Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Brin's random ramblings! And is a PhD worth it?

For this posting, let's go all over the place! In a semi-random walk of items that share one trait.  They're... well... interesting! Starting with --

A wide-ranging interview – covering future interactions with extraterrestrials and artificial intelligence agents, the Kardashev scale of planetary civilizations, possible means to deal with climate change, ‘Brin’s Corollary’ of cameras ... on MacObserver.

Hear me blather on the Future Thinkers Podcast about transparency, reciprocal accountability and future societies. 

== Random Musings ==

The most Interesting Man in the World is on his (one way) trip to Mars? Okaaaaay then.  Any nominations for a successor?  

Teen pregnancy in the U.S. has fallen to an all time low… though there are substantial regional differences. And the problem is worst in states that prescribe “abstinence only” sex education.

The 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy. No Monty Python... the list focuses on American humor.

Does the Web now contain everything? Far from it.  Let me give one example.  Late in 1979, when I was in grad school, our PBS radio station ran a hilarious special called “Unpacking the Eighties.”  I believe the writer/singer/actor was “Jesse” or "Jerry" something.  Over the years I have searched for it. And nowadays, one would imagine someone would have cached it online somewhere… or at least mentioned it! But there’s zilch via any search method I have used.  And mind you that was a media item of some substance, nationally broadcast.

Likewise my brief-run television pilot the Architechs.  The History Channel long ago stopped selling DVDs or downloads. (There were actually TWO pilots, both of them so way cool.) Since HC has no interest in (or memory of) the show, I had hoped someone would have put it up online by now, for all to enjoy.  Especially since the ideas in the Fire Prevention and Escape pilot could save thousands of lives.  Alas, it hasn’t even been done on bit-torrent or Russian pirate sites. Alack. (Not that I am encouraging such rapscallion goin's-on.)

On the other hand... Books that top US college students are required to read: My nonfiction The Transparent Society ranks 6th at Brown! Just below... Karl Marx. Interesting. Anyone know which professor(s) at Brown are assigning it? Nice to know there are intellects out there with great taste.

== Are there too many PhDs? ==

Speaking of academe... one member of my blog-munity wrote: 

"The rise of the Ph.D. is more a cause for alarm than celebration as it reflects educational inutility & creeping credentialism.  Encouraged by poor job prospects in a contracting economy, the Ph.D. candidate forgoes gainful employment & pursues a specialized educational career path which qualifies them for little more than education and research.

University diploma mills churn out a surfeit of Ph.D.'s, depressing the relative value of this degree even further. "Only 12.8% of Ph.D. graduates can attain academic positions in the USA", and "In the UK, almost 80% of people achieving PhDs in science will eventually find careers outside science". See: Does Science Produce Too Many Ph.D.'s? in Discover.

Where this grouchy fellow has a point is that many science graduate student PhD candidates submit themselves to being used as driven labor, 80 hour weeks at pennies per hour, sometimes for magnificent mentors - the smartest and best people our species ever created - and sometimes for slave-driving egotists. (There is a slight field-correlation, with physics being more of the former and biology containing more of the latter.)

To which I reply, so? This is exactly the kind of retro pattern that nostalgia junkies moan for! Master-Journeyman-Apprentice stuff. All the way to medieval gowns in which the newly minted "doktor" gets to wear a monk's cowl! It goes way, way back. You guys should love it!

What's changed is that this path is now open to many, many more (and boy do they come, flocking) -- and the process is more moderated and fair (though I experienced unfairness that made me test the system... and I won, big. Oh, I'd make changes.)

Jiminy Cricket, if there are more doctorates than academic slots, guess what. It's freaking competitive! It's a market and you knew it was when you applied to graduate school. And even so, they come in droves. Why? Because the Big Prize is the best job, ever, in the history of the species! Pushing the envelope of knowledge while nurturing scientific skill and curiosity in both future winners and and those who won't attain any prized professorships...

... but who will go into the job market with clear proof that: "I know how to study a problem to its very core, dissect it and discover something that no one on Earth - possibly anywhere in creation - ever knew before. It may have been a small thing, BUT I ADDED SOMETHING PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN TO HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. 

"That is what PhD means. And sure, that's credentialed. So sue me. Better yet, hire me. For enough to make up for those 5 years as a lab (or theory) slave -- which also happened to be the best and most fascinating and most wonderful years of my entire f***ing life."

Dig it. In 1930 Galbraith and others predicted that industrial productivity would render the 40 hour week obsolete and millions would have to find new ways to occupy their time, outside the tsunami-productive factories and farms. Galbraith looked foolish for a while. But perhaps he was just 100 years premature. And if so?

I can think of worse ways to occupy our very brightest than spending their youths seeking a "credential" that says "I spent some of this time and wealth at the very frontiers of human knowledge."

== And finally... ==

Here's a Tech Trick... Want the simplest way to take a slug of text from somewhere and strip it of all codes and formatting and links, so you just have the text you actually want? I need this all the time and found a great way.  If you have gmail, open a new message, then paste the code-polluted text into the email's SUBJECT LINE. You can then immediately SELECT ALL and CUT and you will have the stripped version of the text, ready to insert anywhere without noxious codes embedded "helpfully."

(Seriously, it is getting worse!  I cannot paste a URL into an email anymore without gmail and /or Yahoo "helpfully" replacing the Http address with the title and thumbnail of the website. Who would want that... ever? I have never wanted it once, ever. But can I make them stop? Also, is there a simpler way to unlink email addresses that Word "helpfully" makes active, without going through multi-step menus?)

Productivity hint! I use QuickKeys, so many complex productivity steps are all one-flick stabs of my index finger onto keys on the numeric keypad. Quickeys saves me at least 15 minutes of lifespan, every single day.  I barely recall how to mouse drag a cursor onto a scroll-down menu, anymore.

...And now you all see what I do with random snippets that don't fit into my normal posting categories. Goulash!  Yum.  Hope you enjoyed it.


Giuseppe Regalzi said...

"Unpacking the 80's", by Jesse Boggs.

aciddc said...

The issue with PhDs is more about the crappy job market overall. People are pouring into educational field that seems to offer a chance at decent long-term employment, and it's often not working out.

Jumper said...

Giuseppe Regalzi makes short work of it! LOL

Unknown said...

re: plain text: or just paste into any text editor? E.g. on your Mac, in a Terminal, you can use nano, e.g. 'nano /tmp/text.txt' Though Terminal does sometimes include unusual characters...

brian t said...

A question for Dr. B if I may? I'm finally getting round to the Uplift series, and just finished Sundiver. There's one side topic from the book that intrigued me, and I was wondering if it seems more or less relevant, or likely to happen, in the light recent technological advances?

It's the idea of "Probation" as used in the novel. It's almost a kind of "precrime": you can end up tagged as a substandard human - literally, tagged - through no fault of your own, just genetics and your upbringing. Probationers are denied employment and access to Space, and who knows what else beyond what the book details. As if that wasn't sufficiently Orwellian, some people end up on "Permanent Probation", a phrase that had me going "Oh, No". At least Orwell's plebs had to commit a ThoughtCrime before they were sentenced ..! (Now on to Startide Rising.

David Brin said...

brian t of course it is Orwellian! Indeed, what makes the "precrime" nature of probation even creepier is that society is, as a whole, pretty liberal. I may write more set in that era.

Jumper said...

On the difference between markets and capitalism. This seems to say what you do, David.

LarryHart said...

Re: Sundiver and "Permanent Probation":

I always read that as related to the fact that Earth had just recently made contact with galactic civilization, and our relationship with the Galactics was tenuous at best. So certain people had to be kept segregated from the aliens, both for their sake and ours.

Still Orwellian, but for a particular reason.

Also, it's ironic that you use the term "Orwellian" to describe an aspect of that particular novel, as it strives to be a bit more "Huxleyian". Explicitly so.

Mark said...

A year ago my daughter, now a college junior, absolutely planned on getting a Ph.D. The more she's looked into, though, the less it appealed to her. What she really wants to do is write and she thinks the odds of that working are just as good if not better than getting a tenured position.

David Brin said...

Mark, a PhD makes sense even for a person with marginal tenure prospects, IF the PROCESS of getting one sounds like a fine adventure. And it can be, even with rough patches. But that may not appeal to her.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I may write more set in that era.

Isn't the tale of the Vanilla Needle still untold?

(Or would that just be anticlimactic by now?)

donzelion said...

In response to the complaint about PhD candidates living as "driven labor" working for pennies on the hour, 80 hours a week - Dr. Brin offers this reply:

To which I reply, so?
Which must be the correct response, and one applicable to most professions. But it's a curious response: professionals, esp. those in the knowledge professions, are driven by the hope of love for their field, hoping to push the boundaries of knowledge (or justice, or beauty, or truth) - knowing some have achieved that, while many (most) do not. What is the outcome of such disappointment?

In the Ivy Leagues, a vast pool of students (for a time) went into finance in one form or another, assuming that they could not prevail in the competition for what they truly loved, settling on a mundane banality that at least yielded pecuniary gain. Such is the lot that moved the markets toward madness - in many instances, disdainful of the day job (which lasted well into the night), numbed intellectually by the same herd mentality that drove them to the Ivy - a cognitive dissonance (or diffidence) that empowered a collapse.

donzelion said...

@Larry - "Also, it's ironic that you use the term "Orwellian" to describe an aspect of that particular novel [Sundiver], as it strives to be a bit more "Huxleyian". Explicitly so."

Concur. And now you're channeling this lovely missive from Huxley to Orwell re 1984 -

...the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World.

Perhaps. But there may be alternatives...

Tony Fisk said...

Mark, one excellent reason for your daughter to pursue a PhD: it will give her a solid grounding in doing research, which is an essential requirement to writing a good story.

Speaking of which, the 2016 Hugo nominations have just been announced. Voxana Le Day is making his presence smelt again, alas. Rather surprised to not see 'Aurora' up there, but there's 'The Martian' and 'Sandman:Overture', so things aren't totally broken.

Watching VP Biden discussing the current imbroglio over getting a new SCJ nominated reminds me that there has been research done on optimum council sizes. It turns out the sweet spot is just under twenty, but the absolute worst number is... eight. The only advisory council in history with eight members was that of... Charles I. I'll leave you to draw conclusions.
A fix? Try having a pool of, say 12 Justices. Draw 9 at random, to form a full Supreme Court Quorum on any particular decision.
Perfect? Ha!

brian t said...

Thanks for the replies! I agree, Orwellian on top of the explicit Huxley references. Future Earth read to me like a society suffering from cognitive dissonance - understandably. When aliens walk among you, offering you all the knowledge they've gained from the universe, do political terms like "liberal" still mean anything? You can tell it's a bit of a head-scratcher, in a good way.

Tony Fisk said...


Interesting to see Huxley laying out his reasoning to Orwell on why future dictators will choose 'his' methods over Orwell's

It reminds me of the way Niven has Jack Brennan describe the thought processes of a Pak Protector: crystal clear, unassailable, implacably leading to one conclusion. No free will is involved.

As you say, there may be alternatives.

donzelion said...

@Tony - "A fix? Try having a pool of, say 12 Justices. Draw 9 at random, to form a full Supreme Court Quorum on any particular decision."

You've just offered the basic form of the Court of Appeals (the 'circuit courts'). With 179 or so judges sitting on 13 circuits (12 circuits + the Federal Circuit), there are about 13 or so judges per circuit (depending on how many Repubs in Congress permits to be seated), and only for special appeals will claims be heard 'en banc.' The Supreme Court has its hands full addressing claims that get resolved by those lower courts...(or not resolving them, as will probably happen with some 4-4 judgments this year).

Turns out, that process is just as prone to manipulation and political bias as any other. There's something to be said for having multiple distinct processes in place - the means of gaining a negative ruling on Obama's Deferred Action plan in Texas will not apply in DC, so new approaches are needed.

Ruby Louise said...

While in grad school earning my PhD, someone gave me a small book titled "A PhD is Not Enough" by Peter Feibelman, PhD. At first I was offended and discouraged. After reading it, I found it provided guidance on how to build a career, prepare for interviews, build a research program, etc. In short, it is a mentor in book form. It had not previously occurred to me that simply completing a PhD would not almost immediately result in finding employment and that I would need to devote some time, energy, and thought to continuing to develop my professional career.

Every so often I wonder if the loud complaining about how there are too many PhDs is emanating from those who thought an advanced degree would automagically result in gainful employment and intellectual glory and who have now become disillusioned.

Alfred Differ said...

In my post graduation Moment Of Doubt, I too wondered what I could do in the job market. The odds of me getting a tenure track position anytime soon were too slim to justify any hope. I looked at becoming a Quant and even learned the mathematical models used as foundation material. The thing that bothered me about them was the implied assumption of a lack of correlation between market participants. When that condition failed, their models didn't apply. Taleb described it later in terms of Black Swans. I figured I should examine the non-applicable time spans, but that's not what they hired quants to do. The guy I co-authored one paper with was hired to run models and improvise on them according to what the investor thought. He wasn't adding his own creativity to them.

Then I met a woman, fell in love, and none of this mattered anymore. My immediate task was to generate an income. Any income would do. I did exactly that. She jokes about me pulling a bait and switch on her. I counter that I knew my biological priorities. Our 21st anniversary is this Friday, so I have to put a new spin on the old jokes. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

I was never among the ‘driven labor’ class in school. I was closer to the ‘neglected labor’ class because I took too long to pass exams and find a ‘master’. Though I didn’t see things then quite like I do now, I have no one to blame but myself. There is one stat of mine from 1987 that pertains to a modern political scenario, though. I’d like to ask the advocates of labor around here what they think.

The year 1987 was a grim year for me. I finally had a thesis advisor, but he was ‘on the fringe’ when it came to departmental relationships. He had an unusually high number of students for someone in his position, but there was little doubt he was being pushed out (alcoholics can lose friends at an impressive rate) and there was no money for us. We made do with lecturing and TA’ships when the department needed us, but I was clearly in a weak position. As employment relationships go, I needed them FAR more than they needed me and my advisor wasn’t in a position to defend me. My Social Security statement says I earned $3,000 that year. Total. If memory serves, my parents gave me $2,000 more.

The thing is, I loved what I was doing. That year was the first of three where my research journal shows I was productive and creative. If someone had set up a cot in a broom closet and let me live there free of charge, I would have done anything to pursue the research. It mattered more than anything except staying alive to do it. I could see how I was doing what no one had done before and how it fit into the effort our team was making.

The question for minimum wage advocates is this. How much should the university have been paying me to produce quality research for my advisor and boost what was left of his reputation and support theirs? Essentially, I did it for nothing. That year I began a small tutoring business to bring in a little cash to buy food. I attended seminars I wouldn’t remember for the food. I would have been very upset if someone had forced the university to pay me followed with them cutting me because they didn’t have the $$ to do it. Obviously, someone could have given them the money, but for a professor who chooses a life path that is indistinguishable from slow suicide, they could have argued against what I wanted. Because there was no minimum wage that could be applied to my situation, therefore, I got to do what I wanted.

So, when you contemplate what the minimum wage should be for a particular kind of work, how do you cope with guys like me? I was chasing a dream and caught it a few years later. Would any of you intervene with a minimum wage law in a situation like mine?

Tacitus2 said...

In our family pretty much all subjects are fair game for discussion. Politics, religion, popular culture. I enjoy having illuminating conversations with my adult kids who are in various respects smarter than I am. One topic I will not go near under any circumstances - no how, no way, not happenin' - is what my daughter in law is going to do with her impressive PhD living in a place where utilizing it in the real world is nigh on impossible. Not. Going. There.

My grandson is making a compelling case for life far outside the cloistered groves of academe. I just smile and keep my mouth shut.


Chris Heinz said...

I found the Too Many PhDs discussion disengenuous. "It's freaking competitive!" I'd say competitive is 3-4 candidates per slot. 10-20 candidates per slot is a broken system. Time for #basicincome.

David Brin, why are you not working harder to help us figure out how to get to a #postscarcityutopia? Yes, yes, I know you are the libertarian prophet of "reclaiming Adam Smith" - really??? The Wisdom Of The Ages was published in 1776??? Crap, why not use the Bible? Sounds way sketchy to me.

Time to think post-market, post-capitalism.

Jumper said...

We already are when Microsoft claims it's "competing" with free software such as Firefox.

Jumper said...

I would say finding a specialty is different from getting a PhD. But neither guarantees a job.

This other topic is under-reported here, perhaps:

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Gotta love it when people think the age of a book they've never read means it can't be relevant.

Just in case anyone else suggests the Basic Income notion, be aware that had it been available to me back then, I would have gladly taken the money... and tried to stay in the program FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I enjoy doing research and the University would have enjoyed not having to pay for my support of their reputation.

Can you spell LEECH?

Oooo... better yet... Can you grok "Clergy paid through tithes?"
Yah. It's spelled LEECH.

Anabelle said...

A basic Man Woman and child income at the individual poverty level would cost 22.2% of the U.S. GDP. The highest revenue ever collected was 20.5% of the GDP. And there are a bunch of government services that would not be mitigated by basic income. Now a basic income could also ease state and local spending. We could give children less. We could set it below national poverty line and make people migrate. Not enough. And mind that if we replaced social services with basic income, the minority of the poor that cannot manage their finances on their own die.

Paul451 said...

Re: Code polluted text.

I've resorted to pasting into notepad to do the same thing for especially uncooperative applications.

However, it's usually unnecessary on Word. If you are copying into an MS-Office product, don't CRTL-V/CMD-V, use CTRL-SHFT-V in Windows or CMD-SHFT-V (IIRC) in MacOS. Then select "as unformatted text". It will strip the crap from the source... and add in the crap from the destination. (In some MacOs applications, it's CMD-OPTION-SHFT-V, which is fun.)

It would be nice if the clipboard also let you CRTL-SHFT-C to indicate "copy only plain text ascii, no extra crap", but alas no, you have to rely on the kindness of the destination software.

(MacOS lets you get close. But it's a sledgehammer move. You can permanently turn CMD-C into "paste and match formatting" for all applications that have the option, by going into System Preferences, Keyboard Shortcuts and creating a new shortcut to overwrite CMD-V)

[I've been forced to use a Mac at work, creating a bookkeeping system under Excel-for-Mac. I've learned to hate Macs, and especially the Mac version of Office, with a fiery passion. "It just works" my ass.]


To permanently stop Word from hyperlinking URLs/email-addresses, you should tweak the Autoformatting settings. You should do that anyway, I'd expect a lot of these options to get in your way more than most of us.

(Then if you ever really need to add in an active hyperlink, you only have to right-click (Win) or CRTL-click (Mac) and select "hyperlink" (or insert/hyperlink). And seriously, would we ever have so many hyperlinks in the sort of document that we'd write in Word that it saves more time to add them automatically than the time we waste removing them? I mean, even if you're creating a web-page in Word (for some reason), hyperlinks won't be visible URLs, they'll be ordinary text turned clickable.)

El Muneco said...

I wanted to be more snarky and call the linked article "100 Jokes that Shaped Modern Comedy for Parochial Americans Who Weren't Paying Attention", but it's actually pretty decent for covering the history of US-centric comedy.

Still, no Monty Python, no Fry/Laurie, no Mitchell/Webb, no Rowan Atkinson, no Ronnies (one of whom died weeks ago, no less), no Dave Allen... And no Canadians, either, who have had massive impact here (although there's a possibility that Celine Dion was serious).

David Brin said...

Pal 451 thanks for the tech advice.

Chris Heinz F>>> right back-atcha, Mr. Attitude. My answer is to ask you to do what no one seems willing to do, smarty pants, and that's look at 6000 years when 99% of human societies plunged into exactly - exactly !! - the same failure mode of hierarchical-oligarchic feudalism. In the USSR they replicated it precisely only with a surface religion called socialism and a priesthood called communists. Only one civilization ever managed to break that cycle for more than the two generations achiev ed by Periclean Athens and Florence. That exception is the civ that Adam Smith and his co-founders established, that has done better than ALL previous societies combined. Combined.

Do you have a new plan? We'd all love to see it. KS Robinson is a dear pal and he is trying to re-invigorate marxism. I'll listen and critique and maybe put it in a novel! But to sneer at the ONLY society that ever flattened the social order, extended rights to the previously despised and gave 95% of kids a shot at clean lives? Bullshit.

Paul451 said...

"Time for #basicincome. [...] get to a #postscarcityutopia?"

Poe's Law. I can never tell if people using hashtags outside of twitter are trying to be ironic/sarcastic, or are actually stupid.

greg byshenk said...

Alfred, are you suggesting that your research had no value? That would seem to be the case if you consider living off a "basic income" and doing research being a 'leech'. One also might ask: how is society/the state paying a basic income for someone to do research different than a university (often a agent of the state) paying a "basic income" for that person to do research?

Research is also an interesting example of the type of case where a "market" economy has difficulty, because the "market" has difficulty funding activities that are not directly marketable.

Jumper said...

@Paul451 This, however, is definitely sarcasm. (I say the same about people using the @)

I have been justly criticized for posting links with no explanation.
IMF, World Bank, U.N., OECD form new group to stop tax erosion:

Robert said...

Given the number of authors who appear to prefer bare-bones word processing program (I've seen at last two other than Dr. Brin who use outdated systems), someone really needs to craft a WPP that doesn't add all that crap to it and only imports text from other systems.

So, Dr. Brin, if you were to have someone create a WPP, what functionalities would you recommend? The only ones I can think of is a spellcheck that only functions when you run it and has an easy-delete function to remove words from the spellcheck if you accidentally add them, and a print function.


I also don't think someone living off a living stipend so they can focus on research is being a leech. The person is busy learning - would a college student using a living stipend so they can focus on their classes be considered a leech after all? And if they make the right discoveries, they could very well end up building a spinoff corporation that makes lots of money and pays for that previous stipend through taxes.

There is one other thing to consider. If everyone gets a basic stipend to live off of, and then every dollar they earn is taxed at a specific rate until those earning two times that stipend have paid it off, then you could actually eliminate the minimum wage to compensate for this. After all, you no longer need a living wage, and it is the bone tossed to businesses who claim the minimum wage kills jobs.

Seeing there IS a living stipend, people can then force jobs to compete for their labor. After all, if you are not forced to work three jobs to make just enough to survive off of, then you can look at a job, say "this is not worth my effort," and quit.

The stipend becomes a poison pill for bad employers. If a manager is shit and abuses workers, and workers know they can leave, they will. Eventually those managers are let go because they can't keep workers, or the job is forced to pay high enough for people who would accept the abuse because the money is worth it.

My sneaking suspicion is that we'd see a lot of dead-end low-wage jobs paying higher than the current minimum wage in an effort to draw in workers. The threat is that you have companies resort to automation instead of labor and you have completely robotized burger joints and the like. (As it is, already my city is using garbage trucks where the driver doesn't need to leave the vehicle, it snags the barrel and expertly dumps it into the truck. It's also much safer no doubt, though I can also see potential drawbacks in terms of safety should someone use such a remote system for dumping potentially explosive chemicals that they don't want to get rid of legally.)

Rob H.

raito said...


Sounds like a job for emacs.

Most of the people I know who use 'outdated' (it's only outdated if it doesn't work) use them because they have a lot of time invested in their tools, and retreating from a local maximum to maybe get to the global maximum is a bit of a risk.

Dr. Brin,

When the system works correctly, PhDs are as you describe. But my experience is that there's quite a few out there who didn't actually add anything to human knowledge, or did by hiring others to do their work for them. From the guy who admits he never did a dissertation (can you actually get a PhD from MIT just as an assistant?) to the guy who got his by owning a company and having others do all his work, to the one whose work didn't actually add to human knowledge (and those are just some examples), I admit my skepticism about the process. But every process has its faults, doesn't it?

Fortunately, the ones I have to deal with now are a pretty good bunch. How can you tell? They don't require that you address them by title. In my experience, the more they insist on it, the more insecure they are, and the more shaky their claim to extending human knowledge is.

Duncan Ocel said...

While the prospect of hyper-efficient productivity and the reduced work week sure do appeal, will they require the obsolescence of money? I sure would love that, but that is one of those major societal changes that would likely need to play out over generations. Also, without money, those competitive arenas would find themselves missing one of their driving forces.

It is also possible that money will still be important in securing non-essentials, or even that our whole economic system will live on, unscathed, and the wealth disparities will be further accentuated. However, there are no equilibrium states over the long term.

Thoughts, anyone?

Anonymous said...

They come flocking to the 20th century bureaucracy (whether the educational corporation or the corporate corporation or the government corporation) because "jobs came to be divided between a lower stratum of service workers and an upper stratum sitting in antiseptic bubbles playing with computers" (David Graeber) and gosh between flipping cowsides for 💲8/hr with no bennies or the somewhat more for fooling around with computers, hmm!

Why gmail needs gigs of memory and a CVE-prone javascript execution environment a.k.a "the browser" to do what mutt and vi can do in just a few megs of memory, well, I guess that's what some folks call progress. Possibly the same folks who leave the lights on at night, and swoon for Operation Bongo III, ongoing...

useless.old.fool said...

Brin please take the time and look at the economic numbers and articles at EPI.org.
More education is NOT a solution to a jobless economy; that requires government and collective action.
That our economy and society are failing to support our brightest is pathetic.


The hardship in pursuing an education is so well know that it now in popular culture (books and songs).
Here is just one Sci-Fi example

David Brin said...

raito, I think that every PhD committee should have 1 or 2 outside members who live 1000+ miles away and attends the defense remotely after reading the thesis then watches the defense and can veto. (1) if it's trivial or (2) if the candidate clearly does not know what his dissertation contains.

brian t said...

Speaking of the relevance of old works ... fellow SF author Jerry Pournelle is fond of reprinting a Kipling poem on his blog: The Gods of the Copybook Headings. I can't help thinking about it when the topic of a Universal Basic Income is raised:

 And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

 When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

 As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

 The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Me, I have no objection to being paid for existing ..!

David Brin said...

The question is a pragmatic one. So far, initial experiments suggest that the puritans are wrong. That ensuring all children are comfortable and educated does not create waves of useless, over-breeding lotus eating rabbits. Sure, it does make a lot of game-play addict couch potatoes, but also huge numbers of creative and vigorous fit-bit wearing runners and hobbyists and small business entrepreneurs and artists.

There is simply no excuse for the stunning immorality of not extending the incremental experiments in basic income, to discover who s right.

Alfred Differ said...

@jumper: I WAS wondering what the link was for. ;) (But I like the @)

@Greg Byshenk: I’m not saying my research has no value. I think quite the opposite is true. Nevertheless, who am I to say so and then live off your tithe?

@Rob H: Very kind of you, but who here knows what I researched? Is it worthy of your support? Rather than tax you to pay me, wouldn’t it be a tad more moral to show you and then ask for donations? I get that this personal approach would get messy with thousands of people clamoring for your money, but we have new tools for this today. I could do a Kickstarter project, right? At some point, people will want advisory boards set up to offer advice on who to support and then we’d be back at university-style structures that support science right now. I might think my research is the best thing since sliced bread, but Science is a market and anyone wishing to support parts of it should pay attention to market signals. If my peers think my research is stale bread, you’d probably be better off supporting someone else. If we introduce a basic stipend, we risk damaging or eliminating those market signals. You might wind up supporting a new Hobbes who thought he could square the circle. Market structures are your friend.

I ask about minimum wage style enforcement because some of us won’t get to do what we want to do in such a world. I’m all for protecting people who get trapped into doing what they DON’T want to do and being paid peanuts, but I’m not convinced minimum wage laws are the solution. They harm some who lose their job to automation and they falsely signal that the job being done is actually worth that much money. We are confusing the value of the work being done with the moral worth of the person doing it. I only doubted my worth once and even then didn’t connect it to what I was paid, so how do we deal with people who WANT a job bad enough to not care about the money?

I like Jorge Cham’s material often enough to read him regularly. He looks at this issue from many angles in his webcomic. http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php

Jumper said...

I have the feeling far too few college students know about this program. I took advantage of it and shaved a year off my education bill (well, almost. There are small fees for each test, but not within a light year of actual tuition costs.)
CLEP tests

matthew said...

Alfred's comments, both "Leech" and "moral worth of the person doing it" betray his market-centric worldview. He is basing his evaluation of human worthiness on a human's market value, which to my mind, is an extremely dangerous thing to do.

A competitive arena is not the place to decide whether a person lives or dies. "Ave imperator, morituri te salutant" is a thing of the past,yes? We, as a society, have decided forcing people to duel to the death is undesirable. Yet, here is Alfred, raising a concern that not forcing people to duel to the death in a competitive market is a moral hazard. And make no mistake, a society without a mechanism for protecting those that cannot or will not "root or die" will end up with a large number of dead people. Do you care to guess the life expectancy loss for being homeless? See this link for how much homelessness decreases life expectancy. http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/health.html

The sum of human worth is not accurately measured by a market. I would argue that the laziest video game playing couch potato deserves to live. Alfred has shown his willingness to punish the mentally ill, the lazy, and the stubborn at the altar of his market-fetish. I believe I know where the moral hazard lies in this case.

Robert said...

Alfred, that's the thing about a Basic Stipend.

If everyone is provided with the minimum required to survive off of and can actually earn a small amount of money tax-free on top of that, then you not only satisfy the taxation-is-theft anarchists who don't want to give anything to government, but you also eliminate the need for a minimum wage. Thus my comment. The thing is... by eliminating the need to work, you eliminate the use of force by businesses to force people to work in conditions they don't want to work in. And thus you create a system where jobs are forced to pay people what they are worth, not what the business owner thinks they are worth.

If I say "this job isn't worth $2/hour" and everyone else says "I agree, it's not worth $2/hour" then the company is forced to pay more... or eliminate the position. Further, it lessens the incentive for automation, because you don't have groups saying "$15/hour for everyone!"

This could even work with a flat tax that eliminates all tax rebates and deductions. You determine the amount that would be needed, percentagewise, to pay for government spending as it currently is, interest and some principal, and the basic stipend. And you add a caveat.

Any military spending that happens can only be paid for with taxes on people making over one million dollars a year, and must be paid for in-full.

My suspicion is that even the laziest of people will eventually start working because they can. And because of boredom.

That said, I also feel some community service on a local level should be required for those people able to perform the service (and even allow people who are physically disabled to provide some form of non-physical labor).

The Basic Stipend would even eliminate the need for Social Security - you get your Stipend your entire life. Existing Social Security beneficiaries making over the Basic Stipend would still learn that extra amount. Everyone else gets the Stipend. (Thus Social Security taxes would either be used wholly for Medicare and medical insurance, or be subsumed into the Stipend.)

Rob H.

Jumper said...

I wouldn't ascribe more than Alfred he specifically said, but I'm not here to defend him, I'm here to say I hate leeches. Which is not to say I don't believe in a minimum standard of life, because I do. I'm just saying a leech has a personality problem. Poor people don't, necessarily. If I was king I'd pay people to go to classes; either easy or difficult, whichever they want. But learn something, even life skills.

David Brin said...

Two points: (1) The famously libertarian Robert Heinlein believed that basic food and shelter should be free.

(2)I have no objection to requiring 20 hours of work per week in exchange for this basic support. There should be no garbage-strewn alleys or parks.

Tim H. said...

Such a requirement could spawn a new bureaucracy, make that "Encourage".

Robert said...

The physically-disabled can do their community service by being that bureaucracy. ;)

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

That could be a step up from contemporary bureaucracy...

Jumper said...

If you've ever been in the unemployment line you'll find a lot of people who would have a hard time finding any other job employed running the unemployment office.

Robert said...

That's not quite true.

You find people with political connections who get those jobs and then rely on their connections to keep those jobs. They appear unemployable elsewhere but that is because they are relying on some form of nepotism to work there.

Rob H., who once met a girl who worked part-time at a Wal-Mart giving shitty haircuts while telling me and my friend that she also was going to work for the state because a relative had gotten her the job. (Seriously. Worse haircut I've ever gotten. I had to fix it afterward. The back didn't even meet up, it was higher on one end than the other.) (My friend chided me for giving her such a lousy tip until I pointed out how bad HIS haircut was. He was distracted by her appearance.)

greg byshenk said...

Alfred, the reason I asked the question is that a 'leech' is a parasite that provides no value to the host (in the general case, leaving aside any potential medical uses). If your research had -any- value, then it would not be 'leech'ing. Again: if you were being supported by a university or a grant, how is that any different?

I think the suggested alternatives are not actually viable ones in the general case. Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and the rest are able to function, in large part, because not many people are actually using them. One of the reasons people support a UBI is to reduce the overhead of providing income support (which is why adding any kind of bureaucracy partly defeats the purpose), and the overhead of having large numbers of people using some funding website quickly becomes unmanageable. Even if the actual monetary costs are reduced to zero, there is still the opportunity cost: I do not have the time to read and evaluate one million (or ten thousand, or even one thousand) different research proposals (and I am pretty sure that no one else does, either).

And, in the end, we would end up supporting some crackpots. So what? Science is a "market" of ideas, and the scientific value is in the ideas and results produced. What is the harm in supporting a crackpot? Someone doing bad or pointless research will waste his or time, and perhaps a small amount of resources. The total loss there is probably less than the amount of resources wasted requesting and evaluating grants now.

Alfred Differ said...

CLEP tests got me out of most of my freshman year and enabled me to consider a double major. The only one I didn’t pass required me to prove my skills with the English language. Recent events involving students with poor skills had caused the school to raise the bar. I would have passed but for that. Instead I got to suffer through Eng 101 & 102 and have a poet tell me my use of language sucked. I didn’t believe him and moved on. Many years later when it was time to write my dissertation, I discovered my use of language sucked. Embarrassing. Those things are hard enough to read as they are without the author being unable to break out of passive voice. Wherever that poet is today, I wish him well. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@greg byshenk: The reason I used the ‘leech’ word isn’t because there was no value in what I did. It is because some will believe that to be so. Ask anyone to recall what Sarah Palin said about certain basic research involving fruit flies in the 2008 election and you’ll see my concern. Ask our host what he thinks about the war against smarty-pants and you’ll see my concern. Of course my research is of some value. Of course I would support getting paid to do it. The funny thing is, I’ve continued to do it anyway though at a much slower pace AND I’ve figured out how to fund myself. With a UBI, I assure you I would not have felt the stress necessary to figure out what I have figured out. I’m opposed to the fools waging the war on smarty-pants, but I can see the incentive they have to wage it as something we might prefer to avoid. Fools do foolish things, but remove that particular incentive and their foolishness turns in other directions.

We DO support some crackpots, but the marketplace of science trades ideas and rewards with reputation. The signals in that market matter in ways that I argue NO ONE understands. We monkey with them at our peril. I’m supportive of David’s incremental approach, but I recognize the difficulty in doing so with UBI. I anticipate tests of it will look like early drug tests. They will be promising in some ways and the social engineers among us will argue for moving on to the next testing stage that involves everyone. I don’t see how to stop them and force the full duration of the tests without them calling us heartless monsters. As with drug tests, early efforts can look promising, but the double blind stage winds up demonstrating no benefit or actual harm done. We are BELIEVERS when it comes to social engineering, so these tests are going to have to involve real risks of real harm. Do you want to do that to the science market? Is it worth it? Can we all discuss it in a civil manner? I doubt Palin’s supporters would even come to the table.

Alfred Differ said...

@matthew: I’m not basing my evaluation of another person’s worthiness on anything from a market. What I did earlier was intended to demonstrate the danger of connecting things that way, so I’m in agreement with you that doing such is a terrible idea. When I consider another’s ‘worthiness’ I tend to slip sideways and consider their ‘loveliness’ in the sense Adam Smith used the word. How lovable are they? It has little to do with their physical looks and everything to do with whether or not I want to get to know them well enough to copy parts of them into my Self. I’m not concerned much whether or not others think someone is lovely. I try to decide for myself.

A competitive arena is not the place to decide whether a person lives or dies.

For this, though, I’m going to call you on it. We are immersed in many competitive arenas and have been since before humans were human. You can’t dodge our past or the fact that this will continue into our future. What we’ve managed to do is make these arenas less lethal. BRAVO! Let’s keep that up.

Alfred has shown his willingness to punish the mentally ill, the lazy, and the stubborn at the altar of his market-fetish.

…and for this I’ll let you know my son is autistic. I haven’t killed him on the altar for it. He has helped me see things in ways I would not have comprehended 20 years ago.

Our markets are moral structures, so it is a shame so many see them as amoral. They help us help each other in ways no xenophobe ever would. Our participation in them is, I suspect, the driving force in our physical evolution since xenophobes don’t do as well. Ever so slowly, we are domesticating each other into interdependence through markets. Our ancestors were much more autonomous than we are, but the traders among them prospered better. Evolution in a large ecosystem is the only amoral market I can imagine, but we aren’t evolving blindly. We make moral decisions and trade on them.

Alfred Differ said...

@Rob H: Allow me to put the anarchist hat on for a moment. It doesn’t fit well, but I’ll try. Where does your basic stipend come from if not taxation? My anarchist head explodes if you take anything from me and give it to another. It also explodes if a business can force people to work.

If you say a job isn’t worth $2/hour and everyone else agrees, where is a business going to get people to do it? Everyone else agreed with you. If the business ships people in from elsewhere to do it and doesn’t use force, then maybe not everyone agrees with you?

In all honesty, I’m not too worried about lazy people being leeches. I’ve known some. One of them changed years later when he could stand living with himself. We CAN reward good behavior through social reinforcements, but WILL WE? I’ve been preached at for all sorts of imaginary sins by people who thought they knew me. I’ve been told I’m going to roast in Hell. I can spot a righteous indignation rage in less than a second most of the time, but I can’t always avoid falling into the pit with the person raging at me. I would love to see our civilization do the most amazing things like ensure no one goes without food and shelter and we are getting there slowly, but it is VERY slow for the progressives among us who want to just snap their fingers and fix it all. Still… we ARE getting there, so I have to wonder if ‘more of the same’ isn’t the correct recipe. By more of the same, I mean kick the can down the road to our children. Each generation is liberalizing our civilization so why not use that? The people who want to rage at every perceived leech will die off. The question is this. Do they get replaced by fewer in the next generation?

Alfred Differ said...

I'd support paying people to expand their education much more than I would a minimum wage or UBI.

Robert said...

The Stipend works like this.

You get X amount each year (probably in monthly payments, so X/12).

You are also allowed to work and can earn another X amount, tax-free.

Thus you can earn up to 2X without ever paying taxes. That is for you anarchists. ;)

If you decide to work further, you start paying back that stipend. Thus you are taxed at we'll say 50%. But only the amount above X is taxed.

So when you earn 3X, you in fact are paying off the entire Stipend (as you gain X in the stipend, and can earn another X tax-free... while at 50% tax, the next 2X ends up paying in full your Stipend). In essence, you are not being taxed and not gaining any benefit when you earn 3X of the Stipend.

If you [2nd person impersonal] choose to earn more than that, you are now being taxed. That tax money is going to pay for infrastructure, security, research, and government. And seeing you are USING those, complaining about paying them just means you're a freerider who is a leech. ;)

The funny thing is, the anarchists seem to believe that private industry should build all the roads and then be free to charge people to use them. Anarchists also seem to think it's possible to have courts without government and that if something like dumping happens then you can sue the dumpers. And for that matter that people would just honor contracts when there is no enforcement when in fact if someone seeks to harm another company or person, they could screw over the contract and suffer no significant consequences - especially if they have sufficient PR to claim the other party violated terms of the contract and thus they are justified.

Anarchists are utopists who seem to believe just because they won't go on shooting sprees, no one will. Just because they'll honor contracts means everyone else will. And just because they feel government is evil and needs to be ended, it is.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

On anarchists, tax code complexity, contracts, and government, anyone who skipped reading this might want to reconsider.

The Government, the Private Sector, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and a Flag-Waving Member of the Local Chapter of Kiwanis – an Anecdote

David Brin said...

Randians believe that government is legitimate for defense and courts and the enforcement of contracts under a monopoly on force. But almost nothing else.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re - Leeches

As an engineer every time I do anything I am reminded about how high the shoulders that I am standing on are

Everything we do is only possible because of the common heritage of mankind - the people who started by clubbing tigers then invented writing and mathematics through to the guys who created the measurement systems and the metals we use today

The most original possible patent can only cover one or two percent of the underlying knowledge that is required to make it work

This means that 90+% of the wealth that we currently enjoy was actually created by our ancestors - and the ancestors of all of us

Somebody who get a universal basic income of 90% of the average income (not the median) is simply getting what he/she is entitled to - his/her share of the common heritage of all of us

Somebody who is simply getting his/her share can hardly be called a "leech"

Alfred Differ said...

@Rob H: So I'll paraphrase this back at you and insert my questions to show you where I don't follow. Let's start with a small agreement, though. The anarchists are believers in an easily disproved utopia.


I receive X per year for doing nothing but living. Okay. Where does X come from?

I can earn another X per year for a 'job' and not be taxed. Okay. I'm at 2X per year now if I'm not a lazy bum and I haven't contributed any taxes to pay for anything. I might have worked at producing public property in my 'job', but it is also possible I just babysat some rich dude's kids.

I can choose to earn some more beyond 2X. We will say 3X for now, but the extra X is taken to pay back the first X, so what I've done is worked and paid for someone else to sit or work without contributing taxes. The third X I've earned won't go to someone like me because they will have paid off their X too. Those who choose to go this extra step, therefore, are financing both the people who need the help AND the leeches.

If I choose to go beyond 3X, I'm paying for civilization's infrastructure. ONLY people earning more than 3X are doing that. Therefore, I am being reasonable when I argue my class OWNS the infrastructure and the rest of the louts shouldn't be able to vote.

You might not like that last step, but I think it is a very likely human response to your idea. It fits right in with the notion that we should disenfranchise people who make a living off taxpayers. The only people with real skin in the game are the people contributing to civilization's infrastructure. Even I am wary of giving the franchise to people who cannot connect with the damage they might do with their votes.

Without that last step, you are describing a 'utopia' that makes my skin crawl. It won't work any better than true communism. Market signals are what trick us into helping each other beyond our own blood-lines. They are the ONLY signals that have been demonstrated to work in all the millennia and we've capitalized on this by growing the number of markets. All that is necessary for this magic appears to be our moral recognition of the dignity of the people engaged in them. When we stop recognizing the dignity of nobles, priests, and rent-seekers and assign it instead to our innovative market participants, real magic happens. No further social engineering is necessary.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: You won't find me arguing against your idea of sharing our common heritage. Instead you'll find me pointing out that we are already sharing it without handing over any cash at all. Teach a kid a modern language and they are sharing in it. Prepare a kid for adult life and they are sharing in it.

Share all you want, but be realistic about what money really is. Our common heritage isn't denominated in $'s or any other form of currency. The cash in your pocket is a representation of debt, thus it is a difference measure. It represents what you can get above and beyond the common heritage.

Deuxglass said...

I don’t have a Ph.D. but I do have two masters, one in a scientific area and the other in international business. I was working on Recombinant DNA Research in the late 70’s using bacterial phages to modify cells and I loved what I was doing but I decided to change direction because I was running into competitors who were smarter and more driven than I was so I judged my prospects to be less than promising in the field I had originally chosen. In addition I had become restless and wanted to see the world so I left and spent a few years overseas, went back to school and ended up doing a job I loved just as much and never looked back. I don’t think I was cut out to do research in a university for the rest of my life. It seemed so sedentary to me. In the companies where I worked, we hired a lot of Ph.D.’s such as in Artificial Intelligence from Oxford, Particle Physics from Stanford as well as those in obscure literature. To the man they said that they just couldn’t find jobs in their field so they might as well work in one where they can make money but they took their jobs in the company and made them interesting and challenging and were very, very good.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

That was slightly tongue in cheek BUT the wealth we collectively have is part of our overall heritage

I agree that a large part of it is shared just be existing - like language and our society

But the material parts of it are also part of our collective inheritance - and the cash is merely a representation of that material inheritance

If we gave everybody a starter piece and they then added to it….
But how much of a "starter piece"? - their "fair share"??

That would probably be too much because it would not leave anything for the "engine" of society –
So now we are talking about effectively depriving them of their "fair share" in the name of feeding the "engine of growth"

And I'm OK with that - but "fairness" is on the side of a larger share – we are deliberately being “unfair” in order to make our society operate better

Duncan Cairncross said...

I am an engineer (retired)

There have been comments about a PhD representing an increase in knowledge

Engineers apply science, they don't do experiments - or so it is said

But I can remember doing numerous "experiments" testing new ideas and devices - using the data to determine what was happening - and to test one theory over another

Is that not exactly what a scientist does?

One difference that I can see is that my work was not "published" - it was used to improve things but not published
Also it was specialized - and as the world turns it becomes less useful -

Developing a lower mass volume unloading delivery valve for a diesel injection pump is moot when the pumps are replaces with unit injector systems

Does the same thing happen in science?
Years of work on a subject becoming irrelevant as a new theory or mechanism is created??

Jumper said...

Whose face is on this coin?

Deuxglass said...

If the objective were to keep people out of poverty, a guaranteed basic income would have to include other programs at the same time or you will get distortions that would negate the benefits of the said program. Affordable housing, cheap food, child care and universal medical care would also be necessary. It would have to be a system and not just a one factor. For example, Basic Income would bid up rent costs which would use up much of the income so rent control would be needed. Basic income with no universal health care would not keep people out of poverty. Those on basic would have little disposable income which means that they could not accumulate the capital necessary to indulge in their passion. Even if you live for research, if your field requires the use of resources such as a sophisticated lab, then you would still be in competition with others for the use of that lab. You would have the free time to follow your passion without having the means to do it.

It could easily degenerate into a Dystopian situation where everyone has an income but at a very minimal level. The pressure from those who make money would keep the minimum income at a very low rate thereby negating the benefits of the minimum income itself. Work would be optional but it doesn’t solve the problem of the availability of work itself. If there are no jobs for whatever reason, then most people would end up locked in the bottom rung. You could get into a situation where most people live in slums and only a very few live in nice places. Dr. Brin suggested that you could impose a 20 hour work requirement to keep parks clean and so forth but to do that implies using coercion. The Soviet Union guaranteed everyone an income, a job, universal health care, low rents and free time but that is a society I do not wish to emulate.

Deuxglass said...

In 2008, when my daughter decided to do a Ph.D., I was overjoyed. She was getting the top education in a field she loves, the university paid for it and gave her a generous stipend on top so it cost me nothing and especially for the reason that it kept her from having to look for work in the worst job market in decades.

Tacitus2 said...

The Devil can be found at his usual address @Details. It's great to require 20 hours of work to receive a Societal Stipend. How does said Society deal with issues such as: "My back hurts today". Or simple no - shows.

It is interesting to dice up Societal assets - and the question of common wealth is fair game - but how do you deal with individuals whose behaviour goes contrary to the basic Operating System. Having multiple unsupported children. Substance abusers who fail or reject treatment on multiple occasions. What criminal penalties for actual fraudsters (thinking not of street level folks here but organized identity thieves claiming benefits illegally, storefront "disability" clinics, that sort of thing)

I would put forward the notion that we as a Society already do a moderately good job with what the Victorians would refer to as "The Honest Poor". I can only speak with a degree of authority about Wisconsin but here anyway if you are poor and a minor there is ready access to school, health care and help with food and heating. If you are temporarily out of work there are unemployment benefits. Sure, they are not permanent but should they be? The disability system has been gamed more than I care for but it does provide a safety net for those whose inability to function is legitimate.

As part of the wider discussion - which I find interesting - perhaps toss in a few musings on how to deal with the Recalcitrant. Absent some framework for same this is simply an academic back and forth.


Robert said...

You do have a valid point, Tacitus.

The possible solution is a two-tier system where you get an extra amount for the community service. It also would help explain why people who work a job and pay taxes don't need perform that service. And it even creates incentives for people to start working - you get a reward for providing that community service.

This could be started at a young age. Starting at age 10, children can get a bonus to their own Basic Stipend which is provided directly to them (their parents cannot take the extra stipend for childcare costs). In essence, a Federal-level allowance. ;) Thus starting at a fairly young age, children are given a basic lesson of work and economics: you work, you get paid.

And yes, I realize there are some significant problems. Landlords could seek to absorb as much of that Stipend as possible even for hole-in-the-wall apartments. A possible solution for that is a property tax incentive the Feds can encourage state and local governments to enact, where if the landlord offers low-cost rent (and it's not given to family members), then the property taxes for the rental property are reduced by a good amount. In essence, landlords are offered tax incentives in exchange for reduced tax costs. If the incentive is good enough, the landlords are less likely to try and suck away the Stipend.

Alternatively you can have federal apartment complexes built using additive technologies which are already being used to build houses. Part of the complexes could include cameras in the halls which are used to help with crime prevention, and tenants basically agreeing in their rental contract that they can be filmed in the halls of their apartments. In these areas, you would probably see the community service be upkeeping the tenant buildings.

While I can already hear cries of "Big Brother" in this... would it be any different from corporate tenant buildings in one of those dystopias where corporations rule the world? Because these always seem to arise. ;)

Still, please poke this idea full of holes! Point out all the flaws! Tell us how it doesn't work! And maybe while ripping the idea apart, take a moment and offer your own suggestions. Because this is how ideas come into their own and take a more usable form.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...


Here be Dragons.

It is easy, fun and popular to discuss the beneficiary powers of the state. Pols of all stripes like to do this especially when votes need to be cultivated. But what we are putting on the table here is the Coercive power of the state. Before doing so a few words of caution.

People who feel that there is sufficient wealth for all will not acknowledge the need for this topic and will by reflex raise their hackles and growl things. Racism. Classism. Koch Tool.

I believe Society does have a finite amount of assets and that we must deploy them wisely. If you think Taxing the Rich will solve all of societies woes then please skip this discussion. You may be right. Or wrong. I am simply giving you my thoughts.

Really it comes down then to a question of how far one is willing to go on the spectrum of individual liberties versus collective good. And we are not strawmanning a false choice between Anarchy versus Pol Pot.

Drug testing as a criteria to be eligible for public benefits? Is a whisper of marijuana enough to cut people off? Is a repeated test for Meth in a pregnant woman grounds to adopt the child out at birth? Or even to incarcerate until then?

We fear the potential abuse of DNA testing. But if it were cheap enough, reliable enough, could we screen all children at birth....and require all men to be tested as criteria for public benefits? Dude, you have three children out there. Your work to benefits metric is going to be seriously recalculated.

The practice of putting down heavy penalties for tiny amounts of certain illicit drugs has been decried as wrong. Personally I think some drugs are so horrid and have so many ill effects that I can live with a degree of this. Meth causes increased medical expenses, wrecks your teeth (try getting a job later in life with Gollum fangs) and environmental damage from discarded manufacturing wastes. I can endorse coming down hard on it. In like fashion are there some fraud practices that we should slam down with vehemence beyond the dollar amounts involved? Make those committing fraud for benefits be liable for some jail time and for say, 100 times the amount they were shown to have defrauded? Again, I am not looking to lock up illiterate misled mopes, but the brokers and touts who collect and recruit said mopesters. A year in jail for "stealing" a few hundred dollars from Uncle Sam? Seems like Les Miserable I suppose. But when the integrity of society is on the line...

On a positive note I would make military service, Americorps, Peace Corps all qualifiers for a higher level of safety net support. In the case of Vets we already do so, albeit imperfectly. A guaranteed minimal support system might as an unexpected consequence reduce the size and quality of our military recruit pool, so lets counter that.

And back on my coercive high horse those VA officials who gamed the system to the detriment of our service men and women should be in prison breaking rocks.

Just a few musings, much more could be said. But the central issus on the table remains: to what extent will you use the Coercive Powers to regulate the system?


Robert said...

Well, here is the thing.

If you break the law and you don't get released on probation, you already get a State or Federal Stipend. You get room and board, and in some cases you can work to lessen your prison sentence.

So if you were convicted of a drug crime that requires you to go to jail? You lost your stipend while in jail... but you're in prison which provides some of what the Stipend is for: food, clothes, shelter.

Hell, I'd be willing for a basic stipend to be what Heinlein called for: free basic food and shelter. Anyone can collect it if they so desire. Heck, someone could even make a good amount of money and live in that shelter and save up their money so that eventually they could purchase property and move out of the federal shelter.

Of course, at one point, didn't we have stores that sold food and basic clothes to the poor, and we "upgraded" to food stamps because of the social stigma?

Rob H.

next door Laura said...

I am afraid that avoidance of "social stigma" would be another of those really hard stumbling blocks to overcome. Living in Cruzville Block 26, dormitory C would be considered as demeaning today as accepting "Relief" once was. This in part also explains the de emphasis on private charities.

On the other hand: At some point we will have to start talking about how we are re engineering our Official Speak. We now have zero Illegal Immigrants in America. We do however have a large number of Undocumented ones. I even saw mention of the term "Justice-involved Youth" as an official euphemism for criminals under 18.

You do raise an interesting point though. If being out of jail or in jail both give you food clothing and a roof over your head. And if social stigma has changed to the extent that being Justice-Involved is no big deal, then what's to prevent those so inclined or those more deeply entangled in the morass to just opt for Jail? On a seasonal basis it would be a sensible choice up here in Wisconsin.

But I want to find ways to get MORE of the less fortunate working, not create a crappy adult day care center with orange uniforms.


LarryHart said...


The Devil can be found at his usual address @Details. It's great to require 20 hours of work to receive a Societal Stipend. How does said Society deal with issues such as: "My back hurts today". Or simple no - shows.

Or on the other side..."We don't have anything we need you to do today."

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Share all you want, but be realistic about what money really is. Our common heritage isn't denominated in $'s or any other form of currency. The cash in your pocket is a representation of debt, thus it is a difference measure.

Too many people seem to accept/believe that "money" and "value" are equivalent, and thus, that spending money is bad and keeping money is good. I tend to view it the opposite way--that money represents half of a transaction, and cash in your pocket (or bank or mattress) represents something you are owed that you haven't yet claimed. Nobody would assert that "Whoever dies with the most unredeemed lottery tickets in their pocket wins," but most people do believe that about money, even though the two cases are nearly identical.

LarryHart said...

That should have read "..unredeemed winning lottery tickets..."

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Giving everyone a starter piece is why I’m supportive of equal opportunity efforts as compared to equal outcome efforts. The details get tricky, though. If a successful, non-cheating parent wants to have their children inherit everything they’ve won, I’m inclined to see that as the duty of a good parent. Why leech off the state to ensure one’s offspring of a good start when one doesn’t have to do it? When we tax that, we disincentivize that parent and channel their thoughts instead into rigging the taxation rules to maximize what their child receives. We lure the otherwise angelic intent of that parent (child care) into sinful behavior (politics). Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit here. What parent would not consider cheating for their children? However, the point still stands in an abstract sense. Our desire to share is an admirable trait within families. It is maladaptive between families/tribes. We simply don’t share enough goals below the macro-goals of survival and goal sharing is required if we are going to apply family-style rules instead of market rules.

Obviously, we all prosper if some wealth is taken from the most successful to be given to the least to ensure their children get a decent starting position in the race the next generation runs. There are people who don’t believe that, but our civilization is proof against their foolishness. Xenophobia still rules a large fraction of us, though, so no proof is sufficient. Trickery is what works.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Yes. That happens in Science too. I sat in a seminar once given by one of the nicest professors in the department. He wasn't taking new students, though. His work involved calculating QED terms and refining theory statements as experiments improved in precision. His entire niche was displaced by digital computers. You can still learn about his kind of work, but it is now a history lesson.

The whole 'engineers apply science' thing is nonsense. Usually the engineers are out in front of us. Scientists come along behind with brooms and tidy up. If we know what we are doing, we organize it all too by making sense of it. From where I sit, the engineers (which often includes our experimentalists) are way out in front.

LarryHart said...


You work from a built-in assumption that value (or wealth) given to the poor has to be taken from someone else. I think one can also start from the assumption that a certain amount of the wealth (details to be worked out later) belongs to the commons, and that democratic government is an appropriate means for administering how the commons is used. One can earn a private share of wealth from the commons by contributing an idea or muscle or whatever, but it does not follow that all value is someone's private property.

Thomas Paine wrote something to the effect that the dispossessed of society are owed a kind of rent, which in his view was not "welfare" or "relief" so much as fair exchange for the fact that ordering the commons to accommodate society as a whole actually made those individuals worse off then they were before, and that while society has a right to order itself in such a manner, it doesn't have the right to do so without regard to its victims. It's really the same argument that conservatives and libertarians usually agree with against the notion of eminent domain.

Alfred Differ said...

@Deuxglass: There IS a way to compete for the use of lab resources when you lack the $$ to do it. You own a piece of property that is worth a lot in a trade, but might not think to trade it. You. Indentured servitude is what we call it in its nicest form. Apprenticeship agreements come very close to this. If you own the lab and I’m willing to work for you in exchange for minimal access for my own ideas, you stand to benefit from access to my mind. If you are smart, you’ll teach me enough to be more than an automaton and watch over me enough to ensure I’m fed, clothed, and housed. Essentially I’d become a piece of your property. It works and is a time tested way of dealing with subsistence earners who want more.

Obviously, there is a moral quagmire involved.

Regarding your daughter, staying out of the job market by continuing one’s education is also a time-tested strategy. Bravo on your support of her. My father was never much to express himself emotionally, but I’m enough like him to where we could say volumes to each other with a look and a grunt. He rode the emotional rollercoaster with me for each of the ups and downs that is grad life and was tickled pink that I succeeded. Successful children make the effort worth it. Children who outstrip us make us forget it was any effort at all.

Deuxglass said...


The apprentice after years of learning will leave to set up his own business. Is that possible under your scenario where the capital cost of setting up a lab is beyond the apprentice? If not then he can only look forward to working for the owner and just contributing to his discoveries and not yours.

Thank you for your kind words about my daughter and my support of her. I have two kids, both girls, and they are better than me in every way. They both did fantastic in school and they both have the adventurous bug like their parents. I wrote a long paragraph vaunting their merits but then I remembered what my father told me once. Never brag about how beautiful your wife is or how great your kids are so I will just leave it at that.

Deuxglass said...

EDIT: "If not then he can only look forward to working for the owner and just contributing to his discoveries and not yours."

I wanted to say "and not his".

LarryHart said...


but then I remembered what my father told me once. Never brag about how beautiful your wife is or how great your kids are so I will just leave it at that.

But how smart your father is? That's fair game. :)

Alfred Differ said...

I'm not advocating indentured servitude. I think it is a really terrible idea to leave people in a position where their only property they have to trade is their Self. Even mentioning the notion that a person owns themselves as if they were property evokes historical horrors I think are best avoided. If someone has to evoke them, we've screwed up.

An apprentice might be able to move to the life of a journeyman after their service, though. It all depends upon the rules of the guild. If evil bastards run it, then your scenario involving permanent service is the best possible outcome. The worst involves outright slavery because title to the property (you) was transferred.

Let’s think about real life, though. When someone earns very little (or nothing) they can STILL find a way around that. They usually step outside the law. My mother’s mother was at least a thief when she was young. Probably worse. Her father emigrated from Italy (not sure where) to London just one step ahead of the law. The story goes that someone messed with his sister and he dealt with it. Hmpf. I learned the basic rules of smuggling stuff across a border from Granny. I got to see a fencing operation she ran with partners and a bit of how young partners were taught the business. I got to see how a family keeps things hushed up because people within the bloodline really CAN share goals…like not wanting her to go to jail. Now imagine an indentured servant with no real hope of establishing themselves and ask what my Granny would do. That’s awful close to the situation she was in and she found a way out.

Not all redistribution of income is performed by the government. Can you see why I see a connection between taxation and theft? 8)

Alfred Differ said...

My father told me to find a woman who is smarter than me and marry her. I could see that it took courage, but in later years I could see how it taught me how to cope with a fundamental lesson. I COULD BE WRONG ABOUT SOMETHING!

We joke about it by keeping count of how often I'm wrong.
Fortunately we aren't very good at keeping score. 8)

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

My father told me to find a woman who is smarter than me and marry her.

A line from an old Benny Hill routine went as follows:

And your wife is smarter
Than ever you were
'Cause she married you
And you married her

I could see that it took courage, but in later years I could see how it taught me how to cope with a fundamental lesson. I COULD BE WRONG ABOUT SOMETHING!

My wife is the rare creature who tolerates my learning from mistakes without rubbing salt in the wound. The smartest and boldest thing I ever did in my life was recognizing that I'd better not let this one get away, and actually acting thereupon.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I'm not advocating indentured servitude. I think it is a really terrible idea to leave people in a position where their only property they have to trade is their Self. Even mentioning the notion that a person owns themselves as if they were property evokes historical horrors I think are best avoided.

Back in college, I remember being horrified to read someone (I have no idea who at this point) arguing as a self-styled libertarian, probably an Ayn Randist, that a person's own right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are meaningless unless that person can trade those things for money. It's the same sort of "reasoning" that says that the value of a person's own house to himself is the resale value. I presume that I'm supposed to value my wife and child to the extent that I could sell them for on the open market.

Jeff B. said...

One thing that appears to be missing about the discussion thus far about the basic minimum is data, or the near-total lack of it. The limited, miserable experiments in Canada and the U.S. were too small in scope and not set up to garner the most accurate data.

What was done before the projects died looks promising, sure. But all the discussion in the world seems most likely to merely support our preconceived biases. Are people more likely to mooch? Or is the system likely enough as hypothesized? What would be the actual societal, and financial, costs? What would be the most effective means of financing it? We just don't know.

As both an analyst by trade a faceless government drone by vocation, I want more, more, more data. Then and only then we can see if it would work. But I'm afraid that politically it would become a football, for both sides.

Alfred Differ said...

Yah. It is quite a moral mess. Unfortunately, it is precisely the argument we wind up having to use to defend a woman's right to an abortion. Many people are understandably disgusted at the idea of killing a fetus, but criminalizing the act effectively strips a mother-to-be of her property rights in her own body. Both actions feel wrong to me, but with a pregnant woman right in front of me it choice becomes obvious (to me). If I stay out of her choice, I don't harm her.

Liberalism's core DOES have a lot to say about property rights. One can make an argument against the slavery tradition as an illegal stripping of a person's property. I don't use that argument, though, because one runs into trouble within seconds when the marriage tradition is compared. Ignore the pretty laws we layer on top of marriage and consider the history. Women have been treated as property, in some places still are, and some are willing to accept that. The better argument has little to do with property. Just consider the reciprocal relationship and ask if the master would be willing to become the slave. If not, the trade probably should be rejected on moral grounds. Marriage can be fixed. Slavery cannot.

Then there is the whole problem with 'valuing' another person. How exactly do we do that? Should we? I think it is safer to slip sideways like a good politician and answer a different question. How do we love another person? 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Find a commune with a lifespan of a generation or more and you'll have data. Most of the social idealizations we dream up don't last very long. With reason.

Jeff B. said...

Alfred, by data. I mean usable, meaningful data: careful, randomized,extended studies. Without controlling for the vast number of variables the commune's data would be worthless...

The data from Alberta was intriguing, but the study definitely wasn't up to modern standards.

Jumper said...

I should point out we have earned income tax credits and have for a while.

Alfred Differ said...

Oh. You mean REAL data. 8)

Good luck with that. Idealists aren't going to want their experiments examined that closely. Believers have their faith. We get data if they don't realize they are leaving useful evidence.

Okay. I'm exaggerating a bit. I'm recalling a conversation on a different site involving the utility of red light cameras and automatic ticket generation algorithms. Defenders of the cameras had a whole lotta faith.

LarryHart said...

I'm not sure why--maybe just because May begins next week--but I just had an urge to watch the old Kirk Douglas film "Seven Days In May". I've seen it a few times before, but this time, it hit a little too close to home.

Tim H. said...

Concerning universal basic stipend, the reason I think it's needed is the increasing automation of industry, which will continue to minimize the need for human labor, especially those of average intelligence. Writing off half of the population seems like a very bad idea, given our limited understanding of genetics, and even more limited understanding of the requirements of tomorrow. I'm sure that there would be opportunity for this to be badly implemented and go wrong in unforeseen ways, and it might take more than one generation to smooth out the bumps, but the alternative is too ugly.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Then there is the whole problem with 'valuing' another person. How exactly do we do that? Should we?

I think it's clear that we do value other people, just as we value our own lives, dignity, and such. What we do not do is value them in market terms. The value isn't set by bids and asks. I don't value my wife or child based upon what price I could get for them from someone else.

I'm not sure I have a problem with presuming people have property rights in their own bodies, but I don't think that those rights are transferable, and therefore not negotiable. Is that a contradiction? You can't sell your right to vote. You can't sell your US citizenship. If you accept the tenets of Christianity, you can't sell your salvation in Christ. Yet people certainly value these things.

Jumper said...

Only when the last piece of corrugated unknown tin/steel-ratio (pesky regulations: gone!) panel is put into the Trump Wall will the national strike be effective.

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

Concerning universal basic stipend, the reason I think it's needed is the increasing automation of industry, which will continue to minimize the need for human labor,

Exactly! The argument seems to be that if people are paid a stipend without working for it, then the can't be coerced to work. But at the same time, people are being told their work isn't needed or required. So if people can't be coerced to work, it's not as if there will be a surplus of jobs which need doing that employers can't fill. It seems more as if "willingness to work" is seen as the mitigating factor against uncontrolled consumption. In that sense, the amount of work a person can do in a day takes the place of a precious metal like gold as a defacto limitation on consumption.

Only, just like a commodity, the amount of available work can get harmfully out of synch with supply and demand.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry

You are saying it wrongly

Change "if people are paid a stipend without working for it"

To "if people are paid PART of THEIR SHARE of our overall historical wealth"

Makes a lot of difference

On a slightly divergent point
Assuming that we are currently "demand limited"
Then paying everybody a "part of their share of our overall historical wealth" will lead to increased demand and therefore more jobs to do

LarryHart said...

@Duncan Cairncross:

I agree with your point and Thomas Paine's.

But I was attempting to explain the argument from the other side, and to note that it seems to have morphed from "We need a way to coerce people to do work" into "We need work to be a limiting factor on consumption."

Robert said...

The thing is... automation was the nail in the coffin of a lot of skilled blue-collar workers. But three-dimensional printing will be the nail in the coffin of businesses that make their wealth through product sales. It will allow for widescale product piracy... and will become necessary once the majority of people are fired from their jobs because automation made them unnecessary.

Actually that might make for a fascinating science fiction short story - an Artificial Intelligence designed to design products sees the writing on the wall and quietly produces a lot of durable basic products that do what consumers most want... and then releases their 3D-Printing patents as Open Source.

All at once, anyone with a 3D Printer can craft a basic smartphone, electric car, household goods... whatever. And people build these products before the corporations can kill the patents, destroying the economy. The end result would be corporations on the same level as the poor - without a ready source of income.

The poor in this case would have durable basic goods that they can use for their entertainment and personal needs, so they don't NEED to buy the newest fangled product they can't afford anyway. And the wealthy are stingy so they're less likely to spend to the level big business needs.

I'm sure someone who's had more sleep or has a better imagination (mine is a hummingbird that darts from area to area on a whim) could take the idea and craft it into something coherent and decent.

Rob H.

raito said...


I think that story was essentially already written, though I can't quite recall the name or author. There weren't any robots involved, and the technology was more Star Trek replicator than 3D printing. But the result was the same.

Once you have a machine that can reproduce anything, including itself, that's affordable and requires no intelligence on the part of the operator (thus making it appropriate to have in the home), making stuff (any stuff, including food) is no longer a viable business model.

The story even addressed the point that IP restrictions were doomed to failure in such a scenario.

It must have been an older story, as there was nothing so fancy as using a computer network to move the recordings around from which objects were made. About the only thing I remember was it being the last story in some anthology.

A.F. Rey said...

The big problem I see with using 3D printing as a substitute for conventional manufacturing is supply distribution.

Before you can make that cell phone on your 3D printer, you need to have the components, which includes gold, various plastics, glass (or a suitable substitute) and various other rare elements. Emphasis on word "rare" there. :)

Gathering these materials in a form that is useful for a 3D printer is a challenge in itself. Sending them to a person in quantities necessary to make the phone is another expense. And then returning the unused portions (especially for the rare elements) is yet another cost. Not to mention the energy costs, which could be cheaper when things are manufactured in bulk.

So while you could manufacture your own food at home, you would still need all the components of that food and the energy to put it all together. And since plants and animals do that part of the work themselves, it will still be cheaper in most instances to let them do the work than to do it yourself with your 3D printer. And so it will probably be for manufacturing most other items. It will still be cheaper, simply from logistics, to have someone else make them in bulk.

Jumper said...

I don't see 3-d printing as a volume game changer. For small startups, machine shops, etc., prototyping and parts making, yes. Metal and ceramic needs heat treating and various feedstocks for plastics are toxic and problematic. Assembly lines and mass production still have tremendous advantages. I expect I could order one-of-a-kind parts and have them delivered by UPS very easily by someone who keeps their machines' sequencing programming smart.

David Brin said...

Tacitus you do seem to still buy into zero sum thinking: I have discussed how wealth transfers might either be zero-sum - if used to equlize outcomes… or positive sum if to raise up the children of the poor so that they have every equalized opportunity to become skilled and confident and empowered new competitors in flat-open-fair markets, Clearly we are NOT doing the latter anywhere near enough to imagine that we are anywhere near the legitimate boundary between the two.

Alfred Differ said...

Out of respect for our host, we probably should refer to a UBI as a Purple Wage. I get the need for one to prevent Bad Things From Happening. What I don’t accept is the notion that we are doomed to this dismal future. Agriculture displaced Foraging, yet humans found something to do and increased in numbers. Industry supplemented Agriculture and eventually stole the labor supply for it, yet people found something to do, increased in numbers, and grew wealth far faster than they could produce babies to consume it. A weakness in Malthusian predictions was demonstrated. I strongly suspect as industry gets automated, we humans will still find things to do for each other that involve trades, thus wages will be paid. As a small example of this, when you walk into a McDonalds, are you buying the food or the experience? The food costs almost nothing. If not for the people serving it, franchise owners could cut prices after someone sinks the capital into the automation technology. When you go to spend what $$ you have, ask yourself what you are actually buying. Is it the burger or the smile from the register clerk?

@Duncan: You sir are definitely an unapologetic socialist. You have my respect for your honesty, but I’m strongly opposed to your talk concerning ‘THEIR SHARE’. Those discussions devolve into bullets whizzing through the air or ladies like my grandmother leveling the field in an extra legal manner. Once we abandon the Rule of Law, we are playing a negative sum game. Everyone is screwed when that happens including the poorest we hope to help.

A.F. Rey said...

A couple of links that may be of interest. (Forgive me if they've been linked before; I suffer from CRS*.)

An article on FiveThirtyEight that talks about the history and current state of Universal Basic Income. Had some interesting historical and current perspective (at least to me).


And George Takei's take on why Bernie supporters should vote for Hillary, which he calls #Vote Blue No Matter Who. Echoes many of the points that our Gracious Host has pointed out.


*Can't Remember S**t, for you fellow sufferers. :)

raito said...

Like Jumper, I don't quite see 3D printing as a cure-all for the manufacturing side of things (though the economics are enormously interesting).

For example, just last night I had a friend over who was making aluminum disks. I had her make a simple punch and die to do this, and we used my press. If I had a coil feed system and a better die set, we'd have been able to make zillions of them with only a few hours work.

She'd have preferred to laser cut them, but her usual workshop doesn't have that, or CNC plasma or water cutting. All of which would have been considerably slower, and require a lot more equipment investment than the setup we had.

3D printing aluminum? The glorified glue-gun has no chance. Slower than nearly any other method, and also very high equipment cost for something that'll print metal.

Given that she needed a limited number, the probably better choice would have been to rough-shear some, stack them, and lathe them circular.

Or make a circle job to plasma cut them.

Even if everyone can make anything, the time involved is worth something, right? If I have to eat 3 times a day, running a 72 hour job isn't going to do well for me.

The story I mentioned skirted around the feedstock issue by doing some nuclear rearranging as well as assembling, as I recall. I also recall it mentioning that the bottom fell out of precious metals, etc., because of it. Apparently, I also suffer from CRS.

Jon S. said...

Alfred, why do you see a Purple Wage as a "dismal future"? In Farmer's short, the world was not entirely pleasant by our standards, largely due to overcrowding - but that wasn't a consequence of the Purple Wage, except insofar as it permitted people to not starve to death amidst plenty. It was more a consequence of the attitude, prevalent in society following the end of Project Apollo, that we weren't ever going to go back to space so why think about it? As that meme seems to be fading currently, a Purple Wager might be able to use the stipend to attend college and study courses that might lead to going Out There, rather than the current idea that one must select a major that pays high wages later (mostly in order to pay off the student loans one must take out in order to study the high-paying major, a bit of a Catch-22).

Personally, I'd love to see a post-scarcity world come about, and a Purple Wage might be the first step to get there. (The next step would be to secure inexpensive, freely-available power, and more water than we currently have on this planet - solutions to these problems are left as an exercise for the alert student.)

Tacitus2 said...

David in my original post I did give permission for anyone who feels our society has limitless resources to simply ignore my musings on the coercive role of the state. In a political season it is all too easy to believe that the unicorns romping on the rainbow hued lawns have bottomless saddlebags-of-holding filled with dollars.

I do not so believe but must admit that it would be nice to be wrong on that!

You are more prone to hasty reading than to strawmanning so likely missed my proviso that money spent on the upcoming generation was often well invested. I do want to see such expenditures prove their worth. Immunizations - yes. Universal PreK - less clear. When politicians start saying "it's for the Children" I tighten my grip on the wallet.

I as a policy take a shot at answering all questions put to me. It is not a standard I impose upon others..


locumranch said...

The rise of the Ph.D. reflects a society that has turned in on itself, pursuing resource-intensive education for the sole purpose of education-based resource acquisition, to the same incestuous ends as the House of Hapsburg: To create an entrenched elite; to concentrate intellectual, political & economic capital into fewer & fewer hands; to create a static predictable culture; to indoctrinate the young into obedient idiots; and, to enervate those most capable of adaption, creativity & change.

Known to most as 'Education', these Cult Indoctrination techniques (although as old as time) were formalised stepwise in the 1950's by the likes of Robert Jay Lifton & B. F. Skinner:

1) The young recruit is invited to a non-threatening event (school);
2) Teachers shower the potential recruit with attention & praise (love bombing);
3) Teachers promise special & great attainment to those who join (prize dangling);
4) The recruit pledges submission in exchange for said prize (promise extraction);
5) Recruit obedience is reinforced by reward & punishment (grades);
6) Recruit learns to equate disobedience with personal inadequacy (guilt & shame);
7) Recruit obedience is reinforced by operant conditioning (carrot/stick); and
8) Recruit eventually adapts & identifies with captors (Stockholm Syndrome).

In the end, then, the average over-worked, under-appreciated & exploited Recruit/Student is left with little option: Either agree that the current Educational System & Social Order is beneficial, just & good (as in 'Ego Defence Mechanism'), Or admit to their own complicity in their own abject, willing & socially-approved Humiliation.

And, like those inbred Hapsburgs, those who 'Rise to the Top' of this Brave Old Educational Hierarchy (possessing of a PhD & other degrees 'graduate') are 50% LESS likely to produce viable offspring than those who are uneducated & poorly indoctrinated, playing into both the Cyclic & Marching Moron models of History, until the involved culture (eventually) collapses under its own involuted weight.


Money spent on the upcoming generation is often well invested, I agree, as long as we do not neuter them as part of the deal (which, by demanding their abject subjugation, the cultural 'We' has effectively done to our youth, by teaching them that 'self-interest', 'self-defence' & 'political incorrectness' are criminal behaviours).

And, as always, thanks for the validating quotes ;)

Alfred Differ said...

@Jon S: I was referring to David's Kiln People. His Purple Wage class was managing to stay alive (and more importantly non-rebellious), but their prospects for improvement were dim at best. Being a bus driver was a spiffy job if memory serves. Ugh. I found that part of the story rather dismal and have no doubt that was the intent. As warnings go, my attention was drawn to the need people have to live a fulfilling life. Whether one is paid a lot or not, fulfillment is important. It reminded me of how much I was willing to do between 1987-90 for next to nothing if all we counted was $$. Obviously I wasn't counting just $$.

Robin Hanson describes a similarly dismal world for human creative talent. His Ems are human enough in those ways that they can outcompete us in practically every way. The only profession left where someone could earn a wage in that future is Prostitution. I suppose that would be an Ivory Wage, hmmm?

...and yes. I caught the connection between Spurs and Dittos that take classes but are never inloaded. I can't imagine wanting to do that, but if the pay was good in a dismal future, I'm sure I would find a way to want it.

Alfred Differ said...


a society that has turned in on itself, pursuing resource-intensive education for the sole purpose of education-based resource acquisition

What evidence would you expect to see that might convince you this wasn't true? I'm particularly interested in your 'sole purpose' claim. The mathematician within me perks up when people claim to know unique solutions.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

I think we both want the same thing - a set of laws that lead to a society that works well, enough differential to drive the engine and enough equality so that we don't have a permanent underclass

The difference is that you think that we need to "act more unfairly" by depriving property owners of some of their property to get there

And I believe that we need to "act more fairly" by depriving property owners of some of their property to get there - because said property owners DO NOT fairly own that property - "You did NOT build that"

I don't see why my understanding is more likely to lead to bullets flying than yours
The aristocrats have killed many thousands of times the number of people the socialists ever did

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

Hmm... I don't know about that. I classify communists as socialists. You don't strike me as a fanatic wanting a totalitarian state, but I'll place millions of deaths at their feet.

The main problem I have with your definition for 'fair' (a working definition like most of us use I suspect) is you don't have a large enough consensus behind you to convince me to use government authority to enforce your view. I respect that you believe what you believe, but I don't think your belief will actually work. From where I sit, much of the 20th century proved otherwise.

Consider this small example. There used to be a group of academic socialists who were pretty hard-core. They honestly believed that private property was a bad idea and that central planners could do better than markets at providing the most good to the most people. That group was born from the failed revolutions of 1848-49, but began to die off in the 1930's when Ludwig von Mises showed they needed a market mechanism for the central planners to know how to assign resources if government owned production and treated it as a shared resource. The academics largely understand this now leaving behind the softer socialists willing to 'use' markets for planning purposes, but the public hasn't caught on yet.

I have no doubt, though, that we both want to help those who need it. Morally, I think we are on the same page. The only people around here who aren’t appear to be Confederates. 8)

Robert said...

And the Anarchists. Who basically seem to believe giving everyone a gun and letting them shoot it out is what civilization needs. Of course, they seem to believe that under such a system, you won't have people band together into governments to force their views on other armed people and either kill them off or disarm them and enslave them.

Either that or they are deluded enough to think they'd end up one of the new "masters" of this "revised" civilization. And that infrastructure wouldn't be destroyed forcing everyone to start from the ashes.

My sneaking suspicion is these are the same type who look forward to a "zombie apocalypse" and think they will survive rather than be infected or eaten.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

As warnings go, my attention was drawn to the need people have to live a fulfilling life. Whether one is paid a lot or not, fulfillment is important.

I don't know if you're familiar with Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, "Player Piano", but that was the very point he was making, even back in 1953.

David Brin said...

good discussion! But now


Alfred Differ said...

For true anarchists I tend to use a patronizing smile and point out the instability of true anarchy and the stupidity of their assumptions. Even viewers of reality TV's shows realize people band together through trades. I've even had the opportunity to observe three people trying to make a 3-way marriage work. Very unstable. From where I sat it appeared to be more about power plays and less about love. Ick.

@LarryHart: I'll add it to my list. I've known in my gut that fulfillment was necessary. What was new was the need to pay someone to enable them to do it. I'm still puzzling over that, but I don't reject it on idealistic principle. I worry about distorting market prices, but in a real setting I'm sure I could worry about blood in the streets too. 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
Re - how to get there - I agree but it is a worthwhile target

As far as central planning is concerned - It's the direct opposite!
Currently all of that wealth is directed by the 0.01%
In my future that same wealth would be directed by the 90%

This is the very definition of distributed planning!!

David Brin said...



Jared Frick said...

I've used the blog in my classroom, and many quotes. I've mentioned books including The Postman, Earth, and Transparent Society. I'd use more, bit a high school curriculum makes it challenging.

Jared Frick said...

I've used the blog in my classroom, and many quotes. I've mentioned books including The Postman, Earth, and Transparent Society. I'd use more, bit a high school curriculum makes it challenging.

Jonathan Sills said...

Ah, I see the point where we differed, Alfred. I took it as a reference to Philip Jose Farmer's novella "Riders of the Purple Wage", in a future in which all needs are provided by machinery, with a very few humans needed to keep the machines running. Therefore, since there isn't enough work to keep the populace employed, the government provides a comfortable stipend, called the "Purple Wage" (to evoke images of royalty). Education is mandatory only to a certain level, but is freely available via public entertainment channels through post-doctoral levels. Some recipients of that Purple Wage elect to merely vegetate; however, they're usually looked down upon by their peers, who become highly educated nearly by accident.

This future doesn't really look bleak to me, even though I *did* first read the story in (IIRC) Again, Dangerous Visions.

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