Monday, February 17, 2014

Optimism, Responsibility and… Satire!

Warning all: it's political this time!
== The optimism debate continues ==
The-Rational-Optimist_220xV"Today," Matt Ridley writes in his book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, "of Americans officially designated as 'poor,' 99 per cent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 per cent have a television, 88 per cent a telephone, 71 per cent a car and 70 percent air conditioning. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these."
Yes… though Cornelius had tons of servants, and they lacked these things too. But the thing they noticed, above all, was who was servant and who was the master.
But never mind that. John Mauldin cued me over to Morgan Housel over at the Motley Fool who has written a piece called "50 Reasons We're Living Through the Greatest Period in World History."  Oh, I fumed at about a dozen of the statistics, sputtering "but… but that ignores…."  And you should avoid complacency too!  There's still a world to be saved.  Still, the flood of tentative good news suggests that we have some basis for confidence that we can save it….
… or can we, after all?  Why California's drought may be the worst in 500 years. Denialism is not confidence.  It is being a sap.
== Putting interesting spins on things ==
One of the best pieces of political-social satire I've seen stabs right at the heart of how our enlightenment process of flat-open competition is undermined by… Krony-ism!  Collect all five Krony action figures! Ready to take on any competitive threat to their power!  (Note: while this is clearly inspired by the better (Smithian) wing of libertarianism, one might call it ever so slightly rightward-tilted. And I don't mind! 
(Still, it will be better when they come out with the needed SIXTH action figure…  The Oligarch-Puppeteer, the one made of money bags who actually controls Big G. And a seventh… The Hypnotizer... who waves a bible and has the head of a … Fox.)
PersonalINcomeTaxIn a similar vein but turning a bit more specific… One of the sharpest "Smithian libertarians" out there is Brin-blogmunity member Carl Milstead who has long struggled to help shift libertarianism back to sensible emphasis on competition, and less on the Cult of Selfishness.  Carl has a very interesting tax simplification plan that offers attractive common ground - or at least basis for negotiation - between liberals and libertarians.  It might be too big a shift to achieve in today's American political climate.
But one way to get there incrementally would be my own tax simplification proposal called "No-Losers," which would let us simplify in stages that are politically achievable.
== If only this were satire, too ==
It's stunning how lockstep conservative columnists are in denouncing the bipartisan voting commission's recommendations for more early voting, allowing citizens to go to city poll stations up to a week before election day. Along with many other tactics to cheat… I mean limit citizen access to franchise… states of a certain color are moving fast to limit early voting, which helps working men and women to fit this civic duty among their many other chores.
This is not Goldwater-Buckley conservatism.  It is something else.  Why not admit it?
Capital-twenty-first-centuryEconomist Thomas Piketty’s new book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” argues  that the six-decade period of growing equality in western nations – starting roughly with the onset of World War I and extending into the early 1970s – was unique and highly unlikely to be repeated. That period, Piketty suggests, represented an exception to the more deeply rooted pattern of growing inequality.  His fatalism disturbingly opines that capitalism cannot continue - each generation - performing a miracle… using democracy to correct its contradictions.  Especially the biggest one -- that winners in the competition then try to cheat in order not to have to compete anymore, as happened across all cultures for 6000 years.
I agree that that is the inherent tendency of capitalism.  But (1) Marx explained all this ages ago, and earlier so did Adam Smith. (2) The fact that western democracies did keep refreshing and renewing a relatively flat and competitive version of capitalism, always enticing activity to get rich, but somehow preventing the toxicity of oligarchic wealth concentrations, suggests  this is a process that could continue.
It must.  Socialism never raised out of poverty as many as market economics has, nor innovated so many solutions.  But those markets were not "blind." Nor did Adam Smith demand that they be!  They succeeded precisely because they have been tuned by sapient populations, societies and institutions who have kept negotiating solutions to steer economies away from the cliffs that ruined markets and freedom for 6000 years.
Capitalism-vs-democracyIt is the pragmatic, non-dogmatic, mixed-economy approach that prevents oligarchic toxicity while retaining Smithian success lures.  That takes new discoveries and new technologies into account, as well as new threats and externalities like pollution. That invests in the species and its youth so that those youths can have the health and education needed in order to be confident competitors in vibrant Smithian markets.  Our ancestors for 250 years used a suite of methods, only some of which were "liberal" or Quasi-socialist…
Forget the Clinton-Bush dynasties… calling for a Roosevelt!  Ideally one like TR… but FDR might do.  We have to believe we can do this again.  Or there will be no Star Trek.
== Who's Responsible? ==
spending-us How Spending Has Fallen Under Obama: This CNN site backs up my assertion that our cliches about U.S. deficit spending are all wrong.  The all-important Second Derivative of deficit shows whether an administration is serious about fiscal responsibility.  If the 2nd Derivative (2D) is negative, then skyrocketing deficits become successively less steep and gradually turn downward toward the black. If 2D is positive, surpluses become deficits and deficits steepen into hemorrhages. And members of the public have a diametrically wrong impression that Democrats are somehow worse than Republicans on this matter, just because Republicans say so.
In fact, 2D is almost always positive (that's bad) under GOP administrations (post-Eisenhower) plunging the U.S. into worsening debt.  And 2d is almost always negative (that's good) across the span of Democratic administrations.  Conservatives invariably squirm when confronted with this huge and nearly uniform fact, that absolutely demolishes every cliche. But if they truly are "conservative" in the older and wiser sense of the word, they must eventually wake up and realize.
No one is asking them to swerve left.  But please… veer away from the monsters who have hijacked your movement.  Steer away from crazy.
== The miscellany stack - political news! ==
PolarIceSee this stunning video showing 25 years of satellite data on dwindling Arctic sea ice. Look at it. Just look at it!  Then rent CHASING ICE. Hold a home viewing party.  Invite your crazy uncle.
Climate change is already hurting American farmers and rural residents, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned that the U.S. would regret any failure to adapt and prepare for shifting weather realities. The list of increasingly daunting issues that the Ag Dept is helping farmers deal with is growing larger and more intense yearly.  And still, fools watch Fox.
All told, health care costs have been growing more slowly over the last three years than at any other time period since 1965. More recently, yearly health cost growth slowed from an average rate of 3.9 percent between 2000 and 2007 to 1.3 percent between 2011 and 2013.
This rumination about potential conflict between China and Japan is deeply disturbing.  And it does not mention there is another set of reefs, farther northe, that are equidistant from China, Japan and South Korea, that are under dispute.  And other islands rimming the Philippines and Indonesia and Vietnam.
But the East remains a realm potentially rife with surprises. I had to blink several times when I read the following off-the-cuff thoughts from the deeply insightful Scott Foster, who I see each year at the annual SNS Future in Review Conference.  If any of this comes true, you'll know where it came from:
"[Japanese PM] Abe is reportedly planning to meet Putin in Sochi. A professor of international politics I know here expects them to make a deal over the Southern Kuril Islands (Japan's "Northern Territories"). Having just visited Yasukuni Shrine, Abe is Nixon enough to get away with it (anyone else would probably be assassinated). That would enable a peace treaty and make it a lot easier to increase economic ties, which could expand several fold. Beijing might s**t a meat axe, to use a phrase I've never been able to forget.
 "The professor's take on North Korea is that Kim is purging the pro-China faction and getting ready to do a Myanmar. Japan has reasonably good relations with North Korea, considering the circumstances, and very very knowledgeable journalists and other experts on (and in) the country. Russia and South Korea are talking about a gas pipeline through North Korea. Just when it looked like things in North Korea might never change, they might change."
Wow.
== Calling all Roosevelts! ==
Vampire-squidThe  bill to remove the 60 year old financial industry regulations, passed in 1999 by the GOP Congress, did more than encourage the insane antics that led to the later Great Meltdown.  It has apparently unleashed the top banks to own and operate every kind of resource manipulation industry.  Read  about this… and try to picture: "why are they doing everything in their power to resurrect Teddy Roosevelt?"  Because that is where we will ultimately turn.  Preferably that, over Robespierre.
== A libertarian "gem" of a flick? ==
J. Neil Schulman's hyper-libertarian novel, Alongside Night, was worth reading as a polemic that -- though tendentious and spectacularly one-sided -- nevertheless raised some very important points about one of many kinds of potential failure modes that could bring us crashing down.  Alongside Night is worth a look for the same reason that I read Ayn Rand and Karl Marx, because: damn if I will let myself become a blinkered dogmatist, worried about only one kind of abusive authority!
alongsidenight_30thcoverHuman beings are born with spines that can twist, allowing them to look for threats on all horizons.  So what if polemicists and dogmatists (of left, right and weird) are satisfied to fuse their political vertebrae, insisting that only the authorities THEY hate could ever threaten freedom. I will listen to their rants and sift for rare gems amid the monomania.  I can turn my head.
Can you?  Then you might enjoy a wallow in polemical monomania: Alongside Night: The Motion Picture! Directed by J. Neil Schulman! And starring Kevin Sorbo.  I admit I haven't seen the film… it's only available for viewing in a few cities. But here is how to find out where: http://www.tugg.com/titles/Alongside-Night#description
libertariansNeil is one of the more cogent members of the cult of Rothbard-and-Rand that has hijacked libertarianism from its proper, Smithian emphasis on creative competition, down paths of incantation that ignore all of science and history and human nature.  Which is a pity since a more moderate libertarian movement -- that remembered Adam Smith -- might have helped us marginalize the truly dangerous beast: the undead monster of today's GOP.
See one alternative: what a pragmatic, Smithian libertarianism might look like, in my article: The Case for a Cheerful Libertarianism.
== and politically redolent… ==
RepublicanExtremismA brief section from the Sean Wilentz's Rolling Stone overview: Republican Extremism and the Lessons of History: How has a faction consisting of no more than four dozen House members come to exercise so much destructive power? The continuing abandonment of professional responsibilities by the nation's mainstream news sources – including most of the metropolitan daily newspapers and the television outlets, network and cable – has had a great deal to do with it. At some point over the past 40 years, the bedrock principle of journalistic objectivity became twisted into the craven idea of false equivalency, whereby blatant falsehoods get reported simply as one side of an argument and receive equal weight with the reported argument of the other side.
There is no shortage of explanations for the press's abdication: intimidation at the rise of Fox News and other propaganda operations; a deep confusion about the difference between hard-won objectivity and a lazy, counterfeit neutrality; and the poisonous effects of the postmodern axiom that truth, especially in politics, is a relative thing, depending on your perspective in a tweet. Whatever the explanation, today's journalism has trashed the tradition of fearless, factual reporting pioneered by Walter Lippmann, Edward R. Murrow and Anthony Lewis.
Here's something you don't often see. An interesting… if somewhat shallow and tendentious riff in defense of communism that ran in Salon. Yipe! If we do not perform Rooseveltean reforms soon, we will see a LOT more of this. We are witnessing an IQ test whether the rich can act in their own self-interest.
The plague of self-righteous indignation that is poisoning America reared its head again in a firestorm of sanctimony over the death  Philip Seymour Hoffman, with some writers venting volcanic fury at others, who considered the actor's deep and fatal flaws worthy of critical comment. In this cogent discussion of the outrage industry, Sara Stewart offers cogent appraisal.  She also refers to my own work, diagnosing indignation as a noxious modern addiction that is tearing apart especially the United States, undermining our native genius at moderate pragmatism.
And that long stack is just a fraction of what got stored up.  It's a political year, sigh, get used to it.

38 comments:

Lars said...

Denialism is not confidence...

Funny to see Ridley referred to in such close conjunction to the above. He's a long-term AGW denier. Interesting to see how ideological commitment can serve as such a set of blinkers. His book on the human genome was very well-done and informative. "The Origins of Virtue", on the other hand, bent fact and theory into pretzels in order to make the point that the social order most in line with human evolution is one featuring markets with as little regulation as possible.

madtom said...

There is no shortage of explanations for the press's abdication

Indeed. And I assume that you just got tired of listing them. But I wish you had included "direct pressure from crooked and scary government agencies".

Because that seems the only explanation for the Gary Webb "Dark Alliance" saga, which played out in realtime on my monitor in the early days of the web. And it is the problem that I fear is least amenable to any solution that starts at our level.

For readers unfamiliar with this, Webb documented a large role for the CIA in the supply of crack cocaine to the Los Angeles market, perhaps for some of the same purposes as Iran-Contra, perhaps for personal enrichment (how would we know?).

I read his series and saw his published evidence from the San Jose Mercury News as it appeared.

Then I started to see demands from the LA Times, WaPo and NYT that he be reprimanded, that the editor apologize, and that the series be disclaimed and withdrawn.

Sadly, and to my shock at the time, these leaders of the American press presented zero evidence of anything wrong with Webb's reporting. They called names and made accusations and demands, but failed to present any reason beyond their own indignation that anyone would so besmirch the reputation of the CIA.

Unlike "he said she said" one-step-removed so-called balanced reporting, the actual action appeared on my screen: the media's own response to this exposure of corruption in one of our own most secret and dangerous "public servants".

Finally, the SJM caved. The editor wrote a marvelous non-apologetic apology admitting that one headline (not written by Webb) had made an inference not supported by the article, but noting that everything Webb had written was as well researched and supported as any newspaper article ever was.

But of course this was called a capitulation, a confession, and a long-overdue apology by (at least) those 3 major dailies. And Webb lost his job.

The Inspector General's report that had supported Webb's stories was relegated to the back pages, of course.

A couple of years later, having lost career and wife, Webb ended up as one of those who-believes-it two-bullets-to-the-head suicides.

So if these top dailies actively promoted such harmful lies then, who would doubt they now slant every piece of news in whatever way they choose? And given the strength of the motivation revealed in the Webb case, who sees any chance that we ordinary folk will change their behavior?

Anonymous said...

"Interesting to see how ideological commitment can serve as such a set of blinkers." Seems to me to be a problem for both sides of that 'debate'. For me it's a sign to read carefully and critically when it's brought up. Mmm

Tim H. said...

Disappointing that Obama turned out to be Clinton mk ]{, when some of us had hoped for Roosevelt mk ]I[, but way better than another "shrub".
Thomas Franks had an interesting essay on the "anti-progressive" movement
http://www.salon.com/2014/02/16/the_matter_with_kansas_now_the_tea_party_the_1_percent_and_del

sociotard said...

No! Please don't cancel "Almost Human". I had high hopes for that show.

http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2014/02/04/fox-almost-human-is-likely-to-be-canceled/233096/

Alex Tolley said...

Sea Ice age. Interesting visual, but it is relevant? If we had massive new sea ice formation (natural or artificial), that ice would be young, but still effective in its functions to keep the Earth cool and provide the environment for Arctic fauna. A more important animation would be ice thickness, but perhaps age is a proxy.

I agree that that is the inherent tendency of capitalism. And then you fall back into denialism. Better to look at history, and realize that the next wave of capitalism and growth will shift to new nations. I think you are caught up in the strong nationalism of most Americans, that you cannot believe the US will not stay on top. Each of the nations of "Old Europe" had their day in the sun too. Recall that Britain thought that the sun would never set on its empire, Germany wanted to replace it with a 1000 year Reich, but America ended up the current incumbent. The Pax Americana will probably be replaced sometime in this century.

Piketty's book hasn't even been released yet. (It's been on my Amazon list since it was recommended by economist Brad deLong). Did you get a review copy to read, or are you just reading the various blurbs?

sociotard said...

He did live in France once. Perhaps he shot through the French version (which has been released)

Tony Fisk said...

Alex, sea ice age *is* a measure of thickness.

In other news, the Abbott government has announced a review of Australia's Renewable Energy Target. The panel consists of people from the fossil fuel industry and is headed by a modern day denialist (ie one who doesn't deny the climate is changing, but is sceptical that the cause is man made carbon dioxide.)

This is an open act of cynicism that is more pitiable than contemptible. Abbott appears to be a version of Canute who believes his own tide turning rhetoric.

It's truly sad when the only good thing you can say about a government is just how utterly incompetent it is.

Lorraine said...

The meme campaign to define poverty as absolute poverty is getting to be quite a broken record, and quite a canard. Like you say, they noticed who was servant and who was master. They still do. They also notice who is dependent and who is redundant. An important question to me is how gratuitously someone's nose will be rubbed in the fact of their subordination, their dependence or their redundancy. As far as I'm concerned, snarky comments about consumer electronic goods in the hands of the poor are definitely part of that pattern of sadistic rankism. Electronics is the perfect example of a product category that is not only immune to inflation, but characterized by extreme deflation. This is why I'm very cautious about efforts to index things like the minimum wage or the standard deduction to the consumer price index. Having some automatic indexing to prevent minimum wage proponents (including those within Congress) having to beg opponents periodically for increases is appealing, but I'd much rather see these things indexed to the "poverty line" (or a less polyanna-ish refinement of it) than the consumer price index. The market basket of reference for the empirical study of poverty, let alone policies to combat it, should reference a market basket heavily (if not exclusively) consisting of necessity goods. I'm willing to class the "cost-diseased" sectors of health care and education (or as the sniveling snots at Mercatus call them, the "commanding heights") as necessities, partly out of a cynical desire to amplify the effects of inflation on baseline cost of living, but also because "healthy, wealthy and wise" is something everyone deserves to get at least a taste of. Otherwise, why live at all?

Alex Tolley said...

Thanks Tony. I see that age is more than just a proxy for thickness, it is also important in understanding formation.

For sea ice, age matters

Alex Tolley said...

@Lorraine - what I find most pernicious about the US CPI, is that it is hedonic - quality is taken into account. Thus while a car may have the same base price from year to year, the higher quality is used to reduce its price, and hence inflationary impact. How would it help if the car price keeps increasing, but its inflation adjusted price is constant, as the buyer has no choice but the current retail price?
Another problem is substitution, especially in foods. This assumes people will substitute goods, especially food types, to counter inflation. While this may be empirically true (I haven't seen any studies) it smacks of coercion to me.

sociotard said...

An interesting "on the other hand" to claims that the world is becoming more peaceful: the non-existent "Hippie Trail".

Through most of David Brin's youth, young people from the US could take busses and ferry's from London to Bankok. It was mostly safe. Since 1979, it has never been safe again.

David Brin said...

Tim H… Roosevelt would have deeply disappointed you. He was Clinton-like in most ways. His times led to radical measures. The man was simply a leader who did as the times demanded and little was demanded of Clinton in good times (that he partly fostered.) STill, I think we should start a movement to shout "Where's a Roosevelt when we need one?"

Almost Human is a good show and it would be a pity to cancel it. Still, the 30 years in the future genre would be MUCH better handled as a lawyer show… like the great but canceled show CENTURY CITY that I consulted for. A cop show is so limited! Any cop-action riff could be PART of a lawyer show.

sociotard said...

I think of a Roosevelt today, doing with the NSA what the original did with the FBI (keep tabs on political opponents) and I shudder.

fwmm said...

Hi, doctor Brin. In my country (Brazil) I'm considered a conservative, but I'm an admirer of your non-fiction writings, specially those dealing with politics, economics and society in general. I tend to agree with most of it. One thing that I've always wanted to hear you talk about is how you believe society will adapt to the ever increasing automation of tasks that are currently the source of income for the great majorit of the population, including several blue collar functions.

Cheers,
Fabio Maia.

David Brin said...

fwmm thanks for visiting and I hope you come back often. Science fiction has dealt with automation many times. See PLAYER PIANO by Vonnegut and THE MAN WHO ATE THE EARTH by Pohl.

I believe we are already in that world since food is grown by 5% of the population (in the US) and another 5% does all the work needed for the rest of us to eat. Add up all the other jobs that are essential for life and safety and easily 50% of "employed" people are busy getting wages for things that are valuable only because we decided to value them… like writing Sci Fi novels!

Shall we just create new "services" that no one ever heard of before? Like Nail Salons? The workers seem happy, the customers seem happy… with a useless activity that lets them be fed while proud of working, instead of miserable on welfare.

David Brin said...

PS Fabio… all the world knows that Obama is a center-right politician whom our crazy right wing calls a communist.

Tim H. said...

What a modern day Roosevelt or Eisenhower might do today is idle speculation, the electoral machinery has been optimized to Wall $treet's desires, such people are unlikely to be nominated. This cynic would be delighted to be pleasantly surprised, but I won't hold my breath for it.

Tim H. said...

BTW, you're likely correct about FDR and desperation, but it would be so much easier in the long run to avoid the precipice before we're up against it, one could describe it as a conservative approach to government.

Guy Srinivasan said...

I thought for 5 minutes about your zero losers tax simplification proposal. I have one major concern: purportedly many tax laws are set up to influence incentive structures, so changing them should change people's actions even if no bottom lines were immediately changed. Extreme case: everyone's tax responsibilities are set to exactly what they were last year. Effect: all income increases are now untaxed! among others. So the constraint would need to look more like a model of individual economic behavior whose dynamics are constrained to remain relatively constant under tax code modification, and whose bottom lines don't change. That's a much much harder problem!

jnuk said...

To: David Brin

Gail Tverberg from http://ourfiniteworld.com/ offers in my opinion a very grim version of our future, but unlike many other such predictions she offers an explanation and reasoning for her views.
Would it be possible for you to comment on her views? I apologise for not referring to a particular post of hers. Her explanations are spread over many posts, but the general idea would be quite apparent from practically any of them. For example the latest 3...4.

Thank you.

Jumper said...

The only beef I had with Webb's reporting was that crack manufacture was a grassroots business. It was so much simpler than freebasing that once the method was out, druggies everywhere simply made it themselves. The bit about the CIA was all true, however.
I have a hypothesis that W Bush flew copilot for a while on some of these things. There is an odd fragment of his resume working for a "South American flower importer" which keeps vanishing from the internet.

Alfred Differ said...

Ridley's climate change argument in The Rational Optimist didn't strike me as full-on denial. Perhaps he is and says so elsewhere, but the content in the book basically points out that backward looking climate observations and models are science while forwar looking ones must involve predictions of human actions (economics mostly) thus CAN'T be science.

My paraphrased version of this is the forward looking models cross Popper's line of demarcation between science and non-science. That doesn't mean the forward looking models are wrong, but we need to be aware of the terrain change. Economists have a terrible record of predicting what will happen when people are under pressure and innovate. Taleb describes these events as 'Black Swan' events and on that level of skepticism I think Ridley has a valid point.

There ARE reasonable ways to try to predict out climate future absent black swans and we should be sounding the alarm from what we see, however, I AM an optimist and expect positive black swans. I'm also just enough of a realist to expect negative black swans too. What I don't expect is that the economists will get this next centry correct with any of the predictive models they have right now, thus we need to take care when we sound the climate change alarm.

David Brin said...

Guy Srinivasan interesting comment. Indeed, I believe some parts of the tax code should be placed off limits from "no losers" because the incentives/disincentives were the whole reason for the existence of those sections.

Or else create "stakeholders" such as "the air" and "honeybees" and assign them a value so that they must not be losers, either.

Paul451 said...

Recall last year, the 3D printed "brace" to replace the old gauze-and-plaster casts for broken limbs? http://www.wired.com/design/2013/07/is-this-cast-the-future-of-healing-broken-bones/

That principle has been extended to a 3D printed powered exo-skeleton to allow a paraplegic woman to walk. http://www.gizmag.com/3d-printed-robotic-exoskeleton/30893/

Allowing the lame to walk. Wasn't that the very definition of "miraculous"?

Paul451 said...

Alex,
"Sea Ice age. Interesting visual, but it is relevant? If we had massive new sea ice formation (natural or artificial), that ice would be young, but still effective in its functions"

Because young ice melts quicker, having a lot of old ice gives you a kind of buffer against rapid change when season-severity varies. Young ice will vanish after just a couple of warm years, then reform after a couple of cold years, this exaggerates the natural variation (warmer years are warmer, colder years are colder.) This would increase the climate variability outside of the Arctic Circle, ie, polar gyres, super-storms and all that fun.

Alfred,
I think a lot of so-called "skepticism" is over things that climate scientists don't actually claim. I've not seen climate scientists who are unaware that future projections can't model unpredictable changes in human behaviour, or shifts in economic activity, or "black swans". Most projections include multiple scenarios ("at current rate of growth of emissions", "stopping at current levels", "reduction to 1990 levels", etc.)

It's like people who say they are skeptical of evolution because (they say) evolutionary biologists claim that evolution is "entirely random", and they can't believe that an "entirely random" process could result in the actual lifeforms.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Most projections include multiple scenarios ("at current rate of growth of emissions", "stopping at current levels", "reduction to 1990 levels", etc.)

I agree - most modeling starts with the unrealistic - what if the co2 levels stay as they are now
That basic model shows sea level increase as the ice melts and as the current increased temperature soaks into the deeper ocean
It is an unrealistic model but it sets a lower bound - which is quite scary in itself

As far as the tax code is concerned the "Big Kahuna" starts with talking about what the code was supposed to achieve and then designing a system to do that
- They actually merge the tax code and the "welfare state" as a single set of problems with the tax code and the UBI (Universal Basic Income) as the solution

Gareth considers that the present (NZ) tax code had grown into its present form - there have been commissions working to improve it but they tended to (were required to) look at welfare or taxes separately not looking at the whole system as a unit

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Carl M. said...

Duncan: that's exactly what I did with the Simple Tax. I replaced the maze of deductions with a honkin big prebate. Make it big enough and you replace most of the welfare state.

And you get rid of the execrable Earned Income Credit -- a theoretically good idea ruined by legalistic complexity.

Tony Fisk said...

Having tackled curling, I wonder if Sir David Attenborough could be persuaded to explain tax legislation?

Duncan Cairncross said...

a honkin big prebate

Is that like the UBI - money paid to everybody?

Robert said...

Actually, there is one thing that could be done about the Sea Ice. You thicken it. You do this by taking sea water and spraying it over existing sea ice as the cold weather starts up, for as long as there's open water in the Arctic. This will allow for a faster accumulation of sea ice and will hopefully thicken the ice. You do this with several dozen ships and it might be enough to make a difference... (of course, it'd be even better if you had submarines that did this, as you could punch a hole through the ice and continue doing this where there's existing ice and thicken the region).

Rob H.

Jumper said...

When water freezes a large amount of heat is released. Best do that at night under clear skies and radiate it into space, otherwise you won't accomplish much.

David Brin said...

onward

Paul451 said...

Robert/Jumper,
If you were able to do it, it would be best to spray-thicken the ice around the edges of the ice pack in a band a few hundred kilometres wide. One of the problems with young thin ice is that it is more likely to break up in storms, drift away from the pack and melt, exposing new ice to the edge. By thickening the edge, the interior ice is still broken up by storms but doesn't drift away from the pack, so when it re-freezes it forms thicker gnarlier ice which won't melt as quickly next year.

Unintended consequences: By adding an airborne coating of fresh ice, you are smoothing the surface of old-thick ice. This means that surface meltwater forms wide shallow pools which absorb more sunlight, causing more melting... This is one of the problems with young ice. You'd need to ensure you only sprayed where there was no old ice at all.

[There was a Top Gear (UK) special a few years back, where they drove cars (4WD/SUVs) to the North Pole. Most of the ice was smooth and drivable, small parts were horrible and they had to cut paths through by hand. The smooth ice was young ice, the horrible ice was old. So the only reason they were able to do the trip by car was because of global warming increasing the ratio of young to old ice. Back when the first modern explorers went to the North Pole, it wasn't just more difficult because they were using sleds, the big problem was they had to deal with huge areas of old ice.]

Hank Roberts said...

I think we're really hitting the point where science is threatening that pointy-topped triangle social structure.

Case in point:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/21/agent-orange-veterans-air-force-c123s_n_4828180.html

excerpt follows:


A study published on Friday refutes the U.S. Air Force and Department of Veteran Affairs' position that any dioxin or other components of Agent Orange contaminating its fleet of C-123 cargo planes would have been "dried residues" and therefore unlikely to pose any meaningful exposure risks.

That contention has been the basis for the VA's denial of benefits to sick veterans.

"It's a question of science and ethics," said Jeanne Stellman, an Agent Orange expert at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and senior author of the paper, which found standard-exceeding exposures likely occurred after the war -- via skin contact, inhalation and ingestion.

"The VA has set up policy that is based on bad science," she added. "That's resulted in really inequitable treatment."

Mike Brotherton said...

I also thought it funny to see Ridley and the climate change stuff in the same post. I no longer trust Ridley on anything because he's capable of great personal bias and hypocrisy: http://www.mikebrotherton.com/2012/08/08/matt-ridley-is-a-biased-hypocrite/