Category Archives: Opinion

Free and Fair Trade

by Michael Pasternak (ME ’17)

We’ve all heard of free trade, it’s become a hot button topic in the political sphere in recent times. However, who but the coffee drinkers among us have heard of fair trade? Few likely, yet it’s becoming a real alternative among economists and policy makers. Fair trade is a bit more complex, but free trade is simple in concept and execution: lower as many barriers as possible to international trade in order to allow free movement of goods and services and unlock wider and larger markets for everyone involved.

As a nation, we have to address that
not all foreign labor markets should
be endorsed by trade.

As a general economic principle, free trade means growth. I say this as an absolute truth: there are next to no economists in the mainstream academic sphere who believe otherwise. A University of Chicago poll from 2014 asked a panel of economists from the Initiative on Global Markets if “past major trade deals have benefited most Americans.” Twenty-three percent strongly agreed, 70% agreed, and 7% were uncertain or chose not to respond. There were no panelists who disagreed or disagreed strongly. The debate of free trade versus economic controls and tariffs is purely political and the sides are clear cut. Those on one side interpret data and use history to make decisions; those on the other side choose to only interpret fear and use trade policy as a thinly veiled substitute for xenophobia.

That being said, even once it’s established that breaking down barriers to trade is unequivocally positive, there are other concerns. As a nation, we have to address that not all foreign labor markets should be endorsed by trade. For example, sanctions on nations like Russia, who commit war crimes and invade neighboring countries at will, are appropriate because even though sanctions can hurt trade in the short term, war and instability are barriers to free trade in the medium and long term. It’s hard to trade in a war torn country where roads and bridges are not functioning and the banks aren’t open. Furthermore, you need domestic stability for economic growth. Countries who carry out war elsewhere may still experience growth, but there are few to no examples of countries in which wars are being fought that experience growth in trade. Therefore, it’s in the interest of a nation looking to maximize trade to maximize global and domestic stability. In fact, American foreign policy can be much more easily understood through that lens. Where we are militarily active, it’s usually for the sake of trying to keep regions under control in a general sense. We have a carrier group near China, for example, in order to prevent conflict between them Taiwan or Japan. The more critical a trade partner, the more resources the US is willing to commit to their region’s stability. That’s a big reason why we have such a strong tie with Israel.

However, there does enter another factor: morality and development. It isn’t an explicit duty of the United States to prevent the likes of slavery and war for the sake of preventing human suffering. Nonetheless, there’s a drive from a significant segment of the populace to do exactly that. Fair trade is the movement to address moral concerns of unfettered free trade, mostly driven from the political far-left but economically spread among academic doctrines. For example, slavery is not dead. North Korea uses slavery on a massive scale, and Qatar is known to be using slaves for much of the construction of its upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup infrastructure. Indonesia, China, and India have problems with slavery or near-slave labor conditions. Fair trade, in theory, accomplishes two things: establish an even playing field for labor and guarantee rights for workers. It accomplishes those goals by preventing countries with horrible regulatory frameworks for human rights to enter trade agreements without concessions concerning guaranteed rights for workers.

There’s a very real debate currently occurring between proponents of the two types of trade; a debate that is philosophical just as much as it is economic in nature. I consider myself a proponent of fair trade, but there’s little data currently available to prove the long term positive effects actually exist. One thing, however, is sure: while particular trade agreements can have issues, we should aim to increase free trade wherever we can as long as we do not have a corresponding cost, and there’s no reason to return to the days of tariff past. ◊

Drawbacks of the Carbon Tax

By Anthony Passalacqua (CE ‘18)

To begin, the Republican platform is most likely wrong on the science of climate change. I am no climatologist and neither are most politicians, so I will take the safe route and agree with what seems to be the prevailing theory amongst trained scientists—humans have a measurable impact on the climate of the Earth due to our carbon based emissions. With this truth out of the way, I will now argue against the carbon tax, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions by taxing companies that emit a lot of carbon. It seems a fairly straightforward and simple solution: if companies have to pay to emit pollutants, then they will stop pumping out pollutants. However, like many simple solutions, this is only skin deep, and does not address the problem

The first problem lies in the fact that many large scale manufacturing operations, of the type which tend to emit hundreds or thousands of tons of carbon, tend to be on the slim slide, profit wise. Environmental regulations and large corporate taxes make them hard to maintain in the United States. This is why many—as Republicans truthfully point out—have already moved to smoggier pastures with the passing of NAFTA.

Being that the remaining operations in the United States are necessarily less profitable than they once were, it stands to reason that additional taxation could easily push them over the edge, from the black into the red. In a less globalized world, this would be the end and the problem of emission would be solved. However, we live in a world of free trade agreements, and the problem becomes significantly more complicated.

Capital, in our increasingly globalized world, is extremely easy to move, and often moving it does not carry a large tax burden. This effectively means that if a factory is just barely in the red in the United States, it can move to Mexico or China, and leverage the cheap labor and small import taxes of the United States to once more become profitable. This carries along with it its own moral problems of exploitative labor and hurting the American economy in exchange for helping the global economy at large, but we will set those aside for now and focus on emissions.

So our hypothetical factory has moved to, say, China, for the sake of our example. At this point they are operating within an entirely new legal framework. No longer are they bound to even the now laxer rules of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, but instead to the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection.

With disasters ranging from the infamous smog of larger Chinese cities to huge explosions on the streets resulting from greased palms signing off on bogus plans, the MEP is not exactly a robust organization. This means that the company which has only just moved overseas can go back to its old ways, and with a few bribes here and there, pollute the environment to its heart’s content in order to grow profit.

In this way, a carbon tax actually serves to set back the progress we’ve made in reducing emissions and cleaning up the environment. The company in question in fact does not reduce the emissions it puts out, as the carbon tax was meant to cause, but instead moves overseas where it can pseudo-legally increase its emissions. By backing a carbon tax, one effectively backs even worse carbon based emissions, and only worsens the climate change that said emissions are causing.

This is hardly the only downside of American businesses moving overseas. Think what you want of the minimum wage of the United States, right to work states, and the like, but it is a fair claim to make that the average factory worker of the United States is significantly less exploited than the average factory worker of China (where, I must remind the reader, companies such as FoxConn have had to put up nets outside of their dormitories in order to stymie suicide attempts).

Furthermore, this arrangement means that the lion’s share of taxes that the company will be paying will go to the Chinese treasury, rather than that of the United States, directly hurting the American economy by reducing its tax base.

To shift gears, the Republican platform actually goes even further in the opposite direction of the carbon tax, seeking to make environmental regulations laxer. The argument continues thusly: supposing that reducing regulations makes a business that has moved to China once again profitable in the United States, then companies will once again move back to the States from abroad. Here they will have to adhere to the laxer-than-now but stricter-than-in-China environmental policies, thus helping the environment. Of course, this argument also relies on the fact that other parts of the Republican platform would also make it less profitable in general for companies to operate oversees; that, however, will be left for another time.

I would be lying if I made the claim that these are the reasons that most Republicans have in attacking the use of the carbon tax. Many, including our nominee, believe that climate change is a lie made up by China in order to damage the United States economy. However, I hope that this presentation of a deeper look at the carbon tax has revealed that it is likely a poor solution to the problem of carbon based emissions. ◊

Benefits of the Carbon Tax

By Michael Pasternak (ME ‘17)

You may have heard of the Carbon Tax as a proposed solution to climate change. What you may not have heard is that, among economists, it’s the preferred solution to climate change. According to a report from The Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law from 2015, 77% of economists with relevant publications answered that the US should cut its emissions no matter what actions other countries take, while another 18% said that American emissions cuts would be warranted if many or all other countries commit to reducing theirs. The recent Paris agreement, which established climate mitigation goals with 180 countries, including China and the US, within reason, would satisfy “many or all other countries committing to reducing theirs.” This amounts to an effective 95% of economists with knowledge of the energy economy “supporting action on the climate.” The survey also asked the experts about the most economically efficient method of reducing carbon pollution. Eighty-one percent said a market-based system (carbon tax or cap and trade system) would be most efficient, while 13% answered that coordinated performance standards and programs that prioritize cleaner fuels and energy efficiency would be most efficient.

So why a carbon tax? Simply put, it’s the free market response to hidden costs.

Carbon pollution does cost a lot of money to America, coal pollutants in general even more on top of that. For example, an article in Forbes from 2012 states that, controlled for amount of energy produced, coal is directly responsible for one hundred thousand times more deaths than nuclear, which is the least deadly form of energy in their analysis, closely followed by hydroelectric. A carbon tax is a direct acknowledgement of the reality of the situation, that coal and oil are actually hugely subsidized right now, since the costs of cleanup and health outcomes far outweigh the cheaper energy. A carbon tax simply allows the market to correct for it so that rather than pay for huge oil spills and catastrophic climate change, we’d promote sources of energy without those massive drawbacks.

It’s also worth noting that on a cost basis a carbon tax is almost certainly a pro-nuclear policy. In the US, coal power is followed by nuclear power quite closely in cost per unit of energy produced. In Europe, nuclear energy is actually cheaper than coal. That’s mostly because in Europe many more plants of the same type are built, and at a higher density. Specifically, France is very good at building nuclear plants quickly and cheaply because they are a primarily nuclear energy state. It would be completely reasonable to assume the same process would occur in the US if we follow in the footsteps of Europe and impose a carbon tax on the energy sector.

So why haven’t we? There’s a number of reasons. The first is that our country has an undue amount of influence imposed by moneyed interests, and there’s simply a lot of money already invested in oil and coal. This has led to opposition to renewables from the Right and opposition to nuclear from both sides of the aisle. The Carbon Tax, despite being the single most mainstream economic idea to address climate change, was only proposed by two major politicians in recent memory, Bernie Sanders (whom I believe we all know) and Bob Inglis. Inglis, a Republican, is famously splitting from his party in supporting a “revenue neutral” Carbon Tax. What that would mean is that any proceeds from the tax would be given back to the citizenry through tax rebates for low income farmers, truckers etc. who would feel increased prices in fuel very sharply but may be less able to field those costs. That, I believe, is the reasonable conservative response.

Other critiques of the tax, such as the idea that businesses will simply leave and go to countries without any tax on carbon, simply haven’t been borne out in Europe where carbon taxation already exists. In fact, most analyses show Europe’s energy economy booming following their aggressive response to climate change mitigation. Particularly in France and Denmark, nuclear has essentially replaced coal in baseload generation with renewables providing variable generation to fill in the gaps. There’s a conversation that should be happening about the particulars of the tax, but it’s very clear that in terms of quickly and
effectively addressing the problem, it’s the ideal solution.

So what’s next? We need to pressure our leaders to support nuclear and renewables either through a carbon tax or whatever else our “greatest political minds” can come up with. Sometime in the next couple of weeks (I’ll make sure it’s on Facebook) I will be leading a letter writing campaign on behalf of the New York chapter for the volunteer advocacy group NAYGN (North American Young Generation in Nuclear). Read the letter, and if you agree, sign it! It shows local lawmakers that people actually do care about this stuff and could lead to more positive action like the recent subsidy on nuclear generation in New York state, pushing the conversation towards carbon-free sources of power generation. ◊

Halal Have Some Chicken Over Rice, Please

By Toby Stein (CE’18)

Halal Map fixed.001

Created using Google Maps.

I warn you, what you are about to read will change the way you conduct your daily lives. It will push you out of your comfort zone and into new territory. It will challenge your beliefs and push you to question those you hold close to your heart. It will open your eyes to a world that you did not know existed. I am of course talking about the world of halal food.

Here I was, arriving to the big city, confident that I was cultured, and that I brought a good understanding of cuisine to university with me. Here I was, in the same shoes that some of you are, relying on the staples of Frankie’s, Ray’s, and Chipotle. No one had yet opened my eyes to the world of halal. Now, by definition, and according to a Wikipedia page, halal just means “any object or action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law.” Yet, I assert that its most common reference is to some of the most underrated and unappreciated food in the East Village. If you have never had halal food before, this article will convince you to step out of your comfort zone and give halal a shot. If you are an avid halal consumer, this article will bolster your love for the food and give you a better understanding of the area’s best and tastiest halal trucks.

The beauty of halal trucks lies in minimalism, and the beauty of minimalism lies in simplicity. It seems these days, the more you pay for food, the less you get. I’ve never understood that framework of mind and let me just say that halal bucks that trend. Few know that Abraham Lincoln used to use his top hat to store important documents (actually true, look it up), yet most know that for a halal truck the most important document is a piece of paper with ‘ol Abe’s face emblazoned on the front.

Ordering a lamb over rice, a chicken over rice, or the I-know-what-I’m-doing-here special combo over rice, is like ordering a bed of warmth and love. You walk up to the truck; he greets you jovially and asks you how you are and what you would like. You order. You watch as he lines the bottom of the Styrofoam box with the standard bed of rice. You salivate as the rice greases the sides with butter and warms the container that will soon hold enough food to feed a small family. Anticipation builds. The surroundings go quiet: you are alone in the world with the halal truck. The chef deposits lettuce and tomatoes into one side of the box; if you are lucky and go in the winter, sometimes the tomatoes are frozen. The shrill sound of metal on metal cuts through the afternoon air as the chef fries the meat to perfection on the griddle. Using both blades, the chef heaps the meat from the griddle onto the bed of rice. Anticipation builds. Behind him, the thin and tall plastic bottles of sauce glisten with condensation. He looks at you to lead him further: do you want fancy white sauce or hot sauce? They are classics in the world of halal. You get both, asking for extra hot sauce. He springs into action, layering first white, then hot across the top of the steaming meat.

He deftly seals the box, places it in a plastic bag with a fork and napkin, and passes you the steaming bag through the window. You almost drop the bag as it is unexpectedly heavy. Only then do you recognize how much food you are about to consume, and you feel as though you are undercutting him by only paying five dollars. You smile and turn to walk away. Yet again, anticipation builds. You sit down and instantly isolate yourself from the rest of the world. There is an unspoken agreement between humans: you don’t talk when someone is eating halal. You let them focus, you let them enjoy.

Time blurs; you do not know what happening. Your hunger disappears and you feel your stomach expand. You lose control of your limbs. Your brain tells your arms to stop putting food in your mouth. Your arms do not listen. Your body slows, beginning to protest the amount of food entering it. Your arms do not listen. Time blurs again. You look down and it is gone. Not a speck of rice is left in the box, all the sauce has been licked from the crevices and you cannot stand to think about yourself. You walk to the bathroom to wash your hands and catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. You look like a stranger. You hate yourself for what you have just done. You wash your hands and splash some water onto your face. You look up once again at the mirror, but you don’t see yourself.

You shoot up out of your bed, confused, disoriented and hungry. Was that really a dream you wonder? You have not gotten your fix in days. You need it. You jump out of bed, throw clothes on and run to your closest truck. You babble out an order that barely resembles English. This is your drug; this is what withdrahalal looks like. ◊

One of Us Finally Snapped, Civil Engineering Deserves Your Respect

By Gabriella Godlewski (CE ’19)

I will never forget the first brush I had of how civil engineers are treated around here. During the freshman orientation trip to Camp Team USA, the upperclassmen put on a play in which the classic “civil engineering is not a real major” line was uttered. I couldn’t help but think, “Civil engineering at Cooper has a curriculum, unlike computer science, but, I mean, okay, I guess.” It was weird to me that this fact was ignored and everyone chose to take a jab at a legitimate major.

Things, as they tend to at Cooper, only got worse.

CivE upperclassmen told me horror stories of how they were treated by their non-civil professors, just because of their major. Freshmen began to catch on. Despite the fact that we are all still academically equal and basically taking the exact same classes, snide comments have passed from freshmen to CivE freshmen, to our faces and behind our backs. I have had “because you’re a CivE” used as an insult to my face from people I sat next to in almost every class. If you are guilty of this practice, you have consciously chosen to perpetuate the hate created by past generations without truly understanding whether or not the hate is deserved. You have accustomed yourselves to an entitlement you have yet to even earn.

Besides the de facto discrimination civil engineers face in some classes taught by certain professors, my own friends have pressured me to “just transfer,” long before I actually began considering it. Where I hoped to find support, I instead found a disregard for why I was here and what I wanted to accomplish. Nothing has proven more disheartening.

It only took a semester and a half but the straw that broke the camel’s back has finally situated itself and demands that this problem be faced – I demand that civil engineers at the Cooper Union be treated with respect because, contrary to ancient belief, we deserve to be taken seriously for our career choices just as much as the rest of you.

I did not choose civil engineering for the “easy workload.” Furthermore, I did not choose civil engineering to be constantly ridiculed and looked down on for this choice I made long before I knew how many classes I was required to take. The reason I and the rest of my fellow civil engineering students chose to major in this field are entirely personal and not without good reason, I can assure you. We never asked for nor do we deserve the hate we get. We respect you for your major choice and we rightfully expect the same from you.

Lastly, to those of you who still think that civil engineering is a useless major, I raise you this: without civil engineers, none of you would have easy access to clean water. Buildings would barely be standing up, and skyscrapers would basically be nonexistent. For those of you who commute on a daily basis, civil engineers are responsible for the roads, the train systems, and, yes, traffic control. We students will one day be the reason you live a relatively safe life with all your basic necessary resources. And you choose to ridicule us?

Of course, here is the necessary disclaimer that my assertion that civil engineering is a legitimate respectable major does not detract at all from the legitimacy and necessity of any other major. As a matter of fact, I can almost guarantee that we civil engineers have only respected your majors, and since that has yet to kill us, it wouldn’t hurt the rest of you.

Why Architects Suck

By Luke Kreul (Arch ’17) 

We are in crisis. The students at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture have given up any boldness for the sake of inter-scholastic diplomacy. The artistic voice of my colleagues is lost in the fog of computation and aesthetics. And critical discussion, in total, is lost due to energy being dedicated to being fashionable; Trends are not going to give your practice integrity!

“Trends are not going to give your practice integrity!”

Earnest communication and criticism will give your work the integrity it needs. The work we produce cannot be cryptic or without position. Take authorship over your work; it’s the surest way that you are personally invested to what you’re dedicating your time. An earnest approach to architecture is also the surest way that we’re invested in the work of each other. When you’re racing towards the decision that you need to make, you’re in conflict and competition with the arguments of those around you. The argument towards the creation of an atmosphere of active debate is, within itself, what we should be responsible for constructing school-wide.

We architecture students are known for our lack of existence outside of the foundation building, which results from our commitment to our work. The stereotype of the sleepless architect is something to embrace. Be proud of being tired! It means that you’re working hard, you’re experiencing New York, and, ultimately, you’re being consumed by architecture, the noblest monster. We are being lazy, however. We students, myself included, have not put adequate effort towards having an architect-trustee. Our representation in JSC meetings is also terrible. Do we have our tails tucked between our legs because we lost the tuition battle?

“We’re recovering from the tuition battle poorly and there are losses to other battles imminent.”

We’re recovering from the tuition battle poorly and there are losses to other battles imminent. We use our minority status, our acceptance rate (now blown), and our workload as excuses not to fight for our place in student governance. There should be an architect-trustee. It has been said, there should not be another engineering student represented to the board of trustees, and it’s not appropriate for the next representative to be an artist.

“There should not be another engineering-trustee.”

It’s the time for an architect! Architects are responsible for coordinating structure and culture. Why not the same for our beloved institution? Friday night at a post-lecture dinner, I probed two second-year students and one freshman about the position of an architect. I asked them to consider the position of the artist, who sits from afar observing, reflecting, and reacting to society. In addition to these activities one cannot ignore the role of the architect-professional, who is responsible for articulating spatial concepts and schmoozing with potential clients. Reminding them of the architecture of our studio, the architect-artist, and the architect-professional, I received an interesting collection of three responses. One, given by a student who is a native New Yorker, was that all the distance is good in providing an enclave, a safe place where ideas can grow. The second response was that the distance between the studio and society is not especially true and the architecture students are connected. And the third response, from a first-year student, emphasized the distance between years within the architecture school and avoided the problem of the studio’s interiority.

Architects are creatures of multiple lives. Since we’re responsible for communicating both in drawings within the practice and with words and images to those outside, we have an instinctive approach that is suited for institutional problems. Structural considerations require two key skills: the analytic eye and the conceptual hand, which is the physiological composition of an architect. Artists are not of the same physiognomy, because their practice requires distancing oneself from society.

The recent evolution of the institutional status has come to a place where an engineer-trustee is irrelevant. Consider the example of the Rubix cube as demonstrative of design thinking. Many feel pride in ‘solving’ a Rubix cube, organizing the squares so that each face is singular in color. However at this moment, the only thing that can happen to the object is repeated disorganization. In then end, the Rubix cube always embodies the same problems it had before, because its operation anticipates problems. For the engineer, fixing the problem requires that the end product is a static object. Institutions—their structures, cultures, and corruptions—are ever changing. Architects are trained to work with time and space as both a parameter and an artistic medium. Rational thought mandates an architect-trustee.

We have an interim president, a new dean, and are just as capable at rising against as we were five years ago; it’s the perfect time to manifest. We are so “busy” with work and trends that we are approaching a banal status; the studio is becoming a non-place. It was glorious for architecture students to be in the news on a regular basis. I implore you to use both your anger and your virtú to make this school present!

Students in the Sea of Protests

By Olivia Heuiyoung Park (BSE ’19)

February might have been short of days, but it definitely wasn’t short of active voices for change. Opinions on topics such as gender neutral bathrooms, diversity for humanities faculty, and unfair schedule changes have made appearances in the forms of petitions, as most of us are aware. Students’ voices should be heard, changes are good, and petitions, when done right with the right language and attitude, can do both very effectively.

I don’t hate petitions. I think it’s important to be a part of some movement or call for change – especially at a college I’ll be spending the next few years of my life in. This is why I personally was part of actively distributing and delivering a specific petition. But, I was startled, if not bothered, by some of the things I’ve heard in the process. Some students just didn’t care about the issue as it didn’t affect them directly, while some students said that although they agree to parts of a petition, they do not agree to all of it. Some even said that they were pressured into signing some petitions because they didn’t want to be “that kid.”

“Some students just didn’t care about the issue as it didn’t affect them directly”

Petitions are, or should be, written formats of the voices of students, accurately embodying the whole population addressed. As it is in a written format, the language of petitions plays a huge role in the way it is delivered. It shouldn’t be an angry complaint letter with accusations and blame, and should be written free of assumptions of what YOU think others want – it should be written with the acceptance that there will be opposition to it. Petitions should also have specific and concrete proof to back the accusations and demands, and should be free of too extreme, all-or-nothing phrases; petitions should be engaging, identifying, and encompassing, especially when it is a call to change some existing system.

In my opinion, the three recent petitions did a decent job in doing this. The student voices were heard, and modes of active change are either already implemented or are in the process of doing so. Although these petitions were successful in starting changes and gaining more interest, I feel like it could have been even more effective with clearer language and attitude.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that people will have varying levels of agreement and thought, and it’s possible that some might agree to only specific parts of the written petition. If this occurs, don’t try to pressure the person to sign the petition because they agree with parts of it – be open for discussion and explanation, and clearly mention that if they do not agree with all of the demands in the petition, they are welcome to not sign it. When writing, try to be very specific so that the purpose of the petition is clear, while also keeping in mind some might disagree. And that’s okay! People shouldn’t feel like they’ll be “that kid” for having different opinions or for disagreeing with your petition; listen and understand different opinions regarding the topic.

It’s easy to simply conform to the majority out of fear of rejection. Everyone has different opinions, and those differences are why Cooper Union is as diverse, rich, and unique as it is. We, as students of Cooper Union, should provide a safe environment for everyone to openly discuss, disagree, and explain their own opinions. No one should feel pressured to agree to something they don’t, and everyone should be ready to “agree to disagree.”

“It’s easy to simply conform to the majority out of fear of rejection. “