Sharing isn’t socialist behavior

If it’s not yours, it’s not yours to share. Sharing not only implies, but requires ownership. Why do people share what they have with others? There are many economic incentives that might cause people to act selflessly. Explore some of them in Cost Benefit, Jr.!

Blockchains: decentralized ledgers

A blockchain is very similar to both a paper ledger and a digital spreadsheet but differs from both in one very important way: a blockchain can’t be altered. The reason it can’t be altered is because it’s decentralized: no one person or entity has control over it. Its data can’t be removed, changed, or censored.

What is a blockchain?

Blockchain technology is changing the world at a rapid pace. Kids just becoming familiar with terms like blockchain, hash, and hardfork might need some help to better understand them. So we’re going to spend some time explaining these concepts on a level kids can understand. And our first question would be, what exactly is a blockchain?

The answer is pretty simple: a blockchain is a ledger.

Way back when, a paper ledger is what accountants used to keep track of money: the incoming money and outgoing debits. Accountants were also called “bookkeepers” because these old ledgers looked like books: the sheets of data were bound for easy storage. And the accountants had to keep or maintain these books of information in order to keep business moving and banks running.

But they weren’t just for money tracking. We’ve used ledgers of all kinds to keep track of any type of data list. For example, a hotel ledger kept a running list of their guests. A sports ledger kept a record of wins, losses, and statistics. A payroll ledger allowed a company to keep track of payments made for the hours their employees worked.

Then, along came computers and we moved our ledgers from paper to digital spreadsheets. An accountant could input numbers rather than writing them down, and make automated calculations. These digital spreadsheets were a revolution in bookkeeping because the data could be rearranged and reorganized with a few simple clicks. Columns of data could be added together. Input types could be grouped.

Like the paper and spreadsheet versions that came before, a blockchain can be a list of financial exchanges (and many of them are). But a blockchain can be any list of information that can be digitized. Anything that can be turned into digital data can be recorded on the blockchain.

So a blockchain is very similar to both a paper ledger and a digital spreadsheet. But a blockchain differs from both paper ledgers and spreadsheets in one very important way: a blockchain can’t be altered. A blockchain record makes it impossible to “cook the books” – the act of committing fraud by changing the amounts of a financial ledger.

The reason it’s impossible to alter or “cook” a blockchain record is because it’s decentralized: no one person or entity has control over it. Its data can’t be removed. Its data can’t be altered. Its data can’t be censored. And that one difference makes all the difference!

Next time, we’ll look at how “nodes” work independently yet cooperatively to build the blockchain. (This series was originally published on the @geke account at

Teaching kids to follow the money

As they grow, kids (and adults) make better decisions when they can logically follow the money… the financial incentives influencing any situation. In the case of the healthcare industry and the high costs we all endure, it helps us as consumers to remember to follow the money to see who is being served… and who isn’t. Kids can learn these lessons far younger than we teach them. In fact, to kids, we rarely teach these lessons.

GekeVenn: Z-MEDICA

The federal government does a lot of business with Z-Medica company, and for good reason. The Connecticut-based company manufactures an innovative and life-saving product called QuikClot which  is fielded to every service member in the Defense Department. The product has been authorized for all First Aid Kits, Combat Life Saver Bags, and Medical Corpsman Kits.

The US military tested various antihemorrhagic technologies after 9/11 and QuickClot received the highest test score. As a result, the US armed forces approved its use.

But regardless of its products’ usefulness, the close connections between Z-Medica and the government are just as troubling as those of any corporation.

Back in 2016, Z-Medica received President Obama’s “E” Award for Exports during a ceremony in Washington, DC. This award is the highest form of recognition any U.S. company can receive from the government for expanding US exports. It was presented to Z-Medica by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. 

A few  months later, Senator Chris Murphy (CT-D.) highlighted Z-Medica as “Murphy’s Monday Manufacturer,” a weekly award the senator hands out. 

According to Wikipedia, “The Department of Defense is funding research to explore other applications of QuikClot products in bleeding associated with traumatic injuries.”

Harvard’s new president was former member of Obama education initiative

Harvard University is given millions of dollars in public funding every year, which has made the school a legitimate target of investigation by the Justice Department in light of allegations of admissions discimination. In fact, Harvard is facing suits not only by the Justice Department, but also an organization called Students for Fair Admissions and a coalition of many Asian-American groups.

But rather than simply comply with both demands to see admissions records and to obey the law, Harvard has obfuscated, fought back, and continued an institution-wide attitude of entitlement. Its in-house lobbyists ramp up their efforts during “appropriations season.” Last year, Harvard lobbyist Paul Andrew admitted that even the school’s president was active in her attempts to influence Washington lawmakers: “That was why it was important for President Faust to be in Washington early in the year, understanding that the FY17 budget was still in play and she wanted to make a forceful case for the partnership and for research funding.”


Drew Faust is no longer Harvard’s president; she stepped down just last month. But while in that position she was known to meet with lawmakers often. Faust met several times with Massachusetts Representative Niki Tsongas and is a longtime friend of Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey.


Faust seems to do a lot of unregistered lobbying, as its own *Crimson* publication reported: “On a rainy April afternoon, Faust steps out of a black Cadillac Escalade and into the Dirksen Senate Office Building for an appointment. Earlier that morning, she had made the case for government support of higher education at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., and now she was headed to meet with lawmakers to make that same argument.”

Harvard’s focus of late has been its tax-exempt status and humanities funding, both of which have been called into question. Because of this focus, members of the school’s in-house lobbying corps are chosen for their connections to Capitol Hill. Suzanne Day, for example, was involved in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act twice when she worked in Washington.

Harvard’s desired connection to government was best articulated by Faust, herself: “There were certain assumptions that the federal government and universities together would be the bedrock of discovery in the United States.” Not surprisingly, the incoming president, Lawrence Bacow, was a member of the Obama White House, appointed to the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

*IHBCU = Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities*

GekeVenn: SAIC

SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) is an intelligence technology defense contractor based in Reston, Virginia. Part of the company was spun off in 2013 and is now known as Leidos.

SAIC is probably best known for defrauding New York City out of $600 million. SAIC was originally awarded a $63 million contract for its CityTime payroll systems. But as has been pointed out many times in the “How Much Did the Military Spend Yesterday?” series, these contracts are often subject to “modifications” that increase the low bid that originally won the contract. So what was originally a $63 million contract grew into a $700 million fraudulent cost overrun.

SAIC’s most recent contract was awarded by the Navy just two days ago, on August 9, for “production and delivery of integrated command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems, networks and support equipment.”

Note that in-house lobbyist Andy Jazwick served as a senior military legislative assistant for three US senators on the Armed Services Committee and its subcommittees for defense, energy and foreign operations appropriations.


US Steel’s connections to various government agencies allow it to block tariff relief

The New York Times recently reported that US Steel, a company benefiting enormously from Trump’s 25 percent steel tariff, has been able to block tariff relief because of its ties to Trump administration officials. Tariff relief would come in the form of exemption requests and many US companies are asking the Commerce Department for them.

US Steel has successfully denied many of the exemption requests because the company is allowed to object via the Commerce Department. As the New York Times reported, “[T]he Commerce Department, which is overseeing the process [of exclusion requests], also allowed American companies to argue against an exclusion request. The metal tariffs are the only ones so far to have such a process.”

What’s more, the Commerce Department has not granted any exemption requests that have received an objection from companies like US Steel.The request process began back in April, and the AP quoted David Spooner, a former US trade negotiator on the popularity of the process: “It sure seems like Commerce is just drowning in exclusion requests and will struggle to burn through them.”

As luck would have it, Spooner is also a 2018 lobbyist for US Steel. According to his Federalist Society bio: “Mr. Spooner served as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration. In that capacity, Mr. Spooner led U.S. Government enforcement of trade remedy laws, principally the antidumping and anti-subsidy laws. He administered the Foreign Trade Zone system… chaired U.S.-China talks on macroeconomic reforms and the steel industry; and supervised the US Department of Commerce’s import safety initiatives.”

But Spooner may not be the most powerful person connected to US Steel. Gene Sperling, who was a key player in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns as well as a member of both Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s administrations, sits on the board of US Steel. Back in 2016, Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch reported on comments made by Sterling while stumping for Hillary’s presidential campaign:

“Addressing the ongoing steel imports crisis is an example of where Clinton will get tough on China, Sperling said. China is creating massive amounts of steel (that is heavily subsidized by the government), far more than it can use. It needs to get rid of all that excess steel, so it is dumping it into the U.S. market at rock bottom prices, which is unfair to American workers and companies who operate in a free market and play by the rules… Clinton will make clear to China that it cannot support its own steel industry at the expense of American workers, Sperling said.”

So how does Sperling feel about Trump’s steel tariff, the tariff that benefits the company on whose board he sits? CBS News reported in January that, “Sperling voiced support for the president’s stance in regards to Beijing, saying the U.S. is justified in ;fighting against unfair trade practices by China,’ which includes allegations involving the dumping of steel and aluminum. ‘One area where I probably do have a little bit of agreement with Donald Trump is I do believe we needed to be tougher on China, on trade, so I do support that,’ said Sperling. ‘We should take a tougher line with China.'”

What’s more, US Steel has employed three former members of the Office of US Trade Representative: two from the Trump administration and one from Clinton’s.