reformed since then.)

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