Green Jobs to the Rescue

Book reviews

greening economy

Greening the Global Economy (2015)

What a relief to read a well-grounded book arguing that we can still do something about climate change! According to the author this is completely feasible from a technological and economic standpoint. It’s just the politics that gets in the way. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.)

Robert Pollin is a distinguished economist at the University of Massachusetts. His book, “Greening the Global Economy,” is published by MIT Press. So when he says that doing what it takes to stop climate change will not suppress economic growth but actually increase employment, I feel hope. That should be a political winner, right?

About 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to burning coal, oil, and natural gas for energy production. Pollin starts with the assessment that global emissions will need to fall 40% from present levels within 20 years, and 80% by mid-century.

He says this can be achieved without reducing living standards for most people in the developed nations (some rich people should give up living in their McMansions to help out) or foregoing improvement of living standards in the developing nations.

How? He first considers and rejects some prominent proposals: Continue Reading

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Ranked Choice Voting Initiative Launched in Oregon

News report

rcv ballot 2

An initiative campaign has been launched in Benton County, Oregon, to elect the County Commissioners and Sheriff by ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting.

RCV allows voters to rank the candidates for an office in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority of the first place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred to each voter’s next choice. This process is repeated until a candidate gets a majority.

RCV frees voters to vote for their true first choice without the fear of “wasting” their vote. Benton County Commissioners are elected on a partisan ballot, unlike most elected county officials in Oregon. If the initiative passes, this will provide an opportunity to see whether the number votes for third party and independent candidates is affected by the changed voting format.

The chief petitioners are Dan Rayfield, State Representative for House District 16, and Blair Bobier, a Corvallis lawyer and long-time electoral reform activist. The initiative is intended as part of a long-term strategy to bring RCV to other Oregon elections and eventually institute it statewide. A Political Action Committee has been formed, an initiative petition filed, and a website is up (Better Ballot Benton).

The sponsors have endorsements from local elected officials and have consulted with the county clerk to verify that the county’s vote tabulation machines can handle RCV. About 3,000 valid signatures from Benton County registered voters will be needed by August to put the initiative on the November 2016 ballot. Continue Reading

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A New Idea for Reforming Presidential Elections

Research report

voting box

The pathologies of our election system have been glaringly obvious for several Presidential election cycles, this year more than ever. Voter frustration with a two-party dominance propped up by our electoral laws has metastasized across the electorate.

Third party candidates like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader drew enthusiastic voter support in their campaigns, ultimately only to be crippled by the “spoiler” role. Now we have candidates best suited for independent candidacies—Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—trying to run within the dominant parties but being resisted or openly opposed by party regulars.

Why can’t we have a real choice of a variety of candidates in the general election instead of the dilemmas of “spoilers” and intraparty warfare? Well, we can. The cause of these problems is “winner take all” plurality rules which herd candidates and voters into just two parties. I propose a simple reform to the general election of the President which will:

  • reduce the spoiler problem,
  • allow independent and third party candidates a fair opportunity to run,
  • free voters to vote for their real first choice of the candidates,
  • and insure majority support for the winner.

This can be accomplished by using ranked choice voting in the process of translating the popular vote in each state into electoral votes. And it doesn’t require special ballots, new election technology, changes to federal law, or buy-in by all the states to begin improving the process. Continue Reading

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Robert Reich Nails It

Book reviews

saving capitalism

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (2015)

I’ve read tons of books on politics and the economy over the last thirty years, and this is the easily one of best of the lot. Not only is it clear enough to recommend to lay people, finally I’ve found a book I fully agree with. (What higher endorsement is there than that?)

The author, Robert Reich, was Labor Secretary during the first Clinton administration, only to see the “Putting People First” agenda he signed on for being cast overboard to please bond traders. He left before the second Clinton term and has continued to write and speak out on economic issues since then, recently endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders for President.

Reich’s view on the declining fortunes of most Americans and the rising fortunes of the wealthiest fraction of them can be simply stated: globalization and technological change have destroyed jobs even as political decisions have shifted the rewards of economic growth more and more toward the wealthy. I concur.

His view on contemporary political debates can also be stated succinctly: the government vs. market debate is totally beside the point, because the real issue is the fundamental political structure of the economy. He hammers home the reality that there is no such thing as a “natural” market economy, because a market is the creation of laws. I emphatically concur.

The underlying structure of our market economy is where the most consequential political decisions have been made since the 1980s. Reich identifies five key arenas: Continue Reading

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Where To Bring Ranked Choice Voting in Oregon

Research report

voting

The roilings of the two dominant political parties by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have more in common than “voter anger.” Both stem from serious defects in our plurality voting system: vote splitting and spoilers.

In plurality voting a voter can choose only one candidate for an office, and whichever candidate gets the most votes wins. In the Republican primaries votes are being split between multiple similar candidates, thus allowing a very different candidate—Donald Trump—to come out the winner with a minority of the votes. (As of Super Tuesday he’s been receiving from 21.3% to 49.3% of the vote, averaging 34.6%.)

Because of vote splitting, candidates are usually pressured to drop out of the race and not be a “spoiler” for “taking away” votes from another candidate. To avoid being a spoiler in the general election, Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination instead of running as an independent. However, insurgent campaigns like Sanders’ risk resentments between the insurgents and the party regulars, antagonizing those who would otherwise be allies against a common enemy.

The vote splitting and spoiler defects are common in elections at various levels in the United States, most of which use plurality voting. But there are alternative democratic voting systems, one of which is ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting. RCV can lessen the vote splitting and spoiler problems and has been slowly spreading to cities and counties across the U.S.

What are the opportunities for bringing RCV to elections in Oregon? This report identifies which elected offices in Oregon would be capable of being filled by RCV given current election technology. Continue Reading

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