Monday, April 29, 2013

Sensible Tax Reform, Wealth disparities.. and Gun Control

I haven't opined on politics for a while, but recent events compel me to go back to that blather-well.  Some time soon I expect to comment on the Boston Bombing and the myriad implications for our looming transparent society.  But for now…

1) Sensible Tax Reform?

It appears that Republicans in the U.S. Congress are veering away from the (politically) dangerous ground of entitlement reform, even though President Obama has put on the table an offer to let them have something they long demanded -- a reduction in the inflation adjustment for Social Security and Medicare, plus possible even the Bowles-Simpson age-adjustments.  It seems that (as happened with Obama Care) the GOP finds nothing more loathsome than when the opposition says, "Okay, we'll do it your way. So let's make a deal."

Instead, reports suggest that the GOP leadership in the House is leaning toward attempting Tax Reform, with the aim of eliminating almost all deductions, in exchange for a dramatic lowering of tax rates.  Read up on this, because it will raise a firestorm!  And the attempt will run into the same forces that stymied tax simplification for 60 years… a coalition of powerful interests who -- though hating each other -- will join forces to protect their sacred cows.

NoLosersTAxAs it turns out, I have long suggested an extremely simple approach that would avoid this pitfall, by simplifying first and then  dealing with political matters second.  It sounds impossible, but it is actually rather straightforward, if only we tried the method called "No Losers Simplification."

Easy, logical and blatantly sensible… and do-able because it has a trick to keep everyone calm from the git-go. So, what d'you think are the chances?

Oh, a final note on U.S. taxes. How the Maker of TurboTax Fought Free, Simple Tax Filing. Intuit has spent millions lobbying to keep tax season miserable.

2) Are things getting better?

Optimism is so out of fashion these days, on both the left and the right, that  - ironically -  a guarded optimism has become the natural state for any genuine contrarian. I could try to ignore that reflex and stay true to my natural dour cynicism.  But facts are lining up with those who see light at the end of the tunnel. For example, I often cite Professor Steven Pinker's proof (The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined) that on average, per capita levels of violence have declined steeply (if unevenly) around the world every decade since 1945.

Now Oxford University has released  a study that breaks down human well-being into a ten-factor "Multidimensional Poverty Index" that encompasses nutrition, school attendance, access to clean water and electricity and so on. While there are many laggard zones of misery (e.g. Ethiopia and Malawi), there are also zones where recent good news has been  very strong. For example, if the study’s 'star' countries, Nepal, Rwanda, and Bangladesh, continue to reduce poverty at the current rate, they will halve MPI in less than 10 years and eradicate it in 20. These leaders are followed by Ghana, Tanzania, Cambodia and Bolivia.

In truth, I have my doubts in some ways.  There is a certain level of "take-off" development that is fairly easy to get rolling when dynamic people are allowed to strive effectively for their families under honest government that  blends top-down investment, infrastructure and care with a looseness that encourages enterprise, under predictable and reliable law. Hernando de Soto's reforms in Peru showed that a mix of liberal and libertarian measures can have stunning positive effects that neither could achieve alone.  (Defying simplistic fools who demand we choose only one wing of the lobotomizing "left-right axis.")

Still, there are many pitfalls, like endemic corruption, plus the fact that every phase presents new problems, as China is finding out. As we found out.

hopeBut that's just me, trying hard to remain cynical... and yet forced -- as I was while writing Existence -- to conclude that we are a bright species.  And our natural condition is a brilliant insanity called hope.

3) The New Great Divide

Oh, but then I turn and see trends that threaten to wreck it all!  Like the ongoing train-wreck demolition of the egalitarian "American Dream."

Wealth disparity in the US hit its lowest levels during the generation after Franklin Roosevelt, with the booming of a healthy middle class and the flattest society ever seen (when it came to matters like social class)… all of it during the healthiest market entrepreneurial economy in history, amid unmatched economic growth that lifted nearly all boats and enabled us to finance bold new projects like space, science and civil rights.

Alas, since 1980 we have seen a trend back toward the steeply pyramidal social structure that dominated in 99% of societies that had agriculture and metals. Now the trend is accelerating. It took off since 2001 and continued in the first two years of recovery.

SDT-2013-04-wealth-recovery-0-1"From 2009 to 2011, the mean wealth of the 8 million households in the more affluent group rose to an estimated $3,173,895 from an estimated $2,476,244, while the mean wealth of the 111 million households in the less affluent group fell to an estimated $133,817 from an estimated $139,896.

"The upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1."

Which raises a pertinent question to ask our conservative friends. Is there ANY wealth disparity that would cause some of you to admit that "Class Warfare" has historically been waged top-down, and that pattern always tries to return? Our parents' generation knew the answer. President Obama spoke of his love for his Kansas grandparents who both served in World War II and who pretty much raised him.  The "Greatest Generation" that defeated Hitler and overcame the Great Depression -- they adored FDR and re-elected him by huge margins. Not in order to destroy capitalism, but to save it. From the enemy that always, reliably ruined free and fair competitive enterprise -- and freedom -- in 99% of all human societies.

Those who today have one supreme goal... to portray FDR as satan ... they stand with the oldest and most pervasive enemy of freedom and yes, the foe of market capitalism that Adam Smith denounced and against whom the American Founders rebelled.  Is there some point when you would recognize that old foe?

Hint: it is not a dogma or doctrine, or any particular group of people.  It is a drive that fizzes out of most of us, when we find ourselves atop a pyramid. A drive to thereupon grab the power to stay up there. By cheating.

WhoControlsBut it gets worse when 40% of the world's wealth is controlled by less than 150 people. How does competition happen when our lords own a higher percentage of the wealth than the French aristocracy did, in 1789?

4) Interesting political miscellany

Have any doubts about my comparison with the French Revolution? Read about the most expensive real estate on Earth - One Hyde Park, in London - where apartments sell for almost a quarter of a Billion dollars, to secret shell corporations that disguise the owners from the nosy masses. That's a "B" in "billion."


And shifting over to provocative potpourri... The most religious states show highest rates of anti-depressant use.

merchants-of-doubt1Does this really surprise you?  The origins of the Tea Party - and climate denialism - in the  tobacco industry. (See also Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway, as well as my article: Distinguishing Climate "Deniers" from "Skeptics.")

Lipstick on a pig? Reince Priebus gives GOP prescription for the future.  Sorry. I miss Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, true conservative intellects who enjoyed high-level argument and science, who reacted to bad outcomes by changing their minds, and who above all believed in negotiation.  Even, occasionally compromise. If Mr. Priebus and his colleagues ever decide to get serious, the great result will be to stop Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave.

Oh, but then - when you least expect it - sanity appears to be flowering in one area, at least, and some Republicans are leading the way!  California GOP Representative Dana Rohrabacher's Respect State Marijuana Laws Act (H.R. 1253) is far from the only bill in Congress that would wind down the federal war on weed.  But unlike the efforts of liberal Democrats who want to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, this bill or something like it may have a decent shot at passing in the not-too-distant future.  I can't believe it.  This madness seems finally to be ebbing. And if that insanity can ebb, let's work on others?

5) And finally, regarding gun control...

Did you notice that for a decade liberals were quiet about this issue?  And even now,  spurred by stunning tragedies, all most of them are asking for is background checks and a restored limit on assault weapons.  Why so little?  Simple.  Under Bush, many liberals started quietly arming themselves. Despite noise from some irredentist lefties, many liberals (a totally different species) are fine with responsible and accountable weapon ownership. Like their own.

If we are going to debate an issue, let's start with clean facts.  Yes, Mother Jones has a left-ish perspective.  But this set of graphics (Challenging the Myth that Guns Stop Crime) is effective when they take on some of the fibs being told by the NRA.

JEFFERSONRIFLEAgain, I claim the middle ground. Frankly, I am more sympathetic with moderate gun owners than Mother Jones is. In fact, many liberals and moderates understand the undercurrent motive that makes the gun folk dig in their heels… a fear of eventual confiscation of all personal weapons.

A fear that I go into, with some evenhandedness and detail, in my article, The Jefferson Rifle: Guns and the Insurrection Myth.

I've said it before.  Simply screaming aloud the second half of the Second Amendment will not make the first half go away.  And that first half (twelve words) will serve as a loophole wide enough to drive a bulldozer through, if some future panicking public and a new Court decide to "well-regulate" the "militia." You guys need another, better amendment. And I am offering one that liberals would help you to pass.

Again, most Americans don't wish to eliminate personal gun ownership, and would join in rising up, if it were ever tried. They simply want more responsibility and accountability, the very thing that we achieved with motor vehicles....

But the Slippery Slope Syndrome poisons so many issues on the national agenda. Look at it.  Face it.  Then do the unexpected.  Negotiate.


locumranch said...

Sounds like the enemy of Capitalism is ... Capitalism (!), or more specifically, the rise of any type of orthodox idealism (extremism) that elevates an adherence to abstract principle above that of rational practice. It therefore follows that the rational (scientific) man should shun extremism in all forms and practice "Moderation in all things", including and especially moderation.

Nice to know also that it is both possible and reasonable (according to David) to be a CC Skeptic without being tarred & feathered as an irrational 'Denier' even though tar & feathers tend to make me "crow" a bit about NOAA's confirmation of some of my CC concerns:

It appears that my reservations about ice core-entrapped fossil air are 'spot on', including but not limited to respective gas solubilities in both Liquid Water and Water Ice AND ice and water-dependent gas & CO2 diffusion characteristics. It also appears that CC paleoclimatologists either routinely exclude or average out the (highly) elevated CO2 levels of glacial 'melt zones' (melt zones which tend to occur about 4X every century) in order to make their evidence fit their theory.

Makes me want to coin & use the phrase "Climate Change Apostles" to describe those credulous individuals who believe in 'extremis' (too easily & too deeply) possibly due to a learned or innate skeptical deficiency.


Anonymous said...

I think locumranch read a different article then I did. I didn't see anything about climate change that he did.


David Brin said...

Yes, capitalism is inherently (unless regulated) its own worst enemy. Just as any engine will race out of control and tear itself apart, unless regulated.

Nevertheless, it is the engine that best raised up billions.

As for Climate change, there are two arenas... (1) the exact scientific diagnosis, in a field that is complicated to a degree only exceeded by the human mind... and ...

(2) What is the best and wisest set of public policies to pursue, with due prudence and attention to the best consensus by the vast majority of very smart folks who know a lot about this stuff... WHILE keeping an open mind that they might be mistaken.

The denialist cult claims they are all about #1 but their endless focus is upon delaying #2, even striving hard to prevent further research that might settle #1.

Indeed, most of #2 -- which they have opposed tenaciously -- consists of TWODA -- Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway. The vast majority of measures we can and should take fall into the category where, if we gain tremendous new energy efficiency, and CC turns out to be exaggerated... aw too bad!

Here's the crux. You are a SKEPTIC if you want to help the scientific process by asking hard questions, as Muller did... but if you are decisively and vocally against the Denialists' Koch financed campaign to kill your children by preventing TWODA.

If you pretend to be "only interested in the science gaps," but in fact lend support to the Denialist Cult by refusing to denounce their fanatical obstructionist agenda...

...then you are PART of that agenda. In that case, despite all protestations, you are part of the cult.

Walt said...

David, you remind me of what Heinlein had Lazarus Long say in "Time Enough For Love:

" - what happens when you control machinery by positive feedback?"
I was startled. "I'm not sure I understand you,, Lazarus. One doesn't control machinery by positive feedback - at least I can't think of a case. Positive feedback will cause any system to oscillate out of control."
"Go to the head of the class. Ira, I'm suspicious of arguments by analogy - but from what I've seen over the centuries, there doesn't seem to be anything that a government can do to an economy that does not act as positive feedback, or as a brake. Or both. Maybe someday, somewhere, someone smart as Andy Libby will figure out a way to tinker with the Law of Supply and Demand to make it work better, instead of letting it go its own cruel way. Maybe. But I've never seen it. Though God knows everybody has tried. Always with the best of intentions."

Robert said...

The economy is much akin to plate spinning. You have to take care when spinning the plates, lest you knock them off their sticks and cause them to fall. But if you do NOT spin the plates then they will wind down and fall.

The economy is the same. Feedback is needed to ensure the economy continues to spin. Without that feedback, the economy will fail. But care has to be given to avoid providing too much spin to the plates (economy) and thus destabilizing them.

Rob H.

Ken Burnside said...

David wrote, in reply to a comment:

"If you pretend to be "only interested in the science gaps," but in fact lend support to the Denialist Cult by refusing to denounce their fanatical obstructionist agenda...

...then you are PART of that agenda. In that case, despite all protestations, you are part of the cult."

I am a climate skeptic, not a denier. I am also buying shares of Lockheed-Martin because they claim to be on the path to demonstrating a fusion reactor with positive output by 2017-2018.

Just to hedge my bets with my own self interest.

However, your argumentation here?

Let me rephrase it for you.

"If you pretend to be "only interested in reasonable gun regulations," but in fact lend support to the Disarmament Cult by refusing to denounce their salami-slicing agenda...

...then you are PART of that agenda. In that case, despite all protestations, you are part of the cult."

Don't believe me that it's disarmament by a thousand paper-cuts?

I've read your piece on the Jefferson Rifle. I've also fired bolt-action rifles and AR-15s... and I would propose that the protected class of weapon be any weapon with a stock to barrel length in excess of 28". (The AR-15 carbine is 29.5 or 30.5").

Yes, this allows those Evil Assault Weapons to be protected. It also allows that citizen militia to include 95 lb women.

So, to make my case for allowing semi-automatic detachable magazine weapons, let's see how many people were killed in homicides with rifles, per the FBI. Surely that's an acceptable source?

So, with 325 deaths by ALL RIFLES COMBINED...this is an issue? Let's stack the deck. It's about 1900 deaths if you assume all the deaths for "type of gun not stated" are all people with AR-15s. Now, odds are, most of those "type unknown" can be isolated down to handgun rounds...

So, now we've ascertained the scope of the problem. The boundary is somewhere between 323 and 1900 homicides per year.

You also talk of compromise.

You have a problem of 300 to 1900 murders per year. To solve this problem, you want me to dilute a Constitutional Amendment that's been backed up by the Heller decision in 2008. I tend to feel my negotiating position is strong, but I am willing to listen.

Please make your case that reducing those deaths is worth to me to consider diluting those rights. Keep in mind, I can already go to jail for errors on the Form 4473, or face fines in multiples of $10,000.

Please explain to me the mechanism by which my giving up more rights, and undergoing more routine background checks for buying parts for a gun reduces these firearms deaths?

Please make your counter-offer for those diluted rights. I am clearly being asked to give something up. What are you offering in return?

Anonymous said...

In regards to the “well regulated militia” provision of the Second Amendment, please remember that the modern concept of “gun control” would have been so alien as to be inconceivable to the Founding Fathers. A gun was a tool, and almost everyone had one. As far as the Founders were concerned, you may as well have been talking about “plow control” or “axe control”.

The second amendment simply does not address the issue of individual ownership of guns, that was taken as a given, an assumption so obvious it did not need to be mentioned.

What the second amendment does is make provision for the states to take their presumably already armed citizens and form them into “well regulated militias”. However, before Liberals claim that the need for a “well regulated militia” is superseded by the National Guard and does not protect individual gun ownership, they would be missing the point. If individuals los the right to own guns, they cannot be formed into “well regulated militias” to meet emergencies as the Constitution intended. Before Conservatives claim victory, they need to understand the “well regulated” means exactly that. Self formed “militias” like the kind formed by hard right survivalists types are illegal.

If we really wanted to maintain the original meaning of the Second Amendment, we should adopt the citizen soldier system of the Swiss, where every able bodied citizen gets to keep and maintain his fire arms (especially automatic assault rifles) in their homes but are also required by law to serve and train in “well regulated militias” on a regular basis.

Robert said...

I have to wonder how many NRA members would shriek if the Federal Government passed a law requiring all gun owners to participate monthly in a government-run militia. And if it was worded right? They would have no Constitutional right to complain. To me, that sounds like the best method of handling gun ownership. Currently, gun ownership is a "right" but a lazy right. How many gun owners don't regularly use their guns? Keep them in a forgotten closet or the like in case of emergency?

So let's require all gun owners to belong to government-run militias as dictated in the Constitution. The militias will include physical exercise regimens, gun safety and protocol, target practice, and the like. Oh, and a gun buyback program so that anyone who doesn't want to belong to the militia can opt out by no longer owning a gun.

Anyone with physical disabilities can participate in the militia to the best of their ability through other means - paperwork or the like.

You know? This actually sounds like a fantastic idea. Obesity is a problem. Laziness is a problem. So let's take the Constitution and its mandate and use the 2nd Amendment to tackle these problems.

The end result? You'll have the lazy people giving up their guns, you'll have the people who insist on owning a gun being more likely to be involved in a social setting, getting to know his or her fellow Americans, and actually using their firearms.

(As a bone, you can even state that the government will supply ammunition for the target practice, so that people aren't expending their own ammunition in practice. That will get all the hunters on board in a second!)

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Robert, there is some intesting stuff online concerning the Swiss militia system.

The only thing I would change is its mandatory nature. (*) Americans are traditionally volunteers and those who don't want to own an assault rifle can opt out of militia training. Those who do want to would be requried to own and maintain an assault weapon while performing militia training several weekend a year.

*- Though in principle, I believe that putting every young male through a tough boot camp can only do society good.

sociotard said...

I glanced at the "ten indicator poverty index" article, and it made me want to ask:

What is good, in the civilizational sense? What goals, in what order, would a civilization need to meet to be considered worthy of admiration?

"Low poverty" is probably good, for example, but not if the civilization is consuming too much too fast, leading to an inevitable downfall of super-poverty from the depletion of resources.

It may be that we should focus less on raising the lifestyles of the worlds poor and more on humbling the lifestyles of the wealthier nations.

locumranch said...

Whether you are "For" or "Against" Gun Control, there is a bigger picture that you are overlooking:

The US Constitution was (in part) a reactionary document written in response to "Bloody Law", the proliferation of increasingly restrictive British Laws which invoked drastic punishments, which often demanded the Death Penalty for minor (often petty) social infractions like "the theft of goods worth more than 12 pence".

And, whereas the British Bloody Laws were repressive to an extreme, forbidding all actions & positions which were not considered mandatory, the US Constitution & its subsequent laws were conceived as LIBERAL documents which forbid only the social minimum without invoking compulsory mandates.

It therefore follows that "Gun Control" is not really about firearm ownership. Instead, it is about the increasing prevalence of social compulsion, the proliferation of popular mandates, political correctness & anti-bullying laws, and the inevitable reactionary 'push back' from a beleaguered (often self-identified) minority, harkening back to the original flag of the Thirteen Independent Colonies, a poisonous snake (portrayed by B Franklin as having thirteen segments) and the motto "Don't tread on me".

This is something that the "Climate Change Apostles" don't understand. Regardless of the validity of CC theory, TWODA and many of the proposed CC fixes take the form of moral compulsion (aka "Things We OUGHT to be Doing Anyway") and most people don't want to be bullied or 'pushed around' by bloody laws even when those laws are for "Their Own Good".

"The Monitors": Either read the book or rent the film, forgodssake.


Robert said...

Sociotard, that is the Loony Left point of view. You will not "humble" the developed world or convince people it's "for the best" to give up on such things as fancy electronics, large automobiles, and the like. When Republicans talk about Democrats, it is your view here that they try to paint all Democrats with.

Think instead of an alternative: Sustainability. Not "humbling" or the like. But instead widescale recycling of components and materials so that the ecological impact is lessened. By recycling paper, for instance, you have less cutting down of trees. Recycling plastics reduces pollution and hydrocarbon use. Recycling electronics reduces metal use.

You can do this without "humbling" the lifestyle of the developed world. And you are more likely to get people to AGREE to this if they can keep their lifestyle than insisting "you have to be humbled for the good of the world." You try for the latter, you'll see a lot of people say "fuck the world, I'm going to live the way I want to."

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Mr. Burnside claims to have read my Jefferson Rifle article, but clearly he just skimmed, or he would not have so outrageously misrepresented its content and meaning.

His effort to portray me ans unwilling to negotiate is laughable, since my offer of a new amendment, far stronger and less ambiguous than the Second, is the ONLY rational compromise that I have seen ANYONE put on the table, anywhere or any time, that addresses both sides' needs in a positive sum manner.

Note he spoke of "death by a thousand cuts." That is a clear restating of the fundamental fear of the gun passion crowd of a slippery slope to confiscation. His unwillingness to notice that I address that fear... in fact far better than adamant shrieking of the 2nd half of the 2nd... is so sad.

Last week gun-totin Colorado passed major gun laws. Yet NRA folk are ignoring what it means. That they WIL experience paper cuts, endlessly, unless they compromise on a reasonable iron bulwark that can never be passed... and thus get liberal support for BOTH an iron bulwark AND allow us to use the methods that have worked so well for the other major appliance that is so dangerous... automobiles.

But no. Assult rifles must be regulated and should require training and insurance. With an AR15 one person can kill ALL of the unarmed heroes trying to bring him down. That is the point of my essay and it proves Ken did not read it.

Jonathan S. said...

Is it true that if you can trick Reince Priebus into saying his name backwards, he will be forced to return to his home dimension?

sociotard said...

Robert, I agree that we will never convince the first world to humble itself. If we could, western civilization would have hope, but we can't so there isn't any really.

So, we try for other methods of sustainability, namely efficiency or recycling. However, by Jevon's paradox, this just leads to greater consumption.

I work at Intel. Semiconductor manufacture is always a big consumer of fresh water. Intel has spent billions on making its process more efficient and adding recycling measures for some of the wastewater. Yet, consumption has never dropped, not for one quarter. More and bigger factories, more and more water.

We can't persuade the first world to live on less. We can't even persuade them to maintain consumption when effiency drives down costs.

That doesn't mean we don't try. We owe it to the next generation to at least try recyling and effiency, but we really can't hope for anything better than backless pants on a desert highway.

locumranch said...

An individual is privy to perfect knowledge about an impending apocalypse. Please select the most moral course of action from the potential choices listed below:
(1) He could do nothing.
(2) He could convey this knowledge to others.
(3) He could act in order to ameliorate this apocalypse.
(4) He could compel others to act.

Explain your answer in the Calculus of Morality (below).

Note that first three choices are equally valid and moral:

Choice 1 is correct in the assumed absence of a 'duty to act'; Choice 2 is correct in the assumed presence of a 'duty to inform'; and Choice 3 is correct in the assumed presence of a 'duty to act'.

Not so with Choice 4. It would be incorrect & immoral in any culture that values individual autonomy, although it could be rationalized as correct if one argues that presumed ends outweigh the means.

So tell me more about TWODA.


sociotard said...

Google doesn't know what TWODA is. What acronym am I missing?

LarryHart said...


The only thing I would change is its mandatory nature. (*) Americans are traditionally volunteers and those who don't want to own an assault rifle can opt out of militia training. Those who do want to would be requried to own and maintain an assault weapon while performing militia training several weekend a year.

I have to laugh at the irony of those towns in red states who every so often respond to anti-gun ordinances in places like Chicago and New York by passing their own laws REQUIRING every citizen to purchase a gun.

You know...the same red-staters who insist that Obamacare is unconstiutional because it requires private individuals to purcahse a product, which is an unprecedented assault on liberty?

LarryHart said...


Google doesn't know what TWODA is. What acronym am I missing?

From context, I'd surmise "Things We Ought (to) Do Anyway".

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Yes, capitalism is inherently (unless regulated) its own worst enemy. Just as any engine will race out of control and tear itself apart, unless regulated.

Or cancer cells will "maximize profit" for themselves while killing the host body they need to live off of.

Jumper said...

The deniers never seem to make plain statements. How about"CO2-caused global heating is not an economic problem which can be mitigated by regulation." That's a clear proposition. It is not one I would make. My proposition is that CO2-caused warming is indeed going to raise the sea level, unevenly due to gravimetrics, about 2 to 3 feet over the next 80 years, and also large swaths of cropland will be thrown into drought. There will be a cost, and it will be of greater magnitude than otherwise if there was effort to curtail it.

Anonymous said...

Oh Noes! Someone didn't carefully read something David Brin wrote, and misrepresented his position! David Brin would never, ever do that!

sociotard said...

I have to laugh at the irony of those towns in red states who every so often respond to anti-gun ordinances in places like Chicago and New York by passing their own laws REQUIRING every citizen to purchase a gun.

You know...the same red-staters who insist that Obamacare is unconstiutional because it requires private individuals to purcahse a product, which is an unprecedented assault on liberty?

Could you name which towns? Because I'll bet no such law has been passed, at least not within living memory.

Mind you, that was done early in the nations history. It constitutional because it was under the power of congress to raise armies. (poof, you're all in the army now)

I suppose we could get universal health care that way. Declare every citizen to be part of a does-nothing military unit, then extend some military medical benefits.

Tim H. said...

If memoir serves, it was Branson, MO. Another interesting angle, AR-15s use a smaller round, requiring less propellant and emitting less CO2, so an outright assault weapons ban could conceivably increase carbon emissions.

Tony Fisk said...

Sociotard said: Could you name which towns? Because I'll bet no such law has been passed, at least not within living memory.

It is rather easy to find out.. Mind you, the pillars of the community of Nelson, Ga. don't actually expect the law to be enforced...

Anyway, what is the point of ubiquitous gun ownership? Advantage goes to the first drawer so, unless you're the assailant or a student of Llap Goch (same thing), they're not much use for day-to-day self protection.

Ian said...

"We can't persuade the first world to live on less. We can't even persuade them to maintain consumption when effiency drives down costs."

Fortunately, we don't have to.

"... figures based on submissions by 42 industrialised nations this month used to judge compliance with U.N treaties underscore how continued worldwide growth in emissions is increasingly led by China and other emerging economies.

Combined emissions in the 42 countries slipped to 17.1 billion tonnes in 2011 from 17.2 billion in 2010. That was down 6.4 percent from levels in 1990, the U.N. benchmark year for judging progress in combating global warming.

"For the United States, it's mainly a shift from coal to gas in power plants," said Steffen Kallbekken, research director at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo, said of the 2011 numbers.

"For Europe it's primarily weak economic activity," he said. Industrialised nations are trying to cut emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, to curb a rise in temperatures and avert heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

Senior government officials from around the world will meet in Bonn, Germany, next week for a new round of negotiations on an emissions deal that is meant to be agreed in 2015 and enter into force in 2020.

The last attempt at an accord failed in Copenhagen in 2009.

In the United States, the world's No.2 emitter behind China and ahead of the European Union, greenhouse gas emissions dipped to 6.67 billion tonnes in 2011 from 6.79 billion in 2010.

That put U.S. emissions 7 percent below their 2005 levels. President Barack Obama wants a cut of 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 but has lacked support for that drive in the Senate.

European Union emissions fell by 3.3 percent in 2011, according to official accounting of gases ranging from carbon dioxide to methane.

That means EU emissions were 18.5 percent below 1990 levels in 2011, apparently on target for a promised cut of at least 20 percent by 2020 despite a plunge in the price of carbon dioxide on an EU market that has removed a main spur to action."

David Brin said...

The platonist-pure dogmatic position on coercion that's the now-standard position of the dominant Randian wing of libertarianism has a huge underlying motive... to prevent any change in ownership-oligarchic status quo.

Absent the notion of nations and government, as modalities for consensus common action... plus the principle that a politically determined action can be then enforced upon dissenters... the result is not libertarian paradise for all. It is feudalism. The owner-lords maintain control over all markets and collude to create attractor states that draw all power and economic activity toward them.

Seriously, do these folks read any history? At all? Ever? Platonist incantations about purist essences are great at stoking a sense of indignant fury. But they have no pragmatic or truthful bearing upon any of the basic human dilemmas.

Does this mean that "majority rule" can or should overcome all minority dissent? Bullshit. The US Constitution is replete with measures aimed at preventing that. Our entire political system is not based upon majority rule by minority veto.

51% can get what they want if the other 49% shrug and yawn. But 60% cannot get what they want without negotiating-down the INTENSITY of opposition from a strongly-felt 40% opposition, At least that is how it spozed to work... till you get cheats like gerrymandering.

Even 70% is supposed to run into trouble, if 30% are truly pissed off enough to engage in civil disobedience. And C.O. is punished very mildly in a civilized society, with proportionality carefully gauged to make it uncomfortable but not repressed.

All of this shows that these matters have been worked out by men and women who were and are so VASTLY smarter and more knowing than the Rand-Rothbardites that they seem another species. Priests of a religion of platonic essences that serve one function, to proclaim "kill the state and its democratic processes for performing communal action and leave all major decisions regarding allocation of resources and activities to the owner lords."

Randy Winn said...

As for "humbling" us first worlders: last year I installed photovoltaics that power the laptop I'm typing on right now. The Grid thinks I'm using way way less electricity; *I* think I'm using more. Who is right?


As to the 2nd Amendment: let us not forget that in the Old West, it was very common for communities to require that you check your six-gun with the sheriff before you go into town.


@Tim H. said...
"...AR-15s use a smaller round, requiring less propellant and emitting less CO2, so an outright assault weapons ban could conceivably increase carbon emissions."

You, sir, win an internet for the most original anti-global-warming proposal I have heard in years LOL.

Robert said...

When you get down to it, Dr. Brin, is that not what Atlas Shrugged is about? It's about a minority of people saying "fuck the world! If I can't have it my way, then I'll make sure only I survive and the rest of you starve!" despite what the majority desires. It's not libertarianism despite Ayn Rand's attempts to claim contrary. It's oligarchy and feudalism.

Rob H.

Randy Winn said...

"... It's not libertarianism despite Ayn Rand's attempts to claim contrary..."

Just as Christianity needs to be saved from the Christians, perhaps Libertarianism needs to be saved from the Libertarians...

... or at least the Paulists, in both cases.

(...small religion joke. Sorry!)

locumranch said...

Granted, Plato was a self-deluded optimist whose 'Republic' favoured a type of intellectual feudalism dominated by a highly educated Philosopher Class while idealizing & ignoring the less noble aspects of human nature, but that's no reason for a pot to call the kettle 'cookware'.

Hasn't David proposed a similarly optimistic social plan that idealizes & ignores the less noble aspects of human nature while favouring a type of intellectual feudalism dominated by a scientifically educated Professional Class??

By offering us a chance to trade one form of hereditary oligarchy (Monetary) for a pseudo-intellectual Laputan other, David tries to sell us the same type of Platonic feudal fertilizer in new packaging.

That's what the acronym 'TWODA' really means: "Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway" as determined by a self-annointed Intellectual Aristocracy, also known as 'Moral Compulsion' by another name.

Of course, this new type of intellectual feudalism would welcome the contributions of a talented amateur class as long as (1) they were optimistic and enthusiastically obedient, (2) they met certain yet-to-be-determined professional & intellectual standards and (3) they knew their place as low-ranking peons & amateurs.

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss...
No, no! WE won't get fooled again!!
Don't get fooled again.


David Brin said...

Randy, your joke: saving both Christianity and libertarianism from "paulists" was both obscure and hilarious.

locum asks if I pose my own platonist ideal society. No way. I am loyal to the pragmatist Scots-Anglo-Jewish branch of the Enlightenment, which split off from the Continental branch when it got suckered back down paths of platonist "reason" and ideal essences. My central purpose is to continue using the practical mix of competition and cooperation that I describe in EARTH, finding synergistic ways for them to leverage and enhance each other.

(e.g. the fact that a cooperative enterprise - modern democratic-consensus government - can be used to enhance the effectiveness of Smithian competition, by doing what Smith proposed… communally helping poor kids in order to achieve a libertarian goal… maximizing the number of skilled-confident competitors.)

Neither of the two previous paragraphs can even be read or parsed by a person with a dogmatic mind set. He'll keep looking for a gran Prescription or doctrine, rather than a matter of practical design principles that have worked well for 200 years.

This obduracy is shown by the hilarious (tho perhaps sincere) attempt at paraphrasing: "favouring a type of intellectual feudalism dominated by a scientifically educated Professional Class"

Har! I have intensely defended the professional castes against the war that is being waged against them by the New Oligarchs. Naturally, as a platonist, locum interprets that to mean I want to REPLACE domineering financial lords with a technocracy of intelligencia lords. But… note this… that is exactly PLATO's prescription, not mine!

Were such a technocracy in place, I would bend all my efforts to breaking it up. To siccing them against each other in the competitive process that Plato hated and that underlies all of our successes. The process that empowers human beings to overcame their near infinite capacity for delusion.

"David tries to sell us the same type of Platonic feudal fertilizer in new packaging."

No, that is locum dully blinking at what he does not understand and assuming it must be something like what already exists in his mind.

Likewise his dismissal of TWODA, which is nothing more than "everybody agrees that efficiency is good, and needed, so let's get a bunch of that while arguing over climate change.


Ian said...

TWOTDA = investments which have the effect of reducing GHG emissions and have a financial rate of return in excess of the hurdle rate.

locumranch said...

One has to admire David's wordsmithery:

Instead of advocating an intellectual meritocracy in a direct manner, he states that he is a firm supporter of "modern democratic-consensus government (enhanced) by doing what Smith proposed (by educating and) communally helping poor kids in order to achieve a libertarian goal… maximizing the number of skilled-confident competitors".

Unfortunately, he neglects to mention that the single best predictor of educational success (as evidenced by university graduation rates) is "the socioeconomic status and educational level" of the student's family which means that the 'great equalizer' that is education is still mostly a hereditary aristocracy.

Look no further than George W Bush, a marginally-intelligent substance-abusing frat boy who 'earned' the US Presidency by virtue of a pricey university degree purchased by his 'hege-monied' family...

Which is not to say that poor competitors of low socioeconomic status cannot benefit from an expensive 'Smithian' education (IE. Obama). It just means that the supposed educational benefit to low income students is much less likely to be statistically significant.

David insists on seeing the world through the rose-coloured glasses of Idealism and neglects the obvious:

Money & Power begets Education & Intellect which begets Money & Power which begets even more Education, Money, Power & Smithian advantage, and so on.

Putting aside David's dog-eared Mickey Mouse idealism, one Plutocrat is much like another, whether or not they derive their hierarchical authority from Walt Disney, blood, money or education. Same-Same. No difference.

And, btw, NOT "everybody agrees that efficiency is good". Try reading up on Spinrad's 'Agent of Chaos' or Herbert's 'Bureau of Sabotage'.


David Brin said...

Now it's simply gone pathetic. Locum not only seems incapable of grokking the underlying notion or preserving progress, freedom, creativity and a flat social order through systems of reciprocal accountability, he is unable to even take note of it as a SUBJECT to be discussed, even though all of my last two missives were about that.

Incurious beyond blame, he veers away from that which he cannot comprehend or perceive and keeps trying to cram everything into his own obsession. And thus, insisting that, whatever I say, I simply have to be a conspirator in favor of one form or another of elitist rule.

Despite that being the diametric opposite of both my goals and my means of approaching them. Which are the ONLY means that have ever worked at fostering a society with both fairness and social mobility.

At this point is is simply becoming sad. And not worth doing captcha another time.

Robert said...

Speaking of oddities, Dr. Brin, have you heard anything about the Atacama Humanoid? Or is (as my personal suspicion trends toward) the entire article a fake intended on stirring up Internet fancies?

Though I must admit... a cautious and semi-intelligent animal living in a remote section of South America that considered humanity to be a predator could easily evade detection. It's probably a monkey of some sort when all's said and done.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


"I have to laugh at the irony of those towns in red states who every so often respond to anti-gun ordinances in places like Chicago and New York by passing their own laws REQUIRING every citizen to purchase a gun."

Could you name which towns? Because I'll bet no such law has been passed, at least not within living memory.

The first one I am aware of was Kennesaw, GA, admittedly back in the 1980s, but hardly outside of living memory. A Chicago suburb, Morton Grove, IL passed an anti-gun ordinance, and in response, Kennesaw passed a law requiring every citizen to own a gun.

But if that's not recent enough history for you, I'm pretty sure there was a recent example in one of the south-eastern states just a few months ago, in reaction to the anti-gun sentiment following the Sandy Hook shooting. In fact, I just looked it up...Nelson GA.

David Brin said...

Robert first I've heard of the Atacama Humanoid. It certainly is creepy. My impression -- given the lack of reference to or even mention of any citable outside sources or interested institutions -- is that it has all the earmarks of a blatant hoax.

Especially given that it is published on a UFO site.

locumranch said...

With all due sincerity, I understand what David is trying to say. I even agree with him on the important issues, taking issue with the saying of his meanings rather than the meaning of his sayings.

So far he has come out in favour of Conservative Libertarianism, Simulated Reality, Stable Mobility, Institutionalized Creativity, Professional Amateurs, Hierarchical Egalitarianism, Cooperative Competition, Reciprocal Accountability, Preserved Progress, and (now) a 'Flat Social Order', proof positive of an Overt Liberal Conformist Conspiracy, a "War on Language" if you will or a linguistic apocalypse if you'd rather, as evidenced by his propensity for Orwellian Newspeak & oxymoronic neologisms.

In all seriousness, methinks that the moderator David moderate his seriousness.

Really now. I get nothing for "Walt Disney Plutocrat" or wealth-based "Hege-money", but a Paulist double entendre gets kudos? Now, it's my turn to mope.


David Brin said...

Amazing. A sincere and broad-minded person of maturity would ponder the possibility that, when someone says "you don't understand", there is some onus to either prove understanding by paraphrasing or else exert curiosity with "hm... maybe I don't."

Not locum. Hence I reiterate. His every single sentence in this thread has proved that he does NOT understand the thing he is criticizing. It is like playing Battleship and he shouts out squares in the Cyrillic alphabet for a game board miles away.

locum... you are seeing me in YOUR mirror, assuming that I am like you. It is the trap of all dogmatists. It is a shame because curiosity might be lamp to guide you out of that pit.

Broke my pledge and now I have to do damn Captcha again. Kick me if I respond to locum on this thread again.

matthew said...

I would like to try an appeal here: I have been staying away from this site for a while, after six years or so of obsessive reading and occasional posting, lately because the discourse has gotten petty and vapid. To be exact, I feel that one frequent commenter has been monopolizing the discussion with their particular spin on things. I'd like to ask that commenter to tone things back about three notches or so. I'll not be more specific than that, other to add that if you think you might be the commenter, but are unsure, then it may be time to take a look at your own posting habits. All in the name of CITOKATE, please.

Jumper said...

Where were we? Oh yes, humbling the first world. I disagree because we really could feed the world on what we throw away, and I mean blatant waste. Not to mention, you could probably power the third world with the trash the third world litters the oceans with.

On efficiency, I was just meditating this morning about a factory which was closed, and I believe it was closed in part because management simply would not understand that maintenance men will shut down a multimillion dollar plant using sabotage, simply for $600/mo extra pay in overtime, "repairing" what they sabotaged. Rather than ferret out such stuff, management, afraid to sully their hands, was quite content to lose their jobs, ultimately, rather than -ugh- have to actually TALK and DEAL WITH those people.

Alfred Differ said...

I appreciated the 'Walt Disney Plutocrat' at least, but I fail to see why university graduation rates should be used as a figure of merit for education success. It is a partial measure at best. The vast majority of humanity never gets anywhere near a university yet education is permeating into even the darkest corners of humanity's most disconnected cultures.

Perhaps a better figure of merit involves lookin at how annoyed the feudalists are. Fundamentalism froths at the mouth over certain issues and tries to do battle with Moderates. Is that measurable? 8)

David Brin said...

Matthew nice to see you again. This comment section was for ten years one of the best places on the web. I guess it has been a bit less vivid, lately. Killed by Twitter? Like most good things? Anyway, you were worth a captcha.

Thrive and keep dropping by.

sociotard said...

David, do you have any Canadian scientist contacts who can confirm/refute the severity of this situation?
The Political Muzzling of Canada.

Ian said...

Most of you have probably already seen this, but for th others, here's XKCD's take on the Fermi Paradox.

Jonathan Roth said...

Our esteemed author has written a bit about this subject in the past:

Tony Fisk said...

Hmmm... no bicycles?

I can haz bicycle with helicopter?

Capcha may be a pain, but at least they've switched back to words again.
Strong Rennuan: Strong Belwas' little brother

Tacitus2 said...

UK politics are so much more interesting.....

Regards twitter and such, yes it has had some impact. Folks, not all younger btw, have shorter attention spans and more immediate need to share all.



Tim H. said...

Something else off-topic, but it amused me:
The page contains a link to a quiz, my answers put me in the top 7%, but the bar's set so low by those questions I don't feel good about it.