Author Archives: Jonathan Goff

Service and the Atonement

If you ask an LDS church member to name a scripture related to serving others, one of the ones you’ll likely here the most is from the Book of Mormon, specifically Mosiah 2:17, which states:

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

In some ways this parallels the Savior’s teaching in the New Testament, in Matthew 25:31-46 (specifically verse 40), which in the KJV states:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

I think it’s easy for us to take these verses metaphorically. That serving our fellow beings is furthering God’s goals. Or that doing something (good or ill) unto “the least of these our brethren” is like we’re doing it unto Christ. But what if these verses are less metaphorical than we think?

Isaiah, when he testified of the Messiah in Isaiah 53:4 (repeated by the prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 14:4) stated:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.

And the Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, testified about Christ (in Alma 7:11-12), saying:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people…and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Basically, a lot of times we forget that in addition to the paying “for our sins”, and the “dieing and being resurrected so that we can live again” parts of the Atonement, Christ also somehow willingly experienced all of our pains, sorrows, frustrations, loneliness, guilt, shame, feelings of inadequacy, rejection, and in short all of the injustices and challenges we face in life. Not just those brought upon ourselves by our own poor decisions, but those that come as a result of living in mortality with imperfect bodies, and those caused by the carelessness or willful malice of others. Christ is able to understand us and empathize with us, not because he also had a rough life and bore griefs that were somewhat analogous to our own, but because he experienced the whole of human suffering as part of his Atoning sacrifice.

On the flip side, did he also experience all the small acts of kindness, and service, where people went out of their way to “lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees”? Did he experience the joy that the lonely feel when one reaches out to them to let them know they matter and are cared about? Did he feel the hope restored when we visit someone who is sick or in prison and cheered their hearts? Did he feel the relief of the overwhelmed when someone paused to share their burden with them? Did he feel the relief we feel when someone forgives us of our screwups and mistakes, or when someone shows us undeserved mercy?

I’m not sure how profound this really is, but it was an insight I had this morning that I felt was worth sharing. It definitely put the concept of service in a new light for me.


Filed under LDS Philosophy

One of my Favorite Joseph Smith Quotes

From “The Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (p. 246-47):

But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feeling that influence the children of men, causes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, “according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,” or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, “not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,” those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.

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Filed under LDS Philosophy

Does the 1968 Inflation-Adjust Minimum Wage Justify a $15/hr Minimum Wage Today?

I try to stay on friendly terms even with people whom I disagree with emphatically on one or more subjects. A few good friends of mine on the space side of things are also very economically progressive, and recently I’ve been seeing several of them making variants on this argument:

Basically, the inflation adjusted minimum wage was $11/hr in 1968, and that “worked” so we should be able to afford something similar today. By the way this number is bandied about, it makes it sound as though that 1968 number was a number that was sustained for a long time, and the moved away from recently. I was curious what the inflation adjusted minimum wage trend looks like, so I decided to look it up on the Department of Labor website. If you check out this table, and convert it into graph form, you get this for the minimum wage from 1938 when it started to 2012 (the last year on that particular DoL website):

Inflation Adjusted US Minimum Wage from 1938-2012 In 2012 Dollars (Source: US Department of Labor)

Inflation Adjusted US Minimum Wage from 1938-2012 In 2012 Dollars (Source: US Department of Labor)

Doing some basic statistics on this series, the mean minimum wage over this time was $7.09/hr, slightly lower than today’s $7.25/hr. The standard deviation is ~$1.60/hr.

If you look at the trend though, the pre-WWII numbers look like outliers on the low end. What if we drop them? The new mean would be $7.62/hr (slightly higher than today’s minimum wage), but the new standard deviation would be $2.48/hr.

That means that the 1968 minimum wage was actually 2.5 sigma above the mean minimum wage for the 1950-2012 timeframe–which is pretty obvious from looking at the chart. Is picking the data point that is the largest outlier from the mean over the past 60 years really a legitimate point to extrapolate from?

More importantly, $15/hr would be 6.74 sigma above the mean for the past 60 years. Ignoring all of the other arguments for or against the minimum wage, can anyone seriously claim that being over six sigma over the mean is something where past experience can give us any confidence that this won’t cause serious problems?

$15/hr Minimum Wage in Context of 60yrs of Inflation Adjusted Minimum Wage Data

$15/hr Minimum Wage in Context of 60yrs of Inflation Adjusted Minimum Wage Data

As I said, there may be other more legitimate arguments for increasing the minimum wage, even to $15/hr, but I don’t think the 1968 inflation adjusted minimum wage is a very strong argument when taken in context.

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Filed under Economics

Goff Family Picture — September 2014



September 16, 2014 · 10:58 PM

Goff Boys


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September 16, 2014 · 10:55 PM

Symmetric Myopia on Ukraine

I wanted to comment on an interesting case of symmetric myopia I’ve been noticing regarding the situation in Ukraine.

Basically, I’ve noticed that both pro-Western and pro-Russian partisans tend to suffer from a very similar bias. They assume that supporters of their cause in the Ukraine were 100% legitimate grassroots opposition to tyranny, while the other side is 100% bought-and-paid-for toadies of external forces. For example:

  • Pro-Russian view of the EuroMaidan protests in Kiev: most if not all of the anti-Yanukovich protest movement was a CIA-sponsored effort to overthrow the rightful government of Ukraine to replace it with a pro-western puppet government that will place a hostile military alliance (NATO) right on Russia’s doorstep. If there were any legitimate gripes, they shouldn’t have been handled by violently storming government buildings in Kiev and western Ukraine, but through the democratic process. Use of violent force against opposition protesters may have been regrettable, but they were using violence too to storm government buildings.
  • Pro-Russian view of events in East Ukraine: On the other hand, the reaction in East Ukraine, to a Pro-Russian is a organic, locally-driven grassroots protest both to the illegal actions of the EuroMaidan movement, not some sort of attempt by Russian special forces to annex the East. If their actions are a little on the militaristic side, they’re just mimicking the EuroMaidan tactics of occupying government buildings using violence, and trying to force extra-legal governmental change. If removing the president in a way that wasn’t allowed by the Ukrainian constitution is ok, holding a referendum on autonomy/secession should be ok too in their mind. If Yanukovich’s forces firing on violent protesters storming government buildings in Kiev was evil, how is using the military against violent protesters in Donetsk not also at least somewhat evil?
  • Pro-Western view of the EuroMaidan protests in Kiev: To the pro-Westerner, claims of US involvement in trying to destabilize Yanukovich and support his ouster are just crazy paranoid excuses being used by a cynical Kremlin to undermine what were almost entirely organic, locally-driven, grassroots protests against corruption and tyranny. Using force and acting outside the bounds of the Ukrainian constitution were ok, because it was a fight of liberty and western values against tyranny and corruption. Even though more extreme elements of the Maidan movement did use violence to storm and seize government buildings, they were doing so for a pro-democratic cause. The people really were yearning for a move to integrate more with the West and participate in modern society, and this whole situation shows why so many in the EuroMaidan want and need NATO militarily protecting them from Russian aggression.
  • Pro-Western views of what’s happening in Eastern Ukraine: This is Russian maskirovka plain and simple. Putin wants to annex large parts of Eastern Ukraine, and he’s using Russian agents and special forces (“little green men”) to prep the groundwork for an outright invasion and occupation. Sure, he’ll wrap himself in claims of protecting Russians, but only a small fraction of Eastern Ukrainians or Crimeans in that poll back in February wanted to outright be annexed by the Russian Federation, so obviously, this isn’t a grassroots movement, but “astroturf” acting as cover for an illegal invasion/occupation. Using military force on these “terrorists” is legitimate and good because they’re obviously either traitors or foreigners. If they wanted more autonomy, they should’ve worked through the democratic process, and not stormed government buildings and taken extralegal measures.

I may not entirely be able to pass Bryan Caplan’s “Intellectual Turing Test” with these comments, but I think they’re at least somewhat close to the mark. So, what’s my point? It’s just that both the simplistic Pro-Russian and the simplistic Pro-Western views are likely wrong. Ukraine is a strongly divided country, with a very wide range of opinion. Both the EuroMaidan and eastern separatist groups are probably both a mix of genuine grassroots opinions and foreign pot-stirring. There’s plenty of evidence that the US had some hand in supporting the overthrow of Yanukovich, but acting like this was entirely-US driven is obviously bunk. On the other hand, acting as though there’s no reason anyone could legitimately be pro-Russian without being bought and paid for is also absurd. If the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine are entirely just a Russian plot to annex the East, and reform the USSR, Russia sure is taking its sweet time following-up on things. That causus belli excuse Putin needed that was provided by the anti-Russian killings in Odessa was almost a month ago, and still no real sign of Russia having any desire of crossing the borders.

I guess my reason for bringing this up is that the naive “our enemies are pure evil and our allies white as snow” propaganda going around the internet is only likely to lead to more violence, more escalation, and a very bad ending for the people of Ukraine. That may benefit extremists, war profiteers on either side who’ve been jonesing for a Cold War 2.0 ever since 1990, and domestic politicians trying to get a good old fashion Two Minutes Hate going to distract from the screwed-up domestic politico-economic situation, but that’s not going to lead to anywhere good for the supposed objects of our sympathy (the Ukrainian people).

Acknowledging that neither side has a monopoly on good or evil, and that both sides have both legitimate gripes, and have both severely overstepped legal bounds, is IMO a key to starting to defuse the situation and find a solution that minimizes further loss of life, and gives the average person in the Ukraine the best possible deal. To be stable in a country so evenly split, that deal probably looks like less “winner takes all democracy” and more federalism/decentralization of power. But that isn’t going to happen so long as people insist on being blind to the faults of their own side, and acting like their “enemies” are entirely foreign-grown.


Filed under Foreign Policy

Learning Spanish via Duolingo

As any of you who follow me on twitter have probably noticed, I’m fairly strongly pro-immigration, if not outright pro-open borders. With that in mind, I was sitting in the “Priesthood Session” of the LDS General Conference last fall, when a rather profound talk by Gérald Caussé made me realize that if I really care about immigrants to this country, many of whom are here from Spanish-speaking countries, that I ought to teach myself how to speak Spanish. I may not be able to make much of a difference in changing the laws of our country to make them more just towards those who would like to live and work here, but had the misfortune of “choosing the wrong parents“. But I can chose to spend some of my time to learn their language so they can feel a little more at home and know that they’re welcome here.

Anyhow, nice sentiments and all, but I set that goal over half a year ago, and had so far done nothing to accomplish it. Then this morning a friend introduced me to a cool new language site, They’ve got a great user interface, I like the gamification, and my inner entrepreneur loves their clever business model–they offer you free and fun language training, and in turn some of the practice you get later in the process involves translating online documents from that language into English (with multiple users having the chance to vote on and correct each others translations). Much more clever than “we’ll show ads and make money that way” that seems to be the default approach of far too many websites these days.

Once again, starting a goal is easier than keeping that goal, so I’ll try to give periodic progress reports as a way of keeping myself motivated. Until then, ¡Buenas noches!


Filed under Goal: Learning Spanish, Immigration

Twitter Etiquette?

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it annoying when someone insists on responding to all twitter comments by putting a “.” in front of the person’s twitter name, or by moving their Twitter name to the end of the tweet? For those of you who aren’t regular twitter readers, doing that means that anyone who follows you will see the tweet, whereas if you just do a normal reply without the “.” up front, and without moving their name to the end of the line, only people who follow both of you will see the exchange. Now there are legitimate reasons for wanting to do the .@name reply, such as instances where someone raises a point where the reply is something you think is generally applicable. But when I see people abuse that, it makes me want to temporarily unfollow them, even if they’re friends or people whose opinions I respect. All of your followers don’t need to see how brilliant you are every time you argue with someone else. I know Twitter is considered by many to be a tool of applied narcissism, but seriously guys, do we have to prove their point?!

Ok, spleen empty. All better now.


Filed under Curmudgeonly Gripes, Twitter

The Good Intentions Road Construction Company (Minimum Wage Edition)

I really hope this article isn’t true. The gist of the article is that as part of minimum wage hike executive order President Obama is about to sign, the President is including physically and mentally disabled workers in the hike of wages to $10.10 for all federal contractors. As the article states:

Under a government program that dates back to 1938, employers could pay certain disabled workers subminimum wages — sometimes for a fraction of the prevailing minimum wage.

But with Obama’s executive order, that practice will be discontinued with disabled workers laboring under federal contracts in the future.

“Under current law, workers whose productivity is affected because of their disabilities may be paid less than the wage paid to others doing the same job under certain specialized certificate programs,” according to a White House memo detailing the order. “Under this Executive Order, all individuals working under service or concessions contracts with the federal government will be covered by the same $10.10 per hour minimum wage protections.”

Some readers may think “Isn’t that a great thing for disabled workers? Those who work for federal contractors will now get paid not only the same as others, but 39% higher than the current minimum wage!” The problem is hinted at in the last paragraph of the article–which is of course phrased in a way to make it look like only greedy exploiters of the disabled disagree with this move:

Operators of sheltered workshops say that including 14(c) workers in Obama’s minimum wage hike would inevitably lead to many disabled people being pushed out of work.

My question is does anyone who has any economic background seriously think that this will result in anything other than most disabled people working for federal contracts losing their jobs? If they had say increased the minimum wage for disabled people only by the same 39% as the increase for other workers, it might not be so bad. But by making disabled workers just as expensive now as non-handicapped workers, you’ve increased their effective cost even more. With unemployment levels where they are now, if you’re going to be forced to pay everyone the same $10.10, what incentive do you have to get any but the best workers for the job? Especially when you’re being forced to pay wages higher than comparable non-federal jobs, thus attracting tons of job applicants from those fortunate enough not to suffer from physical or mental handicaps.

While for non-disabled workers, you might be able to make a case that somehow minimum wage increases won’t lead to unemployment, I don’t think any economist with any shred of intellectual honesty could think that this won’t lead to huge dis-employment effects for one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

I know the president means well. He’s never shown himself to have any sort of clue about economics, but I don’t doubt his good intentions. It’s just unfortunate that so many disabled people, who already have a tough enough life as it is, are likely going to lose their livelihoods just so the president can feel good about himself, and score political points with his fellow economic illiterates in his base.

The one saving grace of this travesty is that private companies that don’t work on federal contracts aren’t currently effected by this executive order. I sincerely hope for the sakes of the disabled, that those companies who do go out of their way to provide disabled workers a job can soak up the jobs that are going to be lost due to this misguided executive order.

[Update: 7:30pm]

In addition to the likely severe dis-employment effect we’re likely to see for workers with disabilities, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some of the following moves in the near future:

  1. An increased equal opportunity crack-down by the government on firms that reduce the fraction of their labor provided by workers with disabilities.
  2. Executive orders mandating quotas (or increasing quotas) for the percentage of disabled workers federal contractors have to employ.
  3. Subsidies (or increased subsidies) for companies that employ more disabled workers.

None of this should be too surprising. Government price controls like this almost always lead to more and more interventions to paper over the mistake made by the first intervention.


Filed under Economics

My LDS Mission Map (Philippines Olongapo Mission 2000-2002)

I’ve mentioned to many people over the years that I spent two years on a mission to the Philippines for the LDS church. I’ve always meant to put up a map to show people roughly where I was talking about, and I finally figured out how to do it this evening:

View Jonathan A Goff’s LDS Mission Map (Aug 2000-Aug 2002) in a larger map

This map shows my six areas, listed in chronological order:

  • San Felipe Ward, Zambales
  • Tococ/Bayambang, Pangasinan
  • Calasiao, Pangasinan
  • Bolinao, Pangasinan,
  • Manat/Binmaley, Pangasinan
  • Masinloc, Zambales

I may eventually add some more details and stories. But for now, I just wanted to show you where it was that I spent my time in the Philippines.

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Filed under LDS Mission, Philippines