Friday, May 29, 2015

Brin Responds to Stross's: "A Different Cluetrain"

My esteemed colleague in the craft of creating worlds, Charles Stross, has a popular blog, wherein he published a list of daunting drivers that - he maintains - push and militate against any hope for continuation of the glimmering Western Democratic-Scientific Enlightenment.  His posting “Axioms of Politics” include some that are truly major and difficult to overcome…

…and yet, one comes away appalled that such a bright mind can so relentlessly avoid asking the simplest contrarian questions of himself, in order to notice the tendentious trend line of his own thoughts… and then step back, subjecting that trend line to criticism.
Am I a sunny polyanna?  A year ago, I offered up a provocative metaphor… that the last four centuries appear to have begun — in their major theme — on the 14th or 15th year.  No fizzing optimism there! Not when this 15th year might turn and bite us, at any point.  

On the other hand, well, go ahead and read the Stross missive here: A Different Cluetrain. It’s filled with interesting ideas! Read its entirety. Then come back and see below for my response.

== Brin responds to Stross’s “A different cluetrain” ==

Dear Charlie… as usual you have a lot of cogent and insightful observations to offer us, in this missive. “Iron Laws” and such, that seem to make enlightened civilization hopeless, over the long run.

Alas though… sorry, man… but did you notice that the only factors in your lengthy list are dolorous ones and excuses for cynicism? 

Yes, I know this is the core pattern maintained by the stylish, Doctorowian set, as if y’all invented the cynical snarl!  (Not.) Still,  when a pattern is so perfect — and so perfectly conducive to the emotional aim — then a true contrarian just has to ask questions.  Like:

1) If these “iron laws” automatically turn all democracy and law and hope to shit… um… where did we get our current renaissance? 

Oh, sure, declare that it’s coming to an end!  That malevolent forces are undermining the Enlightenment! (I happen to agree with the latter.) But still, the contrarian asks… how did we get the narrow window of freedom and tolerance and diversity and social mobility that (though flawed) most of those reading this have enjoyed all our lives? One that kept — and still continues — expanding circles of inclusion?

What kind of blinkered tunnel vision would empower cynics to deny that something exceptional happened in the (quasi) democratic west? Something quite different from 6000 years of tediously-same feudal-priestly oligarchies. Those differences stack way too high to shrug off. Even if you declare it to be all over, you still have to explain how this window of delusional-short-lived freedom happened in the first place.  And that means parsing when there are *exceptions* to your iron laws of despair and doom.

2)  It is easy to conflate pluto-oligarchy-“capitalism” (POC) with flat-open-fair-market capitalism (FOFMC).  Indeed, Adam Smith went on at great length, describing the difference. So did Karl Marx!  But hell, who reads Smith or Marx, anymore?  So yes, conflating these two opposites is easy to do. That is, it is easy for lazy fellows who cannot tell the difference between the East India Company and Silicon Valley.

In fact, Smith called POC the inherent and deadly enemy of FOFMC.  The latter is based upon fair *competition* involving the maximum number of skilled, savvy, confident and knowing rivals, in a vastly middle-class, diamond-shaped society where every industry is under constant threat by brash startup entrepreneurs.

Are there forces that oppose this, preferring to squelch potential competition, in the old, feudal pyramids of inherited privilege? Sure!  The same forces that do not want competitive democracy.

You are confusing crony Pluto-Oligarchy-“Capitalism” with the other kind.  And yes, POC can pour concrete and build office towers and grab resources and exploit cheap labor.  Just as Soviet command socialism did all those things.

Now show us their startups. Their inventions. You cannot. Your “iron laws” are not about governance. They are about seeking pyramidal privileges. 6000 years show that stopping them is hard!  It takes a Revolution.  What you seem to miss is the fact that the Revolution exists. It has been ongoing. We’re the next generation of rebels. And despair does… not… help.

You think the tyrannical and IP-stealing nations have huge advantages? The inventing nations have only to decide to stop buying the products of labor-cheapness factories — and to stop ignoring IP theft. If that happened, the POC/mercantilist nations would tank… and the democratic FOFMC nations would adapt. 

But we won’t do that. Because ever-increasing numbers of the poor in China and Bangladesh are sending their kids to school with full bellies and internet access, for the very reason that we buy the crap from those factories. And those kids will want to invent. They will watch Hollywood films and read sci fi and want democracy. 

Moreover you know this. So why are you spreading such simplistic dooooooom?  Why do you not even once mention the Meme War that we are winning like a steamroller? The lessons of Suspicion of Authority, tolerance, diversity, eccentricity and liberation-of-women that fill almost every Hollywood film etc?  And hence the underlying reason for so much macho-belt panic and terrorism?  A transformation whose principal feature is a couple of billion women and girls who are more empowered and confident than their mothers were?

Sure, I freely and openly avow that nearly all of your listed “iron laws” exist and are threats to the renaissance… 

...as our ancestors faced very similar threats in the 1890s and 1930s.  

So? It’s a test, then! A test we can pass, as they did. But only if we look beyond excuses for despair. If we start tallying not only the “iron laws” that undermine the renaissance, but also our advantages — the counterpart tools and assets that we revolutionaries have in our hands, empowering us to resist the pull of the feudal attractor state.

== …aaaand argue! ==

Alas while your list of obstacles is well worth studying, you simply doubled down on the dolor. You try to shrug off the two hundred year western-democratic enlightenment experiment, with its spectacular (if still flawed) diamond-shaped social structure, low levels of class determinism, expanding horizons of inclusion, plummeting world poverty rates, high (compared to any earlier culture) levels of freedom and competitive entrepreneurship...

...and you attribute all of that to two tragedies, the Great Depression and Hitler?  Um.... can you even step back and see how that sounds?  

Could any of the good stuff — just maybe — have come from solid and innovative social design? "Perhaps by some folks who understood such stuff better than I do?"  Perish the thought!

You don't even do gloom all that well!  I can out-cynical that, and I'm not even a cynic! 

For example, the proper disdainful dismissal of the WEE (Western Enlightenment Experiment) is to attribute it to:
 (1) theft of the American Frontier,
 (2) rape of colonized continents,
 (3) sudden access to prodigious fossil fuels.

Those three should provide a bulwark for any dolor-addict, especially as #3 proves to be both limited and toxic. Yippee. Hurrah for cynicism! Except...

Did you know, dear (and respected!) colleague, that in the 1890s Frederick Jackson Turner wrote about the closing of the American frontier, predicting it would have exactly the shut-down effects that you fellows now see looming before us? That was 125 years ago. Huh. Kinda got delayed there. 

Next read (if you can stomach) Spengler's Decline of the West (1918)... oops... and the screeds by Hitler and Stalin about decadent western bourgeois democracies in their final hours. Ooops again. And the millennialist doomcasters that rise up every year, among our neighbors.

Jesus, do you guys ever lift your heads from this satisfying-spiral of smug "I-knew-it-couldn't-last" schadenfeude? 

Yes, the Revolution is in trouble. It is ALWAYS in trouble! We could use your help on the barricades.

In fact, Charlie, there are mighty, synergistic processes that empower us to stave off the old, feudal attractor states, processes that are as powerful as your admittedly-daunting Iron Laws. You might help refine and refresh them. Better yet, make others aware of them. Even better still, laugh at the dolor-junkies who want you to wallow with them.

Hey man, don't give in to the blandishments of comfy, middle class ingrates, dissing a renaissance that gave them everything. I've read a lot of your stuff, and you are bigger than them. A true, bona fide idea maven! So guide them to the next, meta level — above cynicism — which is amazed wonder that we got all this, despite those Iron Laws. 

And a grateful willingness to fight for it.

Now I am outta here.  Ben Franklin is calling.  Good luck man.  You are one of the most interesting living humans.

57 comments:

Robert said...

Continuing the discussion I started in the previous thread... what are some benefits and drawbacks that you could see in expanding the number of Representatives to that required by the Constitution (ie, 1 Representative for every 30,000 people)?

I do have to admit, one of the big drawbacks is resistance from existing Representatives. They could even argue (with some logic) that being able to meet in one location helps build consensus and cooperation. Of course, they'd be lying through their teeth seeing there is no consensus and cooperation in Washington these days... but it's an effective argument.

An alternative to this would be a two-tier Representation system, with the selected 435 Representatives among the 50 States going into Washington, while their peers remain in their own States and hold down their jobs. The Washington Politicians would work together in committees to develop laws and prepare information that would be sent to the Remote Representatives. The Washington Politicians would also be allowed to pull in the full paycheck, which gives the 435 Representatives currently in power a reason to accept this revised system - they won't be cutting their purses! With the remaining Reps getting a salary of 7,500 dollars, the cost to government is only about doubled for what we currently pay the Representatives.

The drawback of course is that the Core Politicians would be susceptible to Lobbying interests to draw up legislation. Also, the question becomes: who goes into Washington? Do you have district-level politicians elected under the current gerrymandered system and then the larger base of remote Representatives.

---------

The argument of course is that this encourages government by the rich. The obvious rejoinder is: that's what we currently have. It costs so much to run for Federal office that poor people can't afford to run! Also, if the Remote Representatives get only 7,500 dollars for their weekend work... well, that's a nice supplemental income there! It's something that middle-class people could do. Or even upper lower-class.

---------

I'm curious as to what Dr. Brin has to think about this idea of expanding our Representatives as I mentioned in the previous thread, and touched upon here. Given his own concerns about gerrymandering and the like, I'd think this idea would be up his alley... and with both his experience observing politics here and now, and with his background writing fiction touching upon politics, his perspective would be useful.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Have you read Metaplanetary and Superluminal by Tony Daniel? Direct democracy leading to populist tyranny. Good mix of sci-fi, politics and economics like Stross and MacLeod.
I too have worried that the plutocrats will use automation to dispose of the rest of us. I still think they will try to crash the System the moment that a stable method for immortality is invented. But every day I see resistance to the plutocrats grow. The more wealth and power they hoard, the sharper the guillotines will become.

-AtomicZeppelinMan

David Brin said...

It's called "demarchy" and Joan Vinge satirized it in OUTCASTS OF THE HEAVEN BELT. Sure, we need dampers on the wild emotional swings of total democracy.

Alfred Differ said...

My understanding of the history of the Enlightenment places the old corporations among the Ancient Regime to be torn down. Obviously, they meant the POC types. It is a shame we didn't invent a new word for the FAFMC types... or that I haven't added it to my vocabulary yet. We need a demarcation we can teach so people can recognize the ones we don't want to burn down in the next wave of the revolution.

Anonymous said...

I believe nerds are much more capable, nimble, adaptable and clever than govts and/or oligarchs. Tech powered sovereign individuals are about to make an end-run around what's presumed to be inevitable.

Ioan said...

Dr Brin,

I also participate in that blog, under the same name. I was curious what you thought of my points in the conversation? I may have been reaching about the dates of the pre-industrial middle classes? Besides debunking Nietzsche, I was arguing that the middle class wasn't a random event due to the industrial revolution. In fact, the middle class predates the industrial revolution.

Anonymous said...

The theft of the frontier continues apace--"private powers of the economy want free paths for their acquisition of great resources", as Spengler might have put it--a midnight rider to slip the sale of protected Federal land to a foreign mining corporation happened as recently as December 2014. Somehow, environmentally sensitive mining methods are just not economical, and the obligatory boot is applied to the backside of the Native American. Spengler's entrepreneurs of course will make good use of all this Copper (perhaps assisted by the engineers he also mentions?), and much money will be made. Speaking of which, how large is Wall Street now? Spengler did say something about the "credit-needs of an industry growing ever more enormous", and lo, there is a report by the IMF about the deleterious effects of out-sized finance on an economy. And yet you dismiss Spengler with a line from a Britney Spears song? Hmm.

William Schwarz said...

The first of the "Iron Laws" ignores the fact that all those industrial robots are not also consumers in the way that traditional labor is. It's fine for capital to do away with labor using automation but then who will they sell their products to?

David Brin said...

The dystopic outcome that is most likely is more like Huxley than Orwell. Automation and asteroidal resources could make vast supplies available to fit every human need. But if all production is controlled by an elite, they will want one thing, symbolic obeisance. Feudal privileges. Forever.

Tim H. said...

There's also the possibility that whatever Fascist structure is built, is run with the same "skill" that Wall $treet was run with a few years ago, and we get to build something new from the smoldering wreckage.

David Ivory said...

I too think the doom and gloom is outmoded and old fashioned... but most of all it is easy to be a pessimist, to knock down rather than build up. That's why dystopian fiction is often the work of newbie authors.

The hard job is to be the optimist... and I choose the harder route.

The democratisation of the means of production through the use of information technology, 3D printing (or more plausibly to contract manufacturers), suggests that the doom laded fear of automatons taking jobs away is misplaced. Instead of capital it is those that are creative, have access to knowledge, and the drive to succeed that will win out. When everyone can own a robot to build things for them, or instruct a contract manufacturer to build something for them, why do we need these large capital intensive mega-corporations that Charlie fears? The lump of labour fallacy is infamous amongst economists - this is no different.

So you think this is unlikely? Robots are getting cheaper, and I already use contract manufacturers to build things for my business, and 3D printing is getting better and cheaper . As time goes on everything specialises and so will the labour of individuals.

Where does crowd funding come into Charlie's argument. When a million people have more capital to hand than any one corporation it is laughable to think that they have the upper hand.

It's also self centred cynicism to believe that others can't also rise to the challenge of the changes at hand - and change there certainly is. Charle is right there... just wrong in the outcome.

(But it's good to be concerned and to work to manage the transition - http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21649050-badly-educated-men-rich-countries-have-not-adapted-well-trade-technology-or-feminism )

While we still have the vote, and can set the rules, we can control the structure of government and society. Remember that there is always someone who votes for those we oppose in government so if we want to change who is in government we need to be a lot more persuasive. (Yes yes - the vote is rigged... transparency is the solution)

Recall that I believe that it is easy to be a pessimist and to evoke fear of change - which is why conservatives react to those messages and vote. So why do liberals use the same tools of fear and pessimism when we should be using the harder but more 'enlightening' appeals of a better brighter and more Star Trekie future. The track record of the Enlightenment is absolutely stunning - the wonder of the world is that so many people are blind to what our civilisation has achieved and use fear of the future to persuade instead of the evidence of our achievements to build forward.

I'm with you Dave (someone should do a cover of that UB40 song).

And as I said to a friend just yesterday - the day I become a curmudgeon (as Charlie surely is threatening to) is the day I've succumbed to Alzheimer's and have lost myself.

Alex Tolley said...

Something quite different from 6000 years of tediously-same feudal-priestly oligarchies. Those differences stack way too high to shrug off. Even if you declare it to be all over, you still have to explain how this window of delusional-short-lived freedom happened in the first place.

One could say the same of Athenian democracy in ancient Greece. It survived for a few centuries and then sputtered and died, eventually killed by Roman rule.

Or what about the Roman Republic, again lasting centuries until it became imperial.

Of the golden age of Arabic thought and science, that faded with the rise of Islam.

The attractor seems to be stasis through control.

This says nothing about when enlightenment and democratic ideas can flower, nor when they can emerge or why. If control and stasis is an attractor, that also says nothing about how long it can last before being overthrown again. There may be certain conditions in both cases, or it may just be random.

Charlie Stross also states his case as for the 21st century going forward, not in perpetuity, nor when it might end. He sees a confluence of processes that seem to be reinforcing each other to end the world we have seem since the end of WWI and more strongly sice WWII. The trends are clearly there. If they are to be reversed in direction, what are the countervailing forces that can reverse or destroy them?

Alex Tolley said...

@David Ivory "When a million people have more capital to hand than any one corporation"

Which million people and which corporations? Because Apple Inc clearly has more cash than a million people have in assets below the median wage in the US, otherwise Kickstarter campaigns might try for a lot more funds.

While we still have the vote, and can set the rules, we can control the structure of government and society.

Theoretically yes, but as Princeton has indicated, the USA is currently an oligarchy, and I don't see it getting better. What will reverse it other than polyanna thinking? For example we have just seen the inevitable fast tracking of TTP and TTIP despite the US population being against it, and apparently the supporters were well paid, and the dissenters had their minds changed with funds.

David Ivory said...

@ Alex Tolley

Because Apple Inc clearly has more cash than a million people have in assets below the median wage in the US."

You're not wrong there - but Apple is an outlier. Most other corporations of similar heft are extractive industries desperately trying to hold onto their markets through manipulations of politics. Apple needs no such influence and instead reacts to direct pressure from its customers.

The extractive industries - especially those fossil fuels corporations - are certainly under threat and acting defensively so their attempted manipulations of politicians will only increase. But how long will it be before we all disintermediate them with solar panels? And that has implications for their ability to disrupt the body politic.

Kickstarter - yes I agree that it's not going to replace the current corporate paradigm anytime soon... but anyone can start a corporation gathering shared resources to build a business. And anyone with that goal in mind wants the reverse of the oligarchic structure that pertains now.

The US needs to fix its broken democracy - but don't tar the rest of the world's democracies with the woeful example set in America... and call me a polyanna but "America will do the right thing after exhausting all the alternatives" and will do so again.

David Ivory said...

@ Alex Tolley "For example we have just seen the inevitable fast tracking of TTP (sic) and TTIP despite the US population being against it, and apparently the supporters were well paid, and the dissenters had their minds changed with funds."

The TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) is not the evil it is portrayed, and it is ignorance of what it entails that breeds suspicion. (And the nature of its closed door negotiation structure doesn't help at all) The TPP a free trade agreement and free trade is a general boon improving productivity and reducing the price of goods and services. Protectionism is what destroys economies and coddles corrupt corporations. Often the transition is painful to individuals and individual corporations but would you really like to wind back the mesh of interlocking trade relationships that has built so many years of peace - Pax Americana.

The TPP has been misrepresented.

Yes it is true that what is being bandied about fearfully is a worry. It is disturbing when protectionist policies are smuggled into free trade agreements - like the protections for corporations... including IP protections like the egregious US copyright laws, and DCMA. And word that the TPP enshrines the ability of foreign corporations to sue for damages against a government that is doing the bidding of its population to protect the environment for instance - well that's wrong. But we don't quite know what is in the TPP as it is not public knowledge yet and is not even finally negotiated.

And Fast Track means that the treaty is voted up or down without negotiation by Congress. So if the terms are as bad as portrayed then it will be voted down - and then it has to be ratified by all of the negotiating countries with similar fears.

So bringing the TPP (I don't know enough about TTIP to comment - I'm not European or American) into this discussion is more fear-mongering.

Again it's easier to knock down than build forward... but you're more optimistic than you portray in these posts right?

Laurent Weppe said...

* "The dystopic outcome that is most likely is more like Huxley than Orwell [...] they will want one thing, symbolic obeisance. Feudal privileges. Forever."

And I maintain that Huxley's vision is impossible to sustain in reality:
You're still going to need a lot of skilled technicians to maintain an increasingly delicate infrastructure of automatons, and since aristocrats dread being overthrown by smart & educated plebeians, they'll yield to the temptation of sabotaging education, thus creating a situation where for want of skilled workers the infrastructures will start degrading and the very system that sustains the aristocracy will collapse.

I know that the feudal future and the variations of the "What if technology reached a level so advanced that machinery would maintain the ruling class' dominance even after they became slothful, decadent, inbred imbeciles" is a rather popular genre which inspired many great authors, but we're still very far away from even being at risk of seeing it happening.

***

* "Of the golden age of Arabic thought and science, that faded with the rise of Islam."

Huh... the golden age of Arabic thought and science began with Caliph Harun al-Rashid, and faded with the Mongol invasion (and some would argue that the Mongol invasion simply displaced the intellectual centers toward Egypt and Mali). I'm afraid you're getting your events order mixed up.

Ioan said...

David Ivory,

I'm going to disagree with you about the TPP. First off, the only developing countries in the agreement are Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam. Every other country is developed (although Malaysia is very borderline). Since there is already a de facto free trade block among developed countries, I'm not sure that a formal one has real merit. As China showed, you don't need a free trade agreement to develop. All that is required is membership in the WTO. At the same time, most of the countries participating in the TIPP are already part of a free trade agreement. From my perspective, the TPP and TIPP are free trade deals which enrich the oligarchy without any benefits to the general public, in either the developed or developing world. If you've got an argument to the contrary, I'd love to hear it.

The thing that surprised me about the TPP is that finally the "union" (to use Dr. Brin's phrase) is fighting back. They're finally standing up to the oligarchs. Note that so far this standing up has generally consisted of delaying fast track authority. I have no idea if the "union" will actually win this round. They came at it relatively late, and they have yet to get their feet wet. However, just like the living wage movement, there is now a concrete movement that is actually scoring hits against the oligarchs. That is not something I would have expected this soon even as late as 6 months ago.

Alex Tolley said...

Is this a possible global change event? http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/30/last-exit-before-chaos/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body

Alex Tolley said...

@Laurent - Thanks. I was only about a millennium out. Rather like saying the industrial revolution started before the Norman invasion of England. :(

Alex Tolley said...

@David Ivory. Even if TPP was as good as "sliced bread", that isn't relevant. What is relevant is that Congress is not following the "will of the people".

But in regards to your belief about the TPP (& TTIP)

1. Global tariffs are very already low. "U.S. businesses must overcome an average tariff hurdle of 6.8 percent, in addition to numerous non-tariff barriers (NTBs), to serve the roughly 95 percent of the world’s customers outside our borders." - Paul Krugman

2. The Trade agreement was negociated by corporate interests, but not interests representing people.

3. It is secret. Yes a legislator can see the agreement under supervision, but may not make notes to take away, not have anyone else view any of the document.

4. It does set set up effective extra-sovereign legal systems that bypass US laws on trade, environmental protection, human rights and even any legislation that could damage existing profits. I would have thought this would be enough to kill it, given the US' animosity to any international laws that it cannot override. But apparently not.

What should be done is to make the agreement public and let Congress debate the terms in the open where everyone can see.


David Ivory said...

@Alex Tolley

Yes you're right about the relevance of the TPP.

@loan

But you're assuming I'm American and see things from your perspective. I'm not and I don't. The US restricts the entry of agricultural products into their market and also distorts America's internal market with artificial supports that benefit big agribusinesses to the detriment of smaller farmers and the environment.

You'll also find that the WTO does not do much for trade in agricultural products so claiming that as a reason for the irrelevance of the TPP doesn't wash. It's not tariffs that are the problem at all - it's market access along with anti-competitive and anti-market barriers (subsidies above all) that are at issue. The rules governing the market in agricultural goods is broken and it's changed the nature of American food to the detriment of all of you.

But this TPP line of discussion is a ultimately a diversion from the subject of Dr Brin's article. It was Alex's example of vote buying that illustrated his point about how oligarchic the US has become.

I would counter that it's Congress that needs to be fixed (not that the TPP is bad) - and the best way would be to defeat this Republican current push for one voter one vote, add a dash of (Dr Brin's) anti-gerrymandering laws together with a sprinkling of independent redistricting boards... umm like most functioning democracies around the world.

So I remain an optimist - there's a way to fix things and the Union is largely taking these steps.

Alex Tolley said...

@David Ivory "Kickstarter - yes I agree that it's not going to replace the current corporate paradigm anytime soon... but anyone can start a corporation gathering shared resources to build a business. And anyone with that goal in mind wants the reverse of the oligarchic structure that pertains now. "

US Firms hold $1.8tn in liquid assets = $6000 oer capita.

US Wealth (all assets) was ~ $54tn in 2009.
BUT this was unevenly distributed,:

per capita
Bottom 40% hold 0.2% = $900
Middle 4% -> 4% = $36000
Upper Middle 20% ->10.9% = $98100
Next 10% ->12% = $216000
Next 5% -> 11.2% = $403200
Next 4% -> 27.3% = $1,228,500
Top 1% ->34.6% = $6,228,000

So median total assets (cash and tangible assets e.g. net house equity) of the US population is greater than US firms have per capita, most of this is likely in tangible assets, e.g. bet equity in a house. Most people below median live paycheck to paycheck and do not have bank balances with cash to invest. They also have no access to loans which are readily accessible to corporations to fund investments. Those with the wealth are usually owning corporate assets as stock and are hardly going to upset that applecart.

So my conclusion is that "the people" cannot change much by themselves, And given that even tech company startups are funded by VCs and angel money in the US, that is indicative that those that have the wealth will determine what will be funded.

I don't know how "desperate" fossil fuel companies are. But clearly the oil majors are getting what they want in terms of exploring for new reserves. Fracking is advancing rapidly with Texas (and Oklahoma?) passing laws to prevent municipal regulation. Coal companies are actively trying to block EPA CO2 regulation and want to increase US exports. Australia also wants to export more coal. Canada is trying to export its shale tar for processing. Meanwhile there are attempts to restrict residential solar. The oil majors certainly are talking a good game when they say that they expect demand for oil to increase despite hopes of CO2 reduction targets. They do have the ear of governments.
Whatever the politics, this century will see a rise in global temperatures that will disrupt human activities. How much of a rise is not known, but 2C is a near certainty and it looks like it will be higher. Can we overcome this, especially with political change on a global scale? I hope so, but I am not betting on it.

LarryHart said...

William Schwarz:

The first of the "Iron Laws" ignores the fact that all those industrial robots are not also consumers in the way that traditional labor is. It's fine for capital to do away with labor using automation but then who will they sell their products to?


I've wondered that for quite some time. Certain people seem to be of the opinion that the object of the capitalism "game" is to acquire all of the money. And it seems to me that the game is over at that point.

Now in locum's "Monopoly" allegory, that makes perfect sense. One person wins, all others are beaten, and the game is over. But when the "game" is actually the method by which all humanity lives on a day to day basis, then there's no point (even to the winner) of a victory which ends the game.

The analogy between life and a board game breaks down at that point. The object of real life is to keep functioning, and (where possible) to improve one's position in the ongoing play. A total "victory" which ends the game is no different from the cry of the 1960s radical who wants to "burn it to the ground".

LarryHart said...

David Ivory:

The TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) is not the evil it is portrayed, and it is ignorance of what it entails that breeds suspicion. (And the nature of its closed door negotiation structure doesn't help at all) The TPP a free trade agreement and free trade is a general boon improving productivity and reducing the price of goods and services. Protectionism is what destroys economies and coddles corrupt corporations.


Do you have specific insight? I'd love to believe what you are saying, but from all I've heard, the objections to TPP are not about trade barriers, but about it being an agreement to allow corporate desires to override local regulations. So that, for example, if laws preventing industrial pollution of the Great Lakes are harmful to a corporation's profits, the corporation gets to override the laws.

If you're claiming that this sort of thing is not really part of the TPP, and that only leftist fear-mongering is responsible for the perception that it is, then please make your case (I'd be happy to be proven wrong). However, don't conflate the very real fear about loss of local sovereignty with protectionism and trade barriers. The objections to TPP have very little to do with trade itself.

Duncan Cairncross said...

From what I have heard about the TPP the real problem is a change from previous legislation

If you make changes (legislation) that mean that a corporation's assets are now worth less the corporation can (now) sue for the loss.

With the TPP
If you make changes (legislation) that mean that a corporation will make LESS PROFIT the corporation could then sue for the LOST PROFIT

I see that as a major change!

LarryHart said...

@Duncan Cairncross,

Exactly what is so bad about TPP. How often have we pointed out that corporations essentially cheat by privatizing profits while unfairly dumping the costs of their externalities on the surrounding community? Well, under the TPP, any attempt to rectify that imbalance would be actionable by the corporation against society. "You're going to make us pay the costs of cleaning up the air and water we pollute? That will eat into our profits, so you're liable for making up our losses."

Sounds as if it formally institutionalizes corporate pillage and blackmail. It also sounds as if the champions of the so-called free market want big government to guarantee their profits.

And this objection has nothing to do with trade barriers or even with loss of American jobs. We're in territory way beyond all that. If this becomes the law of the land, a revolution will not only be necessary, but probably inevitable.

David Brin said...

I share concerns that the US is giving up too much in order to set up TPP as a bulwark against China. But better a deal wrought by Obama than by a gopper. At least there will be some pro-labor and environmental provisions.


Laurent you do not understand Huxley's world. The hyper alphas are explicitly un-conditioned and willing to listen to arguments for change. Huxley implies the society WILL change. Alpha dissidents are not killed but are sent to islands where they can refine their arguments. It is an unpleasant world! But a damn sight less so than most tyrannies.

Anonymous said...

The essay "Will the 21st Century Actually Begin in 2014" did not mention the 15th year of any century. Was 2014 such a disappointment that we need a do-over already?

Catfish N. Cod said...

On TPP: yes, the only way this makes sense is if it's an economic pact to contain Chinese economic hegemony in the Pacific. China already has huge economic influence in Africa, but as the only Power that did not meddle there much in the Cold War, they have not yet lost credit. Is Africa far enough away in the Chinese mind to escape neocolonial meddling? We shall see.

I am in favor of the secrecy, oddly enough, because it has a definite end, and because it's such a multiparty treaty. But not the fast track. You get one or the other but not both. If that makes your life harder, well, try more bilateral treaties to get the same result. Secrecy can only be tolerated if we get to complain about things we don't like.

------------------------

I parsed Mr. Stross slightly differently.... his theses seem to add up to a new formulation of the call to socialist revolution. Labour shall lose all market power, and thus lose political power, and thus we will all end up under capitalist oligarchical authoritarianisms. Therefore resist comrades!..... In favor of what exactly?

Obsessions over labor and capital continue to miss the point that both labour and capital must act in the service of needs and ideas, be they as simple as a bowl of rice or as complex as an iPhone playing an OK Go music video. The positive sum markets all act to generate, test, and select better means, more effective service of needs, and more worthwhile ideas. The Soviet Union didn't fail to produce widgets or secure political controls, it failed to provide for needs and facilitate ideas. China's trying to maintain hyperindustrialization to serve needs (raising a billion people out of poverty) and becoming aggressive to foster an idea (chinese nationalism) -- fail at those and revolution would be swift no matter how much military and intelligence they have. And ISIS isn't dangerous for its ability to kill; it's out to actively destroy the ability to even have ideas, much less select the best.

We are still trying to process the effects of the Information Age on politics. What I'm certain of is that the road might pass in sight of Marx again... but it doesn't lead back there.

Jason Stoddard said...

Long, slow clap for Brin. Thank you!

raito said...

Let's see if I can address the current renaissance. Some of these ideas are only half-formed, so beware.

It would seem to me that when the ability of technology to transform exceeds the capacity of the old guard to gobble it up entirely, we get this sort of renaissance. But it seems inevitable, so far, that either the old guard catches up, or the new guard becomes indistinguishable from the old.

So it would appear that only when there are significant new intellectual markets is there a changing of the guard at all. And the trap is that, after a generation, there is no longer interest in the new market per se, only an interest in money and power.

One side note here is that I have an idea that free-market capitalism becomes impossible, or nearly so, when communication and transportation become commoditized. It makes entry into existing markets at least an order of magnitude more difficult. That commoditization is what keeps the old guard even remotely agile.

I'd also put forth that new market bubbles are followed by ubiquity and commoditization, and those latter two can defeat any progrss the bubble made.

Think about trying to enter an existing market today. Unless you have something genuinely new (in which case it might be argued that you're creating a new market), you're unlikely to be successful.

So let's see how this applies historically to that last 150 years or so.

The industrial revolution put technology against 18th century business practices. And technology won. During that time, it was the mechnaical engineer who flourished. There's weren't many, and the ones who did exist either went into business for themselves, or had to be paid well to work for others. And the results were lots of inexpensive goods of decent quality, coupled with an expanding market for factory workers. Productivity rose all around.

A couple decades later, we got the robber barons. Their innovation, if it could be called that, was in business practice. Whereas previously you had little cooperation between business spheres, these guys actively cooperated to the betterment of their group. And while they weren't doing it for anything but personal gain, the result of the oil, coal, steel, railroad was a net positive for society.

I guess the next bubble would be the automobile. Again,. it expanded the need for skilled labor, and the resulting benefit of 'asynchronous' transportation (railroads being 'synchronous') is well-known.

I'm not sure where electrification comes in here, but it probably does.

Then came the communications bubble, both radio and telephone. This bubble involved the electrical engineer, much as the industrial revolution involved the mechanical.

And that was it for a few years. and what happened? The Great Depression.

I guess I'd see the post-WWII era as a bubble in business methods. It's no accident that the whole gray flannel suit (and it's backlash) are so identified with the '50's.

And we rode that, and the Cold War and NASA, for a while. Then we got the not quite a depression at the end of the 70's. Well, if you were trying to find a job, it was a depression, regardless of what the news said.

And most recently, we've had a pair of bubble, one right on the heels of, and building from the other. The first was computer hardware, followed by computer software. Transformative, creating the new business giants, and requiring a differnt kind of skilled labor. It's pretty classic, looking back.

(more in the next part)

raito said...

(continued, apparently there's a limit in a single comment)

So in my opinion, the software bubble was over at least 15 years ago. Sure, there's new stuff, but it's the tail of the bubble, and not anything new. And the powers that be are beginning to catch up. Already wages are starting to depress for hardware and software designers, just as they did for mechanical and electrical designers on the tails of their bubbles.

So, to sum up, we know that these bubbles are good for the diamond society. And it's pretty clear that when there isn't one happening, the middle of the diamond begins to sag as the business behemoths begin to catch on.

The real question for me isn't why the new renaissance, it's how do we keep the benefits of the bubbles when there isn't one?

Talin said...

David, I'm not saying you are wrong, but I'd like to point out some weaknesses in your argument.

You ask how democracy and the free market managed to thrive in the past - these are not context-free algorithms, their effectiveness varies depending on the environment, which is constantly changing.

For example there are something like two dozen preconditions that have to be true in order for the "invisible hand" to function as Adam Smith described (for example the buyer has to be able to distinguish a good product from a bad one.)

A sign of a mature ecosystem is increasingly sophisticated parasites - any system of governance or social organization that lasts more than a few centuries has to contend with the slow evolution of parasitical behaviors (high frequency trading being an example).

One parasitical behavior I worry about is mass deception. We've always had mass deception - people whose job it is to make the populace believe untrue things. However, it seems that the science of bamboozling has undergone an industrial revolution in recent years - harmful memes can now be developed and spread to large sectors of the population in just a few years. Undermining truth leads to a hollowing-out of all social institutions.

I think (and I suspect Stross would agree) that a revolution is coming, it may be gentle or it may be bloody - let's hope for the former. The interesting question for me is how to weather that storm and adapt to it.

Alex Tolley said...

@raito I agree on many of your points, although teh details may be arguable.

"I'd also put forth that new market bubbles are followed by ubiquity and commoditization, and those latter two can defeat any progrss the bubble made.
"


I'm mot clear what you mean by this. Usually it is the converse - bubbles generate a lot of new technology and overcapacity. It is the subsequent price collapse with volume that allows the technology to spread and become useful to a wider population.

markets are hard to enter when barriers to entry are high. These barriers are raised by consolidation of an industry, with few firms surviving. Mature industries show that pattern. However, as Christianson suggests ("The Innovators Dilemma") that you can disrupt markets with products that are drastically cheaper or higher performance (I learned this as a 10x change in lower price or higher performance - or a mix of both).

I tend to disagree about software. I think the technologies (languages) are flowering again, it is just the applications are boring. I think it is clear that biotechnology is finally establishing the 21st century as the biology century. No bubble in this sector yet, but that is good.

Where I disagree is that bubbles are good for the diamond shaped society. As we are seeing today, highly paid tech workers are again making SF unaffordable for everyone else, and it is causing a backlash. I think what you mean is that periods of tight labor supply generally helps the middle class, whether that supply is tight due to demand, or artificial (labor rules). What we have had for the last 40 years is a growing GDP where the gains have gone to the owners of capital due to reduced corporate and personal tax rates, coupled with a diversion of most productivity gains away from workers by various means, most notably since the 1990's by off shoring.





Alex Tolley said...

@Talin - having followed Stross for a number of years, I'm not sure he thinks a revolution is coming. He definitely thinks that government (UK) have become non-responsive to the general population and major parties almost indistinguishable. Whether he believes economic and business forces cause a revolution is less clear in my mind. Conversely, DB is more convinced that in the US, the plutocrats will cause a revolution unless they come to their senses and restore a more diamond shaped society. [ Whether there was ever a diamond shaped society is arguable in my opinion, but that is another discussion ].

Alex Tolley said...

@DB "the US is giving up too much in order to set up TPP as a bulwark against China"

Back in the early 1990's, Robert Reich noted that Americans would accept lower economic growth if it meant that Japan would not overtake the US as an economic power.

That the US is exhausting itself through "imperial" overstretch is obvious. The Pax Americana is ending, just as the Pax Britannica ended after WWII. Using trade to try to contain China, which is really more of a front for a military containment, is not good policy. Allow peaceful transition to China's superpower status and let us all benefit from good economic growth. This will surely be better than forcing a potential war with China. China may be exacerbating it with the Spratly Islands, (and inevitably acquiring Taiwan), but that doesn't mean we should expend more blood and treasure to try to maintain US status in the world. I'd rather see a multi-polar world again, with the US reducing its role as "policeman" - a role becoming as dysfunctional as policing is domestically.

locumranch said...


Charles Strouss is very astute, and his iron laws echo what I've been saying for years: Capital represents systemised political pull; political pull self-organises and accumulates, being UNEQUAL & inimical to democratic equality by definition; and systemised capital self-perpetuates, ending inevitably in oligarchy.

Feudalism 'failed' (as David argues) not because of a magical political enlightenment, but because of an altered environment (aka 'A New World') with unclaimed property, available resources & a chance at meritorious equality, upsetting feudalised maturity AND, in effect, beginning a 'new' game of Monopoly.

Unfortunately, the first-half of that new 'enlightened' Monopoly Game has run its course, and the resources of the new frontier have been organised, accumulated & divvied up, leaving most of our glorious 'Capital' in the hands of a few, reducing the bulk of our population to serfs & renters, but that's 'okay' (says David) as long as a few 'Good Billionaires' are willing to patronise our space programs & scientific elite.

We have entered the metaphorical 'second-half' of Monopoly, the endgame as it were, and the only thing that can save our fading democracy is a New Game, created by either upsetting the playing board (revolution) or a New Frontier.

Best

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - why did the feudal society not end in Europe? Are you saying that the New World impacted the economic structure of Europe? However the timeline suggests feudalism was gone by the time Columbus discovered the New World, so it seems unlikely the New World experience ended feudalism. More likely the end of feudalism allowed the colonization of the New World.

"Capital represents systemised political pull; political pull self-organises and accumulates, being UNEQUAL & inimical to democratic equality by definition; and systemised capital self-perpetuates, ending inevitably in oligarchy."

As this is more a goal of conservatives compared to liberals, shouldn't that mean you should be voting for liberal politicians?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I share concerns that the US is giving up too much in order to set up TPP as a bulwark against China. But better a deal wrought by Obama than by a gopper. At least there will be some pro-labor and environmental provisions.


I agree, if TPP is inevitable, and we have to "lie back and enjoy it", I'd rather have a Democrat doing the negotiating than a Republican. That doesn't mean I'm going to be happy about the metaphorical rape in the first place, though.

I do appreciate that the US is attempting to create a bloc which sets the rules separate from China. What I'm concerned about, and have seen nothing to dissuade me from believing this is the case, is that we are attempting what I believe you refer to as a hypergamous surrender reflex toward the transnational corporations. "Do business with us, not China. We'll race to the bottom for you better than they will."

LarryHart said...

locumranch's non-evil twin:

Unfortunately, the first-half of that new 'enlightened' Monopoly Game has run its course, and the resources of the new frontier have been organised, accumulated & divvied up, leaving most of our glorious 'Capital' in the hands of a few, reducing the bulk of our population to serfs & renters, but that's 'okay' (says David) as long as a few 'Good Billionaires' are willing to patronise our space programs & scientific elite.

We have entered the metaphorical 'second-half' of Monopoly, the endgame as it were, and the only thing that can save our fading democracy is a New Game, created by either upsetting the playing board (revolution) or a New Frontier.


A few years back--gulp, actually it was over 20 years ago--I read a book which argued the difference between what it termed an economy's "colonial" phase and it's "climactic" phase. It was talking about basically the same thing you are here--the difference between the economics of a new virgin continent in which there are plenty of unclaimed resources and the later stages of that same economy in which pretty much anything of value is already someone else's property.

In the colonial phase, it might make perfect sense to ascribe poverty to "unwillingness to work". Like someone who starves in the Garden of Eden because he's too lazy to pick fruit from a vine overhead. However, in the climactic phase, where "willing to work" often involves willingness to debase yourself at the pleasure of someone who holds you and your family's survival hostage, where the "work" required to acquire property is in the getting it away from someone else who also wants it, that same argument is disingenuous.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley to locumranch:

As this is more a goal of conservatives compared to liberals, shouldn't that mean you should be voting for liberal politicians?


I think he does vote for liberal politicians, but they're the "liberal" Republicans from rural states rather than the "progressive urban" corporate Democrats who currently rule the country.

Yeah, I'm confused as well. But then I just remember say the exact opposite of what makes sense to me, and all becomes clear.

Tony Fisk said...

The factors that led to 'The Western Enlightenment' have been in play for a good deal longer than a couple of centuries. I think they're more resilient than Stross is suggesting.

(I might add that Stross' post is basically him thinking aloud as he pens his next novel, so it should be viewed as 'adding artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative' than a rigorous analysis of the state of play today. Like our Host, he's paid to be interesting rather than right.)

Doc Searls said...

Good volley, David. As a born and re-born optimist, I continue to enjoy fomenting the revolution, and cheering others doing the same.

The one head-scratch for me is the Cluetrain reference. I co-wrote that thing, fwiw.

David Brin said...

A couple of snarker-cowards who neglected to say anything her, did snarl at me elsewhere the following:


--"Brin is a very smart guy--as he will be first to tell you--but it's hard to read him unless you are okay with a tone that sounds like a fifth grade teacher pointing out arithmetic errors to a kid who really should know better by now. "

--"Stross is being very rational, with enumerated propositions that proceed logically, refer back to earlier ones, and abjure appeals to emotion. Brin's procedure is deeply ad hominem: he pats himself on the back, drags in a few straw men to slap around, praises his opponent on crucially qualified grounds, pats himself on the back, makes a witticism and preens . . . ."

Hmmm. so the actual content of my disagreement with my pal Charles Stross is of no interest. Matters of whether or not there is any chance to save civilization? Shucks, that's boring stuff! Worse yet, it is stuff for which factual evidence might be applicable... can't have that!

Nope, instead, make it a case of personal affront over entirely subjective "preening." Unable to grapple with substance? Stoke feelings of insult over matters of style. Yep, that's the ticket.

Alas, such people actually think they are saying sentences with discursive content. But these remarks could be automated with an Eliza-style program. There's no sapience there.

===
I have no idea what DS is talking about (nor does he, most-times). I was responding to a very specific post of Charles Stross that bore no imprint from you.


David Brin said...

PS I looked again at the comment thread on Charlie's site. An order of magnitude more comments! And of a quality (low on facts and high on dramatic dudgeon) that makes me proud of this community.

Tony Fisk said...

I think DS was commenting on the title of Stross's article, which then didn't explicitly refer to the original cluetrain. As I said, my impression was that it's notes for a work in progress. A framework of reasoning that looks good when viewed from the inside of the story.

Alex Tolley said...

@ Tony Fisk "I might add that Stross' post is basically him thinking aloud as he pens his next novel"

While Stross often does this, he usually indicates it somewhere. I don't see it in this case, or in other similar posts where he discusses [UK] governments.

He says at the outset: "Right now, I'm chewing over the final edits on a rather political book. And I think, as it's a near future setting, I should jot down some axioms about politics"

Usually he floats an idea for a future book, but in this case he has apparently completed the book, so at best comments could be used to help edits. I think when he says "axioms" (not iron laws) that he considers these points self evidently true.

However, it is entirely possible that this is for a future book given his interest in near future SF and his stated desire to write urban fantasy (with a Stross twist).

"Capital doesn't need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don't plead guilty."

Is it Stross' assertion that cameras (i.e. surveillance) are anti-democratic that is bugging OGH?

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Alex Tolley: please recall that Stross is from the UK, where state controlled CCTV has been a paradigm since the IRA bombing campiagns of the 1980s. Therefore his bias (grounded in experience!) is towards assuming centralized control of the cameras. It leads peoples thoughts down the path exemplified by V for Vendetta.

This is very different from the US situation, where the cameras are divided between federal, state, local, and a multiplicity of private interests, plus the now ubiquitous phone cameras. Yes, the official cameras can track a license plate or pick a bomber out of the crowd.... but we can also document police brutality and official misconduct. And like GPS, the components of this technology are used for too many legitimate revenue-generating activities to be banned or shut down.

So I don't think Stross' ideas are as much wrong as out of date.

raito said...

Alex,

You partially make my point for me. The bubble generates overcapacity, yes. And your comment about post-bubble price collapse and spread is correct. That price collapse and spread only happens when the oligarchs (old or new) catch up. But what we're talking about here isn't about the spread of inexpensive goods or services. We're talking about the social renaissance that Dr. Brin continually goes on about, and how it differs from the last 6K years.

Having lots of stuff isn't the point.

And yes, you're also correct about disrupting markets. But existing markets haven't been disrupted all that often in the last 100-150 years. That depends on how you look at it (in this context, I don't consider the automobile disruptive to the carriage industry).

I'll disagree heavily on your opinion of software. All the new languages I've seen are rehashes of old ones, and don't really affect the applications, which is where the change occurs. The new languages aren't giving anyone that 10X improvement. If anything is, the libraries (or frameworks, or whatever silver bullet snake oil is in this month) are. And I work with language junkies.

I think I agree that bio could be the next bubble.


And no, what I mean isn't about a tight labor supply, though that shows up often. What I mean is that we get more diamond shaped when things overrun the establishment's ability to absorb change. And it tends to want to go back pyramidal when it catches up.

Again, this isn't strictly about stuff or jobs or money.

Alex Tolley said...

@raito " All the new languages I've seen are rehashes of old ones, and don't really affect the applications, which is where the change occurs. The new languages aren't giving anyone that 10X improvement. If anything is, the libraries (or frameworks, or whatever silver bullet snake oil is in this month) are. And I work with language junkies."

I tend to observe from the sidelines these days, as my days of coding professionally are over. On reflection, while there do seem to be a lot of new languages, they do not offer radical improvements in performance or ease of coding, sometimes the reverse. Your point is well taken.

"What I mean is that we get more diamond shaped when things overrun the establishment's ability to absorb change"

can you show more specific examples? I will admit to being heavily influenced by Piketty's argument about what causes wealth distribution and I would like to see how it can be integrated (if it can) with what you are saying. For example, the post WWII social changes occurred in your context - why?

Alex Tolley said...

@Catfish N. Cod
I'm well aware of Charlie's English birth and Scottish residence. I am also Brit who relocated to the US, so I do understand about UK surveillance. But don't forget the centralized data collection of camera data in the US by the FBI and NSA. You may recall they are now collecting car numberplate data amongst other items. If Snowden's revelations are correct, they are collecting a lot more than that, possibly even the cellphone camera video data, as well as security camera data from unprotected routers.

Stross is clearly worrying about state surveillance, and at this point not considering Brin's sousveillance idea. AFAIK, UK bobbies are not being asked to wear video cams as they don't tend to kill people, and police abuse of civilians is somewhat rarer than in the US, although not unknown in some cities (*cough" Manchester *cough*).

locumranch said...



It's almost "inconceivable" how so many smart people fail to grasp the basics of US political definition: A 'conservative' is an individual resistant to change; a 'liberal' favours individual 'liberty'; a 'progressive' is an individual who advocates 'progress' (aka 'forward motion') toward a particular extreme, goal or ideal; the political 'right' favours traditionalism, patriarchy and authoritarianism; and the political 'left' favours socialism, 'benevolent' authoritarianism and matriarchy. Labour-based policies tend to fall under 'leftist' auspices in the US, also.

Of course, politics breed strange bed-fellows, so many combinations of all-off-the-above are possible including 'leftist-, liberal- (or) progressive-' conservatives OR 'right-wing, progressive- (or even) conservative-' liberals. Either way, the extreme left and right (especially the 'progressive' versions) tend toward (centralised) authoritarianism. Even our host, as a matter of example, tends to favour a peculiar type of merit-based authoritarianism (wherein a select minority cadre of nanny-esque scientific 'experts' dictate and command policy decisions to a less 'enlightened' hoi polloi majority, all while demanding obeisance and merit-based feudal privileges forever), EVEN THOUGH he self-identifies as a Heinlein-esque 'live & let live' Libertarian.

Feudalism lasted longer in Europe than it did in North America & Australia because the European Monopoly playing board there remained 'sans frontier', largely intact, and (in terms of CAPITAL) in the hands of the aristocracy until WW1 (violently) over-turned the playing field. Even so, 18th Century feudalism did gain a permanent toe-hold in South America and, especially now, is experiencing a strong resurgence in the Once Free West as board, property, utility and capital ownership reverts back to the coffers of the Oligarchs.

Transparency is hardly a cure-all in this regard, especially when it can only remain effective as a deterrent in the presence of shame because, by its very nature, transparency destroys the cultural basis of shame. Once upon a time, my children, accusations of Portney's Complaint (masturbation; wankering) could lead to bloodshed or shameful groveling, but no longer, now that the transparency of the Kinsey Report revealed its omnipresence and reduced it to a commonplace. This same transparency-based effect, soon, will also eliminate the SHAME inherent in Oligarchy, Police Oppression, Corrupt Politics and Business-as-usual. allowing it to reign triumphant forever and ever, amen, excepting a violent transition.

Best

David Brin said...

Locum said: "It's almost "inconceivable" how so many smart people fail to grasp the basics of US political definition: A 'conservative' is an individual resistant to change; a 'liberal' favours individual 'liberty'; a 'progressive' is an individual who advocates 'progress' (aka 'forward motion') toward a particular extreme, goal or ideal; the political 'right' favours traditionalism, patriarchy and authoritarianism; and the political 'left' favours socialism, 'benevolent' authoritarianism and matriarchy. Labour-based policies tend to fall under 'leftist' auspices in the US, also."

Ah... cogently and lucidly stated... and stunningly delusional. A convenient strawman set up with willfully tendentious definitions in order to make himself the only sensible person in the room.

Ah... but...

... onward

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Once upon a time, my children, accusations of Portney's Complaint (masturbation; wankering) could lead to bloodshed or shameful groveling, but no longer, now that the transparency of the Kinsey Report revealed its omnipresence and reduced it to a commonplace. This same transparency-based effect, soon, will also eliminate the SHAME inherent in Oligarchy, Police Oppression, Corrupt Politics and Business-as-usual. allowing it to reign triumphant forever and ever,


The way transparency has eliminated the shame in child molestation, drunk driving, and wife-beating, you mean?

David Brin said...

LarryHart, sigh. You and I really are gluttons for punishment.


onward

raito said...

Even though we're onward...

Alex,

"He sees a dynamic in which the return on capital exceeds the rate of economic growth as an inevitable part of capitalism, one that means the poor can never catch up."

And in the cases I'm speaking of, economic growth exceeds the return on capital. Capital has a relatively fixed ability to absorb economic growth at any particular time. When growth outstrips this is when we get our 'bubbles'. And when this happens, some of those who are not already full of capital have the means to get some (and in part become the next generation of the rich).

As for post-WWII, what you had was a situation where we took out of the economy those who were mostly likely to drive it, young men. Not that women couldn't, but socially they didn't at the time. Then we created a situation where the economy had to be focused nearly completely on production of non-consumer items. Then we dumped those guys back into the economy, which was already really spinning. Couple that with being the only major nation to not have to rebuild, which made the world a market for goods, and the effect was like dumping nitrous into an engine. And it took 20 years for it to spin down to the recession of the 70's.

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