The Dismaying Fact About Indian Men

James Baldwin couldn’t  have phrased it better when he mused, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” I could say the same for Indian culture and a new finding by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development doesn’t make things any better. In one of their reports on gender equity, the OECD found that the average minutes per day that Indian men spend on housework is one of the lowest in the world (19 minutes per day as opposed to 82 in the U.S. or 114 in Slovenia).

My gut reaction, and the reactions of my fellow Indians here in the United States, would likely be something akin to…..duh! I’m not one to use anecdotes for justifying societal observations but because the statistic came first on this one, I’ll indulge myself by saying it’s true; it’s true; it’s so painfully true.

And it’s always been like this. Indian boys, and my own experience bears similarity, are usually just not taught to do or expect much housework as they grow older. Lower income households in India have wives or daughters handle the housework. Middle class and wealthier families can generally hire cheap labor (for which domestic housework is usually done, once again, by women) while the men are entirely free from such expectations.

Now, I will acknowledge right now that there are over a billion Indians and so, obviously there are exceptions. In no way do I wish to single out anyone’s own experience or family and tie their characters to the number 19. The statistic put out by the OECD is an average so half the cases in reality will indeed see an average number of minutes worked by men higher than 19. But no one can deny that an average of 19 minutes worked, in which half the cases will be lower than 19 minutes or at zero minutes worked, is so pitifully low that it brings necessary shame and derision upon Indian culture and its treatment of women. The problem is systemic, pervasive, and allows us to easily grasp, among other reasons, why India ranks 132 out of 148 on the United Nations Gender Equality Index.

However, the Atlantic article does bring in an interesting point. If India will not address this problem because of the obvious moral grounds, then perhaps the response by activists should be to highlight the economic benefits of female empowerment. The idea that female empowerment is a boon to economic development has long been a widely credit mainstream hypothesis among development experts. Not only are social and moral goals addressed overtime, but nations benefit immensely when half their populations suddenly see increases in education levels, employment, access to social mobility, healthcare, etc.

The obvious problem is that it’s impossible to fix the treatment of women in India overnight. With India ranked so abysmally, I’m also skeptical of any claims that the situation is improving, particularly considering that most people claiming improvement are looking towards the urban youth while ignoring the vast majority of rural practices. What then is to be done?

If we know the solution to be female empowerment, addressing gender violence, tackling societal and cultural discrimination, etc. then all that’s left is to figure out a way to reach that goal. This is the step where research oriented policy advocates (including yours truly) get stuck. If you have potential solutions ready, how then do you put them into practice where societal, political, and cultural headwinds seem to mute your every move? Besides increasingly aggressive campaigns both within India and in the international community on behalf of Indian women, it’s an answer that I regret to say I don’t have a sufficient answer to….at least for now.


The Source Article: 


The Briefing: March 5th, 2014

Today we begin the use of randomized categories. Also note that there is a news item that I’m extremely angry about below. It takes a lot to rile my temper on news but hopefully you’ll understand why when you read the one in question. Also, the briefings of late have been a bit Ukraine heavy but I hope that’s understandable enough. Enjoy this week’s briefing. 


The Miscellaneous

  • The Massachusetts Supreme Court just acquitted a man accused of taking pictures up a girl’s skirt because state anti-peeping laws apparently only protect women in dressing rooms or bathrooms, but not in public. Nobody, not a single person, would ever accuse these justices of overzealous activism if they ruled otherwise but apparently they saw fit to ignore any rational expectation of privacy. They (barely) saved a smidgen of face by saying that such actions should be illegal and thankfully, the lawmakers on Beacon Hill immediately responded by promising to update the statutes. The worst part of this isn’t even the ruling; it’s the fact that the defendant’s lawyers said that such photographs are apparently free speech…and to think there are still people idiotic enough to believe misogyny and sexism are dead in America.

  •  The United States Energy Department is seeking a budget increase of $534 million to modernize the aging nuclear arsenal. While it is certainly true that, if for no other reason than saftey, the nuclear arsenal needs upgrades and adjustments, there are huge concerns surrounding the enormous budgetary costs for such investments. To top it off, with no apparent progress being made on global disarmament, we seem to be stuck in this endless funding-request loop for the immediate future.

The Economy

  • Representative Joe Crowley (D) has put forward a proposal to provide all newborn children in the United States with a savings account funded with three sources: initial seed capital, the Child Tax Credit, and private funds. The $2 billion proposal has potential bipartisan backing especially since both sides have highlighted the importance of savings in their economic platforms.

  • Mt. Gox, the world’s largest so called Bitcoin exchange, has officially filed for bankruptcy in the wake of several issues including failing to comply with U.S. money service regulations, shoddy operational practices, losing 750,000 bitcoins, and a breach of contract lawsuit. The failure highlights that bitcoin firms are just as vulnerable to the kinds of shocks and failings that have traditionally brought down mainstream financial firms.

  • President Obama has put forward his yearly budget proposal valued at $3.9 trillion and he slowly seems to trending back towards liberal budgetary aims. The proposal drops any attempt at Chained-CPI; it also offers an expansion of the EITC, and increased discretionary spending in pre-K, education, research, etc. Surprisingly, it also calls for an overhaul of the tax code thereby shifting the tax burden on to wealthier Americans.

  • Quartz is out with an excellent series of economic indicators from Russia that may affect its upcoming actions and biases in the Ukraine crises. The markets have already punished Russian stocks and the Ruble but its unclear at this point how the government will respond, indeed if it will respond.  It’s also unclear as to the magnitude of the mentioned indicators.

  • A Marginal Revolution blog post found several points on which to criticizes Paul Ryan’s new welfare proposals; what makes it so interesting is that MR is actually leans libertarian in most of its economic postings. Disregarding the various liberal criticisms (which will be touched on in future posts), even from a conservative perspective, the proposal is far too focused on program specifics and fails to prioritize desirable market solutions like immigration or cash transfers through programs like the much lauded EITC. It’s worth a read.

The International

  • Foreign policy officials from the United States, United Kingdom, French, German, and Russian governments are currently engaged in talks held by President Francois Hollande. Early consensus in the West seems to revolve around the need for international observers and for direct mediated talks between the Russian and Ukrainian governments. Meanwhile, the EU is considering a $15 billion dollar aid package for Ukraine just as two other missile sites have been seized by the Russians and an administrative building in Donetsk repeatedly changes hands.

  • The term, environmental refugee, is taking on new meaning in China as wealthy residents in the cities are fleeing abroad or to rural Chinese regions to avoid the suffocating industrial pollutants in the air. The pollution is being pushed east by prevailing winds and even affects the West Coast here.

  • NPR points out that, for a myriad of economic reasons, several key European players might be dissuaded from punishing Russia with economic or trade sanctions even though they have spoken out strongly against Russian intervention.

The Briefing – March 3rd, 2014

I’m looking to make some changes to future briefings to make sure they don’t become stale 5-5 ratios of domestic and international news. I’ll always have at least ten articles but I may decide to switch up categories and focus, for example, on some economic or green energy stories one day and then international stories another. But these are all experiments that happen as we go along. For now at least, enjoy today’s briefing!


The Domestic

  • The new Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, testified before Congress that the Federal Reserve currently has no legal power to regulate Bitcoin but that it would be appropriate for Congress to decide what’s considered appropriate in our monetary system. Yellen was responding to a series of concerns raised by Senator Manchin who pointed to harsher stances on Bitcoin held by both European and Asian governments. For now at least, Yellen stated that U.S. regulatory law would suffice.

  • New reports by the Treasury confirm that our budget deficit fell faster last year than at any point since World War II. While the economy may be improving, the bulk of the decline comes from austerity and rising tax rates which are actually holding the economy back from performing even better than it would ordinarily.

  • The United States Navy is looking to update its naval plans for the Arctic as new reports show that up to 160 days of open water activity per year could be available by 2020 with the melting of polar ice caps. The U.S. joins Canada and Russia in looking to expand its foothold in a region that will see increased commercial activity and resource exploitation.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency has revealed a new rule that would require oil refiners to strip out sulfur from American gasoline, citing the potential economic benefits of reducing sulfur related diseases. Oddly enough, the regulation isn’t drawing the usual level of opposition (the Governor of Utah even offered positive remarks). However there is dispute as to how much this could affect gasoline prices with EPA estimates ranging around 1 cent/gallon and the American Petroleum Association’s reaching around 9 cents per gallon.

  • The Republicans, spearheaded by Paul Ryan, are about to announce a series of sweeping welfare reforms that claim to overhaul a huge number of social welfare programs, including medicare and medicaid. However, if this report is anything like his infamous budget proposals from two years ago, then it will be nothing more than calls to radically slash spending, bring in more privatization, or (in the case of more minor programs) eliminate them entirely.

The International 

  • The United States Government has conceded at this point that Russia has “operational control” over the Crimean Peninsula. In the wake of the remarkably smooth Russian occupation, the West is essentially powerless to do anything besides the usual diplomatic wrist-slaps. It could suspend Russia from the G8, pursue travel bans, economic sanctions, etc. While certainly worth considering, it’s not clear if these actions will in anyway help the floundering Ukrainian Transition Government. For now at least, the focus is definitely on whether Russia intends to invade Eastern Ukraine.

  • The Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, has ordered the closings of private schools owned and operated by the influential cleric Fethullah Gulen whom he accused of undermining and attempting to overthrow Turkey’s current government. Erdogan himself has faced a number of corruption charges alongside massive protests in recent months and has lashed out at Gullen, who’s famous for preaching respect for democracy, science, and inter-faith dialogue, for allegedly being behind corruption probes.

  • Israel is experiencing massive protests by members of the ultra-Orthodox community against proposals to end their exemptions from military enlistments. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, now approaching 20% of Israel’s population, have long enjoyed these special exemptions on the claim that they devote themselves entirely to studying the torah. It seems they worry about the direction their youth will take should they be exposed to broader Israeli society.

  • A new report by the HSBC Purchasing Manager’s Index shows that Chinese manufacturing declined for a third straight month. While possible reasons could include Chinese New Year celebrations, the report raises concerns about possible a possible slowdown in the Chinese economy. The government is set to keep the growth forecast around 7.5% of GDP.

  • China is blaming possible Xinjiang separatists for the mass stabbing attack conducted by a group of men and women in a Kunming train station this past Saturday. The Chinese government has repeatedly sounded alarm bells about Uighur separatists and Islamic extremists in Xinjiang though some have seen it as a justification for crackdown in a region that the then newly formed PRC annexed in 1949. In the meantime, outpourings of grief and outrage at the attacks have poured in from across China with state media even describing it as China’s 9/11.

The Postal Crisis Part 1 – A Self-Imposed Problem

Don’t ever tell me that the Post Office is beyond saving. I obsess over policy details and that’s one of my biggest pet peeves since  everyone, no matter their political orientation, seems to believe that email has succeeded in killing the USPS. Is it true that the internet has been removing the need for day-to-day letters, messages, or basic communication? Yes. Is it true that the frequency of postal runs made by most Americans is declining? Absolutely. Are these the only causes of the USPS’ current financial straights? Absolutely not. 

In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that required the USPS to make annual payments for future employee benefits 75 years in advance. If that sounds strange at all, it’s because it is. We vacillate between treating the USPS like a government agency and a private business but there is no other entity out there, public or private, that has such a ridiculous financing requirement. A study done in 2012 noted that without the requirement, the USPS would have posted a $1.5 billion surplus that year instead of a deficit that forced it to consider closing thousands of sites across the country. To add insult to injury, a GAO analysis found that the USPS doesn’t even have the legal authority to alter it’s own budgets or operations without Congressional approval. 

Remember last year’s near-cancellation of Saturday postal delivery? Congress eventually  ensured that the deliveries would continue but in a way that was almost cruel; the only reason the USPS ever considered ending Saturday delivery was because Congress had left it with no other options to address its routine monetary shortfalls in the first place. Keeping Saturday delivery is an excellent idea only if we agree to pay the costs. The longer this continues, we are going to see more funding crises, increased postage price hikes, and even more closings and layoffs. 

These cutbacks aren’t without noticeable effect. For most of us in the city, the most we’ll notice is an inconvenient hike in stamp prices. But there’s a hidden side to this story. The Post Office is still the most reliable means of long-distance communication for those living without internet connection. A sizable chunk of them are in rural areas where many of the marginal closings are being planned or executed. Unsurprisingly, the cuts, like most austerity measures,  disproportionately affect these lower-income earners.

What then must be done to address this crisis? Well for one thing, policy-making institutions have to understand that the USPS cannot be expected to act as an independent entity with all the numerous financial and legal restrictions placed upon it. Repealing the completely arbitrary payment plan requirement is a definite first step. Giving the USPS more authority over its own decision-making is another. But what then? The increasing reliance on internet communication does affect the postal service (even if its not to the degree that most people think). Senator Bernie Sanders (I), along with a number of democratic cosponsors introduced Postal Modernization measures that, in addition to scrapping the 2006 mandate, gave the Postal Service the ability to pursue a number of other operations including notarization, issuing hunting licenses, allowing alcoholic shipments, and a number of innovative changes that allow the Postal Service and its customers to better adapt to internet activity.

The bill’s premise is clear; the Postal Service is still one of the most common agencies that most Americans deal with in their day-to-day lives. If the Postal Service wishes to stay competitive, increasing its activity set is a must. For that however, we need political will. 

For Part 2, I’l go into more detail about the kinds of proposals this could entail, including one introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren that was actually used in the 20th century with much success, Postal Savings Banks. 

Till next time!


Comments on Tax Reform – The Need for a Liberal Voice

Representative Dave Camp (R), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee recently released his proposal for tax reform creatively entitled the Tax Reform Act of 2014. I’ve linked an article to the general provisions of the proposal below and granted, there are some things I like about it; but this post isn’t the right place for me to go into full detail about Chairman Camp’s proposal. If anything, it reveals a deficiency on the left side of the aisle that needs immediate attention. 

Let’s start with the basics. Our tax code is an unworkable behemoth of deductions, exemptions, loopholes, contradictions, and confusion.  It’s pages outnumber those in the bible and it feeds a cottage industry of accountants and lawyers who shift through the muck to ensure a random line item doesn’t cost their clients godless sums of money. But if complexity and inefficiency are the problem, why then is tax reform so difficult to achieve (the last major overhaul for example was in 1986)? 

To answer that question, one need only examine the following list of  common reform priorities.

  • Lowest possible tax rates
  • Highest possible revenue
  • Simplicity and ease of filing tax returns 
  • Minimizing tax avoidance 
  • Eliminating unnecessary tax expenditure

The problem with this list is that going about these priorities can mean different things to different people and the result often carry significant repercussions for other policy-areas depending on whose view is being propagated. Conservative rhetoric has dominated the tax discussion in recent years and often involves something of the following.

  • Collapsing the number of tax brackets to somewhere around three in usual proposals
  • Eliminating or curtailing most tax expenditure including relatively well known items like the Child Tax Credit, EITC, State and Local Tax Deduction, etc. 
  • Cutting the Corporate Tax Rate 
  • Eliminating the AMT 
  • Lowering the Estate Tax 

While there’s nothing outrageous about these proposals, they do lead to a number of significant issues for progressive lawmakers. First, the proposed rate cuts often seem to cut taxes far more for higher income earners thereby shifting more of the tax burden to lower income earners. Tax rate consolidation, depending on how its done, can damage the integrity of a progressive tax system; indeed many tax reform proponents are admirers and advocates of the flat tax, a policy that is unmistakably regressive. Finally (and this is the detail that can politically make or break reform proposals), the mass wipe out of certain deductions can also harm lower income earners by removing some incredibly useful tax exemptions. For example, Dave Camp’s proposal actually cuts the amount of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a policy that’s been praised even by conservative economists for its efficient anti-poverty aid. None of this is to forget that these proposals usually include other toxic items like cutting the estate tax, slashing corporate taxes without even touching the discrepancy between capital gains and regular earnings, all while stubbornly clinging to revenue neutrality.

Granted, even these proposals sometimes contain items that liberals can like. Dave Camp’s proposal eliminates many terrible loopholes and even includes a financial services tax. That’s why these proposals intrigue us as much as they do; they offer crucial opportunity for the left to come forward with a robust alternative for tax policy that can orient the good in previous proposals towards a more progressive budgetary vision.

The following is a good, but by no means comprehensive, list of liberal tax reform proposals.

  • Tax capital gains and income at the same rate
  • Strong Estate Tax
  • Crackdown on Foreign Tax Avoidance 
  • Alternative Tax Opportunities for Policy Purposes: Carbon Tax, Financial Services Tax, Land Tax, etc. 
  • Retain and Expand tax credits that offer a fundamental policy purpose: child tax credit, research, green-energy, EITC, state and local, energy, college, etc. (to name a few) while eliminating any that don’t; consolidate credits that serve a similar function
  • Long term rate structure should strive to be as progressive as is possible; burden of payment should remain with the rich and be strengthened by including surtaxes on the highest income levels
  • Possible Progressive Structure on Corporate Tax Rates while aiming to lower tax rates in the long term on low income earners, middle income earners, as well as small/medium size businesses in comparison to their more affluent counterparts

At the end of the day,the question we must ask ourselves is whether achieving simplicity and clarity only lend themselves to a vision resembling Congressmen Camp’s? That simply isn’t the case. The tax code isn’t complex because it has too many brackets; it’s complex because of countless amendments, exemptions, deductions, etc. that were placed in the tax code year after year for random activities or entities that ultimately serve no public purpose. Get rid of those, simplify the rest, and you can still end up with a code capable of being used as a powerful policy instrument and proof that stripping the code of junk doesn’t mean getting rid of the things that constitute genuinely good policy.

This isn’t the last you’ve heard from me on tax reform, I promise!


Basic Outline of the Camp Proposal: