Friday, March 06, 2015

Deregulating GPS...and the Internet

Sometimes people just plain blow a good thing.  Take one of the most powerful symbols of the last 70 years, the so-called “Doomsday Clock” of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists --  

“It is 3 minutes to midnight." In a statement released today during a press conference in Washington, DC, members of the Science and Security Board said: "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists does not move the hands of the Doomsday Clock for light or transient reasons."

Of all the stupid, stupid, stupid misuses of good symbolism, this one takes the cake.  In order to make a sanctimonious “dire warning” this month, this week, they have used up their wad, made it impossible to point to trends that might happen later on… in the… um… I think it's called the future.

I was so impressed when, in the early nineties, after one of the post-Cold War treaties, an earlier and vastly more savvy set of BULLETIN editors actually cranked back the minute hand on the clock, all the way to 17 minutes-till.  By grabbing that opportunity, they gave themselves space to then be able to focus public attention on subsequent dire warnings. Many times, if necessary.

All these dopes have done is wrecked their credibility and wasted a symbolic tool that was of some real value to us all.

== On Libertarians and Conservatives ==

To all you (Rand/Rothbard) libertarians out there. (Not Smithian ones, like me.) Please... I realize you know you cannot defend the Republican Party, nor do you want to.  But the most perverse mental ailment among libertarians -- fostered at great expense by Forbes and the Kochs and Cato and the rest - is a well-watered fixation that somehow the GOP is "home.” Sure they have been corrupted. But if only the republicans would just offer a glimmer of hope, then they’ll be the default go-back-home for millions of libertarian-minded citizens.

Year after year, election after election, it takes so little. The oligarchs chuckle and cast their flies. For example, if Rand Paul gets the VP nomination, or some high position then - despite the fact that he is a raving loony - the Randians will flock back to the GOP, crying "all is forgiven!"

Of course this is perfect proof of insanity… doing the same thing, over and over again, expecting different results.  Take the standard libertarian nostrum that “Democrats favor freedom in the bedroom, but Republicans fight for freedom and competition in the marketplace.” 

Yes! And pixies fly off my keyboard while I am typing this!

Fine. Show me one industry that the GOP ever de-regulated, other than Wall Street/Finance. (That one industry they “free-up” every time, in order for banking lords to rape us. ) 

Name another. Go ahead, wise guy. NAME an industry that the Republican Party, during its long stretches of complete political power, freed from the shackles of government bureaucrats. Name one! You who swallow their preening rhetoric, without ever demanding results or looking at actual effects and outcomes.

Now dig this.  Read it as many times as it takes to sink in.

(1) Democrats can be persuaded to deregulate. as they did with (now keep count!) trucking, telecom, airlines, rails, and many others... as well as the greatest deregulatory act in human history — unleashing the free and open Internet upon the world. (Al Gore's bill).

Let’s add in Bill Clinton’s deregulation of the GPS system (over GOP opposition), freeing it for use by all, everywhere in the world.  

READ THAT LIST AGAIN. Look up the Interstate Commerce Commission and the horrid-captured Civil Aeronautics Board, then ask yourself why the “free competition” GOP never erased them, but the dems did.  

Ponder who deregulated GPS and the Internet and the Trillions of competitive wealth that those two acts unleashed.  Fool.

Plus… blue states are the only ones easing out of gerrymandering

They were the ones who ended prohibition in the 1930s, under FDR, and who are now legalizing pot in some blue states, easing out of Drug War insanity. Name for me ANY red state where gerrymandering or the Drug War are even being questioned. (And don’t tell me “morality” is involved!  In states that lead the nation in teen sex, teen pregnancy, STDs, domestic violence, divorce, molestation etc etc etc etc…..)

Okay okay... Alaska for pot and Idaho for Gerrymandering. I will willingly admit exceptions. Which only put the burden on you to exlain the overall trends.

The final refuge of the intelligent conservative or libertarian, nowadays is to sneer “they’re all the same!” But chuckling and rubbing their hands, Steve Forbes and the Kochs and Murdochs and Saudis love that cynical mantra! Because, come election time, it leads YOU to hold your nose and “come on home” to the Republicans.

To accept whatever pablum excuse — or lies about the DP candidate — will let you rationalize slavish dovotion to a party that betrays every single thing you stand for.

== Realities of Economics ==

Several cities in the Seattle region went much farther than Washington State’s recent moderate-boost to the minimum wage. “In January, the town of Seatac, Washington, put in to effect a new $15 per hour Minimum Wage. No ramp ups, no tiered implementation. One day it was the state standard, the next, the highest minimum wage in the nation. The Koch Brothers sank a fortune to fight this measure,” prediction it would result in massive job losses and layoffs.

Funny thing, the exact opposite has happened, everywhere minimum wages went up. (At best, they are still proportionately way below their 1979 value.) 

This is an example of failure of prediction that matches the absolutely perfect record of Supply Side Voodoo Economics (SSVE) to never -- not once, ever -- get a single forecast right. Ever, even once. At all.  

Which pushes us to ask – is the frantic inability to adapt to unexpected outcomes ever going to prompt sane conservatives to re-evaluate?  The way that Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley and Billy Graham were once willing to do?

== Controlling the Internet ==

Concerns about the potential Balkanization of the internet rose to public view when Russia’s parliament passed a bill requiring all technology companies to store the personal data of their Russian users in the country. If implemented the rule could move Russia closer to the state of the internet in China and Iran. Both already control online information through  heavily censored domestic information and pervasive filtering of foreign information. The law is scheduled to be signed into law in September of 2016 by President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin was a former KGB officer and has described the internet as a conspiracy invented by the CIA.

”The next few years are going to be about control,” said Danah Boyd, noted Internet thinker and a researcher at Microsoft. Survey respondents told Pew that trust in open communications technologies will continue to evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance.

Dig it. Al Gore's 1988 bill (I know some of his staffers who wrote it) that unleashed a perfectly unregulated Internet upon the world was probably the greatest jiu jitsu move by enlightenment civilization since the U.S. Constitution.  It rocked every tyranny, forcing them to deal with a myriad awful, individualist headaches.  But they are getting the knack of it, now. They think they can corner, control and use the web as a tool of oppression...

...which is why the new satellite web systems... ViaSat, then Google and SpaceX... offer some promise to be the next judo move. the next side-step... if they design it right!  And if there are many side paths.

== Growing Inequality ==  

This page and two graphics absolutely do it.  They show that the one and only effect of Supply Side Economics was to favor the rich.  LOOK at these graphics. The blatant before and after, clocking from 1930 to the present how well the middle class has done vs. the oligarchy. This is not socialist-leftist talk.  There was never an entrepreneurial market capitalism more healthy and vibrant than the one left to our parents by FDR, Truman and Eisenhower.

What these charts show is what Adam Smith said, all along and also F. Hayek and anyone with any sense.  That we get the benefits of competition when it is flat-open-fair and when no one's advantages are so huge that they can cheat.  "Conservatism" and "libertarianism" used to understand this. They grudgingly understood the need for some regulation to keep competition flat-open-fair.

The one and only sole purpose of today's confederacy is to bring the plantation lords... I mean oligarchs... back to their rightful place atop the 6000 year feudal hierarchy.  

But we were and remain a revolution!  A revolution of moderate, pro-flat-open-fair-competition, pro-science, reasonable people who, for the first time, ever, stymied recurring feudalism.

LOOK at these charts and tell me the enemy isn't winning a round!  So far.  But the revolution of moderate reform is strong.  It had better be.  Or the lords will face another kind.

== Around the Globe ==

Wow, an over-the-top rant in The Independent makes you wince… and yet suggests a number of topics for your own followup wiki and book reading, about the middle-eastern family that has a plan for our future. And that plan is not based on… er… western values.

Yipe too plausible!  And deeply scary. As China rises and Russia's population declines, will China cast its eye right next door… on Siberia?  "Siberia – the Asian part of Russia, east of the Ural Mountains – is immense. It takes up three-quarters of Russia's land mass, the equivalent of the entire U.S. and India put together. It's hard to imagine such a vast area changing hands. But like love, a border is real only if both sides believe in it. And on both sides of the Sino-Russian border, that belief is wavering." Indeed, increasingly, Chinese-owned factories in Siberia churn out finished goods, as if the region already were a part of the Middle Kingdom's economy.

Is "Davos a Corporatist racket?" Daniel Hannan is a Conservative Member of the European Parliament who represents a British style of "conservatism that used to be typical in the U.S., one that is capable of separating the health of competitive markets from the health of oligarch monopolist lords. A distinction that is extinct from the minds and thoughts of today's American right

The political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign, an unparalleled effort by coordinated outside groups to shape a presidential election that is already on track to be the most expensive in history. This oligarch-meddling and puppeteering will match spending by each of the major parties. Be proud, you confederates. Say yassa to your plantation lords.

Maine may become the 1st state to use preferential balloting, which tends to give third parties a chance... while also reducing overall radicalism.  Actually, Australia has used the system for ages... as has the sci fi community for its awards.

"The majority of business for "Las Vegas" companies now comes from Macau, the only city in China where gambling is legal.  Even MGM Resorts, owner of the Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, is China focused. Its Macau business now takes in more cash than those three Vegas casinos combined.  With a population around 600,000, Macau is the fastest-growing city in the world, according to the Brookings Institution, and its casino industry is roughly seven times the size of Las Vegas'."

Ponder this.  The one place in China and the one industry that China allows foreign investors to hold big ownership stakes and to rake up big take-home profits is....

Work it out.  What better way to launder massive amounts of cash that can then be funneled into the US political process?  When US citizens like Sheldon Adelson - who happen to be Macao gambling tycoons, receive vast, un-audited "profits," and thereupon pour hundreds of millions of dollars into American electoral campaigns, do you really think he is doing it with HIS money?

And nothing about this whole arrangement seems... fishy?


Laurent Weppe said...

"Because, come election time, it leads YOU to hold your nose and “come on home” to the Republicans."

Or worse: to not go to the polls at all, diminishing turnout and mechanically increasing the electoral clout of full-fledged fascists.

rob said...

Libertarians, like the conservatives, are supremely impervious to facts. Great post

Tim H. said...

Seems to me that the long term effect of preposterously pro-business policies may be ineffectual business folk. People whose business strategies depend on low wage labor, protected from competition by regulatory barriers to entry, etc., looks like a recipe for complacency. Wonder what they're being softened up for?

Sean the Mystic said...

Wuut? You're suggesting that oligarchs like Adelson are colluding with the Chinese to wreck America? I like paranoid conspiracy theories as much as anyone, but I'll have to think about this one...

The Independent article was interesting. The Saudis have been playing with jihadist fire for a long time. This looks like a replay of the Ikwhan revolt from the early 20th century, but without the disdain for post-Prophetic technology.

For an apocalypse scenario, imagine if ISIS takes the Kingdom. I don’t know how likely that is, but it couldn’t happen to a nicer gang of degenerate Islamo-petrogarchs. For some reason, the Fremen and the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV keep coming to mind…

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Libertarians, like the conservatives, are supremely impervious to facts.

Be careful how you define "libertarian." In the main post, David is very careful about this.

On the other hand, rob, in the above quote, is supremely careless in his generalization.

As I have said before in this forum, I was personally invited to the meeting where the Libertarian Party was officially formed. I declined because I was afraid that such a political party would deteriorate into dogmatism. In general, it has done exactly that.

A very significant exception to the dogmatism has been Gary Johnson's candidacy for President in 2012.

Gary Johnson, a great pragmatic libertarian, says that he intends to run again in 2016. If the Libertarian Party fails to give him the nomination next year, the Libertarian Party might as well turn the lights out and all go home.

sociotard said...

"Show me one industry that the GOP ever de-regulated"

Fine. I'll play. Resource Extraction. (I didn't say I was in favor of this deregulation, just that recent Republicans have delivered deregulation to industries other than Finance)


No sooner did the Bush II Administration take office than it began reversing rules and regulations to ease development and use of resources on the public lands. ' For example, it postponed and then withdrew regulations phasing out snowmobile use in Yellowstone
National Park.'

* New regulations were issued under the National Forest
Management Act to allow development on millions of acres of roadless areas on national forest land.

* The regulations would relax
the degree of environmental review and limit public involvement in the process of deciding whether and on what terms those lands will be opened for private development and exploitation.

* Protections of proposed wilderness areas have been lifted by a Bush II Administration ruling prohibiting the Bureau of Land
Management from inventoring or protecting additional land areas
with wilderness characteristics.

* Enforcement actions for violations of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and federal hazardous waste laws in the first three years of the Bush II administration fell to a total of 36 compared to 152 lawsuits that the Clinton
Administration filed in its last three years.

Anonymous said...

Supreme Court appears very likely (to the extent oral arguments last week may be indicative of final decision) to invalidate attempts to curtail gerrymandering. Decision expected this summer on Arizona's redistricting commission, and if it falls as expected then so will California's.

Tony Fisk said...

Australia's preferential voting system is a big factor in preventing us from having the same levels of polarisation seen in the US.
It does need some re-tuning in the Senate elections, however. You currently have the option of voting 1 above the line (party preference, not yours), or below (1-100 if you can count). The most obvious change (allowing votes along the line by party: 1-20) is notably off the table.

The resulting 'vote whisperer' senators are turning out to be a mixed bag. The 'Social Democrat' Leyonhjelm comes across as an unstable gun nut. I initially expected 'Motoring Enthusiast' Ricky Muir to be similarly red of neck, but am being pleasantly surprised by the stance he's taken on some issues. The Palmer United Party is not that United now that Jacqui Lambie has walked out (I suspect the whole thing was intended as a wrecking ball from the start)

Jerry Emanuelson said...

I agree that the United States badly needs something like Australia's preferential voting system.

In addition to causing polarization, the U.S. system causes most voters to be more concerned about voting against someone than voting for someone. Since most people here seldom vote for anyone, it should not be surprising that they don't seem to ever like the results of their elections.

Another big problem is the Commission on Presidential Debates, an organization of the two major parties that is designed to keep all third-party candidates out of the major presidential debates (unless they are billionaires).

Daniel Duffy said...

Aside from being a corrupt, oligarchic, mafiya state whose only source of income is ever cheaper oil, Russia is demographically doomed. By 2050 there will be 50 million fewer Russians:

The shrinking population is the result of deaths outnumbering births for nearly two decades without sufficient immigration to compensate for the deficit. The increasing number of deaths reflects the persistence of comparatively high mortality. The decreasing number of births is due to the prevailing low fertility, which plummeted to 1.2 births per woman in the late 1990s and now hovers at 1.7 births per woman. That rate is still about 20 percent below 2.1 births per woman, the level necessary to ensure population replacement.
High rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, obesity, heart disease, violence, suicide and environmental pollution contribute to Russians’ poor health. Russia’s current male life expectancy at birth of 64 years is 15 years lower than male life expectancies in Germany, Italy and Sweden.

Notwithstanding a recent fertility uptick, low fertility persists due to inadequate reproductive health services, lack of modern and low-cost contraceptives, widespread and unsafe abortions, infertility, fewer women of childbearing age, changing attitudes toward marriage and voluntary childlessness. In addition, Russia’s abortion rate, estimated at two abortions for every birth, has traditionally been the highest in the world.

Russia’s aging population has placed strains on the economy that will impact numerous sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, the armed forces and retirement schemes. In the next decade, Russia's labor force is expected to shrink by more than 12 million, or around 15 percent.
The contraction of Russia’s labor force is exacerbated by low retirement ages: 60 for men and 55 for women. In certain situations, for example, hazardous occupations or unemployment, retirement ages are lower. Nevertheless, Russia’s older population does not fare well. According to a 2014 global survey of the social and economic well-being of older people, Russia ranked 65 among 96 countries.

Which will lead to political collapse:

"There will not be an uprising against Moscow, but Moscow's withering ability to support and control the Russian Federation will leave a vacuum," Stratfor warns. "What will exist in this vacuum will be the individual fragments of the Russian Federation."

Sanctions, declining oil prices, a plunging ruble, rising military expenses, and increasing internal discord will weaken the hold of Russia's central government over the world's largest country. Russia won't officially split into multiple countries, but Moscow's power may loosen to the point that Russia will effectively become a string of semi-autonomous regions that might not even get along with one another.

"We expect Moscow's authority to weaken substantially, leading to the formal and informal fragmentation of Russia" the report states, adding that "It is unlikely that the Russian Federation will survive in its current form."

Daniel Duffy said...

But China is also doomed.

Remember back in the 1980s when everyone was predicting the Japan would take over the world? Didn't happen. Why? for the same reason China is not going to take over the world: demographics.

Hard to imagine, but China is running out of people and workers. Like Japan before it, China has very poor fertility rates. Its so bad that the interior provinces are asking for a 2 baby MINIMUM policy:

The decades-old one-child policy has skewed China’s population older, as well as resulted in far more boys than girls, due to some couples seeking to make sure their only child would be male. The aging problem is weighing on China’s pension system, while the gender imbalance has made it hard for some men to find wives. As a result, Mei said in his proposal to the provincial political advisory body earlier this year, the mere relaxation of the one-child policy isn’t enough, and two-child policy should be enforced.

But it's already too late. Easing its one baby policy won't alter China's demographic collapse:

As a result of rapid declines in birth and death rates over the past four decades, China’s life expectancy at birth has increased by more than 10 years to 75 years. With steep declines in fertility and increasing longevity, China’s population has aged rapidly over the past 40 years, with the median age nearly doubling from 19 to 35 years. The adoption of the one-child policy also accelerated the decline in the proportion of China’s children, falling precipitously from 40 percent in 1970 to 18 percent today.
In contrast, the working-age population aged 15 to 64 years jumped from 56 to 73 percent, higher than the 62 percent average for more developed countries. The extraordinary age-structure transformation allowed China to benefit from the demographic dividend, a short-term productive advantage due to a large labor force relative to small numbers of dependent young and old. Throughout the past four decades, China’s potential support ratio, or working-age persons per retiree, was high, early on 14 working-age persons per retiree, and now eight, versus three per retiree in Germany, Italy and Japan and five per retiree in Australia, Canada and the United States.
Also, before the one-child policy, China’s sex ratio at birth averaged around 107 boys for every 100 girls. Ten years after the policy’s adoption, the ratio reached 115 boys for 100 girls and may exceed 125 in some provinces, reflecting the strong preference for sons, especially in rural farming areas. China’s unusually high sex ratio at birth indicates extensive use of sex-selective abortion. The number of young males unable to find brides is estimated at more than 25 million.
The critical factor determining China’s future population is the level of fertility. If China’s current fertility of about 1.6 births per woman were to remain constant, its population would peak at 1.44 billion in a dozen years and then begin declining, reaching a population of 1.33 billion by mid-century and 868 million by the century’s end

In addition, constant fertility would reduce the proportions of children and the working-age population and nearly triple the proportion of elderly to 25 percent. As a result, China’s current potential support ratio of 8.3 working-age persons per retiree would fall to 2.5 persons per retiree by mid-century. China’s fertility could also decline further, perhaps approaching low levels of Germany, Hong Kong, Italy and Japan. Further reduction in Chinese fertility to 1.3 births per woman – the low variant - would accelerate population decline, shrinking labor force and aging, with China’s population peaking at 1.40 billion by this decade’s end, then declining to 600 million by 2100. In 50 years, one-third of the population would be elderly and the potential support ratio would fall to an unprecedented 1.6 working-age persons per retiree.

Daniel Duffy said...

Only America has healthy demographics, with a total fertility rate (TFR) above the replacement level of 2.1.

Though other countries accept immigrants, America does the best job of accepting and assimilating foreigners (*)

Only America has a future.

(*) For example, unlike Europe, Muslims in America don't live in isolated, alienated communities. Hispanic immigration is a major political issue for now. The future will see the mainstreaming of Hispanics (and the doom of the GOP due to its adherence to the racist policies of the Tea party). For example,the intermarriage rate of Hispanic immigrants with native Anglos is actually higher that that of Italian or Greek immigrants a century ago.

John MacEnulty said...

Sociotard, I would submit that the examples you cite are indeed financial ones that only benefit big business

Tim H. said...

Demographics may not be destiny, Japan & China may be approaching a phase shift, with subsequent conditions to their advantage.

Larry C. Lyons said...

@ daniel duffy

According to the World Bank the US isn't doing all that great, with a TFR of 1.88.
(source World Bank).

Alex Tolley said...

The graphics on income growth unfortunately do mat match the dates of implementation of SSE. Lower income wage growth flattened in the early 1970's, but the Reagan tax cuts only happened in the 1980's, with the first big drop in rates happening during the Kennedy era in the early 1960's. chart. Academic economists have certainly not pinpointed SSE as the cause of income inequality changes, and of course we have Piketty's latest r>g formulation. It is more likely a combination of factors, including US economic performance, political undermining of unions, unrestrained executive compensation, etc, etc.

Let's be clear. Classic Keynesianism was running aground in the 1970's, which allowed Monetarism to gain a foothold in the 1980's, while Keynesiansim was developed into its modern form. SSE is indeed a broken economic model, but trying to pin the problem of income growth changes on SSE is a stretch, and probably just pointing to the wrong cause.

Laurent Weppe said...

"But China is also doomed.

Remember back in the 1980s when everyone was predicting the Japan would take over the world? Didn't happen. Why? for the same reason China is not going to take over the world: demographics.

Then again, China's most immediate problem is that its 100 million of arable hectares (half of which are already degraded) cannot sustain in the long run the Chinese population: mechanization and fertilizers can only take you so far, especially with soils degrading virtually everywhere and the global warming affecting agriculture.


"For example, unlike Europe, Muslims in America don't live in isolated, alienated communities"

Most Muslims who immigrate in the US hail from the privileged parts of their societies: it's a lot easier to integrate cosmopolitan intellectuals than downtrodden plebeians: if you want to make a comparison, compare Europe's Muslims to US' Hispanics.

sociotard said...

John MacEnulty said...

Sociotard, I would submit that the examples you cite are indeed financial ones that only benefit big business

There is a difference between Finance Industry and business finances.

Daniel Duffy said...

Larry, CIA says a TFR of 2.01.

IIRC, the 1.88 you site is for native born Americans, our immigrants (like all immigrants) tend to have larger families.

Daniel Duffy said...


As for China's degraded and poisoned environment see "Our Real China Problem"

Within seconds we saw a broad stream of bubbling water cascading out the back of the plant and down the hillside. The astringent odor of chlorine attacked our nostrils, and once we reached the stream's edge, the smell was so powerful that we immediately backed away. Below us, where the discharge emptied into the Jialin, a frothy white plume was spreading across the slow-moving river.

Fifty yards farther on we encountered a second stream, this one a mere foot wide but clogged with pineapple-sized clumps of dried orange foam. Beyond was a third creek. Its stench identified it as household sewage (workers in China's state-owned factories generally live on site or nearby), but its most extraordinary feature was its color -- as black as used motor oil. Not ten yards away a grizzled peasant in a dark-blue Mao jacket and trousers (an outfit still worn in China by the poor) bent over a tiny vegetable patch to pick some greens for his midday meal.

All this was dwarfed by what lay ahead. The vapor was what we saw first -- wispy white, it hung low in the air, like tear gas. Stepping closer, we heard the sound of gushing water. Not until we were merely footsteps away, however, could we see the source of the commotion: a vast, roaring torrent of white, easily thirty yards wide, splashing down the hillside like a waterfall of boiling milk.

Again the scent of chlorine was unmistakable, but this waterfall was much whiter than the first. Decades of unhindered discharge had left the rocks coated with a creamlike residue, creating a perversely beautiful white-on-white effect. Above us the waterfall had bent trees sideways; below, it split into five channels before pouring into the unfortunate Jialin. All this and yet the factory, as one worker had informed us, was operating at about 25 percent of capacity.

At least five of the cities with the worst air pollution in the world are in China. Sixty to 90 percent of the rainfall in Guangdong, the southern province that is the center of China's economic boom, is acid rain. Since nearly all the gasoline in China is leaded (Beijing switched to unleaded gas in June), and 80 percent of the coal isn't "washed" before being burned, people's lungs and nervous systems are bombarded by an extraordinary volume and variety of deadly poisons. One of every four deaths in China is caused by lung disease, brought about by the air pollution and the increasingly fashionable habit of cigarette smoking. Suburban sprawl and soil erosion gobbled up more than 86 million acres of farmland from 1950 to 1990 -- as much as all the farmland in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Farmland losses have continued in the 1990s, raising questions about China's ability to feed itself in years to come, especially as rising incomes lead to more meat-intensive diets.

s for American Hispanics, they are going through the same phase every immigrant group in America goes through. Over 100 years ago, my Irish ancestors wer hated by native born Americans, often reading signs stating "No Irish Need Apply".

But as Ben Wattenberg noted in his book "The First Universal Nation" that Hispanic intermarriage rates with native Anglos is actually higher than that of Italian and Greek immigrants a century ago. As we argue politically about immigration, Hispanics are quietly mainstreaming themselves throughout American society - just like my Irish ancestors.

Daniel Duffy said...

Tim, the only phase shift China and Japan are facing is an ever downward death spiral. One the demographic transition to lower than replacement birth rates occurs, its impossible to reverse the trend.

Demographics may not be a fixed destiny, but theyseverely limits political, economic and military options (from an admittedly far right commentator):

General staffs before World War I began war planning with demographic tables, calculating how many men of military age they might feed to the machine guns. France preferred an early war because its stagnant population would not produce enough soldiers a generation hence to fight Germany. Only Israel’s general staff looks at demographic tables today, to draw prospective boundaries that will enclose a future Jewish majority.

Demographics still provide vital strategic information, albeit in quite a different fashion. Today’s Islamists think like the French general staff in 1914. Islam has one generation in which to establish a global theocracy before hitting a demographic barrier. Islam has enough young men - the pool of unemployed Arabs is expected to reach 25 million by 2010 - to fight a war during the next 30 years. Because of mass migration to Western Europe, the worst of the war might be fought on European soil.

Although the Muslim birth rate today is the world’s second highest (after sub-Saharan Africa), it is falling faster than the birth rate of any other culture. By 2050, according to the latest UN projections, the population growth rate of the Muslim world will converge on that of the United States (although it will be much higher than Europe's or China's).

Falling fertility measures the growing influence of modernity upon the Muslim world. Literacy rates, especially female literacy, best explain the difference between the very high fertility rates of pre-modern society and the moderate fertility rates of industrial countries.

Urbanization + industrialization + women's rights + educating women = demographic decline.

Which is why radical Islamists hate educating girls

Daniel Duffy said...

Capitalism itself cannot survive the demographic transition to lower birth rates, graying populations and declining populations

No-growth capitalism is an oxymoron.

Economic growth is not possible with falling populations.

Alex Tolley said...

"No-growth capitalism is an oxymoron.

Economic growth is not possible with falling populations."

These 2 statements are not logically connected.

1. It is possible to have periods when growth is -ve. Those periods may be quite long as we have seen in depressions.

2. It is entirely possible to have growth with a falling population as long as per capita growth exceeds the falling population plus their productivity.

Treebeard said...

So Daniel Duffy, combining your points, it would appear that modern civilization is doomed, unless something saves it from the global demographic death spiral of women's education, industrialization, urbanization, birth control, etc. After all, where are the immigrants to the "first world" going to come from if the whole world adopts its model of progress?

It's all rather paradoxical, since if our notions of progress don't translate into long-term evolutionary success, and are in effect a form of suicide, how can it be called progress? It looks like backward Africa, on course for 4 billion people, is the real Darwinian winner here, and all those advanced societies in the first world, with their feminism, gay rights, birth control, secular education, tech companies, etc., are the big losers.

Progress means nothing if it doesn't win the struggle for life. Islam wants to win. Orthodox Jews want to win. Mormons want to win. All traditional societies have memes that win over the long term. Does modern progressivism have what it takes to win, or is it just a brief historical oddity, soon to join the long list of failed ideologies that sounded good to rationalists, but couldn't survive the reality test?

Daniel Duffy said...

Alex - but _demand_ does not increase.

How many yachts and luxury cars will people have to buy in our depopulated future to keep capitalism going?

LarryHart said...


So certain are you that the highest population "wins"? Isn't it likely that four billion sub-Saharan Africans are dooming themselves to starvation and internecine war? It's not as if that excess population gives them a military advantage over Europe or America.

Ancient religions want to "win" by having the most people because they spring from a time where having more people was a strategic advantage over one's neighbors. In an overpopulated world, it's not at all clear that the culture which consumes more than its neighbors will "win" over time--unless they get to consume their neighbors' stuff, which isn't at all obvious in your examples.

David Brin said...


Sean… why is it that laundered Macau billions are the only outward flow of cash that the Chinese authorities eagerly allow? And it winds up going straight into our elections? And you find this… implausible?

Look, I do not oppose all conspiracy theories, but the Henchman Effect is one scale for judging a CT for plausibility. Does it suit the parties’ interests, does it fit observation, do they have motive, means and opportunity…? AND do they only need a very minimal number of in-the-know henchmen for it to work without leaving any clear signs?

USE THAT STANDARD and you quickly eliminate ornate garbage like “loose change” and “UFOs.” But others start to coalesce. The Macao-Connection is so clear and simple and needing ZERO henchmen… that it’s not even interesting. It just is.

Yes Jerry. Randian/Rothbardian libertarians dominate the movement, along with LINO-saur (libertarian in name only) oligarchs. But I refuse to give up the name entirely. Smithian libertarians fret about excess regulation… but also know that some is needed to keep competition flat-open-fair.

Almost extinct, Smithian libertarians are they ones who would NEGOTIATE with liberals on how to MAXIMIZE THE NUMBER OF COMPETITORS. Those govt programs that clearly do that are less objectionable than the ones that favor narrow castes.

Sociotard. Okay. Resource Extraction. I need to put that alongside Wall Street/Banking. Though of course you were chuckling when you pointed it out.

Yes, Daniel. Russia is in terrible shape. They need immigrants to occupy Siberia, who will not immediately turn Chinese. They won’t want more Muslims. Hence they should be recruiting from among the poorest folks in Latin America, India and SE Asia and Africa.

If they had a lick of sense. Ooh. That’d make a great story!

As for China, I refuse to complain. Their limited population growth helped save the world. After we get over their development-pollution.)

Alex the first big tax cuts happened under JFK. Wasn’t called SSE.

Daniel the Chinese & Japanese will welcome robots.

As for the following: “Capitalism itself cannot survive the demographic transition to lower birth rates, graying populations and declining populations…” That is a very very simplistic view of what capitalism is. Growth can still happen via both expansion (eg into space) and via invention. Indeed even “growth” is not essential for a version of capitalism to continue its most inherent process of creative-destruction and replacement of both the means and products of production

For the first time, Treebeard has given us a cogent and actually lucid and interesting contribution! Indeed, after 250 years of great success, one has to wonder if this generation of believers in the Western Enlightenment have the guts/grit/cojones/militancy to fight for it. And win.

David Brin said...

I posted this as a comment on the previous thread. It belongs here, instead:

Oh, speaking of beta-minuses, I just received a pdf version of a "book" by a major dope who I used to know and put up with at singularity gatherings, whose tome is one long screed in favor of "neo-feudalism." a denunciation of democracy and every other enlightenment process. How does he answer the fact that 99% of human progress, science, technology, and fun has happened under the enlightenment?

"That's just a coincidence."

His core trip is that democracy etc are based upon ENFORCED COOPERATION and flattening of differences in ability among humans, creating the effect that Kurt Vonnegut well-satirized in his great story "Harrison Bergeron" and Ayn Rand, less well, in "Anthem."

This is what amazes me most about human nature. That bright fools... people who can read and who went to college etc... are capable of achieving the miracle of OPPOSITE DELUSION. That they can declare a premise and then pile acres of anecdotal "evidence" and twisted misquotations to show that black is actually white and day is actually night. What an amazing species we are!

In this case, the fellow pushed the lie that enlightenment systems are about enforced sameness and cooperation... despite the fact that they are all about MAXIMIZED EFFECTIVE COMPETITION.

Yes flattening happens... in order to eliminate the inherited-wealth CHEATING that was the main feature of all feudal societies, in which the chief aim of lords and priests was to eliminate any possibility of competition ever rising from the lower orders.

By flattening things just enough so that the sons and daughters of the elites still have to work for a living... and spending to uplift the daughters and sons of the poor so they are not trapped by nutrient deprived brains and lack of education... we MAXIMIZE THE NUMBER OF SKILLED AND COMPETENT AND READY AND CONFIDENT COMPETITORS.

This is exactly what Adam Smith called for... and the economist supposedly loved by the right, F. Hayek called for it, too!.

The world decried by Vonnegut and Rand is possible! Socialism is a plausible failure mode in which leveling goes too far and the state equalizes OUTCOMES, rather than OPPORTUNITIES. We need to be wary vs the lefty flakes who want that, and who denounce the very word "competition."

But far more dangerous are those on the other side, who pretend to love the cornucopia that competition produces, while ignoring the vast amount of regulation that keeps our competitive markets, democracy, science, courts and sports flat-open and FAIR.

No, I will not mention this fellow's name. It is enough that you have the syndrome in mind. Somethimes the "Opposite Delusion" is purposely spread by "think tanks" like AEI and Heritage and the communist party. But far more often it is the product of insipid beta-minus twits.

Ingrates who have lived their lives wallowing in comforts provided by a gentle enlightenment they despise and would tear down, on the assumption they would then be Top Dogs!

More likely someone's bitch. Even more likely. Kibble.

Alex Tolley said...

Alex the first big tax cuts happened under JFK. Wasn’t called SSE.

A tax cut is a tax cut is a tax cut, whatever the label. My point is that the main idea of SSE to reduce costs, often using tax cuts, spanned the period when income growth inequality started in the the early 1970's. SSE by name didn't really start until Reagan, in 1980. It just reduced government revenue, not spending, so we had a sort of Keynesianism deficit spending throughout the 1980's.

Pointing the finger at SSE is too simplistic.

Alex Tolley said...

"Alex - but _demand_ does not increase."

Some options:

1. Demand is not homogenous. One could remove the 50% poorest on the planet and need only increase the remaining average demand a little to compensate.

2. With a smaller population, wages would increase, increasing aggregate demand. (Needs productivity increase so that this isn't just inflationary).

3. Yes there is a finite number of yachts you can water ski behind. But what about other new products, e.g. aircraft, spacecraft? Today we consume far more that we did just 50 years ago.

4. Can we create demand, e.g. having robots consume as well?

Remember that at some point in the future, growth would hit a wall just due to the waste heat from production. Do you really believe that capitalism would just stop at that point? It will evolve, but the underlying economic principles will remain the same.

As long as the value of the output exceeds the costs of the factor inputs, capitalism can continue.

Tim H. said...

Daniel, eventually every culture will undergo the demographic transition. The first to go are likely to be at a disadvantage, but it won't last. Things are likely to get downright ugly before everyone gets there, but it's inevitable and the world needs it to happen. The great challenge of the future will be cleaning up after the age of growth.

Google Canada said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
locumranch said...

By insisting that democracy is all about 'effective competition' (the 'enlightened' type that requires rule obedience and a scrupulously 'fair & balanced' playing field) rather than 'enforced cooperation' (which, paradoxically, possesses requirements identical to & indistinguishable from that of 'enlightened' competition), we invoke a value-laden distinction as nonsensical as the classic 'glass half-full v. glass half-empty' argument, the truth being that the only difference between 'enforced conformity' and 'enlightened competition' is one of nomenclature.

Either way, the democratic process does require a fair & balanced playing field (referred to by some as 'equality') wherein no individual is thought subservient to any other, which is exactly why democracy (at home & abroad) is doomed, destined to die, killed by the very same hierarchical mentality (aka 'Progressivism' and/or the 'Blue Urban Ideal') that relegates individuality to a 'cog & gear' status destined to serve a greater mechanistic good.

And, as democracy absolutely requires the existence of effective (and/or autonomous) individuals, it remains largely incompatible with any hierarchical model that subserves the interests of any or all individuals to the interests of another (whether that 'other' represents a higher-ranked individual, group or greater good) which is exactly what our corporatized society does in spades, which is why our democracy is doomed, if it is not dead already.


Laurent Weppe said...

"For the first time, Treebeard has given us a cogent and actually lucid and interesting contribution!"

Cogent isn't a term I'd use to depict his "The plebs/foreigners are outbreeding us! Noooooooooooooooooo!!!" rehashed drivel.

Daniel Duffy said...

Tim - the demographic transition is happening everywhere now (except sub-Saharan Africa).

Are you a European worried about Muslims? Don't be, Muslim birth rates are crashing. France's birthrate is higher than Iran's. Like the French general staff before WWI the jihadists know they have only one generation to wage war on their enemies before their declining population makes it impossible to succeed due to lack of foot soldiers.

Are you an America worried about Hispanics? Don't be, Mexican birth rates are collapsing. Soon Mexico's TFR will be below replacement level. You won't have to send the Texas NG to patrol the Rio Grande because there won't be any illegals trying to cross the border anymore - and a head of lettuce will cost $20 a piece.

Worried about China taking over the world's economy? Don't be, China is about to become the world largest old age home - a home with poisoned rivers, air and soil. Top heavy with pensioners, the Chinese economy (like the Japanese economy before it) will grind to a halt.

Worried about Putin's aggressive intentions? Don't be, his Russia is a giant Potemkin village about to collapse.

Only immigrant friendly America with its relatively high birth rate has a bright economic future (Europe will muddle along).

LarryHart said...

Laurent Weppe:

Cogent isn't a term I'd use to depict his "The plebs/foreigners are outbreeding us! Noooooooooooooooooo!!!" rehashed drivel.

Comic book writer/artist Dave Sim argued exactly the same point after he became religious. Paraphrasing: "White America and Black America have capitulated to feminism and let their birth rates decline. Only Hispanic America is breeding fast enough to challenge Islam".

As if a cultural arms race in outbreeding ones neighbors is any way to live, let alone to "win".

In an overpopulated world in which tehnology devalues human labor and human foot-soldiers, how is it not self-evident that the "winners" will be societies who can stabilize their population at a point where individuals have enough plentiful resources to live in comfort without warring on their neighbors? The very idea that the way to successfully play the game is to willingly reproduce each other into the stone age is-- to quote M*A*S*H's Charles Emerson Winchester--"ab-Zurd".

LarryHart said...


which is exactly why democracy (at home & abroad) is doomed, destined to die, killed by the very same hierarchical mentality (aka 'Progressivism' and/or the 'Blue Urban Ideal') that relegates individuality to a 'cog & gear' status destined to serve a greater mechanistic good.

Again--I can't fathom where you get this notion that enforced conformity is a progressive ideal. The social conservatives are the ones who insist upon it. It's not even like a hidden agenda or anything. It might as well be in their mission statement.

Are you one of those people who votes for Republicans in order to defeat the "progressive corporate agenda", and then wonders how those "progressive" corporate policies keep winning? You might want to re-examine your premises.

And, as democracy absolutely requires the existence of effective (and/or autonomous) individuals, it remains largely incompatible with any hierarchical model that subserves the interests of any or all individuals to the interests of another (whether that 'other' represents a higher-ranked individual, group or greater good) which is exactly what our corporatized society does in spades, which is why our democracy is doomed, if it is not dead already.

Not sure which side you're arguing on here, but it sounds as if you're saying corporate power is winning against democracy in a war between them. Which I'd agree with. Except for the part about the winning side being "progressives".

Paul451 said...

An observation: If someone new came into the thread with that many CAPITALISED words, you'd probably delete their posts without reading. It fails the "green pen" test.

Re: Resource/enviro deregulation.

Good answer to the specific challenge. But I'll suggest that to be comparable to some of the things David ascribes to the Dems, or at least to be consistent with their rhetoric, the Republican party would have needed to either dismantle - or at least defund - the EPA, and overturn any Federal environmental protection laws. Completely turn environmental regulation "back to the States and the Counties, where it belongs".

Tony Fisk,
Re: Aust Senate,
"The 'Social Democrat' Leyonhjelm comes across as an unstable gun nut. I initially expected 'Motoring Enthusiast' Ricky Muir to be similarly red of neck, but am being pleasantly surprised by the stance he's taken on some issues."

I suspect you're not the only one surprised about Muir. His own state branch of the Motoring Enthusiast party first voted to ban unapproved members from contacting him, then voted to expel him, then voted to disband itself; similarly he's sacked every single one of his initial party-appointed staff.

Someone didn't get the toy they were expecting.

The "vote whispering" trick seems to have been evolved by a group of white supremacists who aggregated around the issue-du-jour "Sporting Shooters" parties that sprung up after the 1996 gun reforms. After the initial enthusiasm faded, they couldn't get traction in their own right, neither as "Australia First" white supremacists nor as "Sporting Shooters", but realised that every one-issue party typically attracted 500-1000 votes from people who didn't know better. Shooting, fishing, driving, population, immigration, "social democrat", a specific green issue, a specific left-wing issue, a specific right-wing issue, a specific one-state issue... etc etc. So they flooded the ballot in each state with their one-man-parties, then glommed onto whoever got enough votes to trickle to the top of the preference stack.

But just occasionally, in spite of the best laid schemes of mice and men, Mr Smith goes to Washington.

- Paul (who is eating a toasted Bega and Vegemite sandwich and feeling very Australian.)

Paul451 said...

Jerry Emanuelson,
"I agree that the United States badly needs something like Australia's preferential voting system."

I'm sure the current Supreme Court will declare it unconstitutional {handwaves} somehow.

"Supreme Court appears very likely (to the extent oral arguments last week may be indicative of final decision) to invalidate attempts to curtail gerrymandering. Decision expected this summer on Arizona's redistricting commission, and if it falls as expected then so will California's."

And that is why people need to vote Dem at the Presidential and Senate levels. Nothing else matters. Vote green, independent, libertarian, even Republican, whatever you want at every other level, but the Senate and Presidential races are coming down to a vote for or against democracy itself, depending not on who gets into to the Whitehouse, but purely on which party's gets in.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the next Justice likely to die or retire, so at least one more term is required merely to keep the current 5/4-against pattern. To flip it completely requires at least two terms, maybe three. And even then it's as fragile as 5/4 has been for the monied Right.

Whereas a Republican President, regardless of who controls the Senate, will turn 5/4 into 6/3 after RBG dies/retires. That cements their control over the court for at least a decade, maybe two. It also means that it no longer matters if a single Rep-appointee flips away from the dark-side on a single issue. The Right will still get every decision they want, not just most.

Paul451 said...

Daniel Duffy,
Re: Chinese demographics.

Unlike Russia, the Chinese people are much more likely to go along with government policies (no matter how 180-degrees from previous policies) if they believe it's for the good of China. I suspect they'll figure out a balance.

For example:
"Also, before the one-child policy, China's sex ratio at birth averaged around 107 boys for every 100 girls. Ten years after the policy's adoption, the ratio reached 115 boys for 100 girls and may exceed 125 in some provinces, reflecting the strong preference for sons, especially in rural farming areas."

The government modified the policy in 2007 to allow two children if the first child was a girl. (I'm surprised it took so long.) I'd suggest dropping the one-child policy for girls entirely as a next step. Tax changes for people over a certain age with above or below "optimal" sized families would logically follow. Tweaking and changing to find and maintain their "2.1". (Another example: in spite of the dominance of the Han, and seemingly an active policy of "colonisation" in ethnic areas by Han Chinese, China has nonetheless exempted ethnic minorities from the One Child Policy. It only applies to the dominant faction, it's not an "outbreed the enemy" policy. That's stunningly rare.)

IMO, China's demographic "crisis" is no worse than the US baby boomers. It'll work itself through, they'll figure it out. The same will be true of the environmental catastrophe. There'll be a long legacy, but when they decide to fix it, the cultural change will be rapid.

OTOH, Russia's demographic and economic problems seem more fundamental and intractable. And when leaders whose popularity is macho-based propose technocratic solutions, they look weak.

Re: Demographics and progress.

Yeah, but then they come to the West and we steal their children. And we project our culture out there, and we steal many of their children even if they don't come here.

Want to see how lop-sided is the theft? It's so rare for people to go the other way that when we lose a few dozen or a couple of hundred of their children from here back to them, we act like the world is coming to an end.

"Does modern progressivism have what it takes to win"

Daniel answered your question: "The pool of unemployed Arabs is expected to reach 25 million by 2010."

Population growth without progress leads to resource exhaustion, unemployment, poverty. But if they educate their population sufficiently to modernise, the rest of modernity follows.

David Brin said...

Hey, it's my party and I'll ALLCAPS if I want to ;-)

And don't sweat locum's strawman of "progressives." You haven't learned yet that he does that? Fellow has his very own cast of characters.

But here's a challenge. Hey! Locumranch! What are you FOR?

We'd all love to see your plan.

Treebe said...

Daniel Duffy:

Yes, but the U.S. now has sub-replacement birthrates, so you’re sort of arguing against yourself aren’t you? Parasitizing more fecund cultures works for a while, but it’s a bit strange to make demographic arguments when your own society is has joined modernity’s demographic dance of death.

Also, on the issue of Russia, their birthrates have gone up considerably since the nadir in the 90s, and their leaders are well aware of the problem. Instead of promoting shallow, ridiculous campaigns to have more sex like they do in Singapore and Denmark, they seem to grasp that the most proven way to increase birthrates is to promote (gasp!) *religion* and *family values*. Hence Putin’s embrace of the Orthodox patriarch and his attempt to return Russian to its Christian roots.

Westerners are always predicting Russian doom, yet their society has survived far worse adversity than ours ever has in living memory, and they’re still alive and kicking. So I wouldn’t worry about the Russians -- they’re tough, resilient people and survivors. I lived among them for a while in fact, and they sometimes asked me why Americans were so “dainty” – LOL. It’s modern America – which has had a great run but is unsustainable on every level -- whose long-term survival you should be worried about.

sociotard said...

Justina Robson: Women give science fiction a chance

David Brin said...

Is "Treebe" the saner "Treebeard"? Just as snarky but making a good point. The Russians' expertise is, indeed, endurance. And to whow that I already knew this, I present here that last few paragraphs of one of my published stories called "The Logs."

The Yankees would never learn. Fooled by their brief, naive time of childishly unlimited dreams, they believed deep-down in happy endings and the triumph of good. They would keep rebelling till the Coss left no Americans alive.
We Russians are different. Our expertise? We persist. Resist! But with measured, cynical care. And each defeat is simply preparation.
That truth, I had already known. Only now it filled my soul.
We are the people who know how. To outlast the Coss.
And so I took my mother by the hand, leading her to the place that I had found, where Cyrillic letters lay deep-incised along the bared trunk of a crystal tree. And I watched her face bloom with sudden hope, with sunlit joy. And I knew, at last, what lesson this place taught.
To endure.

Do I understand them? Sure. What's not to understand? Still, do you actually, actually think they stand a chance of holding onto Siberia?


Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

Maybe economic growth can happen in static or declining populations by increasing the energy supply. Needless to say we are in the midst of technological conundrums regarding that equation!
But an extra thousand quads a year of photovoltaics might help.

Jumper said...

If the Kochs can buy Canada and not humiliate the populace by doing something so crass as to change the name, surely Chinese can colonize Siberia and maintain whatever facade is needed to go along.

Laurent Weppe said...

"If the Kochs can buy Canada and not humiliate the populace by doing something so crass as to change the name, surely Chinese can colonize Siberia and maintain whatever facade is needed to go along."

Or maybe the denizens of Siberia will simply tell themselves "Hey, remember when we were a superpower in our own right and not somebody else's province?" and tell their neighbours -which are both already suffering from bad cases of imperial overreach- to go screw themselves.

locumranch said...

Progressive Idealism (and/or progressivism) has tainted every aspect of the US Political system: The progressive liberal attempts to legislate for a desired future; the progressive conservative attempts to legislate for a desired past; and, in their (deluded) attempts to do so, both progressive extremes neglect the realities of the present, forgetting that the past is past & the future is yet to arrive.

It is this 'neglect of the present' -- this disdain for empiric reality -- that condemns the progressive mentality as delusional, and it is just this type of delusion that has exacerbated our current crisis of severe bipartisanship as both of these progressive subtypes are driven toward opposing ideals.

That said, it is important to acknowledge that the classical definitions of conservatism (a resistance to change) and liberalism (a preference for change) have ceased to exist in our modern political environment (both were killed off by our conception of CQI) yet, assuming they still existed in their original forms, then David would probably classify me as a Liberal (assuming that the term 'liberal' still meant one who favoured change).


Indeed, the Democalypse (of all types) is quite real & coming soon: Type 1 democalypse is that of income inequality which the haves attempt to enslave the have-nots; Type2 democalypse is that of meritocratic hierarchy as our intelligentsia attempt to consolidate their authority; and Type3 democalypse is that of senility as a preponderance of our elderly attempt to enslave the young for personal benefit.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I'm gone for a few days and there's quite the buzz here. I found the discussions of demographics mostly the typical stuff. We have, on the one hand, the Medieval notion that populations must grow for a society to be healthy, while a few more sensibly take the Erhlich view, that excessive population results in demographic catastrophe. While Erhlich's idea dates back only to the 1960's, it is based in actual science rather than mere assumption. Every other species on Earth flirts with extinction if its fecundity exceeds its available resources. Humans have suffered demographic collapses as well, but humans have the unique ability to raise K through technological advancement. First agriculture, then transportation, industrial agriculture and now genetic engineering have allowed the human population to any other animal of its size.

But this is a big if: we do not really know what the world's ultimate carrying capacity is, nor do we yet know if we can escape this one world.

The "traditionalists" would have us continue following the R strategy, playing chicken with the habitability of the planet. Make sure if we are going to talk demographics that we understand the basics. In the R strategy, a species produces huge numbers of offspring, expecting that few will live for long. Such species tend to be small, short-lived and lack intelligence, and there is little parental investment in the survival of offspring. The K strategy is the opposite: few offspring but with great parental investment, large size, longer life spans and intelligence.

The "traditionalists" want us all to follow the R strategy, and cast dire warnings about declining birth rates as if they spell doom for all humanity.

In human terms, R strategy correlates with slavery, wide-spread poverty and vast human misery, though it tends to support a very small but smugly comfortable wealthy elite.

If we look at the trends in human populations around the world, what we see looks a lot like what happens to other species when they approach K. There are typically fluctuations - in some places it goes up for awhile, in others it goes down. This can go one for a number of generations before the population settles into a "new normal." What that new regime will be depends on a lot of things. With many species it goes into logistic growth, which means it pretty much stays at about the same level, switching to a K strategy. Others suffer a demographic crash that destroys a majority of the population, then they return to the R strategy and experience exponential growth all over again (this cycle was described in Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle's old novel "The Mote in God's Eye.) Most species just go extinct.

Humans are not above the laws of nature, but we have found ways of side-stepping them in the perpetual dance with extinction. We are a young species. Maybe the future for us is to repeat our technological breakthroughs, allowing us to continue to grow exponentially into the distant future (what some call the Star Trek option). But we are already showing signs of a logistic growth pattern setting in. Maybe this is only a temporary fluctuation. Either way, the future is too uncertain to take anyone's pontifications too seriously.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Larry, I entirely agree with you and your motives in arguing with loci, but I also agree with Dr. Brin that there is a measure of futility here. I also see the parallel you draw to Dave Sim. The scene at the end of "The Last Day" with the Papal palace surrounded by soldiers and barbed wire, while the city around looked like the ugliest LA ghetto is clearly this guy's vision. But he is a force of pure ethnocentrism. This is Anth 101 stuff: He assumes that the customs and superstructures of his one little tribe (however he chooses to define it - Red rural America is who he claims to speak for) represents human nature, and that any deviation from his tribal assumptions represent a corruption of that nature, and a threat to be feared. Anthropologists refer to this process as "naturalization" - a very different meaning than how the word is used elsewhere. Some people see the amazing diversity of human life and rejoice in our native cleverness, others see only hate and fear. Still others are entirely ignorant that diversity exists, and are flabbergasted should they ever encounter it.

Remember the rule about bullies.

Paul 451, my first reaction seeing a lot of all caps in text is to assume that the writer is a hothead, but given some of the drivel that swills in these waters at times, I can understand the frustration. Some of these kids are worse than my Freshmen!

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Ah, in my zeal to lecture about demography, I forgot to bring up points in the discussion that I thought were interesting. It makes me seem rather curmudgeonly...

It seems to me that free trade, or some form of it that may or may not quite fit the definition of capitalism, and democracy are both capable of functioning in a state of declining population (though once again, the declines we are seeing may only be fluctuations around the carrying capacity, not actual, sustained declines). Democracy began in the small city-states of Ionia, and the tradition was carried on in such locales as the small Medieval cantons of Switzerland. Likewise through much of history taxation was just about the only interference in regular business that government institutions engaged in. Local, temporary fluctuations in population did not bring either to a crashing halt. Massive depopulation has had this effect, but massive depopulation is generally a result of substantially exceeding K, not reducing your population to a point below K (but above zero). If population gets low enough to seriously damage the economy and democracy, money and governance will be among our least worries.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Daniel said

"Only immigrant friendly America with its relatively high birth rate has a bright economic future (Europe will muddle along)"

I would counter that Japan is showing the way
Japan has had low growth for decades,
Japan has "worsening" demographics

But what is it like to live in Japan??

As far as I can see life is better for the current Japanese than it was before
Life gets better
Technology advances

I would have said that was a brighter future than in the USA where life for the working man has gone from the best in the world (1970) to probably the worst in the first world

Alfred Differ said...

I doubt Siberia will fall before Russian access to the Caspian falls. Defense of Siberia isn't cheap for anyone, but Russia is better prepared for the task. When Russia can no longer afford it, they will lose Siberia. That should happen right after they lose access to Caspian region oil. We are less than a generation away from this, so it would be silly for China to fight for it when they can simply wait. No one will challenge them if they are patient.

Lettuce won't go to $20 per head. That's just silliness. All through US history, we have had a chronic shortness of labor. We dealt with it either by industrializing or by importing labor. When immigrants no longer pour across our southern border, we will either import them from farther away or automate more processes. It is most likely that we will do both. The current social stigma associated with immigration from the south will get crushed about a generation from now when we realize we have to start paying them to get them here. That will be a much easier political sale than $20 lettuce. The cultural forces for this future are all ready well in play. Half my siblings married across the cultural border.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Paul451, you may very well be right that the Supreme Court might strike down a voting system like the Australian preferential voting system. As a friend once said to me, "The U.S. Constitution isn't perfect, but it's a lot better than what we have now." The Supreme Court can do anything, no matter how ridiculous.

I remain optimistic, though. I live in Colorado, where thousands of people commit a serious federal felony every day in marijuana shops throughout the state. So far, the federal government hasn't rounded up tens of thousands of my fellow citizens and hauled them off to spend decades in prison. In fact, as of a year ago, 700 families from other states had sacrificed everything else to pack up and move to Colorado to provide a marijuana derivative for their children in order to save their lives.

Even though I'm an older Baby Boomer, I've never used marijuana at all; but I believe that it is of extreme importance to keep it legal.

A preferential voting system would be safest if it were put into the State Constitution of an individual state. That's how Colorado did Amendment 64.

I don't know about its legal status; but from a public relations viewpoint, it just seems more ridiculous to try to declare a State Constitution to be unconstitutional. Even Supreme Court justices don't like looking silly.

locumranch said...

It seems that I have to spell things out for Larry_H, Paul_SB & the other purblind idealists out there:

Enforced Conformity equals Enlightened Competition. They are different ways of saying the same thing, neither quality being exclusive property of the conservative or the liberal-progressive.

Likewise, Progressivism is neither exclusively liberal nor conservative because progressivism itself is a function of extreme idealization rather than moderation or reality, meaning that the conservative-progressive is just as delusional as the liberal-progressive.


David Brin said...

Paul, when did Locum claim to represent any particular part of the spectrum? He is entirely off-axis (and I like that!) but in twilight zone directions where he gets to "define" what classic liberalism means according to his strawman needs of the moment.

Notice, no challenge will ever get him to propose what HE wants, in specific detail. What he believes would be a better world and how to get there.

Paul, we may be unique in that we reached sapience as a species compelled by evolution to have sex... but able to choose to limit reproduction. And empowered women choose to do that. Yes, it cannot last. Those who feel compelled to have ten with swamp the rest, in time. We must build a fully sapient startrekkian society before that.

Alfred Differ said...

California's same-sex marriage restriction was an amendment to the State Constitution too. That didn't protect it. It might have been safer if CA's legislative branch had been involved in enacting it and CA's executive branch had been involved in defending it, but it was still a duly voted upon amendment.

If our redistricting rules go down, it will be over the perception that they limit the free speech rights of a minority to organize their party and party elections (primaries) as they see fit. I would disagree with such a decision on 9th amendment grounds due to the fact that The People voted upon this change, but that might not be good enough. We may need a full amendment to the US Constitution to pull this off.

David Brin said...

"Enforced Conformity equals Enlightened Competition."

Eeep! He just gets better and better!

Duncan Cairncross said...

After reading the Methods of Rationality
I was - disappointed -
Not with the final chapters so much as about the last third

It seemed to me that after writing some really funny and interesting stuff he realized that he had no plan or plot to bring it all together
So the various loose threads were inelegantly bundled together
and tied off

overall very good - but disappointing

Laurent Weppe said...

"We have, on the one hand, the Medieval notion that populations must grow for a society to be healthy"

You mean: the medieval notion that plebs are basically bipedal draft animals and that the most powerful rulers are bound to dominate the Earth by virtue of having the highest number of indigent lackeys to throw at their rivals"


"In human terms, R strategy correlates with slavery, wide-spread poverty and vast human misery, though it tends to support a very small but smugly comfortable wealthy elite."

Let's not be cute and euphemistical here: what you call "R strategy" is nothing more than the most parasitic system we ever designed, where whole societies' sole "raison d'être" is to provide for the material comforts of the lordly class at the expense of everyone else.

This blog's host is fond of his little pet hypothesis that such parasitic system presents darwinian advantages, because hey! Lords can molest with impunity their housemaids and therefore spawn tons of little bastards and allow their genes to carry on; but frankly, given such societies' propensity to produce inbred morons and intellectually slothful bullies who end up being put in charge, it looks much more like a civilizational and evolutionary dead end than anything else.


"Remember the rule about bullies."

Which one? Bullies actually have a rather extensive list of rules to follow if they want to remain prosperous brutish parasites, among which:
Never acknowledging that they are, in fact, bullies (otherwise pride overloads fear and the lackeys revolt)
Maintain complex signaling games in order to select compliant minions
Keep their inner circle satisfied without giving them too much (otherwise the plunder of resources by the aristocracy becomes so massive that the proles start to starve and lose any and all incentive to remain submissive)
Remain sufficiently knowledgeable about the surrounding world so they don't end up accidentally taunting someone stronger than themselves
Never start to believe their own self-justifying bullshit and remain keenly aware of the intrinsic instability of their regime

So far, no bully has been able to durably follow their own survival rule book: the best thing they've been able to do is to establish a precarious condominium between their dynasties and humane public servants, and even these always end up collapsing either because the public servants become fed up by their lords' uselessness, because said public servants themselves get perverted and become the cadet branch of the corrupt aristocracy, or simply because maintaining the lords' lifestyle becomes so costly that even with competent administrators, society cannot provide for its lords and feed its population at the same time.

Jumper said...

Just some vague general thoughts: Libertarians tend to ally themselves with every form of tax cheat and tax protester that exists. This strategy is problematical.
We may tend to see empires and feudalism as run by men. They are established by men but function by way of men and women.

reason said...

"Socialism is a plausible failure mode in which leveling goes too far and the state equalizes OUTCOMES, rather than OPPORTUNITIES"

Sorry must disagree:

But yes leveling can go too far, but ignoring equality of outcome is not a good solution either. We need both incentives and social solidarity.

reason said...

We also need to foster BOTH co-operation and competition.

reason said...

Daniel Duffy,
seems like you are the reverse image of Malthus. Sorry, I don't buy it. Rapid population is a far greater threat than population decline.

Daniel Duffy said...

reason - Oh I agree. Compared to overpopulation turning the world into a real live version of "Soylent Green", economic collapse is a day at the beach. If given a choice, I would pick the latter.

My point is that capitalism can't function in a world of declining populations top heavy with elderly pensioners and an ever shrinking labopr pool and consumer market. Neither can any nation in such a condition aspire to Great Power status.

So none of those threats we worry about, from China taking over the world to illegal immigrants taking over America are demographically credible.

Daniel Duffy said...

Dr. Brin - "The Logs" sounds like an interesting short story, but you are greatly mistaken if you think the Russians are some sort of tough, if cynical, group of survivors who can endure any hardship.

They are well past the point of mere cynicsim and have achieved a state of abject corruption and delusion. Russia is sick and cannot be cured:

n Russia, “corrupt” is not an adjective. Corrupt is a noun, a proper noun, the word for the name and nature of the place. Corrupt crony capitalism is familiar everywhere. But in Russia the corruption is so pervasive that even the cronies have to pay bribes, not just to the higher-ups but to the lower-downs.

Pomerantsev tells the story of Yana Yakovleva, a businesswoman who imported chemicals to make cleaning supplies. She spent seven months in prison because chemicals to make cleaning supplies were suddenly declared “an illegal narcotic substance.” Usually this kind of abrupt, arbitrary arrest has to do with competitors bribing legislators in order to abscond with someone’s business. Usually the solution is to bribe judges.

In Russia, small-town girls go to the big city and get ruined, but that’s what they’re trying to do. Really trying. They go to school for it. If a girl with potential studies hard, “she earns the basic Moscow mistress rate: the apartment, $4,000 a month, a car, and a weeklong holiday in Turkey or Egypt twice a year.” In return, she’s available to her “sponsor,” as he’s called, any time, any day.

In the first ten years after the collapse of the USSR, Russian population fell by about six and a half million. It is rebounding slightly now but only because of high birth rates in Muslim ethnic regions like Chechnya and Dagestan and immigration from former Soviet republics in Central Asia. These are not places Russia wants its Russians to come from.

Russia’s mortality rate is horrific. According to 2012 World Health Organization statistics, a fifteen-year-old Russian male has a life expectancy that’s three years less than a fifteen-year-old Haitian boy’s. The life expectancy of a fifteen-year-old Russian female is sixty-one, three years less than in Cambodia.

Russians die from cardiovascular disease and from accidents, murder, and suicide. They smoke, they drink, they despair. Russia’s great wealth is based on extraction of oil and gas. Even so, the value of Russia’s exports in 2013 barely exceeded Belgium’s. And energy prices are falling.

Daniel Duffy said...

Dr. Brin - "As for China, I refuse to complain. Their limited population growth helped save the world. After we get over their development-pollution.)... Daniel the Chinese & Japanese will welcome robots."

There won't be a China to welcome anything. Chinese history has always been a long cycle between a strong central state alternating with period of dominance by regional warlords. And their central state is breaking down:

First, China’s economic elites have one foot out the door, and they are ready to flee en masse if the system really begins to crumble. In 2014, Shanghai’s Hurun Research Institute, which studies China’s wealthy, found that 64% of the “high net worth individuals” whom it polled—393 millionaires and billionaires—were either emigrating or planning to do so. Rich Chinese are sending their children to study abroad in record numbers (in itself, an indictment of the quality of the Chinese higher-education system).

Second, since taking office in 2012, Mr. Xi has greatly intensified the political repression that has blanketed China since 2009. The targets include the press, social media, film, arts and literature, religious groups, the Internet, intellectuals, Tibetans and Uighurs, dissidents, lawyers, NGOs, university students and textbooks. The Central Committee sent a draconian order known as Document No. 9 down through the party hierarchy in 2013, ordering all units to ferret out any seeming endorsement of the West’s “universal values”—including constitutional democracy, civil society, a free press and neoliberal economics. A more secure and confident government would not institute such a severe crackdown. It is a symptom of the party leadership’s deep anxiety and insecurity

Third, even many regime loyalists are just going through the motions. It is hard to miss the theater of false pretense that has permeated the Chinese body politic for the past few years. Last summer, I was one of a handful of foreigners (and the only American) who attended a conference about the “China Dream,” Mr. Xi’s signature concept, at a party-affiliated think tank in Beijing. We sat through two days of mind-numbing, nonstop presentations by two dozen party scholars—but their faces were frozen, their body language was wooden, and their boredom was palpable. They feigned compliance with the party and their leader’s latest mantra. But it was evident that the propaganda had lost its power, and the emperor had no clothes.

Fourth, the corruption that riddles the party-state and the military also pervades Chinese society as a whole. Mr. Xi’s anticorruption campaign is more sustained and severe than any previous one, but no campaign can eliminate the problem. It is stubbornly rooted in the single-party system, patron-client networks, an economy utterly lacking in transparency, a state-controlled media and the absence of the rule of law.

Finally, China’s economy—for all the Western views of it as an unstoppable juggernaut—is stuck in a series of systemic traps from which there is no easy exit. In November 2013, Mr. Xi presided over the party’s Third Plenum, which unveiled a huge package of proposed economic reforms, but so far, they are sputtering on the launchpad. Yes, consumer spending has been rising, red tape has been reduced, and some fiscal reforms have been introduced, but overall, Mr. Xi’s ambitious goals have been stillborn. The reform package challenges powerful, deeply entrenched interest groups—such as state-owned enterprises and local party cadres—and they are plainly blocking its implementation.
If Russia is breathing its last, China is a deadman walking

matthew said...

Another example of Deregulation from the Right - Education.

What are Charter Schools, if not deregulated Public Schools? What is the insistence on public financing for religion schools if not "Pay my chosen teacher to teach my chosen myth as reality?" What was opening up federal financial aid so that it can pay for an (bad) education at a for-profit "university?"

Are those examples of deregulation? Anyone want to CITOKATE this? I'm not sure if this fits David's definition of "deregulation..."

David Brin said...

Reason, the great hypocrisy of neo-feudalists is that they look at our modern, enlightenment methods of regulating competition as somehow REDUCING competition, overall. And increasing conformity.

This is so beyond staggering-stupid as to beggar the imagination we create such people and they can speak.

Across, 6000 years of recorded human history, the feudal cultures that reigned supreme repressed competition to the lowest levels they could possibly manage. It was the central obsession. What little competition that did take place was always toward the goal of eliminating it.

Knightly tournaments sublimated competitive drives while training cadres to both squelch lower classes and crush the nearby (competitive) barony.

The propaganda machinery of church and state and drama all preached resignation and acceptance.

To look at today's vibrant markets, science etc and not see the bubbling boil of competitive creativity, as many order of magnitude more vibrant than ALL past cultures put together... is a manifestation of willful delusion that rises to genius level.

To see this individual-centered culture, overflowing with egotistical messages emphasizing the central value of eccentricity, diversity, tolerance, otherness... as somehow repressive of those traits... is - in contrast - boringly to be expected. Since Self-Righteous Indignation is also preached steadily. A turgidly predictable resentment of "conformist society" that (ironically) allows you to amplify your self-image as an eccentric individualist!

So yes, it does come full circle and the towering levels of self-congratulatory-cynical "I am the lone individualist among sheep!" preening are easily explained.

Alphas should be able to rise up past the blatant honey-pot and see all this. To look in a mirror and say "Okay, I admit I am a product of propaganda and so are all my values. Now let's start re-examining and looking past my temptation to preen."

Alas, we are mostly reflexive betas. Indeed, were I to rewrite BRAVE NEW WORLD, the "savage" would not come from some isolated-primitive tribe.

He'd be a 25 year-old follower of Ayn Rand. The result would be the same.

Daniel Duffy said...

Dr. Brin - "Daniel the Chinese & Japanese will welcome robots"

It won't do Japan any good:

First we look at the labor force trend by briefly summarizing prospective population movements in the future as assumptions. Results of the 2010 population census (preliminary report) show that Japan’s total population was 128.06 million. According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, this will fall to below the 100-million level in 2055, to 97.78 million (given the case of a high birthrate and medium-level mortality). Looking at the age structure of the population in 2055, the ratio of people 65 and older will have reached as high as 37.3% (compared to 23.1% in 2010). Moreover, the core working age population aged 15-64 will have declined to 50.73 million (compared to 81.52 million in 2010).

The labor force peaked in 1998, at 67.98 million, and stood at 65.90 million in 2010. As a forecast, the Employment Policy Study Meeting under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare published estimates in its report made public in 2007. According to its estimates, if more women and older people participate in the labor force, it will be 61.8 million in 2030. On the other hand, if these groups stay at their current levels, this will decrease to 55.84 million. In this latter case, approximately 10 million workers are assumed to disappear over the next twenty years. In terms of supply, this would significantly affect the Japanese economy. Looking further into the future, if the rate obtained by using the population of ages 15-64 as the denominator and the labor force as the numerator is constant, the labor force in 2055 when the population is assumed to be as low as 50.73 million may drop significantly, to around 41.00 million; lower than two-thirds of the current level.

It is of course possible to offset part of a decline in the aggregate labor force with improvements in individual productivity. However, a labor force decline by two-thirds of its current level would render a 50% raise in productivity extremely difficult. As one would expect, political measures are needed to compensate for the declining labor force.

It would take near magic wand levels of automation and robotics to compensate for Japan's delcining population AND increase prodcutivity so the that the current tax burden on individual workers to take care of the elderly remains constant in real terms.

Not going to hapen.

sociotard said...

Oh, here's a legitimate example of Republicans at least trying to deregulate an industry: Taxis.

Democrats put lots of regulations on taxis that regular drivers don't face (have to be licensed to do it, have to reduce emissions, have to be accessible to disabled people etc)

Modern 'crowdsourcing' programs make that problematic. So conservatives are pushing to deregulate.

raito said...

Preferential voting? All that's going to do is to possibly lessen the lesser of two evils.

Personally, I'd like to see 'none of the above' on each and every race. And if None wins, the election is re-done, with none of the previous candidates allowed.

Under ideal circumstances, this would allow the people to say, in effect, "Give us someone worth voting for, and we'll vote for that person."

But there's ways in which it probably wouldn't work.

As for capitalism, I have this idea (not well fleshed out) that it sort of stops working once communication and transportation become commoditized, because the barriers to entry go up way too high, and you don't get new players in the market. Existing players have the advantange.

Laurent Weppe said...

"What are Charter Schools, if not deregulated Public Schools?"

These are not deregulated Public Schools: these are deliberately sabotaged Public Schools. Not the same thing.

Duncan Cairncross said...


You continue to drip on about how the poor Japanese are dying on the vine
Without answering my point
It does not matter if various economic markers are not going the way you want
What matters is what is happening to the people
And in Japan the trend is good
Life is getting better - despite decades of poor growth

As opposed to your shining example (the USA) where life is getting worse

Duncan Cairncross said...

You say that a 50% improvement in productivity in Japan over 40 years is impossible

But over the last 40 years in the past the USA productivity rate has more than doubled

Alfred Differ said...


I'm not convinced that magic wand you poo-poo isn't already here. It's called automation and I think you are underestimating what it is doing to us all. The Chinese might indeed suffer, but the Japanese are more homogeneous and inclined to rally to each other. Considering recent history, I think the Chinese are still better off doing as they have done, though. When I was young they were starving. Literally.

Alfred Differ said...

Laurent Weppe,

David's pet hypothesis doesn't need the whole tree of descendants to prosper. Only a few of them have to do well for the genetic feature to propagate. The rest of them can implode in spectacular ways. 8)

Far too many of us can trace our ancestry to some bastard line of a noble family for me to discount the hypothesis lightly.

Far too many of us know the difference between a criminal and a noble is how their parents were perceived by a previous generation of nobles for me to discount the hypothesis lightly.

When people speak of their ancestors and ask me if I have any high-born g'gparents in my tree, I usually smirk and refer to some of them as pre-nobles. I'm pretty sure one of them was out and about doing what our host describes in his hypothesis, but without the benefit of a title and land. 8)

matthew said...

@ Laurent,
Yes, but the public schools are being deliberately sabotaged *by* the deregulation and push toward non-union schools that can teach myth.

The same as the financial system is being deliberately sabotaged by deregulation, or our environment is being deliberately sabotaged by the resource extraction industries...

Alfred Differ said...


Lots of us practically equation taxation with sanctioned theft. That's what brings about the alliance with tax cheats and protestors. Besides our natural affinity for underdogs, many of us will point out that it's hard to morally fault someone for cheating a system that cheats them.

My position on this is just soft enough that I'll admit that 90%+ public support of a particular tax should be enough for me to recognize the moral rightness of my neighbors in the face of my own opposition to a tax. Only a hard-hearted zealot maintains opposition beyond that point. In exchange for this moral flexibility, though, I want the tax sunsetted if its support falls to 80%-. 8)

Alfred Differ said...


I think you might have part of the picture regarding Chinese money flight, but I think it is probably a small part of it. I think it more likely that many are simply getting their money out of reach for when the Chinese financial system implodes from all the bad debts. This has been predicted for awhile, so I figure what part of it IS going into politics is probably focused on helping to get the rest of it out. 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

So I can come over, cut your throat and take all your money?

I'm sure I can get 20% of voters to allow me to do that

After all more than 20% of Americans believe that the earth is less than 6000 years old

Taxation is not "sanctioned theft" it's your dues for a civilized society

locumranch said...

When taken to an extreme, strict morality and total corruption are functionally identical constructs as both require behavioral conformity, exhibit formalised regulation & rule obedience, and share rather mutualistic goals.

Similarly, the difference between enforced conformity and regulated competition is likewise arbitrary, the main distinction being one of intent (a theoretic justification) rather than one of practice and/or methodology.

The propaganda machinery of church and state and drama all (have always) preached resignation and acceptance, and they still do, with the express purpose of regulating (as in 'limiting' and/or 'reducing') competition in an effort to enhance conformity & rule obedience.

To see this principle played out in topical fashion, look no further than the trending OU racist frat video scandal which led to that organisation's summary destruction for racially intolerant speech, the unpopular expression of which 'cannot be tolerated under any circumstance', leading to tyrannical censorship (the abolition of free speech) as justified by the most noble of intents (to abolish racism), an action indistinguishable from the Old Soviet practice of methodical suppression of undesirable speech.**

And, yes, in this sense, taxation can be viewed as sanctioned theft, especially if that tax is exacted without express consent or (even the pretense of) representation.

** Please note that the above example is not meant to imply that I approve of racism or racist speech -- I must certainly do NOT -- it is merely offered as an example of how the 'enforced conformity' of suppressive methodology remains suppressive irregardless of its theoretical intent or justification.

Randall Winn said...

locum - Are you seriously unable to distinguish Soviet speech suppression from campus speech codes?

Residents of the USSR were not allowed to leave; they had no choice but to endure the suppression or the often-lethal consequences.

In contrast, college students have options. They are free to go; they are free to accept the less-than-lethal consequences; they are free to found their own institution, e.g. Hate Speech University.

Then look at the other side of the equation: the people protected by the codes. In the USSR, the purpose was protecting privilege. In college, it is protecting students who really have better things to study than foul mouthed jerks. If someone has to suffer, I say the Komissars and the KKK have made their choice.

There is no rational equivalence, and it is so repulsive to equate Soviet terror with any aspect of American civil life that I propose amending Godwin's Law to include Stalin (and Mao and Pol Pot.)

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hello, I don't have a whole lot of time to respond, but I'll try to catch a couple who addressed me directly. First Laurent Weppe:

"You mean: the medieval notion that plebs are basically bipedal draft animals and that the most powerful rulers are bound to dominate the Earth by virtue of having the highest number of indigent lackeys to throw at their rivals"

To this I entirely agree. That's pretty much what most of human history has been.

"Let's not be cute and euphemistical here: what you call "R strategy" is nothing more than the most parasitic system we ever designed, where whole societies' sole "raison d'être" is to provide for the material comforts of the lordly class at the expense of everyone else."

This is not being cute or euphemistic, K- and R-Strategies are such basic terms in demography they are taught in high school. If we are going to discuss demographics, we should at least show a little understanding of the subject (I am speaking in general regarding the tenor of this conversation, not of you specifically). This is being terminologically precise, as scientists are trained to be - and demographers are ostensibly followers of the scientific method. To be fair, though, I have to admit that the standards for science education are far more broad than they were when I was young - I was quite surprised when I walked through the California State Standards for biology and found a whole lot of concepts that weren't even hinted at when I was in high school.

What got me going were comments by a couple people who suggested that a declining population was necessarily a bad thing, writing as if recent trends were necessarily irreversible and not mere fluctuations, and making some rather absurd claims about causation. (I find it highly doubtful that Islamic terrorists have a clue about declining populations. Their hatred of girl's education has more to do something else that starts with 'p' - something in their pants - as evidenced by forcing female captives to become brides of their fighters.)

The rule about bullies is not the rules for bullies, but the advice parents give to children the world over about how to handle a bully (of the garden-variety sort). Bullies want to get a reaction, they love the smell of fear, to imagine your blood pressure rising. Larry's indignity is much to his credit as a human being, but I don't think feeding the beast is going to make any changes.

Dr. Brin, I thought he made his tribal affiliations pretty clear a few months back when he was on about red rural vs. the evil blue urban agenda. Whether or not any of his red, rural compatriots would agree with or even comprehend his words are another matter entirely. At the time I called him on the inaccuracy (or more precisely, the ethnocentric bias) his stereotypes. Both of my parents came from small towns, one here in the US, the other in Europe. The mentalities of their families were very different. I did not say at the time that my father's family liked to spend their evenings on their veranda in Alabama watching the sun set and talking about the niggers. My mother gave him an ultimatum after listening to that - get transfered to some place far away from his family or she would transfer herself and her children elsewhere. The stereotypes we have of rural people in this country are not universal - naturalization once again. And note that this was a long time ago - I make no claim that the kind of behavior my mother objected to is still the case today. I haven't been to Alabama since I was little, so I can't honestly say anything about what people are like there now.

Okay, I have to help my son with his homework, so I'll chat more later.

David Brin said...

The purism of “taxation is theft” or else “your duty to society” just makes me want to scream! Why do we have to base everything on f#@! dogmas!

Fact: a generally liberal-mixed society that allocates resources in a wide variety of accountable ways that respond to many types of opportunity horizons DOES BETTER!. It is less likely to put all of its eggs in one basket. It is more likely to invest in a wide variety of approaches and to test them in fair arenas of markets, science, democracy etc.

It’s what freaking GOT us here! Instead of the purist drivel that gave our ancestors excuses for a septillion crimes and mistakes and delusions… we only make a billion mistakes, instead, and catch a lot of them! And yet we still go for damned dogmas?

Taxation can go too far. It can drop too low. What the heck is wrong with arguing with each other and using POLITICS to iterate to a “right” level? One that may irritate a libertarian, but if he’s honest he admits this society sure has been good to him.

David Brin said...

Paul, my impression of locum is not that he is so much a "redder" as that he is a contrarian, like me... only a fanatic-weird-obsessive and willfully delusional contrarian who constructs strawmen to stand in for any ideology he things needs knocking down.

Sad, of course, since he would be an effective contrarian, instead of a joke, if he learned the art of paraphrasing and bracketing-in on his opponents, in order to target what they ACTUALLY mean, and not a delusional through-the-looking-glass puppet to knock down.

Doubly tragic because there is intelligence there. But probably the worst mental argumentation habits I have ever seen, in a living mind.

Of course you may be right. He may be a redder. We may never know because he will never, ever answer the challenge of telling us what he actually wants and prescribes for how to get there.

Randall Winn said...

About the minimum wage (in OP) - an anecdote from Seattle:

My brother (a good man but reflexively conservative) told me a co-worker was losing his apartment because, in anticipation of Seatac's higher minimum wage, the landlord was raising the rent.

This made no sense to me at all; rents are rising all around here because our economy is booming and the housing supply is limited. It was more likely that the landlord was just offering an excuse for making more money (...and when did that become a bad thing?).

Pointing this out had no effect; he knew that he has esoteric knowledge that I didn't, and suggested that I should investigate things more carefully before voting for them.

He is not a stupid man; you give him a problem involving tools in physical reality, and he will come up with a solution. He's really good with spreadsheets, too. However, his entirely justified self-assurance in those areas of problem solving does not appear to lead him to an open-minded discussion in politics and economics, where in fact self-assurance may get in the way of understanding. Indeed, it seems it makes him easier to con, since the con man need only start by agreeing with his preexisting prejudices.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Dr Brin
What part of “your duty to society” interferes with setting appropriate pragmatic levels and types of taxation?

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin, the emphasis may be more on the rural and less on the red, though he seems to have softened his position somewhat over the last several months. Recent statements suggest a cynicism for both sides of our traditional political divide, which is a cynicism I share, but I won't be a part of the rural/urban stereotypes.

locumranch said...

We really speak a different language, don't we?

In terms of content, I don't.

I don't prescribe content as this act (prescription) implies moral judgment and subjective value bias.

Instead, I evaluate content: I consider it; I measure it against outcome; I find it wanting; and I much prefer the objective frame of process and methodology over that of content.

This type of process-dependent argument is something that the content obsessed are ill-equipped to accept, even though any average 3 year old just KNOWS that a paddling is still a paddling (or that a civil rights violation is still a violation) despite a preponderance of superfluous moral content or 'intent'.


Laurent Weppe said...

"Lots of us practically equation taxation with sanctioned theft"

I for one, calls it my Anti-Dekulakization Premiums: take taxes away and the state wither, thus creating a power-vacuum which ends being filled either by aggressive social-climbers eager to wipe out the upper-class in order to take its place, or by revanchists revolutionaries eager to wipe out the upper-class because they regard such a slaughter as doing the universe a favor. Either way, I'm toast.


"So I can come over, cut your throat and take all your money?
I'm sure I can get 20% of voters to allow me to do that

Given that
1. Far-right political platforms can be summarized as dismantling the welfare state and replacing it with institutionalized nepotism where the far-rightist voters gets preferential access to the scraps
2. Several countries have far-right parties above 20%

I'd say your little thought experiment has already been demonstrated by facts on the ground.


"The rule about bullies is not the rules for bullies, but the advice parents give to children the world over about how to handle a bully (of the garden-variety sort)."

Well, this type of advice is bullshit: bullies, wether in the schoolyard on in wealthy nation-states halls of power will always interpret lacks of reaction as submissiveness.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Lots of us [libertarians] practically equation taxation with sanctioned theft. That's what brings about the alliance with tax cheats and protestors.

And how exactly is government supposed to operate? Bake sales? Are you really asserting that government provides no value in return, or that the very fact of taxation (as opposed to the particular amount) is involuntary? That citizens of a western democracy would rather live without police and firemen and courts and paved roads and air traffic control rather than pay a portion of the money that those things help them earn for their upkeep?

Sounds to me as if you're defending your right to be a moocher and looter.

Besides our natural affinity for underdogs, many of us will point out that it's hard to morally fault someone for cheating a system that cheats them.

And so you allign yourself with the wealthy and powerful who regularly game the system in their favor (and against yours, btw) because the represent the underdogs?

LarryHart said...


Similarly, the difference between enforced conformity and regulated competition is likewise arbitrary, the main distinction being one of intent (a theoretic justification) rather than one of practice and/or methodology.

No, the difference, which you are willfully misunderstanding, is that "enforced conformity" would mean (for example) that Babe Ruth would have to stop at first base after hitting one out of the park in order to make him "equal" to the average player.

"Regulated competition", or Dr Brin's "flat-fair playing field" simply means that no matter how good Babe Ruth is, he plays by the same rules of the game as everybody else. His greater skill and talent lets him excel within the game, but doesn't give him license to re-write the rule book in his own favor.

I suppose you think "excel within the game" and "re-write the rule book in his own favor" are really the same thing?

Jumper said...

A principled libertarian (that is, one who respects current property laws, pays taxes although grumbling, keeps his word, etc.) is still more likely to give a pass to someone who desires to pay no taxes at all. Even an unprincipled thief. The libertarian will listen to a spiel about gasoline taxes, then the crook will steal some gasoline, and the libertarian will kinda-sorta defend that action. Not all libertarians, but enough so that the "movement" is glommed onto by all sorts of knaves and thieves. And the libertarian never really sees it.

David Brin said...

Notice how convenient it is! His excuse for doing precisely what I predicted, uses big words, but it amounts to: "I get to snark and complain! I will never ever offer up anything creative that others might snark at! I get this privileged position -- me!"

Consider that snarked.

Treebeard said...

Laurent Weppe, you seem to be confused about what the rising popularity of the “far right” in Europe is about. It has nothing to do with supporting plutocracy, oligarchs, etc. It’s more of a reminder to utopian and/or plutocratic elites that their social engineering schemes aren’t wanted and aren’t benefitting the native populations in any way. It threatens both liberal elites and capitalist oligarchs, who both want open borders and the destruction of traditional European identities, for somewhat different reasons. The growing power of the “far right” there is a reminder that Europe is not America, doesn’t want to be America, and values something besides economics and globalist social agendas.

By the way, why do so many liberals and progressives try to conflate rightism with plutocracy, as if ordinary folks revolting against multiculturalism, social engineering schemes, etc. have anything to do with oligarchs? After all, progressivism is primarily an elite phenomenon, which uses its leverage within the opinion-making apparatus to sell itself as the ideology of the masses. It’s an amusing trick how limousine liberals from Hollywood, the Ivy League and Hollywood try to identify themselves with the man on the street, while simultaneous vilifying “Tea Partiers” who shop at Wal-Mart as some kind of uppity untermenschen tools of the oligarchy.

This phenomenon of disconnect between liberal elites and "heartland" masses exists throughout the Western world, and is a primary source of our civilization’s tensions. I suspect it has its origins in the “coastal imperialism” that has been the hallmark of Anglo-American civilization for centuries, which finds itself in conflict with the “heartland values” of its own populations, as well as with the “Eurasian imperialism” of nations like Russian and China. If this divide widens, it may result in civil wars, world wars and/or the break up of our civilization, but I don’t think it will be the “far rightist” citizens of the heartland who are fighting for the (coastal) plutocracy.

Jumper said...

Well, there are elites of brain power, and elites of money power, and elites of political power. (Granted, those last two overlap on the Venn diagram a fair amount.) So people need to ask which one is being criticized at any moment. Putin, Angelina Jolie, Sergei Brin on the same team, as "elites?" Umm no.
Walmart shoppers, or at least the group that the symbol represents, as well as any number of cultural traditionalists, who repeatedly support change unknowingly which strengthens plutocracy, well, then they are indeed doing it whether they know it or not. Such international plutocracy as is not particularly represented in those sentimental heartland traditions.

matthew said...

Cory Doctorow's editorial in today's "The Guardian" plays with some of the same points on transparency and even feudalism that David often makes, but avoids the term or the concept of "souveillance," instead relying on a call to "seize the means of information," whatever that means.

Here is a quote worth talking about: "[Improved surveillance technology] implies that productivity gains in guard labour will make wider wealth gaps sustainable. When coercion gets cheaper, the point at which it makes “economic sense” to allow social mobility moves further along the curve. The evidence for this is in the thing mass surveillance does best, which is not catching terrorists, but disrupting legitimate political opposition, from Occupy to the RCMP’s classification of “anti-petroleum” activists as a threat to national security."

I agree with Cory's point on surveillance and "politics" here, but it lacks in not addressing the rapidly growing power that even poor people have to look back at power, and mobilize against injustice, e.g. David's concept of "souveillance."

So, on one hand we have a writer famous for his support of crypto and anarchic action. One the other we have a writer famous for his concept of transparency and centrist-work-within-the-system-to-change-it. Both want the same thing, but their methods are deeply at odds with each other. But the big question is, "Which of these two writers' models is most realistic and will produce the optimum solution?" The optimist in me likes Dr. Brin's solution (Radical Transparency) over Cory's "encrypt everything" approach, but I may be blinded by my own moral upbringing and naiveté.

Both writers' models, however, depend greatly on the availability of some form of "media" free from government interference, which is why both writers call for support for the ACLU, EFF, etc.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Walmart shoppers, or at least the group that the symbol represents, as well as any number of cultural traditionalists, who repeatedly support change unknowingly which strengthens plutocracy, well, then they are indeed doing it whether they know it or not."

One of the worst self-aggrandizing fantasy invented by liberal of all stripes is the myth that far-right voters are cognitively limited rubes who don't realize that they are, in fine, supporting the most corrupt and parasitic subgroup of patricians.

I daresay that the inverse is true: far-right voters are not imbeciles: they are cynical, and reached the conclusion that it is in their best interest to support the political faction which intends to establish rigid hierarchies built along ethnic lines, because they'd be guaranteed to never be at the bottom of the social food-chain.

The whole masturbatory bullshit that "Real-True Red-Blooded Real 'Murican/French/Brits/Israelis/Whatever-shmatever" are through their fascistic vote rebelling against callous elites has never been anything more than a defense mechanism: Tell your neighbours "Yeah, I'm voting for Putin's whore because once she's in charge, I will be rewarded for my support while you will be reduced to slaves and fucktoys at the mercy of the new aristocracy's whim" and they'll view you as a dangerous threat who must be suppressed before getting the opportunity to do a lot of harm; but tell them "Raaaaaaaaah Evil Cosmopolitan Elites want to Destroy My Precious Identity" and at worst, they'll view you as the village's idiot.

Jumper said...

Cynicism is so easy an idiot can do it! (Or a caveman.) You don't have to know anything at all. Just sneer a lot.

Alfred Differ said...


If you were the only one allowed to speak on the matter, you might be able to convince that 20%. Otherwise, I rather doubt it. Besides, there is the usual backstop in place behind all these things. If my family decides you cheated in your effort, you can imagine what they will do next, right?

I've heard the 'dues' argument before. I partially accept it much like I do the 'theft' argument. That usually leaves most people I talk to wondering how I live with the mental conflict. THAT is when I trot out the 90/80 measure. When a whole lot of people feel I owe dues, I'll make the mental shift if there is a non-arbitrary measure we can agree upon. What numbers would you propose? Please don't offer up a simple majority process, unless you want to hear a classical liberal remind you about tyrannies of the majority. Liberty is most precious when it is protected FROM large majorities.

Alfred Differ said...

Laurent Weppe,

The state does indeed whither, but it only whithers away completely if there is no acceptable pair of numbers on which we can agree to accept the morals of the majority who want our money.

The problem as it is perceived by libertarians, though, is that NO ONE inspects the assumption that a whithered state is harmful to us. It wasn't all that long ago that educated people honestly believed the masses could not govern themselves without Kings and Nobles. They have been proven wrong... so far. Is it really such a stretch to ask ourselves if all the other things our government does for us shouldn't also be examined? We don't have to accept any assumption if we find the courage to ask the questions classical liberals should be asking. Let the empirical data speak, of course, but find the courage to collect it first.

Regarding what I regard as fear tactics and the risk we face of a public run amok without laws written to enforce moral codes, I'll point out that I am a firm believer that our civilization is FAR smarter than that. I don't like idiot plots in movies, and I especially don't like them as explanations for why we shouldn't ask questions about the assumptions we make in governance.

matthew said...

This article from Wired is not just interesting to hear what Disney is up to, but as a reflection on where we will be in about five years or so.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry Hart,

Your bake sale comment would normally elicit a smile from me, but I've heard the underlying assumption too often to find it funny anymore. I appreciate you asking and respect your question, but what you are doing is offering up an extreme solution without having thought through it.

Consider one of the questions some libertarians face when they go a bit too far and suggest privatizing the road system. Lots of people will point out that they don't believe anyone will pay to build them if we don't tax ourselves and then treat them as community property. Libertians DO offer a counter-argument showing that many of them would still get built, but we've usually lost our audience by then because many, many people take it as a matter of faith that we must tax. Not long ago we used to take the need for Kings and Nobles as a matter of faith too. Many of us don't now, but that didn't happen as a result of persuasive libertarians making their case. It came about through revolution and then trial and error.

I'm not a big fan of revolution, though. That whole 'blood in the streets' thing leaves it far too likely that some in my family will be contributing in a non-refundable way. People I care about would suffer. So... I'll consider the possibility that government does deliver value and ask that we invent a way to defend the liberty of minorities when they don't believe in that value or want to contribute to it. Liberty and our willingness to protect it lies at the heart of our healthy markets far more than the activities of our governments.

You won't need a bake sale, though. If we use some kind of rule like the 90/80 one I offered up for a beating, you'll have no trouble finding enough votes to support taxes for building roads, prisons, water treatment facilities, and a slew of other useful bits of infrastructure. If you can't find the votes, though, I encourage you to examine your assumption that they must be built with public money. Could there possibly be a way to do it with private money? Governance assumptions should be examined now and then. That's all I ask... for now.

Alfred Differ said...


How many principled libertarians do you know? 8)

Honestly, though, if you want to put tax cheats in prison, keep us off the jury you want to convict them. Some of us believe in the 'nullification' concept and we will make a hash of attempts to deal with "honest to goodness" cheaters.

Duncan Cairncross said...

How many principled libertarians do you know?

Ones that believe in cheating on their taxes?

Why none at all - cheats are not principled - despite their own self serving delusions

Alfred Differ said...


The aristocracy rewards their supporters by putting them on the battlefield opposite us when the revolution comes. The idiot cynics are the first to be shot.

so much for a long-lived identity

Alfred Differ said...


Look up the biggest 'tax cheat' in US history. You'll find a guy I've met. I think he made a number of mistakes, but desiring to do something else with his money is not one of them. I know what he was trying to do with it and I approve.

David Brin said...

Treebeard’s yadda-yadd is more cogent, this time. Indeed, political correctness and reflexive self-hatred are lefty tropes that prove the right does not have a monopoly on dismal-vile craziness. Maybe not a monopoly… but the right truly has cornered the market, at least since the fall of the USSR.

The left snarls at science… the right wages relentless war upon it. The left CONTAINS romantic renunciators who hate the future. The hijacked and lobotomized right CONSISTS of such people.

These are differences of great note. Moreover, political correctness and reflexive self-hatred are just exaggerations of the more healthy versions that 95% of liberals actually hold to — a relentless will to improve and make things better through willingness to criticize past errors. To mistake that for political correctness and reflexive self-hatred is like mistaking “shall we dance?” with attempted rape.

The crux is simply this. Across 200 years, our method has accomplished more than ALL other societies COMBINED have in 6000. The burden of proof is on jerks who assert we go back to insanely stupid methods that never, ever, ever worked.

David Brin said...

Alfred, your stance is refreshing and it is good to have present a fellow who is at least slightly more "libertarian" (in standard ways) than this here Smithian version. Though you've made your moderation clear, compared to Randians,

Let me just make sure you have seen my essays on the trajectory of libertarianism, published by a group that still had hopes of reforming the LP.


Laurent Weppe said...

"Not long ago we used to take the need for Kings and Nobles as a matter of faith too"

It was less a matter of faith and more a result of education scarcity: when only a minority of the population is literate, and a minority of this minority qualifies as erudite, concentrating power in these few hands makes sense: nobility became obsolete the very second mass education became possible.


"The aristocracy rewards their supporters by putting them on the battlefield opposite us when the revolution comes."

No: the aristocracy rewards their supporters by granting them access to the state's superior firepower. Sure, eventually the ruling class becomes so inept that its incompetence nullifies its advantage in term of resources, but before that day comes, "the idiot cynics" can and will kill rebels, plunder their homes and rape their children with impunity.

Alfred Differ said...


I've read them and find little I can disagree with in them.

Technically, I'm a classical liberal who recognizes I have a few more friends in the Libertarian party than I do among the Dems, so I switched my registration after the 2012 election.

I can easily see the arguments Adam Smith laid out for us, but I can also see that we've learned a thing or two since. Our Enlightenment has come a long way and fought and lost a big battle against our former allies among the intellectuals when they abandoned us for the allure of pontificating from a socialist platform. Smith's points still stand, but I argue we should take them farther the same way Hayek did when he wrote the Constitution of Liberty and then addressed again some of the later points after the lessons we learned from stagflation.

Regarding our political trajectory, however, I think we should try to make the libertarians moot by reviving classical liberalism. When you advocate for people to recover their Smithian heritage, I couldn't agree more. When you argue for CITOKATE, I couldn't agree more. When you offer up mildly plausible conspiracies, I sometimes shake my head, but I'll consider them anyway and do my civic duty by poking at them. 8)

On a tangential note, I finally read Foundation's Triumph. I spent much of the time imagining myself pickup up whatever weapon I could find to attack your 'paternalistic government'. It made it hard to read for me, so thank you for the experience I won't soon forget. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Sorry. I see a lot of education scarcity around me still. One of the things I consider most horrific about faith in general is how often it acts as a cure for curiosity. I've no doubt it helps in other significant ways, but there is a cost to faith and we don't overcome it easily.

Officially, our literacy numbers are pretty high in just about every corner of the Earth today. Unfortunately, those numbers reflect a political choice made long ago to discuss only certain elements of a full education. It wasn't all that long ago that a person with only one language no musical skills would be considered an illiterate commoner even if he could read and write his local language. If you don't know your history, you suffer another kind of illiteracy. We've chosen to alter the definitions for useful reasons, but we shouldn't pretend a 99% score on the new standard implies the people have access to education.

I'll admit I was being a little flippant regarding the role received by the aristocracy's supporters, but I'll point out that this is exactly what happened in the US Civil War. Southern farmers were displaced from their lands by slave-holding plantation owners and then whipped into a frenzy by Southern Press by the same elite to convince them the vile Northerners were intent on crushing 'their' way of life. WHAT way of life? Hmpf. They supported their aristocrats and then got fed to the cannons. It was one of the most stupid slaughters in our history. Liberty loving people really should have known better.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I still see your objection to any taxes not approved by 90% to be exactly the same as arguing that you do not need to obey ANY law also not approved by 90%

There go any number of required laws from pollution to violence

If you need 90% approval then murder and rape would probably not be illegal

I can appreciate saying 50.1% is not enough
But 90% means we would be totally in the hands of a lunatic minority

Randall Winn said...

@Alfred Differ:

//* If we use some kind of rule like the 90/80 one I offered up for a beating, you'll have no trouble finding enough votes to support taxes for building roads*//

...has been put to the test in the State of Washington, and found lacking.

Just this month, our legislature had to toss a much more lenient 2/3rds rule in order to pass a basic fix-the-potholes bill.

The problem is simple: at least 1/3 of the population takes greater satisfaction out of sticking a thumb in the eye of civilization than in having the potholes in front of their houses repaired. The argument that this is cynical rather than stupid (although the two are often related) appears to match the facts.

I hope you will examine the data, and revise your theory.

Jonathan S. said...

If you follow the arguments made, Mr. Winn, it's even worse.

"I ain't votin' fer no tax increases 'cause the dadgum gummint takes too much!"

One year later

"How come these doggone roads is so fulla potholes? An' why can't they keep them bus routes runnin'? Dadgum gummint can't do nuthin!!"

Well, no, not without funding they can't - made especially difficult by the state Supreme Court last year insisting that the state has to better fund education, both because it's a good idea and because it's required by the state constitution, yet with the legislature still hamstrung by Eyman's foolishness. (Did you catch the part where Eyman sued to stop an increase in prices at the UW cafeteria, on the basis that any fees charged by a state-supported entity are de facto taxes and must be voted on and passed by a 2/3 majority?)

Alfred Differ said...

There are two large classifications regarding law. The first is the kind that maps to moral statements. Thou shalt not murder. Thou shalt not steal. That sort of stuff. The second is the kind used to determine the actions of government. Go raise money to build that road. Train that army to defend our people. Go land on the Moon and return safely. That sort of stuff. I'm most interested in defending a 90/80 split for rules with a moral underpinning. I'll tolerate majority rule for governance issues, but there is a region of overlap when it comes to funding government, staffing the military, and caring for those incapable of caring for themselves. I'm inclined to believe we can find a way to resolve a problem when it encompasses both types. For example, the roads we build ARE very useful and I benefit from them no matter how they are funded, but if I see taxation as theft, can we at least not discuss an alternative funding mechanism? Can we not agree that a large percentage of the public is required to agree on your mechanism before they judge me to be a cheat? Can we consider (calmly) that the world might still function and the sun still might rise tomorrow morning if my way is tried for a while?

In case it isn’t obvious, I would negotiate on the actual numbers, but I would want them to be high enough to discourage people from writing formal law that dictates morals to others or infringes on the morals of a minority. To break the liberty of a minority, I think the number should be in the neighborhood of 90% and would challenge anyone who thought it should be easier. The US Constitution already protects much smaller minorities from infringements, so this isn’t such a radical idea. I include the 80% number for sunset purposes in order to create hysteresis effects when public opinion hovers near 90%. We shouldn’t have laws with moral implications becoming valid, then invalid, and then valid again too quickly. It’s not healthy. We also should not ignore a social movement that manages to bring down public support of a formerly popular moral position.

My position on this may seem radical, but I see it as following toward a logical conclusion the belief system of a classical liberal. I have no interest in demolishing government, but I DO want them out of the business of intruding on our moral decisions. When there exists a very large number of people who agree on a moral stance, I’ll tolerate government support of it to a point, but I’d still rather we took the time to examine our assumptions. Do we really want to infringe their liberty? Do we really need to do it? Can we do away with some of our assumptions like we did with the Kings of old? I truly believe it would be worth examining our options.

Alfred Differ said...

Randall Winn,

I used to live in a community that required a two thirds majority to raise taxes for their own school system. In neighboring communities the same rule applied and they couldn't pass anything. In ours, they did occasionally pass increases. Getting them passed required more work of our elected officials and more participation from the parents in the community. When all that worked, the schools got properly funded AND a rather magical thing happened to parent participation in the schools. It was an amazing place where parents actually gave a d*mn. I had absolutely no qualms contributing my money to such a fine institution. I contributed my time too.

You said your legislature had to change the super-majority rule to get infrastructure fixed, but I put to you that they didn't have to do any such thing. They CHOSE to do so in order to avoid the political consequences of not fixing them. They chose to use their limited tools and limited imaginations to extract money from the public in order to avoid complaints that might reflect poorly upon their service to you all. I'm not impressed.

I'll freely admit that a two-thirds majority rule is probably a bit much for raising funds to maintain already existing infrastructure. Whoever thought that was a good idea should probably rethink things. For new infrastructure, it might make more sense, but it's stupid to let currently useful property collapse without a general agreement from the public that this should actually be the case.

Finally, regarding the minority of the public who just wants to stick it in the eye of authority, perhaps you all should think carefully about why the smartest civilization ever to grace this planet has produced such people in large numbers. Mayhap we are intruding on something they hold dear? Do they have any other way to fight back? Consider giving them that outlet and then paying attention to their complaints. It's just mildly possible libertarians and classical liberals aren't as tiny a slice of America as some think.

Alfred Differ said...

There is a subtle distinction that is worth making when it comes time to talk to someone who believes in 'small government.' Ask them if they wish to constrain government budget or government scope. If they think that constraining budget is a good way to constrain scope, it is entirely possible they are serving the new oligarchs. It could potentially work as a way to limit government, but it isn't morally defensible. Without that defense, their forces will never have a majority of voters and that will make them most useful for feeding the cannons in smaller, local skirmishes the overlords want to win.

Where many of us are more likely to agree is on limitations of the scope of government. When we can agree to such things, budgets tend to get constrained as a side effect and that is a healthy thing for those of us who desire to use our money for other purposes. The overlords can't easily tolerate this approach, though. It is a child of the Enlightenment and far too powerful to let live.

A.F. Rey said...

Re: Clinton vs. Bush Presidental Race.

Just so you know you're not alone with your concerns, David.

Duncan Cairncross said...

You are talking nonsense
All laws are social constructs
What you are saying is
Laws I approve of only need a 50% (or less) majority
Laws that I don't like need a 90% majority

Any attempt to use "moral sentiment" to decide what laws to make takes us straight back to the church

Alfred Differ said...

Nah. You might want to read Hayek's view on this. I'm cribbing from some of his material regarding the philosophy of law. The paraphrased version states that laws that attempt to restrict immoral actions (Thou shalt not laws) are derived from social rules that emerge from tradition. They usually have a high degree of support from the public and the law is only needed to deal with a few recalcitrant neighbors. The other block of rules has nothing to do with morals and tends to focus around what our social institutions are directed to do. They fit better in the 'regulation' class.

This isn't nonsense. I realize few people have read this kind of material, but the same can be said of much older philosophers... like Adam Smith. It's a shame.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
That's even worse!

So we lose all regulations that don't get 90% approval!!

There go all fire regulations
Which side of the road do you drive on?
You don't really HAVE to stop for a red light!

Washing hands before making restaurant food...

Building regs,

You have NOT thought this through

Blank Reg said...

I'm also a "Smithian" libertarian, but I think it's more "L. Neil" than "Adam"...

David Brin said...

Blak Reg how brave of you to admit that's your "Smith." Well, well. Open admission is the first step toward healing! ;-)

Alfred Differ said...


I'm not sure how I convinced you of that, but it is exactly backwards from what I intended. Choosing which side of the road to drive upon doesn't involve moral decisions even if the rule does emerge from tradition. We tend to phrase it as 'Thou shalt drive on the **** side of the road' instead of 'Thou shalt not drive on the **** side of the road.' 8)

Did I miss a negation in one of my earlier sentences? If so, I apologize for the confusion. Only moral decisions need this kind of protection. Protection from thieves, even if they are the majority, is one of them.

Duncan Cairncross said...


You said that
Laws/rules that require a moral decision should be 50%

Laws/rules that are "forward thinking" as opposed to "moral" require a 90%

So things like side of the road - is not a moral position (especially as us you guys drive on the wrong side) so would require 90% before it should be enforced

and saying should drive on xxx as opposed to should not drive on YYY is just wording

I do appreciate that it is exactly backwards as you intended
But it is logically that way around

What you are saying is
Laws I approve of only need a 50% (or less) majority
Laws that I don't like need a 90% majority

There are simply too many rules/laws/regulations that are required for our society to function
And too large a percentage of the population that simply does not understand this
In the USA the GOP is nearly half of the population with their
"Keep your gubermint hands of my medicare"

David Brin said...

Alfred & Duncan et al. This is why we establish PRIMARY RIGHTS... as opposed to secondary or contingent rights.

Primary rights are those that allow each generation to change its mind and revise its rules to live as it sees fit... while preventing both elites and mobs from oppressing individuals. A balancing act, and we talk a lot about the latter desideratum a lot more than we talk about the former.

But in fact, Jefferson and Madison talked a LOT about retaining each generation's right to -- by deliberative politics -- rescind their parents' rules and enact their own. e.g. re property rights, which are NOT protected in the Constitution, except in very general referrals to due process!

Property/privacy etc are CONTINGENT rights that each generation may vote to redefine as they see fit, and then grumble when their kids change those definitions.

PRIMARY rights -- like freedom of speech and to know -- are fundamentally different. They must be defended with absolute absolutism and fanatical purity. Because any compromise ruins not only their idealistic purity... but especially their pragmatic functionality! For these are the tools by which the next generation can argue and change those contingent laws!

Alfred may persuade a majoity to institute his 90% rule. But so long as the primary rights are preserved, some future liberal may persuade citizens to retract it... as Reagan persuaded them to retracts FDR's progressive tax rates.

NOT an ideal situation! I despair that rightists actually still push Supply Side notions, despite their never ever ever ever having worked, even once. Or the fact that capitalism did far far far better under FDR tax rates than it ever has, since.

Half the country is hypnotized. And even (maybe just a little ;-) so might be Alfred!

But the key thing is that one generation's "reformers" must never be allowed to give unto a contingent matter the sanctity of a primary right. This is dogmatic fanaticism, not the tiered mix of primary idealism with pragmatic governance that gave us everything.

David Brin said... guys are welcome to continue arguing down here!

But I have a new posting and hence I am moving...

... onward

Paul451 said...

Alfred Differ,
"The US Constitution already protects..."

The only thing the US Constitution protects is the podium under it from UV damage.

You confuse the paper with the system, thinking it's the paper doing the protection, and that the paper will continue to protect even after the system is gone.

"I realize few people have read this kind of material"

This is the internet. We've had libertarianism rammed down our throats for three decades by every 14 year old who discovers Mises. Hell, we've had Stephan Kinsella visit David's blog for a time (until he realised we weren't his usual tame sycophants and fled back to safer waters). The things you are saying are old news.

Alfred Differ said...


I do apologize for stating my numbers backwards. That's as bad as missing a negation in a sentence and sounding like I'm in favor of something I actually oppose. 8)

Still, your paraphrasing of my position is way off. I'm interested in imitating the progressively more difficult barriers we raise against the removal of and change to rules we placed in the Constitution. The fact that I dislike theft shouldn't surprise you or anyone with a lick of sense. The fact that I lump taxation in that class (occasionally) obviously does. Don't take it too personal, though. I don't go as far as some libertarians and accuse you personally of being a thief.

Alfred Differ said...


Feeling a tad cynical are you? 8)

I'm well aware of the distinction between the piece of paper and the social institutions that spring from it. I'm also aware that some take it too far and treat it as a sacred document. I don't. I have a profound appreciation for the humans who decided to try this social experiment, so any respect I have for the parchment is intended to reflect upon that.

I'm not interested in ramming anything down your throat, though. Also, I'm considerably older than 14. 8)

I'm just being who I am since David's community seems to appreciate that kind of behavior. I'll offer up my bits of criticism when appropriate and you all can bash them in return. I appreciate the opportunity to test what I think I know and offer to do the same in return for those with the courage to be tested.

fairhavenhorn said...

A correction for your history, since I recall these events.

Transportation deregulation began under Ford (R) with the "4-R" bill in 1976. Perhaps more important was Ford consistently appointed de-regulation advocates to regulatory committees. Most important, he never made this a party issue and welcomed support from very liberal Democrats.

President Carter (D), continued the legislative work, continued to appoint de-regulators, and most importantly did not make this a party issue and welcomed support from Republicans.

President Reagan (R), finished the last of the legislative changes, continued de-regulations, and did not make this a party issue.

The story is very similar for telecommunications de-regulation, but I would start with the huge event of the DoJ Anti-trust suit against AT&T filed in 174, supported by Presidents and regulatory appointments, through the final agreement in 1982.

The important part of all these is that none of the Presidents, and none of the major advocates made this a party issue. It was a long running policy fight, where both sides stuck to policy fights and neither party made this a party issue.