July 3rd, 2012 § § permalink
Official 2005 photo of Chief Justice John G. Roberts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My attempt here is not to add more commentary to the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”), but instead to point out the gems within the majority opinion.
No matter which side of the issue you fall on, every educated citizen can easily follow the reasoning used to decide it.
The Framers created a Federal Government of limited powers, and assigned to this Court the duty of enforcing those limits. The Court does so today. But the Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people. ~ Chief Justice Roberts page 65*
* All page numbers reference the page number of the PDF not the pages printed in the document.
America is a nation of laws and the Chief Justice deferred to the legislation created and signed by the other two branches of the Federal Government. In his own words:
Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices. ~ Chief Justice Roberts page 12
This is exactly the deference of power Republicans have been screaming about for years! “Activist judges writing laws from the bench.” Well Justice Roberts deferred to the better judgement and intentions of the elected legislators no matter how foolish the law may be. That is not for the Court to decide.
Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness. ~ Chief Justice Roberts page 50
Justice Roberts goes to great lengths to explain why the individual mandate can not be enforced through the commerce clause, which for many conservatives should be a relief.
Congress already enjoys vast power to regulate much of what we do. Accepting the Government’s theory [to use the Commerce Clause] would give Congress the same license to regulate what we do not do, fundamentally changing the relation between the citizen and the Federal Government. ~ Chief Justice Roberts page 29
Instead of yammer on about how Justice Roberts ruled on the case though, you can read it directly in his beautifully penned 59 page opinion. And that is the real heart of my post – why let bumbling fools filter the news down to you in small understandable spoonfuls when the source material is so rich and freely available?
The next 126 days will be filled with more hot air and screaming about this topic than anyone could wish for. Why not go to the source and mute the power of the fools who incorrectly translate such a key decision?
The power of our country is not in the ruling class or the media industry translating the news down to us. Through open and immediate access online I read through the 59 pages of text in the time that most reporters were finishing their first articles. The only form of genuine protest I know against the ignorance spewed on Fox News is not by watching MSNBC or any other news source – it’s by better informing myself with the true source of information. Many articles and videos now include links to the source material. The reporters role is still meaningful in providing summaries to more issues than I have time to investigate, but for major issues such as this Supreme Court ruling why read 10 articles when I can read 59 pages from one of the sharpest minds in the country?
The writers of all this commentary get paid to fill pages with words or TV airtime with words. Justice Roberts cogently laid out his reasoning for future generations of judges and everyday Americans to understand how such a crucial decision can be made without defaulting to partisan answers. Conservatives are flabbergasted that Chief Justice Roberts would “turn to the dark side,” ruling in favor of ObamaCare, but that’s really a terrible summary of what happened here. Read the source material! Vast portions include quotes from the Framers and their efforts to create a pragmatic country governed by clear laws.
As we have explained, “the framers of the Constitution were not mere visionaries, toying with speculations or theories, but practical men, dealing with the facts of political life as they understood them, putting into form the government they were creating, and prescribing in language clear and intelligible the powers that government was to take.” ~ Chief Justice Roberts quoting from historic rulings on page 30
Ultimately, if America elects a massive majority of Democrats to the House, almost a super majority to the Senate, and a Democrat to the White House then the American people have spoken. For the high court to overturn the law on the basis of partisan views would be the greatest betrayal to the people who, however mislead or foolish you might think they are, worked to pass healthcare reform.
If you have a better plan go forth and elect your own fools.
May 14th, 2012 § § permalink
“The ability to collect, store, and manage data is increasing quickly, but our ability to understand it remains constant.” ~ Ben Fry – Computational Information Design – http://benfry.com/phd/
We’re great at reading, gathering, searching, and finding new and interesting ideas. With search engines now almost anything on the internet can be found using the right keywords. The problem now is not finding information, but sorting and relating it to other information we already know. We start doing this sorting and categorizing at a young age – this is a dog, it’s an animal; this is a cat, it’s also an animal. Slowly over time the number of categories and items we understand expands through learning – Kampala is the capital of Uganda, which is a country in Africa, which is one of 7 continents. These layers can become quite complex and deep. As I learn more about Uganda I store it away in my mind with other information about the country or maybe even relating it to some of its neighboring countries.
CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING
Once we have a basic framework, we start to hang new information around what we already know. However, without an understanding of the big picture new information can seem meaningless. For example, in my economics class we jumped straight into utility theory formulas without discussing the broader context of how and why we need to analyze individuals utility preferences.
After looking at these graphs long enough I started to build an understanding on my own, but only through repeated rote exercises – copying the board directly from the professor. If instead we could slowly zoom further in to each level of detail, the foundation for each idea would be much firmer. The best example of this idea of zooming if of course Powers of 10 by Ray & Charles Eames:
Why don’t we have a massive Powers of 10-esque way of presenting knowledge? We have Wikipedia, but right now we can only see one page at a time. The average person can’t aggregate data into any sort of meaningful visual form.
LEARNING AS EXPLORATION
Once a beginner sees the big picture – micro vs macro economics – its time to zoom into those groups for more information. Prezi presentations are the most popular way to visually represent this movement. Concepts only become visible once we zoom down through the larger items.
These broad sweeps of information should not be limited to something that only the professor does as part of a presentation. By visually representing the data so students can explore and relate interesting ideas on their own, learning can become exploratory and interesting again.
Imagine a zoomable Prezi for any topic you want to learn that has detailed layers that allow you to skim the broad concepts or learn all the way down to ongoing research.
The problem with Prezi’s is that the proportions and layers are all built individually by the presenter. We need a new system that allows the data to persist between Prezi’s, for this web to expand through the efforts of everyone just like Wikipedia is built by the masses instead of one author.
Microsoft’s ChronoZoom research project is one of the best examples I’ve seen of trying to give the broadest sense of context with an ability to zoom in to what interests you. ChronoZoom is part of the broader field of Big History – best summarized by David Christian at TED – which tries to place human history within the context of the full history of the universe. Imagine learning history in school with this massive level of context that’s fully zoomable.
NOT JUST PRETTY; COMPUTABLE
I keep talking about representing the ideas or data visually but the key here is that the web of information isn’t just a static mindmap that’s used once; instead by defining the relationships between items we can sort, pivot, rotate, filter, and re-organize the data in ways that answer questions. These sorts of questions are the ones I hope to answer and illustrate in future postings.
February 20th, 2012 § § permalink
After a bit of reading online I think I’m finally on the trail of what I’ve been searching for – how to link different ideas together across different hierarchies. Here is the situation now – I am studying economics and as I learn about key economist I want to understand where they are in the context of different schools of thought. For example, Milton Friedman is listed as “Chicago School of Economics” by Wikipedia, Ludwig von Mises as “Austrian“, and Paul Krugman as “Keynesian.” The typical presentation is a simple hierarchy, maybe in a mind map format.
It’s simple to understand the levels of the hierarchy but what I want to know is what are the cross-connections between different people. For example, which people tend to co-author articles with people from other schools of thought? Which individuals bridge the space in-between different schools of thought? Which universities are graduating people into these schools of thought? For example the University of Chicago seems to have fewer Neo-Keynesians.
As a seasoned researcher you come to expect a particular bias merely through your experience, but as someone new to the field I have a hard time placing what some of the influencing factors on the research might be. If however there was a way that I could see quickly which schools some of these main thinkers came from or worked at, I could orient myself in a broad sense quickly. When I start to ask these questions I begin to wonder if these hierarchies of thought we create are all that meaningful.
We all have an urge to categorize and sub-divide but the problem with traditional hierarchies is we are limited to a single dimension or way of sorting. The future is in “semantic” links that allow items to be linked together with meta-data describing the type of link. I will be posting more soon about some of the partial solutions I’ve found. So far nothing seems to answer the underlying problem.
October 11th, 2011 § § permalink
We have been learning in macroeconomics class that deflation is an incredibly negative situation, especially from the perspective of central banks. Monetary policy becomes less effective in managing the economy once you have serious deflation. From there the basic argument goes that the economy may enter into a deflationary spiral causing lower prices to lead to lower production and therefore lower employment.
Another classmate asked the basic question: is deflation really all bad or is it just bad for our current system? There is no incentive to save now because of the artificially low-interest rates that set by the Federal Reserve. If interest rates reflected the cost of money, as we defined it at the beginning of class, then people would be rewarded for saving and as deflation started to take place interest rates would rise causing more savings and less consumption.
Now this increase in savings would cause aggregate demand to fall in the near-term. But what are savings? Saving is just setting aside money for future spending. No one saves with the intention of never spending the money, they just think they can put it to better use later.
So if interest rates were not set by the Fed but instead allowed to reflect the natural price of money, more people would save and be rewarded for their savings. At some point even if interest rates were 0% forever, debt taken on by individuals still means that future consumption is merely being pushed forward for present spending. That does not change the basic definition of debt as something that has to be paid back. The debt still must be paid back there is just less future consumption.
Back more to the original question now, if deflation starts and people leading up to this have been rewarded for saving, then wouldn’t people eventually buy things as prices fell even if they thought the price might fall a little bit more? Or put another way, there has to be some threshold where people would see an opportunity to invest even if prices could fall further? I’m thinking of Warren Buffett investing billions into Bank of America recently when few people wanted anything to do with the banks.
One of the counter arguments seems to go that: lower-income people will never have a large enough savings cushion to weather a true deflationary spiral with high unemployment. My question now though is, are people really better off with the current system? It looks like we have at least another year or two of slow to low growth. That hurts everyone but especially the people who cannot find jobs to get back into the economy.
If you see something I am missing here, please comment. This is a genuine question that I am trying to learn more about and answer.