Category Archives: Politics

Independents Like Me Ruined the Country

Or How Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Should Convince All Independents to Join a Political Party

Let me first be clear. I’ve been an independent since I was 18, which was a long time ago. It’s given me the ability to look at each party and criticize them and take comfort in the fact that I’m not one of them. I know I’m not alone in this, as there are more independents than there are republican or democrats. If Independents were a party, we would win every election. The problem is, we aren’t a party, we’re actually just democrats and republicans that don’t like admitting it.

Being an independent feels great. Really great. I get to be morally superior to all those dirty partisans, while secretly being just as ideologically aligned with a party as everyone else. What do I mean by secretly? The fact is, most Independents vote just as reliably with one of the two parties year over year but because we don’t identify with either party, a small percentage of Americans have an over-powerful ability to have the day-to-day conversations about what the parties actually believe, what they enact and what candidates are chosen. The reason these two most unlikable candidates in modern US history are our nominees is because Independents like myself have had a fundamental misunderstanding about how the American political system is setup, and it took this election for me to realize it.

Why the US Two Party System is WAY Better Than Other Countries…at Least in Theory

I’ve heard thousands of times over the years that the US needs to break up the two party system and have as many parties as other countries do (I’m looking at you, France), or at least a third party like what they have in England. The problem is, we already do: we just have a lot of parties and coalitions within our two parties, which makes our politics more efficient and effective. In France, they have to have two rounds of voting, where the two candidates with the highest percentages of the first round compete head-to-head in the second. That might sound good, but when you have 14 political parties, it’s possible for one of the two (or both) to be candidates that only 20% or so of the country actually wants. A holocaust denier in an ultra-right-wing party made it to the final round of voting in 2002 where he lost with only 17% of the vote and France was forced to choose their very much disliked current president. So, with only 20% or less of the population voting for a candidate, you can easily see final elections where people are forced to choose between a neo-nazi, and a “crook.” Does anything sound familiar about this election and 2002 in France?

How America is Supposed to Be: Coalition and Feedback

Before you accuse me of literally showing that the US two-party system did exactly the same thing that happened in France, let me talk about how the system is supposed to function. There are two pillars, and I’ll explain each one at a time:

  1. Coalition: For the two party system to work, coalitions need to be determined ahead of time. These are groups of voters that don’t agree with each other on everything, but have enough over-lap on certain issues that they coalesce around a platform. These have clearly been happening from the very beginning of the USA, and exist today. Within the Republican party exists Libertarians like Rand Paul, Evangelical Christian moral conservatives like Ted Cruz, Foreign Policy Hawks like Lindsey Graham. Each of these groups clearly disagree with each other on many issues, but they’ve found enough overlap to form a coalition. You can find very similar groups within the democratic party, where you have foreign policy hawks like Hillary Clinton, democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders, civil liberties focused like Barack Obama, etc.
  2. Feedback: The next pillar of the American two-party primary system has over other countries is Feedback. By having just one state or a few states voting at a time, future states can react to who is winning and who is losing. If a neo-nazi wins the Iowa caucuses with only 20% of the vote because he is running against 17 other candidates (this is a hypothetical of course), then the projected 80% of voters in the upcoming states who didn’t vote for him can circle around one or two more palatable candidates to prevent that 20% from winning the next few states that vote. By this method, you can avoid having two very unlikable candidates competing in the final election.

How Independents Have Ruined the Two-Party System

And now I’ll explain how having Independent voters undermines both of those pillars and how the stubbornness, dishonesty and pride of Independents have undermined the American electoral system.

  1. Coalition: For a coalition to work the way it’s supposed to, you need everybody to be willing enough to align with a party. Like most Independents, I thought my unwillingness showed how mature and reasonable I was, but it actually shows the exact opposite. It shows I’m not willing to be honest and realize that for me to get the things most important to me done in government, I have to be willing to help others achieve policies with which I might not fully agree, or to be even clearer, policies with which I completely disagree but aren’t my most important priorities. When people like me abstain from identifying with a party and especially voting in primaries, I’ve removed the recognition of the existence of my specific point of view from being fully represented in the coalition. In this last election, there wasn’t one politician in either party I thought represented issues most important to me, and I know most other Independents felt the same way. But the fact is, the reason why there wasn’t any republican or any democrat representing me is because I’m not a republican and I’m not a democrat. And that’s now true for almost half of the country. In other words, in our attempt to be unifiers, we’ve actually allowed the political system to become much more divisive and polarized due to our lack of participation. The moderate republicans and moderate democrats don’t exist anymore in the primaries because Independents aren’t there any more. I myself live in a state where you can’t participate in the primaries unless you identify with one of the two parties, so I have never participated in a primary and I used to believe this was wrong, but I’ve come to realize it makes sense. I need to be willing to be part of a coalition and support other people’s most important issues even if they aren’t important to me for me to expect them to fight for my issues.
  2. Feedback: As I and seemingly the rest of the country watched in shock and disbelief as the primary cycle progressed, and the two most disliked candidates kept winning state after state, I also realized that most people weren’t participating in the primaries process and most people don’t. In 2016, only 28% of eligible voters participated in the primaries. And if this election is like the previous presidential elections, the actual turnout for the presidential election will be around 58%. Ignoring the discussion on whether 58% is a good or a bad thing, the fact is that more than half of the people who are likely to vote for a candidate in the presidential election didn’t participate in the primaries. If they had, I think it’s reasonable to think we most likely would have a different republican nominee and might have a different democratic nominee. Let me be clear, feedback only works if everyone who has an interest in the outcome participates in the process.

Think back to the example of France. Would it be reasonable for French citizens to complain about the candidates that made it through the first round of voting if they didn’t vote? Of course not! In the same way, if Independents aren’t willing to become active in a political party, ensure that their priorities are represented in the coalition, and their vote participates in the feedback process, we can’t complain. I know you won’t like it. I don’t either. But this is politics. We have to be willing to compromise, participate and work together, and when we call ourselves Independents, we are literally saying our separateness is more important than our similarities.

If you disagree with me, let me know why and I’m open to listening. If you resort to fallacies, especially ad hominem, expect your comment to be called out or deleted.

Are teachers paid too little or too much?

A lot of discussion over teachers, teachers unions, teachers pensions, etc. is currently going on and I don’t see any sign of it stopping in the distant future. All of these questions mainly revolve around two ideas: teachers are underpaid and thus we should subsidize their pay through better retirement packages, increase their salaries, and guarantee employment through tenure. If teachers are paid less, then it makes sense for them to have a more subsidized retirement. However, if they’re overpaid, it not only lessens the argument for a government pension at all, but it inflates the pension as a calculation of that salary. Further, if teacher salary has been inflated for some time, then it makes sense for the government to renegotiate even current pensions to bring those costs back in line.

So here is some information about teacher pay.

One thing to keep in mind when discussing pay for teachers, is the average teacher only works 181 days per year, but reports that during the school year, they work an average of 58 hours per week (about nine hours more than the average American salaried worker), so in the end, a teacher works about the same amount as an average salaried worker in the US in any given year. 

Because salaries change from one state to the next, I’ll be using Illinois’ teacher’s salaries as a state’s example, specifically because Illinois recently tried to renegotiate teachers’ pensions and t
he starting salary for an Illinois teacher is $37k, which is roughly the national average of the country and about 15th by state (New Jersey is the highest at $48k). This currently ranks the Illinois and the US about 8th in the world (Luxembourg is #1 with $70k); however the national average for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $45k, so the average Illinois teacher at the beginning is paid less than if they went into a different field (obviously this isn’t true across the board, as someone with an English degree has much less potential earning power than someone with an engineering degree, so if teachers are mainly comprised of lower paying degrees, this could be brought back into perspective).

But with pensions, we’re talking about lifetime earning while working, so let’s look at those numbers. The average American with a bachelor’s degree will work approximately 40 years before being able to retire, and over that lifetime will make approximately $2.4M, which averaged out is about $60k/year. The average teacher in Illinois makes $59,679 (which would put them 12th in the US, and 5th against all other countries in the world, ahead of Canada, South Korea, the rest of the US by about $10k, and Japan).

One factor that should be noted, is that I’ve used average bachelor’s degree worker wages for the US because I couldn’t find it just for Illinois, but that Illinois on average pays about $1k more than the US average, so over a 40 year time period that’s ~$40k more, but previously when I mentioned the average Illinois teacher working about the same as the average American, they do in fact work about 40 hours less per year, which totals about $1,111, so it’s effectively a wash.

So, from all of these statistics we can conclude that Illinois teachers on average are paid neither more nor less, but are paid almost identical to other full-time bachelor’s degree educated workers in the US. From this, I believe it is reasonable to argue that Illinois teachers ought not be given special consideration over other Illinois workers with regards to pension.