Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Toward a Transparent World

Okay, time for an update for you all on news from the transparency front.  The one that matters most, because it is the only way to find our mistakes as we plunge into a rapidly changing future.

Hang on.  We're about to veer among many sub-topics.  All of them together paint an interesting picture of fast-changing times.

First, remember the Panama Papers leak? The Swiss anti-corruption expert, Mark Pieth, has told the BBC that he resigned from the panel that was set up by Panama's government in April 2016 to improve transparency, because of government interference. "We can only infer that the government is facing pressure from those who are making profits from the current non-transparent financial system in Panama," he said.   Surprised? Hey we know this... no one hit ever gets the bullies to admit that things are changing. 

But they'll learn that everything eventually leaks. Including scary stuff that the uber-experts thought they had locked up. Take a cache of hacking tools with code names such as Epicbanana, Buzzdirection and Egregiousblunder that appeared mysteriously online in August, apparently key tools used by the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO).  Tools that “would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad.” 

The tools were posted by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers using file-sharing sites such as BitTorrent and DropBox.  Tweeted Edward Snowden from Moscow: “Circumstantial evidence and conventional wisdom indicates Russian responsibility.”

But there's also good transparency news. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, a growing army of confidential informants — better known as whistle-blowers — has helped federal securities regulators identify and prosecute wrongdoers. Now the same thing is happening at the state level. 

== Save us from advertising! ==

Did you see this piece on "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver?"  It relates to the idea of people being able to make micro-payments to read journalistic content.

Yes, micropayments could save journalism. They could also ease many of our modern aggravations with a world run by advertising.

 The New York Times is investing in a Dutch company, that seems to be getting micropayments better than previous attempts, but still misses several key points.  Points that anyone could get -- ahem -- by reading my own work on the topic. 

The hot new Evonomics site ran my extensive exploration of a way out of this era when advertising noxiously controls the Internet and why all past micropayment systems failed. … and  the "secret sauce" that may empower the next one to work. See: Advertising alone cannot maintain the internet. and Beyond Advertising: Will micropayments sustain the internet?

== On the internet and encryption ==

Okay, let's veer onward to encryption. While urging you all to join EFF (The Electronic Frontier Foundation) and the ACLU and all sorts of activist orgs, I am also known for disagreeing with these paladins of freedom over tactical matters. E.g. I assert that we'll do better by insisting that elites be naked to supervision, rather than (futilely) demanding that elites not-see


Nevertheless do join EFF! (And the ACLU and SierraClub/Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders… (see my essay on "Proxy Activism.") Here are just two examples of important issues where the EFF heroes are fighting for a sensible, accountable future.

(1) "How DigitalCopyright Law Is Being Used to Run Roughshod Over Repairs" getting in the way ofletting folks tinker with or fix things they legitimately own.


Aaaaan let's veer again! For a quarter of a century I have been inviting “cypherpunks” or fans of encryption, to show us an example when it ever consistently and reliably worked.  Edward Snowden - who has his admirable aspects, especially as a ‘social T-Cell and a coal mine canary - falls apart when it comes to future recommendations, falling back upon the standard romantic crypto-twaddle, instead of stepping back and noticing what has actually worked.  What is actually working right now, on our streets! Citizens insisting not on hiding, but upon seeing

Now…?

Hackers obtained the mobile phone numbers of 15 million Iranian users of the Telegram encrypted messaging app, and hacked the accounts of more than a dozen of them, security researchers say.” 

A crypto system designed specifically and carefully to protect the IDs of dissidents, trivially slashed open!  As happens monthly, weekly, even daily to banks and insurance companies, political parties and government agencies. Fools — Information leaks… by its very nature!

You could decide to work with this trait, instead of standing athwart history with your hands up, yelling “stop” at a tsunami.  I've been trying to show you how.

== Cameras extend Citizen Power ==

As forecast in The Transparent Society  (1997) -- especially p. 160 -- cameras are fast becoming the critical extensions of either police power or citizen power… or both.  

If it is only the former, then we’ll get a police state. 
If only the second, then we’ll have chaos.  
If both… well… there’s a real chance we’ll get the win-win, the positive sum outcome, in which good cops find their work increasingly effective, catching and convicting real villains with rising facility – while bad cops soon find themselves in real trouble, at-best seeking some other employment, somewhere with less accountability. (Good luck with that.)

I have called it the most important advance of civil liberties in our lifetimes -- certainly in thirty years -- even though it was hardly covered by the press. It happened when, in 2013, both the U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places. No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. 

It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

And yet, despite the clarity of this basic principle, tussles over this mini-revolution are ongoing, down in the details and at the level of the street. For example, will we citizens get access to footage taken by the body-cameras worn increasingly by street cops? While civil libertarians demand instant access under all circumstances, a bill just passed the North Carolina General Assembly will empower police to withhold body camera and dash camera footage. 

It may surprise you that my own stance is intermediate and more patient than the ACLU’s. So long as the police bodycam, dashcam and drone recordings are uninterrupted, comprehensive, protected and available to defense attorneys, I see no urgent need for rapid release. Transparency that is only delayed can still achieve its main purpose: accountability. With that key proviso, I am willing to grant cops some breathing room.

What we cannot allow is limitations on what citizens themselves may record, in public spaces. Here is just one of many sites online that coordinate citizen images of police in action – both behaviors meriting scrutiny and meriting praise.  

What about that thing I alluded to above... a patent filed by Apple, for a utility allowing some outside entity to shut down your phone’s camera? Giving Apple the benefit of the doubt, we can hope it is a ‘blocking patent’ aimed at preventing this feature from every appearing in real life.  Yes, concert venues claim a need to prevent covert and illegal recordings by members of the audience… as if real video pirates cannot bring in more sophisticated devices? Indeed, we’re now all behooved to purchase and maintain some old-fashioned cameras, just in case.

This is simply the crucial moment of decision in our civilization – more important even than the 2016 US elections.

I’m a stockholder, but I deem this invention patented by Apple — allowing remote control or shut down of the camera on your phone — to be an Orwellian nightmare.There are some possible compromises - e.g. letting venue owners set up a zone wherein phone cams degrade down to “Citizen Mode” at say 1 megapixel. But no, I don’t want anything at all.

== Sousveillance and freedom ==

Said it before.  Will keep saying. One of the chants at Black Lives Matter rallies should be “Give Us MoreTech!” Which is short for: “Oh so NOW you believe us, now that we can take pictures of what we went through for generations?”  

Well, yes.  Then become nerds! Use cameras to fight back, a lot safer and more effective and modern than guns.

But none of that will be possible when elites - like the state - can shutdown our phone-cams.  So make a habit of keeping some old fashioned cameras around!  And count on technology to give us so many eyes that this trick will sink into obscurity.

Oh, speaking of which. Edward Snowden, in collaboration with Andrew Huang and the MIT Media Lab announced the design for a case-like attachment to monitor an iPhone, alerting the owner when its radio transmitters are operating suspiciously, whether hijacked by hackers, the government, or Apple. 

== Philosophers at work? ==

 Cory Doctorow advocates two core tenets to take up in the fight for a non-Orwellian cyber-tomorrow:

1.   Computers should be designed to obey their owners. When devices receive conflicting commands from both a manufacturer and an owner, the owner’s desire must always win.
2.   True facts about computer security should always be legal to disclose.

Though his meta rule is -- Don’t give in to nihilism (it’s all hopeless) or denialism.  I, too, have been fighting these for ages. He and I disagree in many areas of tactics and over the plausibility of encryption as a cure-all. (It can be useful, short-term, and it will cure absolutely nothing, over the log run), but I approve of his vigor and passion in the world.  Nevertheless, I’d add a third core tenet:

3.  If your computer systems have been taken over by a botnet, and you did not take reasonable efforts to ensure that you are not a source of infection to others, then you share legal liability for the actions of the controllers of the botnet.  Now that’s gonna be less popular sounding!  Because it says, “You don’t just have rights, you have responsibilities.

Okay this is bizarre.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has handed down a very worrisome decision on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Facebook v. Vachani. According to one online pundit, it says that if you tell people not to visit your website, and they do it anyway knowing you disapprove, they’re committing a federal crime of accessing your computer without authorization. But I am not sweating this.  Common accepted values will triumph.  

Scout quoted my colleague Eliot Peper, citing my friend and Wired founder Kevin Kelly's new book The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future about an interesting suggestion to deal with a modern problem. Humans are very tribal and we do not like the cognitive dissonance of actually thinking about intelligently different points of view. 

In olden times, it was easy to dismiss and drown out those differing perspectives. Keep to your own kind! Drive that other church out of town! Attend Nuremberg rallies. Today, though? A million diverse viewpoints surround you, with eloquent advocates eager to offer you discomforting evidence that might threaten to rock your comfortable convictions? Maybe make you realize you're only 60% right!

What's a true-believer tribalist to do?

Well, it turns out  there are lots of ways to filter out dissonance and drown out disagreement, by wallowing in the online equivalent of Nuremberg rallies. Human nature makes this inevitable. In my 1989 novel EARTH I forecast crude versions of 21st Century echo-chamber social media. Kevin Kelly now calls for hacking the for newsfeed and other social networks... adding a dedicated algorithm that occasionally drops in content that challenges your preconceptions or predilections. By coincidence, this is exactly what I portrayed happening in EARTH, when hackers break through citizens' protective preference walls to show them information outside their habitual comfort zones. 

This interesting article suggests an easy to activate “emergency” button or App on smartphones that would unleash your GPS, your emergency contact and a number of other functions without having to focus on details. “Among current phone makers, Samsung is the only one to implement anything like a comprehensive emergency setting on their S5-and-later flagship phones. If you set up this feature beforehand, pressing the power button three times quickly sends an “SOS message” with your location, a photo taken with the front and rear cameras, and 3 seconds of audio to 3 emergency contacts.”  It’s a start. Our phones will become so sophisticated that the “phone” aspect will be an add-on.

Oh, heck, while I'm at it... that novel also portrayed “Tru-Vu Goggles” that gave folks VR and AR overlays while they were out and about -- and citizens using their AR cams to hold authorities accountable. That element disqualified Earth -- for all its tech-wow prognostication -- from acceptance in the community of cynical cyberpunk, whose core premise, preached relentlessly, is that "my fellow citizens are sheep."  

And for that reason the novel is never cited by the with-it, cynical crowd.  Ah well.

176 comments:

raito said...

The Apple patent should never have been granted. It's obvious to any reasonable practitioner, and using IR signals to control a device is hardly new. It's also the phone equivalent of all the failed content-copying systems that used to be because it requires that the device respond to the signals. The patent itself, or even Apple implementing it in their products isn't that big a problem. The whole thing dies intersect with those 'no-repair' interpretations of IP law, though. There's nothing rentier than thinking you're buying a product only to find out you bought a license you didn't know about, can't renegotiate, and don't control.

The bigger problem will be the follow-on legislation that mandates that this be implemented everywhere. Then we'll see if the 'right to record' has any teeth. Not that it will matter for any individual case -- 'sure, it was illegal to block the recording, but now there's no evidence'.

Jonathan Sills said...

It's interesting to note that this Apple patent only seems to apply to iPhones. So, for instance, the HTC Android-based smartphone right beside me would not be blocked by this technology (as it seems unlikely that Apple would permit any of their patented technology to go open-source).

Apple users do have a tendency to overestimate the ubiquity of their favorite products, which in this instance I believe to be a good thing...

donzelion said...

re Facebook v. Vachani - very little to worry about here. Facebook sets terms and conditions for use; violate the terms and conditions, and they can restrict both your direct access (as a Facebook user) and your indirect access (by selling services to other users).

The reasoning is straightforward. If I let my sister use my email account, then she can send messages to anyone that will appear to come from me. If I don't like what she's sending, I can tell her to stop using my email account. If she pays a third party to hack my account so she can continue sending emails on my system, then she is breaking into my account against my will. If she tricks a third party into hacking my email account or giving her the new password (e.g., she asks my mother to give her my password, without telling my mother that I had just blocked my sister's access), then she's committed some form of fraud.

That's where the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act comes in - to spell out the nature of that fraud.

The EFF's concern in the case focuses on the IP blocking approach and CAN-SPAM - and the court actually agreed with the EFF on those points, overruling the earlier decision (the EFF has some really fine counsel). But in their brief, the EFF focused much less attention on the "fraud" claim under the CFAA - mainly asserting that a "cease & desist letter" plus IP blocking was insufficient notice to give rise to criminal liability. The court disagreed, and realistically, what more is needed to make it clear that I'm to stop trying to access someone's account?

"But I am not sweating this. Common accepted values will triumph."
In this case, I'd say common accepted values did triumph. BUT the EFF is doing something very important by forcing the Court to justify it's reasoning. And their concerns are clearly laid down:

"Imagine being convicted of a crime for logging into a friend's social media account with their permission? Or for logging into your spouse’s bank account to pay a bill, even though a pop-up banner appeared stating that only account holders were permitted to access the system?"

Both would be terrible outcomes of a law that is enforced in a wacky, arbitrary manner. EFF and ACLU are fighting to prevent that, and have done so in this case. But neither of those hypotheticals is on the line here: this case involves someone trying to log onto a friend's social media account, without that friend knowing that the person trying to access the account had been blocked for a reason. The required mental state involves "lying" to my friend (or spouse) - hiding something important and then using that to get someone innocent to help me do something I wasn't allowed to do (or to tweak the EFF's examples, this is the case of a "dishonest friend/spouse" abusing the trust of their friend/spouse to get access they weren't otherwise entitled to).

Jumper said...

Video is very persuasive, but this period in history is rapidly coming to an end. Soon artificial CGI will be indistinguishable from video of reality, and seeing a video will prove absolutely nothing. Anyone interested in future prediction should chew on that.

donzelion said...

"So long as the police bodycam, dashcam and drone recordings are uninterrupted, comprehensive, protected and available to defense attorneys, I see no urgent need for rapid release."

Indeed, rapid release in a racially charged environment would make for far worse problems than limited release under tight controls. A technologically savvy vigilante force, say, a 21st century KKK, would quickly make use of immediate access to footage to mark out "known threats" - typically from whatever race they already despised.

"What we cannot allow is limitations on what citizens themselves may record, in public spaces."
A concert venue, a corporate office, or a home's bedroom are all spaces where citizen records should be limited to those obtained with some consent: there are many other such spaces. A "private space" needs to be protected from intrusion or the concept of 'privacy' is destroyed: while police intrusion is certainly a concern, the most likely intruders are other private parties trying to "break in" and obtain photographs for their own benefit (similar to what Power did in the Facebook v. Vachani case).

"...I deem this invention patented by Apple — allowing remote control or shut down of the camera on your phone — to be an Orwellian nightmare."
It could be used to create an Orwellian nightmare, especially if these tools are used broadly in public spaces. More likely, it'll be used to prevent some aspects of a Huxleyian nightmare (Alphas enlisting Betas to help them oppress the Deltas and Gammas). And while Orwell was the master of the memorable phrase, Huxley's nightmare is the more realistic vision.

Tacitus2 said...

I share Jumper's concern, and then some.

We do have laws on the books against perjury. And submitting an altered video would sure be that. But there is a tendency to accept what is "right in front of your eyes" more so that the testimony of somebody sitting on the wittness stand. We are attuned to judging the veracity of living people. I mean, you have to do this all the time. But a well crafted video whether true or false....I think we need an extra level of penalty for video perjury.

A more immediate issue is the posting of real time or near real time events. A million people might see images of a police shooting within an hour of it happening. No time for deliberation or back ground information. Sheer, visceral emotion gets released. Even in a case like the recent St. Paul incident where it looks very much like bad action by the police (of course that is not my call really) did the officers in Texas do anything to deserve being shot by somebody enraged by this?

Screaming fire in a theater. Not the best idea when there is a fire. And sometimes there isn't one.

Tacitus

Jumper said...

Interesting. I wasn't thinking about "perjury." With money, (lawyer hires expert in forensics and video) the time of indistinguishability is further down the road. Like graphic handwriting analysis, experts will be of use. It's exactly Tacitus' scenario that makes me worry.
The primitive versions of this, we've already seen, from war propaganda to O'Keefe's videos. And technically savvy people need to keep reminding the targets that close attention will be rewarded, and lack of it will sting them. And others.

David Brin said...

See my chapter of The Transparent Society entitled "The End of Photography As Proof of Anything At All."

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

@Tacitus - "But there is a tendency to accept what is "right in front of your eyes" more so that the testimony of somebody sitting on the wittness stand."
Normally, the tendency is to believe what our gut tells us, and to overlook the fact that our gut is informed by things we've "seen" that have nothing to do with whatever is in front of our eyes.

(1) Black 19-year-old man with 20 grams of crack cocaine, in a high crime neighborhood: "gangster hoodlum, probably a murderer, someone to lock up for 30 years to keep the streets safe - did you see all those videos of shootings in that block? I that kid looks just like the one I saw in this here video...and what about all those movies..."
(2) White 19-year-old man with 20 grams of cocaine, in a university dorm: "probably some misguided kid experimenting with drugs...hell, I tried pot once, so why should this kid go to jail for all that long? Maybe 30 days will teach him a lesson..."
(3) White 19-year-old woman with 20 grams of cocaine = "what is she wearing? hmmm...tramp stamp on her back, super tight halter top - I'd never let my daughter go out like that - this woman's a slut, probably a prostitute, probably selling those drugs..."

Jurors don't even realize that the different interpretations of the same conduct result from their operating prejudices. Attorneys prosecuting and defending criminals know those prejudices exist, and if they try to disturb them in the jury's minds, they'll offend the jury (most people HATE having attention called to their prejudices).

"Screaming fire in a theater. Not the best idea when there is a fire. And sometimes there isn't one."
Every kind of controversial speech is inherently 'inflammatory.' Bear in mind that Schenck v. U.S., the case where the 1st Amendment was first invoked using the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" line - involved distribution of pamphlets telling men how to avoid the draft during World War I. The line was regarded as justifying the conviction (as was the concept that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact" - as if one man distributing some pamphlets would cause suicide of our nation).

Tacitus2 said...

Donzelian

Some interesting stuff to chew on. When I said we tended to have a higher level of skepticism for the testimony of real live people I should have amplified a bit.

We tend to inherently distrust Used Car Salesmen. They are telling us things. We know Magicians are trying to fool us. But our eyes and brain are in conflict because they are showing us things. Back to Neaderthal times I guess. Flock of birds takes off from a thicket = possible sabertooth. Zog from the next cave over offering to trade some day old fish, don't believe him.

Regards the faces of children and of undercover cops I was assuming a jury would be shown sensitive things in a secure setting. Not putting it up on YouTube.

You are quite right about the preconception issue. And I think correct regards conspiracy being needed to really fudge a video professionally. At least in 2016. Check back in a decade?

Tacitus

donzelion said...

@Robert & Dr. Brin - hmmm...Apple's patent isn't really a "camera blocking" system - it's one of several means of implementing an Augmented Reality system. I'm shocked that the patent just issued, as I would have thought this existed for a very long time.

To quote the original report about the patent (from Patently Apple, which is cited by the article Dr. Brin linked to) -

"Many electronic devices include cameras designed to detect images. For example, a traditional cellular telephone or portable media player may include a camera. Such cameras can typically detect images based on visible light but do not receive any data communications through either visible or invisible light. Accordingly, the functionality of cameras in traditional electronic devices is limited."

A "camera designed to detect images" is frequently used as a facial recognition software, with the algorithms that define an individual face stored on the hardware. This system, it seems to me, will emit additional data from a source (either IR or visible), which could issue commands (e.g., "turn off camera") or alter recorded images (e.g., inserting watermarks, or guiding a user to where to submit a micropayment). As such, the applications are as broad as AR itself, and merit curiosity and concern, rather than disdainful dread.

Jumper said...

As one who learned Photoshop, I think the issue is time spent. It would take one pro who's really good maybe 3 days to 7 to fake a photo that would fool a forensics expert. That's a lot of time, and money to pay someone to do it. Thousands. And still possible to miss something irrefutable indicating fakery.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

We tend to inherently distrust Used Car Salesmen. They are telling us things. We know Magicians are trying to fool us. But our eyes and brain are in conflict because they are showing us things.


We allow the magician to fool us because we enjoy the show. We're complicit in the game, and in the case of entertainment, there's no downside.

The job of a good used car salesman is to bring you in on the game as well, causing you to want to see the car in the same good light he's presenting it. It's not quite the same, as the car salesman has a financial incentive to actually rip you off, but again, the good ones probably try to get you to leave thinking "He convinced me to buy the car I really wanted anyway" rather than "Dang, how did he talk me into this?" After all, presumably, you were in the market for a car in the first place. In most scenarios, the salesman isn't the one to plant that idea into your head.

One problem I see in our modern society is a blurring of the lines between entertainment and serious choices such as who will lead the country for the next four years. I think a lot of Trump supporters are treating Trump's candidacy as I would treat the magician--they know he's snowing them, but they're enjoying the presentation. They feel that they're in on the game.

Jumper said...

I wouldn't complicate the used car salesman's motives. He wants one thing: to sodomize you. The rest is score keeping.

locumranch said...


If you think that this invention patented by Apple — allowing remote control or shut down of the camera on your phone — is an Orwellian nightmare, then you should read the 'User Agreements' that you've been accepting.

By clicking 'I agree', you're (1) accepting a laundry list of restrictive proprietary software covenants, (2) giving up any expectation of privacy, (3) granting unspecified access to any & all uploaded content (photos, text, emails, contact lists, browser history), (4) setting yourself up for targeted advertising based on privacy-waved content, (5) allowing numerous others to track your every movement by GPS, (6) entitling others to seize, disable & destroy your personal property in the event that you violate said proprietary covenants, and (7) indemnifying all service providers against fault & corrective legal action. All that, plus any networked cameras or microphones may still be recording your every word & action even when they appear to be in the 'Off' position.

This is inescapable, even if you click 'I disagree' & turn your expensive cellphone/computer/camera into a non-functional brick. It makes me wonder who the real 'User is, and who is really being 'Used', by these agreements.

Now, stop picking your nose & please stand for the Corporate Anthem.


Best

Tony Fisk said...

Trump's campaign feels a lot like the old episode of Batman where the Penguin decided to run for mayor (he did great on the campaign, but when it came to the actual vote...). Then again, I feel that Trump is a joke in the same way that Pennywise is a clown.

Apple's patent, as applied to iPhones only: I'd love to see the sales pitch for *that* feature! Meantime, there's already a universal kill feature that we've discussed previously: a phone's forced dependency on base stations. Read the first part of Greg Egan's "Zendegi" for an account of that conflict (relatively mainstream, by Egan's standards)

Undetectably doctoring photos (let alone videos) isn't as easy as you might think. Sure, a forgery can be made to pass a visual inspection, but fingerprints would be left, and a hagiographic signature would be harder to fiddle. Still, document forgery has been with us forever. We have coping mechanisms.

David Brin said...

Bah, everyone knows that it is common law for judges to over-rule any and all User Agreements when they violate common sense and what a reasonable user would expect. This has happened hundreds and hundreds of times, with precedents going back a CENTURY! In insurance policies and liability waivers.

Companies still demand user agreements in order to provide a backstop if things ever go to court. Morally, a jury will be a bit more lenient on the company in punitive damages if the user agreement is read aloud.

What I fear is drift toward a society wherein that trend in common law gives way! It could happen. One reason I fight against oligarchy -- and its loyal confederate servants -- so hard.

STill, UGs are a good topic and I commend locumranch for raising them. He is wrong, as usual, but he gets his full name when he is cogent, polite and raises interesting points. Welcome back prodigal son.

donzelion said...

@Locumranch - "...you should read the 'User Agreements' that you've been accepting."

Indeed, you should. ;-) But do so critically, with an eye to US history to clarify what these terms mean. Technically, you never "owned" that iPhone or whatever other gadget you bought - you paid for a "right to use" a unit, subject to restrictions. Since it was never really "yours," its true owner can do as they like so long as they don't violate the user agreement.

Similarly, unless you endorse the view of liberal justices from the 1960s onward, you never had any "expectation of privacy" that had legal relevance in terms of Apple themselves: they're not the police, and they're free to do as they please. "Crazy" Europeans posit some restrictions on the use of data by private sector - but American conservatives largely mock them rather than learning what they've done and why.

To convert "your" cell phone into it into YOUR cellphone would constitute a vast socialization by the government of many hundreds of billions of dollars of property - a taking and a breach of the user agreements you've signed voluntarily to effect a massive redistribution of property "to the poor" (the 'users' will always be poorer than the 'owners' - even Bill Gates isn't worth more than a fraction of Apple's valuation): since when have you advocated socialism?

Or are you trying to give legal meaning to "the way things really are" based on common sense in the modern world, sort of like how liberal justices read the Constitution as a living text? If so, then I'll reiterate Dr. Brin's concern expressed the other day: whatever has happened to the real Locumranch, and who is this impostor? ;-)

donzelion said...

@Dr. Brin - "Bah, everyone knows that it is common law for judges to over-rule any and all User Agreements when they violate common sense and what a reasonable user would expect."

Not so; judges do not overrule User Agreements when they violate common sense or a "reasonable user's expectations" - they overrule them when they violate the law.

User agreements are a form of "adhesion contract" - those contracts issued by one party to many other parties, with fixed terms, no negotiation, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Historically, judges looked with skepticism at adhesion contracts, when they reviewed them at all, because there's a high probability that no "meeting of the minds" occurred. By nature, these contracts had to be brief - printing even a thousand copies of a 10-page contract would be onerous (let alone amending it and filing all the versions).

Starting around 1938, legal pieces became available for modern class action lawsuits, which made it lucrative to challenge these sorts of adhesion agreements. From the 1950s - 90s, companies had a difficult time protecting themselves, and the legal profession expanded massively.

However, from the '90s on, firms have had an easy means of producing longer adhesion contracts that resolved all the ambiguities and complied with the law - so its far less common for a judge to override them. Nowadays, it's trivial to cut'n'paste one of these agreements together in hours, when it used to take months. Nowadays, you can amend them in hours, and disperse and record them in minutes, and ensure users agree to them in seconds.

"Companies still demand user agreements in order to provide a backstop if things ever go to court."
They tend to be much more than a mere backstop. Juries seldom get to hear any disputes about a user agreement at all, given the mandatory arbitration terms that most of them contain (and the risk that if you lose such an arbitration, the loser will pay many thousands of dollars in legal costs). About the only time they ever reach a jury is during a class action lawsuit: these were dramatically curtailed in recent years by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Lorraine said...

Points that anyone could get -- ahem -- by reading my own work on the topic.

Your published work on the topic? Some of the stuff I've been reading about it in the present blog gave me the impression that you're holding it as some kind of secret sauce.

I'm quite sure micropayments could save any of a number of types of content creation, but I'm not sure journalism is one of them. You can't patent a fact, etc. The best you can say is that paying customers get news (on average) sooner than the rest of the people. Or maybe readers of news are bound by a non-disclosure agreement, but surely that would be even worse than a world run by advertising (and much worse, tracking). Since news is history, it would be a literal memory hole.

I think you were closer to saving journalism from the necessity of business models with the "individual mandate" for news service subscriptions you outlined in Earth.

Laurent Weppe said...

OT: In the last comment section, Paul SB wrote:

"I don't recall even seeing a single F-bomb from Laurent"

That's because being a civilized man, I wear and use my Fucks as scalpels, not massive undiscriminating explosives.

raito said...

donzelion,

'do not receive any data communications' What a bone-headed statement (not yours, but in your comment) The whole point of cameras is to receive data and record it. QR codes are a trivial example of deliberate data communications.

Jumper,

Have you ever seen any of the videos where a facial photograph is altered to something unrecognizable from the original, yet still looks like a person? Hours, not days.

Laurent Weppe,

Read The Rape Of The A.P.E by Allen Sherman, specifically Short Chapter, Long Footnote and Long Chapter, Short Footnote. Actually, anyone should, specifically remembering that when it was written, word processors were not common, and that Sherman likely had to type it all out on a typewriter.

David Brin said...

Lorraine, that's what you get for wandering in and out... you privilege of course.

The hot new Evonomics site has run my extensive exploration of "micropayments." Is there a way out of this era when advertising noxiously controls the Internet? I show how all past micropayment systems failed. … and discuss the "secret sauce" that may empower the next one to work.

http://evonomics.com/advertising-cannot-maintain-internet-heres-solution/
http://evonomics.com/beyond-advertising-micropayments-sustain-new-internet/

matthew said...

Slate has a very interesting long format article on how the Iraq war impacted our readiness for natural disasters.
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/09/how_the_iraq_war_set_the_stage_for_the_hurricane_katrina_disaster.html

Paul451 said...

Off-topic,

Rosetta Probe has finally found the Philae lander.

Image

The lander is on the far right, centre, wedged amongst boulders under that overhand. Laying on it's side with its leg sticking up in the air, it's top-mounted solar panels pointing straight into shadowy crevices.

About the worst spot it could have ended up. But it still managed to do about three days of science.

Paul451 said...

Second attempt at posting this:

Donzelion,
"re Facebook v. Vachani - very little to worry about here. Facebook sets terms and conditions for use; violate the terms and conditions, and they can restrict both your direct access (as a Facebook user) and your indirect access (by selling services to other users)."

However, there was a clear and unambiguous prior ruling that violation of terms of service cannot be used as grounds for criminal prosecution under CFAA.

Facebook is trying to prevent their own users from accessing a third party service that Facebook considers a rival, and this is a transparent attempt to get around the clear intent of that previous ruling. No judge should have allowed such a blatant end-run.

"The reasoning is straightforward. If I let my sister use my email account, then she can send messages to anyone that will appear to come from me. If I don't like what she's sending, I can tell her to stop using my email account."

Yes, you can. But Facebook did not tell its users to stop accessing Facebook. Ie, they did not cancel the user's accounts.

The rival company only accessed accounts of users who signed up with the service. They only accessed the information of those users. They did not try to access the accounts of non-customers. They did not continue to access customer accounts after those customers stopped using the service. They did not defraud or misrepresent the service they were offering, nor did they gain users' login credentials by fraudulent or deceptive means.

donzelion said...

Matthew - good article, and thanks for linking. It's relevance to the original post isn't totally obvious at first, but reading into it, we can note things like this -

"Giuffrida’s reign [the FEMA director appointed by Reagan in '81, who had served as his security adviser] came to an abrupt end when it turned out he was planning to withstand Soviet nukes from the luxury kitchen of a private home built at taxpayer expense. His departure alone did not right the ship, and FEMA’s reputation plummeted in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It had proved effective in sheltering political cronies from the hazards of unemployment but spectacularly ineffective when it came to conventional disasters. A 1993 study by the National Academy of Public Administration called on the agency to demilitarize, step into the light of public scrutiny, and embrace an all-hazards approach."

..."step into the light of public scrutiny..." Reagan removed FEMA from public scrutiny by shifting its mission to preparation for nuclear war. Bush Jr. removed FEMA from public scrutiny by folding it into DHS and shifting its mission to preparation for terrorist attacks. Both converted FEMA into a bastion for incompetent cronies, private contracts, and political backscratching.

That said, Michael Brown, who left the International Arabian Horse Administration to take over FEMA and did such a fine job during Katrina, thinks Obama botched the job last month. He even got plenty of airplay as a security authority, largely among Republicans with incredibly malleable memories.

Paul451 said...

Cont.

The whole emphasis in your analogy is wrong. A better analogy is that you provided your sister with her own email account on a private email server you own. She set up the account on the email-client on her phone [which uses an OS provided by a certain searching type company], which polls your service and retrieves (and sends) her messages. (Which is what email clients do, BTW, you provide your login details and they login on your behalf and scrape your account. That's their whole purpose. Just like Vachani's social media service.)

You decide you only want her to access her email via a crappy Webmail interface you have set up, but instead of cancelling her account, you send a letter to [a certain searching type company] telling them that you refuse [a certain searching type company] permission to continue to allow your sister to access her email through their software.

They, of course, ignore you.

So you try to have [a certain searching type company] prosecuted as "criminal hackers" (under CFAA, over your sister accesses her email through her phone) and "criminal spammers" (under CANSPAM, over your sister sending emails from her phone).

Jumper said...

raito, I couldn't quite parse this: "Have you ever seen any of the videos where a facial photograph is altered to something unrecognizable from the original, yet still looks like a person? Hours, not days."
I might have some insights or questions, but I can't tell.

I think I'd pay for more news through PayPal, but too many sights want some other method and I trust PayPal, while not completely, a lot more than a newspaper. Something about newspapers makes them usually pretty bad with technology.

Paul451 said...

cont.

"If she pays a third party to hack my account [...]
If she tricks a third party into hacking my email account or giving her the new password
The required mental state involves "lying" to my friend (or spouse) - hiding something important and then using that to get someone innocent to help me do something I wasn't allowed to do
this is the case of a "dishonest friend/spouse" abusing the trust of their friend/spouse to get access they weren't otherwise entitled to
private parties trying to "break in" "

That is just garbage. There was no hacking, there was no trickery, there was no fraud.

The company was providing a third-party service that allowed users to scape their own information from their own accounts on multiple social networking sites in order to use it via a single site. Which frankly seems like a perfectly reasonable service. If I was a Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin/etc addict, I'd certainly want to use something like that.

Trying to morally equate such a service with "hacking and lying and fraud" is just ridiculous.

Paul451 said...

Hmmm, seems to be sticking this time.

I've noticed before that when I post a comment on a site that is hosted on [a certain blogging site] which is owned by [a certain search type company] and I mention the name of that latter company a few times along with certain legal words, the post disappears. It's happened too many times to be coincidental. I don't think it's malicious, because the topic has never been a slight against that company, it just seems to be some kind of keyword combination.

donzelion said...

Paul451 - "However, there was a clear and unambiguous prior ruling that violation of terms of service cannot be used as grounds for criminal prosecution under CFAA."

Correct. The difference here is not that Power was liable because it violated the terms and conditions, but because Facebook withdrew authorization for Power to access its systems (in accordance with procedures outlined in its t's & c's). That makes it a question about whether the withdrawal of authorization was "clear" (the cease & desist letter + IP address blocking were deemed to be suitably clear indications of 'withdrawal of authorization'), and whether Power was attempting to bypass that withdrawal of authorization by enlisting other people (the focus on 'intent').

Let's change the story: say I tell my sister, "Leave my house and never come back." Say she knows my neighbor has a spare key to get back into my house. If she approaches my neighbor and asks for the key because "I wanted her to come in and look after it while I was away" - without telling that neighbor I've blocked her from my house - then she lied to my neighbor to get the key. That is the fraud to which Power admitted.

Or as the court noted:

"The record shows unequivocally that Power knew that it no longer had authorization to access Facebook’s computers, but continued to do so anyway. In requests for admission propounded during the course of this litigation, Power admitted that, after receiving notice that its use of or access to Facebook was forbidden by Facebook, it “took, copied, or made use of data from the Facebook website without Facebook’s permission to do so.”"

This is completely different from FB using criminal law to enforce its T's & C's. In terms of the fraud, Power neglected to inform Power users "Hey, FB has banned us, but we'd like you to use their systems on our behalf to get around that ban." As they neglected to disclose that material fact, Power actually did engage in a kind of fraud (it doesn't matter that they didn't do other sorts of fraud - like steal passwords and what-not - they lied about something that is material, to access something from which they'd been blocked).

Alfred Differ said...

@David: (From a couple threads ago)
The South Koreans caught up (zip zoom) after a short generation delay during which we were protecting them. That protection was needed, but the delay between the end of the fighting and the start of their upward swing demonstrates something else was at work. There was something THEY had to do, but once they began, one generation was enough. What they did was adapt the bourgeois deal to themselves.

What the Chinese of the 17th century did NOT do is adopt/adapt the bourgeois deal. They were ahead of Europe in many ways, but not for long. Trade tested betterment is an evolutionary process and has proven to be very fast in a world like ours where information leaks. 8)

I like your left and right hand analogy, but the one I’ve been using lately is the ‘Three Act Play’ analogy. In the first act, an innovator holds a monopoly on an idea and either gets rich or wastes the investors’ money. At the end of the act, though, one can hear the clamor of actors just off stage. These are the competitors coming to break the monopoly. In the second act, the stage is chaotic with competitors offering knock-offs, similar ideas, and improvements on the improvement. The original innovator loses control and prices plummet. At the end of the act, though, one can hear the clamor of many more actors just off stage. In the third act, the new actors are revealed to be customers who could never have afforded the innovation in the earlier acts. These are the poorest among us whose wages might be stagnant, but because prices dropped in the second act, they get to participate. They are the buyers of educations who could never have had them and when they learn the formula for the play, they are among the new innovators when the next play is written.

When government (either left or right hand) enables the three act play to work through the entire showing, I’m all for it. All too often, though, government is asked to stop the play during the first act and redistribute wealth. I’m against that and any other extra-legal process that might do the same. Let the play work itself out and the poorest among us benefit. Be on the look-out for those who think they can write these plays for us, though. They may speak sweetly, but they are dangerous.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan (also from a couple threads ago)
Considering that at least 80% of "your income" is due to the common heritage of your country and not your own personal effort I would consider 30% going back to that common heritage a bit of a bargain.

Hmpf. I recognize that my boat floats on a rising tide, but I reject coerced gratitude. I’d much rather give back in kind. Taxing my income gives back to all of you FAR less than getting me to contribute to making the world a better place by improving something.

People underestimate the power of transcendent ideals. Even those of you who are religious fail on occasion to recognize the other transcendent/sacred motivators. You might be inclined to think too few will try to improve the world, but beware of your disbelief. It undermines those you might otherwise motivate.

Jumper said...

I reject the concept of coerced gratitude also. It's a non-starter. Taxes are the price you pay for a government system.

Edward Sargisson said...

At the risk of the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy, Telegram was widely known to have BS encryption before the attack.
My evidence for this being numerous comments on Twitter I've seen for a great many months mocking Telegram and its so-called encryption.

My point here, is that pointing to the failure of one encryption implementation is not evidence that they all are weak.

That said, implementing any encrypted messaging system perfectly is rather hard. One little mistake makes it vulnerable.

Alfred Differ said...

Taxes are part of the price of a government system. We also pay an opportunity cost when some of us could have used that money to make the world a better place in a fashion the majority does not yet understand. In fact, some of the betterments would be ones no one yet understands. Black swans work that way.

My rejection is less about the taxes, though, and more about the implied ethical failure if I object to paying them. I DO pay them (and probably pay more than I have to pay), but I'm well aware of the opportunity costs because I know how much funding I need to chase some of my ideas to see if they would work. Some won't, but some might.

David Brin said...

Edward S... have you read The Transparent Society ? If you do not perceive TEN new ideas I will refund the cost.

Jumper said...

A while back someone proposed adding some voluntary items to the tax form akin to the presidential election fund. A few states added environmental / wildlife fund to theirs. The proposal I refer to was for NASA. "Would you like an additional amount of your taxes to go towards space exploration?"

On transparency, Absence of Malice is on TV right now...

Paul451 said...

Donzelion,
"That makes it a question about whether the withdrawal of authorization was "clear" "

Incorrect. The questions should have been: 1) whether a third party service provider required Facebook's "authorisation" to provide their third-party service to Facebook users, once they had the users consent. 2) Whether the method of access used by the third party service provider (essentially providing an external login service) constitutes "criminal access" under CFAA. And 3) Whether users sending messages, into their own Facebook account, via this third party service, is "spam" under CANSPAM.

IMO, the answer to all three questions must be no. To answer yes to any of those questions is legally dangerous for how the internet operates.

" Let's change the story: say I tell my sister, "Leave my house and never come back." "

No. Again, your whole analogy fails because it's not the user who was told to leave (the person originally given access to your house), instead it's a third-party agency authorised by that person. And the users were not refused access to Facebook.

You give your sister permission to live in a flat owned by you. Exclusively hers to use. Her home, her keys. She hires a cleaner to come in once a week, letting the cleaner in through the front door in the usual way. The cleaner isn't breaking in, they aren't climbing through a window, they aren't stealing the keys, they aren't tricking neighbours into letting them in. Your sister lets them in. One day, you tell the cleaner that you don't want them in your flat, but they don't work for you, they work for your sister and she continues to hire them and let them in.

Now you might be able to evict your sister, if your local state tenancy laws allow it, but you certainly can't bring criminal trespass charges against the cleaner.

Paul451 said...

cont.

"If she approaches my neighbor and asks for the key because "I wanted her to come in and look after it while I was away" - without telling that neighbor I've blocked her from my house - then she lied to my neighbor to get the key. That is the fraud to which Power admitted."

This, OTOH, is simply bullshit. The company did not lie to users to gain access to their accounts. (Nor admit to fraud.) It was an agent authorised by users to access the users' own accounts on the users' behalf.

The company provided a service to users. A useful service, by the sounds of it. It did so with the full consent of those users. They didn't trick the users, they didn't lie to them.

Facebook tried to harm that company's business by restricting the ability of Facebook users to access that service. When that failed, they tried to criminalise their company rivalry by exploiting a legal ambiguity to get around an explicit prior ruling about the very same thing.

Alfred Differ said...

Jumper,

We have many of those voluntary contribution options on the California tax form. I look them over each time and look up what I pitched money at last time. Personally, I think it is better to give the money directly and establish a relationship with the non-profit group receiving the money, but I DO use the CA options when I'm getting a refund.

I don't use any options like the election fund on the federal form. I think it is better to pay directly to lower the debt the way David suggested some time ago. I'm inclined to believe the treasure note/bond market should be smaller in order to push rich folks to put their money elsewhere. Loaning giant sums to the Feds strikes me as a way to align interests... and votes.

Paul451 said...

fifth attempt....

cont.

" "Hey, FB has banned us, but we'd like you to use their systems on our behalf to get around that ban" "

Again, you completely misunderstand what service they were offering. It's the users who are asking the company to use Facebook (and twitter, etc) on the users' behalf.

You, a social media user, go the company's website and set up an account that is linked to all your social networking sites. You give the service provider your login details for each of the sites you want to centralise, that system then goes and logs in to those sites on your behalf and collects the info you've asked them to. Then they present all the bits from all the sites together in a big gooey social-media ball. (Likewise when you want to post something.) That way, you, the social media user, only need to use a single site that you have chosen to manage all your social media accounts.

Alfred Differ said...

It seems to me that the point of difference between Donzelion and Paul451 is over who owns a FB account. If I own my account, I should be able to authorize a third party to access the contents and FB be damned. If FB owns it, I should not be able to authorize a third party they've banned, but they won't be upset at me since I'm their customer. They'll go after the third party group instead.

Paul451 said...


cont.

This is also, as I said, how email clients work. I have given a third-party email client my email account login details and passwords, and the client logs into my accounts on my behalf and checks my email for me every ten minutes or so. Unless I use that same client to write a email, then it logs into the appropriate account and uses that account to immediately send the message for me.

It's ridiculous to suggest that such software needs a special and separate "authorisation" from each email provider, over and above the authority that I have already been given as a user. (It's even more nuts to suggest that the creators of the software are criminal hackers for providing me with this service.)

The only difference with Power was that the service was provided to users directly via Power's website rather than having to install a stand-alone program running on the user's PC/phone/etc.

Paul451 said...

Jesus, I think they actually stuck this time.

Try a new topic.

---

Alfred,
"These are the poorest among us whose wages might be stagnant, but because prices dropped in the second act, they get to participate."

It's not "the poorest", Alfred, it's the majority.

The current system has created stagnant real-wages for over 90% of the population of your country.

And it doesn't have to be like that, it wasn't like that until your country adopted Supply-Side policies.

The previous era, when wages weren't stagnant, when they tracked national growth almost 1:1, only came about because the government interfered. A lot.

"Taxing my income gives back to all of you FAR less than getting me to contribute to making the world a better place by improving something."

No it doesn't.

You've done the experiment and it doesn't work like that. Your country accepted the seductive reasoning that you echo here, and the result was utter and complete failure to deliver more than under the high-tax regime.

Industrial output is at record levels, but wages as a share of the economy continue to fall. Productivity is at record levels, but real median wages are falling. Corporate profits continue to rise, but corporate taxes make up an ever smaller share of the tax-base, pushing more of the tax burden onto wage-earners and small businesses. Tax rates were slashed for the wealthy, but the share of the national wealth for the bottom 90+ percent of the population has fallen every decade since then.

It doesn't work.

"We also pay an opportunity cost when some of us could have used that money to make the world a better place in a fashion the majority does not yet understand."

Stop blaming the plebs. They accepted your argument, for over thirty years they accepted it, and a disturbing number of them are still fooled by the rhetoric.

The problem is that it fails, Alfred. It does not work the way you claim. Reducing taxes on the wealthy doesn't free them up to make the world a better place. It makes the world a worse place for everyone except those who are already wealthy.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

We also pay an opportunity cost when some of us could have used that money to make the world a better place in a fashion the majority does not yet understand.


We also pay an opportunity cost when some (many? most?) of us could have used higher wages to make the world a better place instead of using all of our waking moments working for just enough money to get through to the next paycheck.

Alfred Differ said...

Paul451,

It's not "the poorest", Alfred, it's the majority.

You are missing my ethical point. I care mostly about the poorest. Look on the yearly household income distribution in the US for a recent year. The mode is right around where the minimum wage worker would be if they work a little less than a full year. That’s also about as high as the bottom 20% reaches. A household near the mode doesn’t concern me all that much. I was at that level when starting my own family and know it isn’t pleasant, but they can have the basics of what they need. What concerns me are the people underneath them.

In 1987, my social security report says I earned about $3K. I seem to recall my parents kicked in another $2K. I was a grad student at the time and running a bare bones life of my own choice. In today’s dollars, that comes out to be about $10.5K total. In today’s dollars, my rent ran about $7.6K/year, so there wasn’t much left over for basics, right? I had already parked my car permanently in 1985 and didn’t buy a new one until 1996. There was no way I had enough to operate one without asking all my neighbors to pitch in, right? I didn’t need that, though, and it was my choice anyway. A household today making about $10.5K per year might not be making voluntary choices like I made, though, so THEY get my attention. They have less than $30/day to work with to pay for necessities for everyone in the household. I get their situation.

So what is to be done? Tax the rich and redistribute the money? Work it out. The numbers don’t make much of a difference because there aren’t all that many rich people compared to the folks in the bottom 5% of the distribution. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument, though, that we tax the top of the distribution enough to create a fund to support someone working with $30/day by doubling it to $60/day. That would matter a lot to them, but it would only place them slightly to the right of the mode of the distribution. They would move from slightly under to slightly over AND it would take a considerable tax on the wealthiest or a less considerable tax on to top 20%. I just might be willing to pitch in to such a tax since I’m now near the top 15% mark and I know what they cannot afford (like a car) otherwise. There is a better way, though. I’d support a UBI, but I’d rather try something else first. What could that be? Well… I managed without my own car because the county I lived in had public transportation. So did the next county over. That meant my job search could extend beyond the city where I lived and in 1988 that is exactly what I did. Public transportation is a substitution for personal transportation and since economics is the science of substitutions, I get annoyed at people who think they know THE way to do things. Life allows substitutions. As long as we watch out for the dignity of everyone involved (including the folks with the teats being suckled upon), we should examine these substitutions.

Don’t bother trying to blame me for supply-side nonsense, though. I voted Democrat up until 2012 most of the time. I voted far left a couple of times. I’m still sympathetic with the Progressives when it comes to moral motivations; it’s just that I think they are mistaken about how to fix things. They don’t believe the three act play has ever succeeded. They attribute our enrichment to other causes. They are flat out mistaken and could do FAR better for the poorest if they understood. They could do better for the majority too, but the majority is usually pretty good at taking care of itself.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: That’s not an opportunity cost as I see it. If you have cash in hand and might spend it two different ways, the way you choose not to go is the opportunity lost. The imagined world where you are a rich man is the kind of fantasy many of us love, but it’s not real. I could think up the next Pet Rock and get rich, right? Sure, but it probably won’t happen. It is far more likely that I’ll convince my boss to give me a raise, but by no means certain.

People who are trapped get my sympathy, but that’s worth almost nothing. They also get my advice if they seem to be in want of it, and that’s worth a bit more. Get off one’s ass and change things. My income transition from 1987-88 involved me doing exactly that. I looked around for some way to scrape a few dollars together and found one. If I hadn’t looked (and been a little desperate) I wouldn’t have found it.

Alfred Differ said...

Paul451,
As for your point about stagnant wages, you are still missing the point. Look at it from the perspective of the poorest. What matters is getting the thing one needs. Having a higher wage helps, but getting it at a lower price also helps. I substituted public for private transportation and got what I needed at a lower price. I substituted a number of costly entertainments (campus parties generally have reciprocation expectations) for inexpensive ones (sitting in seminars with free food provided). This may sound like a let-them-eat-cake argument, but it isn’t. I was there. I would have bought the cake if it was cheap enough. The best substitution to offer the poorest is the simplest one associated with the bourgeois deal. The thing they want will be cheaper soon or their wages will go up soon. Either way works well enough.

I’m not asking for a reduction on the taxes for the wealthy. I’m asking for a reduction on the taxes for those who have the courage to make the world a better place. People extracting rents from us need not be included. More importantly, I’m asking those of you on the left to recognize that the ONLY proven way to make the world a better place is to reward the innovators by getting the heck out of their way.

In 1800 the average human made do with about $3/day in today’s dollars. My lowest point was 10x higher. No means of redistribution could possibly pull off that kind of increase. Only the people who tried to make the world a better place through trade-tested innovations could have done that. The Progressives ought to respect that and them. They are the reason most of us don’t live in squalor today and why the grandson of a coal miner (my father’s side) and a thief (my mother’s side) could choose to live below the income distribution mode and spend everything acquiring an education without starving.

The plebs aren’t to blame. The educated know-it-alls are.

David Brin said...

I reiterate. Simplistic societies have been tried and none came close to our complex melange of compromises at getting great deeds done.

Marx want me to cut off my right arm of individual and commercial enterprise. Rand wants my left arm of consensus-negotiated joint projects amputated. I say they can both get bent. We SHOULD be doing scientific analyses of when and where and how government works well and when it doesn't. But dogma and preening assertions stand in the way.

We do have the experimental results from Supply Side, which never once, ever and I mean ever once worked as promised or made a successful prediction. I want to see budgets closer to balanced WHILE engaging in projects worth of the nation that did most of the world's science and built rails, interstates, dams, internets and vast-miraculous universities. The rich can afford to help maintain a society that's very very very good to them.

donzelion said...

Paul451 - Your questions flip the actual ownership of the accounts. Granted, such a flip fits with conventional wisdom. However, though many Americans feel like they "own" America, that feeling does not confer actual ownership (try to sell the White House, or authorize Putin to live there, and see how far that goes).

"1) whether a third party service provider required Facebook's "authorisation" to provide their third-party service to Facebook users, once they had the users consent."

Since the third party service only operates when it accesses FB's systems (either directly, or indirectly), the question is irrelevant: one can never "consent" to anything more than one had a right to do in the first place. However, since the FB users probably didn't know that Power was blocked, FB had an option: ban all user accounts that use Power, or accuse Power of criminal fraud to get them to stop. This is precisely what the fraud law exists to enable, since quite often, fraudsters operate by misleading innocent bystanders.

"2) Whether the method of access used by the third party service provider (essentially providing an external login service) constitutes "criminal access" under CFAA."
Also irrelevant. The issue isn't the 'method' - but the access itself, which was achieved by getting its users to bypass FB's block.

"3) Whether users sending messages, into their own Facebook account, via this third party service, is "spam" under CANSPAM."
Actually, the court agreed with you, overruled the lower court, and determined that merely sending messages does not constitute "spam" under CAN-SPAM.

"To answer yes to any of those questions is legally dangerous for how the internet operates."
Hardly. If a service provider can not withdraw consent to a user who violates the terms of service, then service providers might be unable to profitably offer any services at all. Newspapers erect paywalls for a reason: if people can bypass them through a third party's actions, then that revenue stream is killed (possibly replaced by ad-revenue, possibly not). So too with access to users, rather than content.

Indeed, this basic model is the basis for how the internet moved from college and defense labs to a powerful economic engine - I fail to see how maintaining it will hurt the internet.

"Let's change the story: say I tell my sister, "Leave my house and never come back."
You're missing the point: Power = my sister in this story, and Power was told to leave. FB has no problem with users who innocently make use of a system that is banned by FB - their problem is with the party that tried to bypass the ban by enlisting users.

At least, that's how the court sees it, and how FB sees it. Even the EFF doesn't really dispute that (they had much less to say about the fraud claims in their brief, and more concern with the CAN-SPAM components, for really good reason).

"You give your sister permission to live in a flat owned by you. Exclusively hers to use."
If FB actually worked that way - giving users permission to live in FB's space - then you'd have a point. However, FB never gave us that sort of unrestricted permission. Hence, your variation on the analogy might be apt, if it reflected the reality. Alas, it doesn't.

"but you certainly can't bring criminal trespass charges against the cleaner."
Actually, if I revoked my consent for my sister to be present in my flat, anyone she authorized to enter is likewise banned from entry - and if they enter, they are trespassing. Trespass is pretty strict: it doesn't matter if the cleaner knew or should have known, as soon as my consent is withdrawn and they set one foot on my property, they are trespassing.

donzelion said...

Paul451 - "Again, you completely misunderstand what service they were offering. It's the users who are asking the company to use Facebook (and twitter, etc) on the users' behalf."

It doesn't matter whether the users ask Power to scrape their data, or Power scrapes their data on its own, because Power was blocked from FB (legally), knew they were blocked, and continued accessing and using FB despite having been blocked. It doesn't matter that some users wanted Power's service: the users don't own FB, and lacked any authority to consent for Power to use FB for them.

I understand how Power worked. Had Power cooperated with FB (by using Facebook Connect, which authorizes aggregators and other services SUBJECT TO FB's rules and restrictions), then they'd have been fine. However, Power refused to comply, and instead used FB users to gain access to FB itself - thinking (incorrectly) that they were fine so long as they didn't send fraudulent emails in violation of CAN-SPAM (which they didn't). I suppose their counsel misread the CFAA, and the way fraud normally works.

donzelion said...

Paul451 (final continuation in an interesting discussion) -

"This is also, as I said, how email clients work. I have given a third-party email client my email account login details and passwords, and the client logs into my accounts on my behalf and checks my email for me every ten minutes or so."

I understand the technology. There's some slight differences here though - first, FB is not an email server (though they do provide email), it's a wholly different sort of a beast. Second, if an email client operated in ways the server refused to recognize (e.g., checking email every 2 nanoseconds, and thereby tying up the email server - a simplistic and older way of inadvertently doing a denial of service attack on email servers, which I last encountered in '94 or so), the server could ban the client for a time. If a user manipulating a client tried to utilize a number of other clients to perpetrate the same 'attack,' the operator of the server could take action against that user.

"It's ridiculous to suggest that such software needs a special and separate "authorisation" from each email provider, over and above the authority that I have already been given as a user."

It really depends one whether the software merely accesses the "user's information", or whether it pulls from information that is NOT the user's own information (as in, FB's information). Here, Power admitted they were pulling from FB. And therein is the breach.

David S. said...

@Alfred,

If I understand you correctly, you would prefer to be taxed less so that you can choose how the money is spent. In addition you would prefer to negotiate with private entities for goods and services and pay for those services instead of getting goods and services from the government that have been purchased with the taxes you pay.

Can you explain how your preferred method addresses the free rider/tragedy of the common problem? For example, suppose you contract with a private fire service and your neighbor does not and then your neighbor's house catches fire. What should happen?




David S said...

Paul, I think a better analogy is that it isn't your house that you are giving someone the keys to, but rather an apartment that you are renting. While you have given the keys to some other individual to have them come in, at some point the landlord may notice that this other individual is spending all the time in the apartment (and not) and complain that you have sublet the apartment.





Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
You said
"So what is to be done? Tax the rich and redistribute the money? Work it out. The numbers don’t make much of a difference because there aren’t all that many rich people compared to the folks in the bottom 5% of the distribution."

This is just WRONG - totally and utterly

Lets have a look at the current wealth distribution

Bottom 10% of Society - 0% of Wealth
10% - 20% of Society - 0% of Wealth
20% - 30% of Society - 0% of Wealth
30% - 40% of Society - 0.2% of Wealth
40% - 50% of Society - 2% of Wealth
50% - 60% of Society - 2% of Wealth
60% - 70% of Society - 10% of Wealth
70% - 80% of Society - 10% of Wealth
80% - 90% of Society - 12% of Wealth
90% - 100% of Society - 73% of Wealth

A first suggestion for a fairer - but still unequal (to drive innovation) distribution

Bottom 10% of Society - 2% of Wealth – up from 0%
10% - 20% of Society - 3% of Wealth – up from 0%
20% - 30% of Society - 4% of Wealth – up from 0%
30% - 40% of Society - 5% of Wealth – up from 0.2% - 25 times as much!
40% - 50% of Society - 8% of Wealth – up from 2% - 4 times as much
50% - 60% of Society - 10% of Wealth - up from 2% - 5 times as much
60% - 70% of Society - 14% of Wealth - up from 10% - 40% more
70% - 80% of Society - 16% of Wealth - up from 10% - 60% more
80% - 90% of Society - 18% of Wealth - up from 12% - 50% more
90% - 100% of Society - 20% of Wealth- Down from 73% - THE ONLY SEGMENT THAT GOES DOWN

I'm not saying that this is ideal - just better than we have now and the top 10% still have 10 times as much as the bottom 10%
Who now would now have as much as the 40-50% people had before

As far as "leaving the rich to spend their money well" I would suggest you read

The Entrepreneurial-State-Debunking-Innovation-Economics

Very interesting breakdown of exactly where various improvements have actually come from


LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

@LarryHart: That’s not an opportunity cost as I see it. If you have cash in hand and might spend it two different ways, the way you choose not to go is the opportunity lost. The imagined world where you are a rich man is the kind of fantasy many of us love, but it’s not real. I could think up the next Pet Rock and get rich, right? Sure, but it probably won’t happen. It is far more likely that I’ll convince my boss to give me a raise, but by no means certain.


I wasn't fantasizing like Tevye "If I was a rich man..." thinking of what I could do with money that doesn't exist. The extent that I was fantasizing was about the sort of society we might have had if we hadn't adopted Supply Side economics. Wages rising with productivity, the way they had been for 40 years or so. More people with disposable income might have led to more amateur innovation just as surely as more money in your own pocket might have.

The opportunity cost came when we as a society decided to transfer more and more disposable wealth to the few in the vain assumption that miracles would ensue.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

More importantly, I’m asking those of you on the left to recognize that the ONLY proven way to make the world a better place is to reward the innovators by getting the heck out of their way.


I really get the idea we're saying the same thing, but with blind spots that keep us from seeing that.

I'm not out to tax the wealthy as much as to keep more of the common wealth in the commons, so that more potential innovators might have time and energy to innovate. It seems to me you're stuck on "the innovators" being necessarily those who build a successful business out of their innovation. Doubtless, you see a blind spot in my argument as well. But the point is, we're more in agreement than it might seem at first blush. We're arguing about tactics, not strategy.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry
That is an incredibly important point
The real innovators are very seldom the people at the top of the tree making the huge amounts of money

donzelion said...

Duncan & Alfred - a worthy debate, but I'm not sure your positions are so far apart.

The story of Egypt and South Korea is a telling example. In 1950, their economies were roughly the same size (Egypt's was actually larger). In both countries, "right wing" land ownership structures that persisted for centuries resulted in the concentration of most land into massive land holdings worked by tenant farmers. THAT is the order that drove stagnation - not the distribution of wealth so much as the nature of wealth and its perpetuation in the form of rentier arrangements.

In the 1950s, both Egypt and South Korea adopted land reform measures. Egypt's approach was to engage in direct redistribution, breaking up large farms, transferring title directly to the tenants, setting strict rent controls, and transferring surpluses from the sales to the state (which spent those surpluses on massive infrastructure projects, and later, military escalation). The approach was not "leftist" so much as "communist" - and the effect was obvious: new investment into factories dropped dramatically, and crumbling industrial base chugged along without improving.

Korea, by contrast, sought to break up large farms by forcing sales of land to the tenants - a process that did not redistribute wealth, so much as altering the nature of wealth. Former land owners invested their capital from those sales into productive enterprises, moving away from old fashioned rentier approaches. The approach was "leftist" (compulsory redistribution and forced sales of lands), but also "market" oriented.

"I’m asking those of you on the left to recognize that the ONLY proven way to make the world a better place is to reward the innovators by getting the heck out of their way."

The primary obstacle blocking innovators has never been 'leftists' per se. What gets in the way of innovators has always been a dominant class of lazy land owners - folks who will repay an innovative pumping system that increases crop yields by raising the rents, or who will penalize an innovative system that reduces costs of goods by raising the price to get those goods to the market.

donzelion said...

Duncan - "The real innovators are very seldom the people at the top of the tree making the huge amounts of money"

There's the Microsoft/Apple/Google/Facebook sort of innovator making huge amounts of money generally by developing productive systems that empower other people one way or another. They're a minority of those at the top, but they tend to rank pretty high on the list.

Then there's the Koch/Trump/Adelson/Wall Street sort, extracting rents in one form or another, deploying innovations that expand upon their rental income, but don't otherwise extend much in the way of benefit to anyone else. These folks are a majority of those at the top (probably about 2/3s).

Both are aggressive in defending their turf, but their tactics to do so are quite different. The former has to make 'better products' than their rivals - the latter tends to use power to maximize the revenues they extract from their users. The former benefits from advances in science and technology - the latter is actually somewhat threatened by them (unless the business case makes it clear how tech can increase their revenues).

Jonathan Sills said...

Alfred, ideals are wonderful. Ideals are how we get from "bad" to "good", then from "good" to "great".

However, at some point ideals must also run headlong into reality. And in reality, when they get to keep more of their cash, the wealthy have, by and large, hoarded it. Sure, they're free to innovate, to invest in innovation, to contribute voluntarily to society - but many of them, most especially those who have inherited their wealth, don't. They sit on it, occasionally spending some on this or that luxury gaud - but there are only so many baubles one can accumulate, and eventually that becomes a focus on acquiring more and more of the actual wealth, and handing out less and less of it.

And thus, we as a society are forced to step in and redistribute their wealth, because they're not. And we've already seen what happens when those with wealth are allowed to keep it to themselves - we called it the Middle Ages. It wasn't a lot of fun for those who didn't live in castles and have armies of private guards to defend that hoard from other guys who wanted their own hoards to be bigger.

Alfred Differ said...

@David S: Your paraphrasing of my position is sound. Basically, I’m arguing that I think I can do better and I would like at least some freedom to try. I think there is enough scientific evidence regarding how well government functions in certain areas that we should allow people to give it a go by breaking certain government monopolies.

In the case of fire services, let’s image I live in a city that does not provide its own fire protection service and an alternate version of me lives in a similar city that does, but allows alt.me to contract with other services.

In the first city I have to arrange my own contract for protection if I’m a responsible human being. I’ll want to include a section in there to protect my neighbor’s house too, but it will come in two parts. The first part involves a clause where my neighbor has their own protection contract. My service provider would be required to work with their provider as best they can but in a support role as soon as the other service provider arrives on the scene. Protect me by protecting my neighbor, but don’t be overly intrusive in their relationship with their own provider. The second part involves a clause where my neighbor does not have a valid protection contract. It basically says to protect me by protecting them, but they keep a tally of the costs so I can extract payment from my neighbor later. There must be no hidden cost structures (like doctors use when billing us) and I must be consulted (if reasonably possible) when these unexpected costs pass a pre-arrange threshold.

In the second city, my default arrangement will be with the city. If I do not demonstrate my relationship with another provider, they city would assume I have a contract with them. If I arrange my own, it is going to be similar to the example above except I might skip some of the wording for protecting my neighbor knowing they are covered by a similar default contract. My service provider would still be required to help the city, though, up to a pre-arranged threshold and only if it makes sense to do so. Anything beyond that requires a consultation with me where I might not be so willing to cover my neighbor since extracting payment from his city provider might involve a more costly lawsuit.

In both cities, though, the city still gets to say what the minimum requirements are for fire protection. We do something like this for car insurance in California. The State mandates coverage, but does not dictate the fine details to me. It doesn’t provide the service either. What details ARE listed as minimum coverage becomes political, but I don’t see a way around that. Citizens of a so-called nanny state just have to find a way to deal with it by recognizing the political risks and weighing them against the risk of people driving without insurance. Nothing is perfect, right? Through incremental efforts, though, we might get to ‘pretty good’. That’s enough for me.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Why are you looking at the wealth distribution graph? Income distribution is what matters here. Poor people might have no wealth while still having income and it is income that they feel every day. Besides, one should beware of looking too much at wealth accumulation. Along that future path lies the vice of envy. A wealthy man might be able to own 1000 pairs of pants, but he can only wear them one at a time. A poor man might own 10 pairs and do just fine.

I’m not interested in forcefully redistributing wealth unless you can argue that the rich people are doing something unethical with it.

I’m willing to ask/force the richest to pay more to support their community, but in trade I want them to be able to have some choices in how they do so.

[I’ll look into Mazzucato’s books, but the abstract for the one debunking public vs private sector myths already conflicts with my personal experience. I’m not a fan of any of the economic stereotypes, though, so don’t assume I’ll support the Libertarian ones either.]

David Brin said...

donzel: "There's the Microsoft/Apple/Google/Facebook sort of innovator making huge amounts of money generally by developing productive systems that empower other people one way or another...."

By irony, these are the only ones who have done as Supply Side forecast, investing in new products and productive capacity... AND these are the billionaires who despise Supply Side and want higher taxes on the rich in order to re-stimulate the middle class from which they came. In which dwell the engineers who made them rich.

In other words, they are mostly democrats.

I am not for redistribution in order to make everyone more equal. I am in favor os some to achieve four goals:

1) Prevent the re-entrenchment of a feudal-inherited-obligate oligarchy... there is NO other danger more sure to destroy flat-fair-competitive market enterprise. Even if the money weren't spent on any good things but just tossed into the Sun, it is vital that especially property and inheritance tax do this .

2) Continue the investment in research and in infrastructure that has helped propel the nation forward in EVERY single decade since the 1790s.

3) Put enough money into poor pockets so that talent waste is reduced. There is no excuse for poor children being hungry or in poor health or in crappy schools. That does not provide feed stock for flat-fair-competitive market enterprise.

4) Put enough money into poor pockets so that high velocity cash flows through the system, the only proved way to stimulate an economy.

I am NOT seeking to prevent the rich from having toys! Bezos, Allen and Musk with their rockets, for example. Nor to stop the poor from being "poor." It should be MORE easy to evade property tax and inheritance tax via foundations that are doing some great thing.

But the American founders knew they had to prevent another Europe and they did it by seizing and redistributing up to a third of the land in the former colonies.

Robert said...

Looking at the "redistribution of wealth" above, I have to ask something.

Is that total value? Or is that liquid cash?

Because I suspect the bottom 30% would want liquid cash rather than property that they would then have to pay taxes on which they cannot afford.

So. Rather than saying the top 1% own 73% of the wealth? Let's look at liquidity in terms of cash and other spendable resources.

Now let's do a comparison of who has what for wealth. Of course, you might also need to factor in debt and see who OWES what.

Wealth redistribution is never quite as people as people think. And don't forget: our founding fathers redistributed wealth... by seizing land and giving it to other people, not just seizing cash assets.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

The primary obstacle blocking innovators has never been 'leftists' per se. What gets in the way of innovators has always been a dominant class of lazy land owners - folks who will repay an innovative pumping system that increases crop yields by raising the rents, or who will penalize an innovative system that reduces costs of goods by raising the price to get those goods to the market.


One of radio host Thom Hartmann's big bugaboos is the idea that when taxes go down, so do gross wages, because the owners know their workers can afford a gross pay cut without taking a net pay cut. So in the long run, the benefits of working-class tax cuts end up in the hands of the owners and rentiers after all.

locumranch said...


Whether we're talking about User Agreements, Taxation, Wealth Redistribution or Personal Liberty, it seems that we're really talking about 'Ownership'. The first three items (User Agreements, Taxation & Redistribution plans) are essentially collectively assigned 'liens' against whatever you claim to possess.

Think you 'own' your cash, auto, cellphone or home? Well, from this perspective, you don't. The social collective's ability to charge you 'user fees' or tax your personal property essentially represents an ownership claim against the assumed value of your personal property claim.

In much the same way, the existence of Income Tax implies that the collective owns all (or part) of your personal labour; and, since Liberty (and/or Freedom) are rough synonyms for Self-Ownership, the ability to assign & collect tax from you amounts to lien against your self-ownership claim that asserts (in turn) that you are an 'income-producing property' possessed by the collective.

The social collective OWNS you. You are neither free nor 'at liberty'; you are the assumed property of the collective; and, by definition, this meets the definition of SLAVERY because you (and every other person) can be owned, harvested, taxed & traded as if you were property.

Blue collar, white collar,
A collar is a curb is a restraint.
Properly, propriety, proprietary,
We are chattel and/or property.
Rights, duties, moral obligations,
What we own, what we master, owns & masters us.


Best

LarryHart said...

Johnathan Sills:

However, at some point ideals must also run headlong into reality. And in reality, when they get to keep more of their cash, the wealthy have, by and large, hoarded it. Sure, they're free to innovate, to invest in innovation, to contribute voluntarily to society - but many of them, most especially those who have inherited their wealth, don't. They sit on it, occasionally spending some on this or that luxury gaud - but there are only so many baubles one can accumulate, and eventually that becomes a focus on acquiring more and more of the actual wealth, and handing out less and less of it.

And thus, we as a society are forced to step in and redistribute their wealth, because they're not


You're hitting upon a view of wealth that intruded upon my thoughts recently while contemplating food. When I've got several different leftovers in my fridge, my tendency is to keep the "best" ones longer, as it is perversely more pleasurable to have the food to look forward to than it is to actually eat it. Except that this trick only works for a short period of time. Keep the food too long, even refrigerated, and it spoils, or at best goes stale and doesn't taste as good as it would have had I eaten it many days earlier.

I think people do similar things with all sorts of wealth, not just food. And a similar problem results, though not necessarily quite so quickly. Hoarded wealth decays over time.

Abstract money gives the illusion of something that can be stored indefinitely, and our financial institutions enhance that illusion, but it is an illusion. For a ridiculously simple example, if tomatoes are wiped out by the effects of climate change, there is only a short time before there is no more pizza, no matter how much hoarded gold I have to buy it with.

Point being--to use Alfred's terminology--there is an opportunity cost to the allowing of wealth-hoarding. It's not just that that wealth is kept from the many by the few, but that the wealth itself degrades over time when it is not circulating, stimulating new production. Wealth is perishable. It has a shelf life. Redistribution is a method of preventing it from going to waste.

Paul451 said...

Another post-spasm. I'm not working this week, so you guys get to suffer.

--

Donzelion,
"Your questions flip the actual ownership of the accounts."

It's not about ownership. CFAA says nothing about ownership. It does not place any limits on secondary authority, or flow of authority. It does not prescribe how to resolve disputes of conflicting authority.

Facebook gives its customers access to those customer's accounts. That confers an authority, and hence a right-of-authority. Unless Facebook rescinds that customer access, those customers can choose to use whatever system they wish to log in and interact with their own accounts.

If Facebook doesn't like the method chosen by some customers to login to their accounts (via a third party service), they are free to close those accounts and deny access for those customers, within the limits of state/federal consumer protection laws.

But Facebook did not rescind access for those customers. Instead it had the third party service, used by those authorised customers to access their own accounts, charged under a law intended for criminal hackers. And that is what I find grotesque.

"If a service provider can not withdraw consent to a user who violates the terms of service"

Facebook is able to withdraw services from its customers who violate Facebook's ToS. Power never interfered with Facebook's ability to ban users for ToS violations.

"If FB actually worked that way - giving users permission to live in FB's space - then you'd have a point."

Giving someone an account (and password) is giving them authorisation to access that account. Facebook never rescinded the authorisation of its users. It refused Power authorisation, but Power's authority came from the users not Facebook, and (based on prior CFAA rulings that ToS can't be used to refuse authorisation under CFAA) Power obviously felt that was enough. This court disagreed, and the court was wrong.

Paul451 said...

cont.

"Even the EFF doesn't really dispute that (they had much less to say about the fraud claims in their brief"

Because there was no fraud.

"It doesn't matter whether the users ask Power to scrape their data, or Power scrapes their data on its own,"

It's the only thing that matters. Power was authorised by users to access those users' accounts for them.

"Had Power cooperated with FB (by using Facebook Connect"

Facebook Connect is an external user-verification scheme. It has nothing to do with Power's business model.

"first, FB is not an email server"

Email was your analogy. And CFAA doesn't differentiate between types of services.

"If a user manipulating a client tried to utilize a number of other clients to perpetrate the same 'attack,' "

I have no idea how you see that as analogous to Power/Facebook.

Paul451 said...

David S,
"Paul, I think a better analogy is that it isn't your house that you are giving someone the keys to, but rather an apartment that you are renting. "

That is exactly what I was saying. (Donzelion was treating himself as the owner, and using his sister rather than a tenant.) I was just trying to emphasise that there are three parties: the owner, the tenant, and a service-provider employed by the tenant.

"While you have given the keys to some other individual to have them come in, at some point the landlord may [...] complain that you have sublet the apartment."

Two points, the first is that subletting an apartment is not a criminal act. I'm not objecting to Facebook's right to ban users (ie, to evict misbehaving tenants), I'm objecting to them using the computer equivalent of robbery or home invasion laws to prosecute the third party, even though that third party had been given access by the tenant. Doubly so because the landlord didn't first evict the primary tenant.

Secondly, the third party service was not using people's Facebook accounts for their own benefit, they were providing a service to those Facebook users. Like a cook/cleaner, or babysitter, or service technician, or commercial house-sitter.

It's one thing to argue over whether a landlord should have the right to decide what services their tenants can use, it's quite another to argue that if the tenant invites in a service-provider against their landlord's will, the service-provider should be changed with home-invasion.

Paul451 said...

Alfred,
"You are missing my ethical point."

No, its your "moral point". You always try to frame economic arguments in moral terms. It's why you draw such incorrect conclusions.

You made a factual claim, that lower taxes delivers more to society than higher taxes because it allows the wealthy the freedom to innovate in ways that help the poor.

That argument was accepted by the wider US public, and for nearly forty years they allowed politicians to reduce taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.

And it didn't deliver on any of its promises.

Your factual claim is wrong. You are "flat out mistaken".

"I care mostly about the poorest."

Then why do you repeat the "trickle down" nonsense, when it has not only demonstrably failed to help the poorest, but has actively harmed them?

However, again, this is another example of your insistence on "moral" framing leading you astray. (**) Because it's not about the poorest, it's about the type of society created by the policies you advocate. Those policies made things worse for the majority of society.

And it's not about a 1:1 transfer of wealth from the wealthy. Wealth distribution is not zero-sum. There seems to be an optimal layer of society, which, if it collectively controls enough of the nation's wealth, produces the maximum benefit for everyone else in that society. You already see a piece of it, differentiating between "innovators" and "rentiers". But it's not just "innovators", it is also the customers of those innovators, and broad communities that are in a position to take on those innovations. Not just having people merely subsisting, by substituting lower prices for the loss of growth potential, in a zero sum way. Hence there is a certain distribution of national wealth that creates a nation with the maximum innovative potential. It turns out that optimum productive layer of society is not at the top, and hence that the optimum distribution is not the one your country has. So for over thirty years, your country has been systematically impoverishing the very people who are maximally beneficial for society, and enriching the people who aren't.

(I can't even imagine what your nation would be capable of if it had the income distribution that it had before the supply-side mythology kicked in. It boggles the mind what potential has been lost over the last 30+ years.)

** (Illustrated by both your personal anecdote -- "If I did it, so can anyone." *** -- and your insistence that taxes & wealth redistribution can only be used as moral punishment against unethical behaviour.)
*** (A very dangerous moralistic argument, because it inevitably leads to "Therefore if they can't, it's their own fault. Therefore they are immoral. Therefore they deserve not only their existing situation, but whatever additional abasement I wish to inflict.")

"Don't bother trying to blame me for supply-side nonsense, though."

The argument you gave is supply-side nonsense. "Cut taxes on me and I'll invest and create jobs and everyone else will benefit, much more than everyone else previously got from those taxes." That is the supply-side/trickle-down mythology.

Paul451 said...

Re: People at the top, as innovators.
Donzelion,
"There's the Microsoft/Apple/Google/Facebook sort of innovator making huge amounts of money generally by developing productive systems that empower other people one way or another."

However, their primary benefit was delivered when they weren't at the top.

As a recent example, Apple's greatest work was done when it was climbing out of the doldrums. At the top, they have been much much less useful to society. For example, they have an enormous cash reserve which they are not reinvesting in new developments, they are just sitting on it, sort of angry and confused. Forget true blue-sky innovation, I mean they aren't even investing in basic internal value-adding. For example, they aren't investing in new screens, batteries and processors, or better sensors, to bring production IP in-house and enable their next generation products to leap ahead of the competition (or even just to save money in the long run). They are purely a consumer of mostly Korean technology innovations, and Chinese production.

Microsoft did have a research lab, but very very little ever went into their products. At the top, they pretty much stopped innovating. They just used their existing monopoly to leverage into other people's markets, and prevent competition in their own, but they didn't really deliver anything fundamentally new.

G are probably the best example of being at the top but still innovating. But even they are producing much less per-unit-value than they did during their early phase.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin - I concur with your observation that "productive" billionaires do tend to be Democrats (or libertarians), while "rentier" billionaires tend to be Republicans (or a distinct sort of libertarian). But I'd go one step further: billionaires will tend to align with the group that best reflects the methods by which they obtained their billions.

Anyone who makes their money through "production" or "innovation" must experiment, observe, and test actual behavior in a marketplace. 'Productive' billionaires need some form of 'scientific' methodology to create their billions.

Rentier billionaires are quite different. The extraction of rent can be facilitated more by destroying rival plots of land, choking/starving a community until its owners cannot afford that land, then buying it on the cheap. Their emphasis must be institutions of power - how best to distract a group whose land is being sabotaged in order to impoverish them and make it easier to take what they have (typically, the tools include weakening/preventing education, infrastructure, and other public goods - while blaming 'blacks/Jews/immigrants/criminals' for the resulting problems). Since rentier billionaires are seldom helped by science, they'll seek to quash it.

In that sense, 'productive' billionaires in the 21st century will embrace whichever party most closely aligns with 'scientific' methods (currently, that's the Democrats, but the alliance is fairly tenuous, and the billionaires are hardly interested in participating in party structures). 'Rentier' billionaires will embrace whichever party best advances their goals of extending rental incomes (currently, that's the Republicans, and the alliance is tight as they need to ensure power structures operate to their interest or their own enterprises could be blocked).

Paul451 said...

Donzelion,
"currently, that's the Democrats, but the alliance is fairly tenuous, and the billionaires are hardly interested in participating in party structures"

I suspect it's more about the north/south switch in Dem/Rep politics under Johnson and Nixon. Before that, the Republicans tended to be the party of science, technology and innovation. I don't doubt that the tech-billionaires would have been Republicans in the 1950s. Or the 1850's.

donzelion said...

@Paul451 - "However, [the tech innovator's] primary benefit was delivered when they weren't at the top."

Agreed, in part, but perhaps I look at the 'primary benefit' differently.

On a Veblen model, one should anticipate that most 'innovators' will eventually shift from innovation to rent (his terms would be 'industry to business'): it's MUCH easier to extract rent than to improve a product or service. Thus, investment into R&D will eventually fade, replaced by investment into marketing (to induce users to pay more 'rent' than they might otherwise pay).

When Apple crawled out of the doldrums, it was not through dramatic 'innovation' in products, so much as innovation in culture: iMacs weren't technologically superior, they were "cute." People invested into Apple products to join a culture of 'outsiders.' Apple was seldom an early adopter of emerging technologies - more often, they picked and chose the best aspects they saw from competitors (esp. Archos in the gadget universe, but also Creative, Rio, Palm, and many others), then used the profits they reaped from their 'culture' of folks on the Apple bandwagon to mix those innovations together into an offering that was provocative to those who ascribed to their culture (as an owner of Apple products for 37 years now, I suppose I must be counted in that number, but I do like to think I'm not a bandwagon joiner).

"For example, [Apple] aren't investing in new screens, batteries and processors, or better sensors...They are purely a consumer of mostly Korean technology innovations, and Chinese production."

First, I'd say that the pathway is more "Silicon Valley invents, Korea tests and develops to a marketable stage, and China manufactures at the mass phase." Apple R&D is remarkably large - but often it takes the form of investment into products and approaches from other inventors, which they test to evaluate whether they can use. Don't be misled by the numbers of patents (the Korean and Japanese systems count patents very differently from ours), we're still a prime driver of new, innovative tech.

But more importantly, Apple's chief innovation was always cultural, rather than technological. Apple can't find a useful means of spending that cash it has stockpiled, because all the normal sorts of investments firms make when they can't figure out how to spend their stockpiled cash would offend "Apple culture" (building massive "Apple Towers"? Stadiums? putting marble onto Apple stores to create the appearance of enduring stability, as though they were a bank?).

My guess is that they'll continue to 'innovate' to the extent that the participants in Apple culture require it, and no further.

donzelion said...

@Paul451 - "I suspect it's more about the north/south switch in Dem/Rep politics under Johnson and Nixon"

Concur in general, though I'd look more at the shift from one Roosevelt presidency to the next, rather than the Johnson/Nixon era specifically.

Productive billionaires in the 19th century were overwhelmingly Federalists, Whigs or Republicans. Bloomberg and Anthony Kennedy are the last of that dying legacy, and both of them are representative of the 'outsider' (or contrarian) position typical of such views (Bloomberg himself is a converted Dem).

But when Wilson & FDR embraced a thoroughgoing scientific means of governance, they directly threatened landholding elites throughout the country: that's where the initial alienation of Southern Dems arose. Their methods presented threats to rural elites in both New York and Georgia - but the expression of those tensions would manifest in urban/rural, educated/uneducated struggles nationally (pitting Atlanta v. Georgia, Little Rock v. Arkansas, Austin v. Texas). A "North/South" lens misses the operation of the actual tension, which has long been 'science' v. 'power.'

donzelion said...

Paul451 - "I don't doubt that the tech-billionaires would have been Republicans in the 1950s. Or the 1850's."

They might even be Republicans in the 2010s, UNLESS Obama and Clinton woo them to their satisfaction. These folks are less ideological, more contrarian. Fickle, even. They don't need to impress anyone with their loyalty. Koch & Co. DO need to impress Kochians that if they are loyal to the Kochs, they'll eventually earn a reward (in the form of a flurry of attack ads levied at their rivals).

That accounts for Hillary's agenda this summer. To a politician, the annoying thing about tech-billionaires is that they're not yet 'invested' into a power structure. Both Obama and Clinton have been slow to embrace key elements of a progressive agenda (neither was an early leader on homosexual rights, or many other sacred causes of progressives) - but both have been steadfast in endorsing that agenda once they amassed sufficient support.

Jumper said...

As long as we're talking about innovators, we can remember another type. Before I start, be aware I have no great message or insights. I'm just saying remember this other sort.
My father was a researcher for two large agricultural companies in his time, and got a few patents in his name. In short he was in the thick of the "green revolution" making progress. By now his contributions have fed billions and made tens of millions in profits and savings.

He worked for salary and pension; the companies owned the patents. He knew the deal going in and never had a bad word for the corporations. He had a few things he grumbled about his boss but that's another story. ;>]

Jeff B. said...

Paul451,
"Because it's not about the poorest, it's about the type of society created by the policies you advocate. Those policies made things worse for the majority of society.

In many/most U.S. high schools at least into the 80s, a civics course was mandatory, usually for incoming 9th graders. I don't know how much my peers paid attention, but it was drummed into my head that for a democratic society to succeed, citizens had to pay attention to responsibilities as well as rights. This was reinforced by groups like the Boy and Girl Scouts and the JCs. These included voting and paying taxes.

Sure, in previous eras civics lessons were probably hokey, which might be what doomed them (high schoolers are a rough crowd for forced patriotism). But the lessons were valid- there is a moral component to citizenship.

Apologies to Alfred, but the idea of taxes as unjust "takings", in a liberal democracy, seems a bit immoral, not moral. More than just paying for things, taxes and other levees should level the playing field a bit, give everyone a fair start in life, and be there to provide a cushion when life's inevitable setbacks happen.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

Your fire service example
Dozens of countries have tried "privatizing" hundreds of services
The results have been very clear as the costs of providing those services have risen
Out of the thousands of examples of failure you would be hard pressed to find a handful of successes

As far as wealth v income is concerned
Wealth is what we should be measuring - wealth directly replaces income
If I have a car I don't need to pay to lease one

"I’m willing to ask/force the richest to pay more to support their community, but in trade I want them to be able to have some choices in how they do so."

The rich already have much more power to effect where the money goes
They have more power in a society like mine where there are restrictions on the buying of politicians
In the USA they already have ALL of the power - how can they get more than 100%?

Jeff B. said...

I do wish I had more time to participate in this forum- it's by far the best I've found. But one more observation on taxes and redistribution, if we want to look at it more clinically.

In this age of growing global competitiveness, any nation that does not invest (and perhaps heavily) in the "basics" to give it's citizens every chance to compete will fall further and further behind. We can't afford to not do our best to set up the level playing fields- quality education, a safety net to help us back up for when life's inevitable twists knock us down, and assurance that when the race is run we won't be left in grinding, miserable poverty. Give everyone, everyone, the opportunity to make the best of themselves, and the tools to do it.

To not provide these "leveling measures" to all citizens, regardless of happenstance of birth or class or race, means that as the nation is handicapping itself and will only be able to watch others pull ahead.

A mind, any mind, is truly "a terrible thing to waste."

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

Paul451,

No. It is NOT supply-side nonsense. I get that you can’t distinguish what I said from it and I’ll take the blame for not being able to communicate it well enough. I’m not a supporter of supply-side economics, though. It is right-wing crap meant to hide what they want behind a feel-good idea that isn’t backed by evidence. What evidence there is says the world doesn’t work that way. If I supported this stuff, I wouldn’t just be flat out mistaken. I’d be either one of the monsters or one of their dupes. Most like Kibble as David would say.

What troubles me more is that you can’t seem to see the ethics issue I’m raising about taxation in general. Taxes are coerced. Do you at least see that? Do you see the implied gun to our heads? Do you see who holds it, and more importantly, who CAN hold it? Can your neck flex far enough to see this?

Also, you are reading way into much into my anecdotes. I’m offering them to demonstrate something personal that underpins my opinions. I’m not suggesting everyone can do what I did even if I’m inclined to believe it. I’m suggesting it is worth a try if one is stuck in a bad situation. Why accept defeat short of the grave?

If I did it, so can anyone. Therefore if they can't, it's their own fault. Therefore they are immoral. Therefore they deserve not only their existing situation, but whatever additional abasement I wish to inflict.

Hmm… I’ve known people who slid down that ethical slope. I keep my distance from them. I also reject flat-soled shoes when I’m near it. Only an unloving bastard enjoys that fall and I’m not one. Thank you for pointing out the danger, but please don’t think I’m dense enough not to have seen it.

My factual claim doesn’t really connect taxes and the enrichment that has lifted the poor. (I connected them through anecdotes because I recognize that the magnitude of my taxes has matched on occasion the amount of funds I needed to raise for past entrepreneurial efforts.) You can keep taxes where they are or bump them up a bit if everyone agrees to leave the enrichment mechanism alone and I’ll sit quietly (mostly) and happily (mostly). You could do better, but I’ll keep that to a low grumble and focus on the enrichment instead. For example, David has expressed his four concerns and I’m mostly sympathetic to them, so I’ll look in those directions. Cause #4 gives me a bit of heartburn, but it doesn’t harm the enrichment method much. I’ll just push at the definition of ‘stimulate’ and point out that markets aren’t engines into which one dumps nitrous oxide without unforeseen consequences. Obviously one should not dump sludge into them either.

Alfred Differ said...

Thank you Jumper.

In your father’s case, he agreed to make his employer the primary beneficiary of the Act One profit. No doubt his employer lost control of things as patents expired in Act Two. I suspect they lost partial control in that act even before patents expired because competitors arrived with knock-off products. By Act Three, though, it is the average person who was ‘profiting’ because they could now afford something that had once been out of reach because it simply didn’t exist before then.

Your tens of millions in profits might have been a decent estimate in the first act, but by the end of the third act it is probably something closer to trillions. Those billions of people who aren’t starving are producing and they count. My own personal life expectancy increased almost 20 years between then and now and that counts. Life expectancy for many others has doubled. That counts.

When one accounts for quality improvements of goods and services, the Green Revolution is an enormous event that a lot of people lived through and never noticed.

I suspect men like your father matter more in our enrichment than we will ever realize. What we might come to understand, though, is what motivates them. Do you know what motivated your father to make the world a better place?

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

What troubles me more is that you can’t seem to see the ethics issue I’m raising about taxation in general. Taxes are coerced. Do you at least see that? Do you see the implied gun to our heads? Do you see who holds it, and more importantly, who CAN hold it? Can your neck flex far enough to see this?


Taxes are a responsibility of citizenship in a civilization. They're coerced to the same extent that jury duty is coerced, or conscription in wartime is coerced, or not killing that guy who your girlfriend likes better than you is coerced. Any law has the threat of coercion backing it up. Now that we know that, what do we know?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Alfred

Taxes
The money you "earn" is not really "yours" - most of it is "earned" by the efforts of your and our ancestors
Society lets you keep 60%+ of that money despite the fact that you only "earned" 10% or less of it

That is a bit of a bargain - you actually get at least four times the amount you have "earned"

Alfred Differ said...

Jeff B:
…the idea of taxes as unjust "takings", in a liberal democracy, seems a bit immoral, not moral.

If one goes so far as the most rabid Libertarians do, I’m inclined to agree. Extreme behaviors are too often a case of optimizing one virtue against all the others. Excluding any of them is a bad idea. 8)

I was a Cub Scout when I was young and a Boy Scout until I was a little past my 14th birthday. I left because the people around me were being hypocritical. They espoused ideals I liked, but did not follow through. It was 1976 and I was full of the bicentennial spirit then, but I wasn’t blinded by it. I turned away from it all for a while, but came back like a responsible adult should.

Liberalism has a history of objecting to ‘leveling the playing field’ if you dig into what people actually said and did. The problem isn’t with the desire to see our children get a fair start. The problem is with how it is done. Holding a gun to someone’s head so your children get a better start is a very risky thing to do. Someone might decide it is an excellent idea! What happens next when you lose a vote and the people you don’t like get to govern?

I’m willing to help ensure people don’t starve. I’m even willing to help make sure your kid gets a fair start. You don’t need the implied gun, though.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan:

No. I flatly reject that.
You would have the rules of 'family' apply in communities.
That doesn't work and will lead to the deaths of millions if it is tried... again.

Jumper said...

My father was a Christian. (Very Deist.)

By the way, I find this "at the point of a gun" meme about the IRS and tax authorities a bit hysterical. It's very common for authorities to just wait until a tax protester dies of natural causes.

And no, the money you earn IS yours. Then you have to take YOUR money, and pay your damn taxes. Such is life and bring out the little violins.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I have a lot of respect for the honesty of your politicians. Their collective reputation precedes them. You are very welcome to trust them to make your decisions for you if you like, but those of us who don’t will wind up doing the heavy lifting when it comes to innovations. Feel free to copy the betterments, though. Honestly… I don’t mind.

I hear you regarding past failures to ‘privatize’, but you are missing the point. Most of those are attempts by government to sell the business they were in. Others were attempts by private concerns to capture the business and retain some of the monopoly power. I agree that there is way too much evidence against those approaches to warrant trying them again. I’m not, though I can understand why you might not see the distinction. It takes more than my short descriptions to see it. Try some of V. Vinge’s short fiction instead. He does a far better job of it.

Alfred Differ said...

Jumper,

I tend to smile at the gun meme too. The actual threat is jail time. Look through tax court cases and find the guy who is accused of being the biggest US tax cheat. I've met him. He is accused of all sorts of vile things that aren't even close to truth. He spent a while in prison, so that meme is no joke.


One of the things that tempts me to study the history of religion is to fathom how some of them came to believe in the notion that their gifts were meant to be used... to make this world a better place. Somewhere along the line, many of them put down the crosses their forefathers were taught to bear and picked up their tools instead. In what Karl Popper would have called World 3, something changed and a bunch of us started marching in a different direction. Heh. Reminds me of E-space in the Uplift books. A bunch of us got 'tails' and decided we liked them. 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

I was not talking about the honesty of politicians so much as the influence of the rich

The rich already have far far more influence on government than the rest of us
even here!

So the people who pay more in taxes ALSO already have a greater say in how those taxes are spent

V. Vinge is one of my favorite authors
But his earlier works show a total lack of understanding of human nature
His "maker" world is just total nonsense -
We know how a protection racket works in the real world
And it DOES NOT become a benevolent police force!!

Jumper said...

Good grief. My father was an American, it's not complicated. A Southerner, he put Lincoln just a notch down from Jesus. In the best way. Figured he saved us.

Tim H. said...

The .001%ers have it in their power to slow the growth of government, for a start, they could stop counting coup by minimizing labor costs and benefits, reducing the attractiveness of neo-Rooseveltians and taking the oxygen out of the room for socialists. Every time private interests create a need, by too sharp a deal, or get rich quick schemes they create an opportunity for government to play a larger role. Successful politicians aren't constituted in such a way that they can indefinitely ignore a majority of voters, so if an incredibly large, possibly one world government sounds like a good thing, business as usual seems like a good way to create a need for it.

donzelion said...

Duncan/Alfred - Interjecting to yet another intriguing line of conversation, I do have some insight and personal observations about privatization.

"Dozens of countries have tried "privatizing" hundreds of services...The results have been very clear as the costs of providing those services have risen...Out of the thousands of examples of failure you would be hard pressed to find a handful of successes..."

On the contrary, many public sector privatizations worked fairly well - depending on the measures one accepts.

E.g., in Bolivia, during the Cochabamba Water Wars, Westerners heard stories about how evil, bullying corporations were stealing the local water supply, driving up prices 500%, etc. What they didn't hear was that the old, public sector services failed to deliver clean water to 25-40% of the populations they supposedly served, or the prevalence of water-borne outbreaks (in distant communities where folks tended not to speak English). What they didn't hear was that reaching those more remote communities raised the price for everyone (the 'last mile' problem applies to all public services).

I say this as one who entered law determined to take on those very same "evil corporations" and bring them to their knees. Predisposed to regard them as evil, I discovered in Afghanistan, Sudan, Egypt, and Yemen, that often, those corps are the only hope of the locals, but EVERY time they do anything, they will threaten vested local powerbrokers who benefited from the ability to turn off the tap for anyone who got out of line.

Alfred Differ said...

Good grief. My father was an American, it's not complicated.

Heh. I love it. Very American.
Nothing to it. I'm just over-thinking it. 8)


Seriously. It is so obvious people missed it for decades.

David Brin said...

Dang, what a conversation! There are fewer of you than in some other author communities. But weighted by smarts and maturity?

“Wealth redistribution is never quite as people as people think.” Wasn’t there a Monty Python episode about that?

JeffB thanks and hang around. Ending the waste of talent is a core reason why liberalism is fundamentally a PRAGMATIC movement.

Jumper Lincoln DID save us.

locumranch sure benefited from his vacation. Oh, what he said above is all assertion and no fact. But it is cogently expressed assertion with no bile. I encourage.

Kal Kallevig said...

Alfred,
In 1800 the average human made do with about $3/day in today’s dollars. My lowest point was 10x higher. No means of redistribution could possibly pull off that kind of increase.

I think you are right about that, but in the world as it now exists, neither could those innovators you are so sure can work miracles. In 1800 North America, South America, and Australia were still largely available for exploitation. A lot of that wealth was wasted on world wars, but that still left a very sweet pot for the use of the innovators.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Well... when one tries to measure government corruption, your folks come out smelling pretty good. Some of ours are pretty good too, but some are pretty awful.

As for a lack of understanding of human nature, I know some folks who would argue NZ can't be as decent as it is. Cynics abound even in the presence of contradictory evidence. I won't try to convince you that Vinge's humans are possible, but I will point out that you are in good company in your disbelief. There is contradictory evidence, though. Criminals who get too rich often have to go legit to hide their wealth.

donzelion said...

Alfred - As for taxes, two quotes cast a fair bit of light on the morality here:
(1) "Taxes are the price of a civilized society." Oliver Wendell Holmes (I believe Jumper, Duncan, and Larry are agreeing with him)
(2) "The power to tax is the power to destroy" Daniel Webster, in McCullogh v. Maryland (with whom you are agreeing)

But there's another angle that is often overlooked: "taxes" are a check upon the power of "rents." The tax collector has the power to throw you in jail; the rent collector has the power to throw you out onto the streets (or into jail). The tax collector may destroy you; the rent collector may ENSLAVE you (and then destroy you). Society moves toward tax to limit the untrammeled power of rents (whether from a feudal lord, or any other lord).

The rent collector will always and everywhere despise taxes, not because they are coercive, but because they impede his ability to coerce his own tenants. They feed a larger, more powerful form of coercion, one over which the rent collector may not have total control.

Rent is the price of surviving in ANY society. Taxes enable society to become civil in the first place.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Criminals who get too rich often have to go legit to hide their wealth."

But (especially if fiction is a guide) they remain "criminals" and continue to act as criminals
They don't restrict themselves to legal business methods
- bribery and corruption!

The NY real estate mafia being an obvious example

Alfred Differ said...

Kal Kallevig,

If you examine the economic impact of various exploitations, they weren't large enough to produce what the world has done. My 10x was below what the average person in the world has seen which is closer to 16x if one ignores quality improvements. The mode of the income distribution is still down there at a lower factor, but it is improving.

Take a peak at some of the material Hans Rosling offers at gapminder.org and you'll see that the real impact on poverty is a late 20th century thing. What frontier was open to exploit? Chinese labor? Hmm. Are we really exploiting them if they are lifted out of poverty? They could have said no had they wished it, but it was obviously better than starving as they were before.

It's not exploitation. The numbers don't work.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Sure, but this is a game of increments. Remember that some of our local governments can be bribed. What difference is there between them and the former criminals in a story? Can I really vote out my local thugs on the police force?

This was about fire protection, though. If they are extorting their customers, they don't really have customers. Involuntary trade isn't trade at all. The solution to that is obvious. Fight back. The two cities I described obviously have to have a culture that respects the rule of law, though, so your diversion is more of a debate about human nature than it is about the experiments we might run to find out if one can purchase services from people who do not possess coercive powers by design.

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion: Cool Bolivia story. The business model for utility companies are hard to explain to people, but it isn't nonsense. I remember when I was young and learning to understand 'the news' how the stock market indexes were divided in a way that separated utilities, transports, and others. I didn't get it until a commentator mentioned how utilities track with interest rates. Huh? Oh. They borrow lots and then use their customers to pay back the loans. Their profit is in the margin between rates. A utility that can't borrow won't grow or even maintain. Duh. Many years later I got a detailed explanation involving wholesale electricity generation, rate base, thirty year plans, and all that. Their customers weren't really buying electricity. They bought reliable electricity. Your water story is another example. Clean water costs more. Clean reliable water costs even more.

I don't accept cynicism when anyone argues we can't compete with government services. There are obviously some awful ways to try, but occasionally we hit on a betterment that works. I say make government services compete in the markets with everyone else, but watch out for collusion, rule fixing, and all the usual errors we already know. 8)

Kal Kallevig said...

Alfred,
It's not exploitation. The numbers don't work.

Or the numbers did not measure the right things? Vast amounts of essentially free energy were consumed. Millions of acres of virgin land were degraded. Oceans were largely denuded of fish. This was not exploitation?

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion: Sorry. Rent collectors can't enslave. They can try to impoverish me with outrageous prices, but I can walk away from those. They can try to rig the rules to force me to pay, but that isn't slavery. That is extortion to which my suggested response is to burn their property to the ground.

I get your concern with rent collectors. They can be tempted into the behavior pattern of aristocrats since they already making a living the same way. There is a difference, though. A rent collector with no coercive power isn't an aristocrat. She is someone with whom I might bargain safely even if she is an arrogant jerk.

Taxes as control rods in the reactor containing renters is not something I like. That reactor also contains real innovators who make the world a better place. Even the non-coercive renters aren't all that bad. Taxes control them all and fund the other group of wanna-be aristocrats.

I'm tempted to reach for a One-Ring-To-Rule-Them-All analogy, but that would be an over simplification and too Libertarian. It just strikes me that some of my neighbors can't imagine a better world where they don't have to fret about elections so much. Seriously. How much of a danger would Trump be to us if the Feds didn't do so much for us? I can imagine a world where our host's stress level is lower without us abandoning the poor or letting the oligarchs re-establish themselves. We get there by arranging for what we want though non-governmental sources that politely displace government services funded by taxes. I might wind up forking over the same fraction of my income to accomplish all this greatness, but I won't be concerned about the implied gun to my head, and much less implied because it is more direct threat of jail time because my service providers won't have those powers.

David S said...

@alfred, you stated in your first fire scenario (no government provided fire protection) that when your neighbor's house is on fire and does not have a fire contract, then your fire protection policy says to protect you by protecting the neighbor, but they keep a tally of the costs so you can extract payment from my neighbor later. How exactly do you extract payment from your neighbor? What if he doesn't want to pay? What if he isn't able to pay?

It seems that some sort of coercion would be inevitable in extracting payment from the unwilling or unable. While I appreciate that you do not like the government using/threatening to use violence, imprisonment, or garnishment of wages, I'm not sure if it any better if it is you or your fire protection service that is using/threatening to use violence, imprisonment or garnishing of wages.

Or are you suggesting that it would be preferable to be unreimbursed when your neighbor is unwilling/unable to pay because you are unwilling to have the neighbor coerced into paying?

Another question I have about your privatization of fire services scenario is whether it will really result in having multiple fire departments with nearby fire stations competing for your contract. Or will you just end up having to contract with the nearest fire station (an effective monopoly)?

Finally, what about the poor sections of town where the citizen cannot afford quality fire services? Do you want to live in a city where the ghetto periodically burns to the ground?

Alfred Differ said...

Kal Kallevig,

Do you think the oceans cannot be restored?
Do you think our children or their children won't want that?

The whole world is getting rich at quite a clip and not in a zero-sum fashion. Exploitation opportunities aren't big enough to explain the enrichment.

Exploitation is happening, but the numbers don't work.
We are growing richer too fast for that.

Alfred Differ said...

@David S: I'm not a libertarian purist. I don't think an anarchy would work in the long run and won't even come close for people who don't believe they can manage some of these things through voluntary contracts without government. I'll settle for a gradual trend toward less involvement of government in day-to-day services we could provide for ourselves.

As for my neighbor who doesn't pay up, what I'd do would depend on how they behaved. If they did not have the means to pay, but are otherwise reasonable people, I would try to arrange something with them. Did I mention I'd also want to have an insurance policy covering the possibility that my neighbor is unable to pay? Heh. Looks like I left that out above. If they were simply unwilling, that's when I'd want to sue them and recover my costs against what remaining property value they have. Yes, that might involve a coercive agency like a Court. Maybe. I can think of scenarios where it might not, though. Arbitrators might be enough.

I'm not so opposed to coercion that I'm willing to let my family be harmed, though. I'm not that nice when threatened, but I'm otherwise willing to explore non-coercive options.

As for whether there would be an effective local monopoly or not, I don't know. An argument like that was once used to create electric utility monopolies, but there giant holes in the argument today. Separate ownership of generation capacity, distribution grid, and servicing functions changes the viable business models. The analogy for fire protection would be separate contracts for fire inspection services (preventative efforts), water delivery grid, the actual water, and the people who would arrive to extinguish fires. Few people have thought these things out in any detail because there is nothing more stupid than trying to convince investors to fund a company that intends to compete with government. Only idiots fund such efforts. 8)

As for the ghetto burning, the answer is no. I don't want it to burn down. I don't want it to be a ghetto either. I can either support a subsidy for their fire protection or work to help them afford it themselves. I'd rather do the latter, but I wouldn't object to doing both. 'Pretty good' is better than nothing while we work on 'Even Better.'

Alfred Differ said...

Since this post was about Transparency and I've been hogging attention talking about other stuff, I should try to connect them.

I read David's transparency book only recently. I managed the first few chapters after it came out, but family life intervened. I was worth getting back to it and completing it. Anyone who hasn't read it yet isn't going to see it the way I saw those first few chapters in the 90's. Prophetic statements are easily pushed aside with quibble arguments before events occur. They are much more robust when backed by almost 20 years of evidence.

A large chunk of my optimism about the future comes from the rapid changes David predicted, but my realization of WHY I was optimistic is a recent thing. I didn't own a camera when his book came out. Now I own two that are capable of publishing photos and videos online in near real time. I got them as a package deal with my phone and my music player. Heh. If we aren't in Act Three yet, we are getting close AND we haven't even seen a generation go by yet AND they are gosh darn everywhere it seems.

David proclaims 2015 the best science year yet because we got to do spiffy things like look at Pluto, but I'm more amazed that I got to see a big rock go megaton kaboom high in the atmosphere (2013?) because some Russian drivers have dashcams for a different purpose. The science is great stuff, but the world changing is much more amazing.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi donzelion

I am sure you can find examples of corrupt and ineffective government organizations that have been replaced by private concerns

However I do not believe that you will find any examples of "non corrupt" government organizations that have been successfully replaced by private concerns
The "Tax" of paying "rent" to the "owners" means that a private organization is playing uphill

Private companies are as subject to corruption as state organizations - the solution is not to change the ownership but to eliminate the corruption

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

I would rather be "coerced" by a government voted into place by me and my fellow citizens than by Dr Brin's 5000 golf buddies AKA the aristocracy of the rich

Which is what WOULD happen exactly as it has happened every time we have had that situation in the last 4000 years

donzelion said...

Hi Alfred - "Sorry. Rent collectors can't enslave."
"Rent collectors" - broadly speaking - include the vast majority of slave experiences throughout history. European/African chattel slavery? Powerful African tribes exacted ever-increasing rents from lesser tribes for use of key resources - the lesser tribes wound up paying in human lives. Feudal serfdom? Rent collection. Roman Republican and Imperial slavery? Rent payments for families in distress. Muslim and Chinese slave and servitude status? Similar arrangements.

Every aristocracy that persisted beyond one generation did so through rent collection. Every feudal order depended upon it. It is the rent, and the rental process, that empowers the folks who were holding a gun to the head of your ancestors, wherever they came from. It was a tax-based structure that created the alternative where innovation is possible. Of course, one is always "free" to walk away from the rent collector - you just have to discover a new continent with relatively few inhabitants and fertile soil...or a new planet...not a very common experience, but it did happen a couple times.

"That is extortion to which my suggested response is to burn their property to the ground."
How Maoist of you. ;-)

I like the American/South Korean approach better: find someone stronger than the local lords who've persistently relegated you to peasant status, broker an exchange backed by the much stronger outside force, and compel those landlords to either lose all their wealth, or invest it into something productive instead of maximizing the number of thugs they have to burn your house down and defend the lord's manor house. THAT worked far better, for everyone.

donzelion said...

Hi Duncan - "I am sure you can find examples of corrupt and ineffective government organizations that have been replaced by private concerns. However I do not believe that you will find any examples of "non corrupt" government organizations that have been successfully replaced by private concerns."

A fair point. However, the problems are
(1) All government organizations are always accused of being corrupt by one faction that didn't get all that it otherwise expected to obtain, so it's very difficult to separate the guilty from the innocent. but more importantly,
(2) Even an honorable public institution can and will be corrupted. This is one reason Alfred's points about privatization are worth bearing in mind: sometimes, the only choice to fix an entrenched problem is to bring in outsiders to fix it with you.

"Private companies are as subject to corruption as state organizations"
If not more subject to corruption... Do not get me wrong: I spent several years trying to handle some of the issues that arise from that sort of private corruption that operates abroad. The thing is, they answer to different stakeholders, and operate differently. In a feudal system, a corporate system may be the best, most efficient means of resolving issues with public services - because when corruption goes to the heart of the system, one must use whatever power one can find to challenge it.

donzelion said...

Alfred - "The science is great stuff, but the world changing is much more amazing."

A sentiment well stated. Good, bad, indifferent: this world will always have struggles. But ultimately, it's a pretty awesome and amazing world, as is the universe in which it floats. As are the minds with which one has the opportunity to quibble and fret on an otherwise dreary Thursday.

Tony Fisk said...

"Sorry. Rent collectors can't enslave. They can try to impoverish me with outrageous prices, but I can walk away from those. They can try to rig the rules to force me to pay, but that isn't slavery. That is extortion to which my suggested response is to burn their property to the ground."

This reminds me of a little tale told about the Globe Theatre. Originally built in Shoreditch, the landlord decided the improved land value deserved an improved rent. In response, the theatre company dismantled their building and rebuilt it on the south bank of the Thames.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi donzelion

Thursday was dreary - we always seem to get bad weather in peak laming season but Friday was lovely - mild frost then a beautiful day

donzelion said...

Tony - "This reminds me of a little tale told about the Globe Theatre. Originally built in Shoreditch, the landlord decided the improved land value deserved an improved rent. In response, the theatre company dismantled their building and rebuilt it on the south bank of the Thames."

Luckily for the Globe Theater, and for civilized society as a whole! Such a tale is one of those by which the producers overcame the rentiers. Much of modern history consists of variations on that tale, even if such tales tend to be told by idiots and signify nothing.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Much of modern history consists of variations on that tale,

And as in "Man bites Dog" - the reason they are told is NOT because it normally works out that way but because it is so rare that it does

Jumper said...

I suspect many brilliant tech startups were funded by smuggling 50 kg or so of cocaine early on.
I suspect most who do prison time for tax evasion aren't there for not paying; they're there for lying in the audits, constructing fake books; conspiracy.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Your choice between coercive government and the golf buddy clade is another false dichotomy. There are intermediate options for dealing with the very real risk of oligarchic take-over. Clinging to coercive government is like clinging to a bit of driftwood when your ship goes down at sea. If that’s all you have, you have no choice. I’m suggesting there is a small, inflatable raft we could use and that we should keep your driftwood nearby.

Beware of your crystal ball predictions. I think they make excellent self-preventing predictions, thus very poor projections. Many people in the world are adopting/adapting the Bourgeois Deal. As they get richer, the oligarchs above them are going to run into trouble controlling them. There are ways to maintain the status quo and many others that lead to its collapse. That’s why I have no faith in your projection.

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion: Okay. I can see you are using the ‘slave’ term in a broader fashion than I like. In that extended sense, I can see your point.

I draw certain distinctions to avoid the emotional explosion that comes with that term and the institution behind it. Aristocrats are rent collectors by definition, but not necessarily enslavers. Rent collectors might be aristocrats, but often aren’t. Enslavers need aristocratic powers, but they go a step beyond by treating people as property that happens to be able to think. Not all aristocrats did that, though they might have if they had been given the chance. I might work for an arrogant boss who wants to treat me like a serf (won’t last for long in my case), but I’m not a slave if I accept the paycheck voluntarily and I’m not paying rent to him if I’m not trapped in a company town. Wage slavery, therefore, isn’t slavery. It is something else (bad) deserving of our attention, but it might be the better option available (for now) to those who put up with it.

It isn’t the rental process that is bad. It is the unloving person using it that is. The unloving person can use many tools and make up their own, so I’m not going to sneer at the whole process when it is the person who deserves it. Turning to a taxation system strikes me as an illusionary fix. The King is dead. Long Live the King. I’ll accept taxes funding non-aristocrats as a counterforce against real aristocrats, but in the US we don’t have real aristocrats. We have wanna-be aristocrats and an awful lot of guns and cameras. There are plenty of people deserving of our sneering, but there are times when I think the counter-force is too. We can do better.

When I suggesting the burning of property, I do it with a partial smirk. Yes… it would be better to set opposing forces against each other and limit the power of an arrogant rent collector. One of those opposing forces, though, is us with our pitchforks and torches. Peasant rebellions are terribly annoying to the Nobles. One has to hire a force to put them down and deal with the aftermath which includes damaged property and fewer people to pay rent on it. Part of the smirk, though, comes from the recognition that the US doesn’t have peasants in any large numbers. We are bourgeois and much more dangerous. Our clade is the only one ever to displace the Nobles. So yes. Uppity rent collectors might lose everything when we get riled.

The solution isn’t to compel the Nobles to do anything. The solution is to assimilate them and the Peasants into our clade. That is what is happening in the world at a ferocious pace.

Alfred Differ said...

The Globe Theater story makes me proud of my pirate ancestors. 8)

donzelion said...

Duncan - I'm not sure that it's rare that producers outmaneuver rentiers. I suspect that it's become much more frequent. The producer v. rentier story is a variation on Dr. Brin's 'Union v. Confederacy' story (albeit, far less poetic).

Alfred - the term 'slave' is heavily loaded with racial baggage in America; including all other forms of involuntary servitude is my intent, and historically, this did expand beyond race. The "company town" was a temporary attempt to recreate a feudal fief through corporate measures: it lasted very briefly and was quickly reined in (even by a much more limited government than we have today), largely because companies strive to be producers, rather than rentiers, making the forms of exploitation and domination used by feudal lords inefficient for them.

"It isn’t the rental process that is bad."
Well, that depends. If one regards taxes as "evil" (because they are coercive) - as many claim to do - then one should also regard rents as "evil." That is the ultimate problem with the anarchist strand in libertarianism: removing the "government" has never made people free, but has only empowered rentiers to perpetrate precisely the same abuses one created a government to stop. Eliminate the government, and we'll revert to that same order. As has been the experience in any country where the government crumbles into anarchy (witness Afghanistan: warlords work by rent - they will charge anyone extreme amounts simply for crossing a road that they 'own').

"When I suggesting the burning of property, I do it with a partial smirk."
I know, hence my 'winky' smirk.

The broader point is that yes, pitch forks & torches can check a feudal lord, BUT that lord will respond by
(1) Raising rents to a high enough level to finance fortifications and defenses capable of discouraging revolting peasants.
(2) Structuring an area with minimal productivity and maximum control: make sure the lord's men can wipe out any granaries, markets, and communal water systems not in the lord's control. Keep those peasants near starvation, so that the price of revolting may be the death of their families. Bind them to the land, so that if they move elsewhere without your permission, they'll be arrested.
(3) Prevent any third party from ever stepping in to alleviate the plight of the peasants. In a feudal era, the most dangerous threat to a feudal lord is a bigger lord, esp. the king. The king would normally back up the feudal lord against the peasants, but there's always a price, and sometimes, that could be transferring lands to the king (or another lord).

One could say that the peasants, rather than rising up with pitchforks, rose up with Magna Carta and philosophy. Rather than simply dispossessing the feudal lords and claiming their turf to become feudal lords themselves, they changed the regime to create a new world, wherein bourgeois production (and production beyond simple subsistence) became essential - and lordly conduct to induce minimal subsistence became untenable.

Jeff B. said...

Alfred,
"The solution isn’t to compel the Nobles to do anything. The solution is to assimilate them and the Peasants into our clade. That is what is happening in the world at a ferocious pace"

But: if we follow your argument and eliminate taxation as a tool, how on earth might we expect to rein in the runaway aristocratic stagecoach? It's one of the few defenses against oligarchy- goodness knows that societal and cultural norms/expectations, or appeals to common decency, morality, or religion mean nothing to those out only for their own self interest.

Contractual relations with individual commoners? These only work if there is near equal balance in the power differential, which there definitely won't be. You can't walk away from the promise of the lash if there is nowhere to walk to.

donzelion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul451 said...

Donzelion,
"One could say that the peasants, rather than rising up with pitchforks, rose up with Magna Carta"

Peasants? The Magna Carta was a treaty between the king and the barons. It was never intended to give anything to the peasants.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

Bind them to the land, so that if they move elsewhere without your permission, they'll be arrested.


Don't the rentiers almost always rely on governmental authority of a kind to back up their claims? A bank can only foreclose on your house if the county sheriff agrees to forcibly evict you. Strike-breakers can only beat and kill demonstrators if the police are with them, or at least willing to stand down. Even an actual slave can only be restrained and tortured into submission because local law-enforcement won't protect him from assault.

Paul451 said...

Alfred,
"What troubles me more is that you can't seem to see the ethics issue I'm raising about taxation in general. Taxes are coerced. Do you at least see that? Do you see the implied gun to our heads? Do you see who holds it, and more importantly, who CAN hold it? "

I see that you use the most inflammatory, emotive language you can in order to bypass the logical side of people's brains. You want to invoke a purely emotional defensive reaction. "Do you see the implied gun to our heads?" How Dare They! Those Jackbooted Thugs! It's the same inflammatory language behind the "takers vs makers" schtick.

So yes, I see the argument. I also see why your use it, it's a really effective rhetorical tactic. It's very difficult to counter directly, because it defines itself in terms that aren't amenable to logic, therefore can't be answered without other emotional arguments.

"Can your neck flex far enough" to see why I refuse to accept that game?

Coaching everything in moralistic, emotive terms allows you to redefine the argument. I argue "wealth distribution is about delivering the maximum benefit to society", you respond with "I only support taxes/regulation when you show that the wealthy have behaved unethically". Because you've already defined taxes/regulation in your moralistic terms, that allows you to then demand that the only acceptable justification for taxes/regulation is as a punishment for the immoral.

You define taxes as punishment so you can cry "Why am I being punished? What have I done wrong?" Cue anecdotes about how you're a decent guy (a regular boy scout, even), how you came up the hard way, pulled yourself up by your bootstraps...

Taxes are not punishment for immorality. That is not their purpose.

"Also, you are reading way into much into my anecdotes. [...] I'm not suggesting everyone can do what I did even if I'm inclined to believe it."

Sounds like I was reading you accurately.

Re: Slippery slope argument
"Thank you for pointing out the danger, but please don't think I'm dense enough not to have seen it."

And yet... your entire private-fire-company example....

"but they keep a tally of the costs so I can extract payment from my neighbor later."

So you object to taxes providing government services, and instead want the power to tax your neighbour given to... you.

"what I'd do would depend on how they behaved."
"I'm not so opposed to coercion that I'm willing to let my family be harmed, though. I'm not that nice when threatened"

Note the emotive, moralising language again. Only now, amazingly, reversed 180 degrees. When you are given the arbitrary power to tax your neighbour, their refusal to pay is "threatening" your family, so your coercion of them is now morally justified. But oh no, you won't fall down the slippery slope.

That's why I reject your attempt to coach everything in moralistic terms. Emotive arguments can be used to support anything. They are without any anchor, driven only by the power of the words they manipulate.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Peasants? The Magna Carta was a treaty between the king and the barons. It was never intended to give anything to the peasants.


Neither was the Declaration of Independence taken to mean that women and black people are created equal. But sometimes, the consequences of an action or idea are as inevitable as they are unintended.

From "Hamilton":

We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal.
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I'm-a compel him
To include women in the sequel.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ by way of Paul451:

And yet... your entire private-fire-company example....

"but they keep a tally of the costs so I can extract payment from my neighbor later."


See, this is why I don't subscribe to the idea of private fire departments, at least within a city. Fire protection is not a benefit specific to the individual property owner. It benefits everyone on the block or nearby blocks. For the same reason, I favor public health care, at least as it covers emergencies and communicable diseases. A robust public health initiative is as much a benefit to those who don't get sick as it is to those who are sick.

donzelion said...

Jeff - well said (and removed my comment because you made my point).

Alfred - "The solution isn’t to compel the Nobles to do anything. The solution is to assimilate them and the Peasants into our clade. That is what is happening in the world at a ferocious pace."

Nobles cannot remain nobles for long without making use of compulsion: take away the means, and the nobles merge with the masses (or rather, they shift from rent to production, for lack of alternatives). This has proven far more efficient than the alternative of arming the masses, have them rise up and overthrow the nobles.

Kal Kallevig said...

Alfred,
Do you think the oceans cannot be restored?

It remains to be seen if oceans can be restored, but what is certain is that extinction is forever. Also, the restoration of our atmosphere, farmland, aquifers and oceans is likely to be a very long term project, even assuming there is renewable energy available to make it happen.

Your broader point though is that people in general are better off than in previous somewhat arbitrarily defined times.

I am sure a set of conditions can be defined that substantiate that point. I think that most such sets of conditions are based on the common financial accounting POV, namely that if we are not charged for it directly in dollars it does not apply. What is left out is the cost to the commons, or externalities.

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

Paul451 - "Peasants? The Magna Carta was a treaty between the king and the barons. It was never intended to give anything to the peasants."

LOL, neither were the pitchforks intended as a weapon for peasants to use against their noble lords! God bless the wily peasants of the world, and their crafty ways of usurping tools intended for one purpose, and deploying them for a much better purpose. Keep that up, and those peasants might try crazy things, like harnessing steam, or silicon, and using them in all manner of unexpected ways. ;-)

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion: If one regards taxes as "evil" (because they are coercive) - as many claim to do - then one should also regard rents as "evil." That is the ultimate problem with the anarchist strand in libertarianism: removing the "government" has never made people free, but has only empowered rentiers to perpetrate precisely the same abuses one created a government to stop. Eliminate the government, and we'll revert to that same order.

I don’t advocate elimination of government. I’m not a libertarian purist of any kind, let along an anarchist. However, they have a point that is worth making. Why do we invite the people who we set in opposition to the aristocrats to use similar coercive tools against us? The Kind is dead. Long live the King.

For the sake of openness, I own property I rent to good tenants. I know from this experience there is a limit to what I can charge them because there are others like me who would compete with me. I could collude with them and try to fix market prices, but I don’t. The process, therefore, is a free market one and not evil. What protection do they need from me? I get that there are other landlords who are not as angelic (heh… I’m not either), but that doesn’t make the process evil. It makes the process a tool for evil people.

The broader point is that yes, pitch forks & torches can check a feudal lord, BUT that lord will respond by… (list of well supported historical examples)

Yes. History shows this to be the correct way for the Nobles to maintain order. Yet they failed and it wasn’t the peasants who rose up against them. It was the people of the towns once they got this weird idea in their heads that what they do is honorable. Very strange.

Consider a hypothetical world like ours. In fact, look next door at alt.Earth.3728508 and consider what is going to happen to it. At the end of the day tomorrow, all their government people will be raptured. Poof. Simply gone. Every country. Everyone who thinks of themselves as part of governance anywhere. Gone. On this world, do you think the strange idea the bourgeoisie got in their heads will vanish? Do you think the wanna-be aristocrats will take over as oligarchs?

Kal Kallevig said...

Jumper,

I suspect many brilliant tech startups were funded by smuggling 50 kg or so of cocaine early on.

Was this a joke and you got me?

DeLorean tried something similar to that without notable success. More to the point, every "brilliant tech startup" of which I am aware either already is or plans to be a public company. The source of any substantial amount of funding is available to the auditors who may miss something, but why would you as a founder take that chance when there is so much venture cash looking for places to invest?

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion: Nobles cannot remain nobles for long without making use of compulsion: take away the means, and the nobles merge with the masses (or rather, they shift from rent to production, for lack of alternatives). This has proven far more efficient than the alternative of arming the masses, have them rise up and overthrow the nobles.

Has it proven so? Have we really taken away their means for compelling us? In the US, we banished them and took the property, but then we went about the task of setting up a new noble class in southern states. The northern states hid them a little better. The tools of compulsion are still within reach and the wanna-be’s manage to use them from within government and outside of it too.

I don’t think the evidence supports you. What has REALLY happened is the bourgeoisie became filthy rich and outstripped the aristocrats in market power. Who really finances wars nowadays? Princes or the Bond Markets? In order to preserve some power, aristocratic families sacrificed second and third sons to the bourgeois to make money for the family. That is called assimilation, isn’t it?

The peasants are being assimilated too. What is the ratio of people living in rural areas to the total population on Earth nowadays? What is the trend? 2008 was a milestone year.

Alfred Differ said...

Kal,
It remains to be seen if oceans can be restored, but what is certain is that extinction is forever.

Don’t be so sure of that. Our DNA library is growing as are our tools for working with the stuff of life. Also, some of the extinction predictions I remember from 20 years ago have failed. I’m not suggesting we relax, but I’m no longer as worried. We are learning the very tools we will need to recover from our earlier immaturity as stewards.

Your broader point though is that people in general are better off than in previous somewhat arbitrarily defined times.

Arbitrary? I tend to stick to standards that examine what it is like to be among the poorest. The average human through most of our history eeked out a life for themselves and their children. They did so while walking across a pond that was just deep enough that they had to stay on their toes to keep their noses out of the water because they didn’t know how to swim. Sometimes the bottom would drop a few inches and they’d have to hold their breath and keep moving. In this analogy, replace air with food and suffocation with starvation. Most of our ancestors knew famine intimately. Before the Stuarts took the English throne, the people under them knew famine about every 10 years or so. Something odd happened after 1700, though. The time between famines grew making it look as if the pond was getting shallower. It wasn’t. It was something else.

Alfred Differ said...

Paul451,
I’m using emotional language to point to the foundation of these opinions. Libertarians aren’t emotionally detached about these things. Progressives do something similar. For example, if I express anything negative about school funding propositions here in California, over half my family descends on me with talons exposed. They are the people with the best chance to know I’m not in favor of abandoning children to squalor, yet my opposition to a political plan triggers the emotions anyway. For the sake of argument, I’ll grant that you don’t intend to trigger emotional responses from us and especially me. You still need to be aware of the landmines, though, if we are to be polite with respect to each other.

Taxes are not punishment for immorality. That is not their purpose.

I am unpersuaded.
1) There is a CA ballot initiative this time for increasing per pack taxes on cigarettes to $2. I’m not a smoker, so I shouldn’t care, right? I do. The punitive intent is obvious.
2) Some here argue that taxes are meant as a counter-force against would-be oligarchs who would use their rents for controlling purposes. The moral judgment is obvious.
3) Some here argue that taxes are payment upon an obligation to society. Coerced gratitude? I truly am grateful for a lot of things, but why should they get away with defining my obligations for me? If I disagree with a particular detail, I don’t get to be polite about it. I get to shut up and pay my taxes. Which I do. Feeling properly punished.

I suggest you let the private fire company thing go. You don’t get it. We probably aren’t close enough to even discuss it. I don’t mind public fire service all that much, so I won’t get frothy about it. As far as I know, there are some mechanisms people can use in some areas to privatize such things I talked about it only because David S. asked politely after paraphrasing me correctly. Your paraphrasing is failing.

donzelion said...

Alfred - I was carefully trying to avoid accusing you of being a 'libertarian purist' (or an anarchist) (and only chiding you by calling you a Maoist, of course you're not).

There are some who claim that "tax is evil because it is coerced." Such people tend to forget that rent is also coerced, and thus must also be evil if 'that which coerces is evil.' We have erected a market for rents, but that market is built upon coercion. Shallow libertarians might try to distinguish "public taxes" from "private rents," but it amounts to "my rent collectors wear this color hat; their tax collectors wear that color hat; and thus, good and evil are determined by the color of the hat."

Now for me, neither taxes nor rents are "evil" merely because they are coerced. Coercion is inherent in all societies, whether civil or not. To the extent that a society may demand that its members sacrifice their lives in their society's defense, society empowers links that operate outside of any 'voluntary' market.

Since coercion is always a component of society, the question isn't whether it is good or evil, but how to control coercion to achieve the most desirable ends and limit the harms.

For example: if rentiers were forced to hire their own armed men to collect rents, then they'd have to also hire armed men to protect themselves from their own rent collectors. But if we monopolize the use of force and vest that in the government, the rent collectors can drop their rents and act more like they were involved in a truly 'voluntary market' - competing with one another by creating and offering desirable properties, rather than hiring more armed guards (and occasionally, taking desirable properties of other lords).

"...there is a limit to what I can charge them because there are others like me who would compete with me."
And the way they compete with you - by offering desirable properties, rather than shooting at you - is a result of the tax-based regime of governance. But the process is not really a 'free market' - not like the ordinary exchange of goods and services (and indeed, coercion lurks within 'ordinary' exchanges of goods and services more often than many people realize...and it is proper for government to take steps to mitigate that coercion - e.g., in health insurance markets).

"but that doesn’t make the process evil. It makes the process a tool for evil people."
I did not intend to argue that the process is evil (or that you are somehow morally faultworthy): only that the view that coercion confers moral value upon a thing "good" or "evil" is problematic, and should not be adopted.

"[Nobles] failed and it wasn’t the peasants who rose up against them. It was the people of the towns once they got this weird idea in their heads that what they do is honorable."
The majority of the people in the towns were former peasants pushed off their lands by rentiers, who fled from the relative safety of the village to the constant risk of choleric death in a town/city because...well, rents were cheaper there.

"On this world, do you think the strange idea the bourgeoisie got in their heads will vanish? Do you think the wanna-be aristocrats will take over as oligarchs?"

The minute that we let them do so, yes they will. Not necessarily because people are evil, so much as the tools to control risks always include coercion, and we cannot know which of the neighbors will resort to coercion at first so must guard ourselves (which costs us money, which raises rents...). We're locked into Rousseau's stag hunt, until we establish institutions that get us beyond such a lifestyle. We call the confluence of those institutions "civilization."

donzelion said...

Alfred (cont) - "In the US, we banished [the nobles] and took the property, but then we went about the task of setting up a new noble class in southern states."

Good point. To restate, take away A means of compulsion, and the nobles cannot use that mechanism to distinguish themselves from the masses - they either merge with the masses, or their find a new means of compulsion.

"What has REALLY happened is the bourgeoisie became filthy rich and outstripped the aristocrats in market power."
The bourgeoisie did become filthy rich, and did outstrip the nobles in market power - but this was not because of any magical ideology, so much as an inability for the nobles to maintain their means of compulsion against the bourgeoisie. For a large number of reasons, ancient traditions of rental structure and debt peonage tended to break when peasants moved to cities (albeit they were much harder to break if the peasants were recognizably "other" - e.g., African-Americans).

Some nobles found new means of compulsion to extract rents. Some stopped trying to be nobles, and focused on production itself.

"Who really finances wars nowadays? Princes or the Bond Markets?"
LOL, indeed, the emergence of bond markets is one of the devices by which bourgeoisie obliterated old feudal orders: once urbanites (in the UK and in the Netherlands) could raise larger, more professional armies than princes, feudalism began to fail. But the bond market relies, once again, on shifting the costs of private coercion of an individual bond (e.g., the self-help attempted against Shylock) into the hands of a centralized government: that government makes bonds possible (where before that, one had only private debts).

"The peasants are being assimilated too. What is the ratio of people living in rural areas to the total population on Earth nowadays? What is the trend? 2008 was a milestone year."
Agreed, and the optimism is shared, BUT I also recognize the threat: these trends exist only so long as they're sustained, and cancerous notions (like the concept that bonds and taxes are 'evil') weaken the institutions that got us out of the peasant-servitude era.

Robert said...

And to repost a comment that got lost in the shuffle:

Looking at the "redistribution of wealth" above, I have to ask something.

Is that total value? Or is that liquid cash?

Because I suspect the bottom 30% would want liquid cash rather than property that they would then have to pay taxes on which they cannot afford.

So. Rather than saying the top 1% own 73% of the wealth? Let's look at liquidity in terms of cash and other spendable resources.

Now let's do a comparison of who has what for wealth. Of course, you might also need to factor in debt and see who OWES what.

Wealth redistribution is never quite as people as people think. And don't forget: our founding fathers redistributed wealth... by seizing land and giving it to other people, not just seizing cash assets.

Rob H.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Robert
The correct term for a totally non-liquid "asset" is a liability

All actual "assets" are "liquid" and those that are easier to liquidate are worth more - duhhh

So trying to say that we should only count "liquid" assets is silly

The current numbers I quoted were "Net" assets - with debt removed


Wealth Re-distribution
"What has REALLY happened is the bourgeoisie became filthy rich and outstripped the aristocrats in market power".

They have done some analysis in various European countries - the family names that were wealthy 400 years ago are still wealthy today!
I bet the same is true in the USA
The occasional descendant of a poor man becoming wealthy is used to mask the true situation that the vast majority of rich people are descendants of other rich people

Like the Donald - starting with only $300million


"For example: if rentiers were forced to hire their own armed men to collect rents, then they'd have to also hire armed men to protect themselves from their own rent collectors"

That is exactly what happened for most of history!
Having a government enforce that only started about 1850 with the peelers

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart:
Fire protection is not a benefit specific to the individual property owner. It benefits everyone on the block or nearby blocks. For the same reason, I favor public health care, at least as it covers emergencies and communicable diseases. A robust public health initiative is as much a benefit to those who don't get sick as it is to those who are sick.

This is a reasonable counter-argument. Unfortunately it just tempts me to offer a counter-counter-argument involving the people on a block forming a bargaining pool. When I lived in ND it was easy to spot the farmer co-ops sharing equipment and loan pools. A lot of that is probably gone now with the arrival of big farming businesses, but the people involved obviously thought they were better than going it alone or relying upon state or county resources. ND is funny that way, I suppose. 8)

What’s the difference between a bargaining pool of one block and a bargaining pool the size of a city? None at all if you don’t mind and your city doesn’t mind you pulling out of the pool in order to seek a comparable service from a competitor. If your city declares a monopoly, though, they are very different. Does anyone here live in a city that operates a monopoly electricity provider or trash service? I suspect some do and some don’t and few care. That’s fine. They might care only if a provider misbehaves. THEN they will wish they could switch. Some can and some can’t. How American is that?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
I don't know of ANYWHERE that has two electricity services or water or sewage

There are sometimes two companies but they both use the same wires or pipes

Functions that require so much infrastructure are natural monopolies attempts to set up competing companies are just smoke and mirrors
Better to just keep them as public owned

Tim H. said...

As Duncan said, I will note that city owned utilities where the management is responsible to voters rather than investors tend to charge less, when Dennis Kucinich blocked the sale of Cleveland's electric utility he saved Cleveland's ratepayers a lot. Internet access tends to be either a phone or cable company with little price competition, unless a third competitor such as municipal or Google is available.

Paul SB said...

Too busy to participate, really, but I can't forget my blog buddies for too long...

Alfred said,

Taxes are not punishment for immorality. That is not their purpose.

I am unpersuaded.
1) There is a CA ballot initiative this time for increasing per pack taxes on cigarettes to $2. I’m not a smoker, so I shouldn’t care, right? I do. The punitive intent is obvious.
2) Some here argue that taxes are meant as a counter-force against would-be oligarchs who would use their rents for controlling purposes. The moral judgment is obvious.
3) Some here argue that taxes are payment upon an obligation to society. Coerced gratitude? I truly am grateful for a lot of things, but why should they get away with defining my obligations for me? If I disagree with a particular detail, I don’t get to be polite about it. I get to shut up and pay my taxes. Which I do. Feeling properly punished.

Alfred, I’m afraid you are spending too much time hanging with really old-fashioned people, or you are doing it just to be contrary. In the old days right-wingers constantly harangued left-wingers for being hand-wringing bleeding hearts. When lefties (and women) of old would raise moral objections of any kind, righties would complain incessantly that there was no practical way to do anything they want and they were all stupid. Ironic now that has turned around and it is the righties who are doing all the moral hand-wringing.
(1) I couldn’t even begin to count all the smokers who bitched endlessly about “sin taxes” and the same went for alcoholics. But it isn't churches pushing “sin taxes.” The statistics show that the more you crank up the tax, the less people use them. How is this not a moral imposition? Because smokers and drinkers do not only hurt themselves, they drive up medical expenses for everyone, driving many people out of insurance coverage and/or into eternal debt for legitimate (not self-imposed) health issues. Add the carnage caused by both traffic accidents and generally retarded (and often violent) behavior and the cost to society of these “sins” is pretty hefty. Taxation does a much better job at reducing that harm to humanity than education by far.

(2) Would-be oligarchs, if not reigned in, become de facto oligarchs, and oligarchs corrupt society, influencing nations in ways that benefit themselves at the expense of the rest of humanity. Great example from recent history: Iraq + VP Cheney + Halliburton = high Halliburton stock prices and a never-ending body count.

(3) Obligation to society. I would be unpersuaded if you told me that Neanderthals were such asocial creatures they did not support one another, much less any tribe of H. sapiens. Humans are social animals that simply cannot survive for long without human society to sustain them. It’s entirely true that for the majority of time that H. saps have been around, their obligations to each other have always been handled by culturally-mediated forms of reciprocation. However, that system worked when we lived in very small groups. Today we live in enormous nation-states, where that kind of system can only play a very small role. Early civilizations discovered the “Tragedy of the Commons” - what happens when traditional obligations become unenforceable without a structure for enforcement - the hard way. If taxes were left to the “honor system” civilization would be down the tubes in no time.

In each of these cases, the moral argument is nothing more than a canard. The actual reasons are very, very practical. Sure, there are people who have fallen for these arguments and are clueless about the practical reasons, as well as those who make up stuff like this to deliberately muddy the waters. Those ones need to beware, though. Either they are being used, or they are the kind of monsters who think that morality is their’s to impose on everyone else.

Paul SB said...

Laurent,

No offense intended, r.e. the F-Bomb comment. I was remarking on how the quality of dialogue had improved in the absence of a certain regular who regularly mistakes playground snipe for constructive criticism. In response to that individual, there were times when you were dropping cluster bombs.

It's not that I am some kind of fucking prig who goes absolutely fucking apoplectic any time someone says a "dirty" word. What would be the fucking point? It's just that for awhile there the potency was wearing off due to overuse (though not in the case of responding to asinine comments made after a terrorist attack). Personally, I never saw the point of creating words only to forbid their use. That just sounds like a fucking loyalty test.

David Brin said...

Dang I always felt this blogments section made up for in quality what others had in quantity. Now...? Both!

Alfred Differ said...

Duncan,

I've seen trash services done as city managed, out-sourced contracts, but never with competing companies. I've seen public transportation done that way too, but only one place I know actually chose against an incumbent bidder and came out better for it. Wholesale electricity is easier to slice up right now when compared to retail electricity, but there is no good reason why we couldn't go that last mile. The trick is to separate the ownership of the wires from the generators and the service providers. There is nothing wrong with multiple competitors using the same wires. It is tricky, but it can done. We do it with wholesale electricity in California.

The natural monopoly argument is getting a little stale, but few realize it and fewer still want to think about it. In the mean time, we pay our rents. 8)

@Tim H: If you live where city owned utilities are responsive to voters, I consider you to be fortunate. My experience with them is they think politically and are very risk averse. That means they will stall betterment efforts and wrap themselves in politics to rationalize their actions. The investor owned utilities have their own risks to us, but tend to be responsive to business arguments that show a cheaper way to do things. Here in California, it was the city owned utilities that dragged down the pace of market reforms aimed at dealing with congestion pricing that would motivate investors to solve the infrastructure problem without having to be micro-managed.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB:too much time hanging with really old-fashioned people

Heh. Maybe it's just that I'm becoming one. I wish those kids would stay off my grass. 8)

The statistics show that the more you crank up the tax, the less people use them. How is this not a moral imposition? (add excellent reasons here)

I'm not arguing that there are no impacts to us for what they are doing. I think smoking is stupid, dirty, and disgusting. It also harms people I love who might be sucking it in second hand. But you guys want to use taxes to fix things? Let's fix a health problem by unleashing the coercive monopoly a bit? We will all breath easier, right? What happens once this precedent is set and your friends lose the next election, though? What are the bad guys you don't like going to use this power to do next?

Precedents have an associated ratchet. This unleashing works one way and is hard to take back later short of tax revolts which the oligarchs obviously love.

Ultimately, though, where do we get off using coercive power to stop the smokers? Is what they do THAT harmful?

Would-be oligarchs, if not reigned in, become de facto oligarchs, and oligarchs corrupt society, influencing nations in ways that benefit themselves at the expense of the rest of humanity.

Yes, yes. Slippery slope warning sign. I understand.

The method you would use to restrain them is one they can use... and have... and still do. Good going everyone.

Humans are social animals that simply cannot survive for long without human society to sustain them. It’s entirely true that for the majority of time that H. saps have been around, their obligations to each other have always been handled by culturally-mediated forms of reciprocation.

Yup. Agreed.

However, that system worked when we lived in very small groups. Today we live in enormous nation-states, where that kind of system can only play a very small role.

Oops. True of agricultural societies. True of early industrial civilization. Unproven for the civilization we are turning into. I don't think David stressed this enough in his book, perhaps because he didn't have 20 years more of evidence. Transparency is changing our institutions and lowering or eliminating certain costs we couldn't pay earlier to retain our former techniques for ensuring social obligations are met. Little Brother was costly through much of the 20th century, but you might want to check the prices and price trends again before you make a prediction about the 21st.

Alfred Differ said...

Okay. I'm done for the night. I shall bow out for the weekend so David can do his potpourri post of science or science fiction. Always fun. Besides, I have a few web comics to catch up on after he through those lures into the water many days ago. 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Here in California, it was the city owned utilities that dragged down the pace of market reforms aimed at dealing with congestion pricing that would motivate investors to solve the infrastructure problem without having to be micro-managed."

And here was I thinking Enron had something to do with it!

Jeff B. said...

Alfred,

"The method you would use to restrain them[the oligarchs] is one they can use... and have... and still do. Good going everyone.

I'll repeat my question to you then, which you might've missed: if you take away taxes as a tool to limit and control the grown of the oligarchs, then what tools exactly do you have left? Moral suasion? Social pressure? Refusal to conduct business with them (i.e., shunning)? These are the tools of the very small scale society- a village, a stable neighborhood. Which the person determined to maximize their own wealth and power can, and does, ignore- there's no society pressure to conform at the top. And you've previously derided legal enforcement as coercion as well.

The crux of the issue is that this isn't a hypothetical- the rapid dismantling of Dr. Brin's "social diamond" is happening, right now- wealth continues to accumulate at the top at a nearly unprecedented rate.. Our "liberal moral handwringing" about it has done nothing to slow the pace. This all has been thoroughly documented. Incentives at the middle and bottom are meaningless without disincentives at the top.

So, the problem is real- how do we fix it? How do we fix it without tax policy and legal enforcement?

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

Enjoy your reading. I'll be envious of your free time, reading about 100 essays on the health implications of the macromolecules in the food we eat. When you come back, I can't guarantee I will even have time to read your reply. Still, I second Jeff's concern. Your analyses are interesting and well-thought, but you seem to have a level of faith in the free market that I don't share. Personal experience burns deep, but it is not just my own personal experience. Most people have been screwed by the market in so many ways that it has become the norm, and once something becomes the norm, most people stop questioning it and assume it is "natural."

When I have more time I'll tell you my hydrocortisone story.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

"Fire protection is not a benefit specific to the individual property owner. It benefits everyone on the block or nearby blocks. For the same reason, I favor public health care, at least as it covers emergencies and communicable diseases. A robust public health initiative is as much a benefit to those who don't get sick as it is to those who are sick."

This is a reasonable counter-argument. Unfortunately it just tempts me to offer a counter-counter-argument involving the people on a block forming a bargaining pool. When I lived in ND it was easy to spot the farmer co-ops sharing equipment and loan pools. A lot of that is probably gone now with the arrival of big farming businesses, but the people involved obviously thought they were better than going it alone or relying upon state or county resources. ND is funny that way, I suppose. 8)


On this site, we've already discussed the differences between such services in sparsely-populated areas vs in concentrated cities. Tacitus rightly pointed out that if you choose to build a house on a mountainside 50 miles from the nearest town, you're more or less on your own for fire protection, waste disposal, and other services we take for granted in modern cities.

What’s the difference between a bargaining pool of one block and a bargaining pool the size of a city?


You're arguing as if the issue is cost per capita. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm saying that in a concentrated living space, certain services protect the city as a whole, above and beyond the individual value provided to individual property owners. Taxes are the method by which the city collectively pays for its collective fire protection or availability of water, or sewage disposal, or public health. I'm not arguing (or caring, really) whether there are other means by which individuals could choose to pay for such things or not to do so. I'm arguing that the collective municipality has the responsibility to provide such services, and the right to tax in order to do so.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

"Taxes are not punishment for immorality. That is not their purpose."

I am unpersuaded.
1) There is a CA ballot initiative this time for increasing per pack taxes on cigarettes to $2. I’m not a smoker, so I shouldn’t care, right? I do. The punitive intent is obvious.


I'm against sin taxes because I see them as bullying. But their purpose is not really to punish behavior (although they are often sold to the public that way), but to rip off people who can't reasonably defend themselves and who no one else will defend. I agree with you that there is something slimy about this sort of taxation, but not that it is punishment, and certainly not that you can extrapolate that taxation in general is punishment.


2) Some here argue that taxes are meant as a counter-force against would-be oligarchs who would use their rents for controlling purposes. The moral judgment is obvious.


Not so much moral judgement as recognition of history. Concentrated wealth gives individuals coercive powers that modern society reserves for government by the people.


3) Some here argue that taxes are payment upon an obligation to society. Coerced gratitude? I truly am grateful for a lot of things, but why should they get away with defining my obligations for me? If I disagree with a particular detail, I don’t get to be polite about it. I get to shut up and pay my taxes. Which I do. Feeling properly punished.


Again, not coerced gratitude as much as payment for services rendered. Not services whose value and price are to be haggled at point of service, but services that one benefits from every day of ones life, mostly invisibly and behind the scenes.

David Brin said...

Okay okay okay....

continue here if you like ... or else

onward
onward

to Star Trek!

Paul451 said...

I'll post here to avoid spoiling the new thread:

--

Me: "Peasants? The Magna Carta was a treaty between the king and the barons. It was never intended to give anything to the peasants."
Donzelion: "neither were the pitchforks intended as a weapon for peasants to use against their noble lords!"

And they never did.

Revolution rarely came from the farm. Reform never. The revolutionaries in any reform were always slightly-lesser-lords. The most powerful of the next-rung-down being prevented from accessing the next-rung-up.(*)

Even Alfred's reference to the revolution of the "people of the towns" is wrong, it was only the wealthiest of those non-titled men who came together to demand some of the rights of lords, since they had greater wealth than some lords and more talent than most. In order to fight against the longstanding moral claim of The Sacred Birthright Of Nobility by creating an equally made-up moral claim: The Innate Rights of All Men(**). Just as the Magna Carta was the creation by the barons of the made-up morality, The Innate Nobility Of Barons, to put against the previously made-up morality of The Divine Right Of Kings.

* (Smarter lords/kings subvert the risk by creating ways for the best (and most powerful) of the next-rung-down to gain entry into the next level. But those who believed in their own fictional moral superiority always risked blocking too hard, and ending up with the rights usurped by those more talented, and more numerous, "lessers".)

** (For selected values of "All", and a narrow reading of "Men".)

Paul451 said...

Alfred,
"I own property I rent to good tenants. [...] The process, therefore, is a free market "

No it isn't. You are negotiating over an item that is purely an economic investment. They are negotiating over their home.

If you can't get a deal, the worse you have is an investment that is not making money. If they can't get a deal from someone, they are homeless. Their living arrangements potentially affects their security, their children, their jobs, etc, well beyond the financial cost of the rent itself. And even if they have a (rented) home, the additional cost (and particularly risk) of moving again is much greater than the burden to you of relisting a property, so there is always a huge power disparity when renegotiating prices.

I do bookkeeping for someone who has rental properties, and when he couldn't get the price he wanted on two units, he left them idle for several months to wait out the market. I live in a rented property, I cannot not have a home for several months while shopping around for a better deal. That creates a huge advantage for a landlord over a tenant.

(Put it another way, between the best landlord and the worst, what is the difference in price they can charge for a rental property? The percentage difference in price is vastly smaller than the difference in risk and cost to a tenant between having the best or having the worst possible landlord. Therefore the market benefit of being a great landlord, the market cost of being a bad landlord, is vastly less than the actual cost to the tenant. The disparity of power means that the behaviour of the landlord (and hence the "quality of the goods sold") cannot be properly priced by the market. There is an inherent failure in the market.)

This disparity of power is the same for employer/employee relationships. There's a much greater risk for me to change jobs than for my boss to hire someone new. That means in any negotiation, the option of terminating employment has a vastly different value for him than for me. Similar power disparities in most deals between individuals and companies; particularly for ongoing relationships, especially for essential services.

That disparity creates a distorted market. That distortion can only be balanced by giving the less-powered individual additional externally-imposed rights.

But note, and this is the part you insist on ignoring, that external power is required not just because the more powerful vendor is abusing their power, but because they can. The market will automatically price the risk of that abuse into goods/services, which creates a much higher price for the tenant/employee/consumer than would exist in a true market between equals.

Hence you personally are financially benefiting from the possibility of being an evil landlord, even if you are a great landlord. Even if you choose not to abuse your power, the price already reflects the fact that you can. You profit from evil, even if you aren't evil.

Therefore an external market correction must apply to you, even if you've technically done nothing wrong.

[Of course, calling it "evil" is back to using emotive language. But if you insist on moralistic language: the market distortion itself is "evil", even if no individual actor within the market acts "evilly".]

Paul451 said...

The others said all this better, but what I lack in wit I shall make up for in volume... That's how it works right?

--

Alfred
"Why do we invite the people who we set in opposition to the aristocrats to use similar coercive tools against us?"

We don't, we demand its use for us.

Your belief is that the coercion can be removed. It can't, it can only be moved around. So we assume that none of us can be trusted with it, and we create a system to let us exercise it only through a proxy; creating another "market" for the selection of those proxies.

(Take your example of restoring the oceans, and previous "peasant uprisings" on environmental issues. You say "once we become wealthy enough...", but it's "once society becomes wealthy enough...", the pressure from the masses to clean up their environment is exercised through their influence over the power of government, not through their individual financial power in the fish market. Attempts to solve environmental issues only through markets themselves are usually tokenistic and limited. Simply, it's too easy for the market to cheat by hiding their externalities. In terms of power, "dolphin-friendly tuna" is a gimmick, laws against killing sea-mammals do vastly more (although still limited because of flag-nations. Even when the customers are nations, a "market" is inadequate to control free-riders). Efforts like "dolphin-friendly tuna" are about normalising the idea of solving the issue. Once the idea is normalised, it's laws and treaties that will make a difference. Then and only then will the market respond to adapt around those imposed restriction in the most cost-effective way. But the most cost-effective way is to not change. There's no inherent market pressure to reduce externalised costs, even when there's pressure to say you have.)

"Progressives do something similar."

Of course they do. As I said, it's a powerful rhetorical tactic. It redefines the argument in a way that is intended to eliminate the possibility of logical debate and compromise.

You do this every time you invoke something as a threat to your family, and suggest you're entitled to use violence to counter that "threat". You justify the threat of violence by invoking the morality of protecting your family. And who wouldn't agree, right? Even though, as I pointed out, the "threat" you were claiming was someone refusing to accept your self-asserted right to coerce fire-payments (taxes) from them.

Aside: I also find it ironic that you can see how arbitrary is the use emotive moralising by Progressives, but somehow still conclude that it proves the existence of some true "foundation".

I reject the tactic because it's not "inherent", the way you believe, it's merely invoked to claim the higher moral ground. And of course others will try to do the same against you, because it's so effective; and they can do that precisely because it's so arbitrary.

I reject the tactic because it turns a relative thing, a social trade, into a Moral Absolute. And that way always leads to madness and fire analogies and death.

Paul451 said...

Me: "Taxes are not punishment for immorality. That is not their purpose."
Alfred, "I am unpersuaded. 1) There is a CA ballot initiative this time for increasing per pack taxes on cigarettes to $2. I'm not a smoker, so I shouldn't care, right? I do. The punitive intent is obvious."

[$2. {Laughs} Here the tax is about $14/pk. With a 12.5% annual increase from now until 2020. (Plus GST.) Cali pays about $6-8 per pack. Here people are looking at $40/pk. And still they buy.]

Pragmatically, smoking has a cost to the broader society. (Even if you ignore health, merely treating it as an annoyance. In the same way we have noise laws.) Further, nicotine is a powerfully addictive drug, which means that consumers are not making a free decision when buying. The tax attempts to create a market signal to show that cost.

Of course, this can be taken to an extreme once people start couching everything in moralistic terms. Which many do. "Smoking is evil".

[For example, I'd like to see those taxes used to subsidise the purchase of smoking-cessation aids, in proportion to efficacy, and researching (and releasing from patent) new treatments. Failing to do so is treating smoking as a "sin", an act deserving of punishment, rather than a health issue.]

"2) Some here argue that taxes are meant as a counter-force against would-be oligarchs who would use their rents for controlling purposes. The moral judgment is obvious."

I make the same argument, but it's not a moral one, it's about the kind of society I want to live in. I prefer a society with a certain wealth distribution, over a society with the wealth distribution which evolves naturally. (Just as I prefer a certain very artificial distribution of power, than one in which the distribution of power is allowed to evolve naturally.)

Hence I would like to use taxes, laws and regulation to counter the natural tendency of wealth and power to accumulate, as well as countering the more routine market imbalances caused by uneven levels of wealth or power in a market transaction (as in the rental example.)

That doesn't mean people won't use moralistic language against wealth/rent-seeking/etc in general to try to justify their arguments, again precisely because that moralistic language is so effective, and so arbitrarily invoked.

"3) Some here argue that taxes are payment upon an obligation to society. Coerced gratitude?"

Who asked you to be grateful?

I don't pay rent out of gratitude, I pay because I need somewhere to live and landlords charge a certain amount.

"if I disagree with a particular detail, I don't get to be polite about it."

Who asked you to be polite about it? Have I been polite?

Just stop pretending you have some higher moral ground or absolute moral foundation, you don't. You don't like paying taxes and it's drawn you to an ideology that created a fake moral absolute to let you justify that dislike.

Paul451 said...

Robert,
"Looking at the "redistribution of wealth" above, I have to ask something. Is that total value? Or is that liquid cash?"

Both. Neither. Publicly available numbers for "Net wealth" is just being used as a short-hand proxy for subtler realities. The argument made about the increasing accumulation of wealth by the top remains whether you use "net wealth" or "assets" or "income" or more abstract measures of "buying power" or "financial security" or "available wealth" or....

"So. Rather than saying the top 1% own 73% of the wealth? Let's look at liquidity in terms of cash and other spendable resources.
Now let's do a comparison of who has what for wealth. Of course, you might also need to factor in debt and see who OWES what."


Go for it. There are many different attempts to capture different aspects of wealth and opportunity. You may come up with something more useful or more informative.

David Brin said...

"The revolutionaries in any reform were always slightly-lesser-lords. "

There are counter examples. Where the lower classes rose up, but in moderate reform. The Scots Irish in the 1830s powered Andrew Jackson's takeover of US politics and while they pushed some stupid things, there were some genuine reforms and the stayed within the law and expanded enfranchisement and rights a bit.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Just stop pretending you have some higher moral ground or absolute moral foundation, you don't. You don't like paying taxes and it's drawn you to an ideology that created a fake moral absolute to let you justify that dislike.


In all fairness, I don't think Alfred wants to get out of paying taxes. What he wants is a rebate or a tax credit for creating value that lifts society rather than using his powers for mere personal gain.

I can buy that argument. I've been arguing from the proposition that there is a commons, and that taxes are necessary to subsidize the means of protecting and maintaining the commons. A certain tax burden is on the wealthy on the grounds that they have benefited from taking private ownership of much of that commons. That theory would have room for a tax break--a paying back as it were--for someone who has used private initiative to increase the commons.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry

"for someone who has used private initiative to increase the commons"

That is what everybody does - that is why we have so much because we each of us add more to the commons than we take from it and so did our ancestors

If you have "increased the commons more" then you will be richer - that is how it is intended to work

To say that somebody who is has increased the commons (and got a piece of the action) should get a "tax rebate" because of that is double dipping!!

More appropriately those (rentiers) who have got rich by zero sum activities should pay MORE tax
Which is NOT the same as giving a tax rebate to the positive-sum people



When we were talking about privatizing natural monopolies I mentioned Enron
The more I think about it the more important Enron becomes

When we talk about Nuclear power we need to factor in Chernobyl and the other disasters
(IMHO Nuclear looks good even with those)

When we are talking about "Privatization" we should include Enron and various other disasters in the equation

Enron cost an absolute fortune!
IMHO even without Enron privatization has been a huge disaster - but when you add Enron to the scales......

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

If you have "increased the commons more" then you will be richer - that is how it is intended to work.


I get what you're saying, but not sure that it is the way things really work. The creator of the polio vaccine gave it to the world. He might have been richer had he done the "epi-pen" thing, withholding the vaccine unless paid extortionate prices for it. He increased the commons greatly by not doing that. I'd be ok with a rebate from society in exchange.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry

For occasions like that a tax Rebate would be silly

You are really talking about a prize - like the Nobel Prizes

Having society give awards to people who make major advances and don't directly profit from it
Great idea!

LarryHart said...

Duncan,

We're quibbling over semantics now. Do you see a substantial difference between society giving someone a monetary prize (presumably paid for by collective taxes) and society lowering that individual's taxes?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry

YES! there is a major difference - a tax reduction can only be as big as an individual's taxes

So only a financially successful individual could get a signifigant award

And if he/she is paying a LOT of tax then they really don't need the money

But a prize can be in line with the contribution even if they were not previously successful

Your example Dr Salk - I don't think he was ever rich - a tax reduction would not have been that important

IMHO most people who actually make major contributions are in the middle classes or financially the lower middle classes

How many scientists are in the top tax bracket?

LarryHart said...

Duncan,

Ok, I wasn't really arguing specifically for a line on the income tax form as for some sort of payback from society. As I said to Alfred yesterday, we're now arguing tactics, not strategy. I think we're mainly in agreement, so I'll probably leave this thread alone unless you have something important to add.

The Star Trek/Star Wars one is going strong, though.