Friday, October 25, 2013

Optimists Rise Up!

Here is yet more news that shatters the cynical incantations and pat nostrums of  both the right and the left.  In April, the Development Committee of the World Bank set the goal of ending extreme poverty worldwide by the year 2030. Does that sound naive and delusionally utopian? Jeffrey Sachs in the New York Times shows a strong case that this goal can (roughly) be met and indeed is being met.

Optimists"According to the World Bank’s scorecard, the proportion of households in developing countries below the extreme-poverty line (now measured as $1.25 per person per day at international prices) has declined sharply, from 52 percent in 1980, to 43 percent in 1990, 34 percent in 1999, and 21 percent in 2010. Even sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the most recalcitrant poverty, is finally experiencing a notable decline, from 58 percent in 1999 to 49 percent in 2010."

Sachs shows that "…anti-market sentiment is no friend of poverty reduction. But neither is free-market fundamentalism. Economic growth and poverty reduction can’t be achieved by free markets alone. Disease control, public education, infrastructure creation and protection, anti-monopoly market protection, the promotion of new science and technology, and protection of the natural environment are all public functions that must align with private market forces."

Read this.  It supplements Steven Pinker's work on the incredible decline in worldwide per-capita violence since 1945.  It shows what we might still accomplish, if vigorous, pragmatic and non-dogmatic ambition and goodwill take hold…

... and especially if we thwart the grouches and cynics of both right and left whose dyspeptic and demoralizing grumbles make them by far the worst enemies of humanity and Planet Earth.

As President John F. Kennedy said: “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?"

To whom might I -- and Kennedy -- be referring?  Read a fascinating rumination about how "southern white notables"… the local white aristocracy across the U.S. South… is not only still fighting the Civil War, but has had winning strategies for most of the last 150 years -- with a result that their region still lags bitterly in every metric of economic, social and personal health.

While combatting the current madness in that direction, remember. There were (and may again be) other enemies of the future like communists. Staring venomously in just one direction is blinkered and deliberate blindness. Sanity and adulthood -- both wary and hopeful in all directions -- are our hopes.

==The vanishing U.S. trade imbalance: what does it mean? ==

Want more optimism?

My friend the brilliant and popular economics-investment pundit John Mauldin publishes economics insights from what might be called an "Eisenhower Republican" perspective -- rock-ribbed and skeptical of debt, but also well-distanced from the Murdochian Madness that has hijacked today's GOP.  John's latest report appraises how a combination of resurgent oil and gas production in the U.S., Obama Administration policies and a rapid return of high-tech manufacturing to U.S. shores, is already having huge effects upon the American balance of trade, a lingering deficit that has spanned a human lifetime.

HowAmericansSpentThemselvesA deficit that - by the way - I call deliberate, and one of the most important contributions of Pax Americana to world history. A deficit that propelled export driven growth across the world, uplifting generations first in war-torn Europe and Japan, then Taiwan, Korea, Singapore… and so on until U.S. trade is now the chief force lifting China and India at the same time.

Mauldin shows how the trade imbalance appears to be going away more rapidly than anyone expected"With the US current account deficit continuing its fall, we need to be alert for the next crisis abroad. It is very difficult to predict exactly when, where, and how markets will panic, but taking US dollars out of the trading system is akin to losing a chair in a game of musical chairs. Someone is going to be left out. It could be Europe or Japan –  but more likely it will be emerging-market countries loaded with a lot of external debt denominated in US dollars who struggle to keep a seat at the table."

Another outcome. When the US is no longer shipping tsunamis of dollars overseas, the countries of Asia will need another currency to trade with each other.  China is already preparing to set up its renmimbi (yuan) as a new reserve currency to stand next to the dollar.  This will be accelerated, so long as China does not collapse because America is buying fewer Chinese goods.  It can get complicated. For example the impact any China slow-down is going to have on commodities like metals, on countries like Canada, on countries like Australia.

It probably is time for the development teat of U.S. trade deficits to start shutting down. It was fun, buying trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed, so that manufacturing jobs would cycle through the planet leaving new middle classes rising in their wake. (Foreign aid via Walmart.)

But America needs to attend to finishing the latest outbreak of its ongoing (and psychotic) civil war -- a task of self-purging and healing that's going to take a while, before we can go back to helping move the world forward.

== Making optimism general and ongoing ==

SocialPyramidHow has our rare and unique Enlightenment - with its vibrant, win-win markets and democracy and science - managed to stay in business, given that human nature routinely seeks to destroy it? Across 99% of human history, the classic social pattern was a pyramid of power with a narrow owner-elite controlling teeming masses below them.  The classic Power Pyramid is clearly a stable system since it dominated everywhere that humans developed both farms and metals.  We are descended from the harems of guys who managed to pull off that trick. Human males are good at it and it should come as no surprise that they are always conspiring to bring it back.

Problem is: while the Power Pyramid may be "natural" to humans it also sucks at governance, at statecraft, at delivering peace, wealth, happiness, freedom, science or progress. We have six millennia of violent, horrifically stupid history that testifies to that pure and proved fact.

Our diamond-shaped society, with a dominant and confident Middle Class, is rare and (alas) not inherently stable, which is why earlier experiments failed.  It is, however, fabulously successful at creativity, wealth-generation, and fostering the spectacular positive sum games of democracy, science and competitive-open markets. No combination of human societies ever accomplished a fraction of what we have, with enlightenment methods, in just 200 years.  But in order to keep the experiment going, careful design and management and relentless fine-tuning have been required.

Adam_Smith_Wealth_of_Nations
Number one among those methods - as prescribed by Adam Smith and the American Founders - was divided power.  You sic the mighty against each other!  Break up monopolies and insist that companies fight it out in the market place with new goods and services, for example. That's hard! So naturally, their CEOs try to collude and connive while strolling the golf course.  So we sic regulators on them, and lo!  They turn and use a myriad methods to "capture" the regulators… as happened when the railroads turned the old Interstate Commerce Commission into their own private brothel.

(Ironically, it was democrats who disbanded the ICC and the horrid old Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and who did every other major DE-regulation of the last century except in one industry.  Finance.  Republicans led the charge deregulating that area, for the simple reason that regulation of finance is desperately necessary to prevent massive raids on our economy.  And sure enough, major raids on the economy happened right after each of those GOP-led "deregulations."

Which brings us to: "Meet the Flexians: A new professional class of movers and shakers—people who serve overlapping roles in government, business, and media with smiling finesse—is controlling the flow of power and money in America." See the article by Lisa Margonelli in Pacific Standard.

PredatorsParasitesScary huh?  To which I can only respond with "Um…. duh?"  Predators and parasites and oligarchs will use monumental cleverness to game any system - whether it is feudal or mercantilist or "communist" - and help pound the diamond into a pyramid of power and control.

We should not despair that clever people learn to game whatever system we create.  It is a good thing that our species creates clever individuals who are able to spot opportunities, form teams and compete well!  We must merely stop them from doing the toxic thing that such teams always did across six thousand years of wretched feudalism, conniving to CHEAT and prevent the competition from continuing!

"No, that is not how we will let you succeed," we must tell them. "Go and innovate new goods and services. Compete with each other to manage creative enterprises without unfair advantages. You may not win by conniving our systems."

Let's take our example from professional sports.  Praise this year's champions. Reward them with riches.  And break up concentrations of excess power so that the game continues to be interesting. Vibrant and fun.

62 comments:

Alex Tolley said...

I think once can be a realist without being Panglossian or a Cynic. It is said that entrepreneurs would never start if they truly knew the risks and difficulties. So it is fine to say - go for it!. But it is also OK to know that the risk of failure is high. It is probably best thought of as betting via rolling dice and accepting that most people with end up with gambler's ruin.

Regarding trade, it is important to understand that much of the US-China imbalance is US companies sourcing or manufacturing in China, which then counts as imports. By judicious use of transfer pricing, the imbalance looks worse than it is, because US companies want to park their profits in low tax states.

While the trade in oil is reversing due to local production and gas extraction, this is not an unalloyed gain. Yes, it is very helpful in the short run, but a negative for long run climate costs. Silver clouds can have sows linings.

And alternative view of Sachs and Africa from the same mag that gave you FLEXIANS.

And what is this "diamond shaped" social structure meme? Self identification of class? The most important thing is income and wealth distribution. That tends to be a power law and this is most stable, but not good. Western nations have clipped the extreme poverty end with income redistribution and public services ensuring that extremely few people are left dying in the street. But extreme poverty isn't some vanishingly small number of people. I get particularly incensed when I discover that this pyramid structure is interpreted as meaning income or wealth distribution. This is so patently false as to be astonishing that people actually believe this.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

I think we should name names of the Reds and leftists who are supposedly the equivalent to the Tea Party imbeciles and shallow libertarians. Does Michael Moore qualify as a leftist? Does Ralph Nader? If so, let's look at the paragraph David cited from Jeffrey Sachs' article:

"...anti-market sentiment is no friend of poverty reduction. But neither is free-market fundamentalism. Economic growth and poverty reduction can’t be achieved by free markets alone. Disease control, public education, infrastructure creation and protection, anti-monopoly market protection, the promotion of new science and technology, and protection of the natural environment are all public functions that must align with private market forces."

On these matters, don't Ralph Nader and Michael Moore support what Jeffrey Sachs wants? Can't we also say that the Tea Party and shallow (as opposed to non-shallow and opposed to all) libertarians don't want government involvement?

I raise this again because the equivalency tag that David wants to pin on "leftists" and Reds is misguided. They are a reasonable part of a successful coalition to restore public policy making sanity and our nation. Otherwise, it is just Clintonism/Obamaism which has not shown itself capable of actually making the structural changes necessary to restore our nation's greatness.

Tony Fisk said...

Mitchell, David is taking a long term view of left-right threats. He has repeatedly stated that 'left' is not currently where the threat lies.

Speaking of grinding diamonds into pyramids...check this video.
Note who's worse off.

David Brin said...

Alex, you are right that US manufacturers park a lot of profits overseas, but that is nothing compared to to the double set of books run by Japan Inc. One set shows they have been in severe recession for 20 years. Yeah right.

I would fret over US oil and gas prices plummeting just as sustainables are becoming competitive. But it seems the momentum for solar is unstoppable, with steep improvements coming all the time and state and federal support helping along. Meanwhile, low natural gas prices are bringing a lot of manufacturing to the mississippi valley.

Diamond shaped societies are dominated by an empowered middle class that outnumbers the poor and that does not lag too much behind the rich.

Mitchell you and I are always at loggerheads over this. I consider it mind-boggling that folks can deny there is a loony-flake-lefty-fringe that has all the traits I describe. You name Moore and Nader, who dance across the borderline, often acting like liberals… then veering into lala -land and seeming to almost deliberately sabotage their own effectiveness with absurd rants.

Nader, I have no truck with. Had he not acted insane in 2000 we would never have had to deal with George W. Bush. Period. he can go to heck.

As for the real lefty flakes. You do not watch Fox enough. Hannity all the time offers anecdotes of lefty imbecilles saying or doing awful things. He lies and exaggerates and misinterprets and you are STILL left with piles of anecdotes of awful foolishness and imperious political correctness…

… which gives him ammo for his BIGGEST LIE… that "all liberals are like this.' Which helps unite his New Confederates.

Do you have any memory at all of what bullying assholes the left were on most college campuses, all through the 20th century? In the 1970s lefty bullies and morons physically attacked Paul Wolfowitz and Nitze etc, driving all the neoconservatives off campus, into the arms of faux a"academies" like Heritage, where they became house intellectual whores for the Kochs and Bushes, who later abandoned the neocons like used toilet paper. Had they stayed on campus amid the normal give and take, those right wing idiots would have never done so vast harm. Those rioters share some of the blame.

The worst part of this is that you would even HAVE the reflex to defend the left's jerks, who are every bit as soul-rotten as assholes of the right.... with the saving grace that they are 1% as numerous or politically important or effectively harmful.

But WOULD they do harm, if they could? Or you bet yer ass they would. And if you don't know it, then you were nowhere on campus in the last 40 years.

Hans said...

This part seems wrong somehow:
" We are descended from the harems of guys who managed to pull off that trick. Human males are good at it and it should come as no surprise that they are always conspiring to bring it back."

If society is structured in pyramids, wouldn't that imply very little source material to descend from? Unless I misunderstand you somehow.

Paul451 said...

Re: Texas versus California.

Turns out they both suck.

Proportion of poor in public schools: http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/10/study_the_majority_of_public_school_students_in_the_west_south_are_low-income.html

Paul451 said...

3D Guns and "Elite panic". This is what I was worried about:

UK police confiscated "parts of a 3D printed firearm"... which turned out merely to be new parts for the 3D printer itself.

http://gigaom.com/2013/10/24/uk-police-seize-3d-printer-and-printed-gun-components/

What's interesting is that even after it was pointed out to the police that the parts were not gun-parts, they continued to issue press releases tying the confiscation to guns: "It prudent (sic) we establish exactly what these parts can be used for and whether they pose any threat.
What this has also done is open up a wider debate about the emerging threat these next generation of weapons might pose."
Never back down, never admit you were wrong, never admit you overreacted.

The phrase "Next Generation of Weapons" is used repeatedly in every press release. Clearly this is how they are going to sell the hysteria over 3D printed zip-guns. Although it seems to me that "The Next Generation Of Weapons!" is a great slogan to encourage kids to try to make these on their home 3d printer (which can't actually print parts strong enough for firearms, but can print the shapes. So the kid is more likely to blow their hand off. Seriously, have a look at the quality of the confiscated parts in the pics.)

If you doubt the article's identification of the parts (spool and feeder arm), here the feeder arm on Thingverse: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:53125

How many "panic" laws are ever repealed? How many additional powers are ever given up? How many new emergency agencies (TSA/DHS) are ever shut down?

David Brin said...

8% of the Chinese population is descended from Ghengiz Khan....

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Mitchell you and I are always at loggerheads over this. I consider it mind-boggling that folks can deny there is a loony-flake-lefty-fringe that has all the traits I describe.


I don't want to speak for Mitch, but he SEEMS to me to be arguing that the loony left is in no position to cause actual harm the way the loony right is. Which would seem to be more in agreement than disagreement with you.


Nader, I have no truck with. Had he not acted insane in 2000 we would never have had to deal with George W. Bush. Period. he can go to heck.


I'm of two minds on this.

My immediate tendency, since 2000, has always been in complete agreement with that assessment.

But trying to take the long view, it also occurs to me that if we hadn't had (and had time to get sick of) President Bush, we would never have elected a black man with name like Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency. Had Al Gore won instead of Bush, we'd probably have elected either Vice-President Lieberman or his opponent, John McCain in '08.

So, it's worth noting that, as "Watchmen" would have it, It Never Ends.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB
"Diamond shaped societies are dominated by an empowered middle class that outnumbers the poor and that does not lag too much behind the rich."

What exactly does this mean? What data supports it? What are the axes on the charts - x=numbers, y=income? Why is the chart diamond shaped, not pear shaped, or a pyramid sitting on top of a narrow base?

I've certainly heard people claim that the US income distribution is some sort of bell curve shape and implies that there is not a problem of poverty or extreme wealth. But this is false.

What is happening in the US is that the gini coef. is getting larger. The wealthier are accumulating more of the GDP for themselves. We are returning to an era before the social safety net where being poor had huge life consequences.

Anonymous said...

Does this idiot Brin ever look up just how much fresh water is left on this planet?

The point is not about being an optimist or a pessimist; it about doing a simple math, you moron.

Roger Landes said...

"Nader, I have no truck with. Had he not acted insane in 2000 we would never have had to deal with George W. Bush. Period. he can go to heck."

Dr. Brin: this is the view of establishment democrats and lazy-ass lefties like Eric Altermann. Data shows that Nader did not take many votes from Gore, in fact most of the votes for Nader were from people who would not have voted if he had not run. And besides, Gore won the vote in Florida but SCOTUS stopped the recount, thereby fixing the results in favor or Shrub. The first person to blame for Bush's 'victory' is Gore, who ran one of the worst campaigns in history, even losing his home state, and the second is probably Scalia, who has done more to regress the US than perhaps any other single figure in the 20th century next to Reagan.

I get that you feel a need to excoriate the 'left,' even though they are only "1% of the right," using your own words, but your critique would be more persuasive if it didn't simply repeat facile platitudes from the lazy professional left.

David Brin said...

This is why I don't moderate posts or comments. Almost everyone else does. But I am proud of how few trolls we get here. The rare case like Mr. "watch me describe myself" anonymous actually proves how cool this group is.

Alex I never claimed the diamond was either perfect or not under threat. It is being pounded into a pyramid as we speak and that is the whole reason the Koch/Murdochs are riling up civil war, to distract the victims.

Gore would likely have been a one term president. There've been no two term successors of the same party since the 1920s. But we'd not have had Bush & co. Might I repeat that? We'd not have had Bush & co.

I'll say it again, We'd not have had Bush & co. A vastly richer and healthier America, even if McCain took over in 2005, would be in far better shape.

Oh, and an older and more tempered Barack Obama would be ready when people EXPECTED him to run, in 2012.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Does this idiot Brin ever look up just how much fresh water is left on this planet?"

An absolutely enormous amount with millions of tonnes more being produced by the huge fusion powered distillation device in our sky

It it being used wisely - No
But it is not in an overall short supply

Paul451 said...

Alex,
The diamond is not a "graph", it's more of an infographic. A different way of picturing, essentially, a bell-curve. Small number of very rich, and a small number of very poor. Most people in the middle.

(As opposed to a pyramid, where there's still a small number of very rich, but vastly more poor. With a shrunken middle class. Which historically, would have been the merchant class, I suppose.)

Today, I guess the US is more of an inverted kite. There's still more middle class than poor, but they're not as "middle" any more.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

With a shrunken middle class. Which historically, would have been the merchant class, I suppose.


Thom Hartmann often uses the example that in Dickens's day, Ebeneezer Scrooge was not a representative of the upper class, but of the tiny middle-class, a small business owner with one employee.

Todsy, we'd tend to think of Bob Cratchitt as "lower middle class", but he's one of the vast working poor of the time.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin, I understand the regret over the what-might-have-beens without the Bush/Cheney years.

I also wonder if we could possibly have avoided them--whether Bush was foisted upon us by manipulative powers who would have had their way regardless because they were not going to allow the end of the national debt and the de-militarization of America and the Star Trek-ian future you talk about.

The class war or Civil War III or whatever you want to call it had its first shot fired with Bush V Gore, but I believe that some other first shot would have been fired regardless.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't disagree about the damage done by the Bush years, but I wonder if they were inevitable.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB, Paul451

2010 Income Distribution

Where is the diamond shape (or even "inverted kite")? Note that the decline in frequency starts at $15k/yr and only really declines at $10k. And this is household income. Try living on $10k/yr.

The maximum frequency is $15-20k/yr. There is no "empowered middle class" here, just people scraping by pay check to paycheck.

IMO, the "diamond" distribution gives a false picture of the income distribution in the US (and everywhere else). It suggests a healthy, vibrant "middle class" with declining fractions of the population earning more and less of the median income. This is just not supported by the data.

Furthermore, it was never diamond shaped. Economic distribution just doesn't work like that, wit or without a social safety net.

Clearly with extensive and free public services, the value of received utility changes the shape of the curve. Education being perhaps the most important in terms of being able to change circumstances for the young, and healthcare for the old. Once they are fully privatized...

locumranch said...

This is what optimism gets you:

Unfounded self-perpetuating memes like the 'Diamond Shaped Society', 'Middle class dominance', the 'elimination of poverty' & the 'Self-sustaining Bubble', fueled by a combination of denial & profound historical ignorance.

http://billmoyers.com/2013/09/20/by-the-numbers-the-incredibly-shrinking-american-middle-class/

As evidenced by the above article by Bill Moyers, the definition of the term 'middle class' (aka the bourgeoisie, professional or managerial class) is a matter of perception rather than reality with 85% of US Citizenry self-identifying as 'middle class' even though most of this so-called bourgeoisies are employees rather than professionals, 25% of which fall at or below the poverty level. Furthermore, poverty is most often defined as the presence of 'desire', 'insufficiency' or 'want', poorly defined terms which represent potentially infinite qualities in the human lexicon.

Finally, let's talk about the term 'Bubble": An economic cycle characterized by rapid expansion followed by a contraction; a surge in equity prices, often more than warranted by the fundamentals and usually in a particular sector, followed by a drastic drop in prices as a massive selloff occurs; and a theory that security prices rise above their true value and will continue to do so until prices go into freefall and the bubble burst.

Attributed to the 'Enlightenment' by David, the recent period of unprecedented human growth is an unsustainable bubble which would be more appropriately attributed to the use of Fossil Fuels, and like all those other bubbles that have come before (DOT.com, real estate, housing, tulips, Crispy Creme donuts & stock market), these bubbles are fueled by consuming capital instead of interest which, coincidentally, is exactly what we've done in this age of fossil-fueled enlightenment, leaving the optimists among us dazed, confused & covered in bubble residue while sucking in extraordinary levels of CO2.

And, make no mistake, the human population boom is a bubble which owes its presence to the consumption of (largely irreplaceable) capital resources like the global environment & its fisheries, until ***POP*** the inevitable self-correction occurs, and the Scientist-Cynic Malthus to wins again.


Best.

David Brin said...

locum is back on his meds! Very cogent refutational point, young sir.

I'm not saying you are all wrong, but leading off with the flakey Bill Moyers is not a great start.

The vast fossil fuel gusher of the last 150 years did not just go up in smoke. It created vast tangible and (largely) durable wealth in streets and sewer systems and schools, universities, rails ports, capital stock... and yes they need maintenance that the Red Fools have obstructed. But that wealth is truly vast. It means even the poor kids grow up with roofs and electric lights, refrigeration and access to (not enough but lots of) jobs in air conditioned factories.

To deride this is to toss out Marx completely, since he emphasized that building the means of production was THE historic stage preceding worker paradise. All right, that was one of half a dozen areas where Marx was delusional. Still, that capitalized stock is huge.

If we NOW can switch to powering all those buildings with solar and the electric transport between them, then will we need the same tsunami of fossil fuels as before? Declining fossil fuel use in the U.S. suggests a possible tipping point that we should press hard and fast.

China is building out this capital stock with the fanatical obsession that only state capitalists with a deep and underlying Marxist mentality could pursue. They CAN later make the smog go away. What they'll be left with is vast and gleaming cities linked by electric super-trains.

So while his point was delivered courteously and cogently, locum's refutation was at least 60% wrong.

Russell Day said...

I invented Transcendia because of the challenge to do better given my generation of hippies. I went from Godwin Anarchy to Parliamentary Democracy with a heavy emphasis on Roberts Rules of order.
Engineers are not as depressed as the physicists, and why we get things done scientists sometimes dream about.
All great politicians and generals turn to engineers to build bridges, and ships.
Now is time to topple the CSA monuments on Monument Row. Russell Scott Day The Revolutionary is my little e book out.

Alex Tolley said...

leading off with the flakey Bill Moyers

Ad hominem attack. The article locum references is fact based, AFAICS.

"Declining fossil fuel use in the U.S. suggests a possible tipping point that we should press hard and fast".

What declining use? EIA projects put annual consumption growth as +ve out to 2040. If cheap NG really is maintainable, this will put a brake on alternatives like solar and wind. Note also that utilities are starting to push back against solar installations to make them far less attractive to consumers. While I'm personally optimistic solar will continue to gain traction for various reasons, I'm also realistic in understanding power plant lives and economics will prevent replacement for a generation at least.

China may get her gleaming cities, but the legacy will be a hotter world with all that entails, and an acidified ocean, with potentially very different ecosystems. No amount of solar powered civilization can change that anytime soon. Maybe the big, low tech industry of C22nd will be sequestering the CO2 from the oceans using renewable energy. Let's hope the rising oceans won't have drowned those gleaming cities too!





David Brin said...

Yes Alex. To all points. I am being contrary.

Though I must triage my time and whether anything by Moyers contains facts or not, I do not have lifespan to waste on him.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

Moyers is now your enemy, David?

My only point, and I think Larry Hart gets me well, is that I see no reason to even talk about the left loonies. Its only purpose is as Sean Hannity uses them, which is to bash liberals. Us bashing unknown loonie lefties and creating the impression of false equivalencies is just playing along with Sean Hannity.

My other point is that Nader, Moore and Moyers are far more in alliance with what you state you want to see, and what Jeffrey Sachs has eloquently stated he wants to see. To cast them out is to close off the tent that could and should easily include them if we want a winning coalition.

David Brin said...

Moyers isn't my enemy. He is simply a lousy journalist who does very poor triage and I have better things to do with my time.

Mitchell, your reflex to assume that skeptical wariness toward the far left only serves Hannity is cockeyed in every conceivable way. It means we must reflexively defend the very association that Hannity hurls! Whereas Hannity is neutralized when liberals say:

"I know some of my lefty friends are sometimes a bit loony. I keep my eye on them... while YOU "moderates" on the right have done no such thing with your side's loonies and flakes."

Bah! Liberals saying "I am aware that leftists were dangerous in the past... but right now they are a silly offshoot that dominates a few dozen university soft studies departments... and Berkeley. Meanwhile, you have let YOUR loonies take over an entire political party and run the country off multiple cliffs...."

...that is credibility BUILDING not reducing! It undermines Hannity's whole narrative. When he shows footage of some lefty dingbat, you can then shrug "So? All you prove is that our moderates have done their job while yours are lazy cowards."

Above all, for any liberal to NOT be aware that many leftists would be tyrants, if they could? That is just wrong. It is abrogation of responsibility. Of memory of the millions crushed by Stalin.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

I guess what I resent is we are not specific. We talk about "lefties" and "radicals" and when I got specific, with Nader, Moore and Moyers, you lumped them in with some unnamed university profs and "Berkeley."

I find it is silly to even live in Sean Hannity's world, when so few are actually watching the oaf any longer. We're talking about largely old white guys who don't count at all anymore. Really, they are just pathetic.

My point is to say that bah to equivalency in this day and age. There is no equivalency of the Tea Party inside the Republican Party to any other part of the political spectrum, however we draw it. It is not necessary for you to even mention it.

That's my final word on this thread; I just wanted to make sure I was understood here--and that I am not ignorant of nor do I want to revive American Stalinists of the 1930s and 1940s or the New Left lunacy of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

David Brin said...

As a metter of fact, I precisely and explicitly did NOT lumped them in with some unnamed university profs and "Berkeley." Please read more carefully.

I called Nader & Moore borderline cases, who when they dip lefty harm the credibility that they need for their mostly-liberal and cogent messages. They, above all, should make this distinction, and Moore sometimes explicitly does.

You aloof attitude towards Hannity is part of Liberalism's problem. In this civil war we need to be ministering to whichever Fox-watchers can still be reached by reason. I have found it quite effective to show wavering Fox watchers that Hannity's Big Lie is "ALL LIBERALS ARE LIKE THIS!" by daring them to ask their moderate liberal neighbors "DO you believe what Sean Hannity says you believe?"

It has worked on dozens of occasions. What have YOU done to convert moderate conservatives, and thus weaken that side?

BTW you may not want to relive Stalin or Campus lunatics of the left from the 20th Century. Fine. I remember both and dread their return. And SAYING that I do adds to my cred when I minister to the right.

Tony Fisk said...

An interesting take on 'The Science of Tea Party Wrath'

Thomas Benson said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM

Paul451 said...

Mitchell,
Part of the point of "agreeing" with Hannity about the "loony left" is the idea of using your enemy's momentum against him.

Yes, Mister Hannity, loonies are dangerous. Let's all discuss loonies.

That said, you have to be careful that you are properly separating "loonies" from those you should defend. It must never be about just habitually surrendering, to appear "balanced".

For example, Fox ginned up some hysteria over comments made by a Sec.Ag, who then resigned to save the Administration embarrassment. The thing is, her actual comments in full (essentially, "I used to think poverty was a black thing, then I met poor white farmers, and I saw how naive/bigoted/stupid I'd been") were actually really gracious and good.

That's when you defend to the hilt. Obama should made an Oval Office address and, without introduction, simple read the original speech. As if he were saying it about himself. Then, when done, explain what he'd just read, and that he would give the women who originally spoke those words his absolute support, and those who attacked her, his unwavering contempt. Instead he folded. It was pathetic.

Tim H. said...

Hmm, the Tea Party wing of the GOP looks like they're waiting for Harvey Korman to order the destruction of Rock Ridge, I haven't seen the lefty equivalent. In Nader's favor, I'd say the U.S. is in dire need of progressive politicians to offset the influence of the .1%, in the long run, they'd also benefit.

David Brin said...

Paul451 I agree absolutely.

Tim, it is important to remember that outcomes matter more than polemics. The outcomes of Ralph Nader's obstinate pigheadedness in 2000 so vastly outweigh all the good that he has done, across his entire life, that forgiveness don't even come into it.

He is THE prime example of the harm that leftists do.

One thing I fear from current trend: that the calamitous oligarchic putsch to destroy the American middle class won't provoke a typically American middle-class-progressive revolution, like 1905 or 1933… but instead a plunge into radical naive leftist radicalism -- which certainly was around in 1905 and 1933.

In both cases members of the Roosevelt family were around to help keep the immune response positive, moderate and calm.

locumranch said...

I am less concerned about Nader & Hannity's nonsensical chatter than I am about Optimism's 'We can have our cake & eat it too' mentality.

Optimist tells us that economic prosperity can coexist with energy austerity, but it cannot because we define personal & cultural prosperity in terms of caloric energy consumption.

Do you possess a home? A vacation home? A phone? A computer? A car? A second vehicle? Adequate food? A pet? A large family? An education? A professional degree?

All these things cost energy to produce & maintain, the human demand for which is both geometric & insatiable, always increasing by proportion, per capita & population.

It's the unsustainable 'Wheat on the Chess Board' parable about exponential growth, and we will never catch up, never exceed expectations, until the bubble bursts or a contraction occurs.

Only then will we be able to live within our means, decrease our CO2 production or eliminate poverty. We are overdue for such a purge.


Best.

Arizsun Ahola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arizsun Ahola said...

locumranch,

Your premise assumes that human populations will only go up. That seems to be false as Europe and Japan are both at negative population growth and birth rates are falling in nations such as India and Indonesia. Yes, it will still be some time before the world population begins to contract, but it looks to be within the span of many of our lives.

That is leaving aside new technologies entirely.

David Brin said...

"we define personal & cultural prosperity in terms of caloric energy consumption."

Okaaaaaaaaaay…. Whatever group locus self-describes as "we" is plenty damn sicko.

First I ever heard-o that definition. Some surprise to Dutch folks and Danes and Japanese, who have nice middle class lifestyles on far lower energy or carbon footprints than Americans. Or New Yorkers for that matter.

Speaking as a suburbanite (who drives very very little) It is obvious that suburbia was a disaster and efficient inner cities are now on the rise.

dgaetano said...

locumranch said...

"...we define personal & cultural prosperity in terms of caloric energy consumption."

No we don't.

"Do you possess a home?"

Yes, and its energy footprint is a fraction of the one I grew up in, despite it being much nicer. Within a year or two I'll put some solar panels up and zero out its energy use (and save money).

"A vacation home?"

No, these are hardly common. If I did though I'd put solar on it too and sell all the excess power it generated when I wasn't around.

"A phone?"

Yes, it has more computational power than an old Cray supercomputer, is orders of magnitude more useful than the phones I grew up with, and runs off less than a watt of power.

"A computer?"
Yes, a 4 lb notebook that makes my 35 lb energy hog workstation from a decade ago look like an abacus. Uses about 10 watts of power (which also allows it to be silent, I love that!)

"A car?"
Yeah, Nissan Leaf. Superior and more enjoyable than a gas car in every way except range (mine's a 2011, I expect battery improvements will make EV range a nonissue by 2020 easy, already a nonissue in Teslas). It uses about 300 kWh per month, the gas car it replaced was using over 2 MWh a month. That is not a typo.

"A second vehicle?"
Yeah, my old gas car. Put three tanks of gas in it so far this year. It will be the last gas vehicle I ever own and its days are numbered.

"Adequate food?" : (I have too little knowledge of agriculture to add to the discussion on this point)

"A pet?" : No, pets suck.

"A large family? An education? A professional degree?" : These are all just people who use resources in turn, their lives are both more efficient and prosperous now in the same way that mine is.

Advances in solar power, battery densities, LED lighting, Electric Vehicles, ubiquitous cheap computing (both in $ and watts per computation) and networking all force multiply and show no signs of slowing down. I use less power today than I ever have in my adult life and yet my standard of living is much better than it's ever been.

David Brin said...

The right wing litany that all you need is a large population of problem-solvers and problems will solve themselves… is of course insane.

My non-libertarian side points out that most solutions have at least some state component, if only the huge amount of shared resources that we have wisely voted by consensual politics to be spent on subsidizing millions of this population to work full time researching problems.

Markets do not solve all problems and for many problems they do need some allocation guidance. Not top-down statism, but some consensual awareness.

On the other hand, my libertarian side proclaims that there is a basic truth that the right mangles horribly into their catechism. The basic truth is that if we take every child on Earth and give her or him a middle class level of comfort and education and tools and toys (ideally vastly more efficiently than average American youths) then half will become minimally educated and half well-educated. Half of half will find employment doing somewhat useful things. Half of those will create wealth we can spend on solving problems. Half of those will be parts of enterprises that solve problems.

One percent of those will be active problem solvers and one percent of THOSE will create new things we never heard of.

It will help if our CULTURE encourages that along with efficiency, and for both reasons the right must lose, but so must the Far left, whose paternalism denies this whole process can be mostly self-propelled.

But yes, for a time, large numbers of bright kids on the planet have a silver lining.

Duncan Cairncross said...

David Said
"The basic truth is that if we take every child on Earth and give her or him a middle class level of comfort and education and tools and toys (ideally vastly more efficiently than average American youths) then half will become minimally educated and half well-educated. Half of half will find employment doing somewhat useful things. Half of those will create wealth we can spend on solving problems. Half of those will be parts of enterprises that solve problems."

Not convinced about the "Half" In my experience more than half will become educated, more than half of those will contribute
(And a fair number of those who do not get edicated will also contribute)


"One percent of those will be active problem solvers and one percent of THOSE will create new things we never heard of."

Now here I differ - a lot - MOST people are "active problem solvers" you can't do a manual job like laying a pipeline or cutting down a tree without having to solve problems every day

If you can solve those problems then you can solve others - if they come up -

The final 1% who "create "new things we never heard of"

Again rather than 1% of 1% I believe that a much larger percentage has the capability to be creative at that level (10%??)

In your scenario a lot more people would have the opportunity as well as the capability

I base my thoughts of a lifetime of experience in industry and with people at all levels
There are some very smart people and some dumb ones but the average Joe or Jane is a smart cookie



David Brin said...

Duncan, clearly you and I agree about the essence. Where we differ is subsumed within perhaps different definitions of "educated" and "problem" and "solver." I was referring to the BIG problems that govt tries to address and that libertarians claim will be automatically solved by market forces and sheer numbers of people.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"I was referring to the BIG problems that govt tries to address"

I bought this book

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00APDTQRA/ref=pe_245070_24466410_M1T1DP

I'm sure it was recommended on this forum

The limiting factor is not (IMHO) the capabilities of the individual people but the structures to actually bring the creativity to bear

Your "crowd sourcing" and the open source systems are methods to help but the good old "get 100 engineers/scientists together and pay them to fix it" model is difficult to beat

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Optimist tells us that economic prosperity can coexist with energy austerity, but it cannot because we define personal & cultural prosperity in terms of caloric energy consumption.


Some do, but that's largely a stereotype of Americans, albeit one that a certain subset willingly buys into. That sort "feels good about itself" only if it feels no need to concern itself with consequences. In the 1980s, then-president Reagan made us "feel good about America" again by pandering to this sort of thing.

But not everyone takes this parody song as a personal anthem:


[with apologies to Lee Greenwood]

And I'm proud to be an American
Who gets just five MPG.
I live alone, but the car I own
Can seat 103,
And I'll gladly park right next to you
So when you look out, you can't see.
Oh, I'll never trade my Escalade.
God bless my SUV!

Alex Tolley said...

if we take every child on Earth and give her or him a middle class level of comfort and education and tools and toys (ideally vastly more efficiently than average American youths) then half will become minimally educated and half well-educated.

And that is an excellent problem to solve. Even defining what is "education" seems to be hard enough. But doing it well, would have huge economic benefits.

We also need ways to use that education. When highly educated people cannot find jobs even close to using their skills, at least part of that resource is inefficiently used.

How do we change society to best use the human capital we produce?

David Brin said...

Marc Grizzard, of Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, says that the first King James translation of the Bible is the only true declaration of God’s word, and that all others are “satanic”.

Pastor Grizzard and 14 other members of the church plan to burn copies of the other “perversions” of Scripture on Halloween, 31 October.

The New Revised Version Bible, the American Standard Version Bible, and even the New King James Version are all pronounced to be works of the Devil by Pastor Grizzard and his followers.

“[We will be burning] books by a lot of different authors who we consider heretics, such as Billy Graham, Rick Warren… the list goes on and on,” Pastor Grizzard told reporters.

eeeeep

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/6346662/North-Carolina-church-plans-Halloween-Bible-burning.html

Duncan Cairncross said...

"When highly educated people cannot find jobs even close to using their skills, at least part of that resource is inefficiently used."

It has not always been that way, until the Reagan, Thatcher revolution it was normal for governments to drive towards - and get damn close to - full employment

Yes that did lead to some inefficiencies, some unnecessary work being done,
But overall I would love to go back to the days where the state employed people to keep the place tidy

Once everybody has a job then we can work on using their skills

David Brin said...

I'll settle for employing just 1% more fixing infrastructure and keeping bridges from falling down…

…and then going home and spending high-velocity money they earned with good, important work

locumranch said...

Just realized that many of you must have misunderstood my punny play-on-words definition of prosperity as 'caloric energy consumption'.

We define 'Prosperity' as wealth, affluence & excess (literally), an excess that most human cultures choose to conspicuously consume, burn or squander in a flashy 'monumental' fashion (literally & metaphorically) that clearly identifies these resources as either luxury or excess, the use of which we describe (literally) as energy, calories, kcals, horsepower & British Thermal Units, blurring the metaphorical lines between food & fuel in way that converts petrol into grain & grain into petrol, explaining why so many First Worlders are so morbidly obese.


Of course, there are always a few prudent, frugally antisocial & dgaetano-like individuals out there who live to economize & conserve, but most of us fall in somewhere between the Retrenchers & the Trenchermen, choosing instead to Fat Tuesday our resources on big houses we must heat, status symbols we can't afford, infrastructure we never use & more stuff we don't need, all for the sake of a wastefully healthy 'economy'.



Best.

locumranch said...



Profligacy is the New Economy

Tim H. said...

Dr, Brin, the (sorta') conservatives, by their skill & salesmanship, have won the freedom to define debates,demonize the opposition and run the nation with almost no supervision, double-checking or triangulation of problems, it seems fair to compare them with the dog that caught the car. For their own good, they need enough liberal/progressive politicians to make them a bit miserable, spending one's time fat, dumb and happy can get you a Darwin award.

matthew said...

All this talk of "caloric energy consumption reminds me of the excellent book "The Windup Girl," by Paolo Bacigalupi, the Hugo winner for best novel from 2010. In it, there is a post-scarcity economy where everything is defined by how many calories it costs. A dark, dark novel that serves in the very best tradition of dystopian writing.

Vilyehm said...

David Brin said...
8% of the Chinese population is descended from Ghengiz Khan....


4:51 PM

-------------------
My favorite Chinese statistic:

If all the Chinese in the world were to be lined up along the equator, 80% of them would drown.


Vilyehm

Jonathan S. said...

Vilyehm said:

"If all the Chinese in the world were to be lined up along the equator, 80% of them would drown."

And if you took all the veins and arteries in your body and laid them all out end to end, you would die.

So, that preacher declaring the original King James is "the only true Word of God" - how's he feel about the Hebrew texts the Old Testament was translated from? Or the Latinate texts that lay between the Hebrew and the King James?

Steven Ouellette said...

Bible-burning story is from 2009...

Robert said...

I must admit some curiosity as to when "liberal" became a huge insult. I say this due to my own reaction when my Republican Ostrich friend called me a liberal and I threatened to end our friendship if he ever uttered that toward me again (and meant every single word of it and do so). Somehow along the line the Republican politicians have managed to turn "liberal" into a term that has lower respectability than the Nazi party and is more abhorrent than a child molester.

How did they succeed in this? I mean, I hear Dr. Brin trying hard to shift it to "Leftist" and "Liberal" but really there's no difference between the two for Fox News and the UltraConservatives. Instead, if you're a Liberal you're so great of scum that respect should not be wasted on you.

It may be time to toss in the towel. I know that pagans have "reclaimed" the word "witch" to a limited extent... but I think Liberal has been poisoned so utterly that it may need to be abandoned. And let's face it - most Democrats aren't even liberals these days. They're moderates who are denounced as "liberal" by ultraconservatives who would consider Reagan's policies to be abhorrent and who'd toss him out on his ear if he were alive today as "not conservative enough." Hell, even normal conservatives are being considered "liberal" by the worse of the New Conservatives.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I'll settle for employing just 1% more fixing infrastructure and keeping bridges from falling down…


Right there, you identify a problem with the libertarian "there is no community--just individuals" theory of how an economy works.

Their way, no one fixes infrastructure or manitains the means of survival because doing so is not a profit center. Yet the community/society/collective/all-of-the-individuals acutally DO have a vested interest in that sort of maintenance. Even at the most Ayn Randian solispsistic remove, they can make (and keep) more of their own money (and the value they trade it for) in the context of a healthy, well-functioning society than they could as separate-from-everyone-else individuals.

The free-market, everyone act in their own perceived self-interest just does not put value on maintenance of the commons. That's a bug, not a feaature, of the theory, and one that cries out to be remediated.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

I must admit some curiosity as to when "liberal" became a huge insult. I say this due to my own reaction when my Republican Ostrich friend called me a liberal and I threatened to end our friendship if he ever uttered that toward me again (and meant every single word of it and do so). Somehow along the line the Republican politicians have managed to turn "liberal" into a term that has lower respectability than the Nazi party and is more abhorrent than a child molester.


It was at least as far back as the Elder-Bush vs Dukakis campaign of 1988. That's when I first noticed that they could say "liberal" as if no further explanation was needed that it was a pejorative. Like that Monty Python bit about "I can't think of anything more derogatory than just 'Belgian'."

LarryHart said...

Robert continues:

It may be time to toss in the towel. I know that pagans have "reclaimed" the word "witch" to a limited extent... but I think Liberal has been poisoned so utterly that it may need to be abandoned.


Then you agree with Norman Goldman (pronounced nor-MAN gold-MAN), the radio host I listen to on my drive home. He thinks that using words like "liberal" or "progressive" is bad salesmanship because, as you say, the words have been poisoned. I know real-life people who think "liberal" is the same thing as "Wants to use government force to make people act politically correct" (even though I know that's what a conservative is--Heh).

He suggests instead engaging people on what you agree with them about, and then slowly demonstrating to them that they're voting/acting/campaigning AGAINST the very things they claim to be for. But you have to come at it from a position of commonality. If you start with "I'm a liberal, and...", you've already lost the audience.

I don't like that fact, but I think he has a point.

David Brin said...


My recommended clear demarcation is Leftist-Liberal.

Liberals could reclaim their own label proudly, if they said "leftists are our allies at the moment because you guys on the right have gone crazy. But we distinguish ourselves from our leftist friends and anyone who confuses us with them is simply a fool."

Phase two. Reclaim Adam Smith, the "first Liberal." Proclaim that "conservatives" are siding with oligarchs against everything Smith - and the American founders - hated.

Those two Judo moves would reclaim the word.

Tony Fisk said...

As an Australian, I always find it amusing the disdain in which the word 'Liberal' is held by US Conservatives. (no doubt less amusing if you're the subject of that disdain)

Here, of course, the Liberals *are* the conservatives. Like the Repubs, they have drifted increasingly to the right over the last thirty years, to the point that former PM Malcolm Fraser withdrew his membership 3-4 years ago. Even so, they'd be about 5-10 years behind your brand of nuttiness. And thus I have no doubt they'd still be RINO's to a man in the eyes of the GOP annointed.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Beyond the left-right axis, the word "libertarian" also needs to always contain the proper adjective: either "dogmatic libertarian" or "pragmatic libertarian." The word "libertarian" is rapidly becoming completely meaningless without the proper adjective.

LarryHart said...

...or "Ayn Randian libertarian", which is almost a whole 'nother thing.

Paul451 said...

The Bank of England has released a report on 300 years of economic data dating back to 1700AD. I'm not an economist, so most insights are lost on me, but it's interesting to see someone casually discussing the relative economic effects of the Napoleonic wars on bond yields. Or seeing my entire country's (European-) history contained entirely within just part of this period.

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/quarterlybulletin/qb100403.pdf

Via Krugman. His focus was on Chart 8, which shows the lack of connection between Debt/GDP ratio and interest (yields) on government bonds. (Unlike the recent claims that debt ratios above 100% leads inevitably to high interest/high inflation, hence panic! austerity! entitlements!)