Author: Seth Ellingson

Government intervention needed to end poverty

In recent years, the Great Recession has highlighted the need to reform our economy. We don’t need a massive overhaul of our existing principles, but rather something more subtle and gradual. We don’t need a revolution, but instead, reform. The reform should come in the form of regulations.

Poverty is one of our capitalist society’s most unsavory problems. Countless doctrines have produced systemic fixes to this blight, yet the problem still persists. However, capitalism exists in varying degrees depending on a nation’s development level. In other words, solutions for some countries will not fix the same problems in other countries.

The 20th century has seen the rise and fall of several confident economic doctrines. The United States saw its fair share of economic shakedowns and breakdowns during that tumultuous century. Yet, as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich pointed out, we did not turn to the extremes of fascism or communism. Rather, we worked on reforming our brand of capitalism.

Regulations and capitalism go together like alcohol on a wound: It stings for a bit but in the long run it heals up nicely. Even the grandfather of modern day laissez-faire policy, Adam Smith, advocated tightly maintained banking regulations. Predatory practices in seemingly small fringe parts of the economy such as banking should have their own leash laws. Such regulations are necessary for the preservation of basic liberty and of course the destruction of poverty.

Both developed and developing countries can benefit from one simple reform: greater government presence in the economy. This idea does not advocate a soviet-style redistribution of wealth but simply an increase of government supervision in the economy. The Great Recession and the blight of poverty signal that the idea of free market capitalism is failing us.

Free market principles perpetuate poverty instead of assuaging it. Right-leaning politicians usually claim that increased competition will drive down costs, increase efficiency and lead to higher-quality products. However, any economics major will tell you that “competition” is not a determinant of supply.

Take the health care industry for example. The free market system in the U.S. led to 50 million uninsured Americans with millions more stuck with junk health insurance. Enter the Affordable Care Act. Sure, the website has some glitches and is a bit rough around the edges, but the government-sponsored online marketplace works toward equity in health insurance. The main problem with the Affordable Care Act is that the government is not going far enough. The same holds true for the economy: the government is not going far enough.

If the government participated in our lives more, poverty levels in the United States and in other developed countries would drop. In underdeveloped countries, governments can sponsor microloans instead of having wealthy individuals taking matters into their own hands. This practice would lead to a greater business presence with a grassroots twist in developing countries. On the other hand, regulations in the more complex aspects of developed countries’ economies would allow for more equality in income distribution. Industries such as health care and banking would not make a ridiculous profit from people’s lives.

In short, President Reagan should have announced that free market principles are not the solution; they are the problem.

Seth Ellingson ’15 is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in political science and Russian.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Ultimate: not ready for varsity status

On a brisk October afternoon near Old Main, you may be able to hear shouts and see the fluid motions of a handful of Oles in their physical prime chasing after a lazy, hovering disc. It’s another ultimate frisbee practice. Ultimate frisbee and college go together like birthdays and cake. However, the activity is growing from a recreational pastime into a full-blown professional sport. More and more professional ultimate frisbee teams are popping up all over the country. Is this a sign that it’s time to promote ultimate frisbee from a fun and competitive club sport into a varsity sport?

Given the bureaucratic toil required to christen a new varsity sport, a new varsity ultimate team seems unlikely in the near future. The promotion of one sport into the varsity group is a long and tedious process that involves tremendous amounts of funding and interest. The biggest roadblock is the absence of an existing MIAC league for a potential varsity team to join. In order to form such a league, there must be an existing sizable fan base. Currently, no such fan base exists. After a league forms, there needs to be appropriate funding, coaches and much more. Ultimate frisbee needs a transformation before it can take its place among the varsity sports.

First, the sport needs to be more fan-friendly. Football and soccer draw fans in with their innate watchability. You can experience the electricity of cheering with thousands of other fans for your favorite team. You can’t really do that with ultimate because the sport allows players to call their own fouls. While this practice saves face and upholds the philosophy of fairness in the sport, it’s terribly boring to watch. The last thing a fan wants to see after watching a breathtaking play is two players gingerly arguing over a penalty call.

Second, ultimate needs to ditch the stereotypes associated with the sport. Ultimate teams are seen as functioning more as cults than as teams you can take pride in. This exclusiveness gives the sport a negative vibe. People should give ultimate frisbee a chance, but the teams should also be more open to the student body.

Third, the sport needs a new name. With a name like “ultimate,” it is difficult to take the whole sport seriously. The name gives the sport a vibe similar to slamball, a basketball-like game played on trampolines.

Ultimate is not the only sport that should be considered to make the transition to varsity status. In my opinion, if any sport deserves to be a varsity sport, it is lacrosse. The St. Olaf men’s lacrosse team already competes in the Upper Midwest Lacrosse League, a league that practically functions at a varsity level. They hire outside coaches, put on clinics for youth players, sell their own merchandise and even participate in pseudo-recruiting.

Although the St. Olaf lacrosse team has great potential, it can only go so far as a club sport if financed with club dues. The lacrosse team needs the hefty financial assistance that comes with the varsity title to keep building the program.

However, even lacrosse’s promotion to varsity status seems a long way off. The sport as a whole is still relatively new to the Midwest and needs more time before the MIAC can form a proper league.

The very existence of St. Olaf’s lacrosse and ultimate teams relies on the dedication of athletic college students who love sports but don’t want or are not able to compete at a varsity level. Right now, I do not believe that becoming a varsity team should be an immediate concern for either ultimate or lacrosse.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Minimum wage should reflect “living wage”

“Economic recovery” is a term that we have seen thrown around since 2009. Jobs seem to be the central issue for at least one party in Washington. Minnesota legislators are contemplating a boost to the state minimum wage, which currently rests at $6.15 an hour. In addition to all the moral reasons for raising the minimum wage for all those individuals working full weeks but still living in poverty, there is also an economic reason.

The United States has the second lowest minimum wage in the industrialized world. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Last year, Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour. However, with countries such as Australia sporting a $17 an hour minimum wage, I do not believe such a small increase will be enough.

Besides, given the situation in Washington, legislators are unlikely to change anything concerning the minimum wage at this time. We do not just need a higher minimum wage. We need a living wage to solve our economic problems.

The only hope for a change is at the state level. Many opponents of a minimum wage increase believe the change will cause higher unemployment and fewer work opportunities. However, a person with a family of four working 40 hours per week at minimum wage is unable to live at the federal poverty line.

If lawmakers actually cared for those peoples’ well-being, they would have set a living wage long ago. Lawmakers in St. Paul need to consider the economic implications of having a large section of the population unable to purchase goods and services.

The two bills currently competing in the Minnesota Legislature set the minimum wage at $9.50 and $7.75. The increase would give some 360,000 Minnesotans a raise including many college students.

However, I think both bills should be retracted in favor of a more robust increase to between $12 and $15 an hour, depending on age. Furthermore, this increase should not be a one time occurrence. The increase should be tied to a percentage of the median wage. A $12 living wage would set the lowest income earners at 60 percent of median income earners.

With such a large increase in the minimum wage, not only would nearly half a million Minnesotans get a raise, they will also be lifted out of poverty and have more disposable income. Many of the Minnesotans living in poverty would have more money to buy goods, save for education and even invest in the economy.

Opponents of such an increase are quick to point out that businesses will lay off workers en masse. However, economists disagree about whether raising the minimum wage leads to higher unemployment. Raising the minimum wage does not affect demand for products. In fact, if more income is available to lower income earners, there may be an increase in demand. In this case, businesses can’t cut workers because such an action would decrease their profits.

Businesses could look to Costco for an example of a business whose workers earn $50,000 a year and whose CEO still earns $650,000 a year.

The bottom line is that Minnesota should establish a living wage that allows more people to spend money.

Seth Ellingson ’15 is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in political science and Russian.


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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Paid college teams lose integrity

On Sept. 16, TIME Magazine ran a cover story on the issue of paying college athletes. The article argued that since teams make hundreds of millions of dollars from the players, they should get a slice of the pie. But shelling out big bucks to compensate players would only help a handful of athletes at a handful of schools.

The two sports that are especially in contention are basketball and football. College football already has good things going for it, however. College players play for the love of the game, while professional players play for the love of the contract.

Upsets happen all the time in college football because no one team has a monopoly on player talent. Rivalries actually mean something in college football. Best of all, we don’t have to sit through eight hours of pregame coverage for the BCS championship thank goodness. Schools generate nine-figure revenues that are not hindered by payment to players.

Paying players would only benefit a small percentage of players while completely demolishing the game for the other players and fans. Only 200 football players in the NCAA each year make it to the NFL. That means only 2.4 percent of college players actually make it to the NFL. The rest of the players in the NCAA get a free college education while playing a sport they love. Since the players are not making millions of dollars, the game is infinitely more interesting to watch because they players actually care about the game.

The revenue schools make from sports programs benefits the entire school. Schools with successful athletic teams often see jumps in application rates. Increased earnings from application fees go back to paying for better facilities across campus. If colleges paid players, the sports teams would isolate themselves from the campus, since revenue would just go back to paying players. They wouldn’t be college teams but semi-pro club teams that happen to be in the vicinity of a college campus.

Besides, college athletes already get paid. Star athletes get full ride scholarships, and since college tuition is rising exponentially, that is a respectable paycheck. I will admit that athletes should receive stipends since they cannot work on campus like other students. But it isn’t fair to increase payment to NFL or NBA levels when the rest of the campus struggles with tuition and unpaid internships.

There are more people who need to get paid over star college athletes. For example, Olympic athletes do not get paid for competing in the games. The International Olympic Committee nets about $625 million selling broadcasting rights. Olympic players take home zero dollars from that mammoth sum of money. They are compensated based on the medals they receive, with gold being worth $25,000, but they receive nothing for the years they spend training. During those years, they often live on food stamps and subsidized housing.

Sure, college football is not perfect, but it is much better than that degenerate cousin we call the NFL. Paying players would make college football more like the NFL and thus just another annoyance to put up with watching football. Besides, we shouldn’t be talking about paying players before we have fixed the real problem in college football: the BCS ranking system. If we want to change college sports, we should change the BCS ranking system first. If we want to change player payment, we should pay Olympic athletes first. If we want good football to watch, we should not pay college players.


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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Congress must be held responsible

Early last week, President Obama held a press conference to announce, well, nothing. Obama commented on the rising number of inmates who are on hunger strikes at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay Gitmo. He announced another attempt to close the controversial prison. This move was surprising because Obama promised to close the 12-year-old prison while campaigning for his first term.

However, the president should not shoulder the blame on this issue because it is really a problem with Congress. Controversy surrounding Gitmo touches on a deeper issue of congressional responsibility, mainly the seemingly disproportionate power of the legislative branch and, consequently, the disproportionate blame on the executive.

In George W. Bush’s last year in office, he made a surprising promise: he promised to close Gitmo before the end of his term. Obama made the same promise on the campaign trail. One would think that the commander-in-chief would have jurisdiction over a military prison, but that is not the case.

Congressional demagogues from both sides of the aisle blocked the funding of prisoner transportation after Obama rolled out plans to shut down the camp within one year. New detainees stopped coming to Gitmo and the administration drew up plans for detainee transfer to foreign countries. Without funds to transport the prisoners, however, they stayed put. Gitmo is now in limbo: It is not quite closed, and prisoners still cannot leave.

Unfortunately, Obama has taken most of the flak on this issue. The media should be harpooning Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, the men who fought for Gitmo to remain open. Focusing on multiple people is harder, though, because they could share responsibility or provide different perspectives on the issue. The president is one person that everyone can identify with, and therefore criticism flows freely upon him.

Accountability in the national system is complex and covers a range of issues. For example, the sequester, which took effect last month, was designed to force both parties to the bargaining table to produce a budget. That did not happen. Citizens should blame Republicans in Congress for this failure, but news pundits still consider it a “failure of leadership” on Obama’s part.

Power in politics is derived from what Teddy Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit.” While the president interacts with the media on a daily basis, members of Congress can wait for the perfect time to usurp the pulpit and push an issue. Last week, CIA officials announced that chemical weapons had been used in Syria. In order to please members of Congress, Obama implied earlier this year that chemical weapons would necessitate US intervention. Now that they have reportedly been used, Obama is trying to verify the reports and take slow steps to alternate forms of aid so that intervention is not necessary. Meanwhile, Republican Senators can have a field day with the press by attacking Obama.

Gun control offered another instance of congressional power gone wrong. Obama promised immediate action following the Sandy Hook shootings and issued several executive orders, while legislators in the Senate advocated for stronger background checks. These proposed background checks, which garnered over 90 percent approval nationwide, were filibustered to death. The minority that stopped the bill included Senators from small states like Wyoming and Alaska, whose population together is less than the capital of a larger state such as California. Yet these senators held strong influence on the issue.

We need to stop blaming the president for national problems. Currently, our problems hinge on a few self-righteous demagogues in Congress. We have ways to push greater congressional accountability.

Media outlets could cast greater scrutiny on the votes and moves of individual Representatives and Senators. In the long run, legislators could introduce more comprehensive measures. Amendments to the Constitution could be passed allowing for recall elections on all members of Congress or barring congressmen from running for re-election. Right now, we can all start critiquing members of Congress and what they are doing to the nation.

Seth Ellingson ’15 is from Powder Springs, Ga. He majors in political science and Russian.

Graphic Credit: Alli Livingston/Manitou Messenger

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote