Friday, January 12, 2007

Scarcity Economics: Value and Non-Zero Sum Games

It seems that “theories of value” have been hot, lately. I posted a rumination on “the ultimate refutation of Karl Marx” just a few days ago, that seems highly relevant: Blackmail Reminders: and the ultimate refutation of Karl Marx

Phil Cubeta wonders about “value” and I agree that there are many non economic ways to view it. And some mystical ways that pretended to be about economics, such as Marx’s Labor Theory of Value.

And yet... always contrarian... On another site. It was pondered whether the attention economy... if all other human needs are satisfied (say by nanofactories) ... might that bring about a surprising result? If all other scarcities vanish, except that of scarce human attention, then human TIME becomes the highly valued desideratum. In that case, might the quaint notion of Karl Marx's labor theory of value come true, after all?

NonZeroTell you what. I’m going to attach below a posting made by Chris Phoenix recently on another (Predictions Markets) group. A guest screed that I think sets things in very useful perspective. He uses the notion of Zero-Sum and Positive Sum games, which Robert Wright expresses very well in NONZERO: The Logic of Human Destiny. It seems a powerful insight to help explain why some valuable entities are best protected by a hierarchical “guardian” like the state... while others will be hampered or destroyed if they are valued in that way.

Interstingly, I have found that negative, zero and positive sum games are also very useful in appraising human personalities! Negative sum people would harm themselves if only to get at their enemy. Zero sum types see life as a series of win-lose wars. (And such people dominate ALL political wings, because of their zeal and intensity.)

Cynical zero sum people simply cannot comprehend the infinite problem-solving enthusiasm of those who are wired for positive-sum thinking, and vice versa.

Want an excellent litmus for quickly diagnosing which “sum” dominates another person’s personality? Try Asking: What would you wish for, knowing that your worst enemy would get twice as much of whatever you got?”

One negative-sum person immediately answered “I’d ask to go blind in one eye.”

One guy gave an answer which was maybe zero... or positive sum... or just clever. ”I’d ask for a mate who was all the woman a guy could possibly handle.” (*snort*)

Here is that riff by Chris Phoenix:

----------

SCARCITY-ECONOMICSCP: Follow-up to the type-of-economy and scarcity issues that were discussed a few days ago, and the intriguing phrase "scarcity economics":

A trusted friend is house-sitting for you. When you get back from vacation, your friend tells you, "I borrowed your kitchen table, but it fell off my truck and got smashed. How much do I owe you?" You shake your head and name a figure.

A second friend says, "I picked up your father's funeral urn, and dropped it. How much do I owe you? There's no good answer--there's something wrong with the question.

A third friend says, "I watched two of your DVDs while I was here. How much do I owe you?" The answer of course is "Nothing--what are you talking about?"

The discussion on what kinds of economy are most suitable for what kinds of resource has been focused too small. Some resources are monetizable, and can participate naturally in an economy. But some resources are not easily monetizable, and those are of two different kinds. Each kind of resource needs a different kind of handling. If one kind of resource is handled as though it were another kind, bad things happen.

Some resources, though in theory monetizable, in practice will not change hands without coercion. A nation's territory is an example of this. Such resources are guarded by systems that promote stasis. Interestingly, the guardian systems are also useful for enforcing property rights, preventing involuntary (win-lose) transactions of priced goods. Win-lose transactions are usually an overall loss, as when a stolen car goes a chop shop, so should be minimized.

Win-win transactions should be optimized and maximized (unless they have hidden costs). The commercial system--very different from the guardian system--has evolved to promote such transactions. Since many possible transactions are not mutually beneficial, the commercial system promotes honesty. Since the general welfare improves with each good transaction, the system promotes inventivness. Since resources can make more resources, the system promotes thriftiness. (Readers may recognize Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival here. But she didn't talk about the third system.)


UnlikelinessPositiveSumSocietyThe trouble with Communism was that it applied a zero-sum Guardian administration to tradeable goods, precluding any positive-sum outcome. In fact, it actively destroyed positive-sum opportunities.

The third kind of resource can be used without consuming it, and copied without scarcity. Obviously there are incidental costs to any activity, but if those are sufficiently small, and the value created is large and unrelated to the costs, it seems fair to call the transaction "unlimited sum." Many instances of information fall in this category, especially since the development of networked digital computers. The Free Software and Open Source movements rely on the insignificant cost of copying text, and the high value of that text. Note that creation of significant value is likely to create incidental benefits all around; if the incidental benefits to me from an "unlimited-sum" transaction are likely to outweigh my incidental costs, then it is in my best interest to encourage as many transactions as possible without trying to meter or monitor them.

For more on the "Three Systems," see THREE SYSTEMS OF ETHICS FOR DIVERSE APPLICATIONS, by Chris Phoenix

Now, about scarcity:

Information-type "unlimited sum" resources are not naturally scarce. They may be made artificially scarce, as by intellectual property law. (Some IP law is stimulatory, some is protectionistic. The US software industry did better without software patents, but software copyright was probably a good thing.) In this information-rich age, it's easy to think that everything should be non-scarce. A little thought will show that that's impossible.

There's another type of non-scarcity that I'll call non-shortage until an economist tells me the real name for it. That's when there's enough of a thing available that the cost is driven down to a level just high enough to prevent profligate waste--in normal circumstances, for typical uses, a person in a Western nation never has to think about the cost of a glass of tap water. As manufacturing and material handling improve, more and more things can be placed in that category.

It is tempting to think that non-shortage implies that a thing should be free. Humans like free lunches. But if a material good were actually free, it would be wasted until it became scarce. If food (and janitorial services) on the Star Ship Enterprise were truly free, people would fill each other's rooms with vanilla pudding as a prank. That doesn't mean that in real life, a food dispenser would need a coin slot to prevent waste. The limit might be imposed by social mores or by programming in each food dispenser rather than by direct monetary transaction. But the limit would be there.

Conversely, it is tempting to think that goods should never move into non-shortage status. What would happen if people had all the ___ they needed, without having to pay for it? Wouldn't that be an immoral free lunch? Well, scratch the surface of that, and you'd find that a major part of the resistance comes from the "lost" revenue to the companies that have provided the expensive good. Another aspect of the resistance comes from simple fear of change. I don't have much use for either of those motivations--let the creative destruction roll!

Will there always be some things that are scarce? Yes. Will they always be the same things? No. Are there some things that should never be scarce? Yes.

So can we have a society without "scarcity economics"? No. Can we have a society without shortages of basic resources? Yes. Can we have a society that makes profligate use of every resource? No. Can we have a society that continually improves, sustainably? Yes. Can people rationally give things away without calculating their reward? Yes, but only the "unlimited sum" class of things.

Can we have a society in which all people are satisfied and productive, and rarely if ever conscious of scarcity? That depends on human psychology, but I think so: Develop the economy until all basic needs are in the non-shortage category, and focus human activity on the unlimited-sum categories. Will the weakening of profit and capitalism cause economic instability and regression? I don't know--there's probably a balance to be struck. Can such a society be created through redistribution and ideology, as the Communists tried to do? NO! That approach is corrosive at every turn.

-- Chris Phoenix cphoenix@CRNano.org Director of Research Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

40 comments:

n8o said...

I totally agree. Scarcity will always be with us, because all things don't become abundant in lockstep, relative to each other. A century ago, information of most kinds was rare and valuable. Today, the problem is SPAM. Human analysis of data has changed little relatively speaking.

I used to be taught that economics is essentially the studied of how people can best manage scarce resources. So when it comes to resources that aren't scarce, it's just the wrong tool for the job.

We cannot really eliminate scarcity altogether - but that doesn't mean that we cannot eliminate the scarcity of //particular// kinds of things, like housing, food, shelter, etc. Now that's something worth doing.

Mike Huben said...

The ideas Phoenix relates have been extensively discussed in the economics literature. The three categories he renames are usually called:
* club goods (the ones that in practice will not change hands without coercion)
* private goods (with win-win transactions)
* open access goods (copied without scarcity)

See PRIVATE AND COMMON PROPERTY RIGHTS by Elinor Ostrom for a discussion.

Don Quijote said...

Zero sum types see life as a series of win-lose wars. (And such people dominate ALL political wings, because of their zeal and intensity.)

You forgot business, particularly large business...

You know the people who bribed the congress into passing the Sonny Bono Term Extension Act, and the ones who are using this act to attempt to copyright phrases and processes such as "You're Fired" and on click check-out.

OdinsEye2k said...

I don't know why I like bringing up the punchbowl experiment so much lately, but it seems to work for me.

The behavioralists have this experiment where the scientist puts out a bowl of $50. All that is needed to win this bowl is for both sides to agree to a deal. There are some variants, including one where only one bid is made, and the other person must straight up reject or accept the bid.

It was found that in the one-bid case that bids below 30% or so had an almost universal chance of failing. In a positive sum sense, one should accept any offer, even $1, because you are still better off.

But, people have an intrinsic sense of justice. The bidder is doing nothing special to earn much more than half, other than making a number.

In fact, those negative-sum folks may be beneficial to society! These may be in the class of what are called "altruistic punishers" that police norms and pick on free-riders in a group. In the tribal days, there were plenty of opportunities to slack off in giving a truly worthy communal effort worthy of communal reward (the commons free-rider problem). So, we may well have evolved hardware to give us an intuitive drive to make sure that everyone does their fair share.

You actually see the free-riding debate in multiple guises - discussions of CEO pay, the inequities of capital, "welfare queens" and the proper level of social protection and the like. The first tactic in many of these discussions (and I use it too) is to show that the recipient is unworthy - CEOs are not being seen to be paid on performance rather than just having friends on the board, damned bums should just grow up and get a job like me, and so on and so forth.

So, basically, I'm saying the postive-sum gaming has a twist. Because we realize that it takes two to tango, there is a lot of room for discussion as to just who is really earning the right to demand what.

Of course, in the case of big capital, we are dealing with the hierarchy borne of unequal distribution. I have hundreds of millions of dollars (metaphorically, not literally), and thousands of people begging for the chance to use it. There's a lot of room for favoritism there.

David Brin said...

As usual, DQ completely misses the point. The bono act... and a zillion other acts of kleptocratic thievery... fall into the category of CHEATING. Human nature impells those who get a bit of power to attempt it... though some have self-restraint.

This is not "market economics." Rather, this is exactly the sort of predatory-feudalist behavior that markets are designed to OVERCOME! With democracy and courts serving as backup method for dealing with this relentless drive.

A drive, by the way, that flowered MUCH MORE FULLY under communism than it ever did under liberal-market economies.

Cheating is not an inherent feature of capitalism. It is an inherent feature of human nature, and one that CAPITALISM WAS DESIGNED TO TRY TO OVERCOME.

When markets truly function well, market exchanges are NONZERO Sum. Market exchanges are generally not win-lose, but win-win. Positive sum outcomes drive the cornucopia that has lifted us all (though admittedly some more than others.)

Seriously, if you do not grasp what zero-sum and positive sum mean, then you are simply hurling anecdotes at us, without even knowing what the topic is about. Every single anecdaote simply supports what Adam Smith would say, if he were alive today. "Grab the cronies of the king by their softest parts and make them play fair."

---
DId someone say I should "cross post on Daily Kos"? How would that work... and anyone want to do it for me?

Don Quijote said...

This is not "market economics." Rather, this is exactly the sort of predatory-feudalist behavior that markets are designed to OVERCOME! With democracy and courts serving as backup method for dealing with this relentless drive.

You remind of the people to whom the failures of Communism are pointed out who reply "but real communism has never been tried, Stalinism isn't real communism". They are right, but it's irrelevant in that "real communism" would probably fail to. OTOH There is no real "market economics", there never has been and there probably never will be, so you'll just have to get use to the critique of what is and not of what you would like things to be like.

Cheating is not an inherent feature of capitalism. It is an inherent feature of human nature, and one that CAPITALISM WAS DESIGNED TO TRY TO OVERCOME.

No, no, no, Capitalism was designed to justify and hide the cheating. All Successful Capitalist are kleptocrats and if they aren't, they will become kleptocrats, it's in the nature of the beast.

David Brin said...
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David Brin said...

DQ, you are such a hoot. Go through your day ustilizing a million belefits, denying them all while wallowing in them. Because that is what have-my-cake-and-eat-it zero sum cynics do.

Like the incredible self-hypnosis of using a fantastically positive-sum medium to type words that flow all over the world... a system generated by western processes & capitalism. And of course never even trying to see how much respect Karl Marx himself had for capitalism. Nor how many of the simpleminded failure modes of capitalism that HE saw were assiduously reformed over the last 8 decades... while new failure modes keep cropping up, all the time.

I do not blame you. zero sum personalities are what they are. But the hypocritical inability to even see what the TOPIC we are discussing is about. Well, that's sad.

It is, fundamentally (and mentally) laziness. How easy it is to evade complexity and weighing the difficulties of walking the modern tightrope, by simply and blithely waving at it all and calling it inherently corrupt. But, since the ALTERNATIVES were all vastly worse, more oppressive and less productive, then... that must mean...

Test: Paraphrase. How nonzero and zero sum applies to all of the above. Go on. Paraphrase.

TwinBeam said...

The punch bowl experiment is interesting. Imagine two experiments - one with $10 and one with $10,000 in the bowl.

If someone were to offer you $1 of $10, you'd probably say "screw you". If they offered you $1000 of $10000, most people would gripe, but take it.

But if you're earning $1000000 a year, you might well say "screw you" in the latter case. Our willingness to altruistically punish the cheater depends on the relative value of the lost opportunity.

Maybe that explains the extreme salaries of CEOs better than the theory that their marginally greater abilities are worth the higher pay. Lots of people may gripe about the pay difference, but don't feel they can afford to "punish" their employer for "unfair wage distribution" by quitting.

Just a theory...

SpeakerToManagers said...

brin: It is an inherent feature of human nature, and one that CAPITALISM WAS DESIGNED TO TRY TO OVERCOME.

D Q: No, no, no, Capitalism was designed to justify and hide the cheating.

You're both wrong. Like almost all socio-economic systems, capitalism evolved (and continues to evolve) over time. The few systems that were explicitly designed by humans, like communism, immediately began to evolve into something else as soon as they were implemented. That's why it is not possible to test communism in the real world: it won't stay communism long enough. Also why it's not worth trying.

That's not at all to say that we are all the pawns of powers beyond our control. No, what we do effects the world, often long after we are gone. What we can't do, though, is know for sure that the effect will be what we want it to be, or even remotely related to what we want.

SpeakerToManagers said...

Back to the topic. There's one argument (undoubtedly among many other good arguments) that I've thought of to show that human society is tending to evolve towards a predominance of positive-sum behavior.

Consider an exemplar of the zero- tending to slightly negative-sum game: the Ponzi scheme. The con man who starts it, and to some extent the earlier tiers in the scheme stand to benefit greatly, at the expense of the last ones into the scheme. From what I've seen of Ponzi operators, they're negative-sum thinkers, because they often want to punish the marks they're getting their money from, just for being suckers.

Now consider the development of technological society, starting perhaps as far back as the Neolithic agricultural revolution, and certainly with the invention of writing. An invention that benefits one individual or small group can be transmitted both over time and space to benefit others, without taking away from the inventor. And the knowledge need not ever be lost, so the total sum of knowlege accumulates. That's a large-scale positive sum game.

If most people in history had operated on a zero-sum basis, it's unlikely that accumulation would have survived. History would look a lot more like a Ponzi scheme, with the early generations raking in the benefit. (Which may be the origin of the myth of the Golden Age, now that I think of it). Granted we've lost a lot (the burning of the library at Alexandria for instance) to greed and zealotry, but we have kept so much more.

The increase in the rate of accumulation over the last 4 centuries of the use of scientific method is one of the reasons for this accumulation. But note that science is largely a positive-sum activity (we've all met or heard about exceptions, scientists who believe that only their views should survive, but they are exceptions). And the rapid increase in the number of scientists over the last century indicates, to me at least, that the positive-sum aspects are attractive to larger and larger percentages of the population over time.

Rob Perkins said...

What would you wish for, knowing that your worst enemy would get twice as much of whatever you got?

Howbout: A state of mind which tells me that everything I have is enough of what I want.

TwinBeam said...

>What would you wish for, knowing that your worst enemy would get twice as much of whatever you got?

Affordable perfect health. Not sure how you'd double that, but I'm not trying to be tricky.

David Brin said...

Either you guys are positive summers (caring more about winning than about making enemies lose) ... or else you just don't hate your enemies enough! ;-)

May you always be deprived of people who have done you so much harm that you would go all negative sum just to get them.

Alas, the entire neocon movement has been negative sum. This personality trait pretty much dfines "red" politice.

Think. It all boils down to "I hate liberals!" Without even defining that term very clearly or very well. Indeed, recent definitions have all flipped wildly. Who is now spendthrift, wasteful, squandering, weak on readiness, big on foreign utopian adventures and "nation-building" while vastly expanding the size and reach and nosiness and secrecy of government? As I have said. Arizona is powering half of the light from the spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave.

They would tear it all down just to get at smug "liberals"... and the real crime they despise is the smugness. The having been right about civil rights and feminism and all that. The tragedy is how unnecessary it is. There are versions of conservatism that do not have to be zero or negative sum, or so fixated on a hated foe that you become them.

wilde said...

DQ:

In spite of all the problems, inefficiencies, cheating and examples of kleptocracy, capitalism was indeed designed to "overcome" rather than "justify" the cheating.

You seem to forget that the free in free market is the same as in free speech and free software. It's an attempt to make the market transparent and neutral to all participants. It's the analog of net neutrality for the marketplace.

In spite of all the attempts by some market winners to subvert the system and break the rules, it has done a better job of keeping the playing field level than the mercantilism that preceded it or the communism that attempted to replace it.

Can things be better, no doubt! But rather than debating the true definitions of an ism or whether it has truly existed or not, let's hear your policy proposal. Why not lay out some changes that you believe would improve the situation. Armchair criticism is great and does have a valuable place, but why not discuss and lay out your thoughts on what needs to be done to fix the system.

Rob Perkins said...

There's this 2000 year old meme about enemies...

Mike Huben said...

Part of the argument between DQ and DB is that markets and capitalism are not the same thing, but one or the other is conflating them. You could in theory have markets without capitalism (anarchosyndicalism), and capitalism without markets (self-sufficient homesteads.).

Capitalism is one possible input into market economies. Private ownership of the means of production. In that respect, I'd probably agree with DW to some extent that capitalism does "justify and hide the cheating", as would Henry George and numerous others. The tradeoff is that capitalism does harness and channel one of the most destructive of human impulses, greed, in a productive manner.

Because there is a tradeoff, no purist on either side would ever be satisfied. But the tradeoff does allow a positive sum game, with a wide range of positive sum solutions. The big argument comes in the distribution of the proceeds: even in positive sum games, sometimes some players end up with less than they started with.

OdinsEye2k said...

They would tear it all down just to get at smug "liberals"... and the real crime they despise is the smugness. The having been right about civil rights and feminism and all that.

Bang. I think you've got it. Although I think in their minds, the crime is deeper than that.

We liberals are accused of yanking the rug out from under them - destroying their religion, making the womenfolk too hard for them to handle, and pretending to care about them while behind close doors we mock them for being knuckle-dragging mud-walkers (okay, there's a pretty healthy amount of truth to that last one).

When in a contrarian mood, I like to read a guy like Joe Bageant. He thinks like a liberal, but also likes to remind us that all Culture War myths (as all the best myths do) have at least some basis in reality.

Personally, I would like to believe that the other side started the Culture War (after all, what good are churches in a fully Enlightened and self-empowered society?), but who knows? Maybe those hippie folk really did make people nervous before the national narrative took to vilifying them.

But, Culture War framing is definitely zero or negative sum. Every soul converted is one that the other side doesn't have. And it may be worth self-immolation to save several other souls.

Elyandarin said...

>What would you wish for, knowing that your worst enemy would get twice as much of whatever you got?

A good respect for and admiration of MY abilities and accomplishments.

I get rid of bad self-esteem while turning my enemy into a fan of mine. Well, ideally.

...

I saw another take on this negative/positive sum debate over at Tailsteak:
"Would you deprive a random person of Y Dollar, if you get X Dollars in return?", where X and Y are variables.
Interesting graphs.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is Chris Phoenix. It'd be nice if Blogger really would let me sign in with my Google account...

Mike Huben, I think you're right about the conflation between capitalism and free market. I suspect David Brin did the same thing: The phrase "free market was designed to try to overcome cheating" makes more sense to me than "capitalism was designed to try to overcome cheating."

Unfortunately, the paper you cited and the categories you listed don't seem very relevant to me. The phrase "club goods" appears only in the references of that paper. And "open access goods" is defined as "open access, where no one has the legal right to exclude anyone from using a resource." This says nothing about a condition of non-scarcity. A little more googling tells me that club goods are non-rivalrous/non-subtractable--which is frequently (but not always) not the case with zero-sum or untradeable goods.

Chris

hjgh said...
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David Brin said...

Odin, you brush near important truths about how liberals allowed this situation to develop, and contributed to “culture war.” Back in the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras, the nation’s churches were centers of liberal and reform activism and the military was the great school for racial equality. True, there was an inherent drift to the right that had to be expected, especially as rural and conservative elements established church environments more to their own liking. But the drift turned into a major veer toward “culture war” and lefty flakes certainly played a role in propelling the phenomenon.

Thiey did this, in part, by insisting upon self-righteous litmus tests and “political correctness” standards of speech and belief that had very little to do with anything but nitpicking and bullying other people over minor infractions of speech or style, then attacking even those who based their liberalism on God, or who held to demure standards of personal behavior, or who wore crewcuts while saluting the flag.

The worst transgressions against sense and reason occurred on university campuses, where ROTC and military recruiting were reflexively fought, harrassed and driven off. Oh, what great victories those were! Causing the next generation of US military officers to be recruited largely from colleges in the deep south and never from those in “blue” America! Oh, thast was so smart!

Likewise, the hectoring and persecution of conservative professors who could just as easily been engaged in lively and interesting debate. Debate that might have moderated their views and drawn them toward helping to negotiate and refine a new American consensus.

By driving the likes of Nitze and Perle and Wolfowitz and Adelman off-campus -- into faux-academes like the Heritage Foundation -- they only assured that those neocon intelligencia mavens would become more radicalized, embittered and eager for revenge, which they sought in pretend-campuses that were wholly endowed and owned by fanatical plutocrats with deeply, deeply self-interested agendas. In effect, these conservatives were driven out of the family home and village (for sins of wrong speech/belief), and forced into a harsh world where they had to become whores and professional incantation lackeys -- rationalizers for masters bent on changing conservatism to suit their own kleptocratic needs.

Yes, the neocon philosophs deserve most of the blame, for letting themselves be used in this way...in a “revolution” that eviscerates every principle the Great Experiment was founded upon. A vile and poisonous era of secrecy and elitism and neo-feudalism that deserves no lesser adjective than outright treason. An era that they helped to forge -- deluded and foolish, but with open eye.

STILL, THE LEFT DESERVES SOME OF THE BLAME!

Their behavior toward America’s churches and military and conservative intelligencia was not only shortsighted and destructive (we are reaping the painful consequences now) but also profoundly zero-sum.

In some cases, it was vicious and vastly more hatefully unlikeable than, say, sincere conservative fellows like Barry Goldwater, who were always willing to admit where they had been wrong and to learn from those mistakes. Olive branches offered by such people were always, almost uniformly, rejected with much sputum. Oh, our side had its own “neocons.” Our own monsters.

David Brin said...

Here are a couple of fun links:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3091063259393142557

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8373773378206185748&q=the%20Hubble%20deep%20field&hl=en

reason said...

What would you wish for, knowing that your worst enemy would get twice as much of whatever you got?

Following the logic what other people wrote:

Wisdom

But a nice answer might be as much good red wine every evening as I could handle.

reason said...

Regarding Chris Phoenix's riff, it falls I think into the trap of thinking about everything from an economic point of view. I don't think these things can be understood fully without considering externalities, and that is missing here. That I think is why the discussion of "unlimited sum" products seems so incomplete and unsatisfactory. Some information and infrastructure, for instance is essential to the process of social interaction and politics, it has a value precisely because it is free (or nearly free). It needs some sort of guardian control even though it is tradable (think of the press, or scientific journals) for instance.

Don Quijote said...

Test: Paraphrase. How nonzero and zero sum applies to all of the above. Go on. Paraphrase.

Evil cynics such as myself think that the world is full of lose/win situation, happy liberals such as yourself think that the world is full of win/win situations.

If we were to enter into a transaction that were to make me 3% and you 10% better off than we are at the present time, we would both consider that to be a win/win situation, if we were to repeat this transaction a few thousand times we would have a win/lose situation. Even though I am better off than I was before we started this set of transactions, the balance of power between the two of us has been altered in your favor, therefor you won and I lost.

Why not lay out some changes that you believe would improve the situation. Armchair criticism is great and does have a valuable place, but why not discuss and lay out your thoughts on what needs to be done to fix the system.

A. Public financing of Federal Elections.

B. Repeal of current tax code & replacement with a flat wealth tax (Assets - Liabilities * tax rate).

C. Corporate renewal law. ( every ten or twenty years all corporation must renew their charters, citizens may give reasons why charter may not be renewed, if the charter is not renewed corporation goes out of business)

D. All natural monopolies (electric, cable, water and phone networks) must be state owned not for profit corporations.

F. Officers of Corporation (CEOs, CFOs, Board of Director, etc..) must be held liable for acts that their corporations have committed.

Olive branches offered by such people were always, almost uniformly, rejected with much sputum. Oh, our side had its own “neocons.” Our own monsters.

And all these horrible people had names? so you won't mind giving them to us?

Woozle said...

DQ's response seems very interesting and revealing of his basic premise (which I don't think is necessarily wrong, though I disagree with it... but I'm going to have to actually think a bit to figure out why).

What I get from it is this: The situation can be positive-sum locally while still being zero-sum or negative-sum when the transaction becomes large enough to have global (or wider-scale, anyway) implications.

So there's sort of a "fuzzy glass ceiling" on win-win transactions.

Hmmm.

Nate said...

DQ has a point re: power imbalances, though the specific impact of power imbalances depends on the kinds of power involved. When the power imbalance is relative, it's very hard for meaningful communications or relationships to take place. Take, for example, a boss and their employees. The employees are much more likely to lie to the boss and pretend things are fine and/or say what they think the boss wants to hear, because the boss has direct power over their welfare. It usually doesn't pay to be the bearer of bad news.

I would add to his list though, as one of the first things, that corporations need to be no longer considered as "people" in regards to the law. Because right now they have the benefits of being a person, such as their bribes err... campaign contributions counting as "free speech", but none of the responsibilities or liabilities. When a corporation kills somebody, the corporation isn't tried for murder.

And back on the original topic, about value. It's funny how people's time and attention are worth more money when they're spending money than when they're putting their time into working. Heck, you can see the results of valuing time and/or attention more now, with omnipresent advertising. Every company and product has to keep screaming louder and throwing themselves in your face constantly to try and get people to remember them when they're shopping. And that's likely to only get worse.

Nate said...

And in other news, The Connecticut for Lieberman Party has backed down on demands for the Bush administration to turn over documents related to Hurricane Katrina.

Hooray for moderate and reasoned bipartisanship.

This kind of stuff, more than anything else, is exactly why so many liberals and others were against Lieberman. Because he's more interested in looking "reasonable" and "bipartisan" than actually standing for his principles or helping the country.

Rob Perkins said...

Likewise, the hectoring and persecution of conservative professors who could just as easily been engaged in lively and interesting debate. Debate that might have moderated their views and drawn them toward helping to negotiate and refine a new American consensus.

David, did you expect me not to seize on this? Is it still so very minor that conservative thinkers have little or no place in soft studies departments, when it means what you've said here?

David Brin said...

DQ's post was much much better than he has been, lately, actually addressing the topic at hand. Good for you, old man!

ALas, your reasoning is a simpleminded version of the same logic used by Marx, in Das Kapital, when he predicted that capitalism would have win-win games in good times, but then win-lose during low parts of the business cycle, during which the big would gobble the little... and disparities in wealth would widen and grow more narrow until the means of production were complete. Then the huge proletariat would lop off the teeny tiny elite and own the means of production...

...which would no longer need management/investment by entrepeneurs.

We have covered how the second half of this notion proved to be baseless and stupid... there being no end to the need for investment/capitalization or the efficiency driver of competition in the creation of such investments.

Indeed, those who want to nationalize "inherently noncompetitive industries" like energy are seldom very clear of convincing about what it is that they are aiming to achieve. It never works well. The fundamental desire to achieve fairness is one thing, but what about the equally important need to keep spurring innovation and efficiency via competition? Nationalized industries NEVER do the latter. Ever.

The vital thing about quasi-capitalist regulated markets is that they are great game systems erented IN ORDER to try and minimize cheating and maximize the benefits of inter-human competition. When the right regulations are in place, the markets maximize win-win outcomes and inter-generational justice prevents the creation of Marx's inherently accerlerating aristocratic clades.

Do NOT try to tell us that this has never been done! After WWII, the USA had the flattest social system of all time... at least for white males. That CAME from somewhere and some of the methodologies were vastly more intense than the list of tepid, hilariously modest reforms listed/offered by DQ in his last message!

(I laughed out loud! THAT is your agenda for revolution? Har! I am ten times as radical (despite my gushy, win-win/modernist personality) than you are, Don!)

In the last 6 decades, social stratificiation of gross incomes has been creeping back. The elites have learned new methods to cheat and new regulations are needed, to keep markets fecund and dynamic and competitive. Still, many of the inherent injustices of 1945 have been addressed, re minorities and women. So on the whole, I think there's no doubt of win-win progress.

----

On another note: Robert Anton Wilson died in his home on January 11, 2007, seven days before his 75th birthday. A former editor at Playboy, Wilson was the coauthor, with Robert Shea, of the "The Illuminatus! " Trilogy, which was one of the marvelous works of paranoia of all time. RAW would have had no trouble imagining conspiracies that - say - aimed at leaving the US isolated, divided, weakened and defenseless in a dangerous world.

His final blog entry on January 6:

"Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night... Various medical authorities swarm in and out of here predicting I have between two days and two months to live. I think they are guessing. I remain cheerful and unimpressed. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.

Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd.
RAW"

wilde said...

DQ:

You make an interest point about accumulation of win-win scenarios. I want to address your (very reasonable) policy proposals, but let me say two things on this topic. 1) you are conflating the concept of "better off" and "power". 2) the historical evidence is that that accumulation doesn't occur: Bill Gates absolute power/wealth can't compete with the relative power/wealth that barons of the Gilded Age held, or that of feudal lords 500 years ago. (let's exclude the last 5-10 years thanks to our buddy in the WH).

Proposal B is the most interesting/radical, and it touches on something DB has mentioned before I believe. To a large degree, we really don't know who owns what. And that lack of transparency is worse overseas (there was a bizarre rumor about the Bush family buying up one of the world's largest aquifers in Paraguay - an allegation that's impossible to either disprove or prove because it's impossible to find out who really owns the land). I would suggest, ignoring the merits/demerits of this proposal, and re-formulated as a demand for asset transparency. I'm not talking about bank accounts, but as a start full ownership in public corporations should be public.

Proposal C could be dangerous because of the prospect for abuse (competitors funding astroturf complaints, etc.).

There already is municipal ownership of water and power in many places. Extending that to an information infrastructure is good policy. Let television services using those pipes be sold by private companies (with competition - eliminate the regional monopolies).

Corporate Officers are personally liable under the "responsible corporate officer doctrine" regardless of whether or not they are even aware of lawbreaking. They are generally covered by insurance policies on the civil side. On the criminal side officers can and are prosecuted, but it is rare when you talk about large corporations. Perhaps your reform A would do something to address that.

wilde said...

Tying together the comment about corporate criminal accountability and the USA in San Diego who is being fired. One of Lam's accomplishments was cracking down on companies that violate immigration laws and even seeking jail time for their executives:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6626823

Stefan Jones said...

Recommendation:

Alfonso CuarĂ³n's CITY OF MEN, loosely (?) based on P.D. James' "mainstream SF" novel.

Cuaron is one of the new set of Mexican directors who produce stunningly lush, gritty films. This one, for which he co-wrote the screenplay, is no exception.

Short form: It's 2027, 18 years after the last live human birth. There are scientists trying to figure out why every pregnancy ends in a miscarriage . . . meanwhile, unmoored by the necessity of raising the next generation, everyone else is going nuts. There are religious cultists everywhere, paranoia and xenophobia are rampant, terrorists rave and bomb.

An office drone is contacted by his ex-wife and asked to pull some strings and get a transit pass for an illegal immigrant . . . who happens to be pregnant, For Real.

S**t happens.

An utterly unforgettable, beautifully produced, well acted movie whose brutally frank depiction of violence and the ugly desperation of humans driven to the brink make it REALLY hard to take.

A good chunk of the film takes place in a British seaside resort that has been turned into a refugee camp; a squalid, violent, run-down dumping ground. It has to be one of the most beautifully, horribly realized movie settings ever created.

Blake Stacey said...

Now that the subject of conspiracies has been raised, I find it impossible to resist the temptation of voicing my own theory: the "backlash" against string theory in the past year has been — yes! — a plot.

You really think it's an accident that men can publish polemical books whose "arguments" break down into repeating problems all physicists knew about already, misrepresenting or ignoring active areas of research, making grandiose and debatable claims about the way science should be done, and firing volleys of character assassination? Can you call all that coincidence? Accident? Misunderstanding? No, someone is at work here. Someone with an agenda. The stakes in this game were nothing less than understanding the fundamental natural laws of the Cosmos, and someone wanted to play the game beyond the public eye.

What would you do if you figured out string theory and discovered that the elegant construction of orbifolds and Dirichlet branes required to make it work led to new modalities of physical ability? We're talking antigravity, wormholes, quantum singularities made on the lab bench. . . . What would you do if you had a chance at that kind of power?

I think someone figured it out. They're at work right now, turning it into a technology which will change the course of human history, but they covet secrecy. How can you hide a scientific discovery which you probably made by accident and which any grad student might repeat? You have to deflect interest: convince the funding agencies that it's all hot air, trick other scientists into believing that the whole theory is worthless, and most of all, lead string theorists down the wrong paths. Make them work harder in the directions you know are pointless in a vain attempt to defuse your critique!

Oh yes, it all sounds so easy. . . .

David Brin said...

OTOH string theory ITSELF may have been just such a beautiful and useless distraction, intended to lead us down a silly-gorgeous path.

?????

The solution is diversity and encouraging our brightest to sniff suspiciously at fads.

Stefan Jones said...

Whoops. Movie mentioned two entries above should be CHILDREN OF MEN.

* * *

In the roleplaying game supplement "GURPS Lensmen," the author came up with a neat trick to explain why the humans of E.E. Doc Smith's SF series never developed digital computers.

It begins with an Arisian master scholar asking student to extrapolate what would happen if the terrans were allowed to develop microprocessors. The student describes a terrifying Cyberpunk future where genetic ubermench never develop mental powers, ruining their scheme to defeat the Eddorians.

So the Arisians arrange for transistor whiz Shockley (sp?) to meet and fall in love a Arisian agent disguised as a beautiful woman. The transistor never gets invented, and without the distraction of digital technology, America becomes the master of the REAL wonder technology of the future, high-energy vaccuum tubes!

TwinBeam said...

Don Quijote's recommendations:
A. Public financing of Federal Elections - further entrenching the big two parties, letting them create even more barriers to 3rd party "spoilers".

B. A flat wealth tax - see also "soak the rich". It's a viable and fair tax system - but only if you drop all entitlement programs and the democratic power to vote in new ones. Otherwise this just leads to the rich further suborning government in self-defense.

C. Corporate charters reviewed periodically - harmful or a rubber stamp or both. Govt regulation never works the way you hope it will.

>D. All natural monopolies to be state owned not for profit - most effectively are already (via regulation) except for the non-profit part. Limit monopolies to wires and pipes - not power, TV channels and clean water.

>F. Officers held liable for corporate acts - they already are in some cases, so by what new standard do you want to expand their liability?

Don Quijote said...

A. Public financing of Federal Elections - further entrenching the big two parties, letting them create even more barriers to 3rd party "spoilers".

Considering that we have a first past the post electoral system, we are doomed to have two parties. This is not a parliamentary system, 49.99% of the popular vote gets you nothing.

B. A flat wealth tax - see also "soak the rich". It's a viable and fair tax system -

I considered a "soak the poor" policy, but I realized that they don't have any money so that wouldn't work, I considered a "soak the working/middle class" policy and then realized that is exactly what we have, how is it working for you?

but only if you drop all entitlement programs and the democratic power to vote in new ones.

Absolutely as soon as we get rid of all the corporate welfare, how much money did we give farmers last year? How much money did we give Big Pharma last year, or Big Oil or Big air ( you know those fine airline companies we bailed out after 9/11?

Otherwise this just leads to the rich further suborning government in self-defense.

Because that has not been happening.


C. Corporate charters reviewed periodically - harmful or a rubber stamp or both. Govt regulation never works the way you hope it will.

But lack of Government regulation always works the way I expect it to, against the public and in favor of the wealthy.

D. All natural monopolies to be state owned not for profit - most effectively are already (via regulation) except for the non-profit part.

Tell that to the fine people of California, I am sure that they enjoyed their brownages courtesy Enron a few years ago.

Limit monopolies to wires and pipes - not power, TV channels and clean water.

Why is the cost of my cable going up faster than inflation and why do I have to buy Fox news to see CNN? And when will I be seeing that high speed broadband promised by the phone companies after they got a bunch of tax breaks for promising it? Still waiting...

Water & Sewer are usually monopolies from one end of the system to the other.

F. Officers held liable for corporate acts - they already are in some cases, so by what new standard do you want to expand their liability?

Why is the CEO of BP not rotting in the big house for the Pipeline disaster that occurred in Alaska last year? Get busted selling an ounce of pot, spend years in the big house, dump 400,000 barrels of crude in the environment, get a fine and a slap on the wrist.

Amy said...

"The trouble with Communism was that it applied a zero-sum Guardian administration to tradeable goods, precluding any positive-sum outcome. In fact, it actively destroyed positive-sum opportunities."

Very nicely said. Communism sounds really good in theory...wow, nobody goes hungry and everyone gets equal shares...but in practice, if no matter how hard you work you'd still get the same share, would you work half as hard?