Sunday, December 30, 2012

Assertive Nationalization

When the entire banking sector was going down, the US government bailed it out, temporarily assuming trillions in liabilities.

Many argued it should have just been left to fail (which might have been catastrophic for the economy as a whole, unless other measures were taken), or that strings should have been attached for government help, possibly including these: (a) a flush of current management, (b) elimination of expected and future bonus payments, (b) lending mandate.

A constructive response in other countries to similar crises in the past has been temporary nationalization.  That's a way around the lengthy processes of bankruptcy with regards to keeping current operations going.  This has been done most successfully in Sweden (which is, btw, a very capitalistic country and the banking nationalization was determinedly temporary).  And in the USA during the Great Depression.

But crises like these also present an opportunity, if we were ready to handle it.  Parasitic industries like finance could be nationalized and redesigned to serve, rather than feed off of, the public good.  During times like the banking crises, entire industries could be bought up for pennies.  That's what vulture capitalists do for bankrupt businesses.  They shouldn't be able to, but the public should.

It turns out that commanding heights industries in the USA are parasitic like this:

transportation manufacturing
military hardware
road and other major construction

These could better serve the public as public industries.  As it is they make their marks or dump their long term losses on the public, and privatize short term gains.

Transportation, for example, sells oversized and planned-obsolete personal vehicles, using propaganda techniques (advertising).  Many of the losses are to third parties in the future: pollution and global warming effects.

Actual transportation needs could be filled far more economically in other ways.

Lindsay Graham's extortion threat

Fighting the anti-Social Security trolls

Aghast at the misinformed commentary to a post at alternet, I wrote this:

Don't listen to anti-SS trolls here, read Krugman and Dean Baker.  SS currently has a $2.6 Trillion surplus in US bonds.  Paying those bonds is, like any other US bonds, an obligation of the US government.  Social Security is not part of the US budget under current law.  The "unified budget" was a fiction created to make deficits look smaller in 1969 and was abolished in 1983 when the SS tax was raised to keep the system out of trouble for 75 years if not more (had the economy done as well as before, the trust fund would have continued growing forever).

Social security has a tiny shortfall that arises in the 2030's because wage growth has slowed.  That is when the Trust Fund goes to zero under current projections.  Even then, with nothing in the trust fund, under current law, it would continue to be able to make 75% of payments from the incoming taxes, as it is mainly a pay-as-you-go system, and should stay that way forever.  In his Social Security Commission Report of 1983, Alan Greenspan said the overall structure of the system should not be changed.

The tiny shortfall could be eliminated in various ways.  To give you an idea of how small it is, it could be eliminated by raising the median payroll tax by 40 cents per week (source: Angry Bear blog).  Now, currently the US is paying 2% of the payroll tax as a stimulus measure.  When the US cuts that 2% stimulus, it could replace it by paying the less than 1% required to eliminate the shortfall.  But somehow politicians love the shortfall as it provides a cover for cuts they wanted to make anyway to please their plutocratic masters on Wall Street.

There are about 30 different ways already scored by CBO as to how to deal with the social security shortfall of the 2030's.  Changing the cost of living adjustment is one of the most regressive ones because it hits hardest poor elderly people who have nothing but social security, and it increases the pain over time so we won't see it all now.  Raising the earnings cap, as Obama previously suggested, would not do that, full benefits would be retained, some people would pay more and get higher benefits.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Guns and the supposed Protection from Tyranny

Don't expect proselytizing gun advocates and owners to protect us from the creeping falangism of state plutocracy (what we have been seeing in the USA and elsewhere for the last 40 years).

More likely, gun owners will fight on the side of falangist state plutocracy, and will resist mass movements toward restored or improved democracy, which they will construe as takings and violations of their "rights."  (Gun ownership rights are not recognized internationally as human rights.  Meanwhile, there are internationally recognized human rights, such as rights to decent employment, which are not recognized as human rights by the USA, and not implemented very well in many countries that have signed agreements recognizing them.)

This is not merely because gun advocates tend to be on the right or far right politically (and would therefore tend to align with other far right types, such as the Koch brothers, who might also be prepared to manipulate them further through propaganda).  It is because the very notion of ultimate-protection-by-gun-ownership is a hyper-individualist fantasy which does not recognize society, how society acts in a crisis, or how it would react to an unfolding ultimate-protection-gun-fantasy.  Ultimate-protection-by-guns is fundamentally opposed to democracy, and indeed desires to hold democracy prostrate to prevent such things as reasonable gun regulation.

If you run out of food and funds to buy food, the correct things to do are social in nature, not anti-social.

1) Seek employment
2) Sell unneeded possessions for cash to buy food
3) Seek help from family and friends
4) Seek help from government, church, or other organizations

If you can see a crisis coming, you can also prepare through mass organization and local planting.  If you haven't prepared, people can forage and eat things like insects and trees in a true emergency and there is no food to be readily had.  You are much better off being part of some social group than being alone under circumstances like these.  Some people will know what's best to eat, others will know how to stay warm.  Safety in numbers.

There is no likely useful option involving the use of guns to take stuff.  If there is any such success, it isn't likely to last long.

Our ultimate protection is, and can only be, society itself.  If society is broken, as it always is in one way or another, it needs fixing, not submerging under any form of individualism.  Such submersion is in fact impossible.  To be anti-social is to be part of society, even if an unwelcoming or unwelcome part.  Thus, the irony of things like Randian cults, of people selflessly sacrificing their time to promote selfishness.

Now forgetting the "ultimate-protection" type fantasy arguments gun advocates make, guns may be useful for limited protection under some circumstances, that is, protection from actual criminals (and not society or the government).  But even that is far more limited that advocates claim.

Gun advocates claim guns are often used in self-defense.  But the truth is that guns are used far more in escalating arguments and intra-family intimidation, which are not individually or socially productive uses.

As I had previously posted, studies show higher death rates resulting from gun ownership than non-ownership.  I personally feel far safer NOT owning a gun.  What if someone invades my home?  First, I would much rather lose possessions than my life.  Rather than entering a standoff with a likely far more experienced shooter than I am, I hide as well as I possibly can.  After they are gone, or as soon as I can, I call the police, and then my insurance company.

What about revolution?  Successful revolution, even the now ancient US Revolutionary War involved organization on a vast scale, impressive leaders like George Washington, intelligent thinkers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, a broad spectrum of wealthy elites, and massive social participation.  It wasn't just a few cranks with guns.  Even with all that, the USA would likely not have won without getting backing from the French (who had their own reasons to dislike the British) Army.  The British were far away and were already beginning to think that the American colony wasn't profitable to them anyway, hence the escalating taxes, and were beginning to realize how much they could scrape from India instead.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Time to quit undertaxing the wealthy

Greenspan did not pull any punches in 1983...the intent was to put Social Security on solid basis, positive trust fund all the way, for 75 years.

If fact, for the time, it was very conservative, if the economy continued to grow as it had for the previous 40 years since WWII, the trust fund would grow forever (which would mean workers being taxed too much in the present).  At the time, one might have even suspected Greenspan raised the payroll rates too much...  Now why would he have done that...

What's happened since?  Well of course the Reaganomic trickle-down economy has not turned out as well as the previous 40 years, ESPECIALLY for wages, the basis of revenue for SS.  Part of Reagnomics is huge cut in tax rates on the wealthy, corporations, investment income, not so much on poorer people (who may have actually seen tax increase because of the increase in payroll tax).

So, in effect, ordinary taxpayers invested in the wealthy by giving them huge tax cuts, and the wealthy were supposed to return an endlessly growing economy, a rising tide that would lift all boats, jobs for and with a future.  But instead the wealthy did these things:

1) outsource, outsource, outsource
2) cash out at the low rates and build guilded age mansions
3) predatory finance, healthcare, ...
4) political "speech"

Time for clawback, or at least drop this counterproductive social investment program of undertaxing the wealthy.  They aren't delivering, it's a money pit.

When was the Social Security Trust Fund created?

Correct answer: 1939, as told by the official historian in 2005.  [Important Note!  This linked report is not about the trust fund itself, but how it was temporarily included in a Unified Budget with the rest of the US Government.  That practice began in 1969 and ended in 1983.]

Between 1935 and 1939, the surplus of Social Security was kept on the books of the US treasury, but not as a formalized entity.

I find this Official History to be very interesting, but if you don't already understand such things as how the Social Security system is primarily a pay as you go system, can remain that way forever, and that the contributions were raised 15% in 1983 following the recommendations of the Greenspan Commission to ensure the program would be solvent and able to pay all benefits 75 years into the future, you should read the Wikipedia description.  The Greenspan Commission recommendations were signed into law by Ronald Reagan.  Alan Greenspan was later appointed to be the Chair of the Federal Reserve by Reagan.

Here is the Greenspan Commission Recommendations.  Actually quite a few changes were recommended and made, but the biggest was that the contribution rates were raised from 5.4% to 6.2%

The Number One recommendation was not to alter the fundamental structure of the program.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Links about Chained-CPI

Where's the evil?

If debt is evil, then so is savings, for they are one in the same thing seen from different perspectives.  So this kind of moralism is useless, if not counterproductive.

Much more useful to look at outcomes.  The outcome of failing to borrow to pay for educating our children, maintaining and expanding our infrastructure, pushing forward with research, and, ultimately, a Green New Deal of renewable energy and transportation systems, the outcome of failing to do those things when we had the perfect opportunity to do so will be--quite predictably--disaster, catastrophe, and collapse.

Now that is EVIL!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gun Regulation

Here's a great fact filled appeal to reinstate the 1994 ban on Assault Weapons, or even repeal the 2nd amendment.  I heartily support both ideas.

Here's a study from JAMA showing that gun ownership is associated with increased death, rather than reduced death.  This doesn't surprise me at all.

I've never been a table pounder for increased gun regulation (or decreased gun regulation).  Partly because I don't fear death much.   I fear suffering, not death, my death will be your problem not mine...death gets me outta here and then you're on your own, no more help from me, whew!  Further, I don't have any dependents now, and will likely never have children since I'm already 56.  And then partly because I see that the actual numbers show the likelihood of death from guns as far smaller than other risks, such as medical errors or traffic fatalities.  Both of my parents died from medical errors, btw.

On the other hand, now I do have a lady friend, I think about the possibility of our loosing each other, and unfortunately she now has gun kooks living next to the home she owns, some neighbor kid having recently shot the windows out of a car using a real gun.  (Ever heard of gun locks, guys?)

And as an outlier, I've had more-guns-are-the-answers outliers as my friends, not that I've ever agreed with them either, but I've heard their rants.  I'm so indifferent to guns myself that I wouldn't care if Uncle Sam took them all away, and used them to cast a 1000 ft statue of James Brady.  I have no illusion that individual citizens are going to have any fighting chance against the state.  I've never seen any violent movement in the USA that's been up to any good.  As I see it, mass political movements are the only way to progress.   If violence originates within (or even next to) such movements, it is always used to discredit them.  It's not unknown that often instigators of such violence may even be intending that they are false flaggers...sometimes even undercover law enforcement agents.  But it's also possible they are simply nuts.  I'm thinking Black Bloc protesters breaking windows in Seattle 1999, a pattern almost predictable now.  Almost all of the demonstrators were opposed to such tactics.  Black Bloc was, and usually is in any demonstration, a tiny minority of nuts, likely riddled with agents provocateurs.

I don't own a gun, and will avoid doing so.  I did once buy a gun.  I bought a gun for the specific purpose of killing myself.  Or at least that was what I was trying to do.  Fortunately for you, heh, and me, the state where I lived at the time, California, had a "cooling off" gun regulation.  I put in my order and had to wait 5 days.  Well, 5 days later I had indeed cooled off.  I took the gun home anyway.  Not wanting to tempt fate and my own unpredictable mind, I never bought any ammunition.  I bought a top quality one and I loved to feel the silky smoothness of the never-fired mechanism.  Finally I sold it to a gun collector, figuring he couldn't do any more damage with my gun than the ones he already had.

Alternative to REH

Seems to me number one problem with the Rational Expecations Hypothesis REH promoted most heavily by Freshwater Economists is one person model.

A diversity of internally diverse (with mix changing over time) agents is the obvious reality.

internal operators could include include REH, Herd Following, Random, Pay-Forward, Lazy, Altruistic

Pay-Forward is do what's universally right for it's own sake, but uses conventional definitions of what's right that are not entirely altruistic

Altruistic is do first what's best for others, regardless of social conventions, bounded

Lazy is do as little as possible

for most of those internal operators, there is also an anti-operator, as some 10% or so are simply inclined to be contrarian.

Thinking about Myers-Briggs 4 major types SJ, SP, NT, NF

SJ by far most common type, 50/50 herd following and pay forward
SP random and anti-lazy (enthusiastic)
NF  Altruist or Pay-forward at 100%

Another bounced post...would be nice if they said why

Latest post to DeLong's blog:

I agree that the Capital Gains rate (and worse, the Carried Interest Rule) are the absolutely most sickeningly unfair aspects of our tax code.  Workers taxed more than financiers?  Unfair and economically destructive as well.  A low capital gains rate encourages cashing out, rather than re-investment.  Plus, if the revenue is substituted from non-capital gains, consumer spending decreases, therefore the incentive for investment is reduced as well.  But savings increases even as investment falls, meaning that asset speculation goes through the roof.  Sound familiar?

Two tries, from original data then Google login, and both failed.  I wonder if I'm on a bounce list now.  It would be if they said why.

And I thought my posts were getting better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Endogenous Money Creation

It's one of my favorite blog articles...reread several times...but it's so long I actually only finished reading it to the end tonight, thanks to a slur I was given by a commenter at Economist's View (Mark A. Sadowski said I believe in voodoo).  I strongly resisted many temptations to hit back with another slur (what good does that do?) and instead dug up the Steve Keen's description of endogenous money creation, the way the money supply actually works, contrary to those who believe in myths such as Fractional Reserve Banking.

This has a long history, informed by Keynes, Wicksell, and Minsky, among others, as well as Marx who is pictured at the top with a pithily pungent description of bankers (as Roving Cavaliers of Credit).

Letter to Congressman

I agree with Paul Krugman's "That Old Sick Feeling" post today that the fiscal deal has already turned sour, and it would be better to go over the cliff than accept a deal like that this year.

I want to see the principle established that investment income is taxed no less than wage income.  Number One should be abolishing the Carried Interest rule that vulture capitalists like Mitt Romney fly high on.

Why the Euro must fail

First off, I agree that Euro could be saved by the full package of measures suggested by Jamie Galbraith (see previous post).  I think Krugman has specified similar measures, but they sound insufficiently radical.  This has to be full throated, or it's just duct tape.

But the plain fact is, that kind of full integration isn't happening.  I strongly believe it can't happen, and won't happen because it is politically impossible.  It will be politically impossible until Europeans see themselves as Europeans first, and not as Germans, French, Italians, etc.  I live in Texas, but I consider myself an American more than a Texan, or even Californian (where I was born and lived a mostly happy 36 years).  I believe most Americans feel this way.  But in Europe, once the 2008 crisis set in, the international finger pointing began.  Those xxxx Greeks!  and so on.  Finger pointing in the USA was less directed at states than pan-state groups, though bogus claims were made by regressives that some states, such as Texas, had been spared.  The obvious inacuracy of those claims didn't help those making them.

Technically, the Eurozone is not an Optimal Currency Area as defined by Peter Kenen.  I haven't read Peter Kenen yet but I'll take Paul Krugman's word on this.

Third, as Jamie Galbraith says, the Eurozone institutions were established in a form that could have been (he says it was) based on economic ideas from the University of Chicago.  Home of vulture economics, toxic gas.  It establishes a single mandate...currency stabilization.  So what happens when, largely as a result of neoliberal policies of the ECB and leading member nations, mass unemployment sets in?

Fourth, the Euro is basically a predatory lending scheme.  Money was lent from highly productive countries to less productive countries.  But not so much to industrialize those countries (after all that could allow them to become competitors).  More to fuel real estate speculation, excess consumption (mainly of goods from those highly productive countries), tax deferral.  I blame the lenders--who should have known better.  Like bankers in the USA, they chose the quick buck.  They should have known it would come back to bite.

Fifth, the Euro is a neoliberal wedge to destroy European welfare state policies, and ultimately welfare state policies around the globe.  That is why I would like to dance on it's grave.   This is not hypothetical, austerity policies were the first and still the primary effective response.  The existence of the Euro creates multiple prisoner's dilemmas with regards to welfare state institutions.

Sixth, I suspect it was not only intended to destroy European welfare state policies, it was an attempt to subvert one of the key humanizing aspects of Capitalism--sticky wages.  It is precisely wage deflation that is being forced on debtor countries.  It's never worked before, and I strongly believe it won't, but all the same it could, and the result would be driving all wages to below subsistence--globally!  It would be far better to have wage inflation in Germany.  I can't imagine Germans ever accepting such an idea, in spite of the fact that such a change would allow Germans to enjoy more of the ammenities of their neighbors.

Seventh, as things stand now, it looks like a suicide pact.  Now I can well imagine the response...why am I blaming the Euro, the Euro is fine, good, excellent, the problem is thost XXXX Greeks, etc.  OK, fail, go back to #1 above.

Now you might ask, as an American, don't you just want to see the Euro fail, instead of your own corrupt currency?  Not exactly.  I'd much rather see a relatively weak US dollar, and strong foreign currencies, as that would stem the disinvestment that has been happening in the USA since Reagan.  A strong dollar isn't good for me, though it might be good to some vulture capitalists in Wall Street.  But my interests have little overlap with theirs, and I'd rather see them fail because vulture capitalism continues destroying the world.  Along these same lines, I would love to see a strong German Mark.  I have enjoyed competitively priced German products in the past, but what's more important in the big picture is more domestic investment and job creation.  Germany enjoys a huge advantage from a comparatively weak currency.

Ultimately, a currency is not a technical matter.  It's a system of trust.  In the current world, that level of trust vanishes once you go beyond national borders.  Except with regards to Masters of the Universe, who don't live on earth anyway.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Galbraith solves Eurzone riddle in one speech

This Galbraith speech goes to the top of my best ever list in several categories.

Below is the first set of comments I posted.

Galbraith truly nails almost everything in this speech as I've been unable to do in arguing with my friend who lives in Germany.  However, I won't bother to send him a link.  He always finds some semantic error in the first sentence and won't go further.

Galbraith especially nails, in what appears to me to be the least offensive way, what's wrong with German policy and (dare I say) ways of thinking about these things.  And the early vs later institutions and what ideas they are based on.  There are somewhat more offensive ways to make similar arguments, and some have appeared in the comments.  I will try to avoid providing too many more here.

The comment wrt the debt actually presented in the form of a corollary to Murphy's law.  Murphy's law can't be taken entirely seriously, but it can't be dismissed either, and that's the point.  It's an ironic take on the Tao, that which bends doesn't break, etc.  Galbraith knew he was pushing irony here, not always well taken with liberal Americans (who love irony) speaking to Germans, but it seems this audience took it well.  Still, since it only tends toward 60% debt/GDP ratio, as described here, that sounds good, even Keynesian, at least in the abstract (assuming the only country in the world is Germany).  But we can be sure...the perfect rule will always fail.

I like the discussion here too.  Cathartic.  More popcorn please.


In response to one commenter complaining the speech was all about Germany, not the EU, I replied:

Germany is where the largest share of GDP and credit comes from in the EU.
The elephant. Now surrounded by many small debtor nations and an implausible scheme of balancing.
The Euro project was asking for trouble, big time.
I have the strong sense it won't end well, but end it will, end it should, and end it must. More duct tape won't hold the rocket together. Galbraith and Krugman are more diplomatic and possibly more optimistic than I am.
I agree with Galbraith that the Euro project was based on ideas similar to the Monetarist experiment conducted by Paul Volker in the 1980's. Volker himself gave up on the Monetarist program before he was replaced. Now we know Monetarism can't possibly work, since money isn't created by governments or banks, money is created by borrowing.

All errors are my own.

Given such currently inexplicable facts, such as entanglement, and the dominant Copenhagen philosophy of Quantum Physics, it's beginning to seem as if the world is indeed queerer than we can suppose.
But that limit to our imagination is not proven, we can easily suppose something like Simulation, and within that framework Entanglement and Copenhagen make perfect sense.
Remember that Copenhagen says that particles do not have a definite state until they are measured. Really. Entanglement experiments, which originated from an attempt by Einstein to dismiss Copenhagen, back this up, every experiment ever done on this (to my limited knowledge) has confirmed it. I was once told by one Physicist that many Physicists strongly dislike Copenhagen, but lacking an alternative that hasn't been shot down (Einstein's hidden state idea was shot down) they don't buck the program.
You can invoke the ghost of Wittgenstein as a friend of mine does, but Wittgenstein didn't live to see all these results. Perhaps there is some weird error that some of the brightest minds in history have been making for 75 years (Einstein, Feinman, etc), but what is the likelihood that if there is such an error that any of us will see it? 

Monday, December 17, 2012

One take on Occupy

A Wired reporter embedded herself into the Occupy movement, visiting many different camps, often just before they were closed down by police.  This is her eulogy.

Despite having originated from corporate media, the story is very compassionate and real sounding.  I was most touched by these lines:

Less understood was the other part of Occupy — the part that was about the need for community. Occupiers came to the camps to care for others as much as they came to be cared for. People had to find a way to matter to each other in ways that weren’t mediated by the social services, the justice system, the institutions we stick each other into.

Mac has no good picture viewer

I can't seem to find any built-in program on my new (the very newest) Mac Mini that is anything like a picture viewer.  Every built-in program seems not to be oriented to people like me, who like to collect thousands of images.

Back in the original days of multimedia computing, picture viewers were possibly the single most popular kind of add-on software.

I'd go further and say it even seems to me that Mac goes out of it's way to inhibit picture viewing on the grand scale (with many thousands of pictures in nested folders) like I do.  Given the otherwise incredible capabilities of these programs, I'd say that it looks to me like they have been deliberately hobbled in this area.

Take the Finder.  It's wonderful that Finder now provides a cover-flow mode.  That does allow you to see what is in your pictures as you are scanning through them.  But such pictures do not fill the entire screen and so this is not a picture viewer.  Now you can create a magnifier window, which does follow the current picture pretty well (it sometimes takes more than a moment to catch up).  And you can scroll forwards and back using the arrow buttons.  That's all good.  But once you enlarge the window to take up the whole screen, the arrow buttons no longer work.  If the arrow buttons actually worked in full screen mode...this would be a decent picture browser.  But they don't, and it's extremely clumsy to go from one full-screen display to another.  You have to click on the de-magnify button, select the new picture, then magnify that.  This must have been a design decision.  Why make the arrow keys not work in full screen mode when they work in every other mode?

Nog consider iPhoto.  With all the capabilities to modify photographs, and all the long times it takes to do anything, this seems clearly like an image glossing program.  Not a true image manipulator, but close enough for those who don't like to do anything interesting, just touch up their photos a little.  Now once again you can view photos full screen.  And here, you can actually use the arrow buttons.  The program is dog slow as a picture viewer, but it kinda works.  But "full screen" doesn't really mean "full screen.  You see the photos in their native format, or an even scaled reduction.  A true picture viewing program would expand every image to full screen size regardless of the native size.  This is not hard to do, especially for jpeg images.

Long ago I purchased a program called "Picture Explorer" for my Windows 95 system.  It had the most wonderful picture viewer, with these features:

1) very fast, even on 133 mHz machine
2) arrow buttons work
3) optional preview pane showing next picture, optional details pane
4) any picture could be scaled to any size by moving mouse
5) the Finder-like browser used 2 dimensions to show up to hundreds of photos at a time, with little wasted screen space.  Then click on any photo, and it goes full screen with features 1-4.

17 years of breathtaking computer progress later, I can't find a program as good as that was.

I obtained the now unsupported Phoenix Slides, and it's a decent program in a number of ways.  But if you hold down the front or back arrow keys to scroll through more than 10 photos at a time, it stops showing them.  The image size control is limited and quirky.

Posts being eaten

I'm noticing more and more that my posts to other blogs listed on my sidebar (which I try to write politely, moreso than here) are being eaten a lot recently.  Actually, I'm not sure they are being eaten, it's very confusing.  I make a post, filling out all fields, and click post.  Then, without any sort of message, my browser is pointed back to the top of the blog.  I then look at top and bottom posts, and my post isn't there.

If my posts are being moderated, I'm good with that.  I've seen that usually when my posts are moderated, they get published, and at least I have the feeling that someone is reading them and making a human decision, and that's fine.  What's maddening is not getting any sort of acknowledgement at all, and I've come to presume my post has been summarily rejected by machine.  But I don't really know that either.

I can sort of imagine that the companies who run the auto-commenting services are run by fascists, like the people who run social media.  And these fascists have gotten good at recognizing and auto-rejecting my posts.  Perhaps I've gotten on some sort of auto-reject list, seen only by the auto-commenting services.

Update: well I see now it's not just leftist like me, lots of people are complaining about their posts being eaten, some have gotten in the swing of re-posting multiple times until they get some kind of confirmation.  Still doesn't prove this isn't a fascist conspiracy.

"Right to Work"

The Divine Right of Capital

Prior to the development of capitalist economies, and the Industrial Revolution which provided them the opportunity to steal from the past (fossil fuels) and future (pollution, global warming, desertification, extinction) and thereby to grow in extent and population unlike anything before, command economies directed by social elites, kings, aristocrats, and the like, usually with slaves doing the hardest work, were the dominant form of economy going back to time immemorial.  Like all human social organizations, these command economies constructed a narrative which morally justified their existence.  The center of that narrative was usually the divinity of the King, either directly as a God or one having special ability to communicate with gods.

Capitalism turns that upside down, in a capitalist economy (in principle...but rarely in practice) we become ends, not means.  As ends, analyzed by most schools of economics, we are perfectly selfish ends, and many schools of modern economics have assumed that we have perfect forsight, live forever, etc, which leads to the derivation of the most horrible policies imaginable.

But goodness, just as we are becoming ends, we become means again.  We become workers and consumers, which are the means for endlessly growing capital at the behest of the capitalist masters.  Truly in Capitalism it is capital itself which becomes divine, and we only trade one aristocracy of masters for another.

Many point to the (so-called) liberalization of trade as having been a great loss for working Americans. One thing that trade liberalization does is create wage arbitrage.  Wages are driven down by the fact that there are always more poor and desperate people somewhere in the world.  This is not at all the famous (and far less useful than imagined) Ricardian advantage.  It doesn't have to do with Chinese workers, say, being more talented or capable than American workers.  In fact, the situation in China often requires more corporate investment to bring the Chinese up to American standards.  But they will accept less money for the same (or actually greater) amount of work.

But what has really driven the race to the bottom is not trade.  It is the freedom of Capital to go wherever it wants.  This is quite new, actually.  The classical economists assumed that capital was tied to a particular country (or empire) and was not free to move.  Why would sovereigns, such as Queen Victoria, want things to be otherwise?

Capital immobility was a key feature of the most successful world economy that has ever existed, the Bretton-Woods agreement.  One can trace the downfall of fair wages for workers in the USA pretty much to that moment, though later actions under Reagan and others made the situation far worse.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tax Cuts Don't Increase Revenues

Another guy has examined the "tax cuts increase revenues" claim and found it false.

Even the often lauded Kennedy tax cut (which cut top rates from 91% to 70%, btw, about where I believe they should be) did not do so, and sometimes the effect of the cut is lumped with the 10% surcharge that was enacted in 1969, which explains 40% of the decade's increase in revenue.  A key point is that there was a doubling of revenues in each decade just from economic (and population) growth.  The tax cuts did what you would expect--they cut revenues.  Obviously Laffer was wrong when he guessed where we were on the tax revenue curve (from Keynes!), and that was with rates of 70%.  The point at which tax cuts would be self funding must be way above 70%, maybe even above 91%.  Anyway, "above 91%" would be consistent with the data.

Reagans cuts brought the top rate down to 50% in 1981, then to 28% in 1986.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Graphical interfaces are used to make closed systems

Graphical user interfaces, such as Mac OS X, Windows Seven, or Unix X11, can be great things.

It is impossible to imagine Web browsing without one, for example.

But this is always, always, a cover for what is really going on in the system.*  A terminal interface, particularly the Unix interface (now represented mostly by linux) is an inherently and almost unavoidably open interface (though the Windows version has been increasingly brain dead since Win 98).

(*Even Xerox Parc Altos, the first GUI, which Steve Jobs saw and copied, proves this.  Xerox had a different truly open system that ran Smalltalk, where everything down to the kernel was said to be programmable from the high level object oriented language, an OO programmer's wet dream.  Perhaps my judgement should remain open on that...I've never seen anything but fake Smalltalk systems.  But Smalltalk was only marginally successful as a licensed product, and I'm not sure if actual Smalltalk  systems as I ever sold, you could only get some kind of virtual machine that relied on whatever was below it...and therefore not a fully open system of course.)

I could barely tolerate Apple's interfaces prior to OS X.  Unix has had an infinite variety of advanced graphical interfaces since X11 was unveiled in the mid 1980's.  So with any decent Unix system since then, you could have it GUI or not, as you preferred.  No GUI I ever tried was completely open, but the purpose of a GUI anyway is to run prepackaged don't need openness for that.  Unix GUI's were either limited or clunky, as many of the standard ones for Sun Solaris Unix, or unwieldly difficult to set up, and least in my limited experience, like BSD or linux.  The original Unix X11 interfaces were mostly limited and clunky.  One of the best was made by a company that ultimately went under because they relied on making systems that were fairly expensive, and cheap (and actually useless) early PC's undercut everything and destroyed the independent system market, except for Apple.

The powerful GUI was in the computers made by Apollo.  However, I haven't known anything about them since the mid 1980's.

When Apple introduced OS X, everything changed.  Previously Steve Jobs during his hiatus from Apple developed the NeXT system, which was reasonably beautiful in concept.  It was intended to be an extremely user friendly system based on Unix.  I had a 2nd generation NeXT machine, and in my experience (and from what I heard) it was intolerably slow for most people.

However by the time OS X came out, the Unix based system was actually faster than the fully closed and insanely clunky Version 9.

Apple was a reasonably good actor at first too.  Most of the Unix they used was actually based on Gnu Free Software, from the Free Software Foundation.  Almost in keeping with that spirit, Apple made a lot of code free and had published interfaces.  That was a break from the past and with Windows tradition as well.  I'm not sure how much of that "almost" has been retained since then.

But I do know that Apple continues to fight the Unix command line interface.  By default, it's invisible, though it's not hard to add to your desktop or toolbar.

Recently, with Lion, they have made the Unix command line tools unavailable, unless you select them in a Preferences dialog.

Software Companies have done a great job of getting people to prefer system closure.

Mind closure is only the next step.  I'm strongly re-considering my step away from linux.

X11 was originally very limited.  That didn't really matter, because it's users were all Unix lovers anyway, and of course the Unix system as well as its command line interface are the most complete and beautiful of any I know.  So who cares if the GUI is limited?  Well that's no longer an option in the world of web and multi media.  The GUI which handles those things HAS to be quite powerful and smooth.  Linux systems in the 1990's and early 2000's were still clunky and confusing, I felt, and actually not fully capable because of the intrusion of proprietary protocols, like Adobe's flash and RealAudio.  I think that has been corrected now, so linux probably deserves another examination by me...  Though I just bought a fully loaded Mac Mini.

So far, Mac has only been annoying to me, since I can change Mac behaviors back to the way I like.  I always put Terminal in the Dock.

Windows Seven has become even more annoying.  Back in Windows 98, arguably their best product ever, your files, all your devices, rested on the desktop.  You could just click on them to open.

Now, with Windows Seven, you have to select My Computer from the menu, open a dialog, check the right box, and click before you are permitted to see your files.

And I might not need to tell you that even then many of your files require further dialogs to access, or are ultimately unavailable.

The way Apple and Microsoft wield the graphical *user* interface is clearly part of their enclosure strategy.   And so it has been, though Microsoft didn't start hiding the command interface (horribly clunkly and limited anyway) until Windows 98.  By then, all were chanting the GUI GUI GUI chorus. I attended a Windows 95 unveiling, in an auditorium of 3000.   The demonstration was cleverly designed to show one of the old horrors of the Windows command line interface...the installation nightmare.  The crowd cheered when the presenter said "you won't have to do that again."

It seems all the geeks I know think similarly.  No serious programmer I've ever met does not use command line interfaces.  But I worry about younger generations.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dredd Blog and other notes

Sorry to those commenters who haven't gotten any response from me.  I'm just barely learning the ropes of this blogger thing, which they keep changing.

Now I'm having trouble figuring out how to add new links to my sidebar.  I've enjoyed so many blogs recently I need to add at least a few more.

One great one is Dredd Blog.  Here's a great post on Plutonomy

Here is the website home

Somewhat less radical (and therefore possibly more useful) is Lawyers, Guns, and Money.

Here's one of their posts comparing Lincoln and Obama, and basically arguing that both are pragmatists and not idealists.

The local liberal newsweekly has an article on Project Censored 2012.

The MoneyIllusion looks interesting, but I haven't read it closely enough to make a full judgement on Scott Sumner's blog.  It reminds me a bit, but only a bit, of the fabulous Interfluidity blog by Steve Randy Waldman.  However MoneyIllusion looks mainly quasi contrarian nuts-and-bolts, whereas Interfluidity is more the deep thinking.  Sumner also seems to be a fan of economic management through creative monetary policy, such as NGDP targeting.  I tend toward fiscal policy, and in that I tend toward direct spending, and in that I tend toward direct government employment.  Taking a quick look, I see that Sumner doesn't include Interfluidity on his has can't be that good.  How's that for snap judgement.  But he does include Hawtreyblog.  Sumner has recently posted, without any explanation whatever, a skeleton takedown of Krugman.  I think I could have posted what he did and expanded it to defend Krugman.  I may have found out about this blog because of a favorable mention by Krugman.  Or maybe it was DeLong, who would be more intellectually compatible.  Still, if I can stand DeLong, I should be able to stand Sumner.

Here's a collection of works by Henry A. Wallace, FDR's last VP before Truman.  Wallace was the most radical of New Dealers in the FDR administration, and had started as Agriculture Secretary.  It was a great shame we didn't get him as President after Roosevelt.

I'm not endorsing The Fiscal Times (because I really don't know much about it, though that hasn't stopped me from denouncing sites in the past...speaking of which, I'm actually very worried that TFT is a TaxCutHawk BudgetArsonist site with Norquist leanings, funded by notorious EntitlementCutHawk Pete Peterson, but so far I haven't found the ABOUT page, so I can't be sure, but why oh why do I see ads for Tea Party Patriots when I visit the site...maybe even Peterson is too liberal for this site...oh wait, Wikipedia lays it out, indeed, TFT was founded by Peterson, though he was only the "initial" funder, wow, I must be psychic or something.)

So, given my unsupported misgivings about the site, I was surprised to see Mark Thoma, a nice guy and host of Economists View (a remarkably heterodox site for such a name) and he wrote this great oped on the failure of Supply Side Economics.

Dean Baker shows how the deficits are almost entirely due to the recession, and asks why the Washington Post is so fixated on cutting Social Security.

Robert Reich gives us his quick version of understanding the Fiscal Cliff, and why we should not worry about it: no deal is better than a bad deal.

Economists View seconds Kevin Drum's blogpost that the Social Security Trust Fund is not a fiction.

RealClimate is another blog I should have on my blogroll (in addition to Climate Progress).  Here's a great can't assume sea level rise is a quadratic, so don't try to fit a quadratic.  ClimateProgress is a great news and information site, but RealClimate is real climate science discussed by real climate scientists, and it gets very very technical (what would you expect?).

My respect for Brad DeLong fluctuates, but when he does a great post like this on plutocracy, with an even greater comment section, my reaction is grateful awe.

Chomsky takes on fallacies in Artificial Intelligence, with a fairly profound discussion of what scientific theories are supposed to be like (e.g., not a 100x100 correlation matrix).  Scientific theories are all about the narrative, the explanation, and not just lots of correlations.  The correlations can help back up claims, but do not in and of themselves represent a theory.  This article is important because of things I'm interested in as well as the actual science work I do for a living, and I think this helped me understand all these things better.

Fatas and Mihov look like good people I should be reading more often.  Top notch economics with a heart.

Andrew Gelman seems to be interested in statistical modeling.  But that's all I can say now.  Oh, wait, one of his things is defending Bayesian models.  This looks very interesting and I wish I had 5 extra hours today.  Here's a nice little intro to Bayesian probabilities.

Brad DeLong reposted a blogpost written by Miles Kimball, "Is Taxing Capital OK?"  This generated some very interesting comments, such as Troy's comment:

But the portion of these profits that come solely from the monetization of inherent "natural" monopoly -- of ground rents, extraction of 'ab initio' natural resources, and other physically limited opportunities like EM spectrum licenses -- is the species of income that can and should bear the most tax in our system.
EconomistsView reposted some words from Paul Volker about the importance of effective government.  Very interesting discussion in comments, mostly about Volker himself, and his actual impact as one of the creators of the current Bubble Economy. Also questioning of the conventional wisdom that Arthur Burns kicked off the inflation of the 1970's which Volker ultimately "fixed" (possibly to our detriment, unless we are banks).

The Twinkie Manifesto by Krugman is good and also has some interesting comments.  One commenter points out that some of the bargaining power of people in the 1950's was helped by low 3% unemployment, and also the Full Employment Act of 1946, ammended in 1978, which aimed specifically at 3% unemployment.  Economists have done a great disservice by promoting the ficticious and slippery NAIRU which says we can't have low unemployment.

Noah Smith has some comments about Bob Lucas.  He's very critical, and yet not entirely critical.  Some say he puts Lucas at the center of his political economic universe (i.e., the center to which he is the left of).  In that case, Noah Smith's blog is about as far right as I care to go, I think now.

Macroresiliance got a nod from Krugman this week, and it's a very interesting site, unusually applying ideas from the science of biological ecology (as distinguished from the advocacy of ecology...though people who understand the science do tend to become advocates) to economics.  I find it utterly convincing, which then makes me wonder if I should be convinced.  Beyond the ecology, one does also feel an influence of Chinese philosopy (another of the author's interests, though he doesn't seem to be Chinese) and Minsky (one of the greats of Economics, but barely recognized before the current crisis).  I don't know how a priori this is, but surely if you're going to have a theoretical framework that's a priori applicable to Economics, it seems to me Ecology is the natural starting place, not the gas laws used by Neoclassical economics (neoclassical economics is based on the physics of gasses, maybe that's why it's so full of gasbags like Robert Lucas, the Chicago nobelist who says unemployment is voluntary vacation).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Raise Taxes, Don't Cut Spending or Benefits

Raise taxes first and only.  There is no need for spending or benefit cuts to meet a $4B deficit reduction target, according to Robert Reich in recent post.

Jobs not deficits ought to be the concern today anyway, according to virtually all economists.  The jobs problem could easily be solved by sufficient deficit spending.  As Paul Krugman said this week, we need a greater deficit next year, not a lesser one.  A turn to austerity would make things worse, especially austerity in spending.  Tax increases on the wealthy right now would not harm this top heavy fact, they would help, as in 1993, by changing investment incentives away from cashing out and useless speculation, as described by James Galbraith in Predator State.  And absolutely no question, tax increases on the wealthy to fund a better society is greater total social optimality since the marginal utility of income deceases with greater wealth.  Brad DeLong praised the study that proposed a maximum 71% rate to achieve best compliance--which ought to be the only concern on taxing economic rents and the very wealthy.  Economists who use Pareto Optimality show libertarian bias.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Numbers of Doom

Bill McKibben wrote this article in mid July after the Rio conference.

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

Here's my quick synopsis, by the numbers

2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F)

Many nations have agreed to this 2 degree maximum temperature rise target.  Many scientists belive the target should be 1 degree or less to prevent devastating climate changes.  The rise that has occurred from all fossil fuel burning to date is 0.8 degrees.  If we stopped burning carbon today, existing carbon would probably cause the rise to increase to 1.6 degrees.

565 Gigatons

This is how much CO2 could be added into the atmosphere to remain below the 2 degree target.  Before we use this much, we must be transitioned to an all renewable energy system if we want to avoid catastrophic changes.

2795 Gigatons

This is how much CO2 would be produced by burning all of the fossil fuel reserves that have been identified, oil, oil shales, natural gas, and coal.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Rationality of Voting

Wow, some of my favorite econobloggers have been thinking seriously about voting and why people do it.  Well I'd never heard of him before, but Rajiv Sethi has an excellent analysis:

I'm going to add Rajiv to my blogroll, he's excellent.  Basically his analysis gets to the feelings of voters.  Voters feel elation not only if their side wins, but if their side wins by a big margin, and most people do indeed have an ability to contribute to the bigness of the winning margin if their side wins, as well as whether their side wins.

In contrast, the conventional economic analysis (Rajiv has many links) is that voting is pointless for everyone except the single individual that casts the deciding vote.  Since most voters do not cast a deciding vote, by that criterion voting is pointless for nearly everyone because the probability of changing an electoral decision is very very small,* even people in swing-states, though it's slightly less likely to be pointless for them.  I agree with Rajiv that this conventional economic analysis of voting is wrong.

(*John Quiggin, an Australian economist, has determined that the probability of casting a deciding vote may be much larger than many economists have claimed, especially for candidates other than The President.)

Rajiv says that he registered to vote within minutes of receiving his naturalization certificate.  Regardless of how strictly rational of an activity voting is, many people do indeed take it very seriously, enduring long lines and other hardships.  Noam Chomsky has pointed out that many people in history have fought very long and hard to get voting rights.

The very first commenter on Rajiv's post is JW Mason, who makes a somewhat different argument similar to one I have often made.  Mason says that one does not really vote as an individual, but as the member of one or more groups, and voting is an activity which is part of and affirms group identity.  These groups are large enough to be electorally decisive, and have interests that are broad enough to be generally affected by the election outcome.

Mason also makes another interesting observation which some people I know might not agree with:

"The whole language of choices, interests, reason, etc., doesn't refer to anything in material reality.  There is no sense in which billions of neurons in a single human body "really do" constitute a moral agent but some trillions distributed across various human bodies do not."

That's an interesting view, which I think I agree with, but I can also see some counterarguments which wouldn't be easily dismissed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Church of Tolerance

Though I support athiest, secular humanist, and separation of church and state groups, because I consider their cause is actually one of liberation, I also support the idea of a singular state-supported church, though I'm not sure that would work in USA.

The thing is, the national state churches of Europe seem to have led to majority athiesm--which I think is great, and also more decent traditional religion, the separation of church and state in USA seems to have led to mass religion to the point that, say, open atheism is forbidden in the highest offices, and we have lots of churches that preach crazy and crazier.

Given the institutions we have inheirited from history, people need something like churches.  Since this need for things like sense-of-community, mates and marriages, and so on, isn't fully served by other institutions.

For a country like USA, a very polycultural country, a singular church might not do.  If USA were to have a singular church, it could only be the Church of Tolerance because of all the variations in what people believe.

The Church of Tolerance admits all ideas except for intolerant ones.  Thus you may say that straight people are most wonderful, in your opinion, but not that gays are damned.  Not to say that everyone believes everything, but that everything is tolerated.

From a broad social perspective, there's no actual point in making sure people believe exactly the same things or be excluded--except that this makes additional kinds of intolerance possible, and therefore multiple conflicting groups.  With more and more conflicting groups, there is less social cohesion possible, and thus easier dominance by patriarchy and plutocracy.

Tolerance is the only kind of singular church that would work in USA.  But since so much religion in USA is essentially based on intolerance (others of any difference are always inferior or even damned) it's not clear we will ever get to that.  A further complication is how the lack of social cohesion created by intolerance may seem to be beneficial to some powerful people.  As a society, we must rise beyond such parochialism.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

To be a human being is to be a social being

To be a human being is to be a social being, part of a human society.  Nothing is a better example of a "social" concept than the very concept of murder.  It is not a mere killing, it is a special intentional killing, not part of justified war or a legal process regarding crimes against humanity, or the administration of euthanasia.  And it is a crime, which means it is not allowed by society, determined by society, and punished society.  After it has been done by one or more members of society to other members of society.  And the justification for the punishment is that it will lower the number of such crimes committed within society in the future of that society.  The universal definition and prohibition of murder are noted especially in advanced societies of the last few thousand years, for example Babylonian, Hebrew, and Roman law schemes.  Animal species not much different from human genetically may feature an activity like murder as a normal advancement protocol.  It has long been my guess that the first legal prohibitions of murder were not originally intended to provide people with rights (the right to life) but rather than to keep the hierarchies of society stable and the operations of society efficient.  Prohibiting murder in general (if not necessarily in all cases as we would define them now--even fairly large societies had ritual killing) is therefore and obviously the first step in creating a mass society, a great civilization.

Since a human being is a social being, it is unavoidable that the life of a human being begins at birth.  That is when a human being enters society.  What is created by conception is not a social being but a biological one, scientifically known as zygote, which grows through several phases, but becomes part of human society, a bio-social entity known as a child, at birth.

I have no problem with abortions, I think safe and hygenic abortions are a good idea in all cases where children are unwanted by their mothers*, and should be free and encouraged in those cases.  One should not feel guilty about needing or having had an abortion.  I have no problem with an abortion up to the point of natural birth, following my understanding of when the life of a human being begins.  However I consider schemes which only consider abortion to be legal until the point of fetal viability also to be quite reasonable, and I find Roe V Wade to have been real world legal greatness of the highest order.  Lawyers familiar with Roe have often praised it.

(*The father's body is not involved even immediately before conception.  The father's interest ought be legally immaterial.  However, a father who wants a child, and can afford to support it, can possibly persuade the woman to carry the child.  A father who didn't want the child has an unavoidably weak hand, I think it is not unreasonable if he be committed to support even a child he didn't want, though each case may need to be considered in its details.  The mother's physical burden is greater, so each sex has its burden.)

Mostly unrelatedly, I also believe the human population needs to be reduced, as quickly as possible, but not harming human or non-human beings, from current 7 billion to somewhere around 3 billion under ideal circumstances. It's hard to believe such a harmless reducly could ever happen, but it obviously could do so reasonably quickly if each person is would choose or could be restricted to fathering or birthing one child.  I believe preferences are easily moved by society, a society committed to such change could easily do so without the use of physical force.  The problem is only that so many entities in society are opposed to such change because population growth is what makes them great (or, less charitably, it is what they feed on).  Religious entities the most common offender here.  Nations have been so also.

With anthropogenic carbon forcing underway, which threatens great catastrophes in the near future, a smaller number even might be preferable.  I have also heard estimates of the best number which ranged down to 0.5 billion, and personally I long held the notion that 1 billion would be best and most sustainable human population.

We could also solve our global warming problem with drastic we use energy, so why blame the birthing of children?  Because it isn't happening either way, and likely to make the changes we need to make both kinds of changes will be needed to minimize suffering.

Given that, I especially would have the law not encourage birthing in any way, including by restricting abortion in any way.  The only limitation with the importance of this is that allowing free, or even payed abortions (I would government pay all costs associated with having an abortion, including access to the abortion center--reimbursing patient travel costs if needed) wouldn't really make that much difference in the overall birth rate.  The bigger wins are in other areas, educating women, access to conception and family planning services, changing the social acceptance of such things (as well as the need for these changes).  Abortion is small potatoes in managing global population.

Since it is comparatively unimportant in that scheme, the principal motive for making abortion free is compassion for the mother, the unborn, and the would-otherwise-be-unconceived.  Availability of abortion is also of great concern to compassionate potential fathers.  I believe in all cases where a woman would prefer abortion, it would probably be better if she had one, for all concerned.  The unborn may lose the potential of becoming a human life, though most likely a tragic human life of unneeded suffering.

Would I choose to lead a tragic life of unneed suffering?  No.  Would I want to create a tragic life, when I would otherwise have a later opportunity to create  a fine one?  I try to make the choices that lead to the greatest happiness and the least suffering.  If terminating one unborn life makes it possible to create one later with far better chances for happiness with minimum suffering, I would go for it.  In my calculus the unconceived has as much moral authority as the unborn.

Anyway, tonight at the Texas Freethought Convention debate I did not hear an argument like mine from the pro-choice advocate favored by me and most people in the room.  Instead he relied on an entirely different argument to defend abortion, an argument which also demonstrates the need for free abortion but without explicitly making ANY claim about the beginning of the life of a human being.  I hadn't heard this argument before, and I think it is also a fine one.  I wonder, however, why the debater did not choose to make any statement wrt to the beginning of human life.  I beleive my version, as described above, but I haven't heard it debated in any debates, perhaps there is a weakness I am missing.

The argument this debater made was to start with the question, should a parent be compelled to give up a kidney to save the life of his or her child?  The obvious answer is that it might be wonderful if parents did this in many cases, but in no way should we legally compel people to do such things.  Abortion is a similar situation.  In no way should we compel a woman to have her body used to support the life of another being, regardless of whether that being is a zygote, fetus, or child.

This indeed may be a better argument than mine, so I can see that a debater would choose  to emphasie it, and even exclusively rely on it.  However at no point would he be nailed to saying that a human life actually begins, so he did not contradict me in any way either.  Really, the implied beginning of life in his argument is viability.  If a birthed fetus is viable, then it is human, otherwise not.

I felt sorry for the anti-abortionist, who had come to her position despite being an athiest, and particularly that she had to make her argument before a mostly unsympathetic audience.  But she basically used stock arguments, assertions really, about the beginning of life at conception,* and therefore the need to prohibit abortion, with the same penalties as murder, even in cases of rape, incest.  On danger to the mother's life, she immediately dismissed all claims of psychiatric illness or stress, only in cases where the mother would a decion have to be made as to which one to save.  Then she showed particularly gruesome pictures of post-abortion remains.  Considering the latter, or even the whole by my value system, which actually cares how well people feel, I found her whole presentation disgusting.*

The argument (and her personal motivation, as an Asian) about the need to control abortion for the sake of societies which prefer men so much?  So she would have women and unborn children suffer for the sake of their stupid and unchanging society?  Actually, as some people have pointed out, these defective social preferences are self-curing, and women need not be made to suffer in the process.  Soon, women will be quite valued, at last.  There will be no other option left to these societies.

(The presentation of gruesome pictures relies on the natural queasiness people have when initially unexposed to such pictures, and on sentimentality for the human form.  It should always be recalled that excessive population growth has not only eliminated available resources but literally made many animal species extinct.  So we happily make other species extinct, but cannot bear to see our own blood.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Price of Everything

Paul Krugman, writing in the corporate advertiser funded New York Times--and therefore hardly a bastion of true socialism, wrote that Mitt Romney, unlike the robber barons of old, didn't actually build a railroad.  He bought a few corporations, and mostly disposed of them in various ways, most often obtaining more money for the rentier class including himself than ordinary workers, communities, and customers, who often lost the value of implicit contracts they thought they had.  The biggest winner was Bain Capital itself, who often pocketed millions in fees.

This, it is argued by neoliberals, is an essential part of the economy.  Determining the correct price of everything, so that a market of everything can make the right decisions.  These corporations Bain Capital bought were so underpriced that money could be and often was made by destroying them.

Of course this market liberalism (as John Quiggen calls neoliberalism to be politically neutral) does not and cannot make decisions in the best interests of humanity, or even the class of large shareholders.  The whole Efficient Markets hypothesis is bunk (except in the superficial form indistinguishable from pure unpredictability).  John Quiggen's book examines the deficiencies of the hypothesis in vast detail.

And I'm here today to say that even the great classical economist David Ricardo realized this.  He realized that left to its own devices (and he did not really understand how our corporations are hierarchies which introduce wage price stability) a market economy would lead to a collapse in the value of both wages and product prices, with rents becoming oppressive to all but the rentiers, who would inhabit a unique super wealthy class.  No stranger to feudalism, even David Ricardo realized this was Not A Good Thing.

So this is what the hallowed "accurate price determination" thing will lead to, if indeed it is actually perfected, as the Eurocrats are now trying to do.  One of the key bits of all this, is wage deflation without inflation.

Yes, that is what the Rentiers are doing, crushing us.  And why they must be overthrown.

We start by resisting their efforts to enslave us or devalue us.  I will vote for Obama, but when he writes I will plead with him not to tolerate cuts in Social Security as some say he has already said will be needed.  In fact I don't think there should be any cuts in any spending*, I would increase taxes above $250,000 income (including corporate and carried interest income) and $2,500,000 estates to 70%.  (*I would re-purpose the military to homeland defense and renewable energy conversion--no more empire business.  Spend billions on new efficient energy sources and grids instead of bombers and ships.)

I now suggest as step #2, building a parallel world federalist government, organized along the most possibly democratic basis (unlike, say, the UN, which is only slightly more democratic than the superpower it sometimes angers).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

50 more years of growth may be possible through green economy!

The current techniques of neoliberalism (including the greatest neoliberal project of all: the Euro) have led to economic stagnation.  Ultimately, they profited the rentiers of society, but not so much median workers, so much that I believe the basic engine of capitalist growth is now broken.  The fix: increase wages to reverse 30 years of wage deflation.  I'd put that about 300%.  The rentiers would like to believe they can build a slave ship economy amidst the planetary wreckage of the carbon miracle instead.

Unfortunately, they may be correct.   Methods of political control through media control have gotten so good they made the George W Bush Presidency possible.

But anyway, it would be technically possible, I believe, to have 50 more years of growth to rival the period from Jan 1933 (yes, that was the very bottom) to 1969.  That was actually 36 years, I'm not quibbling here.  And I'm not so much projecting increase in population, energy use, or other things that can't easily be increased anymore.  But more a general prosperity, lack of economic fear (as well as lack of other fears), and technical and political development that would be hedonically measureable as being as that much improved--if not much much more.

(Note: Hedonic measurement is done by economists to determine the relative worth of different things by finding how much in relative terms people would pay for things.  So if, for example, people would only pay two times more for a computer that could crunch ten times more data, it's actual worth is two times more, not ten times more.)

The path to doing that would be the warlike footing (as in the US industrialization for WWII) to building fully renewable energy and sustainable transportation (electric) everywhere on earth, replacing all carbon and nuclear energy use except speciality chemical and medical use not related to bulk energy.

This kind of transition might have only needed carbon taxes if we had started in about 1965.  But now, the changes needed are needed too quickly and the changes needed are far larger.

Now we need direct central public investment, most likely through national governments, but to really really solve the problem it might well need a large trans national element as well, to fund all the new systems everywhere.

This could be run the old fashioned way, just as the Eisenhower economy was, with high taxes and correspondingly high spending.  It would be best, I believe, to have as much direct public employment and management as possible, and as little contracting.  That is ultimately at least as cost effective in most cases, and works to increase the general wage rather than "save money" by decreasing it.

In fact, increasing the general wage should be one new principle!

The result would be full employment and high wages everywhere.  Even Wall Street might well hold on (though personally I believe most of their activities should be outlawed and the outlawing enforced) even if most of the new economy is public, simply through servicing the still remaining private economy which would likely do at least as well as it does now feasting on 80% of the roast.

Along the business as usual, now defined as neoliberalism, path, there is no hope, I believe, of ever having robust growth again.  That may be acceptable to some people as long as they keep their huge cut of the small pie, or so they think, not realizing how small that pie can become.  There may indeed be warlike footings--continued warlike footing in the US for the useless war on terror--but they won't have a positive economic impact against the global destruction being caused by the final phases of the carbon extraction economy.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Nuclear Power: good solution for Global Warming?

Nuclear Energy is promoted by many environmentalists as basically the only technically feasible approach to ending and reversing the CO2 forcing that will cause terrible suffering and change in the future unless we start making the transition now.

Some examples: The new movie "Switch."  George Monbiot.  David McKay and his monumental "Renewable Energy without the Hot Air."  A famous architect I recently talked to who has been a pioneer in designing energy efficient homes going back 30 years.  John Quiggin--an Australian economist I usually agree with and greatly respect.  And many more.

Now all of the pro-Nuke environmentalists I'm referring to agree with that human activity has been causing CO2 increase and hence Global Warming which must be reversed soon.  And most of them would concede that a lot of renewable energy technologies have merit and should be pursued further.  But at the end of the day, they argue that the energy from purely renewable sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal will not meet the required demand.   The intermittent character of most renewable sources is one of the biggest problems, they say.  And nuclear can handle this problem by providing stable backbone power, and do so as safely as other kinds of things we do, they say, safer than coal plants, they claim.

A typical example of the approach taken for mainstream media is the movie Switch, in which each energy source/conversion/recycling is shown along with a number which purports to show how many people would be served by this amount of energy.  I call this the "big numbers" approach.  When we see some kind of renewable energy system, we see a small number.  When we see nuclear, coal, or oil, we see a big number.

If not exactly wrong, all these numbers are misleading.  At the end of the day, we do not need Nuclear Power.   I'm not just singing Kumbaya here.  Many other scientists and engineers have looked at the problem and reached the other conclusion: that we can produce enough free energy for all human needs without either fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

Some of the pro-Nuke environmentalists might concede that much.  Sure, they might say, we could meet all our needs with renewable energies and energy storage systems, but it might require unlikely circumstances like these:

1) Reducing per-capita energy consumption and/or reducing human populations.
2) Replacing current political and economic systems with a fascist energy dictatorship that doesn't care how much renewable energy and storage actually cost.

In fact, assumption (1) does figure into almost every solution of the future energy problem.  But it also figures into the baseline, business-as-usual assumptions too.  As carbon based fossil fuels become harder to get, and relatively scarce relative to growing demand, prices will increase.  This will provide great "incentives" (as economists like to say) to reduce per-capita energy consumption in developed countries, and also incentives not to max out on fossil energy use in China and India.

And (2) in the form of some serious change in global governance (from the current burn and slash plutocracy) will be required, though it is hard to imagine exactly what form this will take.  Getting money out of politics is something most would agree on and would be a good start.  But we have made almost zero progress in carbon reduction so far, and it is clear to all how the existing power structure will block any useful progress (i.e. before catastrophe) in the future.

Usually the pro-nuke storyline finds every little gap in what renewable energy systems can do and calls it fatal.  The typical issue is energy storage.  But energy storage systems have been around for decades and is now a hot area where new technological developments occur daily.  Energy demand management has also been around for decades, but has been improving much like computers because it is largely based on computers.

We now do have experience with renewable systems providing up to 50% of grid power at some times of day (for example, in Germany).  While the renewable sources are intermittent, they average out over a wide area and with diverse sources, and blend into available power from other sources.  There is very little waste in blending this power with existing sources and displacing the use of carbon based energy.

Many of the naysayers who cry it will never work have already been proven wrong.

I recall reading one analysis by two qualified scientists concluding that an all-renewable-energy future would be feasible that was published in Scientific American.  One group that I feel is very qualified on such issues is the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Their conclusion is that nuclear energy research should continue, but no more deployment of nuclear power stations at this time.  They believe as I do that renewable energy is safer and will probably be sufficient.

In fact, many serious investigators feel that rather than reducing the cost of eliminating carbon forcing, full deployment of nuclear energy would increase the total cost--and not even considering the risk and uncertainty.  One such investigator is the famous Lester Brown.

Taking another look at McKay, he claims not to be pro Nuclear, just pro arithmetic.  But I wonder about his estimates of the excess death from Chernobyl.  And I didn't see Fukushima included in his numbers.  But anyway, even the UCS states clearly the nuclear presents the greatest potential dangers.  As I heard one person say, carbon power could be locally catastrophic, and kill just as many people right away, but nuclear can be regionally catastrophic, and have lingering effects on millions no one can dismiss.  And even if it never happens (which I hope!) there is uncertainty (worse than risk) and therefore fear--among millions--that they could be affected.  How much is that worth?

The Euro, bad idea

Steve Keen has one of the clearest descriptions of why the Euro currency was doomed from the beginning.

His succinct synopsis is:

A currency requires a nation, and there is no nation called Europe – nor will there ever be.

Paul Krugman has said much the same thing.  There is a thread in neoclassical economics which has examined "Optimal currency areas" and Europe is far too large, divergent, and not part of a unified fiscal regime according to that analysis.

Keen also points to Wynne Godley, who denounced the Maastricht Treaty back in 1992, predicting what has happened today.

Friday, September 21, 2012

AIDS, and Animal Research is Good

AIDS patients are generally killed by the symptoms of other diseases their immune system decides not to defend.  AIDS has it's finger on the immune system.  Then it hides away in the body, constantly mutating to avoid detection and immune response.  You can see this would be a difficult virus to deal with.

But Chimps, who often carry a cousin of AIDS in their body in the wild, are unaffected by HIV.  They can can carry HIV without being killed by it.

It would only seem natural then, that we should write a contract with some chimps and pay them to help with this research.  We could be honest about the risks.  What other job offers have they had recently?  Perhaps this isn't really free choice still, but this would no worse than the kinds of choices we offer to real human beings, who often have to choose between some undesired job such as boot soldier or being unemployed.  We talk about freedom and choice but in reality our range of choice is very constrained.  We can't choose to live the good life, and not to work, unless we own a venture capital company...

Somehow I can't imagine that being done, though.  How can the negotiation be done.  Should we make Chimps into humans?  We have a society that is built to meet human, not chimp, needs and capabilities.  Should we make Chimps into humans?  Somehow that sounds like the most dastardly idea of all...but if they happened to evolve human capabilities we oughtn't stop them either.

Now even if Chimps who are quite close to us could evolve human like capabilities sufficient to be serviceable in human society...what about baboons, marmasets, or laboratory mice?

Consider the Chimp position in this world now.  Their balkanized native territories are being overrun by Homo Sapiens.  As with the Native Americans who occupied a continent and then became relegated to remote and poor backlands.  Their genetic diversity is already being greatly reduced.  Further the impacts of pollution, global warming, and so on.  When not on relatively tiny protected areas, they are routinely shot by the law breakers.  Off their protected areas, they are shot at will.  Pretty much the sorry state of all other wild animals on earth today.

Living in an animal research facility, animals often get better care and desired attention than in zoos.  Private ownership is a crap shot for unusual pets like monkeys, and even cats and dogs, sometimes they fare better than in animal research and sometimes worse.  (BTW, it's very unwise to own chimps, they can bend steel bars for example.)

Chimps in particular are covered by very strict regulations when used in research today.  They must not be treated inhumanely in any way.  They must be retired after so many years participation in research.  Their medical, social and amusement needs must be met throughout their lifetime.

These animals living away from nature aren't generally a subtraction from what can exist in the tiny portion of wildlands we leave to them.  Those wildlands are already in constant saturation or decline...there are only as many Chimps as the land will bear, and what little protected land they have is constantly being overrun or used illegally.

So in effect the Chimps in research would have an existential choice if Chimp research were abandoned.  Live the life of the research subject, which could be a pampered one if the right regulations and oversight are in place, or not live at all.  I would gladly take the pampered research option over the no-life option.

But given that we can't do this kind of direct negotiation and contracting with Chimps, an emphasis that Chimps must have the same (so-called) rights as humans is terribly misguided.  Instead, we should grant them a different but equally important set of rights (which we unfortunately don't always grant ourselves): collective rights (right to collective existence at some expanse), along with rights to humane treatment.  But not this so-called liberty that is so often valued in human society, we simply cannot do that.  As Jamie Galbraith says, most often this so-called freedom granted to us by our rapacious capitalism is really simply and only freedom-to-shop.  It would be nice if we could offer Chimps that, and I would favor it done if it could be done fairly.  But it can't, really.  And in many ways, it is so limited for most of us anyway, it really isn't that important.  We can't choose not to need food, housing, or healthcare.  So we're back to collective rights and humane treatment, which we must adhere to.

So then I see it as highly useful that we also have enough chimps under our care in research to have a functioning genetic and social system for them.  That also serves as a buffer for catastrophes in the wild.  I believe that would be on the order of 1,000 chimps or it could be 10,000.  I've heard of various proposals to cut Chimp research back to zero or almost zero, and I think those are very bad ideas for many reasons, and the animal rights arguments presented are not relevant to the actual world context.

I fear some animal rights activists have become the tools of those whose real agenda is to de-fund the public sector generally, including nationally funded research.  Nationally funded (or subsidized) research has been the origin of much of our greatness, and future challenges look even more complex than those in the past.

These Chimps should be considered our most treasured guest workers with special requirements.


Now back to HIV.  Is it possible that in Chimps their version (SIV) has actually become a mutualistic damper on the immune system itself?  We humans are plagued with immune system overreactions.