Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Capitalism, corruption, civil war...

Well, your RASR uncle (residually adult-sane Republican) has a week of gloating and joy. Let him wallow in Attorney Gen. Barr's summary no-collusion conclusion...even though its negative about Trump-Russia collusion specifically concerns only Russian 2016 election interference during the 2016 election (always the weakest link to Trump), and has nothing to do with the blatant collusion that's manifested since then, in demolishing our alliances, sciences, intel-services and every other U.S. fact based profession.

Consider: Six essential cons that Define Trump's success: This article by Jonah Greenberg (except for the last (silly) paragraph) cogently dissects six ways that Donald Trump has “succeeded” by cheating. 
By lying his net worth vastly upward to get loans…
…by lying it vastly downward to evade taxes…
…by ripping off contractors and lenders till only Deutsche bank would work with him, laundering Russian mobster money…
…by assaulting the very existence of things called (facts).
…by portraying perpetrators as victims.

Never mind all that. Right now, just one U.S. citizen matters. Chief Justice John Roberts. If he swing the decision to decide in favor of basic justice and the American Experiment, political gerrymandering will be banished. If he is a hack - or a blackmail victim - then we will have no easy path out of this phase of the American Civil War. It could wind up pretty harsh.

== Essences of Capitalism ==

As I’ve long predicted, some of the RASRs and saner libertarians are gradually realizing that oligarchy is no friend to open-accountable-competitive-creative market enterprise.  Investment guru John Mauldin is one I’ve long been urging to end his ostrich denial. Now, in his influential newsletter, Mauldin quotes from Jonathan Tepper’s new book The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition

In industry after industry, (Americans) can only purchase from local monopolies or oligopolies that can tacitly collude. The US now has many industries with only three or four competitors controlling entire markets. Since the early 1980s, market concentration has increased severely. We’ve already described the airline industry. Here are other examples:

·       Two corporations control 90 percent of the beer Americans drink.
·       Five banks control about half of the nation’s banking assets.
·       Many states have health insurance markets where the top two insurers have an 80 percent to 90 percent market share. For example, in Alabama one company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, has an 84 percent market share and in Hawaii it has 65 percent market share.
·       When it comes to high-speed internet access, almost all markets are local monopolies; over 75 percent of households have no choice with only one provider.
·       Four players control the entire US beef market and have carved up the country.
·       After two mergers this year, three companies will control 70 percent of the world’s pesticide market and 80 percent of the US corn-seed market.

The list of industries with dominant players is endless. It gets even worse when you look at the world of technology….  The federal government has done little to prevent this concentration, and in fact has done much to encourage it. Broken markets create broken politics. Economic and political power is becoming concentrated in the hands of distant monopolists.

Mauldin avows that some industries require such massive scale that they can only support a small number of producers. Passenger aircraft, for instance. 

In turn, I have pointed out examples where capitalism is clearly working, when steered by enlightened regulation. One example is the burgeoning of solar and wind power. Another is surprising, till you think on it… automobiles. 

With twenty major players, worldwide, competition is fierce, with the result that every year auto showrooms feature better cars that last longer, are built sturdier, offer spectacular standard features and safety, all at declining inflation-adjusted prices. Spurred by regulations, auto-makers deliver vastly improved efficiency, saving consumers billions at the pump, and -- after prodding by some geniuses -- are shifting to electric at a rapid pace.

So the problem is not what young sophomores are reciting on campus, capitalism at its competitive, AdamSmithian basic. No, the problem is that markets have always been distorted by cheaters!  

It’s what humans do, when they get the power to do so. And hence, as Smith himself said, we need governments to transparently and carefully regulate, especially in ways that keep the playing field flat and fair.

And yes, that includes investing heavily in R&D that’s beyond any corporate ROI horizon. And it especially means investing in all children! Because what is a competitive playing field if it is biased to handicap most players, from the very start? 

Most liberal programs – those that aim to uplift all kids out of poverty – are defensible in strictly capitalist terms! And those who deny this aren’t actually Smithians at all. They are oligarchists. They are feudalists.

== Short takes ==

Right now, Democrats still retain a monopoly on expertise and evidence-based policy. They should not relinquish it easily.

Nearly 400 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced sexual misconduct allegations in the past two decades, two newspapers found, with as many as 700 victims — some as young as 3. And this is just one section of the evangelical Baptist movement.  There are reports of over a thousand such cases among “independent” Baptist pastorages… among the most fire-breathing and radically anti-modernist. Oh, do preach to us.

Poseidon: Russia's New Doomsday Machine describes Moscow's unmanned automated drone submarine designed to deliver a 100-megaton warhead to inundate U.S. coasts with nuclear tsunamis, leaving the most populous parts of America drenched-radioactive wastelands. Author Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is one of the nation's foremost experts on nuclear weapons and strategy, director of two Congressional Advisory Boards.

There’s an aspect to this that’s scarier. Throughout the Cold War, we got a stream of defectors who blew the whistle on crazy Soviet plots. Kremlin muscovite craziness hasn’t gone away, but Putin (raised in the KGB) has made it his highest priority to make sure we get few defectors this round, despite planning such horrifically heinous weapons. 

How? Our inflow of defectors in the Cold War depended on our ability to: (1) protect them, (2) offer decent prospects living in the West, and (3) maintaining the moral high ground. Consider how Putin and his agents have undermined each of these systematically.

== Short takes ==

WODI = “What If Obama Did It?”  Latest example, emerging news that Donald Trump used threats and money and oligarchic favors to get not one, or two, but all of his high school, military academy, college and SAT records secured and hidden forever. Now why would he do that? “Former officials of the military academy that President Trump attended say wealthy alumni directed them in 2011 to remove and hide Trump’s academic records.  

The same fellow who demanded Obama’s birth certificate, then refused to believe it (nor dozens of 1962 copies of the Honolulu Advertiser birth announcement, found in garages all over the islands) and has lied about the IRS audit of his tax returns, and who allows no US officials anywhere near his secret debriefings with communist and “ex” communist dictators, now want us to have no way to verify his “stable genius.”


And finally....

From the Axios China report: The ideological tightening inside China has contributed to a more rigid and shrill group of PRC diplomats. Earlier this week Bloomberg reported on this trend... “[F]oreign diplomats in Beijing say that the behavior of Chinese officials has become far more aggressive and assertive in private meetings in recent years. Their discussions have become more ideological, according to one senior foreign envoy, who described the behavior as a strong sense of grievance combined with increasing entitlement about China’s international role and rights.

If you want to understand how the top officials at the PRC rationalize their fierce determination to centralize power over their people and the world, I go into it here. They are very smart. Maybe a quarter as smart as they think they are. And therein lies danger for us all.


Chris Heinz said...

This NYT in-depth article about the relationship between Agent Orange and Deutschebank contains 0 mentions of laundering Russian mob money. Per the article, DB was having trouble breaking into US markets and was desperate for the business.

Matt Taibbi, IMO one of our best reporters, in this article is very concerned about what you are: facts and getting things right. Yes, Agent Orange is the greatest disaster in the history of the US. But, still, get things and facts right.
"It's official: Russiagate is this generation's WMD
The Iraq war faceplant damaged the reputation of the press. Russiagate just destroyed it"

Tim Wolter said...

I figured the last thread - aerosolized space cooties and such - was just leading up to a discussion of the Mueller investigation.

Sorry to perhaps disappoint but I don't think gloating is what is called for.

Presumably Mueller had access to all the information available to the people who launched the investigation into "RussiaGate". And more. And despite considerable coming from the left as much as it did from the right, he did what looks to be a careful job.

Didn't find anything of import.

You can continue to rehash this as long as you wish, but it seems to me more constructive to actually use energies in ways that might produce positive results. Get behind a D candidate that can appeal to moderate voters. Criticize Trump's policies where you feel the need, there are certainly lots of areas that is called for. Acknowledge - because you ignore it to your electoral peril - that right now the economy is doing well and that we don't seem to be fighting any new brush wars.

I'm just suggesting that the Progressive cause would be better served by getting past Orange Man Bad and trying to do something realistic.

Or not. I still don't think the D establishment understands how they could have lost to a crass and unsavory real estate mogul. But they did. And absent new insights, may well do so again.


Mike Will said...

I don't usually read the WaPo, but when I do, I read Canadian victory stories. As I've said before, don't despair, democracy and science remain in full sunlight up here.

2018 Turing Award

Larry Hart said...

Leftovers from last time...


I really don’t understand how someone can believe that we are in the middle of an environmental and ecological crisis, think of themselves as an environmentalist, yet still flies around the world for fun.

I remember about 20 years ago reading about how much energy is required to run the massive server farms powering the internet back then, and how much more energy was required to cool them. I'm guessing there are more such things than there were in 1998. So I rhetorically wonder how someone can believe that we are in the middle of an economic crisis, think of themselves as an environmentalist, yet still spend hours a day posting on the internet.

Alfred Differ:

Cities form around markets like chickens form around yolks. Anyone who wants an actual, viable space colony needs to consider this piece of human economic history.

That's as good as any potential axiom of psychohistory.

Richard09 said...

@Tim Wolter: Didn't find anything of import? How do you know?

You haven't seen the report. Barr says there's nothing, but he was appointed by Trump in order to say that. The fragmentary quote we have seen says that the report "does not exonerate him".

Not enough evidence to prosecute doesn't equate to innocent. In New York, we're well familiar with organised crime bosses who skated by for years on "not enough evidence". Nobody ever thought they weren't guilty, though. And the state of New York isn't finished with Trump, not by a long shot.

Alfred Differ said...


I like the chicken analogy a little better than the seed analogy for cities. More people are more familiar with egg fertilization. You can see the hen and the rooster doing the deed. With seeds from flowering plants it's harder to see. Beekeepers know better, of course, but they would point out that the seeds require a facilitator. That matters because chickens don't. So, for an L5-style city in space, would it grow from an egg or a seed? That's the debate some of us have over whether government should be a customer or a planner.

The idealized form of capitalism works fine with chickens alone, but 'cheaters' cause the game to shift and government is invented for its Justice market. Meta-cheaters change the game again and government gets used to determine which chickens get to reproduce. Chickens adapt again... the layers of abstractions blur together... and so on.

Some of my Libertarian friends argue for things that exist only in the ideal version and think we should all strive to return to that simplicity, but I don't think we will ever get there. We need the birds and the bees. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Tim Wolter,

Didn't find anything of import.

I'd like to see that in Mueller's writing or hear him say it in an open hearing to the House. I am currently inclined to think he did not find enough of anything to prosecute regarding the suspected election conspiracy, but I'm not sure that he didn't find something. I'm willing to wait a bit for the full report instead of Barr's summary, but I want the full report minus the law enforcement sensitive stuff that shouldn't be shared yet.

Also, I don't think the AG should have weighed in regarding obstruction. In doing so, he broke precedent. He should simply have asked a court for permission to send the details to the correct committees in the House and Senate as was done with previous obstruction concerns involving Nixon and Clinton. He can still do so (and should), but he's tainted future grand jury pools.

Tim Wolter said...

Alfred and Richard

Waiting to see the details of the report is reasonable. Either Mueller runs the tightest ship in DC or there is nothing worth the bother of leaking. I'm patient.

I'm just saying that the fantasy of frogmarching Trump out of the White House in irons ain't gonna happen.

I'd be surprised if, in his line of business, there were not some dubious tax and financing situations. I get chastised at any "equivalency" but I have similar feelings on the Clinton Foundation business model. At one time they had a lot of quid to pro quo.


Alfred Differ said...

Heh. If there are impeachable offenses that can be adequately shown in House committee hearings, I'd like him impeached whether the Senate is willing to convict or not. The House has a duty independent of the Senate and I would see that duty fulfilled.

I strongly suspect there ARE such offenses, but I'm willing to let the system do its job. It is more important that the institutions function as required than it is for my disgust involving the POTUS to be resolved.

I'm not as concerned with your equivalency argument as some. I'd point out, though, that the First Family is in hot water over much more than their inability to distinguish charitable funds from personal funds. Our host has a good summary list, but when details are hung on it they make the thing look like a well-lit Christmas tree. Since state and federal prosecutors are going after one and not the other, I have to wonder why. It's not as though the Clinton's are well liked in ALL law enforcement circles.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

The idealized form of capitalism works fine with chickens alone, but 'cheaters' cause the game to shift and government is invented for its Justice market

Still on this !!!

The market does not need "cheaters" to FAIL - if left completely on it's own it is unstable - the old positive feedback!
Those with more GET even more and there is no inherent limiting mechanism (that was one of the conclusions from "Capital in the 21st Century"

It's NOT just "cheaters" that cause concentration of wealth and failure

So simply removing the "cheaters" is a "Necessary but not sufficient" condition for markets to work long term

Duncan Cairncross said...


From a strategic POV I just don’t see any upside in impeaching Trump

It will either fail - which is probably bad

Or Trump will be so incredibly smelly that it would pass in which case leaving Trump like an albatross around the neck of the Republicans would be better than letting them kick him to the side

Slap him and all the other crims in jail AFTER he loses the next election

progressbot said...

>> Treebeard said...

Sorry TiBi, but it is not so stupid. Like all that thing you call capitalism. Yana do not selling, and even do not think about such stupid act, but... proposing to you, me, all of us, sell our estates (no matter which one have -- real palace or just a hut), and even the very our lives, and our children lives... to achieve Yana's laudly stated populisticly shallow political goals.
Because, presumable, Yana will not go to quarry, to do the dirtyest and hardest work needed for thar Big and Shiny Goal. Of course, he/she sees its place in managment of zat enterprise, and own and/or childrens tickets with low numbers on it, as "smartest and brightest", to that Moon Heavans.
Isn't it, Yana?

>> David Brin said...

Well, that is the case. You, ams. Are too succumbed by your luck and all-happy path living in wealth. That you do not get it, that gritting teeth need to do ordinary everyday work... just to survive.
That's why and in space you are seeking for easy paths only.
That's why, you need so much, were needed it whole time, different perspectives from old world refugies. Where would you be without Eistain... and many-many others, with M-project? Or you belive that he was ams-born now?

\\So let the Chinese, Russians, Indians, Euros, billionaire tourists and other Apollo wannabes romp around “exploring” at the bottom of that gravity well.

I don't know about Chinese. But all other will do it only after your example. Monkey see, monkey do. By obvious reasons.
And when PRC start doing it seriously... look carefully, to not eat dust after them. ;)

\\But still. It's no lie that guys like me should be put on hypocrisy alert, from time to time.

Than catch one right away.
It's not what you did all this time, but only what will you do from now and in future -- desides the result. Am I need to elaborate why and what it mean? That basic idea, that rational idea-pusher, must constantly re-evaluate his approaches and keep himself/herself open to new ideas, to suc... to keep his role as throttle of progress, not become (unintentionally, for sure) the brakes of it.

>> Alfred Differ said...

My claim. Before there in space could be something like markets. Some trade started.
We need to find way to self-sustain us there. For a seed. To develop our ecology knowladge, to build little self-sustainable and robust bio-spheres-habitats in Space.
As in that Asimov story... at the and of time. When there is new Galaxy formed, and the first, most simple creature in it... become Human.

\\Wasn’t that tried by Soviet planners and the Romanov’s before them?

No. Absolutely, no. "Romanov's" need to be thrown out of ellipsis for sure.
And USSR did only "monkey see, monkey do" from West. That's the all problem. Of USSR idea. From the very beginning till the very end. And till today.(as Yana's show)
Damn, the basic idea of "communism" was devised where and by whom, you know?

\\I’ve tried this thought experiment and the future it creates isn’t viable without HUGE expenditures.

Of course... because, "if you cannot work any more harder, try to start to work smarter", dammit. :)
Silen devise of any inventor. ;)

\\...probably not one with Stalin-style overtones involving starvations and gulags.

Yep. We thought it too. From 1917. "Why there'd be any wars and stuggles any more... if all only good people of the Earth, proletarii, would combine there strength in peacefull work... what can go wrong? how? are you shitting me? what Stakin and millions of corpses???"
Or more recent "Why would RFia attack us? We are brothers. We have relatives here and there. What 'because you are fascists'??? Are you shitting me? What Put_in and thousands of corpses?"

\\Yana is simply mistaken and not immoral.

Beware stupid with good intention... is this my words? Or someone already was said it before me? Ah, yep... "Road to Hell..." and all this. Is it from Bible?

porohobot said...

>> Tim Wolter said...

Yep Tim, yep, let's teach that obnoxious Ds, that shiny New Truth. From RFia, With Luv. (tm)

. . "Ne poiman, ne vor" (tm) :)))

\\Poseidon: Russia's New Doomsday Machine describes Moscow's unmanned automated drone submarine designed to deliver a 100-megaton warhead to inundate U.S. coasts with nuclear tsunamis, leaving the most populous parts of America drenched-radioactive wastelands.

Well. I told you so. (tm)
And... they'd make it with cobalt shell too (optionally?). I bet. :(((

\\Kremlin muscovite craziness hasn’t gone away, but Putin...

It's not "Putin's craziness". By far.
It's just tactics that proved itself effective. After meak teethless response on 9/11 and so forth.
That showed that USA fear it, and ready and willing to negotiate with terrorists. (e.g., that last(?) Trump-Un meeting)

So. It's no-brainer. And dumb stupid to not use such opportunity. To play terror card against USA now.

Crazy -- to not use. Such trump card flowing into your hands.
and You gave it to him (and any other tyrant around the world, unhappy by your intrusions, into their happy-massacre games with own people).
What did you want? Your loathed "bloody feu-dals" to throw their arms and to surrender to you, happily and peacefully? :)

Anonymous said...

Tim H. said...

porohobot, consider adding "A Colder War", a Charles Stross novella to your reading list, only the Shoggoth and dimensional gate were fantasy. I had really hoped that pissing contest was over, but we elected someone about whom it may be said: "In your heart, you know he might".

jim said...

Maybe it is because I understand that the amount of energy it takes to fly someone across the world is many, many orders of magnitude greater than the amount of energy it takes to send information around the world.

Are you just looking for an excuse not to evaluate the environmental impact of your leisure time actives?

progressbot said...

>> Tim H. said...
You tend to look at it as on some scifi story. Well, it's mainstream today. Even strong anti-war message of T2: Judgment Day is just source of memes today. :(
That is the problem. It's reality.

>> jim said...
\\amount of energy it takes to send information around the world.

...and lay the cables, and launch satelites, and refine silicon and cut it into waffers, et cetera, et cetera.

>> Alfred Differ said...
Well, here is historical analogy, you asked. Look at sea-ferrying, from earliest times of shaky rafts to modern ocean cruise liners... but we still *did not* colonize seas. We not living in/on them.
As well as in some wild places like Antarctic.

That is the truth. There is no place in space for homo sapiens.
For it, we need to become homo cosmics, or something. As specie, or individually, or both.

jim said...

I did not say nor did I mean to imply that the internet doesn't come with a large environmental impact. It does.

But what I did say is still true, that someone flying around the world for fun is doing many orders of magnitude more damage than someone playing around on the internet. And if you want to take some personal responsibility and reduce the damage you are doing, not flying around the world for fun is probably the easiest thing you can do. There are a bazillion ways to have fun enjoyable times without stomping around the earth with giant carbon footprints.

Darrell E said...


Speaking of equivalency, this tweet by a law professor named Orin Kerr says it much more succinctly than I would have managed.

"Imagine if the Starr Report had been provided only to President Clinton's Attorney General, Janet Reno, who then read it privately and published a 4-page letter based on her private reading stating her conclusion that President Clinton committed no crimes."

I'd also add, just change the names appropriately and exactly the same regarding Watergate.

David Brin said...

Simply unbelievable. Dig this. The only thing Mueller dismissed was Trump direct collusion DURING 2016 with Russian meddling DURING THE 2016 ELECTION.

Not a single other thing was absolved. Indeed, close to 150 charges have been filed against scores of people who were/are varying degrees of Trump/GOP factotums. Tim, stop trying to shrug this off. You keep grabbing at any possible straw, when both America and conservatism need saving. As does the world.

Jon S. said...

Doctor, I must take issue with one part of your statement.

We have no idea what Mueller dismissed, confirmed, or left open. We know what Barr's interpretation of the report was; however, this is a four-page summation of a nearly 400-page report, made by a man who got his job after writing a 19-page "memo" on why he doesn't believe the President has to obey the law, so I think there's some room to doubt that interpretation.

Until we see Mueller's actual report, we can't know what it says. (Unlike the Starr Report, whose unredacted fullness was made available as a book immediately. I'm told it's currently $15 on Amazon, $17 for the audiobook.)

A.F. Rey said...

Wow, it's available on audiobook! That sounds great.

You see, I've been having trouble sleeping lately... :)

David Brin said...

jim: "someone flying around the world for fun is doing many orders of magnitude more damage than someone playing around on the internet."

In fact I agree! Capital costs can be amortized over a long period of use. The airplane I fly in is amortized among maybe a million human trips. The fuel is another matter... And my own envelope calculations suggest I have orders of magnitude more positive than negative effects. Moreover, when the trips are relatively few, the airplane is flying "anyway." Neither argument lets me off the hook completely...

...but it is the communities I help to build that will save us, pal. If the methane blurp comes, our sole hope will be solar shades and geo-engineering. We need agility, not dogma. And that's the balanced, resilient approach that may save your kids (if any).

David Brin said...

Over at G+ DP commented "One of the aspects of the Mueller Investigation has been the subpoena of "an unnamed corporation owned by an unnamed foreign government," and there has been a lot of curiosity and speculation about what those names are. Thus far they have been shielded by the courts.

'Yesterday she reported on a hearing in the court. Attorneys trying to uncloak the identities above argued before the judge, that now that the Mueller Investigation is concluded, the secrecy should be removed. Including some clever word-play with those attorneys, the judge then turned to the prosecutors and asked if the matter were still in investigation, and they said something to the tune of, "robust active investigation."
'Maybe Mueller has bowed out, but he's handed work off to others. It ain't over.'

Of course Mueller expanded his effect beyond mere collusion. That's why hordes of Trump and GOP factotums went to jail! And scores more were referred to other units like the SDNY. But those were side indictments or "fruits." The Report is about the Tree.

This is why goppers are desperate to have "all fruits tainted" by origination in a FISA search warrant that was sparked partly by the "partisan" Steele dossier. The central, fragile straw that poor Tim clings-to.

It's an absurd position at every level.

(1) prosecutors can sniff at biased information in order to begin an investigation. Crap! EVERY aspect of right wing paranoia has been based on far more partisan "dossiers."

(2) "Don't investigate!" is a pretty rich scream from asses who spent 25 years and half a billion$ chasing nonexistent Clinton-Obama 'crimes,' and came up empty.

jim said...

I was not thinking of you in particular.

There are 10s of millions of Americans who think that global warming is a major threat and spend a lot of time bitching about how bad Republicans are on the issue Yet they will stomp around the world with giant ecological footprints and they are not doing it to make a living, or help people they are doing it for fun.

And doing stuff for fun is great but there are so many fun things you can do that don't come with a huge carbon footprint, if someone is an environmentalist shouldn't that be reflected in how they spend their leisure time?

Alfred Differ said...


We’ve gone a few rounds on this topic. I’ve read through most of Piketty’s book, read supporting arguments by other authors including some he referenced, and read criticisms by his opponents. My book shelf for this subject area now has a few books taking each side… and I’ve read them.

Piketty’s argument for the inherent flaw in the system is inherently flawed by a fatal bias he has for what constitutes ‘capital’. He avoids counting things as capital that cannot be traded freely in a fair market. Since human capital trading looks too much like slavery or indentured servitude, we have rules against certain forms of trade involving humans as products. Rightly so. Unfortunately, this flies in the face of how humans invest in knowledge. I didn’t acquire my degrees to sell myself as a slave. I invested in the knowledge I acquired so I could improve my negotiation position when seeking employment and qualify for certain jobs I wanted enough to make salary a secondary concern. Avoiding human capital in his calculations ignores a huge area of investment for the common man. I think that undermines his argument enough that I suspect his conclusion could be incorrect. I might be wrong, but I’d like to see the calculation done again in a way that accounts for this type of capital that every mother understands she is growing within each of her children.

I get that there are feedback loops, but I see positive and negative ones. Our host mentions tumbrels occasionally as a reminder of where things go if they go too far.

I will continue to use ‘cheaters’ in the loose sense because it points to people who other people feel have behaved in an unethical manner. Most of us behave reasonably and the system works fine for them. It is the folks who violate ethics who prompt the rest of us to invent law, justice, courts, politics, and so on.

Alfred Differ said...


I was thinking of how St Petersburg was founded and the deaths and waste that went into that project. It all started long before the Soviets. People who think they know where cities should be can try hard to plan them there, but the costs tend to be large and they might not stick. St Petersburg did stick, but there are some new cities in the middle of African nations that were placed there by their former colonial masters and the jury is still out on some of them.\

Why would RFia attack us?

I’m with you there. Any student of history knows Russia’s geopolitical imperatives. Ukraine as an independent nation is an historical aberration for a reason. Between the Germans, Poles, Turks, and Russians, you all live in the borderland over which they have traditionally fought… to own you and your descendants. There isn’t much we can add here, though, except I can admit that Americans have it real nice not being stuck between numerous warring factions.

Beware stupid with good intention.

True, but I’m not going to go overboard with Yana. I’m not even going to use ‘stupid’ since I think ‘mistaken’ fits better’. It is an ancient mistake people make so often it hurts those of us who can see it. The way we plan for family level defenses and resource usage doesn’t work at the level of communities without sacrificing liberty. Those who fail to see this aren’t stupid. They are more likely just blind.

We need to find way to self-sustain us there.

It’s happening. The more activity we do out there, the more motivated we are to find better solutions too. Human migrations don’t usually involve a lot of forethought. Some is done and then people solve problems they discover after being immersed in them. THAT is likely how we will move off-world en masse.

Alfred Differ said...

progressbot, (the space related part of a long-winded response from me)

but we still *did not* colonize seas

Well… actually we did and only just recently as the human story goes. Most of the ocean isn’t worth colonizing for the same reason deserts aren’t worth inhabiting. Some of the ocean is, though. What we did is inhabit tiny islands and make most of our living at sea. Look to the part of the human migration story associated with the occupation of the Southern Pacific and Indian Oceans. It starts with the island currently known as Taiwan. It’s quite a story.

There are numerous island cultures that demonstrate how humans use land as an anchor, but spend most of their attention on the sea. These cultures show how we created new tools and re-created ourselves to fit the environment. My ancestors had to learn how to survive in northern latitudes with little sunlight (Vitamin D deficiency) and short growing seasons (defeat lactose intolerance or die). Along the way we had to learn how to survive on fermented grains (alcohol really IS a poison) coming from low yield crops. People from island cultures near the equator didn’t have to deal with a lack of Vitamin D, poor quality grain, and being dependent on their cattle the same way a calf is. They had fatty fish in their diets and if they could hold their breath long enough, fatty shellfish too. Guess what? I can’t hold my breath for long while many people from island cultures can. We invent tools as we go, but we also reinvent ourselves. They can hold their breath longer. I can tolerate alcohol a little. Neat when you realize it.

Space isn’t somewhere we are going to live easily, but there are things like islands out there. We can build them too if need be. Study the migration from Taiwan and marvel at the low tech needed to start it and the advanced techniques they learned after being immersed in the problems.

Larry Hart said...


Are you just looking for an excuse not to evaluate the environmental impact of your leisure time actives?

No, but I am somewhat cheekily pointing out that even a purist can't claim total purity. Like pointing out to vegetarians that they step on bugs or kill germs inside their bodies.

I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm saying you might want to dial back the superiority.

Daniel Duffy said...

Before you talk about civil wars you really should understand the mentality of the people on the other side.

Spend some time at Glen Reynolds's Instapundit

Especially here:

You will want to take a shower when you are done.

Daniel Duffy said...

One of the major overlooked causes of our current divide is automation (only Yang among the democratic candidates has addressed this issue):

How Automation Turns Us Into Trump Voters

there’s a distinct link between regions hit by automation and voting Republican, and voting Trump especially. In 2016, areas where industrial robots have eliminated jobs—mostly in the Rust Belt and the South—saw a sizable upswing in voters turning to Trump. (Remember, automation likely played a much larger role in accelerating job loss over the last decades than did other factors like offshoring.)

Now, research at the Brookings Institute again affirms that Republicans are more likely to live in areas ravaged by automation than Democrats. “Our data confirm both a stark history of automation in Trump country and substantial future exposure,” the authors write, “exposure that points to more work flux, more job uncertainty, and potentially more political disruption.”

The reasoning behind the link is fairly straightforward—when people and communities experience widespread economic loss and anxiety, they’re more eager to seek out radical political changes (a la our Luddites). In 2016, that meant voting for the blustery reality TV star who promised to go kick the D.C. establishment in the teeth. Economic anxiety also tends to bring traits like anger at elites and racial animosity to the fore, which synergized conveniently with Donald Trump’s nakedly anti-immigrant platform.

“At the state level, all but one of the ten states most heavily exposed to future job market changes cast its electoral votes for President Trump in 2016,” the report notes (emphasis mine). And all but one of the top 20 congressional districts most susceptible to automation are Republican ones. All but four of the top 50 districts most exposed to automation elected Republicans in 2018. Educated workers are most insulated from automation—as we all know, Trump “love[s] the poorly educated”—and tend to vote Democrat. The 50 districts least-exposed to automation all voted Democrat in the last election cycle.

Which is certainly in line with previous studies on the subject. A paper published in March 2018 by Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey, Thor Berger, and Chinchih Chen, found that “support for Donald Trump was significantly higher in local labor markets more exposed to the adoption of robots.”

They went so far as to assert that “Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would have swung in favor of Hillary Clinton if the exposure to robots had not increased in the immediate years leading up to the election, leaving the Democrats with a majority in the Electoral College.”

Daniel Duffy said...

Andrew Yang addresses this in greater detail and has made it the focus of his presidential campaign:

“The two historical time periods that are comparable to where we are now in terms of polarisation and division are the French Revolution before the revolution and the United States before the civil war,” he said.

Few pundits are taking Yang’s candidacy seriously but he certainly is, with multiple trips to Iowa and New Hampshire so far. He has raised $250,000 from 14,000 donors in the past week. According to his campaign team, “Yang Gang” chapters have sprung up in more than 35 states.

He has no doubts about the gravity of his mission. Life expectancy in the US has declined for the past three years for the first time since the flu pandemic of 1918 because of a surge in suicides and drug overdoses, both of which are at record highs, Yang notes.

And like a time traveller from the future, Yang has a warning about more to come: the rise of the machines – robots that will put millions of more people out of work. As it happens, it is an army of automatons conceived and created by tech firms on the coasts and unleashed on middle America, potentially spurring a deepening us versus them mentality. Yang has written: “I am writing from inside the tech bubble to let you know that we are coming for your jobs.”

Yang wants to become president so he can do something about it. He asserts that Trump won the election because the country automated away 4m manufacturing jobs in the critical swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri and Iowa.

“Now we’re about to do the same thing to millions of retail jobs, call centre jobs, fast food jobs and, most destructively, trucking jobs in the coming years … When I talked to other mainstream political candidates, no one seemed to want to focus on the enormity of the reality that’s ahead for America.”

Like it or not, self-driving trucks are coming, Yang is certain. Truck driving is the most common job in 29 states in America, according to census data, and a demographic that includes many ex-military servicemen and many Trump voters.

Yang, armed with a battery of statistics, says: “There are 3.5 million truck drivers, 94% male, average age 49, average education high school or one year of college, and they make about $46,000 a year. It’s one of the highest-paying jobs for non-college graduates in the US. It’s a very demanding, punishing job, but it’s also one of the surest ways to a middle-class income for a huge number of men...

He goes on: “So the hollowing out of the interior of the country is going to be amplified many times over by the automation of freight. I was just in Davenport, Iowa, at the country’s largest truck stop, Iowa 80, and they proudly state that 5,000 people stop there every day. So you can imagine what’s going to happen when that number starts to dwindle. It’s going to be disastrous for many Americans and many communities.”

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re- Automation

I spend decades of my career improving manufacturing systems - Automation so far has had little impact
The big impact has been in working more efficiently - NOT automation!

My UK plant went from 80 engines per day to 250 with no increase in labour and almost no new capital equipment

Increasing productivity - now well over twice what it was in the 70's

The other reason for reduction in jobs is outsourcing

Outsourcing is never as lucrative as it is promised - and it is often a net INCREASE in cost
BUT executives involved in outsourcing can often make a huge personal profit AND outsourcing has been used to break union power

Increased productivity and union busting have made the big changes SO FAR - the real effects of automation are yet to come

Daniel Duffy said...

This is not the first time this has happened.

Something very similar happened at the end of the Roman Republic, both in lack of work and wealth concentration. Unemployment caused by automation is essentially no different in its results than the unemployment of Roman citizens caused by a massive influx of slaves from imperial conquests, and the vast fortunes made by the aristocracy.

From Will Durant's "Caesar and Christ":

The first cause was the influx of slave-grown corn from Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, and Africa, which ruined many Italian farmers by reducing the price of domestic grains below the cost of production and marketing. Second, was the influx of slaves, displacing peasants in the countryside and free workers in the towns. Third, was the growth of large farms.

Instead of robots, the Romans had slaves - but the economic effect was the same:

Roman society, once a community of free farmers, now rested more and more upon external plunder and internal slavery. In the city all domestic service, many handicrafts, most trade, much banking, nearly all factory labor, and labor on public works, were performed by slaves, reducing the wages of free workers to a point where it was almost as profitable to be idle as to toil.

In the late republic, demagogues were elected by the mob and reformers like Tiberius Gracchus assassinated by the rich and powerful whose interests were threatened.

"The beasts of the field and the birds of the air," said Tiberius to the poorer plebeians in one of the epochal orations in Roman history, have their holes and their hiding places; but the men who fight and die for Italy enjoy only the light and the air. Our generals urge their soldiers to fight for the graves and shrines of their ancestors. The appeal is idle and false. You cannot point to a paternal altar. You have no ancestral tomb. You fight and die to give wealth and luxury to others. You are called the masters of the world, but there is not a foot of ground that you can call your own."

Bribery was open and amounts paid were huge (the Roman equivalent of Citizens United):

Neither party believed in democracy; both
aspired to dictatorship, and both practiced intimidation and
corruption without conscience or concealment. The collegia that
had once been mutual-benefit societies became agencies for the sale of
great blocks of plebeian votes. The business of vote buying reached
a scale where it required a high specialization of labor: there were
divisores, who bought votes, interpretes, or go-betweens, and
sequestres, who held the money until the votes had been delivered.

The courts, now pre-empted by senators, rivaled the polls in
corruption. Oaths had lost all value as testimony; perjury was as
common as bribery. Marcus Messala, being indicted for buying his
election to the consulate (53), was unanimously acquitted, though even
his friends acknowledged his guilt. `03076 "Trials are now managed
so venally," wrote Cicero to his son, "that no man will ever be
condemned hereafter except for murder." `03077 He should have said "no
man of means"; for "without money and a good lawyer," said another
advocate at this period, "a plain, simple defendant may be accused
of any crime which he has not committed, and will certainly be

Daniel Duffy said...


The wealthy became obscenely wealthy:

Crassus acquired hundreds of houses and tenements, which he let at high rentals. He
bought state mines when Sulla denationalized them. Soon he had
inflated his fortune from 7,000,000 to 170,000,000 sesterces
($25,500,000)- a sum nearly equal to the total yearly revenue of the

Which triggered a backlash and the rise of demagogues:

The causes and forces of discontent, however, were too deep and
varied to be easily dissolved. Many of the poor were listening to
preachers of utopia, and some who listened were ripe for violence. A
little above them were plebeians who had forfeited their property
through defaulted mortgages. Some of Sulla's veterans had failed to
make their land allotments pay and were ready for any disturbance that
might give them loot without toil. Among the upper classes were
insolvent debtors and ruined speculators who had lost all hope or wish
to meet their obligations. Others had political ambitions and saw
their road to advancement cluttered with conservatives who took too
long to die. A few revolutionists were sincere idealists, convinced
that only a complete overturn could mitigate the corruption and
inequity of the Roman state.
One man sought to unite these scattered groups into a coherent
political force. We know Lucius Sergius Catiline only through his

Trump is America's Catiline, including the advocacy of street violence.

It all sounds so sadly familiar.

Mike Will said...

The Fall of the Roman Empire, if it could be somehow scaled up to include the entire galaxy, would make a great SF tale.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Simply unbelievable. Dig this. The only thing Mueller dismissed was Trump direct collusion DURING 2016 with Russian meddling DURING THE 2016 ELECTION.

You and I and most people here know that to be the case. However, the release of the report and Barr's conclusion seem to have turned the room around, with Trump supporters knowing they were right all along and liberals licking our wounds.

It reminds me of the playoff game in 2003 when a fan named Bartman grabbed a foul ball that the Cubs might have caught for an out. Even after the Cubs lost that game, they still could have won the next one and gone on to the World Series. It wasn't really over as of that moment. No matter--it felt over. I knew at that moment that the Cubs would choke again.

That's what this feels like. And I'm pretty sure that's intentional on the part of the Trump media. The Mule has played his visi-sonor, and now the Foundation is in despair.

Mike Will said...

The forces of darkness have a habit of eating their own. Bel Riose wasn't defeated by the good guys.

progressbot said...

>> jim said...
\\There are 10s of millions of Americans...

Yes Jim. But that exact thing gives us Economic Strength, which alone can save us from certain future calls. Try to look it that way -- we can indulge into our laizure and just for fun now, just because millions of years ago, there was some vegitation, that indulged itself in freeing air from carbon. And yet more years ago, some microbes, that indulged itself into polutting air with oxigen. ;)
System view we need. Combining ecological and economical, and many-many others (like sinergetics) into one. To produce robust predictions. And to not be blind in pursuing Future.

>> Daniel Duffy said...
\\Something very similar happened at the end of the Roman Republic

That's why you need "barbarians" from all around the World. With their ideas. And esteem. And not the Wall.

>> Alfred Differ said...
That is the question. Can system work withour 'cheaters'?
Because what they do, is in part of what entrepreneurs do. All is allowed, what not denied promptly.
I'll say that once again. USSR tried that patch. By eleminating economical 'cheaters' -- burgeios. But REAL cheaters stayed intact and even thrived. And USSR as a system, become unable to produce new and react on new threats. While it was possible to remain in state of war, which allowed to unleash war on "podlipali"/parasites of the system... Stalin-style. System still worked, somehow.But after a while, it become impossible to argue to people that need of "under communism, struggles and fight only grow bigger". System deteriorated till the point of no return.

\\People who think they know where cities should be...

It just shows the luck of knowladge of what USSR was. There was scariest accusation among its ruling class -- "you are voluntaristic". That meant that you are doing something reckless, without asking comerades, and without scientifical calculation (well, that part is treaky).

\\The way we plan for family level defenses and resource usage doesn’t work at the level of communities without sacrificing liberty. Those who fail to see this aren’t stupid. They are more likely just blind.

Give to that blind majority... or just AKs/guns. And you'd have USSR (at its earliest). Or DLNR.
Well, you have many people with guns, on your turfs.

\\THAT is likely how we will move off-world en masse.

Well, no. It's the Achiless anckle of Yana thought too. Idea that people of Earth could relocate in space the same way as we can change our city, or continent.
It need to be Differ People.
I stated already -- people habitualy living in underwater domes, should have not that big problem to trade their cans for space ones.
But not flatlanders. No. Except for ST-like hyper-drive. But that is way too low possibility. ;)

\\What we did is inhabit tiny islands and make most of our living at sea.

No, Alfred. It's the point where my analogy loose its meaning. Seas on Earth are not that different from rivers and lakes. But there is NO place in Space, that close enough to our Blessed Planet. (except for underwater domes and stuff ;))
That is too big a Great Leap Forward... to jump it with our ordinary animal adaptation abilities.
Well, maybe that's exactle why we have Rational Mind and Science at our disposal.
We only need to learn how to use it, rationally. And not only to make some funny gimmicks... and weapon. :(
Well, I don't know how to make it all... just some partial ideas, about robots, AI and stuff.

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"the top officials at the PRC rationalize their fierce determination to centralize power over their people and the world ... They are very smart. Maybe a quarter as smart as they think they are. And therein lies danger for us all."

China is a great country, in every sense of the word. Before the Ch'in and Han dynasties brought big things together, at the same time as Rome, the mists of prehistory said there were Three Dynasties. As it turns out, from archaeology, the Hsia, Shang and Chou did exist. Just like folklore had said lo many years, it's a civilization well over 4,000 yo.

You don't get that old without being smart, why begrudge? I'm not talking about the stereotype of smart Chinese kids in American schools, because it's really just that: a stereotype. I mean, the entire civilization has come up with a floating social contract which has endured. Even if it has led to despotic tragedy every few centuries, China's society has grown into a trust, that a far-off retinue of courtiers would manage the whole shebang better than a village council.

Why? A long history of civil service exams. A local magnate could bribe his dullard son into a local commission, but the imperial gov't scooped up the brightest, those who, in the West 1500 years later, might have become scientists. They've been doing it ever since the Han, with those noted gaps of tragedy.

I don't see China as a "danger for us all." There are many countries which have lately had revolutions, some led to democracy and it's freedoms, and others led to a doesy-do of strongmen. But there's just something about a country which is ripe for democracy. That new-democracy smell, like Brazil. Iraq didn't smell like that, nor Egypt or Tunisia or Hungary.

China smells like that. A mature culture which appreciates its past and is confident of its future. As long as its financial markets are reined, they will periodically fail. After a time, the Chinese will tire of this and accept that each one of them is a scintilla of emperor. That's how democracy happens, and it's going to be a glorious expression of the potential of humanity when it happens there.

jim said...

My posts were not about purity they were about pessimism.
Most of the people who say they think that global warming is a giant crisis aren't even willing to change the things that they have almost complete control over. Almost everyone seems to want to keep doing what they are doing and have someone else solve the problem with out them changing one bit.

That is why I think we will only be doing some sloganeering, and maybe some painless incremental change that will not get the job done. And we will keep doing that until we run head first into a crisis. (my guess for the crisis is famine or near famine) Then we will panic, and I really doubt that we will be making good decisions when we are in panic mode.

You are not alone in thinking you must plow though non renewable resources as fast as possible and destroy living ecosystems in order to have a "strong" economy.

Larry Hart said...


You may be right about human nature, and in that case, it's like I told my daughter when her first boyfriend broke up with her--you know you'll get over it, but you can't skip ahead to the end. You have to go through the steps.

Likewise, if we know how humans work, we're going to have to have a crisis at which time "keeping on keeping on" isn't an option. Then we'll make changes because changing is painful, but not as painful as dying. Until then, not-changing is simply the most comfortable option. You wish that wasn't the case, but you seem convinced that it is. So if it is, what is there to do other than accept it?

I read a book about must have been 30 years ago now...which posited that what we think of as human advances, e.g., developing agriculture or going from wood power to coal power, only happen when the old way is no longer viable. That seems in line with your observation here.

Mike Will said...

Larry Hart: "human advances ... only happen when the old way is no longer viable"

Usually the case, but not always. Every once in a while, a Turing comes along, and the world abruptly jumps ahead 50 years.

Alfred Differ said...

Through most of human history, the Turing types were stuffed in a box serving a prince or they were killed. Our civilization gives them a little more room to run, but occasionally it is a toss up between us celebrating them and killing them. Turing provides an unfortunate example of this.

Mike Will said...

So, if it comes down to a battle of technology growth rates between the Confederacy and the Union...

David Brin said...

A fossil discovery in North Dakota is strongly believed to be a fish that was blasted and killed precisely the very day that the Cretaceous ended with the Chicxulub meteorite impact, 66 million years ago, the most incredible (and precise) paleontological discovery of the century, so far.

David Brin said...

'what we think of as human advances, e.g., developing agriculture or going from wood power to coal power, only happen when the old way is no longer viable. That seems in line with your observation here.'

So how do the miracles of the 1940s fit into this? From humanity's nadir in 1942, to the Marshall Plan and the Marshall-led deliberate departure from the habits of every single empire that ever came before? It as not obvious to anyone that the American Pax was compelled to do what they did. Sure, fear of the soviets helped Marshall, Truman, Acheson etc to sell it. But how could they SEE it? Except from reading human history and seeing what never worked.

progressbot said...

Jim, there is two ways to judge about things -- descriptive vs normative. Descriptive, it's basically language of science. Because one cannot talk about anything, while he did not researched it thoroughly. And even then...
Normative it's language of ideology and religion. But, there is no way to persuade Universe, other Nation, just another person to behave in accordance to your normative whims.
Well, there is ways: tyranny, oppression, wars... or, the ways of Reason and Science. I like later more.

Mike Will said...

Dr. Brin: So how do the miracles of the 1940s fit into this?

I've read a lot about that time, mainly because of 1941-51/Asimov/Foundation. There was definitely something happening with the zeitgeist. BTW, last I saw, the Asimov candy shop in Brooklyn was still going for cheap (now a plumbing supplier I believe). Somebody with some dough should definitely snap it up. The museum potential alone could be worth a fortune.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

'what we think of as human advances, e.g., developing agriculture or going from wood power to coal power, only happen when the old way is no longer viable. That seems in line with your observation here.'

So how do the miracles of the 1940s fit into this?...

First of all, I was describing a specific book I read 30 or so years ago. Your argument isn't with me. The book was about entropy, but in a social context rather than a scientific one. The author's point was that we tend to think of (for example) agriculture as an advancement from hunter-gathering, but it's actually a less energy-efficient way of supporting life, and the reason for going that way wasn't to save energy, but because the old, more energy-efficient way of life had been depleted and was no longer possible.

In a way, he's making a similar point to yours, that humanity will find a way, but his take was that when we're forced to go from one mode to another, the one we have to follow is less efficient than what came before--that something is lost each time.

progressbot said...

It was just recap of post-WWI. Who pushed to create League of Nations?

So, can you be more specific -- what exactly you see that miraculous? Is it some ams stuff again, I can't have a clue about?

Mike Will said...

Re: 1940s
There was a strange 'echo' of that time that swept the Toronto scene in the early 1980s. Maybe it happened elsewhere too; I was living here. The music video craze was in full blossom (John Roberts was a local VJ, later went to CNN/FOXnews !) That time was a strange brew of longing for peace, Tandy/Commodore computers, and pride in the military, esp NORAD & NATO. Very Asimovian. I miss those years.
Gary O - Shades of '45

David Brin said...

Two great SHORT posts by Progressbot! And clear and cogent, too!

David Brin said...