Sunday, December 29, 2013

Where do we stand - verging on 2014?

On New Years Eve, the Bloomberg system will syndicate worldwide my year-end essay -- more of a scary-provocative story -- about the real meaning of "the fourteenth year." 
== Reasons to believe a better world is possible ==
Where-do-we-standI have long inveighed against a pair of matched personality flaws: that some on the far-left seem compelled only to chide, never praise… and that savanarolas on the right use that chiding as an excuse to denounce progress, in general.
Both extreme wings are crazy, of course.  The world and its people and ecosystem etc do need to be saved! We have a full plate of vital projects and bad things to repair. We need to move forward if our grandchildren are to survive… and I speak to this in many places, including EARTH (1989).
Still, I have hammered on the cynically-chic pessimism expressed by playground bullies of both extremes, declaring - contrary to all evidence - that everything is getting worse.
The disproof is all around us, in steep declines of per capita violence, worldwide and steep rises in the fraction of children who live in clean homes and go to school.  No possible combination of past civilizations accomplished a fraction of what this one has -- an assertion that does not insult the best of our ancestors, who strove to prepare the way for us.  As we are duty-bound to stop cynical, dyspeptic moaning and prepare the way for better-greater grandchildren.
So let me begin this year-end political round-up with more good news, that is sure to infuriate some of you! Louis Gave - a well-known investment guru - pointed out these additional milestones:
 "The United Nations recently released a heartening update on its ‘millennium goals’ for the developing world, with many of its 2015 targets on the way to being met, or indeed already met. The target to halve the number of people living on less than US$1.25 per day was achieved in 2010; the proportion of undernourished people fell from 23% of the developing world in 1990-92 to under 15% in 2010-2012; more than 2 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water. 
"The list goes on but suffice to say that never in history have so many people across the globe lived so comfortably. This reflects the fact that with global GDP set to exceed US$74 trillion this year, never has the world produced this much."
Economist John Mauldin adds: "New energy production (and new forms of energy), robotics, nanotech, the second (or is it the third?) wave of the communications revolution, and the amazing discoveries in biotech are all unfolding before our eyes. Global trade is expanding, and slowly but surely governments are changing. An ebb and flow thing, to be sure, but the tide is clearly lifting more boats than ever."
Progress-happensTo be clear:  I do not call any of this cause for Pollyanna complacency -- (the fear that makes liberals and leftists suppress good news) -- but rather for guardedly optimistic militancy to keep all trends positive.
Nor is there a lack of counter-balancing bad news or heavy items dumped on our to-do agenda!  For example, ever since 2001, America has had trouble sharing in the rising boats effect -- even as we propel it in other lands by our trade deficits. With the rates of hunger in this country actually going up as a result of deliberate politics, with skyrocketing wealth disparities threatening neo-feudalism, and a tetanus-locked political caste unable to grapple with desperate economic and ecological problems, one thing is clear -- that Olde Enemies of progress are baying and chasing our sleigh.
If this goes on, the world will continue its march upward and forward.  But America will forfeit any leading role, sinking into a mist of anger and nostalgia and civil war.
Still, if you are personally unable to parse the vast number of good news items on the other side of the scale and weigh them in-balance, then YOU are part of the problem!  Because only those who see and acknowledge what is working are even remotely qualified to chide us into trying new endeavors.
Folks who want progress, but then deny that progressivism ever worked in the past, are not just very bad salesmen.  They are crazy.
=== Back to worries ===
Oh, but the To-Do list is immense and worrisome! Just because I am guardedly optimistic, that does not stop me from feeling militant about some things!  For example:
Inside-Job-movieI cannot recommend too-highly the documentary INSIDE JOB -- laying bare a calamitous chain of delusions, inanities and cheating that led to the 2008 crash and the near demolition of the American (and world) financial systems. I slid it into the player with mixed feelings, expecting something of a polemic in the style of Michael Moore -- a fellow who is often on-target but who makes me cringe with his excesses and often one-sided righteousness. (Oh, I watch Moore, but taking notes for things to double check.)
INSIDE JOB was far better. Featuring in-depth interviews with financial experts and insiders, this sobering, Oscar-winning documentary (directed by Charles H. Ferguson) presents in comprehensive detail the pervasive and deep-rooted Wall Street corruption that led to the global economic meltdown of 2008.
The flick is not just for liberals and/or leftists. You folks right-of-center desperately need to watch INSIDE JOB. It should be of special interest to those who do believe that capitalism can be made to work!  Indeed, if you want capitalism to work, and to stop being the top victim of a rising lordly-oligarchy of cheaters, then you should especially want to get informed.
(Ancillary note: I kept notes in this one, too. There were dozens of places where the producers glossed over or ignored ways in which the system did work right. But that hardly matters. There are thieves out there who do not deserve jail.  They deserve tumbrels.)
== Denying the heinous infamy ==
NamesInfamyMemes take a while to percolate, I know.  But will someone add this to my Foresight Wiki?  Back in the late 1980s I used to regularly publish op-eds calling for the "Erastratos Effect"… denying terrible villains the reward of seeing their names go down in history.  In a 1999 issue of Salon Magazine (updated last year): "Names that live in infamy: Killers want notoriety. Let's not give it to them" -- I argued that society has a perfect right to remember heinous criminals any way it chooses.  And we could choose derisive contempt.
At last, the idea is gaining traction.  In the aftermath of a recent, gruesome suburban Denver shooting, families of victims and law enforcement officials have begun urging journalists and public officials to avoid using the gunmen’s names and photos in public. The first notable effect of this trend came last year, when When President Obama flew to Colorado in July 2012 to memorialize the 12 people killed in an Aurora movie theater. He agreed not to mention the gunman’s name. And on Saturday, the sheriff investigating a shooting inside the halls of Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver announced he had made the same decision.
This New York Times article, A Plea to Deny Gunmen their Quest for Infamy, takes a simplistic view and I suggest elsewhere that there are ways to do this without engaging in "censorship."  But at least the ball is rolling.  One variant I just thought-of?  Identify the perp by his membership in whatever group helped to enable his actions.  "NRA Member 524239B12" might be a salutary appellation.
== Bitcoin and other non-standard payment systems ==
Bitcoin-lifeformRecently I posted a rumnination-tutorial on Bitcoin that got a lot of viewers. I've been toiling in this realm for another reason, though, which I'll get to in a minute.
First, Paul Krugman has a very interesting article about Bitcoin, gold-mining and the relatively greater value of (responsibly managed) paper money: "(Adam) Smith is often treated as a conservative patron saint, and he did indeed make the original case for free markets. It’s less often mentioned, however, that he also argued strongly for bank regulation — and that he offered a classic paean to the virtues of paper currency. Money, he understood, was a way to facilitate commerce, not a source of national prosperity — and paper money, he argued, allowed commerce to proceed without tying up much of a nation’s wealth in a “dead stock” of silver and gold."
Mind you, as the world's top Keynsian, Krugman is only right about 70% of the time.  I'd be more critical, if his opponents in the Austrian School weren't wrong 80% or more of the time… with their Supply Side associates batting a pure and perfect 0%.
But back to my own obsession. Micro-payments. I have been poking at ideas with others, that boil down to this: we need a way for internet browsers to empower surfers pay a nickel for an article they want to read online. A one-cent or five-cent or ten-cent button that would let any of us hand over a small increment of value for something we choose to use for short time. (I wrote about this in The Transparent Society in 1997.)
There is a mythology that "people won't pay, they want everything online to be free!" But that is baloney. Only a fool would refuse to pay a nickel for access to something she or he values enough to read for ten minutes (at 30 cents per hour.)  No… the issue is convenience! We do not want surfing to be slowed down by paywalls and passwords. Anything that takes more than one-click is criminal. But I know a way around that…
…and I believe micro-payments will not just open a billion dollar industry.  They could also save professional journalism.  Which presently is bordering on extinction.
== Cyphers are Wafers ==
Encryption-panacea-brinBut getting back to the BIG issues of freedom, privacy and all that, let me offer this over-broad and deliberately provocative assertion: Anyone who calls encryption a panacea is a religious fanatic.
I described this to the cypherpunks way back in 1996… that encryption can be broken by spies and cops and competitors in a plethora of old and new-fashioned ways… such as the different sounds that each of the keys on your keyboard make, allowing any room recording to become a transcription keystroke-logger. Oh, by all means, learn and improve your security!  But know that your favorite cypher-ware is not a six-gun "equalizer" and odds-are that someone could see-all, if they cared.
Oh, but it gets much worse.  "Thanks to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, we already knew the NSA played a central role in promoting a flawed formula for generating random numbers, which if used in encryption, essentially gives the spies easy access to computing systems. A piece of RSA software, bSafe, became the most significant vector for the security flaw. The encryption tools which hundreds of millions of people rely on to protect the private information are significantly weaker as a result."  Now it seems that -- according to some reports -- the NSA additionally bribed the security firm RSA to leave the back door to computers all over the world open.
Now RSA is fervently denying the allegation that they sold NSA keys to the back-door.  But in fact, it does not matter. There are a jillion-bazillion methods and work-arounds that cypher guys blithely ignore as they armwave sugarplum visions of encrypted utopia, without ever - even once - studying the range of secret police methods used by powers from Sumeria to the Okhrana. It is not pragmatic defense of freedom… it is religion.
And it is not how we will prevent Big Brother.
== How to live in the modern world? ==
Finally, let's circle back to that first matter… how to be a person who pragmatically and effectively  pushes for improving the world, without rendering yourself impotent with smug-sanctimonious finger-wagging?
Bertand-russell-ten-commandmentsBertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy are much wiser than anything else I have run across in a good long while.  I've been trying to live by them. Do give them a look.  They include:
1: Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2: Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3: Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
4: When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
This particular page goes on to offer Russell's definition of "liberalism." And caution is necessary, since he lived long ago and that word has been kicked all over the map in subsequent decades.
"But the liberal attitude does not say that you should oppose authority. It says only that you should be free to oppose authority, which is quite a different thing. The essence of the liberal outlook in the intellectual sphere is a belief that unbiased discussion is a useful thing and that men should be free to question anything if they can support their questioning by solid arguments. The opposite view, which is maintained by those who cannot be called liberals, is that the truth is already known, and that to question it is necessarily subversive."
LEFT-LIBERALHere Russell is stunningly on-target in the modern context.  For indeed, his definition reveals the yawning divide between "liberals" and "leftists."
Indeed, the greatest of all of Sean Hannity's towering lies is the one he repeats daily, that a "liberal" is the same species (or even phylum) as the kooky "leftists" he describes with grotesque anecdotes about this or that ludicrous-pushy political-correctness police-person.
They may be allies at the moment (liberals and leftists), out of necessity (given the screeching madness that has taken over Barry Goldwater's conservatism). But they are uneasy allies, since leftists believe that the expansion of inclusion and care must be a coercive process, while liberals want progress to come 90%+ from persuasion and negotiated compromise.
Also from Russell: "Liberalism is not so much a creed as a disposition. It is, indeed, opposed to creeds.”
This latter point explains the main difference with Leftists, who do respond with rage when you question dogma.  It also explains why rightists like Hannity conflate the two.  For on the right there IS uniformity of essential dogma.  All of their recent "civil wars" - say between tea-partiers and Fox-supported establishment Republicans - have been over minutiae of tactics.  Conservatism has become a creed, with Roger Ailes its pope.
Likewise, libertarianism has long abandoned any devotion to pragmatic competition -- touted by Adam Smith and Heinlein and Hayek -- in favor of incantatory quasi-religious doctrines of solipsism spread by acolytes of Rand, Mises and Rothbard. Sanctimony is its core agenda. Adam Smith's enlightenment -- including his contempt for monopoly and wealth disparity and oligarchy -- is spurned with contempt.
Hence, staring at their enemies, it is only human for those on the left-right-randian wings to assume that "liberals must be dogmatically driven, as I am."
LIBERAL-LIBERTARIAN-RIGHT-LEFTBut it ain't so.  Among the four main political segments of the American political landscape, only liberals are American, in their devotion to pragmatic and testable experiments, "whatever works," and negotiated compromise… all of which their authoritarian, dogmatic leftist allies despise.
(Dig this well… that it PAINS me to write the preceding paragraph! I consider myself to be a Smithian/Heinleinian libertarian with some liberal tendencies. But with the LP and the GOP having abandoned Adam Smith and pragmatic common sense entirely, I have no recourse but to negotiate with the one sane group that remains in American political life.)
Liberals need to make this distinction clear and disavow any fealty to the hoary and lobotomizing "left-right axis."  Admit that you must be allies with your lefty friends… the New Confederacy's blatant pathology and civil war mania require it.
But the Left, too, is mad. Perhaps even 10% as crazy as the red-confederates whom Rupert and his Saudi co-owners of Fox have riled into a froth.  Yes, that mad.
And they will remain loony-birds, so long as they refuse to admit that progress is possible.  That much of it has happened already, and that science and open argument are preferable to incantatory doctrines.

35 comments:

Mel Baker said...

An excellent article as usual. I found the definition of leftest vs Liberal to be very enlightening. I've often said "I'm a Liberal, no a progressive" and your points put that "sense" into context for me!

As a journalist I've wished desperately for a micro-payment system to keep my profession alive and healthy. There are in fact several small companies that are trying to do just that. I think something like a coin purse that holds no more than $20 at a time (so hackers could never steal that much from you) would be ideal. Those micropayments could even be in fractions of a penny, making the system even more attractive. What's happening now is that every newspaper is putting up a paywall in a last ditch effort to save themselves. The trouble is that I might be willing to pay $12 a month for my local paper, but not the NY Times where I might read an article or two a week. The last minute rush to fairly high cost, once a month, must log in paywalls is likely to trigger a death spiral in readership.

Alex Tolley said...

There is a mythology that "people won't pay, they want everything online to be free!" But that is baloney. Only a fool would refuse to pay a nickel for access to something she or he values enough to read for ten minutes (at 30 cents per hour.) No… the issue is convenience! We do not want surfing to be slowed down by paywalls and passwords.

I think your analysis of the micropayment problem - inconvenience - is probably correct.

However, you may be misconstruing where the inconvenience resides. The assumption is that the transaction is the problem. I'm not sure it is. It may reside in the cognitive decision making - "should I read or not?". I think that the preview model with a click to read the story and pay X cents might work reasonably well as it models the newstand approach of flicking through the content and then deciding whether to buy or not.
But even this model leaves the reader with the decision to buy or not, with buyer's regret if the article is not considered any good. It is going to be annoying if you spend $1 reading crap before the good article is reached.
The economic question for the writer is whether the micropayment, however low, will reduce readership to such an extent that the advertising losses exceed the micropayment gains, and that is before other business losses, such as consulting and speeches.

One consequence if a micropayment model works, is that we may see more clickbait content as the economic driver is similar to the advertising model from the publisher's perspective.

The problem for quality content is to find an audience amidst the noise. Micropayments may just put up barriers to finding that audience, especially if advertising revenues based on volume undercut micropayments and drive their price to zero.

At some point someone will develop a frictionless micropayment system. Then we will see if micropayments are a benefit or not. I would place my bet that it will not prove a good model, especially for those trying to find an audience.

In a sense Spotify already is an effective micropayments test for music (from the publisher's viewpoint, not the consumer's). While good for consumers, bands find that it generates minimal revenue and that comes at a cost of lost download sales, let alone CD sales. At best, it is a low cost advertising medium for bands.

madtom said...

Despite your differences with John Michael Greer, your views on politics and Ayn Rand fans make me think you might enjoy his Christmas blog. http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.co.nz/2013/12/a-christmas-speculation.html

He parallels your complaint that those who cite Adam Smith never read him, but aims at a different target. I've never seen amusing satire that came closer to looking like a breakthrough analysis. And I never knew what he points out about Ayn Rand.

LarryHart said...

For decades, now, I've tried to assert that I'm a liberal, but not a leftist. Thanks, Dr Brin, for clarifying the position, moreso because it obviously does pain you. Understand that the reasons you feel compelled to ally with liberalism despite it not being your natural "tribe" are most likely the reasons that liberalism is my chosen tribe.

Strange work schedule this week, so if while I'll probably be "here" before then, just in case, Happy New Year* one and all.

* Just now realized that New Years Day is one of the most egalitarian of holidays. Much (though I realize not all) of the world is on the same Jan-Dec calendar, and it's not a holiday that you have to be part of an in-group to participate in. No "War on New Years" in sight. :)

Tony Fisk said...

I pay a small automatic monthly subscription to one online news source: New Matilda. It is convenient. It is also voluntary since the content is open.

I did it because they asked me to.

I did it before the mainstream newspapers started erecting paywalls.

As it happens, some of my rationale here echoes Emerson's sentiment in the last Uplift novel: Heaven's Reach. When asked why he doesn't accept a deal to restore his damaged brain he responds with "you never once said 'please'!"

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

There is a mythology that "people won't pay, they want everything online to be free!" But that is baloney. Only a fool would refuse to pay a nickel for access to something she or he values enough to read for ten minutes (at 30 cents per hour.) No… the issue is convenience! We do not want surfing to be slowed down by paywalls and passwords.


I'll second that (third actually) and add that another thing we don't want is to have to have our credit card numbers entered and/or stored at yet another place online every time we want to read an article.

I've got no problem paying for content if it can be done conveniently. It's the analogue to when Illinois tollways went to electronic readers that you can drive through at normal speeds instead of stopping to pay cash. I don't mind paying a fair share of the upkeep of the road--I just didn't like having to come to a full stop and wait in line on the highway four times a day.

David Brin said...

Alex and Mel you are spot on. But my micropayments scheme would solve both problems. It would reside in the browser and the seller (say the NYT) could embed the nickel button two paragraphs down. One click and you send them a nickel and read… AND you get to say "that turned out to be baloney" and take your nickel back!

And yes, this is very nearly "frictionless" - especially if this results in fewer intrusive ads.

How can all of that happen? It actually is pretty easy. I have the secret sauce. I keep hoping to find some zillionaire investor or media firm that might like to make a lot of money while saving journalism….

LarryHart, New Years is the most celebrated holiday on the planet… and it happens to denote the day of circumcision of a nice Jewish boy…..

Tony Fisk: Someone actually read Heaven's Reach? Huzzah! What a lovely New Years' present!

Rob said...

"Folks who want progress, but then deny that progressivism ever worked in the past, are not just very bad salesmen. They are crazy."

OK. That's a reasonable statement. But I have to ask: who are these people? Who are some of these "leftists" who are denying that progressivism has ever worked in the past? Because I'm damned if I can think of any.

It's great that 2 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water. Climate change is going to drown those 2 billion people and maybe more, so in the end just how valuable was that achievement? Yes, we saved them from dysentery today...but tomorrow they'll drown or starve or be gunned down as they flee to ever more overcrowded higher ground. Yay us! We solved the smaller, easily-fixed problem; but the big, tough one still remains. I find it hard to cheer for that.

I have always defined "liberalism" as a belief in individual freedom, and that individual freedom can best be secured by participation in a mass society which bands together to maximize that freedom through the instrument of government. Conservatives define government as the enemy of individual freedom, constraining liberty through the laws it enacts and the taxes it collects. That's the fundamental point of contention as I see it. Few really think in terms of left vs. right; those are just labels used by political junkies and academics. The real tension is between those who think we should all work together and those who think we should all leave each other alone.

Rob said...

"One click and you send them a nickel and read… AND you get to say "that turned out to be baloney" and take your nickel back!"

That won't work. Everyone (ok, almost everyone) will take their nickel back if you just give them the option.

Some kind of subscription model is probably better. The main problem with the current subscription models is: I don't want to subscribe to something that costs $15 a month where I only read maybe 2% of the content. What we really need is some sort of subscription a-la-carte system; you pay your $15 a month and pick 15 columnists whose content you want to read, and they all get packaged together into your own custom blog. That would be worthwhile to pay for.

I've wanted something similar in cable TV for decades now. I hate paying for so much content that I never watch and have no interest in watching.

mark said...

Thanks, David for the last bit on allies. I consider myself a liberal that recognizes the reality of pax Americana, but also can't quite buy into the libertarian desire to divest of national parks and federal lands.. I like having them as wild as possible (recognizing leases as part of the deal) for future generations. I am having trouble with the left's politics at the senate and house level at the moment as they seem to be in bed with the banking industry and going along with the dismantling of the poor and middle class with nary a whimper.

Alex Tolley said...

"One click and you send them a nickel and read… AND you get to say "that turned out to be baloney" and take your nickel back!"

That is interesting. That might work as there may well be some mental (or other) barrier or other "task payment", to get the refund. Maybe it is just my good will, but I paid for an online legal answers service, and did not ask for a refund even though the advice was useless. I just simply never used the service again.

One obvious issue with such a system is what happens if your browser is hijacked? Can you be sure that you can protect against this, because even Google's Adwords is nowhere near tamper proof. Is the security system all worked out, because as you've said yourself, control of information is nigh impossible.

David Brin said...

Rob sorry, but you are wrong on all counts:

1) most people will not demand their nickel back if 1) the article was okay and they would have to actually interrupt their surf flow in order to demand a nickel. And (20 if there were a slow-gradual reputation effect upon you if you greedily reclaim all nickels.

2) If you have not run into the lefty response to good news then you hide in a bunker or are willfully ignoring it. It is everywhere and utterly pervasive. Experiment around your lefty friends and start talking about all the ways things are better… only Mildly mentioning that the world still has problems and NOT weighting the deck linguistically.

Mark, the left would claim that it is wishy washy liberals who are compromising with the banking biz. Whatever. Rent INSIDE JOB and share it with friends.

Alex you raise the core question about micropayments without passwords, and the secret sauce has an answer! ;-)

Ryan Dancey said...

40% of the voters of the United States want the government to engage in forcible wealth redistribution, seeking some form of "average" lifestyle for everyone at the expense of the "lavish" lifestyles of the wealthy. They want free healthcare, free education, and a social safety net that includes free food, clothing and housing on demand. They want full employment. And they want industry - specifically banking, manufacturing, and resource extraction to be regulated by, with prices and production quotas set by, some form of collective body with strong governmental representation. They want everyone to belong to a union and they want those unions to actively seek to enact the redistributionist agenda.

40% of the voters want a government of the size we had in 1928, if not smaller. They want taxes lowered until they're barely noticeable. They want individuals to rely on private charity when they need help. They want the government to end wealth transfers. They want to shut down government involvement with education, with labor relations, with environmental regulations, and with civil law within the individual States. Basically they want an army, a navy, and a highway commission, and not much else.

These two blocs have diametrically opposed views of what it means to succeed in the context of running the government. And they are becoming more, not less concentrated. Between these two blocs any change is a zero-sum game; one bloc must lose for the other bloc to win.

Unless one party (bloc) controls the House, Senate, Presidency and 5 Supreme Court justices, we are going to have gridlock. In a gridlocked environment, the only change possible is minute and on the margin. So we have become a nation of marginal politics.

This situation is inherently unstable because we got half of the wealth distribution bloc's desires - the payments. They did not succeed in getting the other half - the receipts. Without a huge gusher of new tax dollars flooding the government we will be unable to pay the bills for the wealth transfer programs. This used to be a "someday maybe" problem. Now it is a problem that will begin to bite in 2016, and by 2020 will consume every moment of every day of the Congress.

How is this not a recipe for revolution? Just under half the country will feel utterly betrayed if they don't get what they want. They'll feel the American System, as an institution, has fundamentally failed. Either way, 40% of the population will believe the End Times are Upon Us.

David Brin, what's your road out of that swamp?

Dave Dorais said...

Regarding payment to see/read something on the Net. What if we the people, by law transferred ALL emails the the USPS- the Post Office. Then let them charge any sender a penny a send. And charge the receiver the same penny. Floods of spam would not cease but the free ride of online junk mailers would be over. Surfing online could still be free aside from ISP access fees. ISPs could then, freed of the email servicing, concentrate on delivering content-news, gossip, education, blogs, apps, business services etc. It would also be a good thing if Congress found the wisdom to repeal the pay ahead onus of health care currently crippling the USPS's bottom line.

LarryHart said...

Ryan Dancey:

40% of the voters of the United States want the government to engage in forcible wealth redistribution, seeking some form of "average" lifestyle for everyone at the expense of the "lavish" lifestyles of the wealthy. They want free healthcare, free education, and a social safety net that includes free food, clothing and housing on demand. They want full employment. And they want industry - specifically banking, manufacturing, and resource extraction to be regulated by, with prices and production quotas set by, some form of collective body with strong governmental representation. They want everyone to belong to a union and they want those unions to actively seek to enact the redistributionist agenda.


Mischaracterize much?

40% of Americans in 1860 probabaly wanted the government to give free stuff to slaves too, right? And another 40% just wanted the government to leave everyone alone, slave and slaveowner alike?

But then, as Paul Krugman put it a few weeks ago, you probably root for President Snow against Katniss too.

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hilmera said...

An excellent list of tidbits. Micropayments for content are the endgame for editorial freedom versus advertising and will be a huge change for the culture. Advertising has been such an integral part of mass culture in the last 150 years that its fall will transform things at least as much as every other change that's transforming mass-culture into multicast-culture.

It's important to pick out the long-term issues from the sensationalist dross. The furor over the Utopian dream of Bitcoin somehow "winning" over fiat currency (accompanied by the inevitable flood of comments from the Bitcoin brigade that descend upon any widely read blog that mentions it) simply ignores the dynamics. Bitcoin's infrastructure in micropayments is the only innovation that's actually new. Every other part of the enterprise, the fact that it acts like an asset of pure volatility rather than a currency, the inability of the Bitcoin world to stabilize prices denominated in bc, these are from the bad old days, the worst economic crises of the last 400 years of Western history. They're bugs, not features. Yet it's precisely Bitcoin's failings that are seized upon and promoted by the true believers as its supposed strengths.

I hope that your brand of micropayment becomes so much the norm that people will be looking back at the history of media and find advertising quaint, media conglomerates inexcusably oppressive, and be baffled by the obsession so many smart coders of our time have with the idea of a transnational Bitcoiner's Gulch.

Paul451 said...

Ryan Dancey,
From polling I've seen on social and economic issues in the US, I doubt that you would find even 4% that subscribe to either views you claim represents 80%.

Weirdly, the majority of people are pretty mundane, and have quite mundane wishes. They want things to be a little bit better, and a little bit fairer. That's about it. All the rest is the ranting and hysteria of tiny minorities.

And indeed, the views you claim represent the majority of Americans, are merely the two stereotypes created by one small (far right) minority about itself and its claimed opponents. But like most minority propaganda, it's nonsense.

Dave Dorais,
"What if we the people, by law transferred ALL emails the the USPS- the Post Office."

What if we the rest of the world said, "uh no"?

[It physically couldn't work. Email is just a protocol. If you taxed it (or charged for it), people would just use a non-taxed alternative protocol.]

sociotard said...

An interesting critique of TED as "middlebrow megachurch infotainment", among other things.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/30/we-need-to-talk-about-ted

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Weirdly, the majority of people are pretty mundane, and have quite mundane wishes. They want things to be a little bit better, and a little bit fairer. That's about it. All the rest is the ranting and hysteria of tiny minorities.


In the Reagan years, the right at least touted the premise that "a rising tide raises all boats". The stated goal and justification for Supply Side was not that everyone would be as rich as everyone else, but that everyone would be richer than they had been before. In other words, a win-win situation.

They won't adimit it in so many words, but currently, the right wing has dropped that philosophy altogether. The "rising tide" itself is to be perceived as their property. Boats that rise on their tide (without paying royalties for the privilege) are perceived as moochers for "demanding that the government lift their boats."

When I was growing up, my dad used to explain the benefits of capitalism--that the inventor of useful things like the telephone or the automobile could get rich off of his invention, but all of society ends up with a higher standard of living because of it. In fact, the two go hand in hand--the better standard of living is what people are paying the inventor for. These days, the right-wing talking points are that it's not enough that people pay the inventor an affordable price which (collecively) makes him wealthy. They must be charged an amount at least equal to all of the increased standard of living they get from the invention. After all, what right do they have to be better off than they were before?

Because, to badly mangle Captain Kirk: They don't believe in the win-win scenario.

John Stanton said...

Hi Dave,

Really good stuff! And it pretty darn positive. I was just writing up a diatribe to know one in particular so I thought I would just post it here...

An open question to conspiracy theorists:

(1) Is the active discrediting of global climate change being directed by a powerful group of people? Is there a philosophical overlap between those people and the ones who insisted smoking tobacco caused no problems to health?

(2) Are the Koch Brothers behind the funding of the Tea Party and infiltration of the Occupy Movement? Where is all of their dark funding going?

(3) Why is so much money spent on worthless military projects and why do people not complain about massive corporate welfare? Why did we really go to war against Iraq? Why do some individuals want us to go to war against Iran?

(4) Is the public familiar with the secrets revealed by Eric Snowden? Why does the public care so little about the revelations? Is the ultimate NSA plan to intercept *all* communication and to analyze everything once the computing power is available? Why didn't the head of the NSA get in trouble for lying at a congressional hearing?

(5) Is the way to determine the truth about what is going on to follow the money? Are there are people in the world that have great power and they want to keep it?

(6) Do you think that UFOs, HAARP, chemtrails, ghosts, spirits, the hollow earth, angels, demons, gods, MiB, and all other aspects of mythology are a distraction, a shell game, to help keep people from paying attention to what is really going on?

(7) Is religion, science denial, anti-intellectual trends, the rising cost of education, control of the media, advertising and the white washing of history all used to keep the people in check and not challenge the status quo?

(8) Are you familiar with American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other groups that set the political agenda in the United Staes and other countries?

(9) Did you know the Rupert Murdoch media empire has for many years controlled media in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States? Do you know he used the media to select who was elected and to brainwash the public?

(10) Did you know Richard Nixon extended the Vietnam War before being elected President in order to get elected? Did you know Ronald Reagan cut a deal with the Iranians before being elected president in order to be elected?

(11) Is there a conspiracy to imprison millions of Americans on silly drug charges, with the added benefit that it keeps "undesirables" from being able to vote? Are there two levels of justice in this country: one for the wealthy and another for the poor?

(12) Is there an agenda to keep power in the hands of the rich and powerful? Did the Supreme Court act to bolster the power of corporations via Citizens United to help them be able to control elections? Was the repeal of key parts of the Voting Rights Act done to further reduce the power of the disenfranchised? Is there an coordinated plan to keep certain classes of Americans from being able to vote? What does the power elite fear the public would do if more people voted?


I think these are the real conspiracies and I wonder why so few people talk about this agenda.

Cheers and Happy New Years,
John

LarryHart said...

Further expounding on the win-win thing I posted above...

Let's say a metaphor for our society is a group of people on a sled-like object moving about over land. Like a shark, you must move or die. Moving the sled is hard work, and everyone must (literally) pull his weight or else it puts an intolerable burden on everybody else.

Now, one of the brighter citizens invents the wheel and axle and affixes them to the sled. Suddenly, the movement of your entire society is a much easier task. Going down slopes requires no work at all, and even most other motion requires no more than a few people to effortlessly push the whole shebang. People have time for rest or leisure activities during which time others are doing the pushing, but even those people are still doing less work than they did before.

The fairest thing in the world would be to allow the inventor of the wheel to never have to push again. That concession doesn't much alter the improved circumstances I just mentioned for everyone else.

To me and those of my political ilk, it seems the most natural thing in the world that everyone (except the inventor) would continue to do a fair share of pushing, that fair share being much less time and much less effort than it was before.

Today's right wing seems to think that the most natural thing in the world is that everyone else still must do as much pushing as they did before. Whatever increased benefits accure (covering more ground, I guess) belong solely to the wheel's inventor. Anyone else doing less work than they had to before is "mooching". And when you've reached capacity--there's just no more work for (say) half of your people to do any more? Those people are non-productive dead-weight and should be abandoned to their fate.

Point being, what exactly are civilization and society for?

Mark said...

Mind you, as the world's top Keynsian, Krugman is only right about 70% of the time.

I've seen you state this before, but can't find any time you've expanded upon this statement. I'm curious what 30% you think Krugman is wrong about.

In particular, what has Krugman been wrong about that Krugman himself hasn't admitted. I know he was wrong about the deflation he expected, but he admits his model was wrong and looks for explanations why it went wrong. (Probably sticky wages, in this case.)

Clement Kent said...

I agree that by many measures things are improving. The thing I don't know is how much of the improvement is "paid for" and how much is borrowed from the future.

An example: yes, rising standards of living reduce the numbers of very poor people. But, if some of that economic activity is based on dumping carbon dioxide into the air and sea, how many of those formerly very poor people who live on low ground near the sea (there are hundreds of millions of these) will be very poor again, or simply dead, when the water rises?

A second example: part of improving education levels requires a minimum number of calories each day. Again in the seaside areas, fish has provided extra protein to bootstrap children and their families to a higher level. But, we've fished the oceans to lower and lower trophic levels. This is another borrowing from the future problem. Will the children of today's fish-nourished schoolkids return to kwashiorkor because the boats are no longer bringing in a catch?

I don't have answers to these questions, but I think they're worth considering.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

LarryHart, New Years is the most celebrated holiday on the planet… and it happens to denote the day of circumcision of a nice Jewish boy…..


And here I thought that happened on Dec 25. :)

Don't mind me. Just trying to have the last post of 2013.


Tony Fisk: Someone actually read Heaven's Reach? Huzzah! What a lovely New Years' present!


Hey, next summer I'll do my re-read of that book, bringing to a close a six-consecutive-summer reading of both Uplift trilogies.

"See" y'all in 2014.

Paul451 said...

Happy Arbitrary Orbital Alignment Day to everyone, and good luck to you and your social and genetic co-investments in the coming new Earth orbit.

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - to add to your metaphor, not only should you gain nothing from the sled with wheels invention, the shoes that another inventor made that help you drag the sled without injury to your feet should be taken away from you too (or made too expensive to acquire).

LarryHart said...

@Alex Tolley,

I presume (hope) that you are paraphrasing the right-wing talking points, rather than voicing your personal opinion of the way things should be.


not only should you gain nothing from the sled with wheels invention, the shoes that another inventor made that help you drag the sled without injury to your feet should be taken away from you too (or made too expensive to acquire).


And yet, strangely enough, the food, shelter, sanitation, police protection, etc., that kept the inventor alive, healthy, and free long enough to make his contribution are ok for him to lay claim to.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin: "LarryHart, New Years is the most celebrated holiday on the planet… and it happens to denote the day of circumcision of a nice Jewish boy…"

LarryHart: "And here I thought that happened on Dec 25. :)"

Traditionally, the circumcision takes place eight days after the birth of a boy. So really, the celebration of His snipping should be tomorrow. :)

(I still like the line I read some years ago, that Jesus of Nazareth was just a nice Jewish boy who went into His Father's business...)

Jonathan S. said...

Oops, my computer's playing silly buggers with me - that last comment was mine.

LarryHart said...

Johnatan S:

Traditionally, the circumcision takes place eight days after the birth of a boy. So really, the celebration of His snipping should be tomorrow. :)

Depends if it's eight days later or "on the eighth day."

I used to think it was funny that He arose on a Sunday three days after His death on a Friday. But I've been assured that it really translates as "on the thrid day" rather than "three days later". Too bad, because my way was funnier.

David Brin said...

Actually, if you count Dec 25, the eighth day IS New Year's Day. And that's just it. The thing all the world celebrates.

Valkyrie Ice said...

As one who is continually accused of being any political affiliation the accuser intensely dislikes, I've more or less given up on even starting to claim I am anything other than a independent minded apolitical. My views are founded on evidence, not ideological bias, but regardless, everyone always seems to believe I simply have to be whatever political viewpoint they oppose.

For example, when I point out the advantages of sousveillance in eliminating abuse of power by authority figures, I am often called a fascist out to destroy privacy rights. When I point out how technology is equally able to repair damage to the environment as it is able to harm it, I get called a rightwing nut job. When I discuss the inequality of our current economic system, and how it is collapsing, I'm a "libtard."

The moral? When you stand up for evidence based rationality instead of irrational belief, you're everyone's target.

The other moral? Political and ideological labels are little more than social tools that people use to try and shove "consensus" down the throats of those who seek to change the status quo. It's a sad testament to the "herd mentality" we're stuck with from our genetic heritage.

But even despite that, we ARE improving. No matter how many people deny it, no matter how many people desperately strive to prevent it, Progress happens.

Time doesn't stop. Neither does mans continual accumulation of knowledge, or the ways in which we find to use that knowledge to make a better life for all humanity.

Do we stumble? You betcha. Can we be nasty vicious monsters? Oh yeah. Our demons of the ID are ever-present.

But we still keep getting better. Most of us just don't wish to see it, because it robs our self pity of justification.

So yeah, David, it's nice to see some cautious optimism every now and then.

Lorraine said...

I really should read some Adam Smith. I first cracked open a copy of Wealth of Nations in a public library when I was some 15 years old. The page I randomly selected had tables of the price of wheat for the year seventeen something, so I guess I got the impression that it must be an incredibly dry read.

This thing about silver and gold as "dead stock" mirrors some of the rhetoric I have been slinging concerning gold buggism and other hard currency fetishism; the idea that investment, by definition, means (or should mean) active or passive financial participation in the "creation of wealth," or as I prefer to say, the provision of goods or services. One thing about the idea of gold as investment (and the IMHO ill-advised policy decision of "gold IRA's" and the like) that I've noticed is that one thing that talk show hosts of both the right and left seem to agree on (based on certain endorsement deals they've scored) is that gold is advisable as an investment, and everyone should have some in their portfolio. During the renaissance of left-of-center talk radio prior to the folding of Air America, you could hear the voices of progressive talk show hosts such as Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes and Thom Hartmann in radio commercials for "ITM Trading," promoting gold as an investment, with the strong implication of it being a hedge against some kind of serious shit hitting some kind of fan on the global stage. As Randi Rhodes' ad copy read: "Gold isn't about the left or the right." I'm inclined to think that gold is about the left and the right (and their fantasies of armageddon) and not about the center. Even the mainstream financial press sometimes talks about gold price spikes as if they represent "uncertainty," or even a vote of no confidence in the future.

LarryHart said...

Back in 1999 and 2000, when everyone was still pushing tech stocks as the only thing worth investing in, I wanted to get some gold in my portfolio, and there was no easy way to do so.

Now, everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. Of course, that means it's overpriced, and not a good time to jump in.

Following most investment fads involve jumping in too late, after the thing is popular enough to have been bought up. To truly buy low and sell high, one almost has to be a contrarian.

BTW, I just enjoyed a fantasy novel by Terry Pratchett called "Making Money" that actually found ways to explore questions like "Where does the value of gold come from?" and that it does one no good on a desert island. He even found a novel basis for currency. I'd highly recommend it for anyone who likes that sort of thing.