Saturday, January 24, 2015

Food Overproduction: The Real Problem

This article debunks the idea that starvation in the world is caused by inability to grow enough food.  In fact, the world already has the capability to feed 14 million, and "food crisis" is marketed to sell more profitable industrial agribusiness and crush movements toward food localism (which can't compete in quantity-of-production with agribusiness, or at least so it is claimed).  Excess food production is now used to create biofuels, among other things.

What the article doesn't discuss is how starvation is actually caused by poverty.  Some people can't afford to buy even the cheap food.  And that problem in many places is ironically caused by low food prices (thanks to agribusiness and so-called-trade-agreements) which make it impossible for peasants to make a living in the traditional way--by growing food on a small scale.  So, ironically, many potential small scale farms lie in disuse, and are in danger of being taken over by plantations which will lead to even more poverty.

Long term, of course, the best path toward sustainable everything is a managed decline in human population through reduction of fertility.  Even though we "can" grow enough food to feed even a much larger population than we have now, that food production (as well as the people's other activities of course) has a huge negative impact on the natural environment, no matter how it is done  (though especially through the world domination of agribusiness--whose methods are the worst for the environment, and the least sustainable, despite having low prices today).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Money should primarily be thought of as lubricant

Posted (under moderation now) to this post at Crooked Timber.

Somehow I don't share the belief that money is supposed to be a store of value.  I see it as an economic lubricant, and if the lubrication works a bit better if some value slowly vaporizes, I see that as a feature not a bug.  Typically currencies don't lose value very much in the milliseconds it takes to do EFT from my employer to my bank.  And then once in my bank, in principle, it can re-earn sufficient proportion of the social dividend through interest and with guarantee principal to compensate for the loss for economically justifiable inflation.  Haven't we seen long periods where inflation was lower than savings account interest?  And what is really the correct explanation of why it may not do so now?  I see grand disinvestment and financial gambling having upended the old order, and my animus is directed at them rather than government spenders (we need more of that government spending, IMO, lots more, to be a modern and progressing post industrial society).

Even in the store-of-value concern wrt money, it seems to me that the it's not how much nominal inflation there is, but what the difference is between interest in socially guaranteed saving accounts and inflation.  How did that do in the 1970's?  Not so bad as just looking at one number, I think.  As far as anti-social people storing money in mattresses, gold, or bit coins rather than becoming invested in society--the worse outcomes for them the better IMO.

But that is still very far removed from the importance of money as economic lubricant.

In the actual 1970's, I made my way into a successful career in a way that would have not been possible in a deflationary economy, as I lacked the usually required credentials.  So I gained from the inflationary economy that couldn't find workers fast enough, while meanwhile my fixed interest inheritance was ground into dust, so that indeed I had to live from my deeds and not what my father was owed.  It's complicated to figure whether the combined effect was salutary or not because there are so many possible counterfactuals, but it compared with many other possibilities it was very much so.

I think in part the populist anti-inflation fear really comes from a fear that elites will profit while the little people don't see any wage increases, and it has little to do with the actual store-of-value aspect.  In reality, the little people do better in a moderately high inflationary economy for many reasons, mostly having to do with jobs and wage growth which does reach farther down than it does in other times (e.g. 70's, mid-to-late 90's).   Also true that the value of debts decreases, which matter more to most people of lower income than interest on savings.  But they are constantly trained not to think that way but to think like bond rentiers.  Because guess who owns the media.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Zappa: Cool to be a Right Smart Ass

I siding with Dave…there is no evidence that Frank Zappa opposed the Vietnam War while it was happening.  He was known to be anti-hippie, anti-marijuana, anti-communist, pro-ridiculously-hard-work.  The best argument is for his having been pro-war also.  His whole stick was to make it cool to be a smart neoconservative/neoliberal.  Put down those stupid leftist hippies.  We righties have our own anti-authoritarian cred against all the stupid New Deal generation (Johnson and Nixon) while remaining fully anti-communist and pro-capitalist.  We can still be freaks while not getting lefty.  (This included me of the time…though I hardly knew of Zappa.)

No question, anyway, he is heavy on the attitude, with a heavy tilt toward the US style Libertarianism.  Which was not what Johnson or Nixon represented.  Nixon was brought down from the inside precisely because he wasn't sufficiently pro-private-capital, he was a New Dealer to the core, like Eisenhower.

When Zappa spares the vocals, I can enjoy his considerable musical talent and hard work.  At his best, he's a great classical and jazz inventor in the tradition of Varese…sometimes as good as Varese himself, and he can do decent rock also.  Otherwise…when vocals are present he's often far too preachy in a way I find disgusting.  He's the caffeinated cool smart ass observing the sick lazy populist-corrupted world.  Sorry, that's not a new thing in my experience.  A US Libertarian might have been new to someone in the 1960's.

Now it's true that by the 1980's, Zappa was becoming anti-some-of-Reagans-wars.  He might have had a shift toward the anti-war that hasn't been publicly recognized (to do so would be to recognize the pro-war beginning, which was deliberately ambiguous).  US Libertarians are often anti-war…especially since the 1980's.

Honestly, I made the switch from a childhood Republican (weakly pro-Vietnam war, if at all) to grown up Democrat (and later, a leftist Democrat) and strongly anti-empire.  But I was not selling smart ass record albums and did not have a public persona when I made the switch, so it's easier for me to be honest about the matter…in fact for me it's a bragging point I think that I was able to change my mind about various things as I grew up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gold is not an Investment, excess saving is hoarding

Krugman's latest words on Gold are interesting, and end up calling gold a scam investment.

Buying gold promotes only one kind of business, that of mining and selling gold.  That's a tiny part of the overall economy.

Buying gold doesn't provide credit to people building other kinds of industries.  Buying corporate stocks and bonds would.

Putting money in a bank enables more lending by lowering the cost of money to the bank.  More lending means more pro ducting of things like cars, houses, and home improvements.

So buying gold is rather anti-social.  I know rational utility maximizers aren't supposed to be swayed by such things.  Anyway, I wouldn't be buying gold anyway, as I understand it as a speculation on the value of gold.  Speculation is a fancy word for gambling, and I don't like to do that because I seem to be a pretty consistent loser at gambling.

But whether I am swayed by such things or not, I think about them.

Now, there may be not so good aspects to those other things I just mentioned, and what they enable.  And I've long thought that "buying" is more pro-social than saving or financial investing because in the former case you are providing income to someone else, and in the latter you are only providing a loan.

So if it's OK to buy stuff, say high end audio equipment, why not gold?

Well also precisely because buying stuff not only provides income to others (one persons spending is anothers income), it provides us with stuff, which we enjoy directly.  So utility is amplified, so to speak, by buying the amplifier I may need for the best audio reproduction.  In fact, if an amplifier provides utility to me in the future…it is an investment.  (In some cases, it might be good store of value…or even a speculative wedge, as well, but that's not what I'm talking about.)

This may fall apart if I buy too much stuff, more than I need, more than I use, etc.  (Something I'm pretty sloppy about, actually.)

Of course, to the gold bug, survivalist, or similar kook, owning that shiny metal is enjoyed directly.  But that's a little sick, isn't it?

The main defensible reason to own gold would be as a store of value.  Though I dismiss the attempt to gain money or advantage through an increase in the price of gold as "gambling," merely holding gold, not respective of the fact it may become worth more or less relative to other things…is a defensible reason within limits.

What are those limits?  The limits to one's need for future consumption security or future reasonable bequest.  Saving more than that is "hoarding," which means other people's productive activity is being pinched indefensibly.  With the richest people however we may not think of this as hoarding so much as status seeking.  The richest seek to be richer than others.

That kind of pursuit of wealth for it's own sake, however, is just as bad socially as hoarding.

Rather than saving too much…what should the wealthy do?  Spend righteously and/or give money away righteously!

Happy Holidays

It's a commonplace that "thank you" is a rhetorical way of dismissing someone.  It's the last thing you say, or need say, to any kind of contractor, service person, or sales person.  And it's the last thing they need to say to you.  So, if someone is almost beginning an argument, which might take awhile, you can dismiss them with "thank you" and move on.

It doesn't seem quite as well known that holiday slogans such as "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" serve very much the same role rhetorically.  They are last words.  Since they are Non Sequitur, it follows they can only be responded in kind or with another non sequitur, politely of the same kind.

So as we are giving others our good wishes (or gratitude) we are also telling them "Move out of my way, buddy, I gotta get on with my Christmas shopping."

Now don't take this too badly, quite often non sequiturs are absolutely needed.  About once a minute or so perhaps…  And without them, people often become bores without knowing it.

Now the Christmas Greetings have another less-then-fully-wonderful aspect.  The are obviously an example of cultural imperialism.  We may think, despite the windbags, Christmas has become basically a secular holiday, and we need secular holidays, so go with what the Romans do, Christmas is for all Americans--a secular American holiday, not an exclusively Christian one.  But regardless of thinking that or not, not all people can be expected to think that, and there are those Christian windbags insisting that it isn't a secular holiday too, so there is that to think about also.

So offering a specific holiday with religious baggage as greeting is unavoidably culturally imperialistic.

Returning such a greeting isn't imperialistic, though it might be other things.  Not returning such a greeting in kind could be worse, or not, as transitions can occur to needless and useless argument.

I'm not that worried in the act of a single "Merry Christmas."  While it is unavoidably culturally imperialistic, it may be very little so unless used as a platform for further invasion, as the windbags do.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

President Obama's CIA Roots

This isn't Republican birtherism.  The exact opposite is true.  The President's mother and father were both CIA operatives, who met in Hawaii.  The young boy seen as having the perfect complexion for some future high office, he was groomed with CIA opportunities all the way.

Similar things can be said about other Presidents in recent history, I am sure.

His "looking forwards, not backwards" toward all CIA crimes like torture certainly follows.

One problem is, we're taking their word it is different now wrt torture.  And their word has a long history.

Giving an executive order to stop torture in 2009 was a fine first step.  But prosecution(s) should have followed, since it was already illegal (and against treaties).

And then there's drones.  He promised to use them less, but they haven't been dismissed altogether as law and ethics would demand.

And CIA, Wall Street, Military Industrial Complex, Media, Plutocracy, it's all the same thing with a lot of corrupt relationships.