Politics, Workforce Development

Biases and Flaws in Occupational Licensing: A Barrier to Economic Mobility

For the last 10 years, my focus in academic studies, community involvement, and professional pursuits has centered on increasing access to economic opportunity. Affordable education programs, like those I developed at Coursera, are useful for unlocking new careers for historically underrepresented populations. Equally important is the identification and removal of regulations that create unnecessary barriers to entry and disproportionately burden low-income and immigrant communities.

In a recent Atlantic article, Jerusalem Demsas writes about the proliferation of professional licensing requirements. These state-mandated licenses – generally not transferable across states and usually requiring a college degree – exist across fields from landscaping to interior design and beauty. The requirements for these licenses are typically informed by interest groups that represent existing professionals in that field. However, these existing professionals may be biased towards driving wages higher and decreasing overall employment.

Though the need for licensing is important in areas like medicine and heavy machine operation (in order to ensure safety, for instance), too often occupational licensing exists only to protect incumbent professionals at the detriment of those who need these opportunities most. For instance, Demsas cites one study of immigrant workers that found, “… an average county could expect a 17.6 percent decline in [immigrant] Vietnamese manicurists per capita for every 100 extra hours of required training.”

These licensing rules focus narrowly on prescribed pathways. This gets to Demsas’ main point – licensing rules all to often create unnecessary barriers to entry with-out aligning with what consumers/citizens require of them:

I don’t need government workers to license interior designers to ensure that a restaurant is aesthetically pleasing; I need them to certify that the food is safe by regularly inspecting establishments. I don’t need the government to decide who’s qualified to work as a locksmith; I can ask my neighbors or check Yelp for advice. And although a test may be appropriate to guarantee that someone can operate a forklift, a college degree most certainly isn’t.

Importantly, this isn’t an argument for ‘small government’, as Demsas concludes, “A strong government well staffed with experts would write clear regulations and enforce them” rather than, “[impose] permission-slip requirements pushed by interest groups,” and “rel[y] on consumers to pursue private legal remedies if anything goes wrong.” When we, or our elected officials, abdicate responsibility in writing these laws, we allow those with the most to lose the ability to create higher and higher and higher barriers to entry. At the same time, by implementing smarter, rather than more, policies we can expand access to opportunity for the communities that need it the most.

Articles, NOPNA, Politics

SF’s Other Epidemic

In 2020, 235 San Franciscans tragically died due to COVID-19. In the same time period, SF saw nearly three times as many deaths (699) from accidental drug overdoses. Policies such as social distancing, which have saved so many lives by ebbing the spread of COVID-19, may have contributed to social isolation and reduced the likelihood of people being revived from an overdose. 

Though these crises may feel disconnected, the solutions to both should be viewed as complementary, rather than competing, public health priorities. As a society we’ve proven our ability to mobilize relatively effective measures to control/reduce Covid-19 deaths; we need to use the same level of urgency and public health investment to combat the Opioid Epidemic and its growing fatalities.  

Approximately 500 (or two-thirds) of the overdose deaths in San Francisco in 2020 were caused by Fentanyl. Fentanyl, an increasing cause of overdose deaths throughout the US, is roughly 25-50 times stronger than heroin and is often mixed into heroin bags or other pills – catching even experienced drug users by surprise. Due to its low price and decentralized sources, Fentanyl has proven difficult to target using traditional criminal enforcement mechanisms. Rather than address these failures exclusively through enforcement reform, it’s critical to adopt a more holistic approach centered on health and emphasizing proven solutions over social stigma.

So what would a public health approach to preventing drug deaths look like? The CDC and organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance advocate a number of approaches including:

  • readily available testing kits (to identify Fentanyl)
  • data and emerging technologies – from tracking safe drugs supplies, to monitoring over-prescription and guiding decision-making for physicians
  • treatments such as Methadone and/or buprenorphine to address addiction at the point of care
  • access to Naloxone (aka Narcan) which treats narcotic overdose in an emergency situation

In 2020 alone, trained community members (including users and family members) in SF were able to reverse at least 2,600 overdoses with Narcan. The question is not whether these policies are effective, it is how can we make them more readily available?

One obvious answer is to incorporate these services into other health facilities such as emergency rooms or Navigation Centers and to create dedicated locations such as needle exchanges or even better, safe injection sites to test, treat, and trace. Safe injection sites like those in Europe and Canada, which have been proposed by SF elected officials like Senator Scott Weiner and Mayor Breed (whose sister died of an overdose), have been shown to prevent overdose deaths, reduce the spread of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV, and help get users into treatment.

While maintaining the same urgency and coordination we’ve used to prevent COVID-19 deaths, we need to shift from an overly-criminalized focus on enforcement and supply reduction to one characterized by regulation and harm reduction. These solutions require both public backing and investment – a meaningful first step is to support progressive legislation (proposed by SF’s own Scott Weiner) which can make meaningful change.


  • SF Chronicle, “2020 was S.F.’s deadliest year for overdoses, by far.” Link
  • SFIST, “SF Saw Triple the Number of Overdose Deaths Than COVID-19 Deaths in 2020.” Link
  • NPR, “’We Are Shipping To The U.S.’: Inside China’s Online Synthetic Drug Networks.” Link
  • CDC, “Evidence-Based Strategies for Preventing Opioid Overdose: What’s Working in the United States.” Link
  • Homeland Preparedness News, “San Francisco Police Department cites Naloxone success in reducing opioid overdoses.” Link
  • Drug Policy Aliance, “Key Harm Reduction Issues.” Link
  • Deloitte, “Strategies for stemming the opioid epidemic.” Link

The Case for Youth Stimulus

(or, “the angst created by too much time debating politics with my parents”)

Yet again, a post authored nearly a year ago but never published. I’m posting now for archival purposes.


Since shelter-in-place began, I’ve been fortunate enough to escape my apartment in San Francisco to live at home with my 70-year-old parents. This arrangement has been generally agreeable (and again, incredibly fortuitous), save a few, tense Zoom lessons, recipe mishaps, and an ongoing disagreement about the economic outlook of my generation. My parents, not so different from the presumptive Democratic nominee, feel their hard work, both in accumulating wealth and in advocating for civil rights for women, LGBT, and people of color, has made the world undeniably better, particularly for their children. Yet, as my generation endures the second catastrophic economic event in our short adult lives, it’s worth taking a look at the current economic circumstances my generation is coming of age within. 

By looking at the two greatest sources of opportunity and wealth – education and housing – it’s easy to see how different the modern economy looks for today’s young people. These differences, fueled by decades of tax policies designed to protect existing wealth, threaten to create a cycle of inequality that will ultimately weaken our economy and our democracy. In order to create a fairer America, one with the type of consumers our economy counts on, we need to implement tax policies directly aimed at creating opportunities for all generations. 

Education has always been the key to the American dream and for much of the last century, this has come in the form of a college degree. For my parents, who graduated undergrad in 1970, the reality of a college education was drastically different than it is today. These changes, caused by ballooning administrative costs, a lack of state and federal funding and oversight, and the refusal of elite colleges to expand available seats, has resulted in a less valuable experience across most metrics (see: Table 1) This starts with the competitiveness of the application process – UCLA’s acceptance rate, for example, has decreased by 62 percentage points since 1980. Once accepted, the average cost of college for full-time undergraduate students has increased by 143% resulting in nearly $25k per student in debt. To cap it off, students who graduate can also expect a 60% lower ROI (see table). 

Upon graduation, my parents, young firebrands as they were, moved to the Bay Area and accepted jobs in the government, each earning around $13k a year. Realizing their income would not be their key to accumulate wealth, they took the next step in the American dream and acquired a home. Due to affordability, this option is much less realistic today. As a whole, while the median starting salary has stayed the same, the median home price has doubled. For those living in cities (a growing percentage), the picture is even worse. In SF, where both my parents and I moved after college, the median home price is $1,299,000, and average rent is $1,858 month. Millennials, juggling rising rent,  poor job prospects, student loan debt, and lack of access to credit are increasingly less likely to purchase a new home – among 25-34 year-olds, homeownership has fallen 10% since 1980

Starting Salary (in 2017 Dollars)$52,335$50,219
Admission Rate (UCLA)74% (1980)12%
Tuition (in 2017 Dollars)$9,818$23,091
ROI on Tuition~6x~2x
Medium Home Cost (in 2017 Dollars)$113,000$221,800
Home Cost / Salary Ration~2x~4.5x
Median Rent (in 2017 Dollars)$718$901 
Note: In SF, the median household income is $96,265, the median home cost is $1,299,000, and rent was $1,858 month.

The result of both of these trends will be a nasty cycle of inequality that threatens both our economy and our democracy. The highly competitive, resource-intensive education system is now catering itself to the richest families – in the Ivy League’s 2013 class, five of the eight colleges had more students from the top 1% of the income scale than the bottom 60%. The result of decreased access to the real estate market will be both less diversified and overall wealth combined with whiter, more boring cities. One obvious answer, to encourage young people to live further from the tech-rich urban centers they currently work in, is unlikely to result in increased equality or opportunity. That our largest generational demographic group is saddled with debt and unable to access critical tools for wealth building will result in weaker consumer spending and higher fluctuations in the economy in times of crisis. Americans who are fortunate enough to have their parents pay for their college education (disclaimer: this includes me), or are able to access/inherit a lump sum of cash for a down payment will be lightyears ahead of their peers in economic opportunity. The result of that opportunity will be greater stability, risk-taking abilities,  and general wellbeing.

To avoid this cycle of inequality, it is critical to implement economic measures that expand opportunity and provide stability for young America. This should involve massive investments in educational pathways (college or otherwise) and new housing in high-opportunity areas. To increase the livelihood of young people, we must also raise the minimum wage (perhaps while eliminating payroll taxes) and expanding access to healthcare. These changes can be paid for by directly targeting inequality – raising capital gains taxes and the limit on the amount of mortgage debt on which interest payments are deductible and leveling the top marginal income tax bracket and estate tax exemptions to 1980’s levels. We can further target exclusivity by withholding funding from cities that refuse to build new homes or tax universities who don’t grow freshman seats. These measures are the necessary path to create true opportunity for all generations of Americans. 

Note: A special shout-out to Scott Galloway for much of his analysis and advocacy on this issue. Much or my comparisons in this post use data provided by Professor G. 


The Remarkable Utility of John Rawls

My Introduction to Rawls


Many of today’s political debates seem to focus solely on political ends – red vs. blue, progressive vs. liberal – rather than means used to arrive at those ends. For Liberal, secular members of society, there is (purposefully) no single doctrine that guides the policies we so adamantly advocate. One prominent 20th-century philosopher, John Rawls, realized this and defined a set of values that would be broad enough to meet the needs of disparate parties yet prescriptive enough to provide guidance to our debates. Rawl’s theory, Justice as Fairness, is modern by philosophy standards yet feels particularly relevant for our current times (it’s often cited by bookish politicians from President Obama to Pete Buttigieg.) His writing, rather than painting a utopia, outlined a series of tools we could use to evaluate the fairness of society. In this post, I’ll describe these tools and show why their simplicity offers a powerful yet simple way to analyze the most critical questions we face today. 


My Rapid Rawls Reader


Rawls’ arguments are grounded in social contract theory (shared by other political thinkers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant), which is the idea that governments should be based on the consent of those governed. Rawls wrote that a developed society is, “a society in which (1) everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice, and (2) the basic social institutions generally satisfy and are generally known to satisfy these principles.” Because it is nearly impossible to solicit consent from everyone, his goal was to define a system of governance that free and equal citizens would agree to if given this choice. 

Like John Locke, Rawls also belonged to the political school of (small “l”) liberalism. He believed the government’s role is not to make value judgments but instead to guarantee everyone a basic level of liberty and equality. Rawls was, therefore, not as concerned with the individual, societal values (i.e., faith, generosity, etc.) but rather on what he calls “social justice.” Social justice he saw as being carried out through specific institutions that govern taxation, fiscal policy, education, etc. He thought that if the basic structure of these institutions is just, then society as a whole can be assumed to be just. (I should add that, although Rawls is not interested per se in the interests of individuals, he was concerned with their ability to fulfill their interests.)

In deciding where society should start in this decision-making process, Rawls had a now-famous insight. Rawls feared that principles that individuals would agree on to govern society would be highly skewed according to their place in society (e.g., the wealthiest members may be more likely to accept economic inequalities). To fairly decide the moral code of the institutions in question, Rawls proposed the use of a veil of ignorance. From behind this veil, Rawls argued we would agree to start from an open position where we have no knowledge of our place in society – from income to special interests and preferences. It is only from this position, what he calls the original position, that we could determine how institutions should equitably distribute rights and duties.  

Rawls believed that, behind the veil of ignorance, we would agree on three principles that would serve as the foundation for distributive justice. These principles, which Rawls arranged in order of importance, constitute the focus of justice as fairness:

  • Equal basic liberties: the requirement that every individual in society is granted a “fully adequate scheme” of equal basic liberties.
  • Fair equality of opportunity: Those with similar abilities and skills should have the same life chances.
  • The difference principle: social and economic inequalities should be distributed in such a way to benefit the least-advantaged members of society. 

Key to understanding how Rawls evaluated whether something should be guaranteed, optimized, or ignored is the concept of primary goods. Rawls defined these goods as those any rational man would “prefer more of rather than less” throughout their life, including rights, opportunities, power, and wealth. Rawls categorized Primary goods as either natural or social. Natural goods include intelligence, motivation, and other characters of a person that are distributed at birth through what Rawls called the social lottery. Rawls wrote, “no one deserves his place in the distribution of native endowments, any more than one deserves one’s initial starting place in society.” Because Rawls thought it would be unfair for society to attempt to equalize for these natural inequalities, Rawls’ principles of distributive justice focused on the distribution of goods not allocated by the genetic lottery. These goods, called social goods, include rights and liberties, wealth, income, opportunity, and self-respect. In a perfectly ideal world, social goods would be distributed roughly according to the distribution of natural goods. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, Rawls sought to define a middle ground – allowing for some inherent inequalities while mitigating the tendency of those with natural advantages to retain as much of the social goods as possible for themselves or their families. 

Rawls’ first principle, Equal Basic Liberties, is central to Rawls’ position as a (lowercase “l”) liberal and his belief that all rational individuals demand some level of rights and liberties. Unlike other goods, for which Rawls permits a certain amount of inequality, Rawls argues all individuals are equally entitled to certain rights, including freedom of association, of speech, to vote, and to run for public office. He initially described this theory as the most extensive liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others but updated his thinking in later works to describe a specific set of liberties. Rawls’ theory is set-up such that this principle takes precedence over the other principles (i.e., the second principle cannot be applied to society if the first principle does not stand, etc.) 

The next principle is the principle of Fair Equality of Opportunity (FEO). Rawls initially compares this principle with what we might call a meritocracy. A meritocracy is a system in which jobs, positions, etc. are assigned according to merit (i.e., talents, qualifications, etc.) Rawls takes a further step in stipulating that society should not only assign opportunities according to merit, but also the qualifications necessary to acquire those qualifications. Rawls writes, “Assuming there is a distribution of natural assets, those who are at the same level of talent and ability, and have the same willingness to use them, should have the same prospects of success regardless of their initial place in the social system.” That is, unlike serving as a fundamental requirement of society, Rawls designed FEO to correct for injustice found in society. One example is the economy: Rawls believes the free market alone is not capable of regulating itself to follow this principle, so institutions require policies that “[regulate] the overall trends of economic events and preserve the social conditions necessary for fair equality of opportunity.” Another is education: Rawls thinks all children should have access to equal levels of education, which means he sees tuition to private schools as barriers to access that undermine FEO.

The final principle, the difference principle, states that inequalities in the distribution of social and economic inequalities should be arranged, “to improve the long-term expectation of the least favored.” Importantly, unlike what he calls the Principle of Redress, the principle allows for inequalities as long as those inequalities are in the best interest of society as a whole, especially the worst-off.

In other words, the point of the difference principle is to establish a system in which the worst-off members of society would be better off than in any other possible solution. One example is laissez-faire economics: though many people may benefit from such a system, the system would harm the rest of the population, particularly the worst-off. An alternative example is free trade: if free trade would harm individual firms that rely on tariffs for high-profits but would benefit everyone else, “it is justified even though more specific interests suffer.” The idea is that the worst-off members of society would be better in such a society than any other conception of a basic structure. Rawls looked to groups such as tax collectors or financial regulators to create these rules at the institutional level.  

Together these three principles established a robust but straightforward baseline of freedoms and beliefs that anyone analyzing our society could apply to a broad range of topics from housing (the subject of my college thesis) to education to health care. For example, should healthcare be guaranteed for everyone – entirely or to a limited extent – or are inequalities in care fair insomuch as they create a better overall system? Rawls’ writings on equality of opportunity helped me articulate what I think is fair and just in the world and provided me with tools in which to evaluate the institutions that govern our society. Though Rawls designed his principles to create an ideal world, they work best in assessing our very unideal one.

P.S. A special shoutout to my college advisor, Andrew Schroeder, himself a grand-advisee of John Rawls, for introducing me to his work and to the field of political philosophy in general. 

 Works Cited

  • Pogge, Thomas. Realizing Rawls (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989)
  • Rajczi, Rawls Reader, Unpublished
  • Rawls, John. Political Liberalism, expanded ed., Columbia Classics in Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, ©2005), 5-10.
  • Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. original ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, ©1971.
  • Rawls, John. Collected Papers, ed. Samuel Richard Freeman (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 219-35.

Politics, Workforce Development

Is this the hour of reckoning for contingent labor?

Warehouse employees of the world’s most valuable company walk hand-in-hand into the brisk Minnesota morning to protest a canceled shuttle route. Rideshare drivers crowd the busy sidewalks of San Francisco’s Market Street to advocate for unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation. A neatly formatted business memo, signed by nearly 1,000 full-time employees, is presented to leaders of the world’s preeminent internet company to protest the termination of contractors ranging from Seoul to Mountain View. 

Each of these scenes, taking place in the last 12 months, draws attention to an essential and divisive aspect of today’s economy – contingent or contract-based work. Contingent labor is one of several converging forces (globalization and automation being others) that have drastically shifted the dynamic between workers and employers. This shift has fueled the growth of today’s most innovative companies and contributed to (what was) a record unemployment rate but has also shed light on the lack of benefits afforded to those outside the archetype of full-time employment. In this post, I’ll define what it means to be a contingent worker – its benefits and risks – and why it’s time for our government to reevaluate how we think about employment altogether. 

Staffing agency HCMworks defines contingent workers as “freelancers, independent contractors, consultants, or other outsourced and non-permanent workers who are hired on a per-project basis.” This broad category can include workers as diverse as freelance designers, highly-paid business consultants, or retail employees. Many of today’s most innovative companies and their funders (e.g., Softbank and Uber) use gig or app-based work to quickly scale their operations without needing to account for long-term labor costs (including its associated employee benefits.) This model has connected job-seeking individuals with employers at previously unheard of scale while expanding entry to industries that were historically difficult to enter, such as taxis or hotels. 

The rise of contingent labor can also be tied to another source – technology companies. According to the NY Times, “Contingent labor accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the workers at most technology firms,” translating to nearly 122,000 temps, vendors, and contract workers at Google alone (virtually the only large tech company to release this kind of data). Organizations bring in contractors for specific time-bound projects such as marketing campaigns or new technology capabilities in emerging or experimental areas. Employing individuals in this way allows organizations to target specific, in-demand skills while only budgeting for the duration of the project (saving approximately $100,000 annually per person.) This model is likely to expand as the shelf-life of employee skills shortens, and companies target increasingly specific capabilities. For those who are looking to expand their employee base, contingent workers can serve as a valuable recruiting pipeline, with some companies converting up to 47% of their contractors to full-time employees. 

Contingent work can provide immense value to individuals as well. Contract-based jobs can often mean higher pay while offering flexibility to those looking to take on a second job, pursue a passion project, or care for a family. Access to a network of opportunities, such as in the gig economy, ideally provides individuals the ability to seek out companies with the highest pay, the best culture, or the most innovative products. Contractors, particularly freelancers, often feel a sense of creativity and control in their work that they fear may be missing otherwise. For those with nontraditional backgrounds (e.g., lack of a college degree), these roles can also offer a valuable and accessible pathway to full-time employment in high-paying fields.

The reality for many is that, without the government-mandated protections of full-time jobs, promises of flexibility and access have given way to uncertainty and inequality – what the NY Times calls, “a distinctly modern version of the bait-and-switch.” In a country where benefits are seen primarily as discretionary recruitment and retention tools, a distinct division is likely to grow between those with access to company events, facilities, and world-class training programs, and those without. The result, as we’ve seen this week, is likely to be a massive gap in our national safety net – or as Warren Buffet said, “you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” 

Some groups are already sounding the alarm about the lack of protections afforded to contingent workers. In California, labor unions such as Gig Workers Rising and the California Federation of workers have been central in the push for AB5, which broadens the definition of “employees” to include any worker for whom their job forms a part of a company’s core business (e.g., a driver for a rideshare business.) This type of re-classification would provide workers with benefits such as sick leave and unemployment benefits. These groups are also looking to build on the success of the Domestic Bill of Rights, which pushes for a higher minimum wage, overtime pay, and termination notices. However, as companies look to reverse these bills or create new classifications, it’s clear we must look beyond re-classifications to a complete rethinking of how we view employment altogether.

The time has come for us to create a strong foundation of protections for all workers regardless of their employment status. First and foremost is detangling health care insurance from full-time employment while guaranteeing it for all. The current system, only as old as WWII, provides employers with remarkable power and creates unnecessary uncertainty for workers. We should start viewing training as a similarly valuable commodity and begin exploring programs akin to COBRA for re-training. Lastly, we need to expand policies that benefit all workers, including unemployment insurance and paid leave, while eliminating non-compete clauses and mandatory forced arbitration. Companies will find that these policies provide long-term upside by increasing retention and motivation – saving them HR costs and contributing to their culture. For these policies to go into effect will require influential voices from labor groups as well as the government, but they will strengthen and stabilize the economy in the long run.


The Predictable Pandemic

I recently re-discovered a letter I wrote to Kamala Harris in July of 2018 regarding the Trump administration’s failure to proactively prepare for an epidemic. I share this letter not because I think Trump could have stopped COVID-19 and definitely not because I wanted to be right, but because, by listening to experts like Anthony Fauci, we could have prevented many of the worst aspects of this emergency (e.g., week-long waits for tests, delays in establishing treatment centers, etc.) The best time to prepare was years ago but the next best time is now so please be safe friends!

COVID-19 Harris Letter.jpg


Conclusions from Colorado

I recently spent two weeks volunteering for the Hillary campaign in Colorado. I spent the majority of my time knocking on doors (canvassing) in the 6th congressional district on behalf of the Colorado Democratic Party. When I wasn’t canvassing, I attended events or visited my friend in the campaign headquarters. Though the experience was a fascinating anthropological study, I focus here on two political issues, the campaign as an organization, and the importance of inclusive voting laws.

Ground Game

Throughout my time in Colorado I was incredibly impressed with the sophistication of the Hillary campaign. I was constantly reminded by a 2015 article in NY Time’s Upshot column titled, “Why a Presidential Campaign is the Ultimate Start-Up.” In the article, Neil Irwin compares the growth of recent presidential campaigns with that of firms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Uber. These similarities are most clearly seen in the fundraising pace of campaigns and start-ups. In the time that it took Snapchat to raise almost $200 million, Obama’s 2008 campaign raised nearly $700 million.

These comparison go well beyond fundraising. Chief in my (admittedly Human-capital oriented mind) are the organizational difficulties of creating a campaign of this scale. While Irwin’s article focuses on the leadership capabilities of the campaigns, it is the sheer size of the volunteer base, and the organizers that guides these volunteers that stands out to me. In Colorado alone, there are around 20,000 volunteers for the Hillary campaign. To be as effective as possible these volunteers must be trained, dispatched to the areas in need, and be equipped with the tools to collect valuable data that be reported back to the campaign. Fortunately for the Hillary campaign, most individuals willing to volunteer are highly capable of engaging potential voters. Talented volunteers allow the campaign to devote fewer resources to training and dedicate more attention to other important organizational capabilities.

The rising importance of data for campaign operations creates the need for rapidly scalable platforms for analyzing and operationalizing information for those working in the field. I spent a couple hours observing, and in some cases using, the software tools that the campaign utilizes to infer important insights about potential voters. The difficultly of building these tools mirror the challenges many large organizations face. Some of these challenges include: the need to quickly develop and deploy these tools, the necessity that these state-specific tools interact with national databases, and the difficulty of standardizing the information inputted into these databases.

These are important challenges of a campaign that are not reflected in national headlines. Though policies, media soundbites, and “October Surprises” are crucial to forming voter impressions, so are the ground-operations of a well-run campaign. Making phone calls, knocking on doors, and organizing community events makes a crucial difference in close races. Organizing a national volunteer force to carry out all of these responsibilities is no small order but, as Irwin concludes, it may be an important indicator of a candidate’s ability to effectively manage the 2.7 million employees of the federal branch. The presidential candidate who has most effectively organized such a campaign is no mystery in this election and we will see shortly how it has paid off.

Voting Laws

Colorado’s voting laws are some of the most progressive in the country. Colorado law allows same-day voter registration so voters can register at the polls on election-day and does not require a photo ID for registration. While my own state of California does not allow for same-day registration, it does however offer automatic registration for anybody who interacts with the DMV (a policy that Colorado and nearly 30 other states are considering.)

Where Colorado most impressed me was its absentee voting laws. Not only does Colorado not require an excuse for absentee voting (it is one of 30 state to do so), it is also one of three states to allow all-mail voting (the others are Oregon and Washington). All registered voters are automatically delivered an absentee ballot regardless of the size of the election (some states, including California, only allow for all-mail elections in smaller precincts or for particular elections.)  Voters can either mail their ballots, drop-off their ballots in a number of “drop-boxes” which open up two weeks prior to the election, or vote in-person at a voting location (for the sentimentalists).

It is clear that these laws are meant to encourage voting by allowing flexibility around how one casts their vote. Early voting laws most affect working families who may be unable to find time on election-day to go to the polls. Anecdotally, I found that nearly 8/10 families I spoke to were planning to or were already able to utilize the drop-box voting option. The quantity and complexity of ballot measures alone can be overwhelming so additional time to review the ballot is particularly important for working families and families who speak English as a second language.

Increasing early voting has been a crucial aspect of the HRC campaign. Republicans historically fare well in early voting while Democrats make up the difference on Election Day. Hillary has several incentives to focus on early voting. By building an early lead, Hillary may hope to deter Republicans who see the result as inevitable. Another (perhaps unspoken) reason for the campaign’s focus on early voting, is that Hillary was up 5-7 points in national polls when early voting opened with not major controversies on the horizon. This is demonstrated in Trump’s recent comments about early voters recalling their ballots as he attempts to make up for Hillary’s momentum in early returns.

The importance of these laws go beyond politics. Countless voters who I spoke to over the past few weeks have lamented on their choice between what they see as two unfavorable candidates. It was clear to me that the most important aspect of all was their ability to choose. It was the families in the most disenfranchised communities that were most welcoming to me, and the most eager to be a part of the democratic process. Colorado’s voting laws not only made voting easier in the practical sense, it also sent an important signal that everyone’s voices mattered equally. This sentiment should ring true with any freedom-loving American no matter their politics.










College, Politics

[Senior Thesis] Just Housing: An Examination of Inequality in John Rawls’ Theory of Justice as Fairness

Date of Submission: April 2015

Readers: Alex Rajczi, Andrew Schroeder

Department: Philosophy and Public Affairs


How would a housing system work in a just society? How do we account for differences in opportunity according to one’s birthplace? These two questions, both a result of our recent housing crisis, can be addressed through inquiries into policy, economics, history, or other forms of social sciences. In this paper I attempt to address these questions instead through a philosophical lens by examining the principles that guide the distribution of goods in our society. It is from such a theory that we can construct the fairest government or economic policies.

Theories of distributive justice try to account for the fairest distribution of goods in a society. I take one such theory, John Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness, and apply it to the distribution of housing. I begin by deconstructing the core principles of Rawls’ theory and analyzing how each applies to housing. Then I make an argument about the fairness of these outcomes. My conclusion is, in fact, Rawls theory does not adequately account for the importance of housing in our society. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate the inequalities that face families throughout our society by illustrating the profound impact of housing on one’s well-being as well as one’s opportunity to succeed.


Full Text: http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cmc_theses/1195/