French Economic Views

When I read French news, I can’t help but feel sad. Anyone who believes the government can control the economy hasn’t been paying attention for the last 60 years years. The beauty of the economic world is its ability to adapt. As a result, attempts to control or steer it in meaningful ways are more often than not fruitless. Still, most of my compatriots willingly share in a collective ignorance of this obvious fact. This emperor has no clothes, but he hasn’t realized it yet.

Gay Marriage

The motley cast of characters opposing gay marriage and other equal-rights legislation are of the same mold as those who claimed that educating women would destroy civilization, that letting women vote would destroy civilization, that permitting inter-racial marriage would destroy civilization, and that allowing women to initiate divorce proceedings would destroy civilization.

Despite all this empty bluster by repressed old white men, civilization has actually become more civilized as each shibboleth falls. Perhaps the repressed old white men should emigrate to Saudi Arabia if they want to return to “the good old days” when minorities of all kinds “knew their place” and would be swiftly killed if ever they had the temerity to “become uppity.” These sad angry repressed old white men will feel right at home in Jeddah.

CA-Oxonian – commenting on The Economist

CS50X

I’ve always been interested in computers and the way they work. I toyed around windows 3.1 with my first computer, crashed it a few times playing with the command line, and spent countless hours trying to organize and optimize it.

But I only now am starting to realize that maybe I should have explored this interest earlier. I’ve been studying the CS50x* online course in recent weeks and am loving every second of it so far!

To the point that I am surprising myself reading “The C programming language” written by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie in my spare time. As a result, I have just opted for the identified diploma version of the course, and hope to graduate by September. Who knows, maybe my next job will be as a programmer ^^

Wish me luck!

CS50x banner

* CS50x is Harvard College’s introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming. David J. Malan is the main teacher, and helps us improve our ability to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently. They partnered with edX to offer this awesome course to people like me who live more than 15,000 km from Massachusetts. You can check it out here : CS50x @ edX

Disability & retirement

Sometimes you come across a piece of writing that summarize your ideas so beautifully and succinctly that you wish you could shake the writer’s hand to thank him. Thanks Ohio !

In the just and caring society that most of us aspire to live in, we need to collectively care for those who are unable to provide for themselves. If we take that as the starting point, we are left with two challenging problems:
1. Who is unable to work, and to what degree?
2. What is the appropriate level of benefit to match the degree of disability?

The disability benefits problem and the old age pension problem are very much linked. Old age is a disability which eventually prevents all of us from working. Age is a poor predictor of that disability, though, and has become more so as professions and public health have changed. So changes that would make sense:

1. Make disability a scale, rather than a black and white classification. Disability specialists (not just any doctor) should have the option of declaring that people are unfit to do certain kinds of work, or that they are only capable of working so many hours a week.

2. At certain elevated ages, people should be allowed to claim certain levels of disability without a medical exam, e.g. when you reach 60, you are granted a disability which specifies you are unable to do heavy manual labor. When you turn 65, you might be automatically granted a disability (if you choose to take it) that you are unable to work more than 25 hours a week. With a medical exam, you could be granted that level of disability earlier.

3. The government’s disability benefits needs to be on a sliding scale based on an individual’s level of disability, their work history, their level of education, and possibly other factors. For some people at some ages (younger people), it is reasonable for the government to provide disability only for a finite period while that person retrains for a job that their disability allows.

The idea that there is a single point in time, before which you are capable of any form of work, and after which you are capable of no work and therefore receive a full pension, is hard to justify in the modern world. The hardest part for people to accept will be the idea that government old age pensions are not a reward for a lifetime of hard work (you can save your own money for that), but a way to prevent poverty for the disabled, including the elderly. Roosevelt created the social security program, which mostly eliminated dire poverty amongst the elderly, but he sold it to the public as a savings program (which it never was). Making people understand that their social security premiums are not and never were being saved for tomorrow, but were being used to combat poverty today, is a huge political challenge.

Ohio – commenting on The Economist

Musings of an expat living in South East Asia