Matt's Idea of the Day

simple solutions for pressing problems.

Don’t Raise the Retirement Age - Lower It!

A lot of fiscal hawks, not all of them Republican, think that big savings can be had by raising the retirement age, and thus kicking the cost of social security/pensions for that cohort down the road just that far.

The trouble with this is that that aging cohort is still occupying a seat at the table that could be better filled by a younger worker with more relevant skills, knowledge, and abilities; and that we’re still obligated to pay for their benefits. Postponing retirement doesn’t negate the financial obligation we have to the retiree. 

The solution here is quite simple: lower the retirement age to 60. Or, 55. The number is really arbitrary. If you start removing people from the workforce earlier, you free their position for the person underneath them. That position is filled by someone else. And so on, until the teeming masses of un-and-underemployed postgrads suddenly find themselves with paying jobs instead of bullshit internships. 

The benefit here is twofold: first, the obvious benefit of finding work for a new, dynamic group of younger workers who, to be honest, could use the break; but also of funding the retirement benefits given to our hypothetical early retirees. 

Between a rapidly graying population and a diminished economy, the number of people kicking in payroll and social security taxes is necessarily shrinking. By mandating early retirement and pumping untold amounts of fresh blood into the economy, we’re stimulating tax revenues that can go towards maintaining the vitality of our social safety net for future retirees. 

Make-Work (or, Keynesianism and Why It Works)

Here’s a great way to kickstart some serious economic recovery: a jobs program (duh!). 

Here’s how it would work: Pay Tim $15.00 an hour to dig a hole in a field. Pay Mike $15.00 to fill it in. Pay Rudy $20.00 to watch them do it and make sure Tim doesn’t hit Mike with a shovel. Repeat until private industry develops the testicular fortitude to start hiring people again. 

Total waste of money, right? Why pay people good taxpayer money to waste their time doing something unproductive?

Yeah, it’s a boondoggle. It’s supposed to be. That’s where the word comes from. Our entire economy is built on boondoggles. From redundant paperwork and administrative chores all the way to billion-dollar weapons programs that get canceled after a decade, a significant portion of GDP is generated by doing fuck-all. It’s that influx of unproductive spending that puts cash in people’s pockets and allows them to fully participate in the wider, consumer economy: food, services, housing, cars, household goods. 

Efficiency and productivity are not necessarily and inherently good, in and of themselves. They are means, not ends. Productivity and efficiency are fine and well until you start removing the human element from the equation, at which point you produce without providing people the means with which to purchase the goods and services that are being produced without their help. An industrial automaton doesn’t need to buy the car it makes. A smartphone or office software suite won’t buy a new suit to wear to the office, or buy its kid some braces, like the administrative assistant you’re not hiring. 

If productivity has skyrocketed without benefiting consumers and workers, we need to pull the drag parachute on it and institute a program of gainful but unproductive work.

Without asking why our otherwise very intelligent and apparently well-meaning President and his brain trust haven’t given serious thought to putting into place a WPA-style jobs program, I think it would behoove us to unleash ourselves from this"MBA-style thinking" and really consider the benefits of putting a ton of people to work on projects of arguable merit, financed with taxpayer dollars.

Of course it would be tough politically, but all things that are worth it tend to be. If that’s the sole consideration behind the Administration’s unwillingness to get behind a jobs program, that’s sad and disgusting. I’d like to give the President and his Cabinet a little more credit than that, but so far he’s proven just as callow and feckless as some of his early critics have predicted. 

Jobs, Mr. President. They make the economy work! 

Fuck Censorship. Give a Kid a Copy of “Slaughterhouse 5”.

Do you hate censorship? Think that banning books from high school libraries is the nearly-exclusive provenance of fascist political movements and a hobby for people who advocate keeping big gubmint out of their business, at least until someone says a swear word on teevee or they hip themselves to the existence of birth control?

Republic High School in Republic, MO, made a move that you might expect from people who have no sense of irony, and banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 from it’s library.

In response, The Kurt Vonnegut Library in Indianapolis, IN has pledged to provide a free copy of the book to any interested student. A $5 donation to the Library will cover the cost of the book, as well as shipping. They accept Paypal, so you have no excuse. 

Slaughterhouse 5 was my first experience with Vonnegut. I read it in the tenth grade and it made me a better person. If you’ve had the same experience reading Vonnegut at any time in your life, you owe it to these kids to make sure they have a chance to read it, as well. Click through the site and make a donation if you can afford it. 

How To Thwart Trolls, Threadshitting, and Stupid Internet Arguments

This is a really simple one. Charge visitors to your site a small, token fee for the right, in perpetuity, to post comments. 

Even well-meaning non-trolls such as myself often demur when asked to merely sign up, for free, in exchange for posting comments in a forum. Just that one extra step is often enough to stop me in my tracks, and I feel like I actually have things to say beyond “lol wat?” 

I hate to take a lesson from a b-list site like somethingawful, but Rich Kyanka had the right idea when he started charging $10 for lifetime membership to the forums. By and large, troll traffic died, almost overnight. 

If you’re a normal person, and you want to have a reasonable discussion with some other internet person about this or that, and you go to post in the forums, and you’re asked to kick $0.50 into the pot for the right to do so, forever, as long as you adhere to guidelines, you’re either going to say “nah, not worth it” or you’re going to pay the $0.50 and say your piece. 

If you’re a troll, spammer, a 14-year old for whom the word FAIL is included in all parts of speech, or just an internet tough guy looking for a fight over economic policy or the purported nationality of our President, you’re absolutely not going to bother. I guarantee it. 

Ban Lane Changes to Prevent Traffic Jams

I’ve done my own, yours, and our respective immediate family’s worth of highway driving, and in my experience, one of the causes - not the sole cause, anyways, but at least an exacerbating factor - in backed-up traffic is frequent and sudden lane changes by impatient drivers, who decide it’s their right to occupy two lanes of traffic for some uncertain period of time. This, obviously, is a problem for everybody behind them. 

Studies have shown the existence of what are called "shockwave traffic jams", meaning traffic jams precipitated by brief delays: one timid driver brakes suddenly, one aggressive driver switches lanes—that effect ripples backwards through traffic. 

Simple (though, admittedly, unenforceable) solution? Ban lane changes in high-traffic areas of the highway (near on-ramps, within city limits, etc.). Remove the ability of a driver to stop or slow traffic simultaneously in two lanes and project that delay backwards, causing traffic jams.

Benefits? Untold millions in savings on gasoline, environmental destruction, highway use maintenance, and productivity/lost time. 

Similar measures: ban left turns, like they did in New Jersey. UPS found out that programming their driver’s GPS units to avoid left turns saved them three million gallons of gas and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons . 

Awesome. Fucking awesome. 

Paint Your Roof White (?)

Today’s idea of the day comes from 4-2, President Bill Clinton:

"…Mayor Bloomberg started a program to hire and train young people to paint New York’s roofs white. A big percentage of the kids have been able to parlay this simple work into higher-skilled training programs or energy-related retrofit jobs. (And, believe it or not, painting the roof white can lower the electricity use by 20 percent on a hot day!)”

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/07/paint-your-roofs-white/241784/

The Beachler Plan, or, How to Fix Campaign Finance

Every citizen of voting age is given a taxpayer backed, $100 voucher to divide as they see fit between any election, Federal, state or local, in any given year. Soft money is banned. Courtesy of Don Beachler, Associate Professor, Ithaca College, A Very Serious Thinker who once kicked us all out of class because we had the sillies. 

How to Stop Underage and Binge Drinking

Whatever regulatory scheme took all the cigarette ads off of TV in the 60’s, do that with booze. Between that and the warnings, the smoking rate was cut in half. Maybe it would work with problem drinking.