Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Disputation - and disinformation

I'm in DC for NASA and other meetings. So let's offer up a trove of observations about privacy, transparency and freedom....

A new debate platform - Kialo - goes some way toward the sort of “Disputation Arenas” I’ve been talking about and urging for 20 years. Kialo enables you to visualize discussions as an interactive tree of pro and con arguments. At the top is the thesis, which is supported or weakened by pro and con arguments underneath. Each one of these arguments can branch into subsequent arguments that support or attack them in turn.  (I do offer some added and important layers.)

The greatest innovation of our enlightenment experiment wasn’t democracy, or freedom, or fair-competitive markets, though these are important. One thing is enabled by those things, and makes them enabled – reciprocal accountability.

Reciprocal accountability (RA) is what lets us criticize each others’ favorite delusions and errors, the synergy that led to all our recent successes... that kings, lords, owners and priests all reflexively punished for 6000 years.  RA can come via cooperation, or by negotiation, or via fair-open competitive argument.  By applying RA, we got our five great positive sum arenas for competitive creativity… democracy for policies and law, Science for zeroing in toward better models of the world, markets for creating ever better goods and services, justice courts for adversarially and openly iterating justice, and sports – 

-- the example that makes clear how necessary regulation is, to deter the otherwise inevitable cheating that always spoiled these arenas, in eras past. The kind of cheating that threatens to spoil everything today, as cooperation, negotiation, and fair-open competitive argument are all being directly and deliberately undermined in America and the West, by powers that want a return to those 60 centuries of feudal misrule.

Can we transform the Internet from a swamp of lies into a process by which RA works, as it has in the other five arenas, till now? For a rather intense look at how "truth" is determined in science, democracy, courts and markets, see "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition," now posted on my website.

== The poisons chilling reciprocal accountability ==

At the opposite extreme… "Substitute arguing services" offered in China
A number of online services in China offer professional arguers who will verbally or electronically assault other people for a fixed fee. According to Radii China, “20 RMB (3 USD) gets you the standard angry phone call or WeChat message; 40 RMB (6 USD) guarantees a full day of spam calls; and 100 RMB (15 USD) blows up your target’s phone with 999 hate calls.”

Also from the  Institute for the Future (IFTF) -- social and issue-focused groups are particularly susceptible to disinformation campaigns and were targeted with computational propaganda during the 2018 mid-term elections. It also shows why the targeting of these groups will continue, and potentially worsen, in 2020. The research, The Human Consequences of Computational Propaganda, led by IFTF’s Digital Intelligence Lab, provides recommendations for fighting back.

Do these new changes at Facebook “change everything?” - or even anything? Right after the 2016 election, I spoke to some of the folks at Facebook who were looking into the fake rumors crisis and offered what I deemed unconventional but simple suggestions that would utilize competitive processes to quickly denote falsehoods... not one of which was tried. There are simple, efficient things FB could do, to start making their system more self-correcting. They are not remotely interested in achieving that outcome, alas, so it will be up to us. (If their current ameliorations fail atrociously in 2020, you can be sure Facebook will be broken up.)

Beyond FB, no one - and I mean no one, to my knowledge - seems to grasp what's missing from the Internet ecosystem.  It is the one thing that enabled markets, democracy, science, courts and sports to function. It is right there, glaringly obvious.

For a look at how "truth" is determined in science, democracy, courts and markets, see the lead article in the American Bar Association's Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000, "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition."  Now posted on my website.

== Face Recognition points the way to… Big Brother? Or else… ==

In October, Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport reportedly debuted China’s first system that allowed facial recognition for automated check-in, security clearance, and boarding. And since 2016, the Department of Homeland Security has been testing facial recognition at U.S. airports. Delta has an optional biometric system in Atlanta that uses facial recognition kiosks for check-in, baggage check, TSA identification, and boarding.

And if you howl in objection, exactly how do you foresee stopping this? Even if you pass fierce, European-style restrictions, all that Privacy Laws accomplish — according to Robert Heinlein — is to “make the spy bugs smaller.”  And smaller, faster, better, cheaper and more numerous they are getting, as predicted in Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law.

The reflex to solve these issues by shutting down information flows is impractical and impossible, and it runs diametrically opposite to the methods we used to get the very freedom and privacy we now fear losing. The only approach that ever worked - or can possibly work - is to start by asking
“which do I fear most?

What elites know about me?

Or what they can do to me?”

The former will never be constrained in any major way — name one time in the history of our species, when the mighty let themselves be blinded for long. But the latter — limiting what powerful men can DO to us — can and has been seriously accomplished during this enlightenment.

That is the difference between China’s implementation of these technologies and what we see in the West. And yes, it might end here tomorrow!  I am as frightened of Big Brother as you are. Probably more so. 

There is a narrow path out of this danger zone. And it does not start with futile howling “Don’t look at me!”

== On Data Privacy ==

Vint Cerf sent me a note saying the following passage reminded him of The Transparent Society:

Worries about data privacy erupted in the spring of 1964 with the publication of “The Naked Society,” by Vance Packard, a journalist best known for his unsparing critique of modern advertising. “The Naked Society” made a comparable assessment of the marketing schemes of big corporations, noting their immense and profitable traffic in personal data about American consumers. But he trained most of his attention on the entity that was then the largest user of mainframe computing power: the United States government.”

My recent podcast on surveillance, transparency and the future of freedom is “The future of privacy policy: A Q&A with author David Brin,” Interviewed on the AEI site by James Pethoukis.

I began tracking this when I lived in Britain in the 1980s and they led the world introducing CCD cameras on the street. Now: “Thousands of San Diego street lights are equipped with sensors and cameras. Here's what they record.” 

== Wellsprings of freedom ==

A federal court ruled this December that secretly recording government officials, including police officers, is protected under the First Amendment, over-ruling a 50 year old Massachusetts law. And if you expect me to rejoice, well, sure, yeah. This is the most important civil liberties issue of our times. For it is on the street that citizens are most likely to encounter dangerous authority and need tools of accountability. Yet, I am willing to admit a need for some discussion re: the “secretly” part. Yes, in most cases. But there may be some room for compromise. Especially since it can happen that the bully is the one holding the camera. (A truth that was interpreted all-wrong in The Circle.) 

My other cavil is that the First Amendment is not the most crucial bulwark for this right to see-and-record. 

The real justification is the almost never mentioned Sixth… the sacred Sixth… that most concerns a citizen’s right to see, to access fair witnesses and to assertively get any evidence that might exculpate and prove innocence.  Why do none of the attorneys in these cases ever mention this vastly stronger argument?

Meanwhile. Must Writers Be Moral? Their Contracts May Require It.” Seriously. We need to remember that extreme social justice warriors may be our current allies against a far-worse, worldwide mafia-oligarchic putsch… nevertheless the worst of these allies are just another kind of bully and no friends of the Enlightenment that gave us everything. Including social justice. We can agree about the direction - ever-increasing tolerance/diversity and accountability – while recognizing that sanctimony-driven bullies will be drawn to any height from which to thwart reason.

Crowd wisdom?  Someone out there explore this site claiming to be on internet censorship, and report back in comments?

== Not getting it… and getting it too much? ==

Anonymous browsing? This piece reveals how hidden your activity really is when using popular privacy tools. 

A reporter commissioned a 3D printed model of his own head to test the face unlocking systems on a range of phones — four Android models and an iPhone X: only the iPhone X defended against the attack. As far back as The Transparent Society (1998) I forecast that both the optimists and pessimists would be disappointed in face recognition and related technologies.

A disturbing article shows you how easy it is for companies to parse your activities, even when personal identifiers are stripped away, as promised by modern privacy policies. Your apps still report movements in a gross, non-ID way… and meta analysis can swiftly correlate to rebuild the fact that each movement was you.

Seriously, if your enraged or anxious reaction is to demand regulations to ban such correlations, who knows? You might succeed! And in your victorious smugness you will celebrate a potemkin triumph, an exercise in stunning delusion and futility.

I’ve said this since before The Transparent Society. We cannot base our security or safety or freedom on “policies” that aim — even with good intent! — to obscure our personal information.  

At risk - certainty - of repetition... there is a solution, when you recall that it matters far-less what elites *know* about you than what they can *do* to you. And there is a way to make them afraid of doing bad things. It is a proven way, demonstrated by 200 years of increasingly successful experiments, while “privacy via secrecy” has almost no track record of ever succeeding for long.

Want evidence?  Look at how hard the world’s elites, especially the rising oligarch-mafia, are striving to get information obscured behind veils and clouds. In such a world, they thrive. We don’t.


Treebeard said...

The new oligarchs don’t have to physically do anything to you, which is messy and relies on the loyalties of armed men on the ground, which is not where they are strong. Easier to take over the platforms by which people communicate and do business, monopolize the public square, then simply de-platform trouble-makers—the high tech version of exiling you to Siberia. It will be interesting to see how far the tech lords are able to follow China’s lead in implementing full-on digital totalitarianism (all for the sake of social justice and protecting you from foreign meddlers, of course). And the figurehead of dot-Stalinism won't be mean old Big Brother, but hip and sassy Little Sister, whose boots will be adorned with rainbow flags for stomping "fascists". Don't you know how progress works?

Alfred Differ said...

Well... I'm not harmed if FB decides to eliminate my account, so I don't see how a new oligarch can get me that way. I get that some people with business interests were de-platformed, but that's a little different. I don't have business interests that are entangled with FB assets. Also, I have no expectations regarding free speech on FB. Actually, I have no such expectations here either.

Oligarchs buying presses to silence others IS permitted as long as they can't outlaw the creation of new presses. Go ahead. De-platform me for something I said because I can start my own press. It's not that hard to get on the internet and owners of high connectivity social nodes don't owe me squat.

Alfred Differ said...


Have you tried a Quora question regarding your opinion about the value of the sixth amendment? I know one of the lawyers who used to post here disagreed with you and stated his case, but it would be interesting to see it asked in a broader environment. 8)

Gator said...

I just read "The Shockwave Rider" by John Brunner. He imagined a proto-internet linked by the phone system. The protagonist wins against a mafia-style government by creating a "worm" that makes hidden government files public. An interesting book in many ways, and an early example describing transparency as a way to fight pervasive surveillance.

Larry Hart said...

@Alfred Differ on cryptocurrencies,

I did see your after-the-onward post, and I do understand the "inflation is theft" POV. I used to share it, as I felt that if I socked money away in my mattress for 30 years, it should be able to buy the same value worth of stuff as it does if I spend it today.

I've changed my thinking on that, because nothing else in the physical world works that way. I can't forego eating a slice of pizza today and save it for 30 years, expecting it to be just as good then. Entropy is real. Why shouldn't money degrade in value over time just like everything else does?

Another point of consideration you mention is that inflation hurts people more when they are poorer. Yet the poor spend essentially their entire income in real time. As long as we're not experiencing weimar/Venezuela levels of hyperinflation, their money won't noticeably lose value in the week or month or so it takes to spend it. It seems to me that the possibility of a catastrophic drop in Bitcoin value at the wrong moment would be more of a problem for poor people (who need to spend their money now) than it is for a wealthy investor who can afford to ride out the volatility.

Of course, your point about the poor was that their salary wouldn't keep up with the rate of inflation. That's a different thing (I'm tempted to add "in fact the opposite thing") from the money itself losing value. This may in fact be your strongest argument for why inflation is a bad thing, but the fact that salaries tend to stay constant over time is not (as far as I can see) a consequence of the monetary system itself, and I'm not sure that it's the responsibility of the monetary system to accommodate the innate laziness of both employers and employees for setting the price of their labor.

Finally, it seems to me that if the money supply expands in accordance with greater supply of goods and services, then that is not inflationary. That's exactly the kind of thing that a gold standard doesn't allow, leading to deflation. The same would be the case with Bitcoin.

I'll end with an amusing anecdote from the old Cerebus list. One regular there, who happens to be a Jewish lawyer, in a moment of brain-fart once made the statement that if he had put (say) $100 in his mattress for x number of years, the money would be worth something like $240 "by inflation alone." I had to gently ask if he was really sure he was Jewish. :)

TheMadLibrarian said...

I'm not on Facebook and probably never will be (I am tickled by the fact that DH's FB feed demands for people to identify me when I appear in posted pictures.) However, FB is quite capable of inferring plenty about me by the me-sized hole in their information, like a planet occulting a distant star.

scidata said...

Vint Cerf, amazing. Next we'll find out that you know Moshe Vardi. I've been subscribing to and reading Communications of the ACM since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

Regarding Big Brother's wrath:
I'm not worried so much about nasty oligarchs and authoritarians. They tend to eat their own and cancel each other out, which is the wind that zero-summers inherit. I'm more worried that when the pendulum swings back, as it always does, there will be a lust for retribution on the part of some 'Union' folks. That would be tragic and hugely self destructive. We're going to need show "malice toward none, with charity for all" to get to the stars.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi scidata

I'm more worried that when the pendulum swings back, as it always does, there will be a lust for retribution on the part of some 'Union' folks

That is a bit like the Tyler Calumny

As in worrying about something that almost NEVER happens - in actual fact the backswing is almost NEVER a problem
It's almost never ENOUGH - so the evil ones don't learn

After your Civil War - the problem was that evil was left in power
No problems with excessive "backswings" Italy, Japan, Germany

The one I thought would end in a bloodbath was South Africa - nope very civilised

Then more recently in the USA
The backswing against Nixon for TREASON
The backswing against Reagan for TREASON
The backswing against Bush 2 for War crimes

Nothing! - no "backswing"

Put it on the "keep an eye on list" - but worry MUCH MORE about the opposite

scidata said...

Re: Tytler Calumny

I had to google that term. The pics section returned a cover of Asimov's "Foundation" !
Digging a bit deeper, I found this from our host in 2012 (I guess that's what you were referring to, Duncan).
Saves me a lot of effort; what he said.

As for myself, I don't believe in hard-coded 'Seldon Crises', mathematical psychohistory, zero-sum political equations, "glib nostrums", Star Trek cosplay, Pollyanna, or the Tooth Fairy. I'm a stone-cold rationalist (which is an admission of ignorance more than a prideful claim of superiority). However, rationalism is not inconsistent with skeptical optimism.

Larry Hart said...


To have Donald Trump — the bone-spur evader of the Vietnam draft, the coddler of autocrats, the would-be destroyer of the European Union, the pay-up-now denigrator of NATO, the apologist for the white supremacists of Charlottesville — commemorate the boys from Kansas City and St. Paul who gave their lives for freedom is to understand the word impostor. You can’t make a sculpture from rotten wood.

It’s worth saying again. If Europe is whole and free and at peace, it’s because of NATO and the European Union; it’s because the United States became a European power after World War II; it’s because America’s word was a solemn pledge; it’s because that word cemented alliances that were not zero-sum games but the foundation for stability and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Of this, Trump understands nothing. Therefore he cannot comprehend the sacrifice at Omaha Beach 75 years ago. He cannot see that the postwar trans-Atlantic achievement — undergirded by the institutions and alliances he tramples upon with such crass truculence — was in fact the vindication of those young men who gave everything.

As Eisenhower, speaking at the Normandy American Cemetery, last resting place of 9,387 Americans, told Walter Cronkite for the 20th anniversary of the D-Day landings: “These people gave us a chance, and they bought time for us, so that we can do better than we have before.”

That was a solemn responsibility. For decades it was met, culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Doing better, however, is not rising nativism, xenophobia, nationalism and authoritarianism given a nod and a wink by the president of the United States. It’s not Brexit, Britain turning its back on the Europe it helped free.

The American moral collapse personified by Trump is not “beautiful” or “phenomenal” or “incredible” or any of the president’s other clunky two-a-penny superlatives. It’s sickening and dangerous.


Larry Hart said...

From the same NY Times article...this describes why I've considered Trump's occupancy of the office "illegitimate" even without evidence of fraud. He's just not doing the job, and he's not able to do the job:

My impression here is that Europe has gotten used to Trump to the point that it is no longer strange that the American president is a stranger. In less than two and a half years Trump has stripped his office of dignity, authority and values.

scidata said...

This is my biggest criticism of the Dems. The Rational West is moving on - without the US. But the Dems seemed mired in navel-gazing, paralyzed with indecision, choked by etiquette. They don't seem to realize that this is manna to Confederates.

Lorraine said...

I'm less worried by what elites can do to me than I am by what they know about me that non-elites do not. I'm as worried about asymmetry of information than actionability of information. They're variants on the same problem anyway, as far as I can see. The most actionable information is the most hoarded, the most jealously guarded, the most weaponized.

David Brin said...

scidata, we have 4000 years of written history and another 2000 years of implied and/or oral history that show that zero-sum societies led by oligarchs and authoritarians do nothing ‘cancel out.’ sure they kill each other, but they unite at light speed to do higher priority suppression of any hint of competition from the lower orders. Exactly the behavior that Treebeard expects from any and everybody who gets any power at all. But this illustrates perfectly his mental deficiencies, when he denounces smart professions for seeking the same thing.

1- Even if that were true, maybe technocracy would be less spectacularly stupid than other aristocracies..

2- But it’s not true. Repeatedly I show what the Ent and pal-troglodytes cannot read, or grasp or paraphrase or comprehend or ever remember. The smart professions are competitive. THEY ARE competitive. All the institutions and major processes they have created are competitive. Scientists are inherently competitive. Our inventions… science, democracy, markets, courts and sports are COMPETITIVE, fool.

Not only will he not read or comprehend the previous paragraph, but he could not paraphrase its meaning on a wager or even if his life depended on it. Like a totally blind person asked to mix paints to match sky blue.

scidata look at the 8 phases of the civil war. The union WAS a bit vengeful after phase one, seizing and redistributing a quarter of the land taken from tories and royalist absentee owners. But after phases 2,4,7 the Union victors practiced “charity for all and malice toward none.”

The confeds won 3,5,6 and were violently oppressive and vicious.

David Brin said...

Lorraine offers us the utterly bizarre: "I'm less worried by what elites can do to me than I am by what they know about me that non-elites do not. "

What stunning innocence! In most of history elites could have you dragged off and disappear. You take for granted limits on what they can DO to you that none of our ancestors... and few of today's minorities... would deem anything but naive.

" I'm as worried about asymmetry of information than actionability of information."

Right overall target... amid "logic" that is dazzlingly ignorant. The only way to keep elites from doing bad things is accountability which in turn only happens when you deal with the asymmetry... which just happens to be a topic that I have been explicating - more than almost anyone on this planet - for 25 years.

scidata your cynical view of the democrats is diametrically wrong. They are passionate. When they get power they are manic and utterly busy. Look at any blue power state. The dems in CA legislate with frenetic fury. They will if the pathway opens in DC.

Where dems are stupid is in grasping polemical judo. There are fifty things they could be saying that would eviscerate.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Where dems are stupid is in grasping polemical judo. There are fifty things they could be saying that would eviscerate.

When the story came out about how Trump had lost more money than anyone else in the 90s, Bill Maher opined that Elizabeth Warren should refer to him as Broke-ahontas.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: scidata look at the 8 phases of the civil war

I'm a simple Canadian, and currently 90% occupied with the NBA finals. I recently watched a short film about Vicksburg and was totally lost halfway through. That war is utterly baffling to me. It's like watching movies about the same family squabble over and over for outsiders like me.

My view of the Dems is not so much cynical as frustrated. I'm counting on the passion you describe, I long for its speedy return. AOC reminds me of Arkady Darell. Watching the Cheeto stumble through his scripted D-Day notes this morning hurt my heart. It was as if the words writhed and cringed as they passed his lips. He really wanted to say there were good people on both sides.

BTW, I value informed consistency - it hints of correctness. Your 2012 piece could have been written today.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

And if you howl in objection, exactly how do you foresee stopping this? Even if you pass fierce, European-style restrictions, all that Privacy Laws accomplish — according to Robert Heinlein — is to “make the spy bugs smaller.”

I never thought of it this way before, but do ineffective privacy laws function the same way overuse of antibiotics does--contributing the the evolution of privacy-resistant strains of surveillance?

Larry Hart said...


AOC reminds me of Arkady Darell

Since you're obviously fluent on "Foundation", I think the rise to power of Donald Trump resembles that of The Mule. In fact, I see "Trump has Mule powers" as the most Occam's Razor-friendly theory to explain him.

Lindsay Graham could play Captain Han Pritcher.

scidata said...

Unfortunately, most of the Senate is well qualified to play Lord Dorwin.

reason said...

Just a point about savings and deflation and money. It is important to distinguish between circulating money, savings ad a leakage from circulating money and savings created by investment (this is where Austrian economics which has infected the Libertarian community gets it 100% wrong). If there is deflation then people who remove money from circulation will reduce money income (money income being the circilating money supply times velocity of circulation). This will the deflation worse and reward those who are exacerbating the problem. If most money is circulating however, and demand is strong enough to create inflation then real interest rates will be positive and the even the poor will not lose by saving as it was when I was younger. It is the passive savings that are the problem and what is pushing down real interest rates. Positive inflation, even stagflation discourages passive savings and so punishes those causing the problem. That is not to say that accelerating inflation is not a danger, but controlled consistent inflation is generally associated historically with higher growth and more widespread affluence. The full argument is more complex but that is the outline. It is also worth noting that any policy regime will be positive for some and negative for others, but widespread wastage (e.g. unemployment, intreated illness or conspicuous consumption for zero sum status games) is what we need to try to avoid.

reason said...

Hope you can understand that despite the typos. The other pernicious thing about deflation ot even very low inflation is that debt becomes a more suffocating burden (the flip side of loss of savings). Life is full of uncertainties, the promise that you will have more tomorrow (even if it worth less) can smooth out the bumps a lot.

David Brin said...

I am at NASA HQ typing this. I wish dep pols would make clear they are pro science and yes, pro space.

scidata said...

Not sure what dep pols are, but ask them if they're looking for a good Forth programmer.

Alfred Differ said...


that if I socked money away in my mattress for 30 years, it should be able to buy the same value worth of stuff as it does if I spend it today

Well… I do not think that would be fair either. To stabilize the currency that much would require serious intervention and a belief in one’s plans to engineer the result. I don’t have such a belief in anyone’s plans and wouldn’t tolerate giving them the power to try.

My issue with ‘inflation as theft’ is that it is PLANNED inflation. People with a lot of money can hedge against that. Poor people generally cannot. Since our rule makers tend to be rich people, it is effectively the rich robbing the poor.

Piketty had a good description of the method. If I am rich enough, chances are most of my ‘income’ comes from investments rather than salary. Dividends, equity growth, and interest are likely my primary sources. If I am rich and smart, I will diversify my investments by risking some of it and putting the rest in stable, interest bearing accounts. Piketty pointed out that the interest I earn could outstrip economic growth in the long haul leaving the rich with a larger percentage of the wealth as the decades pass. Piketty’s argument has a flaw because of its treatment of human capital, but that is a different matter. What got my attention was how the rich benefited by government debt. His description of debt in the UK showed an alliance between government and upper-class investors that put the fix in.

We put in a similar fix in the US when we do not keep a lid on our federal debt. Rich people buy the bonds that produce interest at a rate a little above inflation, thus they are hedged against inflation and poor people are not. Worse yet… WE ARE ENABLING THIS!

Planned inflation is not entropic. It is caustic. I can easily accept that all forms of capital tend to degrade over time, so stashing gold or silver under the mattress is a terrible idea. However, when rich people who are safely hedged get to make rules biases against those who cannot achieve that safety, I tend to get even more upset than progressives who should be working hard to prevent this. Old school liberals like me see this as a violation of Justice.

I am not stupid, though. If y’all flood the market with treasury bonds, I am going to buy them and hedge against the theft. If y’all willingly encourage us to do what the poor cannot, I will be able to live with it because I am not a rule maker at present. I will point it out, though. Justice IS harmed and we should not be tolerating it.

Alfred Differ said...


I hear you, but the feedbacks go both ways. People who remove money from circulation during a deflationary period make the issue worse. People who unload their savings into circulation during an inflationary period make the issue worse.

My complaint with low level inflation is the rule makers are biased and better positioned to hedge against the harm they are doing. Since rule makers are generally rich, this is a violation in terms of equality.

Low level inflation is probably the least harmful of many possible violations, but when it is planned, there are human faces associated with the harm instead of Lady Luck. I may be libertarian, but I CAN imagine what it is like to know real people harming me. THAT'S the Justice violation.

jim said...

In what appears to me like karmic justice, the astronomers with ground based telescopes are having a sad :-( about Space X's 12,000 internet satellites. Will ground based telescopes be useful in the future? Will Elon Musk have to pay for the destruction of their ability to view the universe? The reduced cost of putting shit in orbit has some real downsides without event talking about putting weapons up there.

scidata said...

Moving a radio dish off-axis to test local/sidereal is not an option anymore.

Alfred Differ said...

The Rational West has always been larger than the US, but I'm sure they will welcome us back once the fever breaks.

As for Canadian attempts to understand our Civil War, it is useful to think of the US as a jumble of roughly 10 cultures. These are not racial or ethnic groupings. They are more about attitudes, tolerances, and rules of justice. They tend to clump into two groups in a conflict much like smaller political parties will do to achieve a parliamentary majority. However, much of the time they only loosely clump. For example, a Republican from Montana isn't likely to agree on a lot of details with a Republican from Alabama, but during an election they might agree enough to outvote New York Democrats. In this example, the politics isn't the point. New York City residents ARE rather different. California coastal residents come on more than one variety too, so it is messy.

Yes... we are one family at times, but it is a big extended messy family. We come together when faced with an external threat. We split in two along less than obvious faults under internal threats. We mostly ignore each other and the differences between us when there are no credible threats.

One of the challenges we face right now with the Russians messing with our elections is the need to get all of us to realize there is an external threat. With that, watch out world. Without it, Putin wins.

Alfred Differ said...

Lot's of ground based telescopes have spiffy digital equipment that can capture frames much faster than in the days of olde when I learned the ropes. Dump the frames with satellites wandering through and integrate the rest.

Also, with cheap access to space, we can put more telescopes up there far away from the noise and bustle of civilization.

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

Alfred, cash under a bed deserves anuthing that happens to its value. But in order to keep money working, the govt should offer inflation neutral bank accounts to the lower classes. that's what social security already is.

Yes we are one family. But I divide US culture differently than most. Not left-right or racial, but positive viz zero-sum. Which lumps the gonzo locos of a dizzy far-left together with the much larger pool of nasty confederate loonies and paranoids and just-plain-scared folks... and their plantation-lord/casino-mogul/mafiosi/KGB/Saudi/inheritance-brat/wallstreet-parasite lords across the entire right.

Sorry. dep pols meant democratic party politicians. Mostly honest and well-meaning and one homes. But polemically dumber than rocks.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

We put in a similar fix in the US when we do not keep a lid on our federal debt. Rich people buy the bonds that produce interest at a rate a little above inflation, thus they are hedged against inflation and poor people are not.

I'm not dismissing your expertise in the field, but I do think we're each focusing on a different piece of the puzzle. I do understand your perspective, but I'm not sure you understand mine.

Your arguments about inflation hurting the poor still seem centered on the notion that wages stay flat. While I realize I'm not in the working poor, I have been a wage-earner all my adult life, which begins in the late 80s when $25,000 a year supported a middle-class family to now when $80,000 is barely considered a decent professional houshold income. During that time, wages rose with inflation--not to match productivity, but I did get "Cost of Living" increases even when real wages were flat in the early 90s and in this century.

The old school definition of inflation that I remember from the 60s and 70s had both wages and prices rising. And if COLA pay increases are tied to inflation, then the worker is not harmed at all. The saver is harmed, but only if interest rates are lower than inflation, which does seem to be the case now, but wasn't when I was growing up, despite inflation being much higher then.

Inflation hurts creditors while deflation hurts debtors. Which group is generally represented among the poor?

I get that the rich generally making the rules in their own favor hurts the poor, but that's true across the board. It's not something specific to inflation. I'd say that what hurts the poor in particular and labor in general is the owner class hoarding all of the productivity gains of the last few decades. I'll agree with you that it is a scam, but not because of inflation. In fact, by depressing wages, it may actually lessen inflation compared to what inflation would look like if wages rose faster.

David Brin said...

good argument

Alfred Differ said...


I think I CAN see your point, but I do not agree with it. I will say that low-level inflation is not the kind of trauma that deserves a foaming mouth response, so I shall calmly debate with you and others to see who can learn what. 8)

First up, COLA adjustments that let your salary keep up with inflation actually DO harm you somewhat. Harm is done to your employer who thinks they have a good deal in the trade they are making with you. COLA money comes from somewhere. If they can pass on their costs as price increases for their products and services, they pass the harm on to others instead. Eventually, it comes back to you, though, in a diluted form. If you are currently happy with your employment arrangement, COLA increases make them a little less happy and that will matter to you… eventually. Obviously, if you are the employer you can see the harm COLA adjustments do to you. They force you to change your employment and prices arrangements. Would you be happy with that knowing some rich rule maker could hedge THEIR risk by purchasing treasury bonds for which they have full control of the supply? If you would not like this as an employer, you should not like this as their employee because your employer always has the option to redefine your job just enough to lay you off and start fresh with someone younger and cheaper. They will not do that lightly because they sacrifice the human capital you have amassed while working there, but it IS an option.

Second up…

Your arguments about inflation hurting the poor still seem centered on the notion that wages stay flat.

Not so. What your wages do is along an orthogonal dimension. Consider a similar example. You are invested in a mutual fund that is averaging 12% growth year over year. I am in a similar fund pulling down the same numbers. Your fund charges 0.5% in fees each year. Mine charges 0.10%. Over the long haul, my investment is going to grow faster. In the short run, the difference is probably too small for either of us to care much. Your fund managers, however, are still overcharging you in my opinion. You would be better off switching unless there is a big cost associated with switching. Strong wage growth merely masks what the cheaters are doing when they design rules that create low-level inflation. It is to their benefit for you to remain financially uneducated especially on this topic. You will see exactly this same kind of behavior among investment opportunities where rule makers try to hide their fees. Forcing corporations, funds, and other groups to be more transparent is an excellent use of regulatory power, but educating the plebes is at least as important.

Inflation hurts everyone. Deflation hurts everyone. Some of us are better equipped to hedge against one or the other or both. We need to face up to that and admit that our currencies are not magically stable nor are they governed by people who manage them in a disinterested manner... or for the good of Joe Citizen. Understanding the motivations and actions of the rule makers is an important element of freedom. What I am pointing out is that there is something mildly nefarious going on with respect to low-level inflation and y’all are enabling it.

Larry Hart said...


I can accept your arguments as long as your conclusion is not, "...therefore, we must go back on the gold standard." That solves some problems by introducing others. Reasonable people can argue which is better, but the notion that gold alone is "objective value" is absurd.

Also, you're arguing specifically that inflation is bad, not that expanding the money supply to accommodate rising production is bad. I'm ok as long as you acknowledge the distinction.

Alfred Differ said...


the govt should offer inflation neutral bank accounts to the lower classes

I would support that to get them into the financial system, but I would be wary of how inflation neutrality was achieved. I would be upset if they were encouraged to open such accounts blindly because I can imagine at least a half dozen ways to screw them in their ignorance. Of course, they are already being screwed a dozen different ways while they are trapped outside the financial markets, so I WOULD adjust to minimize the harm… and then expect more improvements later.

What I would rather see is broader use of small credit unions where every dollar saved is a shareholder position. I do not just want the poor in the financial markets. I want them to have skin in the decision making game. I have not ‘banked’ at a for-profit entity since the days when I was an employee at a sub-prime lender. There is a good reason for this as that time taught me a thing or two about our market and our regulators. Some of those lessons were driven home in 2009 when I studied the meltdown aftermath in economics terms.

duncan cairncross said...

Inflation hurts people - deflation hurts people

But restricting the money supply hurts everybody as well!

I still like R A Heinlein's solution of

Increasing the money supply to match the size of the economy

AND - doing that by giving additional money to all citizens

Alfred Differ said...


The gold standard would be a terrible idea in this modern economy. ANY particular standard would be a weird idea as far as I'm concerned. Ultimately, currencies are another commodity and we should be buying and selling them when we choose. If we had the freedom to do so, by ending the legal monopoly nations have on issuing 'legal' currencies, there would be no set standard. Supplies can still grow as they make sense like when the economy actually grows, but they should shrink too when it shrinks.

The gold bug libertarians are nutty in their belief that a gold standard would fix things and I tell them occasionally. The actual fix in an internet enabled world is currency freedom.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

The gold bug libertarians are nutty in their belief that a gold standard would fix things and I tell them occasionally.

I'm not sure they even believe it will "fix" anything. They just believe that a gold standard is morally right, and that we should adhere to it irrespective of the harm (or good) that it does. Their primary concern seems not to be the solving of problems, but the defense of the value of pieces of money.

The actual fix in an internet enabled world is currency freedom.

Aren't you free to engage in barter right now? What you likely can't do is tell your employer, "I'd rather be paid in Krugerrands", but unless you command an awful lot of bargaining power, you couldn't do that with currency freedom either. Freedom works both ways.

duncan cairncross said...

I would prefer the "freedom" to elect a legislature that will try and "control" the currency in the best way for all of us

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Monopolies are nearly always a bad thing. This includes a monopoly on currency.

In the past, having more than one currency was simply not practical. For cash transactions, multiple currencies are still not practical.

Today we have fast computers. This makes having a few different currencies circulating simultaneously is quite practical for most non-cash transactions.

I suggest that 4 simultaneous currencies should be built-in to the basic financial system:

1. A government-issued fiat currency (such as the dollar).

2. A currency based upon a "market-basket" of commodities of relatively-stable value. The mix of commodities would have to be re-balanced slightly every year or so (since the market value of any commodity will change over time).

3. A blockchain-based currency.

4. A currency specifically designed for micro-payments. A micro-payment system immediately available to everyone would cause an explosion of new uses for the internet in ways that no one can even imagine now.

A multiple-currency system of any kind would provide a considerable amount of resilience against excessive inflation and other monetary diseases.

Alfred Differ said...


Some of the gold bugs might do that, but the ones I know do not. They are honest in their belief that there are diseases that a gold standard would cure. My concern is not that they are wrong, but that the cure would be worse than the disease. There are non-trivial reasons why we let go of the gold standard and they aren't all about government monsters trying to cheat us.

I DO oversimplify when I reject a gold standard, though. There is a way to make it work in an internet enabled world, but it involves something like Jerry's suggestion with a digital currency standing in for physical gold. In my coin collection, I still have a few silver reserve notes that made it clear they could be traded for physical silver. That's not quite enough unless one fixes the price of the stuff to either a flat exchange rate or a predictable one. For example, I could buy 10 kg of gold, put it in my basement with a webcam pointing at it as proof of ownership, and then issue a cryptocurrency against it. As long as I remained honest about my reserve and promised to trade X 'coins' for 1 gram, it might be possible to use those coins as a small, tradable currency. I would have to specify the formula for X and tie it to the mining algorithm, of course. Doable? Theoretically... yes. Currencies require trust among those who trade them, though, so they'd have to trust me. That's the hitch the gold bugs don't get. They trust gold, but many of us don't. We trust the owners of gold even less.


If you lived in my state, I'd respect your freedom to try to elect such people and then turn right around and try to persuade them against your arguments. I don't want a currency controller any more than I want a master. 8)

Alfred Differ said...


In the past, having more than one currency was simply not practical.

I'd tweak that ever so slightly and say it wasn't practical without a metal standard. In the American West, you could use US dollars or Mexican Pesos side by side based on their silver content because of a silver standard. Trust was still an issue, of course. Every coin is worthless unless someone is willing to trade something useful for it. 8)

I suspect #3 and #4 could easily be the same thing if the cryptocurrency encodes small smart contracts. I might keep the same currency in more than one wallet to support different purposes, but we already do that with different types of bank accounts.

I like #2. 8)

duncan cairncross said...

While your government is more than a bit dubious I would still take having an elected government in charge of currency over the alternatives of letting the rich do it or of letting fly loose - which actually translated into letting the very rich control it

Currency should join - Police, Fire, Courts, Education and Defence on being public goods that should be operated for the benefit of all

If you can't trust your elected representatives then throw the beggars out

There is no "God" of the markets that will look after you if you pray nicely

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: That's the hitch the gold bugs don't get. They trust gold, but many of us don't.

Especially when lurking out there in the dark, among the debris of long-ago blasted stars, is a hunk of platinum 2km in diameter.

jim said...

I think that there is a very good case for using energy as the basic unit of accounting for economic activity. And the basis for the case is that using energy ties the financial system directly to the actual physical world. There is no way to simply print money you must actually tap into an energy flow or deplete an energy store (like fossil fuels).

On a related note
I have been worried about the coming global economic downturn and think that it will be bigger and more destructive than the 2008 GFC.
There are indications that it has started already.
In China diesel fuel sales have been cratering in recent months
Down 14% in March (compared to last year)
Down 19% in April (compared to last year)
That indicates a severe reduction in economic activity.

The silver lining if this is true, is that the US will be in an economic downturn before the 2020 election and Trump and the republicans could be tossed out of power and the Democrats will have a chance to find their 21st century FDR. (*hint* it is not Biden)

Jon S. said...

"On a related note
I have been worried about the coming global economic downturn and think that it will be bigger and more destructive than the 2008 GFC.
There are indications that it has started already.
In China diesel fuel sales have been cratering in recent months
Down 14% in March (compared to last year)
Down 19% in April (compared to last year)
That indicates a severe reduction in economic activity."

Or a shift to some other form of energy usage - gasoline, coal, solar, wind, some combination thereof... Single facts in isolation are seldom useful as predictors of anything except trends regarding that fact. Knowledge of the downturn in diesel use in China mostly tells us that we shouldn't try to sell more diesel to China.

jim said...

No Jon
You will not get a 15-20% reduction in diesel fuel usage in a massive economy like china's in a single year by substitution. You can only do something of this magnitude by using your trucks, trains and heavy industrial / construction equipment a lot less.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

They are honest in their belief that there are diseases that a gold standard would cure. My concern is not that they are wrong, but that the cure would be worse than the disease.

That's my point as well. Not that the gold standard doesn't solve some problems, but that it introduces others at the same time. What I firmly object to is the notion (especially among the Randroids) that gold represents "objective value"

Back more to the original discussion, which was about Bitcoin rather than about inflation, it seems to me that as long as the participants in the transaction value the Bitcoin based upon how many dollars that Bitcoin is worth at the moment, then the Bitcoin is not functioning the way I would expect a currency to act. Only when we start talking about the price of milk and beans in Bitcoin, or the worthiness of a salary in Bitcoin would I consider it to be a real medium of exchange among society in general. Until then, it's more like a stock certificate--something that is worth money, but is not money itself.

Jon S. said...

However, the value of Bitcoin fluctuates at a rate far too rapid, and (from an outsider's perspective, anyway) random, to be usefully equated to the value of any consumable. The amount needed to buy a bushel of beans when you leave your home to go to the grocery store might well be the amount needed to buy a can of beans by the time you arrive, and then a metric ton of beans at checkout. It's impossible to plan consumption (meals, fuel, monthly bills) when you can't even guess at what your currency will be worth when you go to spend it.

I don't know if other cryptocurrencies fluctuate as rapidly; one seldom hears about the value of Etherium, for example.

Larry Hart said...

Just by serendipitous coincidence, I came across this Smithsonian article about Bitcoin in the paper magazine. It does quite a good job of explaining to the uninitiated both the history of currency and the ways that cryptocurrencies fit into the picture.

The artcile talks about both the good and bad aspects of crypto. The good sounds a lot like what Alfred has been saying, while the bad sounds like the very things that bother me. Since my point is not so much "Bitcoin is evil" as "Bitcoin is not the panacea it claims to be", I'm willing to accept the picture, both good and bad.

I found the passage below to be especially enlightening. I've considered Alfred's notion that the average consumer become literate and proficient in currency evaluations to be unworkable, but the article makes clear that this was indeed the case long ago:

But figuring out which bill to trust was hard—a daily calculation for the average American. If you lived in New Hampshire and someone handed you a $5 bill issued by a Pennsylvania bank, should you trust it? Maybe you’d only give someone $4 worth of New Hampshire money for it, because, well, to truly redeem that bill for gold or coins you’d need to travel to Pennsylvania. The farther the provenance of the bill, the less it might be worth.

“As crazy as this sounds, this was normal for Americans,” says Steven Mihm, associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and author of A Nation of Counterfeiters. In a very real way, Americans thought daily about the philosophy of currency—what makes a bill worth something?—in a way that few modern Americans do. It makes them far more similar to those digital pioneers today, pondering the possible value of their obscure alt-coins.


Larry Hart said...

addendum to the above.

The Smithsonian article talks about the danger of evaporation of faith in a currency not backed by a commodity or state power. The relevant passage is:

Still, observers aren’t sure a currency can work when it’s backed only by the faith of people participating in it. “Historically, currencies require either that it’s based in something real, like gold, or it’s based in power, the power of the state,” as Weatherford says. If for some reason the community of people who believe in Bitcoin were to falter, its value could dissolve overnight.

Gold-backed money like pre-1933 dollars had intrinsic value in that they could be exchanged for gold. Fiat money seems to be made up out of nothing, but they do have intrinsic value in that the government itself will accept them as payment, including payment of taxes. The value of Bitcoin really is only in the fact that someone else will accept them as payment. Which reminds me of a Ponzi scheme or a game of hot potato. It might take the backing of either a government or a large NGO like Amazon or Facebook promising to accept Bitcoin as payment to keep it viable.

matthew said...

Pertinent to discussions of the effects of lead blood levels that we've had here:

matthew said...

Jerry - please show your work on your assertion that a state monopoly on currency is a bad thing.

I notice that many libertarians (not uniquely, but a higher rate than anyone else, IMO) tend to state their beliefs as an axiomatic law. In this case I believe you are using this polemic trick - state an opinion as a hard universal law. So, show your work on the assertion, please. In the spirit of discussion, I'll start with a counter-argument and example.

I believe that history and evidence shows the benefit of a central state in control of currency. Stability in trading and markets are the highest with a central state in charge of currency. My examples are the growth of the US dollar (the defacto universal currency of our world) versus the troubles of the member states in the EU in managing their own currency supplies (Greece anyone?). We even have lots of historical examples in the US to compare and contrast- the before mentioned state in the "Wild West" where banks created their own currencies, exchange was based on a "hard-metal (gold, silver) basis), and people routinely lost their savings as a result of having too much currency that subsequently became obsolete.

A laissez faire currency regime does not out-perform a state-run currency, at least in any example I am aware of.

Show your work, not your magical incantation.

duncan cairncross said...

To Matthew's point - a Laissez faire currency is NOT some sort of magical self regulating thing instead it is another tool that the very rich can use - NOT in a way that benefits all of us

The "state" however - IS US (if we can take it back from the 1%) so a state-run currency should be run to benefit US the people

The lead and children issue - so if we (baby boomers) had been tested and treated as children rather than just being exposed then we might not have turned out as bad as we did!

And it is definitely worth spending more money on testing and treating todays kids

TCB said...

@ Larry Hart and others, on the topic of "objective value."

Let me tell you about my Hofner guitar.

I have a 1963 Hofner Flamenco classical guitar, bought for about $25 at the Goodwill store across town about ten-ish years ago. These guitars are somewhat rare in the United States, but not particularly expensive. I can probably sell it for $350 or so. When mine was made, in Germany, the US still had a lot of tariffs in place, which is why these are not common here. Groups like the Beatles started out playing Hofners because the UK had a limit on musical instrument imports, they wanted Fenders and Gibsons but couldn't get them... I digress. Point is, this guitar probably cost about $35 when bought new. Now it's worth $350.

But convert that to hours worked!

The number of hours an average worker would need to buy this guitar today (at $350) is not far from the number of hours a 1963 worker would have needed to buy it then (at $35). Two days' pay, perhaps three. So in this case it has just held its value. For you, 'objective value' can be substituted for 'what is my time and labor worth'.

Inflation or deflation would be mere numerical hiccups if they did not affect that ratio. But if they do: think of hyperinflation. Let's say I get paid $10,000 a month. Not bad! That's $120,000 a year. $58 an hour, give or take a bit. I'm upper middle class! I can pay for a pizza with all the trimmings for 25 minutes' work. Two hours, decent shoes. A beater used car is two weeks pay. Ten weeks pay gets a new car. I can buy a cheap house for two years pay, a fancier one for four.

Then hyperinflation hits. Maybe I get a raise, but the inflation exceeds that. Maybe I have to work four hours for that pizza, half a week for the shoes, two years for the car. (This is actually a mild hyperinflation! What if the price of a house is what I can now expect to earn in twenty years?) People living on their retirement accounts, based on the old level of inflation, are wiped out in no time. The wealthy fear hyperinflation. It can clean them out too.

A deflationary scenario is disruptive too. The Great Depression was like this. You could buy a meal for a quarter. But did you even have a quarter? The price/labor ratio is bust if you cannot sell your labor at all... the New Deal tackled that particular problem by putting millions to work on government projects...

Jerry Emanuelson said...


My suggestion was that monopolies are nearly always a bad thing. I can't prove it because currency-choice has never been built into a financial system on any large scale. (In the case of the dollar and the peso in the 19th century American West, as far as I am aware, that was only because ultimately both were either actual silver or redeemable in silver. They were essentially the same currency.)

I provided a suggestion that would be relatively easy to implement, and that would appear to me to be relatively easy to back away from if it caused problems. If the government wanted to stop a system of currency-choice, but the people stubbornly insisted upon continuing to use the multi-currency system, it would be a likely warning of a tyrannical government (and probably a high-dangerous government). Note that I am not proposing abandonment of the government-issued dollar, only merging other easily-available choices into the basic financial system.

I can only point out the dangers inherent in our present monopoly-currency system.

Proof that the present U.S. currency monopoly (with the dollar being, for all practical purposes, the international reserve currency) has critically failed (in one respect at least) is evident from one simple fact. After nearly 3 decades of a commercial internet, with countless billions of internet pageviews every day, we still have no practical micro-payments system. I'll cover the extreme danger of an absence of a micro-payments system in my next comment.

Even though hyperinflation hasn't happened yet in the United States, such disasters are too common throughout history and are too devastating. In 1971, one man in the United States government single-handedly destroyed the most stable international monetary system that the world had developed so far. (The man was Richard Nixon, and the monetary system was Bretton-Woods.) See:

See the graph in the above Wikipedia article (or the graph of any metric of economic health that covers the last hundred years) and you will see the huge damage that the meddling of one government can do. (In this case, it was done by the United States government in order to finance the killing and maiming of tens of thousands of Americans and Vietnamese.) This is the same government that has absolute control over the present U.S. currency, and that has powerful influence on most other currencies.

After Nixon's actions, The United States only very narrowly escaped hyperinflation with price inflation approaching an annual rate of 20 percent a few years later. This long period of high price inflation trained the Baby Boomers that saving money was a very bad idea, and we are still experiencing many of the adverse effects today of this severe inflation of 4 decades ago.

I own (what was until recently) a legal-tender 100 trillion dollar bank note from Zimbabwe. I also own a handful of Venezuelan Bolivars that I brought back from a trip there in 1998. Both are now completely worthless. They are just reminders to me of what can happen rather suddenly in any country where there is only one choice of currency. Especially in the case of Venezuela, the multi-currency option that I proposed would likely have saved millions from years of misery. The micro-payments system would also have allowed many horribly-impoverished Venezuelans to break free of their poverty.

duncan cairncross said...

The lead and children study also shows that exposures that are much lower than the levels that we would intervene on also increase violent crime

Jerry Emanuelson said...

I should also point out that the Bretton-Woods system was somewhat of an intrinsic multi-currency system, at least for governments. Individuals humans had no practical choice in the matter, but individual governments had limited choice of going back and forth between my options 1 and 2. Bretton-Woods was basically a commodity-backed system which offered individual governments some limited ability to expand or contract their money supply. This is some pretty strong evidence that simultaneous multiple types of currency work the best, by far, at least at the government level.

My assertion that it would work even better if readily-available at the individual level can't be proven until it is tried, but I think that there is a lot of evidence that it would work.

Note that the Bretton-Woods system was not abandoned because it wasn't working. It just wasn't working for Richard Nixon.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Concerning micro-payments and the recent movement of much of the economy onto the internet:

The absence of a micro-payments system leaves millions of man-hours of truly productive work uncompensated. Most of these uncompensated workers are individuals doing web sites alone (or individually assisting with other larger web sites), without even a part-time advertising salesmen or any kind of similar monetization assistant.

In addition, the more valuable their web site, the greater the volume of email questions they receive. So the greater the value that these individuals provide to a civilization, the more uncompensated hours the civilization asks them to work.

The very large amount of uncompensated value-providing time that is spent on creating content for the internet subtracts enormously from total economic value produced by the overall economy. Millions of individuals who could provide high-value services and information over the internet are currently low-income individuals. Any income these individuals would receive would be high-velocity money that would benefit the economy much more than those who earn a living compensated with more conventional currencies.

Some micro-payment systems already exist, but they are of very limited usefulness because very few people know about them, and even fewer are willing to make use of them, especially for making payments. Transaction costs for current micro-payment systems are lower than conventional payments, but are still much too high to be effective.

To reduce micro-payment transaction cost to a really practical level, the micro-payment system needs to be integrated into the basic financial system of the country.

Once a truly efficient micro-payments system is in place, a critical missing piece of the internet will be in place. This is very likely to enable a vast array of new uses for the internet that no one can even imagine today.

duncan cairncross said...

Re-micro payment system

We do already get our "micro payments" in terms of influence and having our voices heard -
Is a financial reward going to make much difference
OR will it do what it appears to have done on Quora simply get reptiles to sneak through the gaps and post endless useless screeds

To Jerry's point about moving money to low income individuals I believe a UBI would be a lot better than enough of a micro-payment to make a difference

Lorraine said...

A micropayments system that actually works (and has low transaction costs) would certainly loosen my purse strings when it comes to willingness to pay for content, especially if it's a prepaid model, with on-demand balance inquiries at any time. DRM remains a difficult pill for me to swallow, but I'm starting to become somewhat at peace with DRM, and intellectual property in general, seeing the large number of starving artist types jumping on the FYPM (F... you, pay me) bandwagon and monetizing (while still appropriately complaining about the capitalist nature of monetization platforms), and seeing so many of the "DRM is a bug, period" types turn out to be problematic for various political reasons, I'm thinking of switching sides. The Jaron Lanier idea of monetization and ownership by individuals of data about themselves is still a little scary to me as it would seem that would require DRM-ing the whole Internet. Surely that would be the absolute death of general purpose computing. Better just to go with unconditional basic income, if anything, provide creative types at least a realistic option of offering unmonetized content, might bring back at least a little of the feel of the pre-commercial Internet that I miss so dearly.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

An efficient micro-payments system and a universal basic income are almost totally unrelated concepts.

A micro-payments system tells a content creator how highly the content is valued by the external world. It tells the content creator how others evaluate the content and how the creators might best use their future time and efforts.

Although micro-payments may be used for various kinds of fixed-price sales, micro-payments are most important as a quick, easy and inexpensive way too make a donation in a donor-chosen amount (right down to a penny or less).

Micro-payments don't necessarily mean micro-receipts, either. Many internet content creators get millions of page views every year, but earn nothing besides requests to create even more content without any payment.

How hard would you work if your reward for doing especially valuable work was lots of requests that you do even more work without pay? At some point, you would just give it up and find something else to do that brings in a real income.

This is the sort of dis-incentive that is actually happening on today's internet.

Creating internet content for influence, or having one's voice heard, may be satisfying, but it doesn't pay for food and shelter or anything else. It also doesn't tell a content creator anything about whether your efforts are actually providing anyone with something that users really perceive to be personally valuable.

Some well-known individuals receive nearly a million dollars a year from lots of fairly small donations through existing payment systems. Without a micro-payment system, content creators who are not wealthy have a much more difficult time incentivizing small donations.

The absence of an efficient micro-payments system is a huge gaping hole in the internet.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

One slight correction to something I said earlier (to satisfy the nit-pickers):

The United States did have a limited form of both my currency option 1 and my currency option 2 functioning simultaneously in the monetary system during part of the 20th century. This includes the Bretton-Woods era up through mid-1968. (The Bretton-Woods era ended in mid-1971 in the U.S.)

Both Federal Reserve Notes (non-redeemable legal tender) and Silver Certificates (redeemable for silver) circulated side-by-side. In fact, during the 1950s and early 1960s, it was common for most people to be carrying both forms of currency at the same time. Silver Certificates were only available during this period in one-dollar denominations.

I should have remembered this since I remember going into a bank as young kid (in about 1960) and exchanging a one-dollar Silver Certificate for a forty-year-old silver dollar containing a dollar's worth of actual silver.

The problems with this system were that the only redeemable commodity was silver, and the entity that set the price of silver was the same entity that issued the Federal Reserve Notes under the authority of Congress.

Control of the mix of the "market-basket of commodities" backing my option 2 currency needs to be completely separate from the control of the issuance of fiat central bank currency (my option 1 currency).

Tacitus said...

Greetings all.

Just stopping in for a wave. Been traveling quite a bit.

Interesting as always, it broadens one's perspective.

Pub discussions on politics concluded, after extensive and thirsty deliberations, that the UK's situation is a little worse than ours. In both cases inept jugglers with lit sticks of dynamite but on the far side of the pond the fuses have burned down closer to disaster.

People, for good and ill, are much the same everywhere.

I'll meander through and have a few thoughts in the weeks ahead. Sorry, economics is not generally my thing.

When, not if, the economy has a down turn it will be interesting to see if discussion of wealth re-distribution increases or decreases...


scidata said...

The latest musings about 1984 (and BNW in passing) by George Packer (Atlantic)

Sound like Packer has been reading Brin. I'm sticking to my opinion that Huxley was closer to the mark, but only the subtlest minds can appreciate that position :)

TCB said...

@ scidata, my position is that many nations (the United States for sure) have elements of both 1984 and Brave New World in their social control systems. If you can be kept entertained on your couch, distracted and disengaged, you're seeing the Huxley side of the coin. (I have seen the US described as an 'inverted totalitarian state' for this reason.) If you agitate and get arrested for protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, if you're seeking asylum and get put in a cage instead, if you're jailed because you can't pay court fines, if you're a woman in Alabama, you're seeing the Orwell side of it.

North Korea is almost purely 1984. No place I can think of is purely Brave New World.

Lorraine said...

Virtual reality is the feelies. Proles and animals are free, but 1984 is self-preventing prophecy, so we can't have free proles, so instead we have an underclass under the working class, which I suppose could be called omegas or something.

The purity balls and virginity pledges of the evangelical teens are very much JASL, though.

David Brin said...

I’ve been in DC. About a dozen talks/meetings. Too busy to blog or post. But I can report a couple of items. First that NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine appears to have been surprisingly earnest, focused and willing to learn. He and some enlightened members of Congress have protected NASA’s technology development programs from being raided for a moondoggle. The sort of thing happening all over town.

LH & AD. Economists are terrified of deflation, even a smidgen, since it encourages folks not to buy anything. A small amount of inflation can be compensated for with some modest policy adjustments.

JE, the latest new of mergers in the auto industry frighten me. Autos are the one major industry where there are enough players to ensure genuine competition resulting in better/cheaper cars (after inflation) every year, a process further propelled by exemplary government regulation.

David Brin said...

I am 5% sympathetic and understanding over Two Scoops's lunartweet. What he seems to have vaguely and incoherently meant is that going back to the moon is a step toward Mars. And NASA is not mentioning the latter goal enough to please him. Still, it's jibber-jabber.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump:
For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon - We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!

David Brin said...