Friday, December 21, 2012

Politics, Weapons/Gun Control and the Fiscal Cliff

Let's face it, a number of countries around the world are currently in financial difficulty. I've written about this previously in the 'Convergence' document (some of the theories mentioned have actually been used). Whilst these policies have helped to stabilise a number countries, I haven't necessarily agreed with the way in which they've been been implemented. In the case of the European Union several of the countries involved have had policies imposed on them which weren't pertinent to their particular situation and may actually cause them some medium range harm at the cost of immediate relief (Admittedly, we have come a long way back from the precipice.)(I'll outline what I mean shortly.).

So I guess this is 'Take Two'. The reasons how the United States has achieved it's tenuous situation are well known but the means that it has sought to extricate herself from her present circumstace diverge (sometimes alarmingly so considering a compromise needs to be achieved very soon in the near future). I think one of the key questions that should be asked is how quickly does she wish to pay down her debts and what is the likely direction of successive administrations? Another that should be asked is just exactly how far are they willing to push their citizens.

In France, taxes on wealthy individuals have reached levels so high that many high profile/wealthy citizens have changed (or are considering) changing their place of residence. Clearly, there are two schools of thought. One is that we require high wealth individuals/organisations to create jobs for others. However, I recall a Wall Street Journal article that suggests that this is not always or entirely the case.

In Spain and Greece drastic cuts have had such significant negative impacts on the living conditions of the general population/middle class. Wide spread cuts to the middle class may possibly push those on the 'edge' over it which may lead to a cascade of other societal issues (increase of crime to support oneself, health insurance, poverty and so on).

I think two things that should be absolutely critical to these negotiations are a rough figure of what cost of living is (basics such as food and water to things like healthcare and utlity bills)(I recall strange welfare oddities which have meant that people were often better off staying at home rather than going to work. Further thought is required here!) and exactly how much are the wealthy willing to pay before they say enough is enough and begin undertaking non-trivial tax avoidance schemes.

From this point we can begin to work backwards. If we can figure out the spread of income/assets across the population we can begin to understand exactly how far we can push before the cuts begin to make too significant an impact on those affected. It's at this point I wish to digress to game theory. If you've ever played a game which has a production as well as a consumption aspect to it (such as Poker) then you'll realise that large bets (spending) are much more rare when you have little to spend. Extrapolate this across an entire population. If not enough people have enough to spend then economies which are dependent on consumption are suddenly in trouble. Balance is key but for this accurate numbers (monitoring on top of projections) are absolutely critical.

I'm sure we've all heard about recent gun tragedy in the United States... It really puts into perspective the cultural differences between the United States and many other countries but for the first time in a long time it's become clear that gun control reform is at the forefront of everyone's mind.

There is an avalanche of opinion but one thing remains clear the so called, "right to arms" plays a far greater role in the United States than in other nations. For instance, Australia is lucky in that it was populated in rather unusual circumstances and is essentially a isolated giant island which has meant that it has been relatively free from war. Other countries used conflict (and continue to use) as a means of forming national boundaries/borders and land locked countries are of course always at stronger risk of invasion owing to relatively greater ease of movement over ground rather than sea or air. Some things that are of interest include:

- storage (store only at clubs, police stations, etc... Many possible problems here including those that require guns as part of their livelihood such as those living in rural areas or on farms)
- culture (television, films)(freedom of expression problems here)
- size of catridges (large scale shooting more difficult with smaller catridges)
- stopping power (ammunition that causes less damage)(exemptions created where required)
- mental health (history indicates that some intigators often suffer from mental difficulties)
- stronger surveillance (law enforcement/intelligence difficult as is. How far do we go? Some automated detection systems won't work against alternative material weapons)
- buyback scheme (logistics/tracing the location of every weapon mightn't be realistic or possible though)
- whitelist as opposed to blacklist methodology (focus on what is needed/desired by people in the general public rather than on what should be banned. Allow these and then ban everything else with obvious exceptions for law enforcement/defense)
- increased law enforcement numbers/rounds around high population areas (these services likely streched as is)
- designated safe areas (in Israel many buildings have safe areas/bunkers where people can hide from rocket threats until they dissippate. What about those between safe areas though?)
- education (not sure about the impact of this?)
- make private sales illegal by only allowing sales through licensed brokers (hard to police/check) which helps to ensure proper/adequate checks are made (logistics?)
- background checks (problem is whether there are adequate resources in place or can be allocated. Enforcement is a major problem as indicated by FBI)
- trigger locks on guns (careful thought required here, if there are flaws in these mechanisms 'class breaks' are a distinct and dangerous possibility)
- provide people with alternatives to guns. Minimise gun distribution as much as possible.
- stronger gun controls/laws (need to be careful with the actual implementation as discussed further on)
- politics (we'll discuss further on)

If you've been reasonably observant of late then you'd realise that recently there has been an extremely close margins of victory in several democratic nations around the globe which has ultimately resulted in 'compromised' decision making. Based on what's been reported in the media it often feels as though we're not satisfied with the options that we currently have. A local journalist recently indicated that we may quite simply be creating undesirable environments for people who have the characteristics/skills to work in.

From a personal perspective, I think that a lot of the 'romance' of politics has sort of disappeared. Political parties are increasingly funded by major private entities and if your particular 'cause' is not cogniscent with that of these entities then the likelihood of your campaign being funded and succeeding is miniscule. Moreover, campaigning is often no longer about results or superior policies. It's a combination of personal attacks, highly formulaic/scientific/mathematically based campaigning that often detracts from the actual job of running a state/nation.

Ultimately, this often attracts a strange group of folk who sometimes lack the competency or moral capacity (if you read the previous American attempt at gun law reform there were clearly significant flaws in their contruction which may lead a cynic to question whether or not they were left in deliberately, whether there were issues of competancy, or whether it was simply a half hearted effort) that I desire of someone who is running a state or nation (I don't expect them to know everything but I do expect them to have an internal moral compass that points in roughly the same direction that most normal people do.).

Some have argued that we should perhaps consider changing funding models to reduce the impact of third parties on politics. However, this will clearly require bipartisan support and risk the existing staus quo. Unlikely to happen.

Others have argued that we should simply increase the wages of politicians and other public servants in an attempt to compete directly against the private sector to attract the 'best and brightest'. That's fine.

One thing I'd like others to think about though is that if one can put up with all of the other 'external issues' pertaining to the job (media, personal attacks, and so on) I ask you what possible greater honour can there possibly be? You are an 'elected offical' of a community that more than likely has a population of several million at the worse. Moreover, you have an opportunity that few others have.

You have the change to do something that will have a long lasting and wide spread impact on an innumerable number of others around you. Unlike a scientist, you're not attempting to decipher problems of possibly infinite complexity. Unlike a doctor, you need not deal with one patient at a time. Unlike a lawyer, you need not defend people of questionable morals.

A politician simply is. A politician can change laws as needed/required, can redefine history simply by showing up at their work place, and is in a position of privilege that quite simply does not exist in the private sector. A politician is a representative of the people and a fundamental reflection of who we value, what we value, and how we act on it at that particular point in time.

For these reasons, I wish to convey (it's most eloquently stated in French) a simple message to those few politicians who can still be considered faithful to the people's cause. Bonne Chance.