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Posts Tagged ‘In God We Trust

“If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you”*…




Everyone always talks about how much money there is in politics. This is the wrong framing. The right framing is Ansolabehere et al’s: why is there so little money in politics? But Ansolabehere focuses on elections, and the mystery is wider than that.

Sure, during the 2018 election, candidates, parties, PACs, and outsiders combined spent about $5 billion – $2.5 billion on Democrats, $2 billion on Republicans, and $0.5 billion on third parties. And although that sounds like a lot of money to you or me, on the national scale, it’s puny. The US almond industry earns $12 billion per year. Americans spent about 2.5x as much on almonds as on candidates last year.

But also, what about lobbying? Open Secrets reports $3.5 billion in lobbying spending in 2018. Again, sounds like a lot. But when we add $3.5 billion in lobbying to the $5 billion in election spending, we only get $8.5 billion – still less than almonds.

What about think tanks? Based on numbers discussed in this post, I estimate that the budget for all US think tanks, liberal and conservative combined, is probably around $500 million per year. Again, an amount of money that I wish I had. But add it to the total, and we’re only at $9 billion. Still less than almonds!

What about political activist organizations? The National Rifle Association, the two-ton gorilla of advocacy groups, has a yearly budget of $400 million. The ACLU is a little smaller, at $234 million. AIPAC is $80 million. The NAACP is $24 million. None of them are anywhere close to the first-person shooter video game “Overwatch”, which made $1 billion last year. And when we add them all to the total, we’re still less than almonds.

Add up all US spending on candidates, PACs, lobbying, think tanks, and advocacy organizations – liberal and conservative combined – and we’re still $2 billion short of what we spend on almonds each year. In fact, we’re still less than Elon Musk’s personal fortune; Musk could personally fund the entire US political ecosystem on both sides for a whole two-year election cycle…

[A consideration of the factors that limit political giving/spending]

I don’t want more money in politics. But the same factors that keep money out of politics keep it out of charity too.

The politics case is interesting because it’s so obvious. Nobody’s going to cynically declare “Oh, people don’t really care who wins the election, they just pretend to.” It’s coordination problems! It has to be!

So when I hear stories like that Americans could end homelessness by redirecting the money they spend on Christmas decorations, I don’t think that’s because they’re evil or hypocritical or don’t really care about the issue. I think they would if they could but the coordination problem gets in the way.

This is one reason I’m so gung ho about people pledging to donate 10% of their income to charity. It mows through these kinds of problems. I may not be a great person. But I spend more each year on the things I consider most important than I do on almonds, and this is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen naturally. It’s the kind of thing where I have to force myself to ignore the feeling of “just a drop in the ocean”, ignore whether I feel like other people are free-riding on me, and just do it. Pledging to donate money (and then figuring out what to do with it later) ensures I will take that effort, and not end up with revealed preferences that seem ridiculous in light of my values.

Scott Alexander with a counter-intuitive– and provocative– take on politics and money: “Too much dark money in almonds.”

[Image above: source]

* Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), as well as acting White House Chief of Staff, in 2018, while serving as interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau


As we take the pledge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that the words “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. paper currency– when the updated one-dollar silver certificate entered circulation that day.

Though it had only been adopted by Congress as the official motto of the U.S. the prior year, the phrase had appeared occasionally (as had variations on the theme) on coinage since Civil War times; regularly– despite Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that it was sacrilegious– from 1908.

220px-1in_god_we_trust source


Written by LW

October 1, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves”*…


… or at least that’s the idea.  Here, another of our occasional looks at the intellectual history of the cultural moment that we’re in:  how a concern with Commies in California’s universities led to “Cold War philosophy”– the yoking of rational choice theory to the scientific method– and how it embedded the free-market mindset in US society:

Cold War philosophy also influences US society through its ethics. Its main ethical implication is somewhat hidden, because Cold War philosophy inherits from rational choice theory a proclamation of ethical neutrality: a person’s preferences and goals are not subjected to moral evaluation. As far as rational choice theory is concerned, it doesn’t matter if I want to end world hunger, pass the bar, or buy myself a nice private jet; I make my choices the same way. Similarly for Cold War philosophy – but it also has an ethical imperative that concerns not ends but means. However laudable or nefarious my goals might be, I will be better able to achieve them if I have two things: wealth and power. We therefore derive an ‘ethical’ imperative: whatever else you want to do, increase your wealth and power!

Results of this are easily seen in today’s universities. Academic units that enable individuals to become wealthy and powerful (business schools, law schools) or stay that way (medical schools) are extravagantly funded; units that do not (humanities departments) are on tight rations. Also on tight rations nationwide are facilities that help individuals become wealthy and powerful but do not convey competitive advantage on them because they are open to all or most: highways, bridges, dams, airports, and so on.

Seventy years after the Cold War began, and almost 30 after it ended, Cold War philosophy also continues to affect US politics. The Right holds that if reason itself is rooted in market choice, then business skills must transfer smoothly into all other domains, including governance – an explicit principle of the Trump administration. On the Left, meritocracy rules: all three of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees attended law school at either Harvard (as Obama himself did) or Yale (as Hillary Clinton did). The view that choice solves all problems is evident in the White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s presentation of the Republican vision for US health care, at his press briefing last March 23: “We’ve lost consumer choice … The idea is to instill choice back into the market.”…

How this happened and what it wrought– the remarkable (but true) tale in its entirety: “America’s hidden philosophy.”

* Richard Feynman


As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Congress authorized “In God We Trust” as the U.S. national motto.

The phrase had appeared occasionally (as had variations on the theme) on coinage since Civil War times; regularly– despite Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that it was sacrilegious– from 1908.   But it didn’t appear on bills until 1957…



Written by LW

July 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Making money is art”*…


Back in the 1890s, there was a conscious effort to turn American money into pocket-sized works of art. It resulted in the creation of what is still regarded as the most beautiful set of bank notes ever issued in the United States: the Educational Series of silver certificates…

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP)—the government agency that controls what designs appear on the nation’s paper currency—was open to the idea of a money makeover. With the United States innovating and industrializing, it seemed an apt time for the nation’s progress to be reflected on the art of its bank notes. And the standard dead-president design was getting a bit tired: a New York Times article from March 3, 1896 acknowledged that “there has been for a long time a desire to make a change in the inartistic and stiff paper currency of the years that have gone.”

In an effort to bring more artistic merit to the silver certificate, the BEP approached Edwin Blashfield, Will H. Low, and Walter Shirlaw, three artists known for their elegant allegorical paintings. As muralists, Blashfield and Low were accustomed to working at a much larger scale than the 3.125-by-7.4218-inch dimensions of a silver certificate. But the painters’ flair for eye-pleasing composition and their ability to translate principles of national character into gorgeous tableaus of women in flowing robes was paramount. They were encouraged to submit large paintings, which a team of skilled engravers could then translate to currency-compatible format. According to the aforementioned Times article, 15 to 20 engravers worked on each note, each one assigned to a particular section of the design.

The resulting three artworks formed the basis for the $1, $2, and $5 silver certificates that came to be known as the 1896 Educational Series…

Flip through them at “Object of Intrigue: the Most Beautiful Banknote in U.S. History.”

* Andy Warhol


As we consider the corporate logos on our credit cards, we might recall that it was since this date in 1908 that the motto “In God We Trust” has been stamped onto all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck by the U.S. Mint.

1908 P Indian Head Gold $2.50 “Quarter Eagle”



Written by LW

July 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

À la recherche du temps perdu…

From the proprietor of Forgotten Bookmarks— and of a rare and used book store for which he purchases many second-hand books:

These are the personal, funny, heartbreaking and weird things I find in those books.

Share his discoveries here.

As we slip between the sheets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Congress authorized “In God We Trust” as the U.S. national motto.

The phrase had appeared occasionally (as had variations on the theme) on coinage since Civil War times; regularly– despite Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that it was sacrilegious– from 1908.   But it didn’t appear on bills until 1957…

source: Louisville Courier-Journal

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Written by LW

July 30, 2009 at 12:01 am

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