Thursday, February 2, 2017

Does Mill Valley's Mayor Jessica Jackson Understand Economics?

Today, I spoke with Jessica Jackson Sloan, mayor of Mill Valley, California. After listening to an hour of her speech--basically lifted from the Netflix documentary, 13th, with some personal anecdotes about Van Jones thrown in--I approached her afterwards to get more information.

She is against mass incarceration but supports police unions: "Police unions are not the problem."

She is pro-legalization of drugs but admitted she focused on the effects of criminalization rather than the cause: a failure to legalize some drugs, which would take power away from overzealous judges, D.A.s, and police officers.

When pushed further on the topic, she said her constituents don’t support legalization. In her one hour speech against mass incarceration, she failed to mention "legalization" once. I wonder if there's a connection between political leaders refusing to prioritize legalization as a solution and its public perception? (The correct answer is "Of course," in case you're wondering.)

Claiming to be anti-mass incarceration but not focusing on anything that will remove excessive government discretion in making arrests means you're in a cycle of well-intentioned failure. Drug criminalization, after all, has been increasing incarceration rates since the 1970s as part of a deliberate government strategy.  Now it appears even if some drugs are legalized, anti-immigration government actions might replace the "lost bodies"--and reasons to continue diverting tax revenue to public safety jobs rather than lower tax rates or other services, such as parks and recreation or social welfare.

It's time for politicians to understand drugs are a business and partly a response to certain groups being excluded from the "traditional" job market due to factions and vested interests, especially within the government.  When public safety unions take 50 to 70% of most cities' tax revenue, it's almost impossible to be against their growth and also be part of the tax largess they control. Now that some taxpayer money is going to outside contractors and non-governmental employees in an attempt to reduce incarceration costs, some politicians suddenly feel more comfortable being anti-incarceration. Interesting coincidence, that.  What's the motto in California government?  That we, the government, can make all the money we want and give ourselves pensions at 7 to 8% guaranteed rates on the backs of taxpayers, but God forbid the private sector gets to try to do our jobs more efficiently?

I found out later that Jessica "Government is not the Problem" Sloan, a former government lawyer, is married to a unionized firefighter.  Funny how you have to be connected to government to be in government these days. It's almost as if it's easier to be out of touch with the other 85% of us in the private sector.

Bonus: I thought it would be useful to add a quick finance lesson.  The 7 to 8% guaranteed return necessitates an unholy alliance between government unions, banks, and Wall Street because stocks and dividends need to rise perpetually to provide the gains necessary to keep pensions afloat, or both government employee contributions and taxes must rise to levels that will create discontent. (Notice how your sales taxes keep going up?)

Anyway, government unions can't openly admit to such an alliance, so they spend money on PR to trick voters into channeling their anger towards Wall Street when government unions--as well as the rest of us--rely on bankers because the modern American economy is heavily debt-dependent post 9/11.   The difference is that private sector employees--unlike government union employees--don't get to raise taxes or demand their employer issue debt on everyone else in their community to resolve any gap in the expected rate of return and the actual rate of return.

In a world where government unions can lobby to impose investment benchmarks enshrined in law and unrelated to any real investment return, the individual isn't effective in the democratic process--even when lobbyists' demands are unsustainable in the absence of the government's ability to issue more debt or increase taxes.

Update in April 2017: "Approximately 150 million people workin the United States; 130 million work in private enterprise. We hold in high regard the 20 million people who work in government--teachers, policemen, firemen and others. But we could not pay for those jobs if the other 130 million were not actively producing the GDP of America." -- James Dimon, J.P. Morgan Chase 2016 Annual Report 

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