Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Baltimore Coin Show Fun

November 22, 2021

Last week I went to the Baltimore coin show. Normally thrice yearly, it hadn’t been held for two years, due to Covid. Southwest has a one-hour early flight, then light rail (very cheap) got me to my first appointment before 8 AM — with dealer Nick Economopoulos in his hotel room.

He’s a good guy whom I’ve bought from for over thirty years. We go through his entire stock, and he shoots me his best rock-bottom price on every coin. Occasionally I might deliberate for a few seconds; usually not. No song-and-dance. And I buy enough to make it worthwhile for us both.

Then on to another dealer in his hotel room, before the show itself opens, a bourse with many tables. Mostly I seek ancient coins to sell in my online auctions. (The current one closes Dec. 7; here’s a link: www.fsrcoin.com/t.html) But I do still buy an occasional item destined for my own collection.

One in the latter category, from Nick, was a dollar-sized Byzantine bronze of Emperor Tiberius Constantine (578-82 AD). The big M signifies the denomination (follis); the “u” the regnal year (fifth). CON is the mint, Constantinople; the Gamma after it, the “officina” or division in the mint. It was $200, actually the most I ever paid for a Byzantine bronze; but the quality is great. I was very glad to get it.

Quality is the name of the game. The U.S. coin market has gone nuts on that, with 11 hairsplitting grades of uncirculated. The “slabbing” companies, who evaluate coins and encapsulate them, for a fee, came up with something diabolical — “registry sets,” recording who owns the highest grade coins. With associated bragging rights (it’s a man thing). So, recently a 1957 Lincoln — cent, not car — sold at auction for $13,800. An extremely common coin, but uncommonly graded “67+.” Okay — but a 66 would go for about $35. As if the one is hundreds of times better than the other. Actually they’re virtually indistinguishable.

Fortunately the ancient coin market is more sane, but quality is still crucial; and it’s a more complex issue, with a lot of variables to consider. While value is a more open question too, absent price guides. All making this a challenging game. And the pandemic seems to have turbocharged demand, so it’s ever harder to buy at reasonable prices. I’ve always considered myself a “bottom feeder,” looking for “bargains.” Yet it’s remarkable what great coins I’ve been able to acquire — albeit with a lot of effort. But that effort is the fun. There’d be no sport in it if I wasn’t so price conscious. However, now rather than a “bargain,” my criterion for buying is a price at least making some sense to me.

That Byzantine coin is a case in point. Not so long ago $200 would have seemed unthinkable; now it feels cheap. (I’ve seen ones not as good selling for twice as much in auctions.)

I worked the show, going from table to table, until the 6 PM closing. And after a long productive fun day, buying many goodies, and a nice dinner, I got home before midnight, picked up at the airport by the best wife in the world. What a life.

The Donut King

October 27, 2021

Ted Ngoy came to America, a refugee from Cambodia’s genocide, with nothing but some family members — and great drive. Worked hard at various jobs, one in a donut shop, where he learned the business. Then he started his own. Leading the way for fellow Cambodian refugees to make the donut trade their specialty. Eventually Ted built an empire of around 65 stores, and bought a gorgeous California mansion, which he loved.

The story is told in a fascinating 2020 film, The Donut King, aired on PBS.

I was struck by what a positive, welcoming attitude America had then, in the 1970s, toward refugees and immigrants. True to our fundamental ideals. And their rightness was exemplified by the story of Ted and his fellow Cambodian refugees, contributing greatly to this country. Latterly, of course, we’ve lost our way on this, succumbing to a nasty xenophobic irrationalism, poisoning American minds. I’d hoped President Biden would undo Trump’s damage (he promised me), and he’s done some, but not nearly enough. Even some wall construction continues.

Ted’s story included a fairy tale romance. Back in Cambodia, he was a young nobody, smitten by a girl from an elite family. By pluck and grit he won her.

But as the whole beautiful story unfolded in the film, I remembered being told at the outset that Ted would lose everything. I kept wondering how.

Then he discovers Las Vegas.

We visited there when our daughter was little. Walking through a casino, I suggested she think about the cost of building that sumptuous edifice. The electricity cost for all the dazzling lights. And wages for all the employees. Et cetera. Where does all that money come from — with the owners making profits besides? From the pockets, obviously, of people gambling there. Most have to be losers.

B.F. Skinner posited that gamblers keep at it because they’re conditioned by the periodic psychic rewards of wins. Such reward/punishment conditioning was Skinner’s theory of everything. He was wrong. Wins are not gambling’s rewards. (Anyhow they’d be outweighed by more frequent losses; and human psychology hates losses more than it loves gains.) Gambling’s reward is instead the spritz of adrenaline thrill with every roll of the dice and turn of a card. A fix to which some gamblers become addicted.

Ted did. That’s how he lost everything. Blowing his whole donut fortune and mortgaging his stores to the point of bankruptcy. He lost his cherished mansion. And his fairy tale marriage, with his wife powerless to stop his self-destruction. The last straw was his having “a little affair,” as he put it with a sheepish grin.

Indeed, the film showed him to be still a cheerful upbeat fellow, despite his catastrophe.

One can understand addiction to the rush each time one bets. How that could have kept Ted coming back again and again. But squandering his entire wealth? Not even holding back a fraction? Didn’t he grasp that by blowing everything, he destroyed his capability to continue gambling? The one one thing he came to crave above all else.

The human story was what was really so compelling in this film. Ted’s donut empire was a monument to rationality. His heedless self-destruction a monument to irrationality.

Human beings: you gotta love them.

The Phony Environmental Rights Amendment

October 23, 2021

This election day, New Yorkers have the opportunity to vote for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing us the right to clean air and water and to enjoy a healthy environment. All that in just 15 simple words!

And after we’ve passed this amendment, the Tooth Fairy will leave money under our pillows.

Dominick Calsolaro’s Oct. 22 Albany Times-Union commentary rhapsodizes about the amendment. Saying it will prevent “government agencies and departments approving corporate projects over the health and safety of citizens.” They’d be “obligated to minimize pollution, degradation, and environmental harms . . . to put people first.”

So “no more Hoosick Falls, where residents have used water contaminated for decades.” No more public housing complexes, like Albany’s Ezra Prentice Homes, built in an industrial-zoned area. No more landfills, like the one in Rensselaer, next to a school. No more incinerators like Norlite’s operating within city limits.

It sounds like passing this simple amendment will be like waving a magic wand, all our environmental problems will be solved, and we can march forward into the bright sunshine of a new day.

If only it were that easy. But this is just a feel-good measure, nothing more. Its fifteen simple words are so general they mean nothing, requiring nothing of anyone. Applying its lofty language to nitty-gritty situations like those Calsolaro enumerates would be very arguable. There are always trade-offs. Indeed, if his expansive reading were actually correct, the amendment would be a strait-jacket, barring sensible consideration of such trade-offs. “Putting people first” can conflict with environmental concerns.

Meantime, state agencies will likely spend extra time and money giving lip service to the amendment. Needing more state workers to crank out more empty verbiage.

And, as Calsolaro himself points out, the amendment will invite more litigation, giving people more legal tools for nimbyism and obstructionism. As if we don’t already have enough of that. As if New York’s economy is not already hamstrung by a welter of business-stifling measures. The amendment could actually be exploited to stymie clean-energy projects like wind farms.

Then of course there’s the law of unintended consequences. It’s hard to say what those unintended consequences will be. But unintended consequences don’t tend to be good.

I’m all in favor of clean air and water and a healthy environment. But that requires hard work, facing painful trade-offs. This amendment is a cynical excuse for not actually doing anything. It sounds high-minded to say we have a “human right” to a healthy environment, but it has to be paid for.

There’s no free lunch. Dressing up a nothingburger as a free lunch is a bad thing.

I’m voting no.

Crazies Rule: The State of Play in Congress

October 1, 2021

Republicans have repeatedly cynically harmed America by playing the government shutdown card. Democrats, with narrow Congressional majorities, managed to head off the latest.

But still looming is the debt ceiling. If not raised by mid-October, we’ll default on our financial obligations, an unthinkable economic apocalypse. This too has been cynically exploited continually by Republicans. In the past, they’ve always blinked, if only at the last minute. But now they insist Democrats must do it solely with their own votes. Even threatening to block them with a filibuster.

As ever, the ploy is to paint Democrats as spendthrifts. When in fact raising the debt limit entails no new spending, it pays for past spending. And Republicans under Trump ran up huge deficits. Their hypocritical debt ceiling brinksmanship makes me puke.

But they’re not the only irresponsible Congressional crazies.

Amazingly — amazingly — President Biden had successfully negotiated a desperately needed infrastructure bill (a ball Trump repeatedly dropped, in his standard feckless bullshitfull way.) Biden got enough Republicans on board to win Senate passage (overcoming the filibuster hurdle). Now it only needs passage in the Democrat-controlled House, where Republicans can’t block it.

But “progressive” Democrats can — they’re holding it hostage, refusing to vote for it unless the Senate also passes their giant $3.5 trillion bill for other spending. Which cannot happen. The votes just aren’t there, with several Democratic Senators (and all 50 Republicans) adamantly opposed.

Will House “progressives” (like AOC) really kill the infrastructure bill for the sake of the impossible? Is this what you’d call “progressive?”

Those holdout Democratic Senators seem open to compromise on something less than $3.5 trillion. “Progressives” must also compromise. Otherwise they get nothing. The perfect as the enemy of the good.

Meantime, for all the political jockeying, there has been almost no real public debate about the immense economic and social ramifications of the $3.5 trillion plan. This is sadly typical of today’s America, so full of political intensity, but void of actually coming to grips with actual issues.

And if “progressives” wind up with no infrastructure bill and no omnibus spending bill passed, Biden might seem a failed president. Helping Republicans regain Congressional control, if not also the White House.

Then you fools can kiss goodbye all “progressive” dreams. And America too.

Trump versus Biden versus China

September 21, 2021

His first day in office, Trump handed China a giant victory by nixing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal we’d expressly created to blunt China’s clout. Yet Republicans call President Biden “soft on China.” The truth is the opposite.

We have two main global antagonists. Russia has been called a Third World country with missiles (which it cannot use). It’s a mischief maker, including its election subversion, but is no existential threat.

China is far more powerful and, in ways, more threatening. China does want to take us down a notch, to swagger as the world’s kingpin. That doesn’t require destroying America; and unlike in the Cold War, it’s not an ideological triumph China seeks. While Biden is right to see a contest between authoritarianism and democracy, it’s more like a popularity contest. Our aim being to showcase a better model. Shouldn’t be hard — while a collectivist mentality makes most Chinese accept a repressive surveillance society, that’s not real attractive elsewhere.

China’s real challenge is not ideological but economic competition. But all nations compete with one another. Just as all businesses, globally and within a nation, compete. And because competition drives prices down to the costs of production, the lion’s share of the wealth that’s created benefits not businesses but consumers. This is not merely theoretical, it’s why average living standards worldwide rose dramatically in recent decades and poverty (contrary to what many imagine) plummeted.

Of course this requires true, fair, unfettered competition, hard to attain because so many interests vie against it. But we’ve succeeded to a degree perhaps surprising. And that battle must be waged with China.

Trump’s tariffs, instead of promoting fair open competition, impeded it, making it harder and costlier for goods to get to market. This may have “protected” some U.S. businesses and jobs from Chinese competition, but damaged the U.S. economy as a whole — the costs borne by American consumers, who pay more for their purchases. Reducing their ability to buy other things, which would have stimulated our economy and created jobs, offsetting those lost to foreign competition. And while both sides suffer thusly from the tariff war, most economists reckon America’s damage exceeds China’s.

Exemplified by his assault on Huawei, Trump also sought to decouple from China, severing the global economy into two ghettoes, ours and theirs. China is doing likewise. Unwinding the globalized supply chains that integrate commerce and maximize efficiency by enabling businesses to obtain the best and least costly inputs. That economic vandalism can only hurt everyone.

Sadly, instead of casting us as the champion of an open global economy, Biden too is trying to wall off ours from theirs. And he’s sticking with Trump’s tariffs. Biden does understand Trump’s stupidity in picking fights with allies, rather than building a common front vis-a-vis China. But that’s undermined by a narrow fixation on American jobs — signaling our friends that they’re actually on their own. Yet seemingly giving them a “with us or against us” choice. Though joining our decoupling from China is self-harming.

Biden seems to frame this as a battle only one side can win. But we cannot “defeat” China. We should instead aim for win-win. That wouldn’t mean not fighting China on intellectual property, human rights, territorial aggression, cyber-hacking, and so forth. We can have those arguments while still expanding mutually beneficial trade and without actually being enemies. You have fights with your spouse but still have intercourse.

Brimfield’s Great Flea Market, and China’s Great Cultural Revolution

September 18, 2021

Brimfield MA’s antiques flea market, several times yearly, is gigantic. My wife and I hadn’t gone in years, but decided to visit on September 10. About two hours from Albany.

Every kind of collectable imaginable is on offer, and many you wouldn’t imagine. Like one dealer’s display of old band-aid boxes. We were entranced by the varieties of early typewriters. The whole show is a visual feast, full of bon-bons to tickle the eye and mind. You register an object in a nanosecond, then move on to the next. But quite often you stop and think “WTF?” Struck by sheer strangeness. What were they thinking when producing this item? When buying it originally? And who would buy it now?

What a vast human effort to create all these millions of things, every one conceived to somehow be a boon or a source of pleasure. And it is startling to see what people today will buy. At one point, passing a display of what looked like, well, junk, I remarked to my wife, “Don’t people have a concept of throwing away?” While we keep producing new stuff, much old stuff sticks around; so our ratio of stuff to people rises. Imagine how glutted flea markets will be in a century or two.

Ones like this are always windows to my childhood, objects from which are now certifiably antique (as I am). So many things we played with. Lincoln logs, army men, Monopoly, Etch-a-sketch. I noticed a “Colorforms” set. That rang a bell, but I didn’t stop to remind myself what Colorforms were, exactly. I did thumb through a copy of Fun With Dick and Jane, the very book that larned me readin’.

We’re not normally buyers, just lookers — except for my coins. And my wife did acquire several choice jewelry items. A discerning connoisseur; they were all carefully selected from $1 pick trays.

Most coins you see are overpriced junk. From a guy’s binder full, I took out one unpriced item and asked. He said $10. I said $5, and he agreed. An 1852 Canada Penny token, not the common horseman type; quite high grade; once badly cleaned but I can fix that. Another gal had many pages of coins. I pulled out an Italian 1926 Two Lire marked $7. She was tough, wouldn’t budge below $6. But it’s a rare date and EF, very unusual thus (worth more than ten times the price). Then from a tray of miscellany, I held up a lovely EF 1855-B French Ten Centimes. The dealer said a buck. Thank you! Another guy’s tray had a small bronze pinback medal with busts of LaFollette and Wheeler — the 1924 Progressive Party national ticket. After much negotiation, three bucks. I enjoyed this because I have a nice personal letter from Wheeler, who survived into my youth.

My wife was terrific in helping to scout out coins. When she uttered the word at one dealer’s stall, he pointed to huge stacks of modern U.S. coins in “slabs” (plastic encapsulations certifying authenticity and grade). Ordinarily of zero interest to me. Then he said, “$100 for the whole deal.”

Seriously?

I whipped out my wallet. The 519 slabs filled a carton I could just barely lift.

Meantime: during lunch, my wife (typically) asked me the most memorable thing I’d seen. “The Chinese statuette,” I said, having pointed it out to her. “I actually thought of buying it.” The tag price of $65 had seemed awfully reasonable. “Would it be completely crazy?” She encouraged me; we searched and managed to relocate it. My $45 offer was accepted. The guy mentioned it was apparently dated 1966 in Chinese.

So this was no antiquity. However, 1966 was actually perfect, as this was clearly an artifact of Mao’s “Great Cultural Revolution” launched that year. A trio of harsh-faced figures, one brandishing Mao’s “little red book,” abusing a bent-over fourth, with a denunciation placard hanging from his neck. The makers evidently deemed this thing heroic and inspirational. In fact it’s bone-chilling. Many thousands were killed this way.

Multihued porcelain, over a foot high, it’s in perfect condition, and a truly remarkable piece of history. A graphic caution about the dangers of political extremism, and how madness can engulf multitudes. Especially relevant to today’s America. Some googling reveals that such Cultural Revolution propaganda porcelains were a genre, but I couldn’t find a match for mine. I’m thrilled to have gotten it.

Topping off the day, we went looking for a dinner venue and found a Chinese buffet — our first such in at least 18 months. For a while there, I’d feared buffets would be a permanent casualty of Covid. Civilization is a great thing. While eating, I couldn’t help being mindful of the dangers to it, so vividly illustrated by what I’d just bought.

How Much is a Life Worth? A 9/11 movie

September 10, 2021

It seemed an odd subject for a film: the story of the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund. But Worth explores the issue of how we value a life.

Keaton as Feinberg

I’ve written about that before, in the context of Covid-19, and how much economic pain we should accept per life saved.* In the case of 9/11, the government feared an avalanche of economically ruinous lawsuits, so set up the fund to give survivors taxpayer money if they’d agree not to sue. Lawyer Kenneth Feinberg (played by Michael Keaton) was named “Special Master” to run the fund. It would become operative only if 80% of eligibles bought in (within a two-year window).

Feinberg constructed a payment formula, with a floor and a cap, heavily based on lost earnings — a commonly used measure in “wrongful death” lawsuits. The cap immediately incurred pushback from lawyer Lee Quinn, representing families of high earners demanding bigger payments. Feinberg’s other nemesis was Charles Wolf (played by an understated Stanley Tucci), who organized a legion of more plebeian folks.

Feinberg as Feinberg

Wolf insisted Feinberg’s approach was all wrong. But in their interactions, Feinberg never simply asked him, “What do you propose?” Which didn’t seem at all clear. During my own career as an administrative law judge (proceedings often in the World Trade Center), contending parties would always offer different explicit plans for resolving issues. Evaluating those competing plans, I’d reach an answer.

Tucci as Wolf

Nevertheless Feinberg, after a rocky start, in which he seemed pretty clueless toward the complex human feelings at play, gets his consciousness raised, and winds up more or less satisfying Wolf by (my interpretation) junking his formulas and deciding payouts based on impressionistic evaluations of individual circumstances. Also, Feinberg tells Quinn to get lost. And while fund buy-ins lagged ominously until near the deadline, they finally did flood in, blowing past the 80% requirement.

I understood why a formulaic approach was inadequate, with some flexibility imperative. A human individual’s “value” is only tenuously connected to their earnings; indeed, the value of one’s life is mainly to oneself, which counters basing it on income. Which of course leaves the conundrum of how to price that self-value in dollars. Unfortunately the film was fuzzy about how Feinberg’s revised method actually worked, giving no concrete examples. I’m dubious that an impressionistic approach based on someone’s unfettered judgment would produce results fairer than some thoughtfully crafted formula. As Feinberg himself suggested near the film’s beginning, fairness in a situation like this is probably an impossible chimera.

Michael Keaton did a pretty accurate Ken Feinberg, based on my own recollection of my law school classmate. (A reason I wanted to see the film; I can’t recall another portraying someone I personally knew.) Even back then Feinberg was a compelling personage. I particularly recall his announcing to me, in his standard stentorian voice, “I gave you a bullet vote.” It was a Faculty-Student Committee election, at the height of 1960s “student power” agitation. With two seats up for ballot, I ran against a pair of activist types, and my candidate statement said I didn’t believe in student power; that students didn’t know enough to run the university. I surely didn’t. And never imagined winning (especially given my introverted lonerism). Yet oddly enough I was elected — thanks in part to that Feinberg bullet vote.

* https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2020/03/22/covid-19-how-much-is-a-life-worth/

Coin Ad Rip-off

July 17, 2021

The Albany Times Union 7/16 issue had a full page ad hawking Walking Liberty half dollars for $39 each. Supposedly a special release deal for New Yorkers only! As a coin dealer for 40 years, I can advise that ads like this are always rip-offs. Always.

This one is full of breathless verbiage about the coins’ claimed rarity. In fact they are exceedingly common, the vast majority worth no more than the silver melt value, around $9.

But the ad gushes that SOME are worth UP TO 100 times face value. Those words “up to” are always slippery. Actually certain Walker halves are worth thousands. For sure you won’t get any such rare ones. Meanwhile, “100 times face value” for half dollars equals $50. You’re already paying $39. These hucksters think their suckers can’t do math.

Also, it says the $39 price is “just $585 for the full Bank Rolls.” Thus 15 coins per roll. In fact a standard bank roll of halves is 20.

Even the ad’s enlarged photo is a fake. It shows a 1919 half with a “D” mintmark on the front. No such coins exist.

What does “systemic racism” mean?

June 15, 2021

Black Republican Senator Tim Scott said America is not a racist country. I used to agree, seeing our few remaining racists as backward people who didn’t count for much. If anything, anti-racist affirmative action now held sway. And then we elected a nonwhite president.

However, that actually intensified racial antagonism, by newly threatening the caste dominance some whites saw as their birthright. And the next president played those racial anxieties like a fiddle. Now Republicans harp on academic “critical race theory” as a bugbear somehow threatening whites; and even “replacement theory,” a supposed conspiracy to swap them out for nonwhites.

Yet most Americans are not actually racist. It’s still only a small minority, and they’re still not our society’s movers and shakers. They’re losers. That itself partly accounts for their attitudes.

So why all the talk of “systemic racism?” Can you have systemic racism without (many) racists?

The answer is yes. “Systemic racism” does not mean whites are systematically racist. Instead it refers to societal structures that incorporate the lasting effects of ancient discrimination.

Our local Times-Union recently reported on past “redlining” in Albany. A 1938 Map with literal red lines around areas warned banks that mortgage loans there would be risky. Not necessarily targeting Black neighborhoods as such — rather, economically problematic ones. In fact, that map’s redlined zones were populated mostly by poor white immigrants. Only later did Blacks move in; mainly because of affordability, while being unwelcome in most white neighborhoods. And redlining did deny mortgages to Blacks. Such maps have been gone for decades, but their effects on where people live persist.

Then take education. For a long time “separate but equal” really meant separate and very unequal, by design. The Supreme Court outlawed that in 1954, yet separate and unequal is still widely the reality. The separateness is partly due to factors explained above. That’s hard to undo. The inequality manifests in rotten schools compared to white neighborhoods.

That should be more fixable. Yet the system is very resistant to such reform. So instead of ameliorating the disadvantage with which many minority kids start life, the education system actually worsens it, perpetuating the impact of past bias.

All this exemplifies what is meant by “systemic racism.” It doesn’t require anyone today actually being racist. It’s in the system.

Then there’s policing and criminal justice. Some say Blacks on average just get in trouble more. That has to be acknowledged. But (contrary to racist stereotypes) trouble is not in their biological DNA. Instead it comes with their social and cultural territory — not dictated by DNA either. It’s left behind when Blacks live in better neighborhoods. But for those who don’t, their environment is another lasting reverberation of a past landscape full of disadvantage.

And they get treated even worse by police and the criminal justice system than the foregoing might predict. Can’t say there’s no outright racism at play, but it’s more a matter of unconscious assumptions about people. Without being consciously racist, many have negative gut reactions toward Black faces, culturally implanted in ways often too subtle even to pinpoint. But when tested for it in the lab, even many Blacks themselves show it.

It’s very hard to overcome. I don’t consider myself some enlightened higher being, but nowadays, in most contexts, encountering Blackness gives me a positive rather than a negative vibe. Partly this is a reaction against their nemeses on the racist right. And I admire most Blacks for being good people despite all they’ve endured. Yet occasionally an opposite unconscious response is detectable.

I keep coming back to Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of one’s conscious mind as a rider on an elephant, which represents the unconscious. We think the rider is steering, but it’s really the elephant in charge. Our challenge is to get control of that beast.

Manifesto for a new political party

June 4, 2021

We have a two-party system. Except that one is no longer a responsible legitimate party. After 53 years as a Republican, I became a Democrat as the only sane option. But I still hanker for a good second party, and I’ve thought about what it might stand for. I have no illusions that it could spring forth in today’s America. But, as an exercise in political imagination, here is the platform:

1. Truth and honesty. This even being on the list — let alone as #1 — is a sad commentary on today’s Republicans. Inhabiting an alternate reality of lies. Many Republicans know it. Bad faith pervades the party.

2. Civic virtues — democracy, decency, civility, tolerance, fairness, compassion. Sad too that this requires stating. We’d thought our democracy was secure. Now we know it needs defending. This includes the right to vote itself.

3. Science acceptance — this goes with #1. Science is not just another viewpoint, it’s how we know things. Republican rejection of science — on evolution, climate change, covid, you name it — makes it a party of fools.

4. Racial comity. Our history of slavery still afflicts us, its legacy a factor in Black Americans, on average, living less well than whites. Most fundamentally, many still feel they’re not accepted or treated as fully equal. Simply put, we must ensure such treatment. This certainly means no tolerance for racist or white supremacist views. Or police abuse. It’s not “law and order” (and not “freedom”) when police — armed government enforcers — overstep their authority.

5. Freedom of speech. Democrats are too tolerant of intolerance. True, some viewpoints can be deemed beyond the pale (See #4). But most such issues concern what should be matters of legitimate debate. We must end the McCarthyism of punishing people for their opinions. Republicans do it too, persecuting apostates from Trump worship.

6. Free market capitalism. It’s not some system thought up by ideologues, it’s how people interact economically absent interference. And businesses trying to make a buck by selling stuff gives us the goods and services underpinning our advanced living standard. Of course there must be laws and regulations to prevent abuse (we have laws against jaywalking) and there are some functions the market cannot fulfill. Otherwise, consumers and society reap the bulk of the wealth created, when markets are competitive. Anti-competitive government actions and regulatory capture are key problems.

Many Democrats romanticize government running everything. Such a concentration of power would be the antithesis of democracy.

7. A caring society. America is a very rich country. We can amply ensure every citizen has at least minimally decent health care, shelter, nutrition, etc. Don’t call it socialism or “social justice,” it’s simply recognition of our common humanity.

8. Equal education opportunity. Its lack is central to inequality. People born in disadvantaged circumstances are put further behind by rotten schools, that tend to go with the territory. Democrats have a poor record here. School choice would help. By failing to invest in all our children, we make adults who are burdens rather than productive citizens.

9. Global human rights. Remember George W. Bush’s second inaugural, casting America as the global promoter of democracy and human rights — widely mocked by cynics? But being seen as standing for what’s right, and for humanity’s highest aspirations, is key to America’s own global standing. And a more democratic and thus more peaceful and prosperous world benefits America.

10. Free trade. Both parties have lost their way, succumbing to narrow interests at cost to our national interest. Free trade does hurt some people, but makes us collectively richer. If other countries harm themselves with protectionism, we shouldn’t respond by doing likewise. It’s not a zero-sum world; freer trade globally makes all countries richer — again good for America.

11. Global engagement. In both the above respects, “America First” should not mean America alone, retreating behind walls. Since 1945, we led the way building a rules-based world order aided by a network of alliances with nations sharing our values and aspirations for human betterment. We have benefited hugely, yet again making a world in which America itself can best flourish.

12. Church-state separation. One of America’s greatest blessings. Freedom of religion shouldn’t mean government favoritism toward religion — a source of woe throughout history. Church-state separation has benefited religions, it’s a key reason why they remain so strong in America compared to Europe. Those trying to tear it down play with fire.

13. Gun control. All rights are subject to reasonable regulation to protect the public, and that includes gun rights.* America’s unique proliferation of guns is a major contributor to violent crime. We must act to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and ban military style assault weapons.

14. End the “War on Drugs.” Drug use should be a medical matter, not a criminal one. The drug war itself harms society vastly more than drug use ever could. While achieving almost nothing. (Psst Republicans: this is another “freedom” issue.)

15. A welcoming country. America, uniquely among nations, is blessed by the diversity of enterprising people who chose to live here. They enrich us, culturally, economically, and spiritually. As Ronald Reagan said, America is a shining city upon a hill — whose wall has a great big door.

This platform distills a lifetime of thinking and political engagement. Is it so radical? Radically reasonable and rational perhaps. Yet can we imagine an American political party with such a program — and winning elections?

*The Supreme Court seems headed for an insane contrary ruling.