Saturday, July 02, 2016

Secret bankers be warned: "Panama Papers" were the first shots of a "Helvetian War."

Here's a long one -- a major posting about the coming war that no one seems to have on their scopes or horizons. Although this scenario was loosely described in fiction, it may take the world's powers by surprise. And it will not need their permission. A few small nations could decide on this desperate course, tomorrow.

Let's start with last month's headlines -- and hence "old news." The spill of confidential records from a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca & Co., was called “the Wikileaks of the mega-rich.” Despite revealing only the tip of a very-dirty iceberg, the Panama Papers shine light upon a vast network of powerful people around the world who use shell corporations and secret, offshore accounts to dodge taxes, or evade sanctions, or to launder money.  Mossack Fonseca is one of the leading creators of shell companies, according to the Center for Public Integrity.  Released files include data on 214,488 "offshore entities" involving individuals in 200 countries and territories.

Edward Snowden, the 2013 CIA-NSA leaker, comments that the “Biggest leak in the history of data journalism just went live, and it's about corruption.” Cronies of Russian President Vladimir Putin were implicated as well as the prime minister of Iceland. “There are dictators, members of the Japanese Yakuza, the Sicilian mafia, Russian mobs, weapons dealers, drug dealers, and pedophiles,” according to this report. Governments rock and boardrooms vibrate in the aftermath. 

The anonymous whistleblower behind the Panama Papers released a statement – passed along by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists - explaining his rationale and offering paper originals of the documents to law enforcement agencies, in return for immunity. More significantly, he indicts the web of deceit that makes a mockery of every "free-and-open market" justification for capitalism.

And yet, the most surprising thing of all would have to be… the shock expressed by so many. Seriously? That current levels of secrecy are unsustainable? Year after year – without much help from law or government – whistleblowers grow more bold. Disclosures get bigger, leading inevitably to one likely end, or another:

Either the world will see a steady, secular trend toward ever-more light shining into formerly dark places – or else the world’s elites will find excuses to clamp down, as the mighty did in every past human society, plugging the era of leaks the only way that it can be, through fierce repression. 

The choice is binary. Either Big Brother forever, or Big Brother never.

== The Great Heist of National Wealth ==

Let’s step back and deal with this the way that I am paid to do, with scenario and metaphor. Almost a decade before I wrote The Transparent Society, my novel EARTH (1989) foresaw a traumatic event occurring around the year 2025.  The “Helvetian War” would start to unfold when a dozen newly-democratic but poor nations grow tired of asking politely for the return of trillions of dollars that were looted from them by former, kleptocratic leaders. The war scenario may be fictional, but the cassus belli is all-too real.

"Global Financial Integrity recently found that developing economies lost $7.8 trillion in cash from 2004 to 2013 because of maneuvers like those allegedly perfected by Mossack. Illicit outflows are increasing at a rate of 6.5% a year, twice the rate of global GDP growth," says Time Magazine journalist Rana Foroohar, adding that this drain might prove a contributing factor to the slowing economies of many developing countries, which could set off a global recession.

The problem is global. Ukraine is seeking ways to recover vast amounts that senior officials stole during former President Viktor Yanukovych’s four years in office. “Even taking a conservative estimate of the scale of fraud for just VAT and public procurement, one ends up with a figure of $30 billion.” 

I would add that stopping this plunder could make a crucial difference between hope and despair, between life and death, for tens of millions of children. People are becoming more aware of the impact of corruption and how much it actually costs Africa, for example. The Panama Papers revealed that one company in Uganda avoided $400 million in taxes in an oil deal. That represents more than the country's annual health budget.

To be clear, this pandemic of secret, kleptocratic vampirism is the great lake of lucre that banking havens are most determined to keep secure and off limits from prying eyes. 

Did you ever wonder why Switzerland and its smaller peers caved-in recently, without much of a fight, tattling the names of rich Americans and Europeans with tax-evading accounts, tossing them from the sleigh? They did it in order to placate big, First World nations, bribing the U.S. and E.U to leave alone the havens’ other, much bigger and more lucrative business – catering to klepto pools and ‘sovereign wealth funds’… some of which have been laid bare in the Panamanian leaks. But only some. 

Take the case of former Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha, who led Nigeria between 1993 and his death 1998 and is suspected to have looted up to $5 billion of public funds during his reign. As of April 2016, Switzerland agreed to return more than $300 million of funds stashed by Abacha. Not satisfied with eight cents on the dollar, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari – elected on an anti-corruption platform - is demanding greater international cooperation in returning more Nigerian funds hidden abroad, including another $7 billion that Nigerian auditors claim was looted between 2006 and 2012 “We are looking for more cooperation from the EU, United States, other countries and international institutions to recover the nation’s stolen assets,” Buhari recently said.

Of course this is the tip of the iceberg and a solution must be found by developing nations, themselves – first by cleaning up their own political and civil servant castes, but then by joining together, finding innovative ways to demand redress. An inevitable coalition that I portrayed (perhaps over-dramatically) as the “Helvetian War.”

We’ll get back to that scenario in a bit. But first, some of current details. We know that more than 100 news organizations have studied the leaked 2.6 terabytes of data from Mossack Fonseca & Co. -- once only known among the global elite, the fourth-largest law firm for offshore tax havens. The bared files go back 40 years.

== It started some time ago ==

But this is far from the first such leak. In fact, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has a rich database on offshore companies and their clients. Past spills include the April 4, 2013 “Offshore Leak,” connected to code name Hidden Agenda, which revealed:

...“2.5 million documents: the registration data of 122,000 offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands; lists of people who have made use of offshore companies; copies of personal documents including passports; correspondence; and information on banking transactions and other databases related to world-class politicians and businessmen, major companies and banks.” Then as well, teams of journalists vetted the documents with remarkable cooperative discipline and coordinated confidentiality, proving yet again that their maligned and beleaguered profession is capable of amazing skill and professionalism.

Of course conspiracy theories abound. At the time of Offshore Leak, there were murmurs that it mostly shredded the banking haven credibility of the British Virgin Islands, which had created a nested network of more than a million shell corporations. The fact that BVI’s rivals benefited from this loss of trust made some wonder if that had been the goal, all along. Similarly, the Panama Papers case has some assigning blame on rivals of Mossack Fonseca & Co, or else adversaries of the Panamanian regime. Because many cronies surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin have used shells to squirrel away hundreds of millions, might this all be a put-up job, intended to justify “regime change” and oust Putin? That scenario, absurd to the point of hilarity, has actually been bruited extensively by U.S. right wingers, who maintain a “frenemy bromance” admiration of the Russian strongman. Alternatively, there is the ‘not-completely-crazy theory’ that the Russian regime itself leaked the Panama Papers! In order to stir resentment of western media, one supposes. Seriously. 

Indeed, let’s bear in mind that Mossack Fonseca is actually a pretty small outfit, when it comes to the larger world of crypto money shelters. The Tax Justice Network (TJN), a U.K.-based nonprofit, estimated that nearly 75 percent of all offshore private wealth is either directly or indirectly concentrated in the hands of the world’s top 50 private banks.

Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, whether the data spills come from some whistleblower’s conscience or machinations within elite castes, the lesson is the same.  Our experimental civilization – this rare departure from the normal human pattern of hierarchical authoritarianism – is almost always a net beneficiary of light. It generally suffers grievous harm when shadows reign. 

Those are the salient traits of our era.

== Pertinent to home ==

With that bald fact made clear, is it time to view all this in proper terms – as an existential matter? Nations and borders may not be at stake, but the very nature of this civilization is. And let’s not forget those tens of millions of children.

Suppose people around the world, especially in democratic but poor nations, started looking at matters that way. Who might be the belligerents in a “Helvetian War”? 

Well, start with a list of the top ten countries providing secret banking services. Yes, Switzerland— despite many ballyhooed “transparency reforms” — still is tops by far, along with Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, Cayman, Lebanon and Bahrain.  Also on the list, for the way several states like Delaware offer shelter loopholes… the U.S.  Indeed, one transparency attorney explained the relative lack of American names in the Panama Papers quite simply.  “Yanks don’t need Panamanians to set up their shell corporations. We have Delaware and Nevada.” 

Quoting Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times: “More than a century ago, Delaware sought to attract businesses by allowing companies to write governance rules that shielded management from liability and eliminated standard protections for shareholders. Today, the state is the legal home to 1.1 million companies, 95% of which have their principal location in another state or country. Tens of thousands of businesses list the same Delaware addresses, home to their incorporating agents. The businesses registered in Delaware include 65% of Fortune 500 companies.”  

“You’ve heard the expression ‘follow the money’?” said John Cassara, a former agent for the U.S. Treasury. “Well, when the money trail leads to a Delaware corporation, it is almost a dead end for law enforcement.” Similar rules are found now in Nevada and several other states seeking to raise revenue for the state “by creaming off fees from large numbers of companies incorporating there — and the consequences be damned,” according to a 2015 report by the U.K. Tax Justice Network.

In response, President Obama has pushed forward a measure long in preparation, but till-now stymied politically -- a rule forcing U.S. banks to vet the real identities of any individuals who own 25 percent or more of corporate entities that open bank accounts, as well as any individuals exercising control over those entities. American banks are supposed to “know their customers” who open accounts. But banks have not been required to identify customers who set up accounts in names of shell companies. The new rule, “would clarify and make absolutely clear to our financial institutions that they must know and understand the beneficial ownership of their customers.”

Oh, that’s a modest measure, compared to what is obviously needed… starting with a ban on U.S. states acting like the Cayman Islands. Still, Americans need to bear this in mind during the coming elections. One party would clearly move on this issue, albeit too timidly and slowly. If pressured, it might even act significantly, with a bill demanding clear audit trails to every living human being that benefits from any shell company.

The other party has fiercely blocked any action for decades. And it can be relied upon to keep protecting hidden wealth with all its might.

== Flags of Convenience ==

Shell companies aren’t just ways to dodge taxes, or rob developing nations, or launder ill-gotten gains. One of the most egregious and outrageous versions has long helped the unscrupulous to evade responsibility or accountability to basic standards at sea.

Starting shortly after World War II, Edward Stettinius, who had been Franklin D. Roosevelt's Secretary of State, bribed the government of Liberia into a sweetheart deal, whereunder ship owners might register their vessels with a minimum of supervision or fiduciary care, escaping accountability to the U.S. Seaman’s Act and other regulations. Many have heard of the “Liberian ship registry,” but few realize that American aristocrats still siphon off many of the profits and benefits from this dodge through the original shell company that Stettinius established to offer this cheat, splitting revenue with the Liberian government. Since then, others swarmed into this lucrative, if shady, business. Panama, the Seychelles and many other small nations offer “flags of convenience. ”

This practice doesn’t only apply to ships that move. The drilling platform Deepwater Horizon – which blew out catastrophically in 2010, flew a Marshall Islands flag of convenience, easing the way for lax safety enforcement and helping lead to harm inflicted on the planet we all share.

In many cases, the flag state cannot identify a ship owner, much less hold the owner civilly or criminally responsible for a ship's actions. As a result of this lack of flag state control, flags of convenience are criticized on grounds of providing an environment for conducting criminal activities, supporting terrorism, providing poor working conditions for seafarers, and having an adverse effect on the environment.” A 2004 Report of the UN Secretary General reported that "It is very easy, and comparatively inexpensive, to establish a complex web of corporate entities to provide very effective cover to the identities of beneficial owners who do not want to be known."

Are you convinced yet that my “obsession with transparency” might be one that you and your fellow citizens ought to share? That rising consensus is what happens under my fictional scenario in EARTH, when – around the year 2025 -- the charismatic leader of a developing nation gathers a dozen other democratic presidents and prime ministers to make an joint announcement. 

That enough is enough. That the trillions siphoned by earlier kleptocratic rulers could save tens of millions of lives and give countless children hope. Moreover, those who shelter and help to hide the stolen lucre are complicit, just as liable as the original thieves.

And therefore… 

== What is to be done? ==

Oh, but that imaginary scenario is still too much of a reach, so let’s go back to reality for a bit longer. 

“According to my estimates there's about 8 percent of the world's wealth — almost ten trillion dollars — in tax havens, and 80 percent evades taxes, meaning only 20 percent is duly reported,” says economist Gabriel Zucman.

In other words, the current burden of taxation – to maintain the world’s roads and schools, police and armies, health systems and infrastructure – is carried by folks like you and me. You know. Saps. 

There should be nothing surprising about any of this. Look across the last 6000 years of recorded history, there has never been a time when a society’s elites did not include many who aimed to preserve and enhance their top status – maintaining a hierarchy-pyramid of unearned and inherited privilege -- not by fair competition but by cheating. They were human, after all, and this temptation appears to be an embedded part of human nature.

But that’s the whole point of our new, 200 year enlightenment experiment! We have succeeded (imperfectly) in freeing competitive systems (markets, science, democracy etc.) from the worst and quickest and most blatant forms of cheating – at least we have, compared with every other society that ever existed. (Not compared to, say, Star Trek, of course.)

As a result – and despite those imperfections – the rule of law has let us flourish in more prosperity and freedom than all the pyramid-shaped, feudal nations. Combined.

Of course, this only forced cheaters to find innovative ways to cheat. These new methods are more risky and convoluted than the old one (hire a bunch of thugs with swords and take everything from peasants.) But they are progressively succeeding, as we speak.

Our difficult task, maintaining a civilization of empowered citizenship -- the "diamond-shaped social structure" about which I often speak – requires constant effort, not only to fight each generation’s oligarchic putsch, but also to avoid the opposite calamity of monolithic socialism… which has always led to just more feudalism under a different vocabulary.  A different, socialist-sounding priesthood.

Our quandary was well described by the famous historians Will and Ariel Durant, in The Lessons of History. 

"…the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.” 

The irony in all this is that our greatest need, at present is not redistribution of wealth.  (Though note that the American Founders seized and redistributed up to a third of all the land in the original 13 colonies.) No, we can probably accomplish enough of a reset simply through transparency!

Suppose we planetary citizens manage to sway our most moderate and decent governments to prioritize the limiting of “shell companies.” By applying their still-potent First World clout, they might achieve a globe-spanning treaty, under which such shell companies may only go two or three deep before the true “beneficiary owners” – living humans – must be identified. Would this not gift our children with a vastly better and more accountable and transparent world? Note that this requires no confiscation at all, only light and accountability.

Sure, shell corporations are only the tip of the iceberg. A mere lava-trickle from the world’s super volcano of dangerous, cryptic trillions. A more general case can be made for a Transparency of Ownership Treaty, under which the following principle becomes a core element of worldwide law:

If you own something, you must openly point to it and say “I own that.” 

Anything that remains unclaimed, under at-most a couple of transparent shells, goes into a pool to pay off the world’s crushing burden of debt.  Moreover, you know that a lot of wealth would go unclaimed, by those who “own” it nefariously.

There is precedent! Look up the land reforms that Peru executed, under sway of the brilliant economist Hernando de Soto Polar, which vested in poor farmers clear title to land they had farmed for generations, enabling them at last to offer collateral for loans that in most cases vastly increased productivity, lifting peasants out of poverty. In a rare example of happy collaboration, both progressives and libertarians saw their hopes fulfilled, by thinking outside the foolish “left-right axis.” Losers? Drug cartels who could not contest these vestings with “I own that” claims of their own. Another example of a general principle… that bad men avoid light, so the rest of us should be drawn to it.

Concealment of wealth is the worst, but not the only cancer gnawing at our enlightenment bones.  In this insightful article: They Don’t Just Hide Their Money. Economist Says Most of Billionaire Wealth is Unearned. The concentration of wealth from rent-seeking,” Didier Jacobs continues the efforts of the brilliant Evonomics site… not to hate capitalism but to save it from the recurring failure mode denounced foremost by Adam Smith! 

There are signs that the political caste is realizing all of this.  German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has proposed a major step - an international network of registers that list the actual owners of companies. If company registers listing the owners of firms were networked internationally, it would (at least purportedly) then be possible to find all the people hiding behind offshore companies. He said the Panama Papers were ratcheting up pressure on those that had not joined, such as the United States, to sign up. 

Okay then, suppose the planet’s nations agreed to a Transparency of Ownership treaty – discussed in more detail here. Not one honest person, not even billionaires, would be much inconvenienced.  Indeed, tax rates for citizens who currently file honest returns should go down! Because we are the saps who now pay extra to cover dodgers and parasites.

Okay, we're ready. To talk about the war. One that is inevitable, if we fail at reform.

== Helvetia delenda est ==

No, you Latin scholars, I am not calling for the events described as backstory in Earth destruction of Switzerland and all the other banking havens that are complicit in the manslaughter of tens of millions of children, who might be saved by the return of klepto-stolen trillions. 

That story was fiction. In order to make that distinction, my novel uses instead the ancient term Helvetia, to represent only evil practices which must die. Earth was a dramatic exaggeration. In real life, the “Helvetian War” would never devolve into such violence, reducing the Glarus Alps to irradiated slag.

But the backstory to the backstory…

Picture that charismatic president of a developing nation and her colleagues, explaining to the world that they had exhausted every other option, in courts and international fora and the arena of public opinion. Moreover, since the secret bankers’ obstinacy was no less than complicity in outright murder of millions of children, a dozen poor nations had therefor agreed to call this cassus belli, or grounds for war.

Not a war aimed at conquest, or the death of even a single enemy soldier or citizen! But war in the very legal sense that allows belligerent nations to act aggressively against the interests of their foes. To seize, for example, ships or planes owned by nations who had become rich off parasitical banking practices and the suffering of the poor. To demand other assets be handed over by third parties. To blockade or shut down ports and to wreck business deals by threatening the interests of any company doing commerce with “the enemy.” 

All of that would be legal under millennia-old rules of war! 

Above all, this would empower the aggrieved countries with a powerful psychological weapon, depriving their foe-nations of something they’ve long relished – a reputation for centuries of 'peacefulness.'

I never wrote this backstory in any detail. But in my author’s mental screening room I envision the consortium of poor nations issuing letters of marque, empowering people all over the world to act on their behalf. Not to kill or injure a single Helvetian or Banking-Axis citizen, but to attack the enemy’s offices and other interests around the world with stink bombs, making clear their guilt-by-association-with-nausea. And there are so many other imaginative ways that “war” might be waged in this new-modern way. Not by rationalizing the crude and ancient meting out of death, but using the still-standing laws of belligerence to make a point. 

You will no longer help to murder our potential and our hope and our kids, with impunity.

Give it all back.

== Sticking to the plausible ==

Yes, I get it. Even after preparing the case, I cannot lead you out that far.

Only, did you read the Durant quotation, above? If we cannot solve the problem by cool, negotiated and rational legislation, then where do you think all this can possibly lead?

There are possible compromises, in fact. If those hiding the loot of Ferdinand Marcos and Mobutu Sese Seko were to reveal it, then the Philippines and Congo might agree to keep the actual cash in Swiss (or Cayman etc.) accounts, simply swapping names! Those poor nations would then be able to use the money as collateral for development projects aimed at uplifting the poor. A win-win.

Alas, the banking havens are led by humans, and hence they won’t agree to anything so sensible, not unless they see real pain coming their way.

And so, let’s reiterate what is fundamental in all this. Year after year – and without much help from law or government – whistleblowers grow more bold.  Encouraged by each Panama Papers-style leak, and by new technologies of information copying and sharing… and possibly by what-if stories like the Helvetian War, the trend is unstoppable, short of a worldwide Orwellian tyranny.

We need strong protections for whistle-blowers. But they will come forth, with or without such laws. The conscience of a new generation will be different than its parents’. The sons and daughters of struldbrug bankers will not want the guilt.  Some of them will tell. And a few is all that it will take.

Again. Either the world will see a steady, secular trend toward ever-more light shining into formerly dark places – or else the world’s elites will find excuses to clamp down, as the mighty did in every past human society, plugging the era of leaks the only way that it can be plugged, through fierce repression.  

The choice is binary.

Either Big Brother forever, or Big Brother never.

====

====



77 comments:

LarryHart said...

Hey, just wanted to let you know I'm still alive. :) I don't like to announce travel plans in advance on the internet, but I've been in Europe--specifically Denmark and Germany--for the past almost two weeks.

When I get over jet lag, I'd like to weigh in on the gold standard commentary by Robert and Alfred (among others) a few posts back, because coincidentally, I was thinking about the issue of what gives currency its value while over in Europe where the only news I was hearing (besides soccer scores) was about Brexit.

Also, to Dr Brin, I wanted to be sure to tell you that my wife and I visited a comics/sci-fi/bookstore in Berlin, and there on the shelves were several volumes of Brin novels (including both Uplift trilogies, each in single books) in both German and English.

LarryHart said...

Laurent Weppe, many threads back:

* "For example, I don't think anything H.G. Wells wrote about in sci-fi has actually come to pass"

Personally, I think the "Eloization" of the upper-class is happening, and faster than in Wells' story.* "For example, I don't think anything H.G. Wells wrote about in sci-fi has actually come to pass"


Funny how we both thought of my original comment in different ways. When I talked about Wells's sci-fi not coming to pass, I wasn't even thinking about what his predicted future world looked like. I meant that no one has yet invented a time machine (or human invisibility, or sculpting animals into human beings).

LarryHart said...

Oh, and one more thing before I really do fall asleep. While on the long flights to and from Europe, I watched a bunch of movies I probably wouldn't have spent time seeing otherwise. One of these was the new "Superman vs Batman" movie. So I now realize that the Frank Miller Batman quote from the 1980s that I've been repeating endlessly here (the one about Batman's parents teaching him a different lesson--that the world only makes sense when you force it to) was used almost verbatim in that film. Which is probably what most of you thought I was quoting in the first place.

The first part of the quote was different, though. Because of airplane noise, I couldn't quite make out what Batman said Superman's parents taught him, but I'm pretty sure it was different from the original comic, in which Superman was acting as a government stooge, and Batman said that he (Superman) gave his power to anyone with a badge, the way his (Superman's) parents taught him. Batman then followed with the bit about "My parents taught me a very different lesson..." which was almost copied verbatim from the comic to the movie.

raito said...

From what I see, the shock has nothing to do with the idea of not being able to get away from it. More of the shock I see is either from the naive and/or ignorant who thought that stuff like this wasn't happening in the first place. When ti comes to money, it's difficult to be paranoid or cynical enough.

I'm not sure I agree with the 'forever or never' thing. It is also possible that some of this has to do with the development of a global economy. Sure, you can say that 200 years ago you wouldn't find ships sailing under foreign flags as they do now, or incorporating on other places. And you might even say that part of the reason that's so is because is because it was much easier to bully the system to your interests and such dodges weren't necessary. But it's also probably that it's primarily modern communication that makes these cheats easy. And it's also likely (in my mind anyway) that this is part of the sort of pendulum swings that happen upon the disruption of nearly any system.

On an only slightly more light note, geez, I'm feeling old. Doing a bit of channel surfing, and one show caught my eye. Hey, it's Ray Bradbury, on a 70's episode of the Tonight show (several sideband channels in my area are networks specializing on old shows). Brilliant, intelligent discussion on science fiction and NASA on a show that, at the time, practically every adult in the US was aware of. Where is that outlet today, with everything fragmented into teeny echo chambers? We gain by possibly having less corporate control of culture (though there's always the astroturfing to contend with), but lose by not having everyone in the pot.

And I gained a new appreciation for Don Rickles, who was an intelligent part of the conversation, a complete turnabout from his comedic persona. Also interesting to hear Bradbury say that his contemporaries were completely influenced by Verne and Wells.

More relevant here was the question that Carson asked Bradbury, which I could see being well-applied to those who prefer the 'utopias' of the past. Carson asked simply that if Bradbury could live in any time or place in human history, where would it be? The instantaneous answer was here and now.

It was also good to hear Bradbury semi-quoting the end of Wells 'Things To Come' (movie version). Man can live on Earth and die, or leave Earth and live forever.

David Brin said...

Happy trails LH and stay safe.

Jumper said...

I seem to recall that bank secrecy applies to the City of London which might be put on that list of offenders.

Jumper said...

Found the source that was tweaking my memory:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-city-medieval

Jumper said...

https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2011/jan/08/jersey-tax-haven-nicholas-shaxson
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/22/treasure-islands-tax-havens-shaxson-review

Anonymous said...

Binary choices must ever remain suspect as mental bias stemming from the us-vs-them monotheistic bed that the present Western death-path grew from. One who insists on "big brother forever, or big brother never" merely blinds themself to alternatives, the cycles of history, rise of civilizations that cleave to authoritarian ways, or otherwise reject the narrow universalism espoused by the West, or even within the West note the populus rage over the rather raw deal the long-ignored worker caste has been getting in the name of neoliberal corporatism as usual. Why Trump, Brexit, and now a populist vote down under? Why should a resurgent China or Dar-al-Islam follow Adam Smith, and reject their own local traditions of thought? Especially given the past colonialism and genocide by the West, and now internal troubles and decline of the West?

The questionable notion that the past must have been darker leads to the single alternative fallacy—lo! the past was darker (your false feudalism claim), and thus—lo! our future will be bright, if this one quite arbitrary path is cleaved to. As one contradiction, streets 100 years ago were safer to pedestrains than modern stroads. Collapsing back to street designs from 1900 would improve the health and safety of citizens. That you car sitters fight road diets tooth and nail is rather interesting. Death path much?

And the trillions stolen from the poor? The West did that via the IMF and other means, so why would a hypothetical new democracy turn to the loving embrace of the Enlightenment? More likely, a local populist canditate seeped in local traditions and learnings rails against the Imperial Western Dogs and wins by a landslide. One should also note the quite spotty record of the ________ Empire towards new democracies, following the "but not" model: democracy, but not if they develop nukes, but not if they are commie, but not if they are Islamic, but not if they use the billions we tossed over there for war to train freedom figh—err, terrorists. Hypocritical, and the foreign civilizations know this.

David Brin said...

Re anonymous — I am generally opposed to simplistic dichotmies, like the hoary-lobotomizing “left-right” axis and especially the insipid “choice” between security and freedom. I call many of them "devils' dichotomies." But in this case, anon’s objection simply reflects a dullard refusal to ponder the point that “Big Brother Forever/Never” makes.

If the powers of surveillance come to include panopticon vision and lie-detection, then there would appear to be no way to avoid a dichotomy. (And dichotomies do exist, such as night and day. (Twilight happens, and is irrelevant.)

IF such powers are monopolized by a particular elite, then it is hard to imagine how that elite could ever be toppled.

In contrast, if those powers of omni-transparency and lie detection are usable by all citizens upon all elites, allowing application of accountability upon any abuse of power, then pray tell me how you get and maintain Oceania’s Big Brother? Indeed, under those conditions, about 60% of government employees would become unnecessary. The 70%... then 80%.

Sure, you can quibble and point at twilight scenarios and what-ifs, but that is just quibble-avoidance of a very very clear polemical argument. That anon evaded even glancing at, let alone paraphrasing, like an adult, and arguing with.

Likewise, anon would have been well-served to point to a single COUNTER-example to the rule of pyramidal hierarchies of inherited privilege (feudalism) across 6000 years of societies with both agriculture and metals. Other than attempts at the democratic -constitutional alternative: Athens, Florence, Venice. But no, he offers just arm-waving blather.

Our streets are less safe? OMG how about normalizing for the number of people and masses of cargo carried? Stand at a four way stop sign intersection and watch the interplay of courtesy and self-regulation and tell us modern folk aren’t sophisticated and mostly damned advanced!

He ignores the entire point of the article… that trillion dollar heists can be STOPPED only by transparency. But then, we know this person to be simultaneously articulate and deeply, deeply stupid.

Jumper said...

While thumbing nose at dichotomies then propounding that learning Adam Smith means rejection of a culture's own ways. Sez who? Not to mention assuming that Chinese ideas of hypocrisy must be exactly the same as her own.

LarryHart said...

Ok, I've tried to catch up on two weeks of posts here, and am failing miserably. Two days until back to work would be plenty of time in winter, but on a sunny 80-degree holiday weekend in Chicago, I'm just not going to be inside all that long. So maybe a few short responses where longer ones would really be more appropriate.

Over a decade ago when my daughter was 3, possibly 4 but no older, I heard her say something that indicated she was beginning to act like the bad girls at pre-school, and I said I hoped she wasn't becoming a bully. She responded "...but I fear I shall be that way...forever." This was a toddler, mind you, and my first reaction was "Where did she learn to talk like that?", let alone the actual content of the speech. Only a few days later did I notice a line in the "Babar the Elephant" book that she had with her which she was plagiarizing.

Point being...I'm just starting to realize that the same dynamic occurs while reading locumranch's posts. Caveat emptor.

As to the discussions on currency and gold standard and government manipulation...damn, I really want to write a whole essay about my thoughts on the subject, but don't have the time to devote to it at the moment. Let me just start by describing the conclusion I've been coming to recently--that a unit of fiat currency such as a dollar bill has to be backed up by something of real value to human beings, but that that value does not have to be a physical commodity such as gold. Rather, it represents the holder's right to a specified fraction of the economy of the agency backing the currency (the United States in my example). An American dollar gives the holder ownership of a piece of the American economy.

So if the fraction of the American economy represented by a dollar is not to be arbitrary and capricious, what exactly should the fraction be? That's the crux of the problem, and my quick answer is that dollars are America's way of distributing a portion of the commons to individuals. In this, I differ from Ayn Rand in thinking that there is a commons in the first place and that it should not all be monetized and distributed to individuals, but that some of it must be. In this view, when someone like the fictional Hank Rearden or the real-life Bill Gates creates new wealth that did not exist before, that new wealth becomes part of the commons, but new dollars can be printed to cover that new wealth without diluting anyone else's holdings, and most of those new dollars (minus acceptable taxes) then belong to the creator. What constitutes "acceptable taxes"--how much of that new wealth belongs to the society rather than the individual--is the details in which the devil resides.

As I say, the idea is not fully formed yet, but I hope to flesh it out over time.

David Brin said...

LH: " creates new wealth that did not exist before, that new wealth becomes part of the commons, but new dollars can be printed to cover that new wealth without diluting anyone else's holdings, and most of those new dollars (minus acceptable taxes) then belong to the creator."

Interesting. That certainly would seem to be what IP law is designed to achieve (at best).

donzelion said...

@Dr. Brin - "Either the world will see a steady, secular trend toward ever-more light shining into formerly dark places – or else the world’s elites will find excuses to clamp down..."

Consider an old "scam": Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z each has $10 million, and they collude to buy a $100 million property, which they do as follows:

On July 1, 2016, Mr. X owns 25% of "X Corp" - opens an account at Bank 1. He borrows the money from Bank 2, and starts the purchase of Super Plot.

On August 1, 2016, Mr. X sells 51% of his stake in X Corp to Mr. Y, but that sale takes effect only when the Super Plot deal closes.

On September 1, 2016, Mr. X sells 51% of his stake in X Corp to Mr. Z, but that sale takes effect only if the deal fails to close after 180 days, and requires Mr. Z to sell the stake to Mr. Y if/when the deal does close.

On June 30, 2017, the deal closes, once Mr. X, Y, and Z have consolidated their $30 million into an account. However, Mr. Z refuses to transfer to Mr. Y, and transfers to Z Corp instead, which is bought by X Corp. This is a scam, so they're golfing the whole way through and laughing about how they increased their assets from $10 million to $100 million each.

On July 1, 2017, who owns Super Plot? Only a judge could determine ownership. And that will take 5-10+ years. During that time, all three men will be 'owners' of Super Plot, transforming their $10 million initial stake into a paper stake worth some portion of $100 million (banks will try to monetize the risk, and mark that down to $50-75 million, but even so, these men have just "increased" their assets massively).

Two takeaways from this story:
(1) The $5-10 billion "stolen" by dictators often takes variations on this form. There may never have been more than 10 cents on the dollar behind the fictitious wealth created and transferred.

(2) The offshore accounts just lengthen the time - from 5-10 years, to 10-20 years - but the issue is really about time, not structure. It would take this long even in America. And it would only take this long because rich men have ways of lengthening the time to collect very large debts that poor/middle class men do not have.

donzelion said...

By the way, one solution to the "Saga of Super Plot" is even more ugly: the banks in the story need to be relatively massive to enable them to survive if Mr. X, Y, and Z stop paying the debt. Variations on this scam were endemic in the 50s - 60s, and the collapse of the smaller financial intermediaries in the late 70s-80s resulted in a collective wisdom that we need financial institutions that are too big to be pushed around by a handful of big fish.

Which worked quite well...until 2008.

All that said, neither Mr. X, Mr. Y, nor Mr. Z has any means of repressing anyone as a result of their "crazy" scam: to do that, they need to find politicians who can be bought and sold on the cheap. One way of getting those politicians, however, will be to target scapegoats and fomenting a backlash against a target group - it's all the fault of those foreigners! the gays! the Jews! the Tutsis! These gentlemen will cautiously endorse a mad power hungry monster, as soon as they obtain assurances that someone other than they will be the targets of that monster (or rather, they'll calculate that they can move their "wealth" around and protect themselves before the monster turns against them - their entire wealth-building has always been about waiting until the 11th hour to get out of something going bad).

Repression comes last in this story.

Jumper said...

A lot of people besides Gates or "Reardon" create wealth where there wasn't before, such as bankers and carpenters when they team to build houses, etc. Normal people. Currency expands for many small reasons too.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi LarryH

Your point about growth increasing the wealth of the nation and thereby enabling the Government to "print more dollars"

I agree except I believe it should be "Mandating" - not just enabling
As the "body" gets bigger it requires more "blood" to perform the transport functions that keep the body healthy

And its not so much new ideas as new growth that increases the wealth of a nation
Building an additional factory may not involve any new ideas but it does increase the overall wealth
And some new businesses may increase the wealth of a company but if that is done by reducing the wealth of an existing company they have NOT increased the wealth of the nation

As far as who should "own" those dollars and IP is concerned I disagree
To use the Randian example -
If I find and patent a new metal how much of that new metal is "my idea"?

I would say less than 2% -
The only reason that I can develop a "new metal" is all of the tools that I have inherited from our common lineage
Mathematical tools
Measurement tools
Knowledge of science and other materials

The "new dollars" should mostly be owned by the society as a whole
The best thing for that society to do with those new dollars is probably to give them to the poor?
Or to everybody as a UBI?

Jumper said...

Plus the technician probably came up with the real breakthrough as always, and Reardon just took credit for it.

David Burns said...

What is a "klepto pool?" A web search returned 4 amusing but unnlightening hits.

Paul SB said...

Larry, I figured you must have been out of town or some such. Loci and the Sapling spat out some zingers in the past couple weeks I was surprised to not see you riposte (especially the PUSI comment - where can a 12 year old get a license to practice medicine?) Hope you had a good time, and didn't put on too much weight, given the local cuisine!

"Only a few days later did I notice a line in the "Babar the Elephant" book that she had with her which she was plagiarizing.

Point being...I'm just starting to realize that the same dynamic occurs while reading locumranch's posts. Caveat emptor."

Plagiarism, or is it Mirror neurons? Many adults argue that the fictive violence we are exposed to in literature, cinematography and video games is harmless because people can tell the difference between real and imaginary, and for adults this is mostly true. But very young people have been observed to model any behavior they see, regardless of how that behavior is judged. Hypothetically this is done by way of mirror neurons, though that research is far from conclusive. A program I heard on the radio a couple years ago talked about this. Young children who see violence tend to absorb violence as a model, even if the story ends with the perpetrator of the violence being punished for it. They were using an example of a "Berenstain Bears" book in which the brother hit his sister, and found that children who read that story (I think the control might have been Blues Clues, where there was no violence) were more likely to engage in violence themselves. AT young ages they pick up words and actions and model them without fully understanding them or their implications. One of the more important points they made was that even in the teen years portrayals of violence that were said to be justified (heroes vanquishing villains) resulted in children who were likely to commit violence. In their minds, they are always the hero, so anyone who stops them from doing anything they want is a villain. Since violence against villains is justified, well, any attempt at discipline or even encouraging basic courtesy becomes a violent conflict. I don't know how many times I've seen people nearly come to blows in public because someone was blasting their stereo too loud and someone else asked them to turn it down.

Our anonymous interloper has a very similar speech pattern to some others who contribute (mostly ridicule) to this forum. Perhaps he is "mirroring" others? That mirroring seems to include the inability to recognize an oxymoron from his own keyboard, like "narrow universalism." When Dr. Brin responded with: "Our streets are less safe? OMG how about normalizing for the number of people and masses of cargo carried?" he was pointing to a key flaw in the minds of those same people he mirrors (or she, as Jumper suggests). People on either side of our silly left/right dichotomy frequently project today's conditions on the past when attempting to put past practices on a pedestal. The huge amount of population growth, along with its increase in traffic, both in terms of personal transport and larger cargo vehicles, renders the argument ridiculous. There is a highway that runs through Pasadena called the Arroyo Seco Parkway, which was the first highway in the western states. It was built in 1939-40, decades after the model this fellow pedestals, and even with modern upgrades the oldest stretches are more dangerous to drive than more recent highways. Cars didn't drive as fast in those days - not routinely - and the diameters of curves as well as tilting of the pavement itself is different, pitched for fewer, lighter and slower cars. The same idea can be applied to virtually every past golden age argument out there. The people who make those arguments do not live in those times, and fill the gaps in their knowledge with assumptions that belong to the times in which they do live.

Paul451 said...

Re: Declare-it-or-lose-it laws.

Does anyone know if the major international trade treaties and their groups (such as the WTO) have specific wording that would, in effect, forbid such seizures of assets?

Donzelion, have you swum in that swamp?

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

"Point being...I'm just starting to realize that the same dynamic occurs while reading locumranch's posts. Caveat emptor."

Plagiarism, or is it Mirror neurons?


I was using "plagiarism" in the most metaphorical of senses, seeing as I was talking about a toddler. My point was that many of loc's diatribes are not original thoughts, but quotes from fiction. Often I recognize the allusion (the fact that anyone other than my brother, our four college roommates, and his wife could throw out a quote from "Home Office" frankly astounds me), and I suspect that other such rants are merely quotes I don't personally recognize as such.


But very young people have been observed to model any behavior they see, regardless of how that behavior is judged.


That makes sense. Even young children pretty well figure out that adults don't always tell the truth. In Dave Sim's "Mama's Boy" essays (the ones that made me famous among Cerebus fans) he asserted that real guys (i.e., not mama's boys) learn their place in a new setting by keeping quiet and observing how others fit in. Kids "know" that instinctively from a very young age.

This is one of the few things Frederic Wertham ("Seduction of the Innocent") wasn't wrong about. Comic books full of scenes of violence as a normal thing probably do convince kids reading them that violence is a normal thing. And a final panel where the bad guy is shot and a policeman waxes poetic about how crime doesn't pay doesn't erase the whole rest of the book. I actually had a revelation when I was 16 or so when it occured to me that you don't see bank robberies and police car chases every day in real life. I had read comic books and watched tv cartoons enough to think those were everyday, regular occurrences.

LarryHart said...

BTW, Happy 240th Birthday, America!

(I know, but "United States" didn't really fit rhythmically. Let it stand.)

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

I mostly agree with your idea about where the money goes, but too much of our culture (in the US where I am, certainly, but I suspect all Anglo cultures have too many cut-throat competition memes) emphasizes that old Protestant Work Ethic. Most people would look at the 2% figure and blanche, because they feel they deserve to have it all. And on the other side of the coin, most people hate the idea of a UBI because they se it as unearned and undeserved (never mind the fact that most of the world's billionaires did little or nothing to deserve their wealth).

There's a little article in Mother Jones that makes the point that, while this is the case right now, if unemployment rises sufficiently it will become more acceptable - the article assumes that all our jobs will go to robots, which is probably not right, but it's a meme popular with liberals and the working class. More likely mechanization of jobs will lead to ubiquitous low-skill wage slavery jobs. If the conservatives get what they want, likely the banks that own everyone's credit card debt with start to recoup their losses by legalizing indentured servitude.

Paul SB said...

Larry,
I think it goes beyond just quoting the same old lines, or even that tendency for people to surround themselves with like-minded people and live in like-minded bubbles. Mirroring shows us how communities that lack social diversity perpetuate ethnocentrism through the generations. Children absorb and mirror a limited repertoire of ideas at young ages, laying down major neural pathways in thick layers of myelin, clustering oligodendrocytes along major information/idea highways. So when they are adults and encounter difference, those differences don't stick. The age of mirroring has receded, and any differences they encounter can only be interpreted in terms of those deeply ingrained memes. This is why certain people seem to twist everything other people say to mean something totally different. In a sense they are mentally handicapped. An example might be an old friend from my home town, who has been posting anti-Liberal hate memes on Facebook ever since the Orlando shooting. I countered one of his posts and he came back pretty angry. But when I replied that the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right of individuals to bear arms, it guarantees the right of individuals to join armed militias for the express purpose of national defense, he made no reply and didn't post political hate speech again for at least a week. His mind just can't get around the idea that not everything in life is individual, and when I shoved that back down his throat, he had no way to respond, because I was going beyond the memes that had been burned into his brain back in his larval days - no pat answer. Likewise whenever I ask Treebeard a direct question he stays silent until a thread or two have gone by.

"BTW, Happy 240th Birthday, America!"
how about Happy 240th Birthday, USA! It kind of rhymes, though I'm not much of a poet.

Paul SB said...

In addition to a lack of poetic rhythm, I seem to be losing the short-term memory battle. I forgot to paste in that link for the Mother Jones article.

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/06/ubi-continues-be-wildly-unpopular

Dory-brain! :(

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

More likely mechanization of jobs will lead to ubiquitous low-skill wage slavery jobs. If the conservatives get what they want, likely the banks that own everyone's credit card debt with start to recoup their losses by legalizing indentured servitude.


Except...indentured servitude to do what exactly? If there are no jobs worth paying a salary for, then there are no jobs worth having someone perform to work off debt either. Except maybe sex-slavery, but not everyone will be "qualified" for that job.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Children absorb and mirror a limited repertoire of ideas at young ages, laying down major neural pathways in thick layers of myelin, clustering oligodendrocytes along major information/idea highways. So when they are adults and encounter difference, those differences don't stick. The age of mirroring has receded, and any differences they encounter can only be interpreted in terms of those deeply ingrained memes.


I like to think it is possible to be an exception to that rule. I've had life-changing experiences as an adult that have changed me fundamentally. When I read the first installment of Dave Sim's "Mama's Boy", I realized that he was describing me, and I determined to not be like that any more. I can't say I've succeeded 100%, but it caused a major, permanent change in my behavior. And I was almost 40 years old at the time.

Another such fundamental change happened when I met my wife, with whom I am still madly in love after 20 years of marriage. From the time I became sexually aware, I was an insanely jealous boyfriend or wannabe-boyfriend. Seeing other guys with girlfriends, or seeing the girls I wanted with boyfriends drove me nuts. And when I had a girlfriend, I was always afraid she was about to leave me for some other guy she liked better. When I met the woman I married, after just a few conversations, that part of me just vanished like smoke. I can even say I felt it drop away, and noticeably so, like "Hey, where did my insane jealousy go? It's not there any more." I was 33 at the time. The rule books probably say that sort of thing doesn't happen at that age, but it did anyway.

This is why certain people seem to twist everything other people say to mean something totally different. In a sense they are mentally handicapped. An example might be an old friend from my home town, who has been posting anti-Liberal hate memes on Facebook ever since the Orlando shooting.


Anti-liberals must be conflicted when a Muslim terrorist shoots up a gay club. Like, they don't know who to root for.


I countered one of his posts and he came back pretty angry. But when I replied that the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right of individuals to bear arms, it guarantees the right of individuals to join armed militias for the express purpose of national defense, he made no reply and didn't post political hate speech again for at least a week.


Try telling him that the Second Amendment doesn't mention guns at all. It's strictly "right to bear arms", whatever "arms" means. If that means uncontrolled access to any gun for anyone anywhere, then it also means uncontrolled access to hand-held missile launchers or bio-weapons for anyone anywhere. There's nothing in the wording that gives guns precedence over any other weapon.

Paul SB said...

Hi Larry,
"I like to think it is possible to be an exception to that rule. I've had life-changing experiences as an adult that have changed me fundamentally."

- I was speaking in averages, of course. Some people are more flexible, and some people simply never encounter events that have a lot of potential to alter their thinking in any great way. More, though, simply become resistant to change, reinterpreting everything to make it fit their preconceived notions. In reality they do change, they just don't see the change in themselves. Our minds are an often uncomfortable coalition of voices that conspire to make us think we are one and we are eternal. We also have the distressing habit of thinking in categories, and forcing everything to fit into whatever mental boxes we have on hand. Long live Lev Vyogotsky! Biologist Joan Roughgarden made the interesting point that the animal kingdom is filled with individual animals from hundreds of species that exhibit bisexual behavior, but you don't see strictly homosexual behavior anywhere except in the human species. This is likely a consequence of that tendency to think in categories. Most people likely have bisexual instincts (presumably normally distributed, unless there is evidence otherwise), but because we think in rigid categories, if a person finds that they have interests that are supposed to belong to the opposite sex (as silly as that is), then they assume they must fall into the "gay" category. In the same way, a person who is angered by violent criminals and strongly feels such people should be punished by death often conclude that they must be conservatives base don that one issue, even though if they listed their beliefs one at a time they are not likely to map 100% onto any party's platform.

"Anti-liberals must be conflicted when a Muslim terrorist shoots up a gay club. Like, they don't know who to root for."

I've had this thought, too. I knew a whole lot of church people who rejoiced every time the body of a gay person was found in the local creek, but seemed to have just as much hatred for Muslims, but Muslims were rare and not very visible in the community where I grew up.

As far as the right to bear arms goes, I had that conversation with him decades ago. His contention, shared by many, is that the main purpose of the right to bear arms is to be able to resist the evil government (an argument that made little sense to me, given that he was quite proud of the years he served in the U.S. Navy, which is part of the government). Therefore if the government has F-16 and nuclear warheads, Joe Citizen should have them, too. Yes, people in my home town are that extreme, and they were like that way back in the Reagan 80s, even before Fox News or the Bush Administration.

For my part, I just rolled up my sleeves and said, " I'm okay with the right to bare arms." I would have been more impressive if I had more biceps, though.

Deuxglass said...

donzelion,


I followed your example and it seems to me to depend on finding a bank that will loan money to X Corp without demanding any collateral. A regular bank wouldn’t do this so it would have to be a crony bank but they exist in some countries. The crony bank loans the money with the understanding that it will never be repaid, waits a few years and writes it off. It’s a fake transaction. Government-owned banks in the third world do this all the time to the politically connected.

The way I look at preventing the use of shady offshore banking is to disrupt the movement of funds in and out of the tax havens. If you can do that they you remove the utility of having money in an account or shell company there because then the only way to enjoy the wealth would be to actually live there. Except for Switzerland, just about all of these tax havens and not really nice to live in. New York, Miami, London and Paris are much more fun when you are fabulously rich than the Cayman Islands, Jersey, Luxembourg and so forth. The Helvetian War idea was an actual war but we don’t have to go that far, nevertheless we can use military terms and thinking to “attack” the problem. We have to disrupt the “Kill Chain” in military talk. Keep evil rich guy from moving money from A to B. If you can do that then you remove the utility of the money making it a dead asset or better, a wasting asset. The best way to do that is to kick out his bank from the SWIFT system. The SWIFT system is the only way to electronically transfer funds between banks throughout the world. If a bank is out of SWIFT then it would have to use actual cash and since 95% of all money on the world is electronic, evil rich guy’s bank would find it quasi-impossible to find enough paper bills to make any transaction of decent size. It would be dead as a bank. The result would be the bank collapsing and evil rich guy’s uninsured money evaporating to nothing.

Any bank will do everything to stay in the system but on the other hand SWIFT will do everything to keep its worldwide monopoly by preventing the setting up of a competing system so SWIFT would have to be forced by a wide coalition of countries to cooperate. As Dr. Brin suggested, perhaps a group of developing countries could generate enough pressure for SWIFT to play ball. That could be the way to go.

Joel Greenwood said...

I'd like to thank the Panana Papers for teaching me one specific thing:

Bearer Shares

Most people have heard of Bearer Bonds which allow people to exchange bonds without registering, possibly millions of dollars. But I had never heard of Bearer Shares which allow people to exchange entire companies (and their assets) by simply handing them over in a envelope like a drug deal.

Many countries have eliminated the practice, but not all.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Okay,folks are going too far in leaping to conclude that this image cast out by the Trump Campaign was DELIBERATELY anti-semetic. I give odds it was just another example of stupidity. But to be able to toss a sop to the worst supremicists now and then, in ways you can retract and deny? Priceless.


You're splitting hairs between "Deliberately anti-semetic" and "A(n intentional) sop to the worst supremacists"? If you mean that Trump doesn't personally hate Jews, I agree that that's not what the image proves. But if it means he's signalling to anti-Semites that he's their candidate--that he's got their back--then the distinction is without a difference. Vonnegut's "You are who you pretend to be, so be careful who you pretend to be" is relevant here.

There has to be a political cost for egregious dog-whistles. If signalling to anti-Semites will gain Trump a few extra votes, we have to make sure it costs him more votes off the other end. Otherwise, he's completely incentivized to play to that constituency.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

As far as the right to bear arms goes, I had that conversation with him decades ago. His contention, shared by many, is that the main purpose of the right to bear arms is to be able to resist the evil government (an argument that made little sense to me, given that he was quite proud of the years he served in the U.S. Navy, which is part of the government).


In fairness, they don't believe the government is necessarily evil. They believe that the government can become evil, and they must have the means to resist it when that happens. I don't disagree.


Therefore if the government has F-16 and nuclear warheads, Joe Citizen should have them, too.


At least your compatriots there are being logically consistent. But most conservatives don't think individuals have the right to WMDs and such, especially when those individuals are non-white or might have some grudge against the conservatives. Phrase it in terms of what terrorists are allowed to possess, and they're even less in favor. That's why I like to point out that the Second Amendment makes no distinction between weapon types. It's the slippery-slope thing in reverse: "You're perfectly willing to restrict possession of biological weapons and nuclear devices without trampling on the Second Amendment, so why not AK-47s too?"

Meanwhile, I wonder why you never hear the NRA say anything like "If Michael Brown had been armed, that cop couldn't have shot him in the street," or "If Treyvon Martin had only been armed, he could have stood his ground against George Zimmerman." Could the middle initial actually stand for "Racist"?

Paul SB said...

Larry,
"Could the middle initial actually stand for "Racist"?" Well, yes, for some - consciously. Unconsciously probably for a majority, though most conservatives I have known go to great pains to deny it, rolling their eyes and groaning, then going into diatribes about "reverse discrimination." And I am fairly sure that quite a few of them genuinely believe they are not racist, but they still expect everyone to be just like them, and if they are not, they are inferior to them. Of course, it never occurs to them that while fervently denying racism, they run cover for fellow conservatives who are much more blatant.

"In fairness, they don't believe the government is necessarily evil. They believe that the government can become evil, and they must have the means to resist it when that happens. I don't disagree."

I would agree with you here, including the bit about being able to resist. No less a figure than old Tom Jefferson said as much, and I buy his logic. But in practice, most of these people merely assume that government is evil, and has been ever since Orwell published 1984. In their minds government was good in the glorious days of the Revolutionary War, but not today - surely not today! Evidence? We don't need no stinking evidence!

Jumper said...

I found one method to examine some who claim no prejudices: when a clear case of prejudice does emerge, do they speak against it or are they nowhere to be found? Silent and missing in action?

Of course the term "racist" is a problem because it implies official or systematic discrimination - which the bigot often states should not be made official. But seeing private prejudice and discrimination as a right.

David Brin said...

Paul SB and LarryHart. I long ago dissected the 4th Amendment fetish as boiling down to the old tradition of an "insurrectionary recourse"... and I don't entirely disagree! That is why I wrote this:

http://www.tinyurl.com/jrifle

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

"Could the middle initial actually stand for "Racist"?" Well, yes, for some - consciously. Unconsciously probably for a majority, though most conservatives I have known go to great pains to deny it, rolling their eyes and groaning, then going into diatribes about "reverse discrimination."


I was talking very specifically of the NRA's application of the Second Amendment, which seems to be absolute rights to any gun, but only for white people.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

But in practice, most of these people merely assume that government is evil, and has been ever since Orwell published 1984. In their minds government was good in the glorious days of the Revolutionary War, but not today - surely not today!


Don't the people you speak of think the federal government is evil, but their state (or at least their county) is ok?

Jumper said...

Did you mean the 4econd or the 2ourth?

David Brin said...

The right's narrative that the 1775 rebellion was against "government" or even "taxation" is outright historical fabulation. It was a rebellion against the inherited aristocratic classes who owned almost everything, including half of the land in the colonies and were themselves exempt from taxation.

It was against an aristocracy that crafted monopolies in industry and trade, without allowing competition. Monopolistic practices like the incestuous cabals we now see in a lordly CEO-caste.

It was against taxation _without _representation... as those aristocrats had refused to re-apportion seats in Parliament by population to include the colonies -- in much the same way that red states cheat by gerrymandering.

It is no accident that the British smartly realized they had their best chance by heading south to crush the rebellion where tory support was greatest, among romantics who adored their King. The same pro-aristocratic romanticism we saw during the civil war, when a million poor whites marched off to die defending the privileges of slave-holding aristos. The same romantin twaddle impulse that makes them adore spoiled billionaires.

Dave Werth said...

Off topic but of interest to the Contrarians of this blog. Tonight the Juno probe successfully entered orbit around Jupiter. Woohoo! What and amazing piece of science and engineering to deliver it so precisely. I expect a lot of surprises from the data the probe collects.

occam's comic said...

David,
I think you are almost certainly wrong when you wrote it is a binary choice between big brother forever or big brother never.

Why do you think a big brother society could be ecologically stable and last an indefinite period of time? Wouldn't the big brother elite be very well insolated from the negative consequences of their decisions? Won't that lead to habitually poor decision making by the elites? And won't the long run consequences of those poor decisions doom the big brother society?

Doesn't a viable society need to incorporate some type of CITOKATE?

Treebeard said...

Agreed occam's. It's hard to think of examples in history of a binary choice that led to one extreme outcome or its opposite, forever. When someone pushes a binary like that, it usually means they favor one of the poles strongly and are trying to force you into making a false choice. Adherents of totalitarian religions and ideologies love this tactic. But then our host does often sound like a religious fanatic. It's Star Trek or stone age feudalism, the stars or the caves, forever, haven't you heard?

The Archdruid had a pretty good post on this a few years ago that might be of interest:
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/10/trouble-with-binary-thinking.html

LarryHart said...

Knowing more now about the Donald Trump-retweeted image of Hillary with a backdrop of cash and a Jewish Star-shaped caption proclaiming her "The most corrupt canidate ever"...

The most charitable interpretation one can give is that someone in his campaign saw the post, liked what it said about Hillary, and re-tweeted it without thinking about anything else. Even that says bad things about Trump's campaign--that they are perusing Nazi websites as legitimate sources of material. The more likely interpretation is that Trump or his campaign thought the image was subtle enough to appeal to anti-Semites without tipping anyone else off as to its meaning--that Hillary is "corrupt" precisely because of her connections to Israel. They seem to think that Jews will vote Republican because Republicans give better lip service to Israel than Democrats to, while racist Nazis will also vote Republican because Hillary is too much in thrall to that same Israel.

They might be right, but calling them on the cynical stragety is legitimate, and it matters not a whit whether or not Donald Trump is a racist or anti-Semite himself. A comics quote, not from Cerebus this time, but from Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" goes "Intent and outcome are rarely coincident." The Brexit vote made that abundantly clear, and we can only hope that that fiasco makes vividly clear what buyer's remorse would follow a vote for Trump.

David Brin said...

Occam, I have railed against the 'devil's dichotomies' as you know. Simplistic either ors lobotomize...

...except when they metaphorically make a very clear point. In this case, how will you ever have a rebellion against a world oligarchy if they monopolize the power to see everyone at all times and to haul anyone in for questioning under a perfect lie detector?

Sure you can quibble about "forever." And a dozen other waffles. But the point remains valid.

You say the resulting, insular oligarchy will make mistakes without fermenting criticism? Of course they will! CITOKATE. Their rule will be insanely stupid, resulting in deterioration at all levels, which will result in even more draconian repression. Orwell's Oceania is spiraling downward to death.

Huxley's BNW uses other techniques - conditioning, drugs and division of humanity into castes designed to be happy as they are. Hence surveillance and interrogation are much lighter and some criticism is allowed. Anyway, they control via pleasure, not pain, and hence might survive to see better days.

Paul451 said...

I'll try again:

Does anyone know if international trade treaties (such as the WTO rules) have clauses that would prevent the seizure of assets that can't be traced to a human?

From what I've seen (and I haven't read any treaty documents, this is interpreted from types of laws being smacked down because of trade rules), trade treaties strongly reinforce the idea of corporate personhood. I suspect, therefore, that there would be a lot of language that prevents member-states from making a legal distinction between companies and individuals.

--

David,
"I long ago dissected the 4th Amendment fetish as boiling down to the old tradition of an "insurrectionary recourse". "

Heh, if only there was a 4th Amendment fetish.

LarryHart said...

@Paul451

To many Americans, the Bill of Rights looks like:

1. N/A
2. Keep your government hands off my guns!
3. N/A
4. N/A
5. N/A
6. N/A
7. N/A
8. N/A
9. N/A
10. N/A

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Does anyone know if international trade treaties (such as the WTO rules) have clauses that would prevent the seizure of assets that can't be traced to a human?


Could the rationale be along the lines of salvage laws?

I've got all sorts of "stuff" that is presumed to be mine because it is inside of my house. If I hauled my dingy sofa out to the park three blocks away and left it there, it's still mine, but there's no way for anyone to know that. The city would have the right to remove it as an eyesore, and unless I somehow demonstrated to their satisfaction that it was mine (and paid fees for their inconvenience), "my" property could be junked or sold for scrap or given to someone's cousin who knows how to fix couches. I've essentially foregone my claim to ownership of the thing by going out of my way to hide that ownership.

Could arguments for confiscation of unclaimed property be made along that line?

Paul451 said...

Larry,
"Could the rationale be along the lines of salvage laws?"

That was my point. I suspect that trade treaties specifically reinforce the idea of corporations as legally recognised entities, whose property rights member-states are pledged to protect.

That is, provided a corporation says "This is mine", then the treaties insist there is no abandonment.

(But, as I said, I'm only going by some national laws that have been struck down. While many treaties are short and can be easily read and understood, trade treaties are especially verbose and convoluted.)

Jumper said...

Background on legal corporate anonymity:
http://www.economist.com/node/21543132

locumranch said...


An excellent post that fails to give due consideration to Korzybski's 'The map is not the territory' quip, it's corollary being that 'Monies are not the wealth' which they purport to represent.

This most important concept merits frequent repetition:

Money is NOT wealth, but rather a fictive economic attempt to 'map the wealth' (and/or 'keep an economic tally') because what we call 'money' has no durable (non-imaginary) value in & of itself. Whether it be visible or non-transparent, money is (and has always been) a conditional & fairly fictive resource.

Even though it may be 'safe' in the sense that it cannot be taxed, stolen or appropriated when hidden, money cannot be 'spent' (and therefore has NO value) when hoarded, hidden or buried, in much the same way that transparent monies also have little or no durable value because they are EASILY subject to taxation, misappropriation & devaluation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Money_illusion

http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=15362

This, then, is the problem with Radical Transparency: Once you seek to penetrate illusion & pay attention to the man behind the curtain, you find that illusion was all you had because there is NO great or powerful wizard, just a sad little confidence man.

Of course, the Boomer Generation is loathe to abandon its Monetary Illusions: It can't admit that all of its nominal Home Equities, Savings Accounts, Stock Certificates, 401Ks & GDPs are worth absolutely diddly-squat.


Best

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

That is, provided a corporation says "This is mine", then the treaties insist there is no abandonment.


But corporations don't "say" anything except by way of human agents. So the law would be structured to say that the claim has to be instigated by a human being who in turn would have to testify under oath as to which human beings are being represented.

There is precedent for this. Before 9/11, corporations could buy airline tickets that any of their employees could use. After 9/11, the laws governing air travel were changed so that the name on the ticket had to be the name of the human being entering the airplane. A corporation can't buy a ticket in its own name anymore, personhood be darned.

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

locumranch:

what we call 'money' has no durable (non-imaginary) value in & of itself.


That's not entiely true. I have a $10 bill that I know I can trade for a pizza tonight when I'm hungry, so that $10 bill has tangible value to me. Of course, I might be wrong about the pizza place deciding not to accept my money tonight. I also might be wrong about gravity working tomorrow just because it has worked for at least the 55 years I've been alive. I have no absolute proof that either of my assumptions (Money can be traded for goods and services; The atmosphere and I won't go flying off the earth tomorrow), but I'm not losing sleep worrying about either of them.

occam's comic said...

OK David,
Let me paraphrase what i think you meant,
If a big brother type government takes over the world it would be nearly impossible to topple it from within.
But if they act like big brothers our society will collapse into a new dark age (or worse) and do so fairly quickly. On the other hand if the elites look to science fiction for advice they may be able to extent their rule substantially.


David Brin said...

Occam recall the scene in EXISTENCE set at a Swiss Alps meeting of the Trillionaires' oligarchy? I portrayed what I think smart ones would be doing now, if they were BOTH smart and wanted to restore feudalism, without making the same damned mistakes that feudalism made across 6000 years.

Do I oppose feudalism? With all my soul. But so did Machiavelli, fighting for the Florentine Republic. Then, when it was clear there was no hope at all and all was finished, he got employment trying to talk the artistos into at least being smart about it.

But there's a quandary here. The smart billionaires today want nothing to do with feudalist trends. But feudalist trends are powerful IN THEMSELVES and favor the dumb rapacious kind. Who will never hold meetings of the kind I portrayed in EXISTENCE. Indeed, it is doubtful that many of them read.

locumranch said...


It's clear that Larry_H does not reside in a stressed economy like Brazil for, if he did, he would find that the 'Real' value of his currency neither equalled nor could be exchanged for a material pizza when said pizzeria lacked the wealth of raw ingredients (dough, tomatoes & cheese) that his reals represent (he believes) because actual 'wealth' resides in material ingredients rather than currency.

And, for the sake of argument, let's assume that the Great God of Transparency grants David's wish & liberates (into public coffers) the Ten Trillion Dollars that the Kleptocracy has hidden any in secretive tax-avoiding havens: Will the liberation of those monies make World Economy 10 Trillion dollars wealthier?

Sadly, the answer is an unqualified NO because said currency is NOT wealth.

As of June 1, 2016, there was approximately $1.46 trillion USD in circulation (of which $1.4 trillion resides in US Federal Reserve notes), whereas those liberated ten klepto-trillions would only serve to increase the US monetary supply 6-fold without increasing US wealth by one whit.

Yes, of course, the US would be rolling in 6X the money -- causing massive currency devaluation & financial collapse -- but the available tonnage of real wealth (expressed as a function of pizza dough, tomatoes & cheese) would remain unchanged, proving once & for all that monetary wealth is representational rather than actual.


Best
___
In his 'Callahan's Crosstime Saloon' series, Spider Robinson discusses the difference between wealth & money in a definitive fashion.

Jumper said...

My stock certificates are just ink on paper. We're doomed. Doomed, I say!

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

It's clear that Larry_H does not reside in a stressed economy like Brazil for, if he did, he would find that the 'Real' value of his currency neither equalled nor could be exchanged for a material pizza when said pizzeria lacked the wealth of raw ingredients (dough, tomatoes & cheese) that his reals represent (he believes) because actual 'wealth' resides in material ingredients rather than currency.


I didn't say that my $10 bill was a reliable long-term method of storage of value. I took issue--quibbled really--with your contention that money has no real value at all. It's clear you haven't spent any time seeing homeless people on the street, for whom a few handfulls of "worthless" currency mean the difference between a cold night on the street or food and shelter.


whereas those liberated ten klepto-trillions would only serve to increase the US monetary supply 6-fold without increasing US wealth by one whit.


If trillions of dollars are buried in someones backyard or stored as electronic bits on a Swiss computer, then you may be correct. My understanding is that people with that kind of money don't just open a savings account. They store it in the form of real assets.

Also note that in your Brazil scenario, neither gold nor bitcoin would retain value either, despite being independent of government action. I don't think we're disagreeing on that score, but I'm not sure what your point is. If the necessities of life disappear, then nothing is of value to humans for long. Now that we know that, what do we know?




Paul451 said...

LarryHart,

I'm not saying that I can't think of a way a law could be worded. (**)

Instead, I'm wondering if the trade treaty laws require member-states to protect property rights of corporations. To legally recognise and respect corporate "personhood".

Your airline ticket example isn't relevant because that obviously isn't an issue of property-rights or trade law. A corporation can still "own" the ticket, they merely have to identify the person who will be travelling. (Just as you can buy a ticket that lists your child as the passenger.) In the same way, existing laws generally require a "registrar" for the corporation, but that isn't the owner.

** (Indeed, I think a focus on forfeiture (ie, an investigator-triggered process) would be less cumbersome than existing proposed laws to lessen ownership-secrecy. Passing laws requiring banks to "validate" ownership of accounts and transactions makes no sense unless there is: a) a way for them to check the supplied information, b) a penalty for obscurantists beyond "we can't accept your account".)

Paul451 said...

(Example: When Australia introduced plain-packaging laws for cigarettes, the international tobacco companies sued in every court they could find on the grounds that they weren't compensated for the loss of their "property", when the law was upheld by the highest Australian courts, they started using trade treaties (Their last attempt was an obscure minor trade treaty between Australia and HK.) They've lost, not because Australia is allowed to usurp corporate property (in this case brand IP), but because the plain-packaging law has not been deemed to be usurping IP ownership, and therefore doesn't require adequate compensation. The legislators constructed the law very precisely to avoid triggering these clauses. I can't see a own-it-or-lose-it forfeiture law being able to ride that fine line.)

David Brin said...

First praise to locumranch (full name) for arguing cogently with zero apparent fanaticism or strawmanning.

But wrong. The value of money is not just in its ability to enable folks to buy stuff. It also has MULTIPLIERS when effecting the economy. If public policy and law and allocation cause large amounts to flow to the already rich (the GOP approach called Supply Side plus kleptocratic theft) then the velocity of that money plummets. Its sole multiplier effect is to inflate value of passive assets. Art, real estate, stocks and especially rent-seeking.

That CAN sometimes have one positive effect, slowing down rampant inflation. But that is not our problem today. And even then, there are better and more healthy ways to lower money velocity.

In a recession or in slow economic times like these, you want more money velocity! And the tools used by Central Bankers like the Fed are utterly unsuited. They can only adjust interest rates and buy loans, inherently slow money stimuli. Even the conservative economist John Mauldin says the Fed should have a second arrow in its quiver --

-- the ability to print money and throw it - once a decade - at infrastructure projects, outside of Congressional allocation. That is how you create HIGH VELOCITY money, employing several million lower middle class workers who immediately spend it all in their communities. Ten billion $ begets $100 Billion in actual economic activity.

Congress knows this. It is why they have sat on the Infrastructure Bill for 6 years, because they know it would get us out of the slow-growth doldrums and that Obama would then be more popular. That treasonous-contemptible sabotage has not worked. They are the ones deservedly headed for immolation.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Instead, I'm wondering if the trade treaty laws require member-states to protect property rights of corporations. To legally recognise and respect corporate "personhood".


I'd argue that the property rights of corporations are respected as long as the corporation claims the property--and the claiming process requires identifying the human owners. Corporate personhood requires that the human owners aren't personally liable for judgements against the corporation. It does not require that the human owners are anonymous. In other words, transparency isn't directly in opposition to corporate personhood.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: When you get around to writing that gold standard essay, please consider the two cents I pitch in your direction. 8)

Fiat currency is created every day that people go out to lunch and one person pays the collective bill relying upon the others to reciprocate later. The unwritten IOU exists in the minds of those involved and its value rests upon the reputations of those involved. In a lunch group of more than two people, they can even be traded or exchanged for other things. Money in this form is all about trust in whether the debtor will meet their obligation. The moment they do, the money vanishes from the market.

US Dollars are a supply of ‘paper’ we use as standard measures of these obligations. They aren’t required, but they ARE convenient. They do NOT imply the owner of them owns a share of the national economy, though. They imply the owner may exchange them for things available within the national economy that are owned by others before the exchange. If trust in this exchange feature changes, so does the value of the dollars.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Duncan’s 2% figure certainly would cause many innovators to complain, but there is irony here. That’s about all they get anyway when they grasp for it all. The vast majority of the value they create gets dissipated among the users of the innovation and what remains gets shared with their competitors who smell the money and move in. Acquiring a full 2% requires a level of skill and luck worthy of applause. 8)

Regarding robots and changes to jobs, I’d advise a strong dose of skepticism for pretty much every projection people make. Take for example your low-skill wage slavery projection. Those jobs are often the easiest to mechanize, but we don’t while wages remain low because humans are cheaper. Push minimum wages up, though, and the balance changes. Those jobs will likely be absorbed. My projection which can be treated with the same level of skepticism is that our jobs will change into things only humans can do well. For now, we are employed to act like machines and savants. That won’t last and we will have to be the humans we actually are to make a living.

One of the things humans do well is doing things machines can’t… yet. In David’s final uplift trilogy, he had the oxy and hydro cultures merge along a path to maturity and then link up later with other orders of life. I suspect we will merge with machines first, though. We can already see ways it might work.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

They do NOT imply the owner of them owns a share of the national economy, though. They imply the owner may exchange them for things available within the national economy that are owned by others before the exchange.


I understand the distinction you're making. What I meant by "owns a share" is what you mean by essentially "may exchange for" a share.

BTW, I happen to believe the diametric opposite of "Whoever dies with the most money wins." Money represents one half of a transaction, to be completed later when you buy something with the money. If you die with lots of money in the bank, you've done lots of work (or traded other things away) without reaping the benefit you could have received for the money. From a certain point of view, whoever lives like a king on borrowed money and dies before paying it back "wins".

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Duncan’s 2% figure certainly would cause many innovators to complain, but there is irony here. That’s about all they get anyway when they grasp for it all. The vast majority of the value they create gets dissipated among the users of the innovation and what remains gets shared with their competitors who smell the money and move in.


That's what I meant about the invention becoming part of the commons, but the inventor (or owner, whatever is appropriate here) gets money in exchange. I've thought about this after I first posted, and haven't quite decided whether society should trade dollars for the invention right off the bat, or if the inventor makes his money by having the right to sell or license the invention. Not worked out yet.

This discussion does bring to mind the scene in "The Godfather" in which Barzini tells the assembled families that if Don Corleone has influence over politicians, he is obliged to use that influence for the benefit of the entire syndicate. But "If he wishes to present us a bill for such services, that is his right. After all, we are not communists." So Don Corleone's influence is part of the commons, but he deserves personal remuneration for sharing it.

Alfred Differ said...

@Occam’s comic: Big Brother as a multi-tiered caste system probably WOULD work long term. History supports this. Individual family lines within the castes may grow stupid and wither away, but they can be replaced when the vast majority of people in such a system see that as the right thing to do. Manage what is defined as Justice and you can have this. Limit through habits of the lip which virtues can be expressed by which caste and you can have this. The danger you describe exists, but mostly when a caste is too thinly populated.

Protecting higher ups from knowing the consequences of their poor decisions certainly harms them, but only stupid elites would fail to establish reward systems for those below them to rat out each other. History is also full of examples of this being done correctly to shape the definition of Justice.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: I’m with you regarding having lots of money when one dies, but I can see an important exception that will certainly apply in my case. Since my son is autistic, I have to plan for the possibility that he won’t ever earn a living of his own while also trying to make sure that plan isn’t necessary. In a nutshell, it means I should not plan to retire. I should plan to earn everything I can and hand it over to my wife who is likely to out-live me. That’s not all that different from your approach though. I’ve extended the definition of ‘me’ to include my wife and son. I’m not the atom of continuity. My family is.

Owning a share of the economy and being able to exchange for a share of something in the economy are VERY different things to me, though. Ownership implies control. Let me take it to a ridiculous extreme using slavery as an example. If I own a person, I control them. If I don’t own the person, I have to use cash to coax what I want from them. One is highly immoral. The other might or might not be depending on my approach. If you argue your dollars imply control over things I think that I own, my hackles will raise very quickly whether it is ownership of my stuff or of me because I worry about a slippery slope between the two.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: In an IP respecting market, you don’t have to do much to ensure an innovator gets their 2% while consumers have all their boats lifted by the incoming tide. The innovator will get the money IF their innovation survives tests in the market including its sales worthiness and whether competitors chase the smell of money. In fact, if you try too hard to assign value before those tests have taken place, you’ll probably destroy the value and leave the whole system open to mercantile cheating schemes. Assigning value after the tests isn’t necessary since the market does it for you. Relax a bit and watch out for cheaters and let the innovators fend for themselves. It works rather well.

Don Corleone’s influence is so entangled with the Syndicate than I’m not sure I can distinguish them. He wields the influence, is the influence, creates the influence, and other possibilities are all about the same until one tries a test where he is kicked to the curb to see what he can do without the others. As long as it isn’t in their interests to try this test, it won’t happen, thus a distinction is unnecessary. 8)

One of the things I learned while learning physics is when two apparently distinct models predict the same observables, the distinctions between them are probably illusory. Most illusions are imposed by humans through assumptions they make regarding how things work. Study them hard enough and one of two things will happen. Some observable will be found that is different between the two models OR the distinctions can be removed and one model can be made to fit. I suspect these illusions are common in our understanding of markets and the human behaviors that make them. Economists tackle one kind of market illusion, but there are many others.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: I don’t think you or Larry has it right about where the real wealth lies. It’s not in the money or the pizza ingredients. Yours is a little better since money has little nutritional value, but the truth is still stranger.

If I dig a hole in my backyard and stumble across 10 lbs of buried gold and then just bury it again, it adds nothing to my wealth. Even if I don’t rebury it, my wealth hasn’t changed. The moment I go inside and look up the price on the internet at which gold is trading, though, my wealth jumps. That discontinuity has nothing to do with the hole, the gold, or the internet. It has everything to do with an idea floating through my head that I could trade the gold for something else. Wealth isn’t in the gold. It is in the belief that it can be traded for what I want. It is in an idea.

If I dig a different hole and discover 10 lbs of pizza instead, I’m going to argue my wealth improved immediately if I choose to consume it. Whether it is the pizza itself or the idea that I intend to consume it doesn’t matter because the wealth will vanish shortly. Consuming it might save me the trouble of making a trade I would have otherwise made, though, so it reappears when I realize that savings has occurred.

What I’m trying to demonstrate is these things are about ideas. Economists try to focus upon materials and capital accumulation, but it’s really just us and our ideas as they apply to the materials.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

"Take for example your low-skill wage slavery projection. Those jobs are often the easiest to mechanize"

I would differ here -
Most low wage jobs are physical jobs in variable surroundings these are actually very difficult to mechanize

It is the middle to high paying jobs involving information and contact with people that are actually easier to mechanize

Did you see the video's of the latest DARPA challenge - multi-million dollar robots that would not be able to take a package off a truck and carry it up some steps to a mailbox

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