We Need to Look Out for Our Future

John Love

As individuals, we oftentimes struggle to comprehend our actions past their immediate impacts. This often can cause negative impacts further on down the line. Some effects can be relatively minor. When faced with a good meal or a tasty sweet, we will eat past our limits, satisfying our taste buds in the moment, only to regret it by feeling bloated, or seeing a higher number on the scale. However, some effects can be much greater. Many Americans (75% to be precise) have retirement savings that fall short of even the most conservative of savings targets, and (21%) don’t save at all. So too can vary the effects of short-sightedness as a nation.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit”. Some attribute this quote to the Ancient Greeks, some to modern motivational speakers, but the one thing all can agree on is that the sentiment rings true. Western societies of old were renowned for the ability to look beyond their own current short-term benefit for the greater good of their societies in the long run, as seen in the cathedrals of medieval Europe which would take hundreds of years to complete. However, nowadays, we have collectively decided to stop looking out for the needs of the future in order to satisfy the wants of the present.

Sacrificing Long-term Investment for Short-term Gains

Shareholder capitalism is the driving economic system in the USA and much of the modern world. In such a system, corporate leaders are legally required to operate companies in a way to maximize value for shareholders, meaning those who have purchased a share of the company. This usually takes form by the company executives doing anything they can to keep share (stock) prices high and growth metrics consistent. While the system allows for great short-term results for investors, it can oftentimes be to the detriment of the company’s employees and customers, or even to the detriment of the company itself. 

If a company makes a profit, it would be logical to assume it would be best for the company to reinvest its profits back into itself, in order to continue to achieve profits in the future. However, that is often not the case. Corporate leaders are under such great stress to keep share prices high, meaning they oftentimes have to cut back on investments in R&D, employees, or capital expenditures, all of which would help the company succeed in the long-run. This has not always been the case. Financial markets used to be seen as a way to easily create long-term investments in sound businesses. However, as these markets have grown more complex in modern times, the growing number of financial intermediaries has started to see investments in the market as a sort of paper asset; something meant to be traded in the short-term, not invested in the long-term. This new kind of trading makes some, including the intermediaries, quite wealthy in the short term. However, this kind of trading is also a zero-sum game, sorely lacking in long-term wealth creation.

The Debt to GDP Ratio: a Marker of Economic Health 

As financial markets have matured and grown more complex in the USA, so has the country’s debt to GDP ratio. The ratio, defined as the total government/sovereign debts of a country to its GDP, or economic output, is usually a bellwether for the health and performance of an economy. For example, a study done by the World Bank shows that countries with a debt to GDP ratio of more than 77% are expected to go through economic slowdowns and recessions. As of 2022, the ratio in the USA is over 120%, as seen in the graph below.

Traditionally, the debt to GDP ratio has remained quite low in the USA, only spiking in times of large government spending, mainly in times of war or financial recession. These instances of spending make sense in the short and long term; one cannot fight or win a war without spending big on the armed forces, and fiscal spending and loose monetary policy can help a struggling economy bounce back. However, both of these come with a caveat. Once the war or recession is over, spending must go down, and taxes must go up.

While America has been good historically about maintaining a low federal debt to GDP ratio, it has not been nearly as good since the 1980’s. In response to the recession, inflation, and oil crisis of the 1970’s, Reagan was elected president under a platform of lowering taxes in order to help the American economy recover. This resulted in the annual federal budget deficit growing from $41 billion in 1971 before his presidency to $212 billion in 1985 after his first term in office. 

By this time, the American economy was booming again, meaning that spending should be cut and taxes should be raised in order to maintain a stable debt to GDP ratio. However, that has not been the case. Besides Clinton’s second term in office, every over American president has seen an increase in the debt to GDP ratio. Spending continues to increase during each recession (from $161 billion in 2007 before the Great Recession to $1.41 trillion in 2009 after) but even when policy is tightened, it rarely ever results in a budget surplus, just less of a budget deficit.

Utopia vs Reality

Why would American politicians engage in such reckless fiscal policy? The answer is quite simple. Americans, as with all other people, hate to pay taxes. Additionally, Americans love government benefits and programs, such as medicare, social security, and infrastructure. These beliefs, while compatible in a theoretical utopia where scarcity does not exist, are not compatible in the real world. However, it is unlikely that any presidential candidate would be elected on a policy of making their voters’ lives worse, even if only in the short term. Instead, Republicans run under a policy of decreasing taxes (with negligible spending decreases), while Democrats run under a policy of increasing spending (with negligible tax increases). Both yield the same result in regards to the debt to GDP ratio. 

These problems mentioned are far from the only instances where we prioritize short term benefits of long term successes. We prioritize increases in home value over home affordability through restrictive zoning policy, helping retirees maintain home values at the expense of the young looking for a place to live. We raise our children in ways that keeps them protected and sheltered, but causes them to flounder in the real world. It’s in our personal lives, our culture, and our elected governments.

To Conclude 

When looking towards the future, we have two choices. Either to continue to try to benefit in the short term at the expense of either our future or future generation’s futures, or to bite the bullet now; to do things that may harm us in the short term, but will greatly benefit us many years from now. We can stop structuring our financial markets in their current predatory forms, which seek to leech from companies instead of investing in their futures. A potential solution to this would be structuring shareholder voting rights in a way that makes them dependent on the length of time they have held their shares, instead of just by the number of shares they currently hold. We can stop supporting politicians who care more about getting elected than the economic health of the nation. We can look out for the needs of the future instead of the wants of the present.

A Nudge in the Right Direction? Richard Thaler and Libertarian Paternalism 

Sylvia Patterson

We don’t often stop to think about the thousands of influences that contribute to the decisions we make every day, or the hidden forces that may be exploiting our psychology to act a certain way. The nudge is one such force, and although it seems like an innocent reminder, as we will learn, we should never underestimate the effect of the nudge.

Bounded Rationality 

It was an economist named Dr. Richard Thaler who defined the idea of the nudge, beginning with the idea that human beings are not rational creatures. Thaler was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2017 for his contributions to Behavioral Economics. His awarding was met with a degree of controversy due to the merging of the field of Psychology with Economics.

On October 10, 2020, Dr. Richard Thaler spoke at Trinity University. Despite his prestigious place in the world of academia, Thaler came across as a very knowledgeable, yet down to earth and even humorous speaker, someone who illustrated his points through a series of entertaining stories, real world examples of human nature. 

Dr. Thaler stressed the importance of that which economic theory tends to ignore, most crucially, the fact that human beings are not rational. Humans have bounded rationality and bounded willpower, and will more often than not submit to temptation in the moment, rather than act for the long-term good. This is because, for most of human history, people did not live long enough to worry about saving. This is why long term planning is evolutionarily one of the spheres where rationality falls short. 

Through his research, Thaler found that people have a strong tendency to keep what they have. Although economic theory says that the people who value something the most will end up with it, in reality, status quo bias comes into play, and people have the tendency to stick with what they have, what he refers to as ‘inertia.’ The tendency toward inertia can be utilized through a type of nudge. 

The Default

In real life, Thaler used his work to nudge people into choosing the optimal pension plan that would allow them to save the most in the long run. Instead of having them opt into the program, they were automatically enrolled as the default option and instead would have to opt out. It was successful in getting people that normally wouldn’t have saved to acquire a retirement fund. The idea of the nudge all comes down to choice architecture, or how you create the environment in which people choose. 

Nudges are a part of choice architecture because they are features of the environment that influence humans. According to Thaler, nudging is not taking away choices, it is choice preserving, or  “libertarian paternalism,” which, Thaler explains, is not an oxymoron. Essentially, we are encouraged to act a certain way, but the choice is still ours.

One of the most powerful types of nudges is the default. By changing the default option, we can change people’s choices. Because of people’s tendency toward loss aversion, and their resistance to change options, or inertia as Thaler called it, the desired outcome happens if they simply do nothing. Thus, a new default, or automatic enrollment, can achieve the optimal goal. 

Libertarian Paternalism

This research comes with a series of implications, first, that nudges are very powerful, and second, that the effects are long lasting. The work of Richard Thaler shows us that human nature is key to understanding any human decision, and that we can nudge for good. But the question remains: are all nudges good?

At the end of the day, there are nudges all around us, more than we think, and not often as nobly applied as in the pension-plan case. Some common examples of this marketing tactic include, the default “subscribe and save” option on Amazon, pop-up announcements or reminders from websites, a psychological anchor, like a visible before and after price on a good, or even simply the relative ease or noticeability of a choice, such as the placement of food items in a cafeteria. 

In the right hands, the nudge can be used to influence productive and beneficial behavior in individuals, but at the least, it is a clever marketing tactic.  But this leaves the unanswered question: can the nudge be used for ill?

The Nefarious Nudge

The concept of the nudge gets the most murky when it comes to the government and policy enforcement. Although Thaler published a paper defending libertarian paternalism, our instinct is to see it as something dystopian. Needless to say, the nudge has not been without its fair share of criticism. It’s human nature to bristle at the thought of a powerful entity subtly influencing us into making the desired choice. Where do we draw the line with the nudge? Ultimately, who determines what the “right” decision is? The Nudge can be used for good, but like any phenomenon, it can also be abused

Already, we have witnessed the rise of the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), also known as the ‘Nudge Unit’, which is a “ global social purpose company” founded in 2010. The BIT has offices around the world, including in the UK where it began, as well as in America, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Latin America. The BIT uses social engineering based on behavioral insights and tactics from psychology and marketing to influence public thought and decision making to be in compliance with government policy. The goal is to minimize costs related to poor compliance of government policy and regulation. 

The BIT has done work in a variety of concepts, from assessing the risk of gambling, to more overtly progressive political goals, like designing ways to get people to drive less to reduce emissions, studying how to establish diversity task forces, and running numerous experiments to find the most effective way to use social norms to get people to wear masks during COVID. 

Nudge theory has also been used to nudge people into getting the COVID vaccine. Researchers used reminders that were “carefully designed to reduce barriers to following through” in addition to “behaviourally informed messaging designed to amplify individuals’ desire to get vaccinated” and “information-provision intervention aimed at correcting the misconceptions that drive vaccine hesitancy”. What else could be achieved by nudge units if they so desired? 

Due to the Nudge Unit’s success, a number of similar organizations have since popped up around the world. According to OECD, there are 202 institutions across the globe that have applied behavioral insights to public policy. Most people don’t know that these organizations exist, or that they are influencing compliance and promoting their goals all around us. 

What is most off-putting is the fact that nudges are not transparent about their objectives. Instead of being forthright about their desired policy, they rely on manipulative methods to achieve their goals. At what point does the nudge become deceit? When does it become subversive? At what point does it become unethical? Governments and corporations see the need to act as a parent-figure and guide us in the “right” direction, as if we are not worthy of hearing a logical argument and making a decision based on evidence and reasoning.

Closing thoughts 

Originally used to help clients save for the future, the concept of the nudge has since been adopted in politics, finance, retail, and beyond. It is important to be aware of this phenomenon, how it can not only help you, but also how it can hurt you. Due to human nature and imperfect information, it is impossible to be perfectly rational. We should, however, learn all that we can and ultimately strive for rationality. Only then will we be free to make the best decision for ourselves, not the decision that other entities nudge us towards. The first step is to identify and accept that we are irrational, and understand how these irrationalities can be manipulated for a desired outcome. Then, we can consciously, rather than subconsciously, choose whether to follow or resist the nudges we encounter. 

Why the West is Wealthy

John Love

Have you ever wondered why Mexico is so much poorer than the USA, despite sharing a border? Or why Asia, despite having such a great population, is poorer than the west? You’re not alone. Historians, economists, sociologists, and politicians have been asking the same questions for centuries, and have had many theories about why over the years.

In the past, theories have centered largely on differences in race, with Africa and Asia being doomed due to their supposed racial inferiority. However, as time passes, this theory has been discredited with the failures of societies like Nazi Germany, and the sucesses of Asian societies like Japan. Today, the theories and reasons for differences in the wealth of societies can be boiled down into three different categories; geography, culture, and institutions.

The Geography Hypothesis

The geography hypothesis postulates, in short, that countries’ successes are bound by their geographies more than by the cultures, leaders, or institutions within. The most famous work supporting this hypothesis is likely Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. In this book, Diamond rejects the idea that culture, institutions, and actions by specific leaders are what have determined the course of history, instead believing that where the countries are, and the resources they contain, are the main determinants of a nation’s future success. The most famous example given within the book, and one that is growing increasingly prevalent today, is that cold nations are destined to be more successful than warm ones. 

Diamond argues that warmer, equatorial areas have many negative factors, including tropical diseases and worse farmable foods (such as rice, maize, and bananas). Compare this to colder areas further from the equator, which are relatively free from diseases, and have crops that contain more protein and are easier to farm and store (such as barley, wheat, and flax). Additionally, warmer areas tend to cause physical laziness, as anyone who has lived through a Texas Summer can attest to. In colder regions, one could not afford to be lazy during the Summer months, as hard work and collaboration was required to be able survive the harsh Winter months.

When looking at a map of the world today, his first hypothesis, that cold nations fare better than cold ones, seems to ring true. Countries such as Canada, the USA, western Europe, and the Nordic Countries have some of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, especially when compared to some of the warmest and poorest countries in the world. For example, the USA has 86 times the GDP per capita of Burundi. Even within the USA, the northern states have tended to fare better economically than the southern states, with the wealthiest state in terms of GDP per capita being New York, with a GDP per capita of over twice that of the poorest state, Mississippi.

This hypothesis, while tending to be true in the modern day (with some exceptions. Russia has a GDP per capita of $27,044, compared to Qatar’s $85,300), doesn’t hold up as well over history. Throughout history, the wealthiest countries per capita have varied greatly. For example, around the time of Christ, Iraq had an estimated GDP per capita (in 2011 dollars) of $1225, while the Netherlands had a GDP per capita of $600. Nowadays, the Netherlands has a GDP per capita more than 3 times that of Iraq. This isn’t cherry picking data either; warmer nations in the Middle East and Mediterranean consistently had greater GDPs per capita than colder nations in western and northern Europe until at least the middle ages. What caused this to change? Why did these nations lose their economic advantage? One potential explanation can be found in the differences between these nations’ cultures.

The Cultural Hypothesis

Proponents of the cultural hypothesis believe that properties of cultures, most often their religions, social values, and family ties, are the main determinants to whether a nation is financially successful or not. Proponents of this hypothesis argue that some cultures are better at promoting fiscal responsibility, hard work, and the acceptance of technological advancements.

A tenant of the cultural hypothesis is that different cultures are better at adopting technological advancements, thus allowing those cultures to excel in the long-run. An example of this can be found in how different cultures across Eurasia reacted to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. Within both China and the Muslim world, their societies turned insular, with study of Confucian texts or the Qaran being treated as more important than the study of the real world. This led to both cultures, who had been at the forefront of worldwide scientific development, falling behind. The west, on the other hand, adopted Thomas Aquinas’s idea of Natural Theology; that reason and the study of the Earth, God’s creation, is of the utmost importance. This led to the west eventually surpassing the rest of the world scientifically, and beginning the industrial revolution first. 

Perhaps the most famous example of the cultural hypothesis in action is the so-called “Protestant Work Ethic”. Coined by German sociologist Max Weber, the concept asserts that Protestant ethics and Calvinist doctrine helped lead to the prosperity of western civilization. In Protestant doctrine, hard work, education, and frugality were thought to be among the most important applications of being a steward of God, something Weber argued was not present within the pre-Reformation culture of Catholic Europe. This, in turn, helped to launch the spread of capitalism among the countries of western Europe, leading to the prosperity in those nations in the modern day. 

When looking at a map of Catholic and Protestant nations, this tends to hold true in broad strokes (the USA and Canada are wealthier than Latin America and northern Europe is wealthier than Mediterranean Europe). However, Weber’s concept is not without its critics; some Catholic nations are wealthier than nearby Protestant counterparts, and some academics argue capitalism first emerged before the Reformation in northern Italy. Additionally, one can argue that it is not the culture that led to capitalism that is important and leads to wealth, but the laws and institutions of a capitalistic society.

Institutional Hypothesis

The third of the main three hypotheses, the institutions hypothesis, postulates that the differences in ways societies organize and set laws are the main influences on the differences in prosperity between nations. Proponents of this hypothesis point to the fact that countries who are very similar geographically and culturally can have vastly different economic institutions and outcomes.

An example of this can be found in the differences between North and South Korea. North Korea, with its centralized economic planning, lack of markets, and lack of property rights, has become very impoverished, especially in relationship to its main neighbors, South Korea and China. South Korea, on the other hand, has excelled economically since adopting its laws protecting property and other free market policies. Before the two countries were split, both halves of the Korean peninsula had similar cultures, and both still are similar geographically, with both nations being dominated by mountainous terrain.

Another example of different institutions impacting the economic success of nations is the economic outcomes of former British colonies compared to former Spanish colonies. British colonies, namely the USA, Canada, and Australia, are all world powers and economic juggernauts. This can be argued to be due to English Common Law being the foundation of these countries’ legal systems. This system of laws helps to protect the civil rights and property of those living under the law, helping citizens living within these nations, as well as increasing investment by increasing stability. Many other former British colonies, such as Egypt and British India (including Bangladesh and Pakistan), while being poorer compared to the previously mentioned British colonies, are still wealthier in terms of GDP per capita when compared to many of their neighbors. This difference from their former colonial peers can be argued to be due to both countries having eliminated some facets of English Common Law, such as strong property rights, for at least a time after their independence.

Former Spanish colonies, on the other hand, are much poorer compared to their English counterparts. These colonies were designed not as economic engines, but as extractive economies, much to the detriment of the modern-day economies of these now nations. In addition, governing power came largely from the foreign Spanish crown compared to the more concentration in the local residents of the colonies under the English system. This caused Spanish colonies’ decision making abilities to be hamstrung, and limited economic growth. Furthermore, without English Common Law to set a baseline for individual and property rights, former Spanish colonies have not been able to set up stable market economies without threats of military dictatorships or socialist regimes.

Which Theory is Right?

This list of theories is by no means a comprehensive list. There are many more examples to support the hypotheses of each of these theories, as well as additional theories (such as the Great Leader Hypotheses, in which great figures in history determine which nations are prosperous. Think Alexander the Great, Confucius, or George Washington). I personally believe that each of these theories has its merits, and none are the sole contributing factor to why some nations are more prosperous than others.

In some cases, such as the natives of the New World, the lack of good geography and fauna made a prosperous civilization extremely difficult to come by. Very few domesticated animals and poor accessible mineral resources made an urbanized civilization hard to create, meaning that very few natives would have been exposed, and thus gained immunity, to the diseases which wiped out much of their population. In other cases, the culture of a nation can hold it back, such as the historically passive Hindu culture and caste system of India, which allowed for very little social mobility. And in even other cases, the institutions of a nation can hold back a great geographic position or culturally strong people, such as how communism held back Eastern Europe from prospering. When analyzing why a country is successful, try to look at the whole picture, not just a few of the factors, to understand what could have gone right, or what could have gone wrong.

The Fine Line Between Utopia and Dystopia: Saudi Arabia’s Plans for a Futuristic “Smart City”

With issues like energy, conservation, and property ownership considered some of the most pressing of our times, the future of our living and working arrangements has become one of the most thought-provoking topics. Saudi Arabia has a two-word answer to the question of future cities: The Line. 

In the past, we would speculate on what sorts of dystopian communities would appear in the vague and distant future. The Line, which is already under construction, is now set to become a reality within the next few years.  

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salaman recently revealed the design concepts for The Line, a massive linear city that will be a “civilizational revolution that puts humans first” and will provide “an unprecedented urban living experience while preserving the surrounding nature.” The Line “redefines the concept of urban development and what cities of the future should look like.”

Living on a Thin Line 

According to the project’s website, The Line is only 0.1 mile wide, is 0.3 miles tall, and over 105 miles long. It’s also meant to house 9 million people with an infrastructure footprint of just over 21 square miles. The Line will have a controlled climate, access to nature, amenities within a 5-minute walk, and an end to end commute of just 20 minutes. The building will also be run on 100% renewable energy, with no roads, cars, or emissions. The website stresses that, for the first time, this city prioritizes health over infrastructure. 

The Line is only one of three facets of Neom, a planned $500 billion one-building city that is set to be constructed in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Neom will serve as an ambitious model of sustainable living, working, and travel. It consists of Oxagon, a floating city in which “industries and technology come together in harmony with nature,” Trogena, “a year-round mountain destination,” and The Line, which is up first for development.  

Saudi Vision 2030

Neom itself is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan, an aim to bolster the country’s economy, infrastructure, and reputation. Saudi Arabia claims the project will create 380,000 jobs and add $48 billion to the country’s GDP by diversifying its oil-dependent economy, promoting tourism, and developing the country’s public sector. Saudi Vision 2030 also serves another purpose. It is a rebranding, an attempt to reform the country while distancing itself from its questionable human rights record.  

Even though Saudi Arabia attempts to project an image of a new kingdom, as shiny as the mirror-plated walls of The Line, the country cannot escape or gloss over its controversies. 

First, women in Saudi Arabia only gained the right to vote in 2015 and weren’t allowed to drive until 2018, making Saudi Arabia the last country in the world to let women drive. That same year, the questionable assasination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi took place, which the Crown prince took responsibility for. Then, only months ago in march of 2022, there was a mass execution of 81 people, the largest in modern history.

The plan for The Line was released on January 10, 2021 and now, the newly released video promotion and statement from July 25, 2022 brought The Line into the current spotlight. With the attention came, of course, came criticism.

Utopia or Dystopia?

The major criticisms of The Line are that it is dystopian and artificial. Human beings don’t want to live in synthetic environments, be completely dependent on technology, live in such close quarters to so many people, and ultimately lack space, resources, and autonomy.

Critics also view the project as preposterously unrealistic and far-fetched. According to the WSJ, The Line will include a number of bin Salaman’s fanciful amenities including a sports stadium, robot maids, a yacht marina, robotic dinosaurs, flying taxis, glow in the dark beaches, and an artificial moon. These absurd additions only discredit the validity of the project. 

The information that has been released about The Line so far is sparse in its details, telling us only the what, but not the how. Where will Saudi Arabia get the money, the materials, the energy, the technology to create this? Not only does Neom seem infeasible, but even though The Line attempts to appeal to the Green Movement with its promises of emission-free living, the project has drawn criticism for environmental reasons regarding the need for increased Saudi oil production in order to build the structure. Environmentalists have also spoken out about how the monolithic building will disrupt the  migratory patterns of wildlife. Another concerning factor is the forced eviction of the Huwaitat people, who were removed from the region to make room for the building.

In the end, many unanswered questions remain as to the logistics of The Line. What would the laws and government of the city be like? Would there be religious requirements since it’s located in Saudi Arabia? How would it be powered and what if the power grid failed? 

Already, Neom, which was supposed to have major progress completed by 2020, has been delayed, and it is unlikely that the original 2025 deadline for the building will be met. 

Cautionary Tales 

Neom is eerily reminiscent of other grandiose schemes from corrupt governments’ attempts to prove their effectiveness to the world. Most notably, the Ryugyong Hotel of North Korea, nicknamed the Hotel of Doom, was meant to showcase the success of the communist regime. It was supposed to be the tallest building in the world, but it now stands empty and unfinished in the capital city of Pyongyang, symbolic of the country’s decay.

The climate-centric focus of The Line also does not bode well for its sustainability. The cautionary tale Sri Lanka’s collapse after the country tried to go organic on a national level stands testament that trying to go green to please the global elites is not an economically sound course of action. 

Closing Thoughts

The future residents of The Line will be living on a thin line, both literally and figuratively.  Will The Line be an ideal nature-centric community, or an insubstantial totalitarian nightmare? Idealistic at best, The Line seems like something from a dystopian sci fi movie, but on the other hand, if it’s pulled off successfully, it would be a much better alternative for many people who are living in slums. Saudi Arabia too, walks a fine line between regressive oppression and progressive idealism. In the end, is there that much of a difference between the two? Ultimately, only the future will show whether The Line will be a shining model for other nations, or yet another cautionary tale.

Roaring into Recession 

Travel back in time a whole century to the year 1922, the dawn of what has become known as the roaring ‘20s.  Forever immortalized in the textbooks, literature, and imaginations of America, the 1920s will be remembered as a time of decadence, affluence, technological advances, and moral degradation.  Does it sound familiar?  We think of Art Deco, The Great Gatsby, the flappers, and the speakeasies.  What doesn’t come to mind nearly as often is that just like in 2022, a hundred years back, the world was also only several years out from a global pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1919-1920.  Another point of interest is the turning point in Russia at the time.  The Soviet Union was formed in 1922.  Today, the invasion of Ukraine has once again placed Russia in the spotlight of the international news.  The ‘20s today eerily mirror the ‘20s of the twentieth century.  And what is the significance of this?  Everyone knows what brought the roaring ‘20s to a screeching halt.  According to a number of economic trends, it looks like the United States may once again be on the road to another economic recession.

We’ll start by taking a look at the effect of the major global crisis of the times: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sanctions against Russia, as well as companies pulling out of the nation, have naturally led to supply chain issues, of which we are feeling the effect.  As a significant producer of oil and other commodities, these actions against Russia have hiked up prices in oil, food, and components for consumer goods, only leading to further inflation and economic hardship.   Necessities are now taking up a larger percent of a person’s income, and this decreases demand in other industries.  Now, decreased purchasing power leads to less consumer spending, due to their deceased discretionary income.  Less consumer spending means less money flowing through the economy, which ultimately slows economic growth. All of this leads to a reduced GDP growth and an increased risk of recession, ultimately leaving citizens to fear a possible return to the ‘70s.

 Stagflation, a combination of stagnation and inflation, was the hallmark of the 1970s and is once again applicable in this day and age.  Essentially, it means a combination of elevated prices, inflation, and decreased economic growth, or stagnation.  The government increased printing of new dollars in the past two years in hopes of stimulating the economy after the lockdowns.  Injecting more money into the economy will also inevitably lead to inflation, which is at a 40 year high.  In response, the Fed raised its interest rates in hopes of stopping this inflation.  Raising interest rates, however, slows down economic growth through disincentivizing loans, and can even cause recessions.  In doing so, the government is walking a fine line between inflation and recession. 

Another time-tested indicator of recession is an inverted yield curve.  What exactly does this mean? To begin, a yield curve is a graph showing the difference in interest rates between bonds. 

 The yield curve should slope up, but now, it slopes downward instead.  An inversion in the yield curve means that short-term interest rates, in this case 2 year bonds, exceed the rates for long-term, 10 year bonds, meaning investors believe the economy will fall sharply.  An inversion in the yield curve corresponds to the onset of an economic recession; it has predicted every economic recession in the last 50 years.  Essentially, when short-term rates are higher than long-term ones, banks no longer want to lend money, limiting opportunity for economic growth and making it harder for companies to pay off current loans.  The inverted yield curve heralds a looming recession in the near future. 

Although it may have seemed like a positive, the low unemployment levels may be yet another cause of concern for the future.  Firstly, low unemployment can be taken as a green light to raise interest rates, which naturally slows down economic growth.  Secondly, this low unemployment rate is causing increased inflation.  In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re seeing the rapid retirement of the baby boomers, the wealthiest generation in history, who control 53% of the USA’s wealth.   This leaves a workforce vacuum, leaving a multitude of available jobs and positions which creates the low unemployment.  Since there are now more jobs than people willing or available to work, the labor costs are rising. In order to afford the labor costs, prices also must go up, which leads to inflation.  Essentially, with the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world tried to turn the world economy off and then turn back on. This is simply not how it works.  Inevitably, the fallout of the lockdowns is leading to economic concern. 

It is a known phenomenon that everything tends to regress to the mean.  We are currently at a time of economic excess, with high inflation a telltale sign.  The only way to alleviate these excesses is to decrease economic activity through a recession.  Historically, peaks in inflation have been followed by a recession.  

The economy goes in cycles.  History goes in cycles. The economy shapes history and history shapes the economy. Every aspect of the economy is intricately interwoven with the past, current, and future events.  While major, external circumstances like disasters and politics are the major drivers of the macroeconomic scene, at the individual level, we have the power to make day to day financial decisions that microscopically shape the economy.  Some tips for preparing for an economic recession include, setting aside an emergency fund, paying off any current debts, living a more frugal lifestyle, and building up your resume in case of job loss.  And so, we as college students, with our lives ahead of us, face an uncertain future in terms of the economy upon graduation.  But how we prepare, budget, and save is up to us.  Perhaps the greatest benefit of all is that we have the ability to learn from history.

Trinity Conservatives Demand Campus Safe Space

Imagine walking around campus feeling oppressed at every turn for your political beliefs. At a school like Trinity University where almost no one will come up to you and talk to you about your political beliefs, the Conservative Texans that are Young (CTY) have had enough of feeling constantly looked down on for their conservative beliefs. Following in the footsteps of other major universities across the country, CTY is demanding a safe space for conservatives on campus.

Former CTY President Chad Miller was spotted entering the Diversity and Inclusion Office (DIO) yesterday afternoon. What reason could CTY possibly have to go to DIO unless to ask the university for a safe space? 

Conservatives have long felt oppressed by their fellow Trinity students. From CTY’s memorable tabling events such as handing out fortune cookies on the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China to building a miniature Berlin Wall and encouraging peers to smash it down, CTY has truly been unable to freely express their political beliefs on campus. 

They are in such need of a safe space on campus that the club even holds weekly meetings in which students can discuss current events and policy issues with their fellow conservatives (or non-conservatives who choose to attend meetings and cause chaos during discussions). 

Former  CTY Treasurer Kyle Smith reached out with a few comments when The Tower asked about his position on the conservative safe space the current CTY leaders are asking for. “We just…like feel like we have no place on campus where we can be ourselves, you know? It’s so hard on us to always feel like people don’t like us. That’s why we want the university to provide us with a safe space.”

Safe spaces are usually created for students who are part of marginalized communities to come together and discuss their unique experiences without outside judgment. CTY claims that because of their unique experiences as conservative college students, they qualify for a safe space. In an unanticipated move, they are demanding interference from Trinity administration to alleviate their problems.

When asked how the club can reconcile its anti-government tendencies with its desire to take advantage of university authority, current CTY Campus Events Chair Dave Baker had this to say: “it’s okay when it gets us something that we want. I mean, uh, it’s okay because Trinity is a private school. Officially, we as a club support private institutions over government ones, so we think Trinity is a pretty cool place.”

But, according to CTY and other conservatives on campus the club claims support its efforts, Trinity University would be an even cooler place if they created a safe space for its marginalized conservatives.

Trinicat Conspiracy: Revealed

Every year at Trinity University, as the school year draws to a close, a problem arises; what to do with the Trinicats. These staples of campus, beloved by all, are cared for by the students of the Cat Alliance during the school year. However, during the summer these students go home. What happens to the Trinicats then? One would suppose the university would start to take over care for the cats, or that students of the Cat Alliance would come by to deliver the cats’ meals. A recent source has revealed to The Tower a much darker, more sinister, secret.

As students pack up the contents of their dorms, lugging books, chairs, and clothes back to their cars, it is a common sight to see the Trinicats out in full force, rubbing up against students, seemingly asking for pets. Their quest for students’ attention is not a plea simply for a few measly scratches; the cats, being as wise as they are, know what is coming. Some cats are lucky, as they get adopted by the loving members of the campus community. The unlucky ones who get left behind face a far more gruesome fate.

Enter St. Anthony Catholic High School. Every year, the anatomy class dissects an animal that many high school students dread: a cat. Now, where do these cats come from? They are remarkably opaque about their sourcing of these poor animals, with no material on their website indicating anything about the lives these cats had before they reached the school. That is for one simple reason; the school itself does not know where these cats come from. The teachers there simply buy from the cheapest local source available. Little do they know just how close these cats used to live.

The first night after finals, when all students have left to go back home to enjoy their summers, members of Trinity’s staff commit a deed that, while heinous, helps to keep the University afloat. Grabbing nets, tranquilizers, or anything else they can get their hands on, they leave the comfort of their air-conditioned offices for the heat of a San Antonio summer night. The hunt has begun. The remaining Trinicats cower in fear, hiding under cars, in crevices in buildings, high up in trees, but to no avail. The pure number of faculty members overwhelms even the cleverest of cats. One by one, they are caught, rounded up, and sent to the labs of CSI, where they are placed into vats of formaldehyde, to be sold to local high schools later.

In a few month’s time, this cat will be dead.

Now, the clever reader you are might ask, “what is your proof” or “that’s utterly ridiculous.” I know, I was once in your shoes too; hopelessly naive and ignorant. However, once you dig into the details, it starts to make much more sense. Have you ever stopped to consider why Trinity University, a school of under 2,800 students, has an endowment of over $1.7 billion, a total of over $600,000 per student? There can only be one explanation, that the University is making most of its money on the side. And what’s the most lucrative business that an academic institution can engage in? That’s right, the clandestine collection of cat cadavers. 

While the most intelligent amongst you have already been convinced by this impeccable logic, some of the slower among you might need a bit more proof. Enter the University itself. While writing this article, the president of the University failed to proactively send us a comment supporting the hypothesis of the status quo, or in fact, any statement at all. Now, was this because the University likely had no idea that we were writing the article? Doubtful. Was it because this story being broken to the student body population would devastated the reputation and future stability of the school? Most assuredly.

Think this is Sabrina? Think again.

Next fall, when moving back into your dorm, take a closer look at the Trinicats. The new, hapless strays and rescues may seem familiar; they might even come when you call their name. This is due to the hard work of the University. They scour the shelters and streets of San Antonio, looking for cats that look as similar as possible to the Trinicats of the prior year, so that no student notices. If you look closely enough, however, the difference is clear. A few stray hairs on one cat, a scratch on the ear of another; the new cats are never identical. Only then, my dear reader, will you become truly convinced of the depth of the Trinicat Conspiracy

Chinese Infiltration of the Lone Star State

China’s growing influence in the US is noticeable to anyone who doesn’t ignore it, but what is even more concerning is China’s growing influence in our very own state of Texas.

Sun Guangxin, a Chinese billionaire connected to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), planned to build a wind farm on the 15,000 acres he owns in Val Verde County. In total Sun owns more than 144,000 acres of land, all of which is not only near the Texas border, but also Laughlin air force base. 

In June 2021, Governor Abbott signed the Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act which prevented Sun, and anyone else connected to countries like China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea, from building critical infrastructure in Texas. However, the law does not do enough to protect Texas from foreign adversaries who use their financial resources to infiltrate Texas’ borders. Despite Abbot blocking Sun from building his wind farm, he still owns the land and could use it for other malignant purposes. 

Texas leads the nation in foreign-owned land with 4.4 million acres, which is more by far than any other state. Six states actually ban foreign ownership of farmland, but Texas still allows it. In Houston, Chinese investors are buying up homes not to live in the US, but to make money off Americans by renting out the properties.

Sun is not the only businessman or business connected to the CCP who is currently operating in Texas. There are many, and each one represents a potential national security risk to not only the Lone Star state, but to the country. 

DJI Technology Co. Ltd, a Hong Kong-based drone manufacturing company, has been under heavy scrutiny recently for the security risks its drones pose due to the company’s closeness to the CCP. China Chengtong Holdings Group Ltd, a state-owned enterprise, described DJI as China’s leading company that “adheres to the standard of Xi Jinping’s socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.”

DJI has sold its wares to many companies, local agencies, and even Federal agencies. During the tail-end of the Trump Administration, Washington made it a priority to mitigate the dangers that Chinese drones pose in the US. The U.S. Commerce Department added DJI to the U.S. government’s economic blacklist in December 2020, and in January 2021 Trump signed an executive order prioritizing their removal from service. 

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office operates four DJI drones as of 2018, according to data compiled by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. Across Texas 42 police departments use a total of 73 DJI drones.  

In addition to the business sector in Texas, the CCP has also tried to infiltrate our education system. In one of the CCP’s boldest moves in Texas, it attempted to use a Hong Kong foundation to fund the University of Texas’ China Public Policy Center (CPPC). 

The Center opened in Aug. 2018 and was tasked with making “fresh and enduring contributions to the study of China-related policy topics while advancing U.S.-China relations and Texas-China relations.” Former foreign service officer David Firestein, who proposed that the Hong Kong-based foundation China United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) funds the Center, currently leads the CPPC. The CUSEF’s leader is Tung Chee-hwa who is vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a united front organisation. United front groups are the primary agents used by the CCP for foreign influence operations, with hundreds of United Front and United Front linked groups operating in the US.

Luckily Senator Ted Cruz and the White House pressured UT not to accept the funding, but the fact that a major state university was about to fund a Chinese research institution using a CCP front organization’s money shows how much influence China has already seized in the US and in Texas.

Some dramatic acts were taken by the Trump administration to combat Chinese intelligence operations in the US. The Chinese consulate in Houston was a hotbed for spies and the theft of intellectual property by CCP agents before Trump closed it down in July 2020. This action led to frenzied scenes of consulate workers burning huge amounts of classified documents to prevent the US from getting access to them. 

Policymakers in Austin and Washington, DC must make combatting Chinese influence in America a priority, especially as China continues to increase its aggressive threats towards Taiwan, and continues to oppress Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong. Congressman Chip Roy has been vocal about this issue, and his Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act would have prevented members of the CCP from buying US farmland. Even these efforts, had they been successful, would not be enough. Most of the influence China has gained in the US has been indirect through front organizations. The CCP now has allies in every layer of the US echelons of power. We must remain vigilant and on the offensive against the influence they have accrued. 

We welcomed Chinese capital into the US for decades for cheaper and cheaper trinkets made with Chinese labor, all in the hope that as a developed nation it would have to democratize. We bet wrong, and it is time to face that fact and reverse course before it is too late. We must begin decoupling, limiting Chinese investments coming into America, and bring manufacturing back from China to the US. China is now a threat to the US and we must treat it as such. Hopefully the current administration will have the backbone to do so, and we must call on our government to protect American citizens and infrastructure from foreign dangers. 

CCP Delenda Est

UTSA is Not Just Trying to Erase Texas History

The “Come and Take It” flag denounces tyranny, and only tyrants want to be rid of this important symbol.

UTSA announced on Sep. 7 2021 that it would end the tradition of unfurling a large “Come and Take It” flag before home football games and would remove any trace of the phrase from the school’s campus and website. This comes after an online petition that garnered less than 1,000 signatures argued that the flag was racist, pro-slavery and “anti-Mexican.”

When those without backbones, who either sympathize with or openly support anti-historicists, control institutions like universities in our society, they eventually wage war against history and tradition in the name of “wokeness” and “inclusivity.”

This is the most recent of a long war against our history and traditions that has been waged by the left, and shows that they are showing no signs of letting up. When those without backbones, who either sympathize with or openly support anti-historicists, control institutions like universities in our society, they eventually wage war against history and tradition in the name of “wokeness” and “inclusivity.” Some, like Kevin P. Eltife, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, have stood up against UTSA’s decision by calling it the “abandoning [of our] traditions and history.

Ian De Koster, Class of 2024 at Trinity University, doesn’t see any problems with the flag. “As a Mexican-American and a Texan I can attest on my own account that it is not a point of grievance for the Mexican-American community. I don’t know anyone in the Mexican-American community who has felt attacked by the flag. Mexican-Americans today who understand what the flag means, are not provoked by it. I understand it can be used in negative contexts, but strictly in regards to the present day Mexican-American community, I don’t see the open wound they refer to.”

The [“Come and Take It”] flag was created in support of a cause, the cause of freedom and liberty.

But in this specific situation, what makes the “Come and Take It” flag so offensive? What makes it politically incorrect in this day and age? According to the left-wing activists it has anti-Mexican connotations. Yet what it was originally created for and what it still stands for are not in any way related to racist, anti-Mexican sentiments. Texas was about to launch a revolution against Mexican dictatorship and used the flag as a rallying cry against the tyrannical government of Santa Anna. The flag was created in support of a cause, the cause of freedom and liberty. It was not created to target a specific group. This is as ridiculous as if someone accused the Gadsen flag or the Betsy Ross flag of being insulting to British people today. These banners stand for something far greater than the narrow definitions that the Left uses to try and take them down. Or tries to “Come and Take It” down, if you will. 

The “Come and Take It” flag represents a direct challenge to tyranny. The words “come and take it” are eternal from when they were uttered by Spartan King Leonidas I as “molon labe” at Thermopylae, to when Texans flew them on that white flag over the battlefield at Gonzales. They represent far more than a single battle, war, or cause. They stand for every patriot who stands against a tyrannical government trying to infringe upon his life, liberty, or the pursuit of his happiness. Throughout history, the heroes we celebrate today like William Wallace, William Tell, and Spartacus refused to bend the knee to a tyrant. Instead they proudly cried the words “come and take it.” We can not allow such an important phrase to be ripped from public display by those who do not understand, or are actually against, what it symbolizes.

The “Come and Take It” flag denounces tyranny, and only tyrants want to be rid of this important symbol.

Texas Takes a Baby Step Toward Election Integrity

This article is a repost and was originally published on July 19, 2021 by Capital Research Center.

Following the lead of several other states in the wake of the 2020 election (and the public distrust of elections that ensued), Texas passed its own legislation restricting the use of private money in elections.

According to research conducted by Capital Research Center, the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) gave $33.5 million to Texas county election offices across 117 different counties. Election administrators in these counties applied for CTCL grants and used the money for COVID-19 safety measures including drive-thru voting, mail voting sorting assets, polling place rental expenses, labor expenses and hazard pay, personal protective equipment, and voter education and outreach.

The most money (over $15 million) was granted to Dallas County, and the smallest amount was just over $47,000 given to Maverick County. Our own Bexar County received $1.9 million from CTCL. While CTCL claims the money was purely for COVID-19 relief for elections offices, Public Interest Legal Foundation tracked the 14 counties with the most significant donations from CTCL and found that blue-leaning counties received far more COVID-19 aid than red-leaning counties. Public Interest Legal Foundation also found that the total amount of money granted by CTCL in Texas could be over $36 million.

CTCL-funded counties gave President Joe Biden 69 percent of his Texas votes and former President Donald Trump only 25 percent of his votes. Of the $33 million to $36 million donated to various Texas counties, counties that voted for Trump received about $0.55 per capita from CTCL, while counties that voted for Biden received an average of $3.22 per capita.

In addition to the $350 million Mark Zuckerberg donated to CTCL, the nonprofit is also funded by left-leaning funding organizations like the Democracy Fund, Knight Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 2283 on June 12, 2021. The bill prohibits the joint elections commission, county elections commissions, and county elections boards from accepting private donations of $1,000 or greater without the written consent of the secretary of state. Before giving consent, the secretary of state must get the unanimous approval of the governor, lieutenant governor, and the speaker of the house of representatives. Donations less than $1,000 need only the written consent of the “relevant political subdivision.” While HB 2283 decreases the influence of private funding on elections, it does not fully ban private funding in elections altogether. Six other states have already passed laws fully banning “Zuck Bucks,” so why is Texas holding back?

With as much private money as flowed into Texas during the last election, it is not surprising that a bill like HB 2283 passed. The surprise is that Texas passed one of the weakest bills banning private funding in elections.

HB 2283 limits the amount of money that groups like CTCL can donate to Texas counties. It is a fine solution while those in power in Texas are staunchly opposed to private funding in elections. However, if Texas is one day run by politicians who support private funding in elections, HB 2283 will do little to protect Texas elections.

When compared with bills passed in other states, Texas’s HB 2283 falls short. Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, North Dakota, and Tennessee all passed laws fully banning private funding in elections. Unlike Texas, these states left no loopholes for future administrations and election officials to abuse.

HB 2283 falls short not only of the standard set by other states but also of expectations the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) created for the 2021 session. In 2020, RPT established election integrity reform as a top priority for the 2021 legislative session. The omnibus bill (SB 7/HB 6) of election reforms did not get through both the Senate and the House before the end of the 2021 session. As a small consolation prize, Texans must satisfy themselves with HB 2283 among several other smaller bills that touch on election integrity.

Admittedly, HB 2283 is a first step, a response to the 2020 election rather than a means to protect future elections. While public scrutiny into CTCL’s influence over the 2020 election may prevent it from interfering in future elections, it is probably too weak to prevent other organizations from doing the same in 2022 or 2024.

A second bill (HB 3) has since become the focus of a political circus, with Texas House Democrats fleeing the state to prevent the quorum required to vote on legislation.