Immigration & The Wall; Facts Please?

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So having had the obligatory Chinese dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day found my analytical brain pondering the motivations for the governmental shutdown, The Wall, and more broadly, the alleged perils posed by immigrants.  Endeavoring not to be biased regarding the purported need to defend my safety, security and nest egg, I wielded the foremost weapon of truth at my immediate disposal:  the Google search.

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I started by Googling “statistics illegal immigration crime border wall”, to see if facts and/or scholarly accounts support (or otherwise discuss) some sort of causal correlation between illegal immigration and crime, or at least violent crime.  I restricted the results to the last 90 days, then the last 30 days, after the all-time results were unsupportive of the President’s basic contention.  I changed up the search words, but the finding was inescapable.

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The readily available facts do not support the President’s argument that illegal immigrants are people to be feared and loathed. Articles within the last 90 days in such centrist publications as “Business Insider“,  “The Sociological Quarterly“, “The CATO Institute” and the emag “Politico” failed to demonstrate or present any facts in support of the President’s premise.  In fact, as laid bare in the hyperlinked articles, the opposite seems true, at least statistically.
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Still seeking to give a President and his Administration the benefit of the doubt, I used my Googling skills to dig further. Trying not to be pejorative about it, I Googled “Evidence supporting Trump border wall necessity.”  I tried that over different date ranges too. A December 11, 2018 Washington Post op-ed summed up the collective upshot of some half-dozen scholarly articles published within the last 30 days, that no facts exist to support the basic contention that illegal immigrants brng an increase in crime and other sociological ills.

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I know that some allege that President Trump’s views originate from thinly veiled racism and xenophobia.  Google searches with those words yield rich rewards and many cogent interpretations.  Many people apparently have written about his alleged racism and/or xenophobia. Fairness and balance are hard to find with those words in the search, though I did try articles saying he was not a racist or xenophobe.

Back to the wall.  I am not and never will be a politician.  I do not viscerally understand political promises, their importance and the failure of their lack of fulfillment in the eyes of one’s supporters.  Seemingly the Trump campaign promise of a border wall remains important to certain members of the conservative media and thus, to him.  For otherwise, his position has not been logically supported and defended with any facts I can find in a Google search.

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Facts I can find.  Via a Google search.  Yeah, maybe I have a wee methodology problem.  So tonight, I innocently asked my family at dinner, “Do you think a Google search is intrinsically politically biased?”  I got a resounding chorus of, “Have you had your head in the sand?  It’s a common allegation by the President and his political allies.”  So circular as it may be, I set about to Googling the bias of a Google search.
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“Is Google biased?”, sure enough, returned a plethora of web sites, articles, views and opinions.  Sifting through might be the topic for another blog. For now, my son’s view (he is a Computer Science major) seems fair enough: Google searches reflect the cross-section of their user population.  People who search on Google may be younger and more educated, and therefore possibly more liberal, than society as a whole. Maybe.

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Meanwhile, we still have a government shutdown over an expensive political promise not kept, given that Mexico will not pay for it after all. Alas.

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Small Business Health Insurance Jenga

Every year our business faces its version of open enrollment. Every year the cost of providing health insurance to our employees rises a few percent, which we always chalked off as the cost of doing business. Many things go up a few percent a year.
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This year seems different and not in a good way. A couple of weeks ago I learned that if we do nothing (in terms of changing companies, policies, how-much-the-company-pays and the like), our cost will go up by over 11%. A little of that is aging, but a lot of that is well, both political and the fact that the insurers have us all by the you-know-what.stress

So within the little part of the insurance universe that we actually control, all 3,000ish square feet of it, we set about somehow limiting the damage to our employees, their dependents and ourselves. Screaming at Congress was quickly found to be ineffective, and hollering at our insurance carrier was met only with profit-glazed giggles. They know they have won. The only question is, by how much.

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Armed with spreadsheets and some out-of-the-box thinking, this morning we unveiled a new set of company policies, practices and explained in detail, their underlying rationale. Rather than hoots, hollers and a flurry of resignation letters, the discussion went quite well. Looks like I lucked into the ’employer mensch” award once again with the following:

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1. Sticking with the traditional Blues. We’re not rocking employees’ worlds by making them find new doctors and other health care providers.

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2. Offering a cafeteria of plans, which the Blues call “Bronze” up through “Platinum” like Olympic Medals. Getting past the gallows humor that they should be called things like “transparent” and “wiffle ball” for what they seemingly do not cover, employees like choice and I like not making theirs for them.

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3.  We did away with all the silly formulas that determined employer contribution and payroll deduction.  No longer is how much anyone does or does not pay dependent on their marital status, the color of their car, the phases of the moon or which plan they deign to choose.  There is one variable, that is fair, equitable and objective and it works like this:

As the employer, we pay a certain fixed percentage of your gross pay toward your health insurance.  If you choose an affordable plan, our contribution covers most.  If you choose a lavish plan, our contribution helps some, but payroll deduction makes up the difference.  That percentage is the same for all employees.

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So far, no one has rushed to quit, scream or stage a sit-in by the coffee pot.  As the employer, we have certainty of expense, and perhaps, a relatively happy work force. It easily could have been worse. Maybe we’ve dodged this bullet for one more year.

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The “Monopoly” Approach to the Federal Budget

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Like perhaps many of us, I played a lot of “Monopoly” as a kid.  For the fat part of my personal bell-shaped curve of board-game playing (perhaps ages 8 to 13 or so), it was my favorite game.  Of course, my friends and I thought it was only a game and not a metaphor for real-life adult decision-making we make as individuals, business owners or even governments.  Well, it was, it was and it was.  Big time.

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Playing exactly as the rules stated resulted in long and occasionally boring games.  The chief reason for this was inadequate cash flow for all players.  Properties, utilities, mortgaging and home construction all cost money.  Sometimes they cost a lot of money and one had to make tough but judicious decisions, not unlike a how a family lives within its budget without going into credit card debt.  There were no millionaires and usually no paupers, until boredom or the hour prompted deliberate reckless playing just to force a conclusion.

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We came to experiment with the rules of Monopoly.  This might be like rewriting the tax-code or having Congress pass an entitlement mandate bill, metaphorically speaking. We did not understand or bother thinking about the consequence of our rules alteration, but we catered to our base instincts (which usually meant finding ways to infuse more cash into the game). The most obvious of these, known to many, is the “Free Parking” rule. There was a crispy, goldenrod $500 for whomever landed there, for doing nothing!  The state lottery had come to Monopoly.

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We came to modify the rules further, again in the interest of wildly accumulating wealth without concern for the consequences.  We waived mortgage interest, real estate taxes and the various other niggling rules that generally required some form of Math higher than adding the pips on two dice.  These rules were deflationary, and their absence increased income.  For everyone, including for the Monopoly holders.

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Monopoly came to teach us to be careful what we wished for, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Quick rises in earnings made it possible to purchase and construct houses before the conventional rules otherwise would permit because of the game’s intrinsic cash flow limitations.  This was the 2000’s real estate bubble, of course.

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In time, we were infusing the game with so much capital because we were tinkering with the rules.  Cash accumulated beyond the wildest dreams of players accustomed to the conventional rules.  Not only did the scads of expensive hotels seem as unsustainable as a pre-hurricane resort, but it placed a real constraint on the money available in the bank.  Players would pass Go and be unable to collect $200 because the bank was bankrupt; all of its cash was in play.

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So we did exactly what the federal government has done from time to time, when its expenditures greatly exceed its revenues:  we printed more.  We got some goldenrod and canary paper, cut or tore the sheets into Monopoly bill sized rectangles, and within a few minutes, we had infused our economy with more currency.  No muss, no fuss, and not a care in the world for the devaluation of the dollars already in play.

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We had cut taxes to the bone (income and luxury tax spaces had other effects), we removed the “Chance” cards (which assessed real estate taxes for street repairs) from the deck, and made other rules customization because PACs and special interests (our own collective greed) trumped all reason and discretion.  Any suggestion to renew limits on income growth was met with howls of derision. We thought we were having fun, but what was lost in these rules modifications was any sense of balance, perspective and compromise.

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We came to assess a tax on ourselves to re-fund the bank.  Recall how each player starts with $1,500?  Our tax was simple:  everyone pays back to the bank half of all holdings greater than $15,000, $1,000 for each owned hotel and $100 for each owned house. Wealthier players paid back more, kind of like our progressive tax code.  No one liked it and the wealthy liked it least of all, but the special tax assessment enabled everyone to keep playing and having fun.

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Now from Washington comes stories of plans for tax cuts and corresponding spending increases. I went about trying to find a one-graph, does-it-all illustration of the present tax code and how it works.  I found one online.  It’s far form perfect, but I must admit that I kind of like the tax code as it is, However, the graphic does not illustrate the effect of loopholes, which would be interesting if complicated. I concluded that it would be far easier to mess it up the existing tax code than to effectuate meaningful improvement.

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My Monopoly experience teaches that the money has to come from somewhere, if not from the taxpayers themselves, including the wealthiest among us (with the greatest capability to afford taxes without meaningful quality of life impacts). If we are unwilling to tax ourselves sufficiently to “keep money in the bank” (i.e., allow the Federal government to operate), the government merely will print money from the ream of goldenrod paper in Congress’ playroom closet, which will lessen the buying power of all of our bankrolls.

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Now some in the White House or Congress may seek to “pay for” the planned tax cuts with sharp slashes to “entitlement spending” on programs such as welfare, Medicaid and social security.  You thought health care reform lacked consensus and resulted in a whole lot of governmental paralysis?  You haven’t experienced the collective, desperate stupidity  of teenage Monopoly players.  It won’t be pretty. I have a better idea.

eat the rich