A pinko-commie lefty-liberal’s _technical_ argument against The Secretary of State using Her Own Email Server

If an employee of mine tried to send email from their own server, instead of using my company’s, I’d reprimand them, harshly. And if they continued to refuse to use the appropriate email server I’d have to terminate them.

Why? Security.

Who ran Hillary Clinton’s Email server? What software did it run? Where was it hosted? How physically secure is that location? How secure is the ISP that serves data to that server? The administrators of that server – are they background-checked? Are we sure they are not in the service of any foreign entity, or even a domestic one? Is the server patched to the latest version? Are there any vulnerabilities on the version it is running? Are there any backdoors or rootkits or other such stuff on there? What’s the update schedule on that server? Is there any strong cryptography on it? What protocols are running?

And the answer in just about all of these cases is, “I have absolutely no idea.” And that is completely and totally unacceptable.

If you administer an email server, YOU CAN (usually) READ ANY EMAIL THAT IS ON IT. When it’s some regular schmoe somewhere, that’s less of a big deal (but still something to be concerned about). When it’s the Secretary of State of the United States of America, that’s a bit of a bigger deal.

If you are reading this and feeling like I’m not exactly right, go talk to your email admin. Ask them to read you your latest email – “just so you can see if your email software is working.” Let me know what you find.

Minimum Wage Thoughts

The libertarian answer to the question of “should we raise the minimum wage” is always the same: “We shouldn’t even have a minimum wage.” I really like this video as an explanation of that viewpoint.

As someone who likes to flirt with libertarian thoughts on occasion, I have pondered this one for a while. My desire for people who are less well-off to get more money is certainly there, I’ll concede – but I also like the idea of getting rid of stupid regulations and letting the marketplace regulate itself (ideas about limiting CEO pay or bonuses or other stuff like that seems weird to me, for example).

I think I’ve found a way to think about the issue that actually makes sense to me:

Not raising – or even eliminating the minimum wage would make perfect sense in a perfectly functional free-market economy for labor. I will argue that #1) We don’t have one now, and #2) we aren’t going to get one.

A Free-Market Economy Example

Let’s talk about what a perfectly functional free-market economy looks like, in a place I am very familiar with: the PC hardware market. You’ve got many corporations (HP, Acer, Toshiba, Dell, Lenovo, Fujitsu, etc.), competing against each other tooth-and-nail in order to win marketshare and earn profits. While they’re fighting with each other, kicking and screaming, the consumers win – at least in terms of price. And yet the profit margins for these companies – for these product lines – are razor thin. Doesn’t that seem strange? Here we have a microcosm of an “ideal” market economy, and yet we have very tiny profits.

We can explain this strange attribute pretty simply however – let’s imagine we have two companies – “A” and “B”. They both sell similar products. Company “A” however is taking a very healthy profit on their sales. Whereas Company “B” does not. If their costs are similar, it means that Company “A” is charging more for their product – and thus Company “B” will be cheaper, and will sell more. If “A” doesn’t eventually drop their prices and reduce their profit, they will be driven out of business by Company “B”. There’s a real life example for this – Amazon.com. Jeff Bezos had famously said something like, “Your margin is my opportunity.” Meaning, if you make too much of a profit margin, Amazon will step in and make little to none, and drive you out of business.

(Note for completeness’s sake: Apple is an example of a company “A” that is not dropping prices but is doing quite well. They’re a rare exception and don’t have exactly the same product as the “B” companies, so the analogy doesn’t work for them, but I should at least mention it, especially as an Apple Guy.)

So if we can agree that that is what a competitive marketplace ought to look like – why are Corporate profits the highest that they’ve ever been?

The Minimum Wage Effects on Employment

Studies have shown that moderate increases in the minimum wage do not affect employment significantly (caveat: they’re from the left. The ones from the right say the opposite). Does that mean you can triple it all of a sudden? No. Moderate increases are what have been studied.

The math here is pretty simple – corporate profits are at an all-time high, and minimum-wage changes don’t seem to affect employment – it seems like we might not have a fully-functioning free-market for labor. What’s wrong with our assumptions?

The non-free, inelastic-demand, non-rational market of incomplete information for labor

In a completely fluid, well-functioning marketplace, a worker will always move to where the jobs are. And if they find themselves working in an industry that doesn’t have a lot of jobs, and notice that another industry does, they will make sure to retrain themselves for the new industry so they can make more money. And furthermore, a worker will always have acccess to all of this information so they can make well-informed choices. Applying any level of scrutiny to these assumptions will show they are not always valid. A worker can’t always pick up and move to the slightly higher-paying job across town, they’ve got to find an apartment, they have to drive further, the day-care center where little Bobby or Sue goes will be too far away, family lives nearby, or any number of hundreds of other reasons from trivial to the serious. A worker can’t always re-train and enter into another industry that’s higher-paying than the one they’re in – this might entail them spending time they don’t have, or spending money they can’t afford. And a worker does not have perfect information on what jobs do/do not exist and where, or how to go about them. Perfect information like that doesn’t even exist – and if it did, not everyone has broadband, a computer, access to the Internet, and the ability to use it all.

The current unemployment rate is 6.6%. Now, that doesn’t mean the number of people who want to be employed and are not is 6.6% – that number doesn’t include people who have given up and dropped out of the workforce. The best proxy we can come up with for that is the employment-population rate (Epop). That number is 58.8% right now. 58.8% of our population is currently working. The high was 63.4% in Dec. 2006 (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics). Meaning that not only is there the 6.6% of population which is unemployed and looking for work, there is another 4-ish percent who’ve given up looking for a job actively (presumably because they couldn’t find one). So if you think that you can ask your minimum-wage employer for a raise, or you can ask not to work Saturday to spend time with your kids – what do you think is going to happen? That’s right, you’re fired, and replaced with someone else. Marx’s idea of “the reserve army of the unemployed” is perfectly real. (I also think his solutions to this problem, and others, are the worst solutions to any problem, ever – but that’s not the point of this piece).

In supply and demand terms, instead of imagining that ‘labor’ is the thing that is supplied-and-demanded, let’s reverse it and look at ‘jobs’ as the thing that’s in supply or demand. A high ‘bid’ for a job means “paying more hours for it” – accepting a lower wage, and a low ‘bid’ for a job means offering only a smaller number of hours for it – thus only accepting a high wage. What does this supply-and-demand curve look like? We can certainly argue that the demand for this commodity is somewhat inelastic – people need jobs and will even take jobs far beneath their skill level and training if they’re desperate enough. And supply of this commodity, while it’s not ‘fixed’, isn’t highly dynamic. The end result is that people are going to ‘overspend’ – driving ‘prices’ up – in our reversed chart, this means that people will accept wages much lower than they deserve.

So with all of that groundwork laid out, let’s get back to that video. I disagree with it, but I still like it and think it’s well done. When you get to 3:24, I think their misconception is laid out bare – “The owner will either give Bob a raise, or a competitor will scoop him up to work in his restaurant.” Does this really ever happen in fast-food restaurants? Managers of competitor restaurants in disguise sneaking in, taking notice of more productive workers and surreptitiously offering them a job with better pay? No. No it does not. Because it doesn’t have to. The fast-food owner can fire Bob the moment he starts making noise about wanting better pay and snatch someone else up who’s unemployed. That job won’t go unfilled for long. And neither will the ‘competitors’ fast-food job go unfilled for long. Plenty of people want work.

And the next thing to note – their pretend math is all wrong. I’m fine with pretend math; but any restaurant owner who is running at such a tight margin that a minimum wage increase would make some of his workers unprofitable is not going to be in the restaurant business for long. Want some more realistic numbers? Sure – I’m making these up but they’re at least closer to realistic: $8/hr labor, a fry cook can make around a burger every 5 minutes (12 burgers an hour) – they sell for maybe 5$ each. Your average fry cook is earning you $60/hr revenue and you’re paying him $8. A bump to $10.00 is not going to break the bank. And your less-profitable cook is bringing in only $50/hr, but is still useful.

Corporations Must Maximize Profits for Shareholders

The real problem of depressed wages is at the bottom part of the worker pay-scale, but to show that the problem exists all throughout various different pay-grades – look at the anti-poaching agreements a whole bunch of silicon valley giants had. These are for engineering jobs at various tech companies, so I don’t think a single salary we’d be talking about here would be less than $100,000 – probably more like $150,000 and more. These anti-poaching agreements which were deemed anticompetitive by the Department of Justice, by the way. They were entered into to prevent Silicon Valley companies from poaching each other’s employees. Why? To keep salaries from escalating. And these are the same companies that constantly beg to increase the number of H-1B visas. Is that because they can’t fill jobs? No, it’s because they can’t fill jobs as cheaply as they want.

Now there were people like Henry Ford who deliberately paid their employees more than they needed to – in order to improve retention, get higher-quality employees, and improve employee performance. But that’s the rarity. I don’t think we can bank on everyone being as smart as he was. (He was also a antisemitic asshole, but we’re just looking at a small piece of the business side of him). Costco is another modern example of deliberately paying higher wages in exchange for heightened productivity – but it also seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

The rule will always be: A CEO must maximize the profits of a company for his or her shareholders. There can’t really be any other way that I think makes any sense. You could even argue that a CEO who did not do these kinds of things is not acting in the best interest of shareholders, and should be fired. So they will pay the minimum they feel they can for as long as they can to maximize profit – and one might argue that’s what they should do.


So I would argue we can assemble these bits of information together – we don’t have a free market (when it comes to labor), and we probably can’t get one. Corporations are reaping the highest profits they’ve ever had, as a fraction of labor. And they’re going to pay as little as they can for wages. So what’s the simplest, bare-minimum piece of legislation we can pass to help try to fix the problem? Crank up the minimum wage a little bit.

There are also some side-effects of extremely low-paying jobs – they end up costing the government money, in terms of food stamps or other assistance. It effectively means the government is subsidizing these extremely low-paying jobs – allowing corporations to pay less than they should for labor, and making up the difference out of its own pocket. Now of course any libertarian worth his/her salt will immediately say “there should be no such government assistance programs!” but they’re there, and I don’t think they’re going away (And those programs aren’t what this is about).

So the problem – people working hard and still being in poverty – has a lot of causes and reasons behind it, but the simplest workaround for our inefficient markets remains the same – just bump up the minimum wage a bit.


If the labor market was as competitive as the PC hardware market I described above – there would be no need for a minimum wage, and if there were one you certainly wouldn’t need to raise it. This is the view of most libertarians that I have read. But the two pieces of evidence – highest corporate profits ever, plus minimum-wage-increase doesn’t affect unemployment – really seem like a solid one-two punch. Why do they (we?) get it so wrong?

Because the libertarian viewpoint on supply-and-demand for labor is like a junior high school student’s view of physics. Sure, junior high physics isn’t really wrong – well, at speeds close to the speed of light I guess it is – it’s just simplified. But every example in that physics class starts with “assuming a perfect sphere, and a vacuum, and no gravity…”

But real physics examples deal with nonuniform bodies, friction, air-resistance, gravitational pull, non-perfect springs – and so on. And real economics problems need to deal with “friction” of their own. They don’t deal with friction, only with ‘perfect markets’ – which are probably more the exception than the rule.


And really at the end, what does a minimum wage mean? I would argue it’s the minimum price of human dignity. A true, pure, traditional libertarian would say that if someone wanted to work for a nickel an hour, he or she should be able to. But a place where that would actually be happening doesn’t sound to me like America. This is one of those rare occasions where I actually want the government to step in and say, “No, you can’t do that. Pay them a reasonable amount that they can live on, or figure out another business model. What you’re doing is bullshit.” If your company can’t operate without labor that costs less than the minimum wage, then your company shouldn’t exist. Most libertarians don’t believe that a person has a right to sell him or herself into slavery (only “most”) – so we are already setting a lower bound on wages, in a sense. I’m just arguing that bound can, and should, go up.

Partisan Test!

Okay! Time to determine your political sophistication.

  1. What political affiliation are you? If you answer in a heartbeat, -10 points. If you prevaricate a little before answering, -5 points. If you say something other than “Democrat” or “Republican”, +0 points. If you answer “Conservative” or “Liberal”, you should probably give up this test – you’re going to lose.
  2. Have you ever voted for a member of the ‘opposite’ party?
  3. Who is the stupidest/worst/lamest/etc member of your party? Or name someone who you respect from the opposite party (need not necessarily vote for).
  4. Name something good said by a member of the opposite party.
  5. Any issue you don’t back your party with?
  6. Any issue where you agree with the ‘other’ party?
  7. What kind of thing, theoretically, would have to happen for you to leave your party?

If you had a hard time answering the questions because you don’t know which party is ‘your’ party and which is the ‘other’ party – you’re lying. Everyone leans. Or else you’re saying if you average up your votes for all things that it does end up right down the middle then you’re a weirdo.

If you easily answered the questions – answering #1 in a heartbeat and easily able to say that ‘no’ or ‘nothing’ is your answer for everything else, you are a douche. People like you make political discourse in the US into simple mudlsinging and label-attaching. When your party decends into some awful, terrible place from which all reasonable people will climb out, you will cling on. Congratulations. You are a Nazi. You kill women and children. You lose.

If you answered Yes to all the questions you are still lying. Stop it!

If you answered Yes to a couple of the questions, then good. You are interesting.

Thank you!

Gym & Day Laborers

So, first off – I went to the gym yesterday! YAY! Small victories must be celebrated, I suppose. I decided I should do 45 minutes, instead of 30, and here’s why:

  1. In case I miss one, I would at least end up going twice for 45 minutes, and end up doing 900 calories of work.
  2. If it takes me 5 minutes to get ready, and 10 minutes to go to the gym (or vice-versa), then I do 30 minutes at the gym, then the same commute back home, I end up spening 1 hour in order to attend the gym for 30 minutes. This is a 0.5 efficiency ratio. Inefficiency is bad. Instead, I spend 1 hour and 15 minutes in order to go to the gym for 45 minutes, which is 0.6 efficiency.

I may even try to step it up to 1 full hour, in order to realize a 0.66…(repeating) efficiency. I don’t feel dead or tired or anything today – so why not? Although I think I’m at the ‘sweet spot’ of efficiency and everything right now. We’ll see. I have to remember to always make small tweaks, not big changes, until I can start hitting some goals. Current weight: 181.5. Ouch.

Next off is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while. When we hear the debates about illegal immigration and day laborers and such we think about California and Texas and farm-work and such. But I live in a nice little area of Queens called Astoria – bordering Long Island City – and I’ve found that it’s here, as well.

Lately, I’ve been taking a different path to get to the train – that no longer passes the Dunkin’ Donuts and goes out of my way, because I’m trying to save money and so on and the Dunkin’ Donutses suck in my area (My old ones were awesome – fast, efficient, nice. These suck, they’re slow and they fuck up my order all the time). Anyways, now I end up passing a little hardware-store – a sorta mini Home Depot. And I keep seeing a ton of Mexican guys lined up outside of there, drinking coffee and chatting with eachother. I suspected that hanging out outside the hardware store was a convenient place for them to pick up work, and one day I saw a van pull up across the street – suddenly everyone started running over to it! Today, I saw another van pull up and the guys run over to it, and the dude in the van started saying something something “pintura” – which I think means Painter. So he was looking for someone to help him paint. He was some kind of commercial vehicle, with a logo on the side and everything.

So I’m weirded out by this whole situation – these guys are prepared to do an honest day’s work (I assume) and I’m sure are getting paid less than prevailing wages. The various vans that drive up get labor for cheap… but now we’ve knocked out the potential work for all of the legal US citizens in this line. Because if the dude in that one van that picks up his painter can now charge less than a dude who doesn’t – well, we consumers will always pick the cheaper, so we’re forcing his hand.

What do you do? Embracing law-breaking or bending is bad – this is one of the many lessons that Prohibition taught us. So we either need to legalize this, or find a way to regulate it.

So I don’t know what the best solution is, but what we’re doing now is not working. My gut says, make a way for people to come here and work, that’s relatively streamlined, and simultaneously do better enforcement on the labor side…I just hate the idea of getting all involved in this guy’s van though. How convenient is it for him – he drives up to where he knows the workers are, says I need a painter, and gets a painter for the day. Am I going to make him record that he used painter Joe Blow and paid him $X …? I guess. You have to do that for whatever business you’re in, too bad. I feel like the real violations of these laws happen here, at the guy-with-van level. Any place big enough to get ‘noticed’ will be careful about any kind of illegal work. So do we send enforcers to this dude’s van? Chasing around a whole bunch of dude’s vans? I dunno. Maybe the better way to do it is at the homeowner-who-hires the Van level. But he’s not going to want to call the INS or USCIS (new name?) on the guys working on his kitchen, is he?