Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Best and Worst of Capitalism…and Vice-Presidential Choices

Two features: The first briefly spotlights the “most-candid US companies” and the least. (Guess which are doing better!). And finally, some thoughts about the vice-presidential possibilities. Lots to cover.

==Feature #1: The Best and Worst of Capitalism==

The insipid/stupid (and French) so-called “left-right political axis” has blighted our thinking far too long. It has let today’s chief destroyers of free-enterprise claim to be its defenders! Meanwhile, liberals let them get away with this, forgetting that Adam Smith was a chief founder of liberalism -- and today he would be an angry-radical democrat.

Now, to illustrate this point, let’s ponder a very informative snippet from Mark Anderson of the Strategic News Service, a leading tech-enterprise pundit: “We all like to think that the CEOs of public companies are being candid and forthright. After all, the whole point of Sarbanes-Oxley was to jail them if they aren’t, eh? What right does some overpaid self-dealer have to take MY money and then lie about where it’s going --- OK, I’ll calm down.

“The annual Rittenhouse Rankings on CEO candor shows that things are far from getting better. The study looked at 100 Fortune 500 companies, and concluded that business leaders are increasingly not able to give honest accountings of company operations. “The survey, which evaluates candor in annual shareholder letters, shows that confusing and misleading statements, or ‘dangerous fog,’ increased 66 percent in the survey up from 39 percent five years ago. According to Rittenhouse, here are the worst and best U.S. performers:”

1. Humana
2. ServiceMaster
3. Boeing
4. Estee Lauder
5. News Corp.
6. Student Loan
7. Coca Cola
8. Dow Jones
9. ExxonMobil
10. Merrill Lynch


1. Eaton 
2. Entergy 
3. Wells Fargo 
4. Novartis 
5. Target 
6. Toyota 
7. Williams Companies 
8. Sherwin-Williams 
9. Charles Schwab 
10. Loews

Mark continues: “Dow Jones has always been bad, and is now getting worse, with the purchase by Rupert Murdoch of the Wall Street Journal while he’s busy keeping the No. 5 spot down as well. Let’s reflect: two of the top 10 least-honest companies were two of the top five media companies, and are now both owned by the worse of the two. Hmmm.

“The good-news companies that stand out are Wells Fargo, Target, Toyota, and Schwab. No surprise, they’re all doing well today. Wells Fargo has survived the crunch and, holy smokes, is still making mortgage loans; Target continues to eat Wal-Mart’s lunch; Toyota is doing the same to U.S. carmakers; and Schwab continues its successful comeback, launched by the founder, who seems to stand for – honesty and integrity – in the eyes of its customers....... Hey Rupert, it’s never too late to change --- You could even start using real news, instead of continuing the Goebbels-like, government-fawning propaganda machine you’ve created.”

Wow. Who ever said that believers in real free enterprise can’t notice the crimes against enterprise being committed by Adam Smith’s hated “cronies of the king”?

I just returned from Mark Anderson’s annual Future in Review (FiRe) conference. See the FiRe site  about this lively gathering and come back in a couple of months, to see this year’s “Architechs Challenge” in which I dared a bunch of CTOs to solve an important tech problem in just 48 hours!

Return also to see also the keynote by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who is VERY optimistic about the potential impact of conservation technologies and especially cellulosic biofuels and solar thermal. Oh, and an interview of SF author Bruce Sterling - conducted by my friend, brilliant tech artist and Jesus lookalike Sheldon Brown. (Oh and have a glimpse at the production model Tesla Roadster!)

== Before our second feature: a few comments ==

For a long but worthy and smartly written view of 40 years of American political history. “ Goldwater was to Reagan as McGovern is to Obama.”See: The Fall of Conservatism: Have the Republicans Run out of Ideas? by: George Packer, in The New Yorker.

All right I guess I should comment (belatedly) on Spitzer & Paterson and all that, dang! I guess I can no longer claim that the goppers far outnumber dems, in the area of sex scandals. Still, never to let their lead go challenged for long, here’s a fine defender of family values. Rep. Vito Fossella (N.Y.); the father of three from Staten Island yesterday announced that he has a fourth, a 3-year-old love child with a woman from Virginia . That admission was prompted by his drunken-driving arrest in Virginia... Neither is Boehner likely to be helped by a Senate ethics committee decision yesterday exonerating Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) over his use of the "D.C. Madam's" call girls. The Senate cleared him because the prostitution occurred when he was in the House -- and the House can't punish him because he left for the Senate. The madam, meanwhile, killed herself by hanging last week. (That is the story, at least.)

== Feature #2: Choosing a Vice President ==

Regarding the looming question of the vice presidency, who will Senator Obama select? There’s talk about opting for Senator Clinton. And millions of us praying “no, please!” Give her and Bill 1,000 patroage slots! A Supreme Court appointment, anything. We need her campaigning in liberal strongholds in October, firing up her supporters... not saying provocative things on Fox and firing up the other side. The difference is day vs night.

A gesture to her wing of the democratic melange would be Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, who backed BHO early and who managed to win re election by a landslide in a normally Republican prairie state. She is articulate, persuasive, ad - tho she’s not an HRC supporter herself - would also serve as an excellent offering to those Hillary supporters who have proved themselves to be, well, rather ferociously single-issue. (An aside. Can you believe that feminists would actually utter the self demeaning and brittle phrase: “This may be my one chance to see a woman elected president!” Have any of them seen the new generation of karate-chopping young women out there? A generation that they helped to create? What a horrifically dour and sexist thing to say!)

Sebelius is impressive, but she cannot be first choice. I doubt she can drag the prairie states into Obama’s column. And I doubt BHO needs to choose a woman to appease HRC supporters. (Eventually, Hillary will realize, she must kiss and make up, or die politically.) Moreover, it does the dems no good to be seen as fetishistically diversity-obsessed. They need to reassure the ostriches. And to utterly neutralize McCain’s (illusory) toughness/security advantage. For that, we need somebody who embodies and radiates “solidity.”

The blogger known as “jester” offered this, some time ago: “(Virginia Senator Jim) Webb would almost certainly deliver Virginia. That alone would virtually cinch the election. Moreover, any other year.'Nam vet, Marine, Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, son in Iraq, Southern Senator, author of "Born Fighting -How the Scots-Irish Shaped America" and descended from a family which has served in every American war, married to a Vietnamese-American and speaks Vietnamese, lettered in Boxing at Annapolis, all around Man’s Man, life-long hunter, healthy, handsome but not pretty, smart but not egg-heady, great speaker, feet planted solidly on the ground.”

Added details? Silver star, two bronze stars, two purple hearts, and the Navy Cross. (Let’s just see them try to swiftboat this guys!) From 77-81 he worked pro-bono as a Veterans lawyer. He won an Emmy for his PBS documentary on Marines in Beirut. He opposed the war from the start. He drafted the amendment to the declaration on Iran which stated that the President still had to come back for congressional authority if he wished to attack.

Want to read Webb’s prescient article, back in 2002, criticizing the neocons rush into an Iraq War? Here’s an excerpt: ”America's best military leaders know that they are accountable to history not only for how they fight wars, but also for how they prevent them. The greatest military victory of our time -- bringing an expansionist Soviet Union in from the cold while averting a nuclear holocaust -- was accomplished not by an invasion but through decades of intense maneuvering and continuous operations. With respect to the situation in Iraq , they are conscious of two realities that seem to have been lost in the narrow debate about Saddam Hussein himself. The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences -- ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world.“

It just doesn't get any better. The question is, has Clinton managed to stir up the Ire of enough women who haven't burned their NOW cards yet to make a female VP mandatory?”

On the Republican side... There is much to consider. Just last night I watched a documentary about Harry Truman, and was reminded that the VP choice is a very serious one. Not only in terms of helping electability... or vs. the chance that the President might pass away... but also because the last two VPs were actually very significant players on the national stage. Indeed, Al Gore will historically be credited (along with Bill Clinton) for dramatically re-inventing the office into one that is no longer the butt of jokes. As “assistant president” Gore was very busy and accomplished. And Dick Cheney took this trend farther, indeed, being sometimes called the true power behind the throne.

So who might McCain choose? Well, there is much talk of Mitt Romney (shudder) and Huckabee. But I think McCain will be smart enough not to go to the crazy right for his veep choice. He must know that will make him seem more useful to certain powerful men in past-tense, than present. I hope he has the savvy not to give them that temptation. Though, on the other hand, if he chooses a mainstreamer, he risks a rebellion on the right.

One thought, though; is it possible that this senior citizen needs, well, adult supervision? Take this horrendously nasty joke McCain made at a 1998 Republican Senate fundraiser. "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?" he asked. "Because her father is Janet Reno." In citing this malignant moment on the Huffington Post, Paul Loeb goes on to point out: Sure, McCain apologized after a flurry of media coverage, but talk of that sort is cheap. It's like his using the excuse that he'd had a long day, after snapping at his own wife at a 1992 campaign event: "At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you c*nt." That was his public response to her teasing him about his thinning hair. But the Chelsea "joke" was from a prepared text, not accidental. It's a window into McCain's cruel side.

All told, this is going to be a year when these VP choices add significant drama and import to an already dramatic year.

(For comparison, go to the NPR site and skim through the feature “This weekend in 1968.” Dang! Forty years have passed. The year that left us all quivering in exhaustion. I sure hope we are not headed back into such interesting times.)

== Quotation Fest: ==

One of the nicest things about being big is the luxury of thinking little. - Marshall McLuhan

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. - William Pitt

Oppression, like darkness, does not come upon us suddenly. It creeps upon us step by step virtually unnoticed until suddenly we recognize that twilight has passed and it is nighttime and we are not free. - William O. Douglas

"Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" - Joseph Welch

"Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know." Montaigne

"A strong conviction that somthing must be done is the parent of many bad measures." -Daniel Webster

"The poor have occasionally objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all." - Chesterton

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood of ideas in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people. - John F. Kennedy

Pat Buchanan (paraphrasing the social critic Eric Hoffer): "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket."
(Speak for yourself, Pat! If the shoe fits….)

==Transparency and News==

And finally, a transparency-related item and a reminder...

* Learn about last week’s panel at Computers, Freedom and Privacy” commemorating the 10th anniversary of my book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?  Quite an honor -- as it’s one of the few public policy books from the 20th Century that is not only still in print but sparking lively discussion, as the issues grow more pressing every day.

* As for the 2008 presidential campaign, well, the lady has yet to sing what we want to hear. Still, looking ahead, I again urge that folks already start taking responsibility for a few “decent republicans” who aren’t trogs, aristos or racists. Sincere conservatives in denial over what’s happened to their movement. Expect stubbornness! Even willingness to follow Fox-generated rationalizations over a lemming-cliff. Still, if you can pull just one “ostrich” out of its hole, you’ll be part of a revolution. And I’ve supplied ammo!

Only, remember, don’t get into a party-line fight! What works is to show that the GOP has betrayed decent conservative values worse than democrats ever could!


Matt DeBlass said...

If I may offer another quote, from former NJ Gov. Thomas Kean(R), head of the 9/11 commission, on the value of centrists in government: "We don't govern well when there's only right and left, there's gotta be a center."

This was speaking earlier today to students at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, in Flemington. Mr. Kean also had a lot to say on the topic, as well as his thoughts on choosing a veep for both McCain and Obama (he didn't mention Hillary as a contender).
Very nice to see an old-school Republican speaking of the need to get todays best and brightest "back into politics" (with the implication that the best and brightest are not the ones running things now) and various other topics related to the need for professionalism and bipartisan problem-solving. And education.

Rob Perkins said...

News of McCain's cruel side comes to me from independent sources, through my parents, who assure me they are unimpeachable. I worry about that, since someone with a penchant for sweeping cruelty, even if only in words, is less qualified, to me, than a lawyer with only one term in the Senate behind him.

Even so, I remain basically undecided for now, even as I continue to get fundraising emails from the Dems as a consequence of participating in Washington's caucuses. It's fun!

I wonder if Lieberman wants the Republican VP slot... I can't see Romney getting a nod (see aforementioned cruel streak... McCain doesn't like him), but I'm at a loss, David, as to why you would shudder. I think Romney's fine, except maybe for public stances on immigration and the economy, along with apparently shameless pandering to the Evangelical Right, all of which should sicken any Mormon, let alone any American, what's not to like? ;-)

David Brin said...

Anybody capable of being elected governor of Massachusetts, who then positions himself to be far right enough for TV brimstone-smokers, really is too fluid for my tastes.

Anonymous said...

Greetings all. I have been off having adventures, but have not abandoned you.

Regards Open and Shifty companies, it pleases me to note that I am a current or former shareholder in 3 of the former, but have never touched any of the latter. Part of my policy of never investing in anything I can't understand.

Ah, politics. I too have not decided my pres vote. You may disagree, but I personally find both McCain and Obama inspiring, albeit in different ways.

I am assuming a House/Senate GOP slaughter. They certainly deserve it. Frankly the Dems have not covered themselves with glory in their 18 mo of ascendence either, but those chickens won't come home to roost for a while.

I do worry a bit about a concentration of that much power in Dem hands....supermajorities in House and Senate, the White House and by my estimation, most of the conventional media reverentially asleep at the switch. I just don't have the faith in the integrity of the DFL that some have. Note the stats on shifts of special interest money towards them as the parasites sense the sea change.

Well, I hope it is still acceptable to ask a few real questions of the two candidates and take note of their answers or non answers.

Tacitus 2

Rob Perkins said...

David... was the sarcasm lost on you? That was my point...

Tony Fisk said...

I *was* wondering as I read your reasons, Rob.

Seriously, irony tends to get lost on the web. I still smart at the memory of the responses I got from blithely suggesting that Iraq was invaded to look for the WMD (Wardrobes of Mass Documents) that Clinton was sure to have buried in the deserts to avoid prosecution.

BTW: that snapshot that the HiRiser took of Phoenix parachuting down to Mars is just stunning when you see the full image

Sidereus said...


THAT is an amazing photo.

Unknown said...

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter also caught this incredible color image of Phoenix after it landed!

Rob Perkins said...

Well, win some, lose some. I thought I was clearer.

Seriously, though, I think Romney's stance on immigration was (and is!) completely wrong and outside the character of the country I want to live in.

And... oh my... have y'all seen this story about former Press Secretary Scott McClellan?

Tony Fisk said...

Since the lamp appears to be on, I will point out some evidence of the McCain camp indulging in a bit of stirring of the democrat pot.

It comes via wikileaks, as a memo discussing various strategies to increase the divisions between the Clinton/Obama camps, and to persuade the former to stay home come November (making an assumption there...!). The memo was released a day or two ago. Its authenticity is debatable.

Travc said...

A few random comments to the OP:

NOW is, at least mostly, a great organization. he 'burned their NOW cards' line is IMO quite inappropriate/offensive/unhelpful. I assume this is just a throw-away for rhetorical flow... but a badly chosen one.


On the merits of the Webb VP idea. I've been liking it more and more.

It sends exactly the right sort of 'unity' message... Webb is generally conservative, but smart and actually interested in good government and solving problems. He could take the VP role from the Cheney 'power behind the throne' model to an active but much better and traditional (though enhanced) 'president's whip'. Given his cred with 'moderates' and reasonable conservatives, this could be very useful. There are a host of critical issues were pragmatism must trump any narrow ideology. Politically, Webb can really help argue Obama admin policy proposals to people who have a generally conservative POV.

Electorally, Webb has some great advantages. The VA thing is one... but he also really 'gets' Appalachia. Those 'white working class' people Clinton's campaign is always talking about are really the decedents of the Scots-Irish in Appalachia which Webb's book is all about. Now, I don't think Obama really has to win them to win the election (he is working on a reconfigured electoral map), but if Webb were the VP nominee and had a big enough role in the campaign... well the bigger the blowout the better, right.

So Webb seems like he could well be a good choice electorally, politically, and even on policy... A choice that can help Obama get elected, and help Obama govern successfully.

PS: There is no reason no to choose someone because they are white and male either! Webb as VP may alleviate a bit of the fear of reverse discrimination which some of us white males actually have (for good reason in some cases).


A final random political note... IMO there are a lot of votes to be had for the first politician who speaks up in favor of going through and repealing old and obsolete laws. This is congressional level exercise which is long overdue.

Travc said...

Oh... one more thing.

Richard Clarke really should be part of at least the transition team, and better still National Security Adviser. He understands the 'war on professionalism' and there is a lot of cleanup in the intel community to do.

I wonder who should be tasked to resurrect FEMA from the ashes?

Travc said...

tacitus2 and rob...

It may be useful to consider who the working coalitions within the parties consist of. A single party dominating is generally a scary thing for good reason, but remember that the Dems are far from monolithic and are not exactly known for party unity.

There will be a lot of conservative Dems in the congress... in fact, some of the more left-leaning people/factions in the party are already bemoaning it.

I fully expect the Dem party to fracture at some point in the not to distant future. The GOP will either be realigned to the point that the crazies aren't calling the shots or die. At that point the broad Dem coalition will have no reason to hold together. All good IMO, since a reasonable conservative party is good thing to have.


McCain, as an individual, has some good points and bad points. However, McCain as the presidential nominee of the GOP, with all the political and financial ties he has made and must keep with the 'GOP base'... well that is a completely different animal.

The notion that he will suddenly become the 'maverick' (which he really has never been) once he gets elected is a fantasy. He is completely beholden to the party and people who 'know where the bodies are buried' (including the K-street project).

Anonymous said...

Thoughts on this article which has been going around (re: reasons why Webb would make a bad VP)?:


While I'm somewhat skeptical, some of the quotes and positions he's had do seem like real show-stoppers (especially for pissed-off Hilary supporters).

Anonymous said...

Oops. Messed up the link.

Here you go.

Anonymous said...

The NOW comment wasn't a complete throw away - I know three former members of the organization who have seperated themselves from it because of the behavior of the New York chapter in one case, and because of the behavior of Officers at a meeting in California in the other two cases.

No literal card burning drama, but all three officially severed ties to the organization. The two in California were Clinton supporters untill they went to that meeting, and both told me several other members had dropped membership at the same time.

I'm no Limbaughian enemy of NOW, but the remarks of several of it's State level officers in both of these cases would make Rev. Wright blush.


I've had a second thought or two about Webb since I wrote that comment, but more importantly, he said the Sunday before last on MTP that he is flat-out "Not Interested" in being VP regardless of the Nominee.

Hopefully he'll campaign his butt off for Obama anyway. I think between him, Senator Byrd, and Congressman Rahall there is certainly room for some joint public appearances to make an impact in West Virginia, SE Ohio, and Virginia.

Rahall, by the way, is an American of Lebanesse descent who has been winning in West Virginia by wide margins since the early 70's.

Appalachians aren't racist, they just need to get to know somebody. It's the "muslim" rumors that have hurt Obama there far more than his skin color.

I hear there's a little known procedural rule in St.Peters big book that says that your Klan membership gets stricken from the record if you manage to deliver West Virginias electoral votes for an African-American.

I've got a feeling Byrd is going to be working his ass off to make sure he qualifies to take advantage of it.

"America’s true power lies not in its will to dominate but in its ability to inspire."

Sen. Robert Byrd

dbt said...

I think that from Obama's position, Webb would be a terrible choice. Choosing a candidate to "shore up his bona fides" just makes him look weak and undermines his own change on foreign policy he's trying to make.

Webb would also be a huge poke in the eye to feminist groups, considering his past issues (and the fact that he's not really a solid Democrat by any measure except the GOP went off the deep end).

Considering the propensity for VPs to become presidents, I'd really prefer someone who's actually, you know, in agreement with Obama politically.

Besides, holding that senate seat in VA is still going to be an uphill slog even as VA goes blue. No point in giving it up.

B. Dewhirst said...

Some numbers for now, and most likely longer comments later. Regardless of whether the correct metric of politics is right/left or up/down, I hope that there is room for some healthy criticism of capitalism as the preferred resource distribution system.

I do agree the axes -ought- to be redrawn, but I feel that self-reporting of political orientation is an important factor... and presently, those who use Brin's dimensions (what I call up/down, what others might call forward/back, etc.) are in the minority.

It is also worth noting that these companies are more often than not, not direct competitors.

I presume that an auto company may find it more necessary to remain transparent as compared to an oil company, for example. This, then, isn't an example of competition.

My main point in this arithmetic, however, is that the "cheaters" (.71 vs .43 Trillion USD) are larger than those playing "more fair." Further, is being less evil than Exxon and News Corp. good enough?

From wikipedia and/or low numbered google hits. Figures date from 2006-2008. Annual revenue:

LEAST CANDID Total: 706.8 billion (302.25 w/o Exxon)

1. Humana, US $25.3 billion

2. ServiceMaster, $7.7 billion

3. Boeing, $61.5 billion USD

4. Estee Lauder, $7 billion USD

5. News Corp., $28.66 billion USD

6. Student Loan, 1.563 billion

7. Coca Cola, 28.85 B

8. Dow Jones, $1.783 Billion USD

9. ExxonMobil, US $404.552 Billion

10. Merrill Lynch, $70.59 Billion USD

FYI: MOST CANDID: 431 billion (228 w/o Toyota)

1. Eaton, $7.5 billion

2. Entergy, $10 billion

3. Wells Fargo, $39.390 billion

4. Novartis, US$ 37 billion (2006)

5. Target, $63.37 billion USD

6. Toyota, $202.86 billion

7. Williams Companies, $12.6 billion USD

8. Sherwin-Williams, $7.19 billion USD

9. Charles Schwab, $4.3 billion

10. Loews, $46.9 billion USD

Unknown said...

Off topic, yet of pressing interest: Freeman Dyson has penned a review of 2 global warming books in The New York Times Book Review.

No, this is not the global-warming-denier Freeman Dyson. This is the visionary Dyson, and his review goes some way toward explaining why the Olduvai Cliff hysteria about global warming exterminating the human race and Peak Oil producing the collapse of industrial civilization are as unlikely to reflect reality as the widespread fear of global asphyxiation that swept the United States in 1910, due to fear of the gasses in the tail of Halley's Comet.

Here's the crucial paragraph from Dyson's review:

the Keeling graph...demonstrates the strong coupling between atmosphere and plants. The wiggles in the graph show us that every carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphere is incorporated in a plant within a time of the order of twelve years. Therefore, if we can control what the plants do with the carbon, the fate of the carbon in the atmosphere is in our hands. (..) The science and technology of genetic engineering are not yet ripe for large-scale use. We do not understand the language of the genome well enough to read and write it fluently. But the science is advancing rapidly, and the technology of reading and writing genomes is advancing even more rapidly. I consider it likely that we shall have "genetically engineered carbon-eating trees" within twenty years, and almost certainly within fifty years.

Carbon-eating trees could convert most of the carbon that they absorb from the atmosphere into some chemically stable form and bury it underground. Or they could convert the carbon into liquid fuels and other useful chemicals. Biotechnology is enormously powerful, capable of burying or transforming any molecule of carbon dioxide that comes into its grasp. Keeling's wiggles prove that a big fraction of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes within the grasp of biotechnology every decade. If one quarter of the world's forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in about fifty years.

Anonymous said...

Dyson wrote a whole book -- The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet -- about using biotech to help solve rural poverty and global warming.

To the discomfort of global warming skeptics who think he's one of them, Dyson sequestration-through-forestation scheme isn't a "nothing to worry about, we've got a fix" exercise. It would take a massive commitment of resources, both to do the research and plant those trees. It would almost certainly be something that governments have to be involved in.

David McCabe said...

Review of Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Michaels, by Chris Mooney, author of the Republican War on Science

sociotard said...

Secret IP Treaty Proposal Published by Wikileaks


In 2007 a select handful of the wealthiest countries began a treaty-making process to create a new global standard for intellectual property rights enforcement, which was called, in a piece of brilliant marketing, the "Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement" (the agreement does not cover currency fraud).

ACTA is spearheaded by the United States along with the European Commission, Japan, and Switzerland — which have large intellectual property industries. Other countries invited to participate in ACTA’s negotiation process are Canada, Australia, Korea, Mexico and New Zealand. Noticeably absent from ACTA’s negotiations are leaders from developing countries who hold national policy priorities that differ from the international intellectual property industry.

A “Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” was reportedly provided to select lobbyists in the intellectual property industry, but not to public interest organizations concerned with the subject matter of the proposed treaty.[1]

Wikileaks has obtained the document.

Travc said...

Jester makes good points re: Webb. The 'president's whip' role I envision can be accomplished with him staying in the Senate... but I do think it is advisable that Obama includes Webb and other sane conservative Dems in his circle of advisers / allies.

Edwards would make a fine choice for VP IMO, if he is interested in it.


A word about the 'carbon eating trees' thing. We already have the ability to use fast-growing trees (or grasses, shrubs, whatever works locally) to sequester carbon. Grow them, harvest, convert to biochar, then bury the biochar. Actually, very low tech.

Going a GM route to make that general process more efficient should probably not use 'trees' at all. Hell, don't even use plants. Bioreactors (in this case growing algae) are a better way to go just now... besides being more efficient and much easier to 'tweak'/experiment with, the GM organisms are not introduced into the environment.

As much as Freeman Dyson (and his kids) impress me, talking about 'trees' just shows an ignorance of real world biotechnology.

B. Dewhirst said...

Burying trees produces dioxins... not something you want in the water, so that isn't really an option, unfortunately.

B. Dewhirst said...

Sorry, didn't see the reference to biochar... I presume that deals with the problem I mentioned, though I'm not sure.

Travc said...

The VP talk (not just here) reminds me of a point...

I really wish that pres candidates would announce who their cabinet choices are during the campaign. These choices are extremely important, and would help a lot in making an informed vote.

With regard to Obama's VP choice, there are a lot of people who are in the category of 'VP or ___ position'. Some examples:

Wes Clark : VP or SecDef
Bill Richardson : VP or Sec of State
Edwards : VP or someplace with real econ or justice power
ect, ect.

I'd also like to know who is being considered for Nat Sec Adviser (Richard Clarke would be great IMO), Attorney General, ect.

Perhaps this intersects closely enough with the 'war on professionalism' that Dr Brin can promote the meme.

Travc said...

B. Dewhirst,

Google 'biochar' gives a number of informative hits on the first page. You may already be familiar with the idea... but perhaps others aren't so I'll say it anyway.

Biochar doesn't sequester as much carbon as just burying the biomass, but reduces volume, can improve soils, and can even produce energy when making it.

I didn't know about buried trees producing dioxin. Now I think about it, I assume there are other negative decomp byproducts too. Thanks.

Travc said...

A PS on pres candidates announcing their cabinet choices during the campaign...

This idea can (and should) be expanded to most elected positions. And it already does happen to some extent with the 'advisers' linked to a campaign, but more explicit is better.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely, Travc.

Just because it hasn't been done in the past doesn't mean it can't be done...but there is one good reason that it isn't done.

Let's suppose the top pick for HUD is in a tight race for a Congressional seat this year- She'll be the go-to if she loses, but if she wins the seat, number two gets it.

Now, Obama can obviously announce Edwards for AG and Richardson for State without those concerns, but I could see how some advantage might be lost in trying to name the whole cabinet.


Oh, and SecDef? Forget Clarke folks, General Antonio Taguba is my pick for the job.

Tiny, soft spoken, career professional, and he discreetly hides the giant friggin freight car following him around with his immense brass balls in it.

A man so damn honest, with so much integrity, Dr.Brin must be baffled he wasn't in the Navy :)

He holds Masters Degrees in Public Administration, International Relations, and National Security and Strategic Studies.

If he's not the top-slot, he ought to be Assistant Sec-Def for General Eric Shinseki. Remember him, the 'Nam vet who lost a friggin foot fighting for his country and was slandered for six months for daring to give the Congress reality-based estimates about the likely cost and troop needs for invading Iraq?

In 2005, at the 40th Reunion of the West Point Class of '65, hats reading "Eric Was Right" were big sellers.

Forget letting the Clintons get "their man" in, let's put our Armed Forces under the command of Officers who have proven they have character to speak truth to power when their carreer is on the line.

Anonymous said...

Just a random thought,

Wouldn't McCain be smart to pick a woman as his running mate?


Travc said...

Clark not Clarke...
In political discussions they are very different (but both on the 'good' side).

Wes Clark is the four star former Supreme Commander NATO.

Richard Clarke is the former Counter Terrorism Czar who was completely ignored by BushCo before 9/11.

As for Wes Clark being 'the Clinton's man'... I really don't see him primarily that way, though it is somewhat true. He is a friend of the Clintons, though my thoughts of him as SecDef revolve around his bona-fides regarding international cooperation and the military being a strategic asset strengthening negotiations.

Taguba and Shenseki are well qualified and for all appearances incredibly smart and principled. They lack the international relationships and renown Clark already has though. Either would make a fine SecDef... though better assistant SecDef possibly to move the the top slot in a few years (Clark is getting a bit long in the tooth and could likely only want the job for 2 or 4 years.)

Quite honestly, I didn't even think of a Clark appointment as having 'Clinton appeasing' aspects at all.

PS: Clark is more on the left than most people realize. He has run large military bases and orgs where the 'cathedral' approach was the norm. Not that this affects a SecDef position, but it made for some pretty neat stuff in 2004 when discussing healthcare and such.

Unknown said...

You guys just don't get it... Dyson is talking about blowing right through sustainability, and instead he's gear-shifting into enhancing the environment by means of biotech.
Biochar? Hah! We'll just bioengineer the carbon-eating plants to produce nanotube sheets -- which we then harvest for green structural material. Instead of fiberglas or ceramic composites, we get plants and/or insects to make our composites the way silkworms spin silk. After all, silk is just bug spit. So we gene-tweak the bugs till they spit something really useful, like carbon-nanofiber-embedded materials stronger than aircraft grade aluminum, but lighter than balsa wood. (Dr. Brin wrote about doing this with humans in one his best short stories, available in his short story collection Otherness. You should all run out and buy that book immediately.)

Everyone seems to be talking about irrelevant minutia, from the VP choice to ethanol. These aren't the important issues we face right now. We've got to completely reorganize American society in basic ways if we want to survive Peak Oil and reverse global warming. Ethanol is a sideshow -- even if all U.S. agriculture were devoted to ethanol corn production (which it can't be), it would barely make a dent in our need for alternative energy, and as for the VP choice, the way the GOP is turning into a civil war in a leper colony, Obama could choose a mutant cannibal Pikachu as his running mate and he'd still win.

Suddenly everyone, including Dr. Brin, is talking about irrelevant unimportant trivia, instead of the really important stuff we need to get started doing right now. It's indescribably weird.

David Brin said...

Actually, Z, I agree there's more important stuff, eg some things I've talked about here... like how to restore our psychology as a pragmatic, eager, problem-solving people, unconstrained by imagination-limiting, oversimplifying dogmas and the insipid drug high of self-righteous indignation.

Ah, but then comes the irony, that you and I both ILLUSTRATE these deeper flaws, that underlie all the malignant, superficial ideologies.

The difference, alas, is that one of us GETS this grand jest!

Please, take it easy, eh? This is one of the smarter blog communities anywhere. We're glad to have you around. Just please stop getting steamed at folks for talking about what they want to talk about.

David Brin said...

Tony Fisk, do you still run that wiki following my predictions? The topic came up elsewhere. I could give you a dump of new ones... ;-)

Drop me a line at davidbrin at sbcglobal dot net

B. Dewhirst said...

A nice compliment to Mr. McCabe's link above:

Reporters Were “Under Enormous Pressure” From Corporate Executives to Support War

When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives — and I was not at this network at the time — but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.

Whether viewed through the lens of "the left" or "progress," this is a problem, no?

Anonymous said...


This is most decidedly a problem. When the media stops asking significant questions it matters little what flavor of moonshine they are drinking.

You know, it creeps me out a bit to find myself agreeing (partially) with Zorgon. But I think we are headed for a major economic and social dislocation.

The likely era of shortage is due in part to our success. We have managed to create in America a lifestyle that while not quite paradise on earth sure looks close enough when you are standing ankle deep in sewage in the Third World. We can hardly blame them for saying "By whatever Gods there may be, I want that". The economic rise of India and China among others is case in point.

Of course, our own political foolishness has made it worse.

To return to my point regards the current incarnation of the DFL: They are in effect a coalition of avid interest groups, and I think will fare quite poorly in a time of scarcity. Define resources any way you like, money, energy, Justice Department priorites, you have to make decisions when there is not enough pie for everyone. So who goes hungry?

Scrap NAFTA, limit oil exploration, increase government benefits of all sorts, ease the path for the litiginous, reduce our carbon footprint, spend more on infrastructure. Many of these are worthy goals, if done well. But when it becomes clear that Pres. Obama can't croon them all into being by rhetoric alone, and that they are in fact not all going to happen, there will be a great and wrathful cry.

Democrats are not good at saying no.

Republicans are, in their current incarnation, no great shakes either.


B. Dewhirst said...

Wrt Tacitus2 above...

You know, it creeps me out a bit to find myself agreeing (partially) with Zorgon. But I think we are headed for a major economic and social dislocation.

The likely era of shortage is due in part to our success.

The allocation system which has brought us there is called "capitalism," and your comments are part of why I think we may wish to consider a more intelligent system in the past... as another fine SF writer (Iain Banks) puts it (and I'll be paraphrasing), subsistence agriculture gutters, mercantilism sheds the light of a torch, and capitalism incandesces... but we can do better. We need to do better. We need a system which lases.

The closer and closer we get to post-scarcity (we're already there for music), and the higher the strain on our environment, the more the really nasty flaws in Capitalism (that would be "really existing capitalism") become apparent.

(still working on that 'other' response I had planned.)

B. Dewhirst said...

(I’ve put enough into this that I’ll be x-posting it to my own blog, fwiw.)

Recently, I was thinking about this mental disorder I heard about. It is very, very widespread, but like many diseases, it doesn't always impact the patient in the same way. There are mild cases, and very severe cases, just as with other mental and physical disorders. We don’t all die from the flu, and some small minority of folk even manage to come through HIV infections without developing AIDS. Some folk who become depressed are able to pull through with the support of family and friends, while others take years of medication and therapy to overcome a bad hand of genetics and/or environment. We wouldn’t say that AIDS, depression, or the flu were harmless (or beneficial) simply because some folk get through just fine, or that schizophrenia is completely benign just because a sufficiently mild case of the disorder can have a positive impact on art, and this scourge is much the same.

Before I can tell you more about this disease, we should review some famous and recent psychological experiments which deal with how ordinary people deal with certain circumstances. In particular, I’m thinking of the work of Milgram and Zimbardo, as well as recent fMRI work by Sam Harris et al. (caution, pdf). Milgram conducted research into how people respond to authority. In his most famous experiment, under the guise of working as lab assistants studying the impact of pain on learning, subjects were led to deliver progressively greater electric shocks to another individual. Zimbardo conducted another experiment in authority. Individuals were assigned roles as either prisoners or guards. Once given such roles, they behaved in a manner most succinctly describable today as “like Abu Garaib.” Harris indicated that people find it very difficult to question statements they believe to be true, that different brain areas are involved in belief and disbelief, and that it takes less time to evaluate a statement we hold to be true than one we believe to be false.

If most ordinary people were exchanged with the guards who ‘just followed orders’ at Dachau, or Auschwitz, we know now that they would act in much the same way. Every-day evil is a product of environment, though that is not the same as saying that these people aren’t sick—they’ve simply been made sick by their environment. (Sick in the sense that we define mental illness in terms of behavior we find incompatible with accepted societal values.) From Harris, we may add that if they already believed in the authorities in question, in that case the German government, they cannot be counted upon to reliably evaluate whether that authority is just; they’re too invested in that system of belief. To evaluate that system would require a conscious effort on the part of those who were already a part of it.

It follows that the systems by which we arrange ourselves, the authorities we agree will govern our behavior, are critically important if we wish to see a change in results. If you take completely ordinary people and tell them that authority says you are legally and morally obligated to maximize profits to maximize shareholder value, that this is what everyone does, and that those who are opposed to this system are wicked and evil and it is for the greater good that sometimes this system has problems… it stands to reason ordinary people can do terrible things. Suppress information about the dangers of smoking. Enforce slave-like conditions. Pollute the environment. Produce products which break, requiring replacement. Deny healthcare. Arrange surveillance to break strikes. Have labor organizers harassed, and perhaps even killed.

Producing defective products and lying about cigarettes can easily become the –industry standard- of behavior, and no quantity of ‘competition’ is going to make one firm standing up and ratting on the industry a competitive advantage for that firm. There is, further, no apparent incentive for an upstart cigarette company to start up which bucks the trend, conducts expensive research on their own dime, then publishes results which show that, if used as directed, their product will eventually kill the subject. A private individual seeking to do such research would a) be paper-bombed by counterfactual claims by mercenary scientists and b) much cheaper for cigarette companies to arrange an accident for. His actions in pointing out cigarettes=cancer sticks, in any event, would hardly be capitalistic.

This disease I’m talking about is, of course, really existing Capitalism. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not all of the good and bad companies listed are, in fact, what we think of as capitalist (Toyota spent a –significant- portion of its early life with heavy support from the State. State owned corporations may be unfashionable, but they’re hardly rare, as Cheng discusses in Bad Samaritans), the simple fact that some companies can, or must, be more open does not tell us very much about companies in other industries, and it tells us even less about Capitalism as a system. It is my contention that externalities like cigarette cancer and fraudulent mortgage dealings (with a healthy degree of corporate welfare thrown on top… after all, we’re talking about a system which privatizes profits and socializes costs.)

Let me be blunt and repetitious: No degree of competition is going to address externalities under Capitalism. To the extent that something deals with these issues (eg. government regulation fighting uphill against lobbyists), that something is not capitalist. It is worth noting, as well, that “As much Congress as money can buy” isn’t democratic either, it is plutocratic.

Now then, just because a system produces differential results, just because there are open companies and larger, less open companies who sell different things, this does not mean that the cause isn’t that system, or that the system is benign. Capitalism can be like schizophrenia—it can have positive effects, but they might be outweighed by the negatives… and that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something worse that it might serve to inoculate against. There are areas where competition in capitalism produces beneficial results, but ‘big winners’ soon become able to collude and are then able to shape their environment. Capitalism is not the pursuit of competition, it is the pursuit of profit, and I freely concede that competition is good…But like Gandhi, when he was asked what he thought about western civilization, “Sounds good in theory… can you show me some.” (I’ve doubtlessly paraphrased. Google the exact quote if you like.)

Our fine host, Dr. Brin, has indeed attempted to show us some. Here is a list of companies which are indisputably ‘less evil’ than another list of companies, and the less evil companies are indeed more open. I’m certainly no opponent of openness, and openness is one of the crucial elements that the soviet system lacked. (In contrast, openness within is one of the strengths of democratic centralism.) I just don’t think we’re seeing a head-to-head competition to provide greater openness. Openness, instead, is a consequence of other factors… and if you always pick ‘less evil,’ you’ll wind up with a pile of evil at the end of the day… sooner or later, you need to sweep the stables. Just because Toyota came through the pox without scars doesn’t mean smallpox isn’t bad for you.

Now, lets get one thing clear before someone starts comparing me to Marx… (and really, if you want to slander me, the devil you’re looking for is spelled “S-t-a-l-i-n”). There were four, not two or three or one, political-economic philosophies which emerged as a consequence of the Enlightenment. (I deliberately did not say “from” the Enlightenment.) All four, of course, have earlier threads you could trace back to Greece and earlier, but that digression is for another time. They are: Fascism, socialism/communism, republican capitalism, and anarchism… and there are and were, of course, hybrids… there is a great deal of cross-pollinization between them (anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-socialism, neocons are basically fascist/capitalists, etc.)

No anarchist governments survived very long, as all of the other three tended to gang up against them. Fascism is thought to have been defeated in WWII, though of course helpful fascists (Franco, those in Operation Gladio) persisted a bit longer, and the neocons Strauss and the possible actions of Bush’s grandfather demark a rather straight line from the fascism of the past to the problems of the present. The USSR fell (and good riddance). But… is the ability of a newborn state to fight all of Europe and win really the way we ought to decide which political philosophy shall dominate? Not very participatory. Not very democratic… and it selects strongly for states with an interest in “more war.” I’m of the opinion that this last trait isn’t something we can afford at this stage of societal development. (Yes, violence at an all-time low. I’m not too stupid to spot progress, but I also remember what happened when Athens had democracy at home and hegemony abroad.) The Thatcherite TINA (There Is No Alternative [except free-market capitalism]) is perhaps the most galling phrase imaginable. If you think driving the ostrich conservatives out of the public light in America, already a conservative country, is bad… imagine the consequences of continuing to insist to the left that they’re mad for thinking there are a few bugs in this ‘capitalist’ system. I’m no fan of propaganda by the deed, I assure you… but men with no alternatives are dangerous, and criticism is the only known antidote for error.

Returning to those four cousins from around the time of the Enlightenment, I don’t trace my pedigree through Marx-Lenin-Trotsky, or M-L-Stalin, or M-L-Mao… I’m from that other branch over there, the one with “Bakunin” and “Chomsky” on it… there is, of course, the occasional grafting, like Eugene Debs and his Fellow Workers in the IWW (some of whom trend more towards socialism than anarchism), of which I’m a proud member. As others, our fine host included, have pointed out… the “Right/Left” axis/axes is/are quite vague. Don’t go trying to tar me with Mao or Stalin, and I won’t try to tar you with the CIA’s long list of ‘valuable allies,’ agreed? I’m not an apparent supporter of the left because it is the left, out of some pseudo-patriotic impulse… I think I see more gold on that fork in the stream, is all.

I know you don’t like cancer sticks or global-warming-denying energy companies, and I know that you don’t think this is an inevitable consequence of capitalism. I believe that the pursuit of profit, by completely normal people, leads them to do great evil, and that the externalities produced are ineradicable under that system. These problems we all want to solve are all, or almost all, externalities.

(That is the rock you’re headed for, and I do hope you’ll consider what might happen if it isn’t a seagull that is going to move.)

My question for you is… supposing we could come up with a system which had healthy competition and openness, but not externalities, wouldn’t there be some value in that system, even if it wasn’t capitalism?

Finally, I dug up the correct quote I tried to reference earlier, and I think it will help to close things out.

The following is a direct quote from A FEW NOTES ON THE CULTURE.

Let me state here a personal conviction that appears, right now, to be profoundly unfashionable; which is that a planned economy can be more productive - and more morally desirable - than one left to market forces.

The market is a good example of evolution in action; the try-everything-and-see-what- -works approach. This might provide a perfectly morally satisfactory resource-management system so long as there was absolutely no question of any sentient creature ever being treated purely as one of those resources. The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is - without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset - intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.

It is, arguably, in the elevation of this profoundly mechanistic (and in that sense perversely innocent) system to a position above all other moral, philosophical and political values and considerations that humankind displays most convincingly both its present intellectual [immaturity and] - through grossly pursued selfishness rather than the applied hatred of others - a kind of synthetic evil.

Intelligence, which is capable of looking farther ahead than the next aggressive mutation, can set up long-term aims and work towards them; the same amount of raw invention that bursts in all directions from the market can be - to some degree - channelled and directed, so that while the market merely shines (and the feudal gutters), the planned lases, reaching out coherently and efficiently towards agreed-on goals. What is vital for such a scheme, however, and what was always missing in the planned economies of our world's experience, is the continual, intimate and decisive participation of the mass of the citizenry in determining these goals, and designing as well as implementing the plans which should lead towards them.

Of course, there is a place for serendipity and chance in any sensibly envisaged plan, and the degree to which this would affect the higher functions of a democratically designed economy would be one of the most important parameters to be set... but just as the information we have stored in our libraries and institutions has undeniably outgrown (if not outweighed) that resident in our genes, and just as we may, within a century of the invention of electronics, duplicate - through machine sentience - a process which evolution took billions of years to achieve, so we shall one day abandon the grossly targeted vagaries of the market for the precision creation of the planned economy.

dmon said...

Judo choice for Obama's running mate: Chuck Hagel.

Alien autopsy ver 2.0: coming soon to a "documentary" near you. This should be fun...

Travc said...

Zorgon... I kindof agree with you, though there is definitely a degree of immediacy and 'getting there' to the 'trivial' topics.

As for the white-biotech ideas you mention, I fully expect that we will be growing cool and useful substances (though probably not with trees). However, this will not happen for a while. It is somewhere between converting to a H2 based fuel/energy distribution system and fusion power. We have some ideas of how to do it, but lots of details and potentially some big stumbling blocks are still there.

The biochar thing I've become excited about recently is ready to use on a large scale right now. It isn't a potential (partial) energy solution like cellulostic ethanol, but it is carbon negative and has at least some potentially very big beneficial side effects (improving agriculture productivity is pretty huge).


As for B. Dewhirst's critique of capitalism... Well, yeah. But Dr Brin (nor I) think a purely market based system is a good idea.

There does appear to be a grave 'moral hazard' to the current capitalist system. While I generally favor a decentralized / emergent / market based approach (with some planning and regulation to deal with externalities of course), the ethical / moral framework of capital markets and corporations seems dangerously wrong.

Back when the limited liability corporation was first invented, it was grated charter by the sovereign only when a greater good was served (at least in theory) and the enterprise was too big and/or risky to work as a proprietorship. The East India Company and several of the American Colonies were such corporations. (And they did plenty of very bad things, but also good.) I mention this because it colors how I think of corporations.

It seems to me that there is no good reason not to put real limits on who/what gets granted a corporate license. After all, a corporation is a very special sort of legal protection for the owners... it can and should be restricted to enterprises which enhance the public good. Most businesses should be simple partnerships or proprietorships, where the owners are legally (and importantly ethically) responsible for the conduct of the company.

A non-corporate company can spend their earnings on paying their employees (very well even), R&D, and all that stuff... but they don't have the 'drag' of buying off a bunch of shareholders who don't actually do anything useful. It seems perverse that 'going public' is seen as an endpoint goal for many start-up companies, where really it makes much more sense for a company to sell stock only when getting started (raising capital) and go private by buying back that stock when they get established. It is like building up your credit score to take out a huge loan and never pay it back.

It also galls me that non-profit enterprises are viewed so strangely. Non-profit does not mean charity. Many enterprises make much more sense as non-profits. Being non-profit doesn't mean you don't pay the employees well, invest in R&D, or expand. My favorite example is the not-for-profit pharmaceutical company.

I imagine (perhaps fancifully) a move towards less capitalism and growth based economics towards sustainable models. Part of this is 'public good' corporate charters, proprietorships and non-profits becoming the norm and selling stocks being seen (as it should) as a less than desirable way of borrowing money.

David Brin said...

Here's the address to donate to the monks who are smuggling aid to Myanmar victims. First thru paypal:




As for alternatives to capitalism, I am all ears. But note, Iain Banks is smart. He does not start from a premise of calling capitalism inherently evil! Anyone can see that - WHEN IT WORKS - (and that requires functioning regulated and TRANSPARENT markets and democracy), it is far more productive and engendering of positive sum games than any predecessor. And that includes ALL tribal, feudal or socialist systems.

Still, it has proved (like those others) painfully vulnerable to cheating and stupid shortsightedness.

My GAR & FIBM essays go into this:

Yes, today's FIBM cultists are mostly fools or liars. They are NOT defenders of open markets. Indeed, the best markets are those where "blindness" is NOT the top trait, and society provides a little long range foresight, as well as fierce guarantees against cheating.

Moreover (!!) the state has a huge role in ensuring that the markets get a complete feed stock of human talent. No more wasting human potential that was stunted because of race, gender, class or lack of education. That's just stupid. As is allowing the children of the rich to start out 80 meteres ahead in a 100 meter dash. Oh, and I agree that the modern corporation is a very strange beast and it deserves another really, really close look in a renewed public debate.

Still, the defenders of GAR are just as stupid. IT HAS BEEN TRIED! Socialism, feudalism, whatever. It is profoundly dumb to declare "This time it'll work!" Wha?

Fact. we are complex beings, both cooperative and competitive. Cut off EITHER of those drives and you amputate us at the knees and elbows.

We have had enough of moronic, dogmatic "I know EXACTLY how to fix it!" dogmas. Across 5,000 years, they have only proved the dogmatists to be self-lobotomizers.

Travc said...

Dr Brin, to be fair, I don't believe the latest discussion of capitalism has invoked anything like:
'"I know EXACTLY how to fix it!" dogmas.'

I get the impression B. Dewhirst is a bit of an intrinsic radical, while most others here are inclined to 'work within the system to change the system'. I for one would be interested in a description of a alternative to capitalism that really is potentially better than democratically regulated capitalism (mixed with GAR/socialism in some sectors).

PS: There is a statue in DC of a man holding back the reigns of a wild-looking horse. This is in front of one of the agencies tasked with regulating the markets... but I can't remember which one. I'd love to know so I can find a photo of it... the symbolism is quite intentional.

David Brin said...

Fair enough, Travc.And yes, I'd do very extensive surgery on today's capitalism. Far more transparency. An ending of the practice of dumping costs on the commonwealth. A genuine market for managerial talent, instead of a crony network, so the market would keep executive compensation rates sane.

And yes, a preference toward "active capital" rather than passive rent-seeking (which Adam Smith despised).

Still, BD very clearly alluded to ideological roots in GAR socialism. And we all have to wary of those who feel some favored elite can be trusted to allocate resources any better than any other elite. The FIBM fanatics may be mostly liars and hypocrites, in disguising their underlying agendas. But they speak a basic truth. Competition can be far more creative than enforced or centralized "cooperation."

B. Dewhirst said...

You would seem to have done a terrible job of following your own guidelines about paraphrasing the arguments of others, and perhaps of 'reading closely.' Further, you've poisoned the well from the start. Fine, but don't do that -and- pretend you are an adult who wishes to cooperate and who values criticism. Should I -automatically- assume that because you're in favor of capitalism and a self-styled libertarian that you're some dangerous two-bit cheerleader for Pinochet?

Elites are antithetical to anarchism, thus I had hoped that a careful reader would have been able to conclude that I was not in favor of "GAR Socialism." This also should have been apparent when I indicated good riddance to the soviet union on account of its undemocratic nature. The Banks quote further underscores the need for democratic review and control over the decisions of whomever is planning the aforementioned planned economy.

(Right now, that planning is being done by Dick Cheney and his 9,999 golf buddies.)

You, after all, seem content to have an unelected bureaucracy, susceptible to bribery, to rein in capitalism.

Instead of actually considering what I've said, though, you repeat the same kinds of dogmatic positions you criticize in others.

If you want to stand on your soapbox and yell about the mythical kind of capitalism which has never worked and never been tried, and to compare it to socialism as it really has been tried, be my guest... but I'll leave and find a more adult place to have a discussion. I'm interested in discussing the real problems with the system which distributes food, medicine, shelter, etc.

Do you really think that capitalism is the best medicine for Johannesburg? Right now, it is producing some conditions pretty damn close to slavery, and I, at least, can't spot a socialist to blame from here... and if you can't spot the feudalism inherent in that, I'll go elsewhere and find some adults to speak with.

If you want to call Sweden "capitalism," or a duck a fish, there isn't exactly a law to stop you... but again, I'll go find some adults to talk with if sophistry, semantics and equivocation are your game.

Iain Banks described capitalism as a system producing 'a kind of synthetic evil,' and that not meaning the same thing as 'intrinsically evil' seems to be like semantics games to me.

From my perspective, of course, I can't quite tell why Exxon is the capitalist company and I'm the "GAR advocate." Perhaps it is because they've got better press agents.

Anyone who is convinced, dogmatically, that they can fix capitalism if they give it one more try, is dangerous, and we should be very careful around such people.

You still haven't explained how a cigarette company isn't functioning -exactly- as capitalism dictates. You want them to be more open. Fine. How exactly do you expect to force open an institution which kept out -science- for fifty years, and which owned Congress during a like period of time? A Brin-family dictatorship? (You've compared me to the marxist-stalinists, so I see no reason not to compare you to the CIA's choice of friends.)

How exactly do you intend to do that when it is not in the best interest of their profits, and they are legally required to maximize their profits... not to mention all the other factors which personally incentivise them to maximize share value in the short term?

If you're not going to take the time to actually pay attention to what I said, to consider that you might be wrong, I'm not going to take another six hours to try to explain an alternative economic system to you just so you can not read it and accuse me of being a "dangerous man" out of some outdated cold war prejudice.

Everyone else can google parecon, whose very foundation is presenting a system like capitalism, or communism, from overriding the will of the people. If there are any misconceptions, I'd be happy to attempt to answer questions about it (assuming I'm not about to be banned for questioning the great and powerful Brin, or for holding him to his own standards.)

If I am banned, cookies and Q&A at my place, here.

David Brin said...

This kind of rant is PRECISELY why I spoke of indignant dogmatism. You come here and snipe at everybody (and yes, you started it) and drip contempt, but cannot take a little heat yourself.

Oh, you might have addressed actual issues that I tried to aim at. Like whether there are forms of anarchism that can combine cooperation and competition in ways that DON'T lead to cheating and eventually feudalism. (Hint, every other time that any form of anarchy EVER reigned, it was followed by exactly that spiral.)

The GAR vs FIBM dilemma is a serious one. If you aren't a socialist (um, you are the one shouting that your hero Debs was one) and a true anarchist instead, then presumably you are a SINCERE believer in FIBM, (unlike those Cato Institute lying-hypocrite whores who you and I both despise.)

Well, fine, then the question remains, how do you prevent cheating? Because cheating is what humans do best. We do it relentlessly and expertly and cover it by indignant rationalizations.

Fact is, ALL you do here is yell. Now you are upset that I leaped to some (pretty natural) conclusions about you, and claim I started it. Bullshit. In BETWEEN any immature statements I make are always lots of questions and interesting topics.

You claim to be doing the same. But seriously. Find me ANY paragraphs of yours (I am sure you can find one or two) that have not been hostile?

Wait, I do recall one time.

B. Dewhirst said...

There isn't any point of addressing actual issues if you aren't actually going to read what I've written, or address any of the questions posed, and that is a pretty thin pretext for abandoning the principles you set forward wrt discussion.

You don't even know what an anarchist is, and clearly need to spend some time in a library, unless you're just playing dumb. Anarcho-capitalists are not anarchists, as much as Rothbard would like to just swipe a term he has no right to.

I've given you my answer as to how cheating is to be prevented, at least twice that I can recall, and it isn't my problem if you have overlooked it.

In my earlier response, I've agreed with you on openness, CITOKATE, the need for competition, etc. Other than repeat yourself, what ground have -you- given?

How do -you- intend to deal with the cigarette companies? Openness how?

Now... shall I waste time inserting paragraphs praising the great and mighty Brin?

Go ahead and ban me, but I won't grovel.

You haven't given me the slightest indication you've considered for even a second that you might be mistaken. By the very fact that I'm here, you can hardly make the same claim.

B. Dewhirst said...

... And if I seem to be yelling, perhaps it is worth pointing out that you seem to be deaf.

Tony Fisk said...

BD's thoughtful essay spoke of capitalism ignoring the externalities. I don't think this is intrinsic to the Capitalist model (although it can be argued, FIBM style, to have developed as such). There are a few other interesting musings on this blindspot, and what to do about it, at Worldchanging:

Interview with Mark Anielski on his book: The Economics of Happiness

Tom Prugh's Green Economics and New Thinking

Finally, in case you were wondering why this economics stuff is considered so important:
The Currency of Status:
Brain research suggests a [hardwired] link between money and social standing.

Which might also explain the temperature of the above comments? ...cool it, guys!

B. Dewhirst said...

I'm not entirely certain how changing measurement systems is expected to change the behaviors of companies. GM works to maximize GM's profits, whether you measure GDP, GNP, or something else entirely which measures (say) curb weight of automobiles.

As for why I became so rapidly irate, it has something to do with the length of time I spent writing the aforementioned essay, and the (rather dogmatic) suggestion that if I was a "GAR Socialist," I wasn't to be trusted and neither were my criticisms or questions when I asked rather plainly not to be Godwinned the first chance someone got...

David Brin said...

Dang, talk about coming right back and giving two examples of exactly why you got in this fix. Yell some more! Getting upset? Yell even more!

Dig this, you have merely yelled. To the best of my knowledge, you have not deliberately lied or engaged in online scatology. Hence, there isn't the slightest chance you'll be banned. Moreover, you are clearly the kind of smart contrarian we need around here.

But honestly, it is too much work, sifting through the yelling, to find the nuggets and reasonable questions that are scattered about. And even they are ... YELLED!!!!!

For example, how would I deal with cigarette companies? There are many levels, from regulation, to tort lawsuits to getting the truth out to a public encouraging them to make their own sovereign decision not to smoke. These range from (note) paternalistic to adversarial to individualist/atomist approaches... and ALL three are needed...

...and all three have to START with transparency, because light is what forces regulators to act, allows adversaries to apply accountability and lets informed customers drop a deadly product.

I know you are advocating (without ever ONCE making yourself clear, above the yelling, a fourth and more radical approach, the replacement of the standard, profit-led corporate model with something more inherently incentivized to operate in socially useful ways. An interesting topic...

...that I was perfectly all right with discussing and said so! But note that in half of one sentence I paraphrased in more detail than you ever got around to, amid all your #@$%##! yelling!

And that's where it lies. Feel free to storm about feeling repressed and persecuted. But the fact is, I am at liberty to pay as much or as little attention to you as I like. And with my wife leaning on me to keep my promise about this here comments section, I can be forgiven for paying a lot more attention to OTHER idea guys who are a lot more pleasant to talk to,

David Brin said...

Folks, feel free to drop by:

for a summary of this year's Future in review Conference (FiRe), where Vinod Khosla was delightfully contrarian optimistic about our coming ability to develop cellulosic fuels and solar thermal energy.

"It is not every day that you get to hang out with Noble prize winners, top climatologists, renowned science fiction authors, CTOs of Fortune 100 companies, top researchers in medicine, broadband, environment, and fuels, #1 VC on the planet, friend of every Chinese leader since Mao, and more – and all within 48 hours. Well, Future in Review (FiRe) conference last week in San Diego provided such a thrill."

Alas, the author of the writeup only mentions one "famous science fiction author" -- guest Bruce Sterling, who was entertainingly ornery, interviewed (by my arrangement) by the great tech artist Sheldon Brown. The writeup fails to mention the SF writer in residence at ALL of these conferences, who organized the "Architechs CTO Innovation Challenge"!

To see these events as podcasts, from by the FiRe site, drop by over the course of the next few months. http://www.futureinreview.com/

Tony Fisk said...

I'm not entirely certain how changing measurement systems is expected to change the behaviors of companies.

The new measurements reveal that there are goals to be achieved other than maximising the GNP.

So, it might change the behaviours of some of those golf buddies (jeez, golf gets some bad press around here!) if their goals were changed.

Then again, as the last link suggests, it might be as basic as a crocodile reflexively snapping at proffered bait.

Suggested tip for handling heated online exchanges: keep the response short and to the point (and make it clear *which* point)

B. Dewhirst said...

(in light of Tony's suggestion, I've trimmed my intended reply.)

I'd rather you say nothing at all with regards to my comments, especially long ones, than read them so fast you've missed what I said.

You missed my attempts to summarize, but they were there, if not in your preferred format up top. (Scattered, as when I indicated we agreed on openness, and competition... I also indicated you felt you'd shown competition had led to openness.)

Clearly, I failed, as after all, you're supposed to be able to recognize your own argument there.

Here they are, put together, with a more recent addition added to the end:

"You think markets can be fixed with openness and regulation, and are afraid of bureaucrats garnering too much power if they are allowed to govern the allocation of resources."

Fine, but you still haven't explained how we go about enforcing or achieving involuntary transparency.. and you've indicated it is the necessary precondition to the recommendations you have made, and at present there are people whose job it is to plan the allocation of resources... we've just decided that those with more money get more resources.

I seem to recall you writing in Earth and The Transparent Society about how difficult transparency really is to achieve. One thing they seem to have done in Earth was... largely do away with capitalism. Also, there was a great big war (tm) involved, so am I then to assume you're in favor of violently overthrowing companies? Based on what else I know of your writings, I think not.

Ultimately you are responsible for whatever tone and volume you take out of mute text. As I am for assuming that you were imparting the same words of caution about all apparent GAR advocates as one might when saying "those child molesters are awful nasty people." (Like anarchism or socialism have good reputations in the United States to start with...)

Now, I'll attempt to address how my preferred postcapitalist system (parecon) avoids the aforementioned pitfalls of cheating and corruption:

With transparency and healthy competition.

Wiki has a good summary:

"Participatory economics, often abbreviated parecon, is a proposed economic system that uses participatory decision making as an economic mechanism to guide the production, consumption and allocation of resources in a given society. Proposed as an alternative to contemporary capitalist market economies and also an alternative to centrally planned socialism or coordinatorism, it is described as "an anarchistic economic vision"[1]. It emerged from the work of activist and political theorist Michael Albert and that of radical economist Robin Hahnel, beginning in the 1980s and 1990s... [mention of old Karl]..."

"The underlying values that parecon seeks to implement are equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and efficiency. (Efficiency here means accomplishing goals without wasting valued assets.) It proposes to attain these ends mainly through the following principles and institutions:

* workers' and consumers' councils utilizing self-managerial methods for decision making,
* balanced job complexes,
* remuneration according to effort and sacrifice, and
* participatory planning."

(end quoting wikipedia so I can try to give some clarifying examples)

A workplace decides collectively whether they're going to try to make (say) 100 or 110 cars, with some understanding of how much overtime and additional compensation this will require. Managers may well also be the people who clean the toilets, and that is what they signed up for when they applied for the job.

Factory A and Factory B compete to see who can build better cars in the same way there is healthy inter-departmental competition between plants today. (Pride here is the dominant coin.)

Consumers and communities indicate their intended areas of consumption, mediated by democratically elected and publicly supervised economists-- the bureaucrats are public servants, and you've acknowledged the importance of good public servants in the past. Under this system, office work like this is not especially incentivised-- it'd probably pay less per hour worked than coal mining, but there is air conditioning.

(Necessary concessions for how to accommodate privacy in requests has been discussed... they call it the "naughty underwear problem." There is some anonymous purchasing, but whether or not you've bought a car is the sort of thing on the books.)

Piecemeal examples of this working in practice are available... Mondragon and Gore-tex should be early stops on google. Brazil has experimented with community planning, and it has worked pretty well, etc.

B. Dewhirst said...

I should also add, so as not to be deceptive, that the intended mix is more cooperation between workers and less competition... but you can still have competition between two groups of cooperating workers.

David McCabe said...

Both of you sound like drunks in a bar.

Mr. Dewhirst, whether or not you're actually yelling, your verbosity and long-windedness does make it rather hard to extract what you're saying. Our host is right about paraphrasing one of your points in half a sentence. Personally I find your ideas interesting but your posts almost too tedious to bother with. (That is, your earlier posts, before the arguments start.)

Dr. Brin, it didn't sound like Dewhirst was yelling to me, at first. Benefit of the doubt? It's text, after all.

David McCabe said...

Also Dr. Brin, I think B.D. is paraphrasing and replying more than you give him credit for.

David McCabe said...

Looks like we suffered a race condition; I made my 'drunks' comment before seeing B.D.'s newest reply.

Tony Fisk said...

Thanks for the acknowledgment, bd.
But, at the risk of flogging tender hides...

Your response still comes across as a long rant, and probably should have ended at the phrase:

Clearly, I failed, as after all, you're supposed to be able to recognize your own argument there.

The rest, on parecon, could then go into your next post. Otherwise, you risk it being missed.

(FWIW: David would have been better off leaving it at saying you are unlikely to be banned)

...Race conditions are a big part of this talking past each other (one reason why reducing your responses is a good idea)

At which point, before I'm hoist on MY petard, I'd better drop it!

Anonymous said...

Doing my rounds here daily... Nice blog. God Bless!!!

Travc said...

BD: thanks for finally elaborating on parecon. Most of the material I've gone through online is nearly opaque to me... your clarification remarks are slightly better, but still leave a big 'and how the hell is that supposed to actually work' hanging out there (at least in my mind).

Three points:

Saying that I (or we) don't understand the difference between paleo-capitalism and anarchism is, well, completely unhelpful. Unless you are a political anthropologist or hang out with committed leftists or libertarians all the time, these are terms-of-art one has no reason to be familiar with.

I'm an evolutionary biologist, yet somehow manage to avoid using (and then getting pissed off at people who don't understand) terms-of-art when talking about GM and such.


You (BD) do have a pronounced tendency to complain that people are not addressing your points (or are ignoring your answers to questions). At least for me, I have a hard time seeing your point... and most of the responses to Dr Brin of the sort 'I've already said' leave me completely baffeled. I haven't noticed those responses/answers?

Perhaps actually stating your point, hopefully more clearly, and possibly from a different angle would be more useful.


Finally, parecon... doesn't sound fundamentally different from a mixed economy (aka capitalism with regulation and some state/collective sectors).

I do get your point about DEMOCRATIC partial GAR. What I mean by 'partial GAR' is regulation/incentives which generally operate 'tweak' a market based system... taxing externalities, subsidizing public goods, ect.; possibly with centralized GAR (which boils down to price controls really) for some sectors. Just so you know, this is included in what I (and I suspect Dr Brin) mean by regulation.

The Democratic part is important and tricky... that much we can all agree on. Direct election of economic bureaucrats is very very problematic. Though there does need to be much more public awareness and accountability for such people.

Ultimately, parecon seems (from my POV) more of a difference in quantity than quality.

We already have indirect democratic input into regulation (WTO an nasty exception), of course more is better and we are dangerously close to an aristocratic cabal taking over.

We have labor unions, some of which actually cooperate and influence management. We have an ethical notion that sacrifice/risk/responsibility should be rewarded over mere management or simple 'ownership'. Ideas on how to make these instincts more effective in the real world is welcome... I suspect labor unions and different corporate structures are a good bet. (Note: Some managerial positions entail a large amount of responsibility.)

Travc said...

BTW: Externalities are Econ 101, at least a half-decent econ 101. In econ 102 you should have learned lots of regulatory / tax / subsidy / legal remedies. It certainly does not require overturning the generally capitalist economic system to address those problems.

Travc said...

On the idea that capitalism has also been tried and failed... well, not quite. Capitalism (generally speaking at least) is a complex adaptive system which when combined with representative government has self-correcting capacity. In short, it changes over time in response to failures.

So capitalism is constantly in or near failure of one sort or another, but has mechanisms to deal with it. It takes constant work and may melt-down completely if we don't maintain it reasonably, but so far pretty good in comparison to everything else that has been tried.

Think of it like a representative republic, or perhaps science.

PS: I always get a kick out of people (usually creationists) who point out some scientist of scientific theory which turned out to be incorrect. They totally don't get how that undermines their entire argument.

Anonymous said...

Something from the wow cool l;ist. How would you like to read David Brin's books on this.


David Brin said...

At last, an attempt to actually describe what the heck you were talking about. Instead of pouring resentment. (Deny "yelling"? The resentment was harder to deny, it filled a clear majority of paragraphs and made it very hard to read the others.)

I get it now. Worker-management cooperative planning, a utopian model not unlike put into practice in Israeli Kibbutzes, a system that thrived while a vigorous utopian mentality pervaded society... and that had to transform and modify itself as a sophisticated, tertiary Israeli economy developed.

And now, alas, I must point out that this kind of thing has been tried, again and again and again. Thousands of time, in utopian communes and in farmer coops and in literally thousands of companies that devolved stock to the workers. And the record neithter refutes the concept nor supports it.

But what the record DOES show is that this kind of thing is very very hard to pull off. The communes generally only worked (ironically!) while a charismatic leader could coax utopian spirit and divert egotism.
The farmers coops have done great at times, but often by becoming more like corporations in which farmer owners were stockholders and misc workers had no say at all.

Some worker owned companies have thrived. I support them! I think laws should be radically changed to make a strong TREND toward such experiments, using tax and other policies. And yet, utopians who think that path is easy ought to look at United Airlines and countless other failures.

I agree that corporate law should apply justified pressure to encourage that trend... but it is utterly naive (sorry) to wave an Albertian incantation around and say it oughta work... especially when earlier movements pushed very similar things. And yes, the technocracy movement of the thirties. And the New Deal pushed HARD for such things, back in the day.

Rewarding your newly-discovered courtesy, I will try not to sound disdainful when I say that "it oughta work" is not a basis for prescription. Especially not when you peel back the armwavings and reveal an underlying assumption that looks an awful lot like Marx's utterly discredited labor theory of value.

Sorry, but scarcity-value is nature's rule, not mine. SO don't blame me. But that's both physics and life.

What we CAN do is apply very limited degrees of GAR in order to keep the process of scarcity -value from tearing apart society while markets encourage creativity that makes many kinds of scarcity go away. Which has happened very often under regulated market capitalism. You cannot name another system under which it did.

Enough. I simply do not have the time. But I honor the sincere intelligence I see here. What makes me impatient is the assumption we haven't gone over all of this, for two centuries, and learned some hard lessons.

(1) corporate capitalism does need some major rules overhauls to reduce the shifting of costs and externalities and the rampant cheating we now see. (2) these fixes won't happen in vast sweeping revolutions... at least we better pray things stay calm, because most bigtime revolutions only raise up violent dogmatic oversimplifiers.

Right now, we are caught between unapologetic GAR junkies and hypocritical GAR junkies who try to disguise it under rants of FIBM. And utopians, God bless em.

But Robert Wright had it right. The key is this -- can we keep generating positive sum games? A mix of vigorous competition and state mediated consensus cooperation has done this so far.

I am more interested in pragmatic incremental improvements than in sweeping, generalized incantations about how workers committees will suddenly start acting like very few workers' committees have ever acted before, and how a totally theoretical redesign will suddenly fix all the flaws in human nature.

Anonymous said...

"Managers may well also be the people who clean the toilets"

That solves 50% of Capitalisms problems right there.


So, I get on this odd kick, reading up on Iceland.

If their President vetos a Bill, it doesn't get kicked back to the Legislature. Instead, it's put to a popular vote.

Anyone else think this is brilliant?

B. Dewhirst said...

This is, in part, why I worked so hard to try to establish that capitalism had a problem... rather hard to convince folk to switch to the patch if they don't think smoking is an issue.

I'm moving to a new apartment in the next 24 hours, but will attempt to provide substantive replies before ~Tuesday.

B. Dewhirst said...

I've now found the time to try to carefully read the responses, but responses to this response may be slow on account of the aforementioned.

Do you deny a prejudice against anything you even think smells of Marx?

the ParEcon folk draw inspiration from the IWW, which had a peak membership of around 100,000 Americans shortly before WWI. Debs, a socialist and IWW founder, regularly got higher percent returns as a Socialist in the United States as compared to today's Libertarians. Not quite so fringe.

If I call your desire for openness utopian, have I rebutted it? How about your desire to 'fix' capitalism?

Gore-tex has about 1.6 billion dollars in annual revenue employing 8000 people, Mondragon about 8 billion dollars, and employs ~83,000 people (half of whom are not coop). Neither has a charismatic leader as far as I can tell.

My challenge is simple:

Refute slavery without refuting wage labor, (or making tautological statements like "it is wrong because it is wrong.") Our fine host is, as he said, busy, so I'm hoping fellow guests will chime in.

Indignation (resentment if you prefer) is sometimes justified, and I've attempted to support it with both logic and evidence.

B. Dewhirst said...


Capitalism is an evolved solution. Can't see much further than its nose.

Problems exist which may require advanced planning, such as greenhouse warming etc.

A bird may fly well, but if you want a jet you need to design your own system-- even if it seems very complicated.

Evolved solutions have a tendency to overshoot their environment's carrying capacity... and I don't really want to be part of a die-off.

The examples I raised in my long post were not made in total ignorance of proposed corrective measures, such as externality taxation, but I'm trying to argue that they don't work very well because 'winners' get to write those laws.

Banks was trying to argue that once you sufficiently patch Capitalism, it isn't as efficient any more... and you might as well design something better if you're going to the effort.

I tend to think of Blind Markets as a malign invisible foot, rather than an invisible hand...

Witness the trouble we're having now with global warming, or how long it took to ban cigarettes. Witness the working conditions in Johannesburg, China, and Vietnam... and how their labor benefits our society.

We've simply moved the slave labor out of sight.

David Brin said...

Again, I am the pragmatist and I am telling you, BD, that there is a pragmatic reason to lessen the resentful dudgeon that you regularly dump on us here. That reason is simple. The two times that you damped it down, I actually spent time on you.

While you grumbld and growled, this time, it was better, so let me address the point.

You point to a few employee owned companies and coops and say "see?" I have to answer "see what?" Sure, there are examples of it working. I already said that and cited VASTLY better examples, e.g. the Israeli kibbutzes. Still, with major tax incentives, some still existing today, but many more in FDR 's era, it has been done successfully very, very seldom.

I am in FAVOR of major new incentives in that direction. But you bear a really, really big burden of proof that we should leap. And the list of reasons you just offered is very threadbare, even HERE where the audience is somewhat receptive. Now try that on the general public.

Think, you want us to leap into totally new territory, designing a jet from scratch, when this should have already moved MUCH farther than it has, incrementally.

But dig it, you cannot totally blame the machinations of capitalists for the failure of worker coops to get farther. If even 10% were convinced of your logic, they could have made vastly more coops work by now.

Oh, I have plenty of gopod things to say about Marx. The greatest SF author of all time! But he did the same thing Freud did. Started out great, then took himself WAY too seriously and became a ditso loon dogmatist.

Anonymous said...

He started treating the conclusions he had drawn from facts as facts themselves, and then treating those "facts" as the basis for further conclusions.

Anonymous said...

In the interest of moving the discussion on a bit, what countries currently have systems closest to what you advocate? Sweden was mentioned in passing, and some of what you appear to be discussing sounds vaguely European.
I should not presume to put a label on you, unless you chose to adopt one. But if you are indeed a Socialist, welcome. As one of the few conservative voices that turns up here I can appreciate a fellow minority!
And various posters have made good suggestions, keep it short and crisp, try to use languege in general circulation or define with care that which is not.
Again, welcome!

Travc said...

Hey, don't knock the evolved systems... you are one after all ;)

Seriously, I've already mentioned my bias in favor of 'evolved' systems (really complex adaptive systems). There is some rational basis to it, but in my case it goes beyond that to an aesthetic or perhaps even moral preference.

The rational argument really boils down to three ideas:

1) I hate to use the phrase since it has been debased by misuse recently, but 'wisdom of crowds'... It isn't some magical force like some people seem to think, but it is very powerful. Hell, democratic GAR relies on it too, in a form which is actually generally more prone to pathologies than 'market based' systems (which we all admit are far from perfect).

2) Corrective capacity. A system which is intrinsically dynamic and reactive/adaptive constantly corrects itself... that is how it is created in the first place after all. Not claiming it is perfect, but it is an intrinsic property to 'evolved' systems which is very difficult to include in any, much less a more effective, form in a designed system.

3) Evolved systems are built out of the bits that actually exist behaving and interacting in the ways they really do. Designed systems rely on their component bits behaving the way we think they should. This works well enough for beams and cables, though if you've ever taken a mechanical or structural engineering you realize that even that includes massive simplifications... try designing a system composed of people and all bets are off.


It seems very much like we basically agree on most points. Where we seem to disagree is really the radical vs progressive dichotomy. All the evidence I see indicates that a generally market based 'capitalistic' (though not necessarily a Dow Jones sort of capitalism) system is capable of allocating resources in a way that the vast majority of people are relatively happy. There are problems with the current instantiation which need to be addressed, but I don't see a need to scrap it and start over (and I doubt it would even be possible at any sort of large level).

As for the 'winners making the rules' undermining needed regulations. That is a problem which needs to be addressed, but is really political not economic. Using representative democracy to push transparency is a very good next step... Not a 'start' since people have been addressing this problem from day one. After all, representative democracy is a big step/tool itself.

PS: I would add that socialization / GAR / planning / design is called for in some cases. My favorite example is healthcare where 'market based' approaches won't even work in theory (find anything approaching a 'rational consumer' for healthcare!)

matthew said...

Check out this editorial from the "Nukes and Spooks" blog on Scott McClellan's "revelation" that mainstream news media did not vett the Iraq war well.


Pretty slamdunk collection of links to earlier articles on BushCo ongoing lies. I haven't seen this blog before but, dang, looks like these folks have been fighting the good fight for a long time.

Travc said...

Some more action on the BushCo war on good government / professionalism.

New deadlines on agencies proposing and enacting regulations... designed (not surprisingly) to keep them from doing their job.

Travc said...

Sorry, that link didn't come through...

Here is the NYTimes peice

Travc said...

And now for something completely different...

Watched the A&E 'remake' of The Andromeda Strain. Crap! I just have to vent to people who are likely to have a clue.

I haven't read the book, so I don't know how much of the crap was from that, but the 1971 film was quite good... and this is coming from a biologist.

A real remake with some tech brought up to date would have been good. Even adding in some of the Alien-eque government/'company' conspiracy stuff would have been cool... but they threw in lots of unnecessary SF crap (wormholes, time travel, ecological savior stuff, ...) and made the disease/organism progression so utterly unrealistic that, well 'crap' seems the best word apparently.

Go rent the '71 film instead of wasting your time.

Anonymous said...

Regarding The Andromeda Strain it has been years since I read the book or saw the movie, but as best I recall it, in the book there was none of the parenthetical stuff you mention. The 1971 movie stayed pretty close to the book, except for understandably leaving out chunks of infodump.

The few differences I recall:

There was at least one more scene about Professor [mumble]'s epilepsy.

The core defense system was gas and drug darts, not gas and lasers. He still gets hit, but the drug dose is set for smaller primates.

The [spoiler] at the end is stopped at 33 seconds rather than 3 seconds (or whatever the exact number was). This was because all of the air was automatically sucked out of [spoiler] starting at T-30.

There was an aside in the book about "Kalocin" a drug that not only killed anything not a multicellular organism, but was very useful against cancer. It had been surpressed because it turned out it complete wiped the immune system, so if you missed a dose you'd die within hours from some wierd disease no one had ever seen before.

Travc said...

Nice to hear that the book (Andromeda Strain) is good. The 71 film has a few bits that annoyed me (the lasers were one), but was overall quite believable.

Spoiler below:
The new movie has one bit that pisses me off more than all the many others... The scientists don't even solve the problem! They are handed the solution by deus ex machina (time travel). A solution that makes no sense even.

The 71 film (and it appears the book) had humans and their ingenuity (science) save the day despite lot of flaws getting in the way. Really a masterpiece in that sense IMO.

PS: I remember reading about someone who survived some very long-shot medical condition recently... what caught my attention was that he didn't call it a miracle or thank god, he thanked the excellent skills of the doctors.

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, the book (and the '71 film) did not have the doctors solve the fundamental problem (although they had a good knack for figuring out what was going on just a little too late to ward it off). True to Crichton form, the bug mutated into a harmless form on its own.

Still a pretty good read.

(I hadn't heard they'd remade the movie. It sounds like utter rubbish!)

B. Dewhirst said...

Tacitus2, if you would like to move the discussion forward you're welcome to answer either of the questions I posed...

How do you intend to bring transparency about in light of the influence corporations have?

Why was slavery wrong (and is this an argument against wage labor)?

You've asked which country I support. I'm a libertarian socialist (libertarian probably doesn't mean what you think it means in this context.) As such, I'm against hierarchical authority, and not "for" countries. (Certainly not for states in the sense of "the state.") Countries run along anarchist principles tend to be blown up by capitalist republics, fascists, and Stalinists all ganging up on them... Spain in 1936 is the classic example. Necessary comment: there is a difference in anarchist thinking between "The State" (eg. CIA) and "Government" (eg. town meetings, voluntary unions, etc.) Real anarchists are not 'for' chaos.

I really am trying to avoid specialized language and/or to define it as I go.

(Footnote re. what I said earlier, since internet comments are forever... no insult of mutualists as not being anarchists should have been implied by my statement that anarchocommunists are not anarchists.)

Wikipedia is actually a great source for 'obscure' political ideologies, fyi.

B. Dewhirst said...

mutualists might be called anarcho-capitalists, rather... big can of worms, but they're quite different from Ayn Rand et al.

B. Dewhirst said...


Well, google ate my first reply, lets try this again...

wrt capitalism making most people happy... this may be true locally, but we've outsourced our exploitation. Capitalism allocates resources to those with power just like feudalism... except you don't have to look out of your modern castle at a bunch of serfs!

As for the 'winners making the rules' undermining needed regulations. That is a problem which needs to be addressed, but is really political not economic.

Unfortunately, we've got a cart-before-the-horse problem. You're proposing that we use compromised democratic mechanisms to undue the influence on democratic mechanisms in a two-party system where both parties are amply supplied by moneyd interests.

If you want to apply a strictly non-economic solution, what solution do you wish to apply? How do you intend to do that? It isn't enough to say "oh, that is too radical, surely something else could work..."

Please though, try your hand at the two questions I restated in my above reply.

B. Dewhirst said...


He started treating the conclusions he had drawn from facts as facts themselves, and then treating those "facts" as the basis for further conclusions.

I've been asked to both be brief, and to be exceedingly detailed, and to not grumble or yell in a mute medium... but people haven't been say "your logic which leads to conclusion X is flawwed."

They -have- said that economic orthodoxy disagrees, but that isn't exactly the same thing. (This was one of the points I was trying to make wrt raising Harris' fMRI work on belief.)

Which specific points would you like more evidence to support? Which conclusions do you question?

For example... what flaw do you see in the argument that taking ordinary people and thrusting them into capitalist, profit-driven corporate circumstances leads them to do indisputably evil things?

B. Dewhirst said...

Think, you want us to leap into totally new territory, designing a jet from scratch, when this should have already moved MUCH farther than it has, incrementally.

I've said nothing about doing it all in One Great Leap Forward... again, I think your preconceptions are putting words in my mouth.

But dig it, you cannot totally blame the machinations of capitalists for the failure of worker coops to get farther. If even 10% were convinced of your logic, they could have made vastly more coops work by now.

If even 10% were convinced of the need for transparency... and greater specificity as to how you intend to get transparency amidst the ressistance we both agree is there would be appreciated.

David Brin said...

Urgh... 1936 Spain --- "libertarian"... anarchist... uh, right

Read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

It was not the world that killed the well-meaning Spanish Republic. It was not even Franco. It was themselves. And this kind of stuff happens ALL the time in radical-anarchist experiments.

Oy, even though I know you share my despair over the present, Randroid version of the libertarian party, I gotta ask you to read my speech to an LP convention:

Fundamentally, you seem willing to ignore all of human history for the sake of an idealized "this oughta work". Yes, it oughta! That's why millions of earnest folks have tried, innumerable times.... and failed nearly all of them.

I'm not suggesting you change your dream. I am suggesting that you stop being so indignantly sure of how easy it would be, if only all us imbecilles would just see what's so clear to you. Maybe it's so clear to you because you are oversimplifying.

By orders of magnitude.

Oh! I just learned how much of the world's investment capital is held by pension funds and similar workers' retirement plans.

THIRTY TRILLION DOLLARS. That is more than a third of the amount currently invested in available investment equities, including the stock of nearly all corporations. In other words, the workers already own the means of production. Wrap your heads around that one... then discuss why they aren't using that ownership power.

B. Dewhirst said...

Oh, I have read it. Go re-read it yourself if you're so sure that is what it says. Before you try to tell me that armies organized along those lines don't work, reread your source-- Orwell explicitly disagrees.

(For that matter, everyone else can go read it here. It really is a must-read, afaic.)

Shall I go and dig out the quotes where he makes it clear the Stalinists were there to hunt Trotskyists, or where he criticizes the CNT-FAI leaders for accommodating the Stalinist 'allies'? The bit where he mentions it was clear the French and English boats off-shore weren't exactly friendly?

Up-thread I ask whether we're to measure states by their capacity to defeat all of Europe in war, and I question what sorts of states can pass that test. Spain is part of the reason why I asked that rhetorical question.

In particular, reread the first chapter of Farewell about what living in post-revolution Spain was like, before it was crushed from all sides.

France and England denied aid to the anti-fascist forces. Franco had the assistance, material and personal, of Italy and Spain... and after WWII.

He asked for an example of an anarchist country... that is the example.

You may find it interesting to note that I'm the same guy who asked you to support Phillies in his LP candidacy... now you've got another conservative nutcase. Enjoy.

Fundamentally, you seem willing to ignore all of human history for the sake of an idealized 'moderation' perspective and a sanitized capitalism which has never existed-- after all, capitalism oughta work better, all evidence to the contrary...

Do not make the mistake of assuming that just because someone reaches different conclusions from history that they haven't seen the same evidence.

Why don't you stop wasting time trying to preach and listen to the question I keep asking you... I don't for a moment entertain that it is easy, or even possible.

I think I'm going to lose, to die without a shadow of a prayer of seeing a better world. I think I'm going to drown under melted polar caps, and to go to my grave without a choice other than to exploit workers in a far off land or go naked and hungry and unfulfilled professionally. I expect the United States to fight to keep an undeserved hegemony, and to suffer greatly afterwards.

But that doesn't mean I'll call white black or call war peace unless you've got a cage of rats handy.

Your pension figures would be much more impressive if I didn't expect those funds to fail, GM et al. to try to dump them on the federal pension system only to have that system fail, etc.

Those pensions were won with workers blood... I'll spare you more wobbly preaching, but I don't ascribe that to capitalist beneficence-- it is the opposite. It was wrestled from the teeth of capitalism.

Really, if I -were- the sort of Marxist you seem to think I am, and I could console myself that this was late capitalism and it'd all been decided along some Hegelian lines... that would be easier.

To close with a question... and how exactly do you propose to get what you want, for the nth time? It ought to be a fair enough question, though I freely concede I haven't discussed which methods of change I endorse (partially because I haven't been asked).

B. Dewhirst said...

correction, sorry:

I said:
France and England denied aid to the anti-fascist forces. Franco had the assistance, material and personal, of Italy and Spain... and after WWII.

that should be:
France and England denied aid to the anti-fascist forces. Franco had the assistance, material and personal, of Italy and Germany... and after WWII wasn't punished...

(Which is a bit like the US going to war looking for WMDs, finding them, and leaving them in the hands of those they were ostensibly there to disarm. Operation Gladio is similarly galling.)

Anonymous said...

Slavery is “wrong” because it is a restriction on self determination. In theory the compensation provided for labor isn’t necessarily “wrong” it is simply so low that few, if any, would choose it.

Can you help illustrate how capitalism restricts freedom of choice?

I “feel” that the problem with capitalism is that it doesn’t work well without large amounts of demand, supply, and transparency. The businessman will exploit shifts to get undo compensation. Capitalism cheers on this behavior.

Transparency is one of the key issues here though not in the sense traditionally discussed here. How can the average consumer come to the market bargaining table with anything close to equivalent knowledge? If we set up a system of providing information to consumers, who determines what information is available to them?

These problems will exist due naturally. Do we encourage or discourage this behavior? How so?


Pensions are just bad news. I suggest we toss 'em all for SEP-IRAs. (Fine by me if they are Taxed mind you) It seems silly to have faith in the continued success and honesty of buisnesses.

B. Dewhirst said...

wrt Anonymous:

Choosing to starve isn't freedom of choice, and "work or starve" is the choice for the majority of workers in the world. Our economy is built atop that economy, and we actively intervene to keep it that way.

This thing that people call capitalism (actually, today, they call it 'the free market,' but they mean what their intellectual predecessors meant by capitalism) is "socialized risk, privatized profits". It doesn't operate on transparency at all... and it is a consequence of -trying- to run according to Adam-Smith Capitalism.

Firm starts up, gets successful... and suddenly, it can starve out his competition (as Smith warned) and write the rules to make sure he stays on top of the hill. Once the fight for the high ground is over, the high ground advantage lets the king of the hill stay there.

Everywhere capitalism isn't opposed by one of a number of groups which has opposed it, you get Robber Baronies.

B. Dewhirst said...

shorter me... sorry, I am working for more brevity in the future:

Self determination is harmed because the decision to work, and for whom, and for what, is made under duress.

Travc said...


First off, thanks for the change in tone and style. I for one find your recent posts quite understandable and downright arguable ;)

Capitalism does give a lot of power to people who own the resources. It isn't quite the same as serfs and slaves, but I'll admit sharecroppers and company towns have been pretty close.

However, there has been pretty steady and significant progress against the worst sorts of exploitation. It is morally and legally forbidden in most developed (and even developing) nations for example. These reforms have mostly been accomplished through political means, where the power is allocated more democratically. Preserving and enhancing political egalitarianism is a constant process, and not easy work.

We could get off into media ownership, lobbying, government privatization and conyism... be we agree those are bad. Most people agree too... and that is why I'm pretty confident that all is not yet lost and continuing reform is the way to go (progressive).

A lot of economic activity does get outsourced to locals where exploitation of workers is easier. But this does not form the fundamental foundation of the economy. Even in probably the worst sector (natural resources), the vast majority of activity is domestic and trading with other nations with respectable worker protections. One may argue that activity born on the backs of the exploited is critical... but only in the same way as every conceivable voter demographic is critical in a very close election.


I'm not advocating a 'strictly non-economic solution'. Instead I'm saying that political (and even moral) power is real, and not (at least yet) completely taken over by the economically powerful.

More transparency, worker's rights, more fair political representation, and justice are all achievable utilizing the political mechanisms already in place (I think at least).

B. Dewhirst said...

However, there has been pretty steady and significant progress against the worst sorts of exploitation.

And was that progress -towards- or -away from- capitalism?

From my perspective, this is an example of Ford (say) taking example for the success of the very same men (radical unions) they were hiring private armies to beat up.

Do some reading/watching on Walmart's labor practices, for example... The High Cost of Low Prices should be freely available on Google video, and one of the things you learn from watching it is... Walmart maintains a secret police force, headquartered in their national office, to undermine unionizing activities.

I also think these successes are from outside of mainstream politics. Sure, after the fact, politicans come along and ratify things... but, from my perspective, they do so as a stopgap against greater losses for business.

The Democratic Party didn't stop the Vietnam War (or the Iraq war, for that matter)... and the whole while they weren't stopping it, protesters were "politically to the left" of them. Those protesters are only loosely 'political' in the sense you seem to mean... and the war didn't end until those protesters had convinced business interests that the war was costing them too much.

(I'm using that as an example because our bloody labor history is further in the past... in other countries, this isn't true to the same extent.)

Don't forget just how insulated our media has become, or who owns it... If you ever get a chance to watch foreign news coverage in a foreign country, the difference is often pretty striking.

Travc said...

Choosing to starve isn't freedom of choice, and "work or starve" is the choice for the majority of workers in the world.

No one throughout all of human history has had freedom of choice by that definition. Even hunter-gatherers had to spend the majority of their time working, or die.

That silly line has always bugged me, sorry.

B. Dewhirst said...

... I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask it every time until someone answers it or our host politely insists I stop asking this specific question...

How do you propose to get transparency?

B. Dewhirst said...

No one throughout all of human history has had freedom of choice by that definition.

Oh, but that isn't true!

Think of the Waldons, or the Windsors...

And if you think being a CEO is work of the same kind as shoveling scat... well, I think you know that isn't true.

Travc said...

BD, I think you are missing my point a bit.

'Progress' isn't along some dialectic scale with free-market-uberalis capitalism at one end. I'm just talking about progress in the fuzzy sense of more people have more stuff, live longer, are more secure, and generally more fulfilled.

Yeah, much of that progress since the industrial revolution has been restricting the power of people with lots of money/resources. So that would be 'away from capitalism' in your book I suppose.

But don't mistake the addressing of problems with a generally market-based economic system with saying that such a system is fundamentally flawed/bad. Think of it more like patching the capitalist system to fix bugs (a never ending process admittedly).

I don't think it is worth the derail to get into media problems and political corruption. I've already said that I think we have the tools to fight that, since after all we are and have been fighting those sorts of battles (and eventually winning more often than not) for a few hundred years.

Travc said...

We need threaded comments ;)


I quoted what you said, and said that no one has not had to 'work' in some way to keep from starving. I was a bit too dogmatic, since there are a few counter examples. Terri Schiavo after her heart attack, and maybe a few hermit aristocrats.

The mildly serious argument I suppose is really whether ownership entails any sort of 'work'.

There is a reducto ad absurdum argument which makes 'no' seem a bit silly IMO. Ownership normally entails a level of management. In the purely financial area, investing successfully actually takes some effort. Even hiring someone to do work for you is a small bit of work.

You should feel more than welcome to argue that they are hugely overcompensated, and I'll completely agree with you ;)

Anonymous said...

B. Dewhirst -

"He" is not you. "He" is Marx.

Anonymous said...

For me, the single best way to make market based economies work better for all, is a basic guaranteed income. If everyone got say ~200 dollars a week for being alive the economy would work better for all, because everyone would have some market power.

Its an easy theoretical fix, but on a practical level very difficult to get started.

Tony Fisk said...

bd said:
wrt capitalism making most people happy... this may be true locally, but we've outsourced our exploitation. Capitalism allocates resources to those with power just like feudalism... except you don't have to look out of your modern castle at a bunch of serfs!

We had a good old chewing of the fat on social diamonds and whether they were buried in pyramids back in Aug 2005. David's specific refutation is here.

Hope your move went OK. I will have a think about how transparency may be/is being achieved. (Is your question limited to markets, or in a more general sense?)

Travc said...

Occam's comic, interesting idea of the minimum income. A sort of absolute social safety net I guess. Not exactly sure how that theoretically helps in a market based sense, but it certainly is a good idea morally and ethically IMO.

As for Transparency... Dr Brin certainly has some good ideas. I agree with BD and Tony and probably everyone else here that coming up with ways to enhance transparency and working to implement them is a good thing.

"Open Societies and its Enemies" is a touchstone book. George Soros and his OSI have done some good work and provide some helpful models (and even potential backing/funding).

David Brin said...

It truly is useless, it seems to talk to BD. I truly am trying. But this just gets silly.

I point out that there have been no successful anarchist revolutions and that insanely self-destructive tendencies within the Spanish revolution made it easy for forces outside of it to destroy it. BD wriggles and writhes, admits every bit of that, then says “See? You’re wrong!”


Trying to be clever, BD paraphrases back at me “Fundamentally, you seem willing to ignore all of human history for the sake of an idealized 'moderation' perspective and a sanitized capitalism which has never existed-- after all, capitalism oughta work better, all evidence to the contrary...”

But this little trick doesn’t work very well, while you are sitting amid wealth and comfort, using a cornucopia of innovations and fruits of a capitalistic system that (despite copious faults) has certainly delivered vastly more than any other.

Vastly, vastly more than the kibbutzes and coops. (Though some of the kibbutzes have really transformed themselves lately. Hey BD, ever thought of learning about coop-based enterprise first hand? Go join an ulpan program on a kibbutz.)

In fact, the Enlightenment has to fight a zillion trends of human naturte, including those that have kept dragging LIBERAL (AdamSmithian) capitalism -- the font of nearly all the world's wealth - back toward a new and vicious form of feudalism. You and I both hate this trend. The diff is that I see a huge success that can be saved and made even better. (Like Iain Banks.) You want to chuck it and bring in a new design, from scratch.

Wow, what self-confidence!
Well, Shoo-bee-doo, we’d all love to see your plan.

But dig it, you seem so sure you are sooooo much smarter than everybody...but is it possible to contemplate that... well... maybe you aren’t?

(Yes, I act smugly superior too! Only I (1) am not calling the whole of civilization wrong and stupid and (2) I laugh at my own pomposity, now and then. Try it!)

Actually, it’s so sad that you react to the pension figures in simple, reflex rage, instead of the far more admirable trait of curiosity. How boring!

I mean, the actual situation is so complex, ironic and amazing! That (a) the workers DO own the means of production and (b) the rules have been twisted so that the funds and equity are dispersed into about ninety thousand pension funds that almost never (except for CalPers) act to utilize this intrinsic power in political ways! If you were a calm and curious person, you might try to parse out in practical terms why and when the funds HAVE applied their inherent power, why they seldom do, and how we might push for more activity.

But, your see, what’s going on here is NOT about your obvious intelligence... or mine. It is about personality. And now that that is clear, I am back to getting bored again.

Oh, I never called you a marxist, to the best of my memory, or not recently. Though you sure talk like one at times. ANd YOU accused me of being mean to poor deluded Karl. What I do think is that you share a heckuva lot of the “I know everything” attitude I’ve seen in the hundred varieties of Marxians I’ve known.

How would I achieve a better world? I have talked about that endlessly, over and over and over. Saying that I haven't is the dumbest thing I've heard you say... and everybody here knows it.

This is useless. All I am doing is making you angry, a trait that you seem already to be quite good at, without me adding coals. I’m done here.


Unknown said...

If the sum 33 trillion dollars makes you guys gag, choke and spit coffee out your noses, try 99 trillion dollars.





That's how much America is going to need to come up with to cover current entitlement programs according to both the GAO and the FOMC. (The GAO is the Government Accounting Office, a non-partisan branch of Congress that serves to run accounting analyses of government programs. The GAO consists of civil servants, is not beholden to or appointed by any particular president, and does not operate at the whim of any particular group in congress. The FOMC is the Federal reserve Open Market Committee, a group of the 17 heads of the regional Federal Reserve banks which meets to set monetary policy. The FOMC has its own staff of accountants who run similar analyses of macroeconomic trends which, like the GAO's analyses, are non-partisan and based as much as possible on the available evidence and the visible trends. What I am pointing out there is that, unlike bogus budget projections proferred by this or that White House, and unlike phony white papers issued by partisan hack think tanks on the left or the right, budget analyses and accounting charts produced by the GAO and the FOMC are not designed to push any particular political agenda. They are about as close as we can get in a partisan political system to an absolutely objective economic analysis of current trends.)

Here's that number again: 99 trillion dollars.

That's the amount of money we're going to need to pay off current and future liabilities from entitlement programs. Meaning, the obligations already incurred by the united states government in the form of medicare, social security, medicaid, along with our current budget items such as the annual U.S. military budget, the cost of running NASA, the annual cost of basic science R&D funded by the government, paying interest on all the United States bonds held by U.S. citizens and by foreign countries, and so on.

99 trillion dollars.

Think about that amount for a moment. Let it sink in. Contemplate the amount of money signified by that sum.

That's how much we are going to need in the near future to cover our current fiscal obligations.

Now, I expect that most of you will simply deny this number. You'll simply say, "Ridiculous." So here's a speech from May 28 by the CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, laying out those numbers in detail.

Here's the important part of the speech:

I have been scanning the horizon for danger signals even as we continue working to recover from the recent turmoil. In the distance, I see a frightful storm brewing in the form of untethered government debt. I choose the words—“frightful storm”—deliberately to avoid hyperbole. Unless we take steps to deal with it, the long-term fiscal situation of the federal government will be unimaginably more devastating to our economic prosperity than the subprime debacle and the recent debauching of credit markets that we are now working so hard to correct.


Eight years ago, our federal budget, crafted by a Democratic president and enacted by a Republican Congress, produced a fiscal surplus of $236 billion, the first surplus in almost 40 years and the highest nominal-dollar surplus in American history. While the Fed is scrupulously nonpartisan and nonpolitical, I mention this to emphasize that the deficit/debt issue knows no party and can be solved only by both parties working together. For a brief time, with surpluses projected into the future as far as the eye could see, economists and policymakers alike began to contemplate a bucolic future in which interest payments would form an ever-declining share of federal outlays, a future where Treasury bonds and debt-ceiling legislation would become dusty relics of a long-forgotten past. The Fed even had concerns about how open market operations would be conducted in a marketplace short of Treasury debt.

That utopian scenario did not last for long. Over the next seven years, federal spending grew at a 6.2 percent nominal annual rate while receipts grew at only 3.5 percent. Of course, certain areas of government, like national defense, had to spend more in the wake of 9/11. But nondefense discretionary spending actually rose 6.4 percent annually during this timeframe, outpacing the growth in total expenditures. Deficits soon returned, reaching an expected $410 billion for 2008—a $600 billion swing from where we were just eight years ago. (..)

...Fast forward 70 or so years and ask this question: What is the mathematical predicament of Social Security today? Answer: The amount of money the Social Security system would need today to cover all unfunded liabilities from now on—what fiscal economists call the “infinite horizon discounted value” of what has already been promised recipients but has no funding mechanism currently in place—is $13.6 trillion, an amount slightly less than the annual gross domestic product of the United States.

Demographics explain why this is so. Birthrates have fallen dramatically, reducing the worker–retiree ratio and leaving today’s workers pulling a bigger load than the system designers ever envisioned. Life spans have lengthened without a corresponding increase in the retirement age, leaving retirees in a position to receive benefits far longer than the system designers envisioned. Formulae for benefits and cost-of-living adjustments have also contributed to the growth in unfunded liabilities.

The good news is this Social Security shortfall might be manageable. While the issues regarding Social Security reform are complex, it is at least possible to imagine how Congress might find, within a $14 trillion economy, ways to wrestle with a $13 trillion unfunded liability. The bad news is that Social Security is the lesser of our entitlement worries. It is but the tip of the unfunded liability iceberg. The much bigger concern is Medicare, a program established in 1965, the same prosperous year that Bill Martin cautioned his Columbia University audience to be wary of complacency and storms on the horizon.

Medicare was a pay-as-you-go program from the very beginning, despite warnings from some congressional leaders—Wilbur Mills was the most credible of them before he succumbed to the pay-as-you-go wiles of Fanne Foxe, the Argentine Firecracker—who foresaw some of the long-term fiscal issues such a financing system could pose. Unfortunately, they were right.

Please sit tight while I walk you through the math of Medicare. As you may know, the program comes in three parts: Medicare Part A, which covers hospital stays; Medicare B, which covers doctor visits; and Medicare D, the drug benefit that went into effect just 29 months ago. The infinite-horizon present discounted value of the unfunded liability for Medicare A is $34.4 trillion. The unfunded liability of Medicare B is an additional $34 trillion. The shortfall for Medicare D adds another $17.2 trillion. The total? If you wanted to cover the unfunded liability of all three programs today, you would be stuck with an $85.6 trillion bill. That is more than six times as large as the bill for Social Security. It is more than six times the annual output of the entire U.S. economy.

Why is the Medicare figure so large? There is a mix of reasons, really. In part, it is due to the same birthrate and life-expectancy issues that affect Social Security. In part, it is due to ever-costlier advances in medical technology and the willingness of Medicare to pay for them. And in part, it is due to expanded benefits—the new drug benefit program’s unfunded liability is by itself one-third greater than all of Social Security’s.

Add together the unfunded liabilities from Medicare and Social Security, and it comes to $99.2 trillion over the infinite horizon. Traditional Medicare composes about 69 percent, the new drug benefit roughly 17 percent and Social Security the remaining 14 percent.

I want to remind you that I am only talking about the unfunded portions of Social Security and Medicare. It is what the current payment scheme of Social Security payroll taxes, Medicare payroll taxes, membership fees for Medicare B, copays, deductibles and all other revenue currently channeled to our entitlement system will not cover under current rules. These existing revenue streams must remain in place in perpetuity to handle the “funded” entitlement liabilities. Reduce or eliminate this income and the unfunded liability grows. Increase benefits and the liability grows as well.

Let’s say you and I and Bruce Ericson and every U.S. citizen who is alive today decided to fully address this unfunded liability through lump-sum payments from our own pocketbooks, so that all of us and all future generations could be secure in the knowledge that we and they would receive promised benefits in perpetuity. How much would we have to pay if we split the tab? Again, the math is painful. With a total population of 304 million, from infants to the elderly, the per-person payment to the federal treasury would come to $330,000. This comes to $1.3 million per family of four—over 25 times the average household’s income.

Clearly, once-and-for-all contributions would be an unbearable burden. Alternatively, we could address the entitlement shortfall through policy changes that would affect ourselves and future generations. For example, a permanent 68 percent increase in federal income tax revenue—from individual and corporate taxpayers—would suffice to fully fund our entitlement programs. Or we could instead divert 68 percent of current income-tax revenues from their intended uses to the entitlement system, which would accomplish the same thing.

Suppose we decided to tackle the issue solely on the spending side. It turns out that total discretionary spending in the federal budget, if maintained at its current share of GDP in perpetuity, is 3 percent larger than the entitlement shortfall. So all we would have to do to fully fund our nation’s entitlement programs would be to cut discretionary spending by 97 percent. But hold on. That discretionary spending includes defense and national security, education, the environment and many other areas, not just those controversial earmarks that make the evening news. All of them would have to be cut—almost eliminated, really—to tackle this problem through discretionary spending.

I hope that gives you some idea of just how large the problem is. And just to drive an important point home, these spending cuts or tax increases would need to be made immediately and maintained in perpetuity to solve the entitlement deficit problem. Discretionary spending would have to be reduced by 97 percent not only for our generation, but for our children and their children and every generation of children to come. And similarly on the taxation side, income tax revenue would have to rise 68 percent and remain that high forever. Remember, though, I said tax revenue, not tax rates. Who knows how much individual and corporate tax rates would have to change to increase revenue by 68 percent?

If these possible solutions to the unfunded-liability problem seem draconian, it’s because they are draconian. But they do serve to give you a sense of the severity of the problem. To be sure, there are ways to lessen the reliance on any single policy and the burden borne by any particular set of citizens. Most proposals to address long-term entitlement debt, for example, rely on a combination of tax increases, benefit reductions and eligibility changes to find the trillions necessary to safeguard the system over the long term.

No combination of tax hikes and spending cuts, though, will change the total burden borne by current and future generations. For the existing unfunded liabilities to be covered in the end, someone must pay $99.2 trillion more or receive $99.2 trillion less than they have been currently promised. This is a cold, hard fact. The decision we must make is whether to shoulder a substantial portion of that burden today or compel future generations to bear its full weight.

Okay, I can hear you saying, "This is just one guy. He could be wrong." Well...no. This is one of the 17 members of the FOMC, and he's speaking about the FOMC's budget analysis of the fiscal tsunami rushing toward us. If this were one guy out in the wilderness, maybe we could dismiss his claims. But his numbers are the FOMC numbers. He's got the entire budgetary staff of the FOMC behind him on this. That makes it a little harder to dismiss these numbers.

But wait...there's more. It's not just the FOMC saying that we've got a major fiscal crisis looming. It's the GAO.

GAO chief warns economic disaster looms.

When one guy gives these kinds of warning, we're justified in being skeptical. When the entire FOMC starts issuing these kinds of warnings, we might want to start paying attention. But when the FOMC and the GAO run different budget analyses with different staffs and come to the same conclusions, and when both the FOMC and the GAO start warning us about "fiscal disaster" and "a looming catastrophe" and "a budget meltdown," we'd better start paying attention. At that point, the burden of proof has shifted to the people denying we've got a fiscal problem.

I'm going to repeat that number one more time, in case you folks didn't catch it: 99 trillion dollars.

That's the fiscal black hole we're facing.

Why does this matter?

As far as I'm concerned, this is the most important problem we face right now, because unless we can solve it, we have zero ability to solve our other problems.

But what about global warming, you say. What about peak oil, you say. Guess what, folks? It's going to take money to solve global warming and it's going to take money to fix our peak oil problems. In order to solve those problems (and they are solvable), we are going to have to reorganize our society, shift to new non-carbon-emitting energy sources, rebuild our cities, conduct a whole lotta R&D on renewable energy, and much more.

But all of that requires money. You cannot get scientists to work on renewable energy R&D unless you fund their research. You cannot rebuild cities with mass transit system unless you pay money for the rebuilding. You cannot build new non-greenhouse-emitting power plants unless you pay money to construct them.

My point is that unless we solve this looming fiscal crisis, we are not going to have any money in our budget to do anything else. No money for renewable energy R&D, no money for rebuilding mass transit, no money for nuclear power, no money for conservation, no more for anything. Because all of our budget will get sucked into this fiscal black hole caused by a combination of demographics and escalating interest payments on our national debt and the skyrocketing outlays required by medicare.

Let me repeat that number one last time: 99 trillion dollars. That's how much we're in the hole for. You could drop the 33 trillion dollars representing the total value of all current U.S. pension assets into that black hole, and it wouldn't make much of a dent. We'd still be 66 trillion dollars short.

So I'd like to ask everyone here one simple question:

Do you have any idea where to get 99 trillion dollars?

I do.

I have a simple way to generate 99 trillion dollars. It's not speculative, and it doesn't involve weird Ponzi schemes, and it's not hand-waving (like "maybe someone will invent a zero-point free energy device, and the economy will take off like a rocket!"). And it doesn't involve raising everyone's taxes by 68%, either, which I think we will all agree is simply impractical. (The day after that happened our economy would crash, and the day after that, every elected official would get recalled in a special election. Think "Gray Davis CA special recall election" times 435 members of the house & senate, with a presidential impeachment thrown in for fun.)

To my mind, this looming fiscal crisis is the single biggest issue America faces right now. Until we start fixing that, we can't fix anything else.

I have an idea how to fix it. No one else seems to even want to talk about it.

If any of you have an idea how to fix this fiscal mess so we can actually free up some money to spend on reorganizing American society to deal with $20-a-gallon gasoline (which is coming in the foreseeable future -- not immediately, but it'll be here a lot sooner than any of you expect) and global warming, let's hear it. Don't be shy. On 23 July 2006, the temperature in Pasadena hit 119 degrees. When gasoline is $20 a gallon and the temperature hits 135 degrees in Pasadena, how are the people who live there going to commute to work? On bicycles? In 135 degree heat?

These are the kinds of problems we're facing in the near future. Global warming is not a delusion and it's not fantasy, it's real. I'm not making up that 119 degree number for Pasadena, it's a matter of public record, and global warming tells us that number is going to go higher in the near future. I am not pulling $20 a gallon gasoline out of my ass -- Europe already has $9 a gallon gasoline and we're at $135 a barrel oil today, right now, and now we're getting projections of $200 a barrel oil from reputable economists.

If we do nothing, there are going to be major disruptions. As in: the mass migrations caused by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. As in: state militias forming along the highways leading into states turning migrating families back at gunpoint (as happened in the 1930s). To avoid that kind of social chaos, we need to free up money from our budget to build clean zero-emission mass transit and clean zero-emission power plants, and we need to start de-inventing our suburbs and completely rebuilding and reorganizing America's infrastructure.

If any of you have suggestions as to where we're going to get the money to do that, speak up.

I have an idea. First, I want to hear yours, though.

Anonymous said...

Well, if we fix the d*mn health care system, maybe we won't end up with such a ridiculous Medicare bill?

Anonymous said...

Would someone please get Zorgon an adult diaper! To wet your pants over an economic projection over an infinite period of time is laughable. The jar of pennies on my desk will earn more than 99 trillion dollars over an infinite period of time, problem solved!

Boot said...

Here are a couple of things to try...

Cut Military cost to a fifth its current value. (Note we could just start charging people to use existing military resources.) This would leave us as double the average worldwide military spending for the world.

Large cuts in Medicare, Social Security, and Pensions. Explain (honestly) that people were cheated and the money wasn't saved to pay for these services.

Nationalize >>gross<< for-profit entities. Reduce profits by half, but keep half to pay for paying needs.

Oh and Raise Taxes for good measure.

So, can I get your vote? (cough)

Joshua O'Madadhain said...

Zorgon, exactly what are you hoping to achieve by _not_ presenting your solution in the same post as the problem?

My guess--with no rancor--is that you believe that if you present the solution as well, no one will respond in a comment list that's already > 100 messages, and you'll never know whether anyone actually either agrees with your problem or your solution.

I'm guessing you're right...but possibly not for the reasons you suspect.

I read your whole post, partially because I read quickly enough that it wasn't much of a burden for me. Most here probably won't (no offense intended, this is just my guess). If you want to get people involved, you _have_ to learn to compress your comments. (I struggle with this problem myself, so I recognize the symptoms.)

I'm not convinced that the problem you've presented is a problem as such: you need to convince us that our assets (in perpetuity) won't cover our debts (in perpetuity), not just that our debts are really big.

Oh, and as for the comparison to global warming? Running out of food because global warming has completely screwed up our ability to grow enough of it trumps "paper problems", every time. Yes, I agree that our economy crashing would affect our ability to cope with global warming. But the effect in the other direction is potentially much more serious in a very tangible way.

David Brin said...

Guys, take it easy on Zorgon! He ranted a bit, but the actual content is pretty darned important!

Especially since the process he describes could (as BD pointed out) bankrupt the 30 trillion $ of pension funds that the aristocracy sees as its biggest obstacle to owning everything.

I have little time for comments, but I will point out to Z:

1) The demographics change remarkably if you alter the retirement age by just two years!

2) Tax rates return to "normal" automatically in 2010, after the Great Kleptocratic Rape-Raid.

Expect a deal in 2009, in which the dems agree to reduce this snap-back a bit, in exchange for having it come a little earlier and the GOP agreeing NOT to call it "the greatest tax increase in human history."

3) Might I point out that we seem to be heading EXACTLY for the scenario that led (in EARTH) to the "Helvetian War" and the radical worldwide demand for asset transparency.

A worldwide catalogue of who-owns-what would not have to be confiscatory! I am no dogmatic leveller and I got no problem with there being billionaires. My fanaticism is fairness, openness and an end to outright cheating.

Anonymous said...

$99T - oh what the heck, let's call it an even $100T.

The fair thing would be to have members of the political parties that voted for the entitlement programs, pay it off.

Divide the bill up based on how many congressmen of each party voted for each program that'll be running in the red.

Send a bill to the Democrats, and another to the Republicans, and so on. Let them figure out how to divide it most fairly over their registered membership. Interest should start accruing immediately.

That'd motivate them to solve the problem pretty quickly, one way or the other.

Boot said...

I like it Teambeam. However, suppose TeamEvil just disbanded and reformed as TeamEvilB. Debt avoided.

How about a restriction on spending more than you take in for more than 2 running years? Require a balanced administration budget.

Its insane that people consider Republicans fiscal conservatives. They haven't been so in my lifetime.

Cliff said...

As I read Zorgon's monstrous post, I heard B. DeWhirst cackling in the background.

My question is, and I'm sure this is not a cure for our illnesses, is there something about the health care industry that can be adjusted to reduce costs?

It seems, at a glance, as though supply and demand has driven the price of medical care through the roof. Is there some way to correct for this so that a visit to a doctor doesn't cost hundreds of dollars? Or so that a fifteen minute CT scan doesn't cost well over a grand?
Or are these prices actually sensible?

Boot said...

Isn't the problem with the Healthcare system one of transparency and failure of markets? The inability of the consumer to properly see options or the consequences of their choices. Additionally, the inability of one of us to start a competitive company?

Anonymous said...

Cliff (and Boot)
Bingo! I know the health care system very well and the amount of waste is staggering. I hate to fire up the afterburners on the tail end of a long thread, perhaps Esteemed Host will start a new one? Conservative though I am in most realms, my health care fix would make Zorgon and Dewhirst say "my God, you can't be serious!"

David Brin said...

The Europeans solve health care costs in a way Americans despise... through committee based rationing. But what's crazed is that we wind up with exactly that! As the insurance companies ration care by booting people out of coverage.

Anonymous said...

it took 3mins to load the page completely because of lots of comments. wow

Tony Fisk said...

As lengthy as it has got, I doubt the current comment tail runs to more than a few tens of kilobytes. I suspect a bit of traffic congestion may be the cause of michelle's slow load.

99 trillion dollars sounds like funny money to me, and reminds me of an old saw: if you owe the bank a little money, the bank owns you. If you owe the bank a lot of money, you own the bank.

In a way, Zorgon's little nugget answers bd's question: how do we add transparency to the market?

The answer is that we already have more transparency than ever before (immediate proof being that Zorgon is quoting startling news... from standard sources. Another being Microsoft's increasingly desparate and ineffectual bids to corner the IT industry)

The problem is not the clarity of the glass though which we're looking, but the 'slowness'. It takes time for these excesses to come to light. It takes more time for them to be 'corrected'. Meantime, those who do not feel constrained by any sense of decency will continue to cavort: in full view, if necessary, even desirably (lacking certain traits of humanity that might warn them that it will ultimately *matter*). This is clearly shown in the travesties of the Zimbabwean election and the blocked Myanmar relief effort.

In short, while shame is one way that transparency works to limit the excesses of 99% of the population, there continues to be a problem in how to restrain the remainder.

Anonymous said...

I read a great article recently, in the New Yorker I believe, about how 90% of Enrons house of cards was "public knowledge" available to anyone who could hack through the paper trail and make a map.

The average investor can't manage that.

How do we make transparency meaningfull to that "average" investor?

Travc said...

I find it useful to think of the 100 T$ 'unfunded liability' like an earth crossing asteroid we know will hit us. We don't know exactly which pass will be the 'bad' one and it is still decades off. What is good news is that small deflections now have really big effects down the road.

Social Security is pretty much fine. A little rock which is unlike an asteroid is pretty each to reach and push around. Hell, it may not even be a real problem if the economy turns out to do moderately well in the future.

Healthcare is a huge problem. Not just Medicare, which is where the government gets exposure, but healthcare liabilities in general. One of my favorite examples is Toyota building a new plant a few years back, and instead of going into Alabama (or whatever state down there) which offered massive tax breaks and outright subsidies, they went to Canada... because of the healthcare system.

The answer to fixing the healthcare system is not practically simple, but conceptually it is simple. (and Tacitus is going to hate it) Price controls

How those price controls are implemented can vary, and the political tractable angles may not really look like price controls... but that is what anything which will actually work is going to boil down to.

On the up side, we can not only control costs, but also greatly improve access and quality. Yeah yeah, high end quality in the US is great, and should stay that way... but average quality kindof sucks compared to our peers.

Frontine did an interesting program comparing healthcare systems in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Japan.
Sick Around the World
Give it a watch...

Travc said...

PS: I'm all for a new thread on the unfunded liability (and healthcare since it is the biggest part). Maybe we can actually manage to stay on topic ;)

Big C said...

I know it's off topic, but Obama has finally clinched the Democratic nomination. In his victory speech last night (transcript here, video Part 1 here and Part 2 here), he demonstrated some of that jujitsu Dr. Brin has been advocating, wrt. getting the focus on the issues in America and the problems Americans face:

"John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy — cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota — he’d understand the kind of change that people are looking for."

Maybe some of Obama's staff are reading this blog?

Tony Fisk said...

It's hardly off-topic, given the starting point of this thread (remember back that far?!)

Now, the run-off starts in earnest!

matthew said...

Dr. Brin hit on part of the $100T solution above. As life expectancy grows, retirement MUST be pushed back to enable entitlements to continue.
When allocating funds to my IRA, there is a little calculator for amount invested annually vs. retirement age. I set my retirement age for 75 years old when doing my calculations. And I am being very optimistic (I am 39 now). Anyone who expects the retirement age to stay sub-70 ten years from now is smoking crack.

Unknown said...

One of the reasons I asked for your suggestions is that this is one of the sharper groups in the blogosphere. Wanted to see if anyone thought of a solution that other folks haven't. Alas, no. But lots of good ideas!

The other reason is that I'm genuinely curious to see how many crackpot responses we'd get. Honestly, I expected at least 6 types of kook rejoinders:

(1) "I'll be dead long before 70 years have passed, so who cares?" The apres mois le deluge response. I'm surprised we didn't get this one. It's foolish because, long before 70 years have passed, if we don't do something, the consequences of this fiscal meltdown will become so severe, everyone will care. A lot. This is sort like the response you get when you point out to a binge-drinking alcoholic kid, "If you keep that up, you'll need a liver transplant by the time you're forty," and the kid sneers, "Oh, man, forty! That's ancient!"

(2) "Economists never get their forecasts right, so why worry?" We didn't get this one either, and I'm surprised. It's foolish because long-term forecasts often go awry, but long-term trends usually don't, especially long-term trends that are stable. Forecasts of current U.S. population made 70 years ago were right on the money. The aging of the U.S. population, increase in medical costs, and other long-term trends that are dealt with here are remarkably stable. Barring some miracle tech like nanotechnology that can rejuvenate you, these trends are not likely to change enough to invalidate the 99 trillion dollar number.

(3) The NASCAR response: "Y'all hurtin' your head with them thar numbers, shucks, jest kick back 'n have a beer 'n watch some NASCAR, boy, 'n let them pointy-head in-tell-ec-tu-als worry themselfs after them thar silly numbers that don't matter none." In short, an inability to believe in abstractions. We actually got this one from one crackpot here. I'm surprised we didn't get a lot more of this response. It's foolish because the numbers may indeed be abstract, but the trends they describe are real. Boomers will start retiring in large numbers after 2014; medical costs keep rising for structural reasons having nothing to do with the inefficiency of the health care system (it's because health costs are driven by technology and require increasing amounts of highly skilled highly educated labor, both of which inherently increase costs): and, due to low birthrates, America doesn't have enough younger workers to contribute as much revenue as when medicare was started as a pay-as-you-go system. If you disbelieve these trends, fine, but please provide hard data from government metrics to back up your claims. You need to be able to prove that boomers will stop retiring, or that medical technology will become cheaper rather than more expensive. "Disproof by denial" isn't a valid objection.

(4) The "O.J. defense." I.e., seize on some trivial detail, inflate it wildly out of proportion, disprove it, then claim you've debunked the entire proposition. This worked great at the O.J. trial by showing that the glove didn't fit (isn't it likely O.J. used other gloves?), but in the real world, that crap doesn't fly. Global warming deniers love this tactic -- we had a colder than usual winter, so global warming is a crock! One kook actually used this objection here by seizing on the passing mention of "debt obligations to infinity" then concocting a scenario in which he puts a single quarter in a bank account and uses the interest out to infinity to pay the 99 trillion.

This is foolish because it misrepresents the basic economics. It's exactly as ridiculous as if your spending were to exceed your income and you were to say, "Hey, no big! My total debt for my home mortgage out to infinity is $600,000, so I'll just drop a single quarter in a savings account and use the accumulated interest out to infinity to pay off my home mortgage!" Even a small child understand why that's ridiculous -- long before infinity, or even 30 years, has passed, your spending will have exceeded your income to the point where you'll be bankrupt, and lots of bad things will happen to you... Like eviction, foreclosure, homelessness, etc.

(5) The "free market can fix it right up" response. We didn't get this one. This form of denial assumes that we're going broke because of an insufficient application of magical Schumpeterian creative-destruction fairy dust. Alas, cutting the capital gains rate is not likely to fix this particular structural fiscal problem, because the problem relates to the structure of our society, not strictly speaking just to the way we tax people or encourage business. Medicare is not really a classical Schumpeterian economic scheme. So trying to analyze or fix it with classical market economics ("Just introduce more free market transparency into our medical system!") isn't going to work. We actually have to change the structure of our society in some way. Several folks have proposed reforming our medical care delivery system -- and that will help, but can't solve the problem by itself.

(6) Haggling about the size of the exponents and the shape of the trend curves. We didn't get this objection. The trouble with this objection is that you have to massively twist all the exponents and trend curves way out of their likely or even possible trend lines to get a real effect. For instance, if people don't retire and don't get medicare until 75, that would help a lot. Trouble is, people start getting serious health problems around 55, and long before 75 the major health care expenses kick in -- so voters just won't stand for this, because it's tantamount to saying, "The government has decided you're going to lose your home and your life savings and you'll become homeless if you get seriously ill before age 75." Likewise, assuming that everyone will suddenly start having 3 kids would fix a lot of this unfunded liability over the next 40 years, but it's just not happening, and there's no sign it's going to happen. All highly industrialized first world countries have experienced plummeting birth rates for the last 70 years as a long-term trend, and if it were not for immigrants, America would already have a falling population due to below-ZPG birthrates. Efforts to fix this with e.g., public service announcements and government bonuses for having extra kids in countries like Japan, where low birthrates are a full-blown crisis, have not proven effective. The good news? America is a lot better off than countries like Germany or Italy or Japan, where the birthrate has collapsed and the societies are facing a demographic gottedaemmerung. Their population is aging so fast, with so few younger workers to support them, that they face genuine social implosion over the next 50 years. Fortunately, America doesn't. But there's still no known way to fix the low birthrate problem in industrialized advanced socities. Low brithrates appears to be a structural characteristic of increasing industrializion.

Before I talk about how to solve this fiscal crisis, I need to go into a little detail about why the good suggestion "fix health care" won't solve it.
The trend lines and exponents on health care are well known, and the rate of increase is predictably greater than inflation. Health care is getting more hi-tech, and more individualized. What this means is that health care is increasingly requiring a lot more expensive equipment, and it increasingly demands a lot more hand-on labor by highly-skilled and very highly-educated professionals. These two trends have always driven costs up in every industry where they conjoin.
How do we know these trends are stable and ongoing? Just look at the studies of long-term health care costs going back many decades. I've posted enough of these to have spotted a long-term trend: doctors are moving rapidly toward gene sequencing for individual patients, with treatments tailored for each person's genetic profile. This requires customized medicines, individualized gene therapy, and a lot of hand-on intensive labor from super-skilled professionals, namely, doctors. Time was, a doctor looked at a set of generic symptoms, prescribed a generic pill, and that was that. Today, that's rapidly changing into: "doctor orders expensive genetic tests, runs even more expensive computer model, spends time searching through complex databases of gene & drug interactions, creates customized drugs and/or gene therapies for each patient, then tweaks the result as the patient's genetic profile produces unexpected side effects." This is going to greatly increase cure rates and drop bad outcomes into the basement...but it's going to greatly increase health care costs. There's just no way around that. This is much more labor-intensive highly-skilled hi-tech medicine than your daddy's iron lung "cure" for polio.
The good news is that we'll soon be able to do things like regrow crushed spines and reverse osteoprosis. The bad news? It's going to take a lot more time and expertise from a whole team of specialists for each patient (think: the kind of time and expense formerly expended only for heart transplant operations, with a team of super-skilled experts consulting and doing hands-on tweak for each patient) and that will cost more money.
The situation here is similar to the "fix" of energy conservation for Peak Oil. Making health care more efficient doesn't solve the basic problem,which is that medicine is getting more hi-tech and more labor-intensive from super-skilled pros, which just drives costs up relentlessly. Peak Oil can't be fixed by conservation alone because our economy keeps growing exponentially, and that drives up energy usage. That's capitalism -- and markets remain the best method we know of for lifting the standard of living of everyone in a society. Likewise, even the most draconian and effective cust-cutting and efficiency (such as going to a single-payer national health care system with ruthlessly effective inspectors general to weed out waste) won't solve our faster-than-inflation health care cost increases, because those increases are structurally tied to increasing scientific knowledge and ever more individualized treatment.
The only way to solve health care's cost increases would be to find a magic pill. This pill would be generic and would cure all illnesses. If we could find that, it would solve our health care cost issues. Alas, that's not the way biology works. Cancer or congestive heart failure or Alzheimer's, we now know, are each not one disease, but in ecah case a name for a complex group of diseases that arise from a wide range of different causes which depend on the genetic makeup of each individual. THere is no single "cancer cure pill," as far as we know, nor is there likely to be, becuase that's not how cancer works. We will eventually come up with a cure for each specific type of cancer, but each cure is likely to involve individualized gene therapy and tailored drug treatments specific to each patient, with lots of tweaks during treatment to reduce side effects due to specific unanticipated aspects of each patient's unique metabolism, individual cell proteins, individual mRNA tanscriptase, and so on. Joe's anti-lung-cancer treatment won't work on Janme's stomach cancer, and vice versa, because Joe and Jane are genetically different individuals and their treatments are precisely tailored for their specific unique genetic profiles. That's both good and bad -- it's bad because it's much more expensive than just blasting both Joe and Jane with massive radiation doses and hoping they don't die before the tumors do. Individually tailored treatments will _work_! It's bad because it's just going to require a lot more labor and expertise from the doctors doing the treaments, and thus it's just going to be a lot more expensive.
Lastly, this individualized gene sequencing and treament as the basis of all future medicine isn't a fad. It's here to stay. This is a long-term trend. It's the future of medicine, so the increasing costs of health care are built into the very science and technology of modern medicine, and can't be fixed by tinkering with the efficiency of our health care delivery system.


So what's the solution to our long-term fiscal crisis?
There exist only 3 real sources of money in the U.S. economy, and this pie chart shows them.
Those sources are medicare/medicaid, social security, and the U.S. military budget.
Everything else currently accounts for only 16%, or 1/6, of the annual U.S. budget. That will shrink as the other costs rise.
One thing to bear in mind: 500 billion of our current U.S. military budget is presently being financed by treasury bonds being held by overseas investors. This means that the Chinese and Europeans and Saudis are, in effect, lending us half a trillion dollars worth of our annual U.S. military budget per year.
You can see where this is going.
I'll deal with specific cuts to the U.S. military budget in my next post. But the basic reality is that the military budget is the only place we can get the kind of money we're going to need to fix our fiscal crisis, which comes to roughly 1.5 trillion per year over the next 70 years or so. The 70 year figure is a guesstimate and not important. The important issue is that we need to dump at least 1.5 trillion per year for the long term into this fiscal black hole to prevent it from turning us into Zaire, with 10,000% interest rates and a worthless currency, which aside from being unpleasant financially would have the much more important side effect of preventing us from doing anything serious about global warming or peak oil. As a general rule, when your society falls apart financially and whole sectors of the economy are collapsing, the society can't do anything about serious large-scale problems. Peak oil and global warming are very serious long-term problems.

Tony Fisk said...

I probably thought a few of those responses, but didn't say anything because economics isn't my area (which probably puts me into response #4... ;-)

wrt high intensity medical care. Have you had any pathology tests recently? Time was when those tests needed to be performed by trained biochemists. Not any more. Trained biochemists aren't too interested in the sort of boring, repetitive work pathology tests require, so the industry got automated.

I suspect the same drivers will force other high intensity medical procedures to become automated.

ie response #6

One final thing, I would have thought that the three items you refer to are sinks rather than sources. (although one might like to divert what's being poured into them for other purposes!)

Travc said...

Wow Zorgon... a bit long winded. Almost everyone agreed with your basic premise, so spending a few pages shooting down faulty arguments no one made is a bit excessive IMO.

You did leave out the version of #1 most likely to appear here: 70 years? Who cares, the singularity is coming before that! ;)

I agree with Tony that your argument that healthcare costs will always (greatly) exceed inflation is probably off. I'm not in medicine, but I see a lot of the genetic analysis tech... Automation is happening a lot faster than I think your realize.

More significantly, better treatment lead to less treatment. A small fraction of geriatric care and trauma care are exceptions, but the rule dominates.

On your actual point which you eventually got around to ;)

Yeah, military spending is out of control. That needs to dialed way back. Any suggestions on how we get that done, politically speaking?

Overall, fixing healthcare makes a huge dent in the problem. (I'd continue to argue it is the biggest factor by far, with the bonus of the solution being a win-win.) Reigning in military spending a bit, significant but not radical, would get us the rest of the way there probably.

Of course, we should probably tweak Social Security a bit (just not while the other side to any 'compromise' wants to destroy it). More significantly cutting military spending (and maybe actually account for the spending we have) is also all good IMO.

All together these would actually free up resources for other important priorities and/or let us lower the debt burden faster.

Anonymous said...

Agreed that you're misrepresenting health care costs.

One of the references you link to, for example, mentions cataract removal surgery which was rare when it was expensive and fraught with complications and now common when it is cheap and relatively risk-free.

The key thing to note is that costs are significantly lower and it is merely expectations which have risen. I.e. it's not as though we are without choice here. If we had continued to maintain the same healthcare expectations, costs would have significantly decreased with time. If we allow expectations to rise, costs may stay the same or increase. But it's really up to us. As many people here have stated already, I think it's clear that as we improve healthcare and thus improve average lifespans it is only natural that we will have to expect to raise retirement ages, for example. That's a choice which we make to trade off for improved health.

On top of all this, as one of your links admits, we stand to gain quite a bit in terms of productivity with a healthier nation. It's not like health is porn -- something to be enjoyed with no tangible output for society.

Anonymous said...

Ok Zorgon, sense you are sarcastically impaired let me rephrase: Economic projections are useless in predicting the future state of the economy (future state meaning more than a few years). So any projection to infinity can be said with 100% certainty to be wrong. Demographic projections more reliable for longer periods of time, but migration is a big source of uncertainty in the projections.

Your notion “There exist only 3 real sources of money in the U.S. economy ... medicare/medicaid, social security, and the U.S. military budget" is a wrong. (If that is what you really meant, I would need the adult diaper because I would be laughing so hard I would pee my pants.) The real source our wealth is our collective know how and our collective understanding of the universe, both of which are growing rapidly.

David Brin said...

Hmmm... if you follow Z's reasoning tightly, the answer that pops out is the one used by all previous empires. You use that big military to go GET the money you need in order to care for the dangerous folks back in the capital. Granted, this would be stunningly insane, in today's context. But if it didn't occur to you, looking at those numbers, then something is wrong with the Basic Logic 101 part of your neuronal clusters.

One of the biggest plusses on the Pax Americana side of the ledger is that we mostly did not do that. (That dunce, Michael Moore, notwithstanding.)

Is anybody else out there HAPPY that her Nibs is finally backing down? Now, if only BHO turns out to be as smart as he looks. And pray he lives.

Anonymous said...

If I understand Zorgon correctly, a basic problem with current health care system is that the costs exhibit exponential growth that is larger than inflation. If this trend is true, it is ultimately unsustainable.

No matter the size of the exponent, as long as it is positive, it will eventually consume all avaiable inputs given enough time. Cutting costs by a factor of 1,000 or slowing the rate of growth (but still larger than inflation), only buys more time. It doesn't prevent the inevitable.

I have seen sustainable proposals for energy production and manufacturing. But I don't have a clue what 'sustainable' health care looks like.

Is the solution "Logan's Run" -- life must end at 30 or 50 (or whenever it becomes too expensive)?

-David S.

B. Dewhirst said...

Sorry for the delay in responses, I still don’t have regular ‘net. Soon, hopefully.
Travc (addressing my most recent remarks, above)—I’m afraid you’re missing my point if you’re seeing dialectical materialism under the hood.

Insofar as ‘restricting big bad people’ being a postindustrial thing, you may want to review the robber barons. Frankly, it sounds like you’ve got the more idyllic view of progress. I’m not debating that there has been progress, but it is a lot more bumpy—and capitalism a lot more crooked—than you seem to be acknowledging.

I’m saying that political and media corruption are consequences of capitalism. I can’t let you take it off the agenda so long as you’re fine-and-dandy with capitalism as-is, as it is causing these other problems you wish to address.

Nobody here is explaining –how- you intend to get transparency, which is your proposed remedy for these problems… saying “I think we have the tools” isn’t very helpful in that light.

As far as ‘winning’ battles goes… we just lost the Magna Charta. Not a one way street, progress…

As far as ‘exploitation is hard work too…’ revisit slavery with that in mind.

Now… how do you all propose to get transparency, either in markets or in general? Telling me ‘Brin has good ideas’ is insufficient—I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think he did, but it doesn’t exactly help me find where he explains how he intends to get it. I don’t think this is covered in The Transparent Society, but if you think I’m wrong feel free to tell me where I ought to look it up after you’ve confirmed where I can find it, as I do own a copy.

Are you claiming that Soros’ book outlines –how- to get transparency?

Tony Fisk—thanks, I’ll review the diamond/pyramid links you provided, but a quick skim suggests Brin really isn’t addressing the fact that the clothes on his back were probably made in China under rather nasty conditions (as were mine), etc etc. Attention Walmart shoppers… you’re not (I’m not) much better than all of the historical beneficiaries of slavery, but you’re privileged enough to keep the slaves out of sight and the revolts on the other side of the Pacific… for now.

Occam’s comic’s Guaranteed minimum income suggestion would address the ‘or die’ end of ‘work or die,’ though other problems relating to asymmetric power distributions and the compromising effect capitalism has on Democracies would still exist. It would also introduce a free rider problem… though I’d prefer free riders to exploitive labor practices. Still, unless it was a global GMI, it’d still be outsourcing exploitation.

Zorgon— my proposed solution is Parecon. A broadly democratic, decentralized planned economy with specialization of labor but without especially entitled classes of jobs—managers are as much servants as janitors, etc. There are also numerous anticipated quality of life changes that this system would afford. Plenty of more information on it is available, and my comments on it here have hardly been exhaustive. It is likely that someone of like mind has raised objections, and that you can find the replies to them over on Znet.

Cliff—I’m not exactly cackling. I don’t like the fact that the world is broken, and I really do wish cooperation was possible, but so long as “socialist” is the new “fag,” or “nigger,” it is clear I’m not welcome in this house.

Wrt to Brin’s reply:

I’m done with Brin’s insults. (Or, perhaps I should say “It truly is useless, it seems to talk to Brin. I truly am trying. But this just gets silly.”)

I don’t claim to be smarter than everyone else, but I do think you have some serious dogmatic blinders and prejudices you’ve no desire to examine. After all, I’m the one speaking with the loyal opposition in favor of keeping capitalism… I don’t see you reviewing Chomsky except, perhaps, to lump him in with a bunch of dead white men.

Wrt “me benefiting from capitalism”—that is granted, but you’re being awfully parochial if I’m to ignore the consequences abroad which allow me this privilege. If it was 1859, should I fight for the South and to keep slavery just because I’d benefited from the slave system? Does that even begin to justify slavery, even were it the bottom of a diamond who were enslaved? As I said… your family first into the chains, if we’re to have it that way. Your sons can go work in Johannesburg.

As far as Kibbutz go… I’m no fan of Israel-after-1968, or of religiously construed polities in general. (Yes, Mondragon has catholic roots.)

(And Chomsky –is- someone I think is significantly smarter than present company, and he has done a fine job of pointing out how hypocritical positions such as these on capitalism are. Grep for ‘really existing capitalism’ above and you’ll find an essay by him with that title.)

“Oh, I never called you a marxist, to the best of my memory, or not recently. Though you sure talk like one at times.” Come on now…

As far as this goes “How would I achieve a better world? I have talked about that endlessly, over and over and over. Saying that I haven't is the dumbest thing I've heard you say... and everybody here knows it.” – You haven’t done a good enough job that anyone here can explain it to me, or find a link on short notice, to tell me how you intend to get transparency.

Others, find my blog if you wish to continue discussion. I’d be happy to continue the discussion, but not here. Better still, find someone smarter than I am but of a like mind to check your assumptions. Not too hard to find an RSS feed of Chomsky’s essays and interviews, for example… or go read Farewell to Catalonia and see which one of us has selective amnesia. Good luck on finding another leftist whipping boy.

Joshua O'Madadhain said...

quoth Dr. Brin:

if you follow Z's reasoning tightly, the answer that pops out is the one used by all previous empires. You use that big military to go GET the money you need in order to care for the dangerous folks back in the capital. Granted, this would be stunningly insane, in today's context. But if it didn't occur to you, looking at those numbers, then something is wrong with the Basic Logic 101 part of your neuronal clusters.

I assume you're not actually claiming that Zorgon suggested that; I don't believe he did so.

And I recognize that you're not actually recommending this course of action; that's clear.

However, my reason for not having considered that means is, quite simply, that I wouldn't have expected it to work.

Can someone with a greater knowledge of history than mine tell me when the last time was that a war of conquest actually resulted in a net economic _benefit_ to the conqueror?

(Never mind the problem of finding an appropriate target. What country could the US possibly steal from that would address this problem as stated? Plus, it's not like we can walk out with a bunch of banknotes and expect that to solve anything; we'd have to end up with tangible resources of sufficient market value.)

I'm guessing that my neuronal clusters are working just fine, and simply didn't bother to pass up to the top level something that was about as useful to propose as suggesting that we pin all of our future hopes on increased oil exploration. :)

B. Dewhirst said...

... unless, of course, your proposed solution really is a pre-preemptive war with the Swiss.

Anonymous said...

As a service to the other readers, here is my first
The shorter Zorgon:
To pay for the increased cost of medical care we will have to cut military spending.

Travc said...

BD, my note that management/ownership (which may or may not be exploitive) is actually work is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Just pointing out that unfair compensation is perhaps a better way of looking at it.

I agree with you that inadequately regulated capitalism has problems. That is why I don't bother to belabor the point with examples. Yeah, Robber Barons, but the response was anti-trust and the Great Society.

Which brings us to the main point. I did explain how to get more transparency... use the same fundamental mechanisms parecon would rest on... rules enacted through our representative councils (government). I don't think that really needs much more spelling out.

I'm not claiming Soros's latest book outlines how to get transparency. It does have some very interesting things in it (Did you know Sorors studied under Karl Popper for a year?)...
What I'm pointing out is that Soros and the OSI have actually helped foster and strengthen transparency in several countries (mostly former Eastern Block states) through political means.

Of course there are plenty of other examples to look to. One of my favorites is the American Revolution (study up on your history if you think corporate and money interests along with the mass (but admittedly slower) media were not big factors then.)

Travc said...

Hat tip to Occam's Comic.

Yeah, I can buy that argument.

Cliff said...

BD: Hopefully you're still reading this thread.
I was engaging in some hyperbole, I didn't intend for it to be insulting.

I just found it deliciously ironic that after your numerous posts regarding the evils of capitalism, Zorgon came in with a post concerning the upcoming catastrophic failure of our way of life. My first impression of the trends he pointed out is that they are the logical, unavoidable consequences of our economic system.
You posted on the evils of capitalism, Zorgon posted on our chickens coming home to roost. I was merely trying to point out the connection in a succinct and humorous manner.

Cliff said...

Also, looking at Zorgon's second comment-bomb and his proposed solution:

He says "This means that the Chinese and Europeans and Saudis are, in effect, lending us half a trillion dollars worth of our annual U.S. military budget per year."

Then he says that we need to cut our military budget so that we can toss that money into healthcare: "But the basic reality is that the military budget is the only place we can get the kind of money we're going to need to fix our fiscal crisis"

So...instead of borrowing money from China, Europe and Saudi Arabia to finance our military, we will be borrowing from them to finance health care?

Am I reading that right? And if so, how is that any more sustainable than what we're doing now? It's robbing Peter to pay Frank, as opposed to Paul.

David Brin said...

Joshua, pillage was once VERY profitable. Rome financed itself very nicely out of conquest. Ravishing Gaul paid for Caesar, Egypt paind for Augustus, Sacking Jerusalem built the Colloseum. Dacia financed the baths.

BD... again, it is a matter of personality. Guys like you are completely incapable of prefacing their complaints with "I know we've already made tremendous progress, but there's so many injustices still, so let's..."

The natural tendency of the utopian is to express ANGER over whatever distance remains between our present situation and the utopian goal.

You are not alone in this. It is the biggest character fault of nearly all liberals and leftists (two different but associated phyla). They are inherently incapable of recognizing (and thus rewarding) the vast progress made so far. Instead of motivating people with "ATTABOYS!" they can only motivate with guilt trips...

...even though it has been proved relentlessly, that attaboys work VASTLY better than guilt trips. Indeed, this sourpuss approach is the biggest (by far) reason that the enemies of liberalism have been able to drive a wedge between reformers and the people.

Think about it. Liberals are selling a product (progress & reform) that has already done tremendous good. Do they say "You built the universities and mass education and infrastructure and unions and civil rights and environmental laws and non-mercantilist trade systems and all these things accomplished wonders! We're halfway there! Now buy more!"

Not a chance. Here is what you guys say. "You built the universities and mass education and infrastructure and unions and civil rights and environmental laws and non-mercantilist trade systems and all these things accomplished NOTHING! The world is just as bad WORSE than in feudal days. You are all a bunch of racist FOOLS! IDIOTS....

"... oh... and NOW buy more liberalism!"

I could answer your silly taunt about "how to get transparency" very easily, by pointing out that the entire enlightenment has been about light and that each generation HAS acquired more knowledge and ability to see, hugely and rapidly, and all we have to do is not panic and get rid of the neocons and INSIST that this trend continue..."

But I already know how futile that will be. You are, by fundamental personality, incapable of seeing or acknowledging that we are navigating between rocks and fighting pirates... but on a ship heading in essentially the right direction.

Even as you rage across an internet that was the greatest gift for freedom and transparency ever created.

B. Dewhirst said...

Wow, takes a big man to kick someone in the back as he's leaving, huh?

You're prejudiced, complacent, and listen to noone. I repeatedly stressed, earlier (back when I was "yelling") that progress had been made, was good, and there hadn't been enough.

Enjoy your plantation profiteering.

Cliff, apology/clarification accepted.

Travc, I'd like to respond to your latest... if you're amenable, my profile has my email address.

Travc said...

On 'how to get more transparency'...

There has been an idea rolling around in my head for a good long while. I won't go into long details, but the general idea is this:

Basically what we need is a caucus / PAC / 'special interest group'. In this case, allied around a platform of Transparency and Openness.

It would help greatly if we had a better voting system in the US, but even under the two party system there is a lot of potential power to be exercised (mostly in the primary system). It is important not to align with Dems vs GOP (though right now that would be very tempting)... transparency is a meta property, and thus focusing on primary challenges and endorsing good people regardless of party is most helpful in the long run.

Anyway, maybe BushCo's excesses provide an opportunity to make this an important issue. People have seen what secrecy can do.

Anonymous said...

It seemed odd that Zorgon understood that merely cutting health care costs won't reduce overall health care spending, but totally missed that simply increasing money available to spend won't solve the problem, for exactly the same reason. There's no practical limit to how much health care people can consume. Adding more money to that fire will just make it burn higher.

Of course, his second post explains it - his desire to slash military spending has caused partial economic blindness. Hey, I'd like to slash military spending too, but that's no excuse.

When something is broken, with no cost-effective way to fix it, you discard it and replace it. The current government insurance programs need to be discarded, and replaced with health savings accounts, putting individuals in charge of rationing health care spending for their own long term benefit.

Sure, there's a huge amount of detail to be worked out - how to change over from the old programs, tax consequences, insurance reform, desires for wealth redistribution, etc, etc.

But all of that is secondary to recognizing that health care deficit spending will never be fixed as long as "someone else pays".

Joshua O'Madadhain said...

Dr. Brin:

I don't mean to blow what was probably a throwaway comment out of proportion, but just to clarify...

Joshua, pillage was once VERY profitable. Rome financed itself very nicely out of conquest.

Certainly. I merely implied that, AFAIK, this hasn't been the case _recently_. I was entirely serious in asking for recent examples of this, as I realize that there might be some that I'm unaware of.

On reflection I suppose I can think of one way that the US could make that work, at least in the relatively short term: nuke anyone that owns a significant amount of our debt. Nukes are cheap (relatively speaking) and that would at least get us out of the current debt hole that we're in.

Of course, I'm not advocating this solution, any more than Dr. Brin was advocating what I might call the 'take the money and run' solution. :) In addition to the obvious humanitarian problems, as others have pointed out, it's a short- (or at least finite-) term solution: if your expenses are bigger than your income, eventually, yes, you're screwed, even if you've got a big nest egg.

Personally I'm betting that what will actually happen is not that our military budget will get radically cut in favor of medical spending (which doesn't seem to help with the fundamental problem), but that we'll end up spending less on medical treatment than is projected, because it will be (overall) cheaper, and/or we'll collectively spend less on it. *shrug*

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

TwinBeam, There will always be some people that simply cannot pay for healthcare. I assume that you don't believe service should always be refused without payment. Everyone has a bar that they set for which services should be provided without the means to pay for them.

Do we each set it at deadly wounds or plastic surgery? It seems there is little talk about what services anti-"Socialized Medicine" people believe ARE inherent rights.

I would question where you set the bar.

David Brin said...

Bloody typical, a moaner is always a moaner.

But BD, I did exactly as you asked, after poking me in the chest again and again -- "Well Brin? HOW will you get transparency huh? HOW!"...

...I took a well-deserved swipe at you. Note that your answer, just now doesn't even remotely address the FUNDAMENTAL issue here. We all want a better world. We mostly agree on lots of needed improvements. But you have heaped scorn upon us pragmatic/moderate incrementalists, here. So we have a perfect right to lay it on the table.

Well? ARE THINGS BETTER OR NOT? Since it would take a complete loon not to admit that this society and the world have made vast progress... the statistics are utterly overwhelming... and that the very utopian drive that propels you is a PRODUCT of this society, that means you are in a bind, BD.

Because IF things are better, then the sales pitch for more improvement should be attaboy! Psychologically, it wins citizens over to new liberal efforts far better than guilt and scorn.

But You cannot make yourself mouth the words. Face it. It's grouches like you who helped drive the wedge between reformists and the masses. You are a big part of the problem.

And now, about the news that defense secretary Gates is firing several US Air Force Generals... including the USAF Chief of Staff... ostensibly for failing to properly account for nuclear weapons and related materials...

Russ Daggett deeply worries that this purge is like last month's exiling of Central Command chief Adm Fallon... a ploy to prepare the way for an attack upon Iran.

Frankly, I do not know the officers involved in the USAF shakeup. Hence I cannot say for sure what's happened. Russ may be right... they may be clearing away the last, obstinate realists preventing a compliant Air Force from doing as it's told. Certainly, the administration knows that it cannot count on the Navy. Moreover, the departure of Fallon from Central Command is worrisome.

And yet, there are more optimistic possible interpretations. After all, the Air Force is already so thoroughly suborned that any shakeup there MIGHT be what it seems at the surface -- a long needed slap across the face of a service that has let itself wander toward dopey unprofessionalism.

Look, it's clear that stuff is going on that we cannot see. The Generals' Revolt that forced Rumsfeld out has had a myriad aftershocks, stabs and counterstabs. Someday it will make the most riveting book of American history ever written. Especially since all of the parties involved do NOT want the public to become aware of all this.

Go see SEVEN DAYS IN MAY again. Only now put a mad Burt Lancaster in the Oval Office and put a worried, mature and desperately responsible Frederick March in as Defense Secretary or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. It may be that bad.

I take solace in this: Gates is the direct product of the Generals' Revolt. He was imposed on Bush. And with the president's star fading, we can hope and pray that Gates and Mullen are the adults in the room. Adults who can watch over us and keep us safe until the nasty little boys go away.

Is Gates this hero? I don't know. But if he is, he's going to need help. Pray for the Officer Corps, boys and girls. Pray for an awakened Intelligence community. And God Bless the Navy.

Anonymous said...

The simplistic "Raise the Retirement Age" only seems reasonable to those holding white-collar jobs.

A person can't shovel coal back onto the belt, or haul furnaces into attics, or fell tall timber, in their mid-70's.

At least 95% can't.

If you're so isolated from those who do physical work that raising the retirement age to solve the problem seems sensible, there's a show on the Discovery Channel called "Dirty Jobs" you can watch without the scary experience of mingling with the unwashed NASCAR crowd.

The solution for Social Security *is* simple, though. Leave the Cap where it is, but then start witholding again from $200,000 to $500,000.

Medicare and Medicaid are much tougher problems for reasons already explained by others.

Travc said...

Gates is hard to figure out. At least part of him is a 'professional', and part of him is a suck-up like George Tennant.

I'm with you Dr Brin, this could be paving the way, obstructing it with more sane people, or just punishing embarrassing high-profile incompetence.

I'll be keeping an eye out for more details. The ranks of the sane have a number of good contacts in the military these days... so maybe TPM or some other place will have more soon.

Travc said...


'Private health savings accounts' are in no way the solution. The pathological behavior of 'market-based' healthcare is much more fundamental. How much money is your life, or the life of a loved one, worth to you? How much more cash is a treatment A vs treatment B worth, when A gives you a 1% better chance of living? Assuming you (or anyone) even has a reasonable idea of the efficacies of all the various treatment options.

Really, healthcare is one of the few sectors where 'market-based' just isn't going to work well. Fortunately, we have other options available (that old left-hand). We pretty much all accept that some things (military, public safety, ect) are best handled with a socialized approach... healthcare is pretty clearly one of those things.

And all this is ignoring the ethical/moral problems with allocating access to healthcare based upon a person's ability to pay for it. 'Market based' and the Hippocratic Oath are mutually exclusive.

David Brin said...

65 was chosen as the "official returement age" in Prussia, originally, because Bismarck was told that only 1% would live that long to collect pensions. Har-hearted, but better than before.

Now it's 95% who reach 65 and it is simply madness to turn hale citizens into subsidized leisure idlers. Today's average 70 year old can do lots of stuff, teaching, retail, clerical. Obviously the coal company has to move em to the front office! Big deal.

I may sound heartless, but I'm heading for that age, and I have one priority above all, leaving a thriving civilization for our kids. If that means we need to work a while longer, as our dads did, instead of swinging into THIRTY years of subsidized travel in a winebago, then so be it.

Unknown said...

"Anonymous" remarked:

If I understand Zorgon correctly, a basic problem with current health care system is that the costs exhibit exponential growth that is larger than inflation. If this trend is true, it is ultimately unsustainable.

No matter the size of the exponent, as long as it is positive, it will eventually consume all avaiable inputs given enough time. Cutting costs by a factor of 1,000 or slowing the rate of growth (but still larger than inflation), only buys more time. It doesn't prevent the inevitable.

No real-world process is genuinely exponential -- eventually they all level out. All curves in the real world that look exponential are actually sigmoid. The trick in this case is to make it through to the plateau part of the sigmoid curve where health care technology like gene therapy & limb regrowth and so forth is so well established and so dirt cheap that regrowing a lost hand is as cheap and simple as buying a pair of sunglasses at the drug store today. This will eventually happen, if the history of previous technologies offers any guide...but it'll take time. We need to be able to cover our costs until then.

As far as planned economies, B. Dewhirst, sorry, but you lost me there. The history of planned economies remains dismal.

Also, I don't believe it's accurate to claim that corruption is due to capitalism. Non-capitalist systems like the USSR were shockingly corrupt -- in fact, far more so than most capitalist countries. Corruption seems to be due to a combo of lack of transparency and lack of basic elements of civil society, like recognized property rights, or official arbitration in independent courts. Third world countries which lack these basic aspects of civil society exhibit shocking amounts of corruption, while equaly capitalist countries in the first world are remarkably non-corrupt. Just ask yourself: when was the last time you had to pay a bribe to get your drivers license? You don't, not in America...but in third world countries, that's the norm. So I don't think capitalism is the culprit in corruption. The real culprit is human nature, combined with defective social structures like courts and property laws.

In India, for example, people are declared "dead" by their relatives, who then swoop in and take all their property and savings. This is an ongoing problem -- literally hundreds of thousands of people have been declared officially "dead," to the point where they'd formed a political party of "dead people." What happens is that the relatives bribe corrupt bureaucrats to declare the person dead, then the relatives grab all the dead person's prpoerty and profit. Yet India is fiercely capitalistic. They just lack some of the basic infrastructure of civil society, like a professional indepdendent civil service, effective objective courts, and so on.

While I don't buy a lot of what B. Dewhirst says, though, he's far from a "Marxist." Dewhirst is mixing economic populism in the tradition of William Jennings Bryan and Huey Long and FDR with a good dollop of emergent third-party open source advocacy, which Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig have been advocating for quite a few years now. This has nothing to do with "Marxism" and I don't hear Dr. Brin slamming Cory Doctorow or Larry Lessig for their allegedly "ridiculous" or "unrealistic" proposals, so it's not obvious why Dewhirst gets slammed for saying much the same thing.

Dewhirst also has some good points that I don't he makes clearly enough. Viz., corporations are inherently totalitarian hierarchies which are not a good fit with democracy. Also, the unchecked growth of corporate power represents one of the greatest dangers to a free society today. I don't hear anyone talking very much about this except people like Dewhirst, and we need to talk about it. We need to do something about it, more to the point. The legal fiction of corporate personhood is incredibly pernicious -- may psychologists have pointed out that corporations legally blessed with personhood tend to act in ways characteristic of the worst sociopaths. I.e., they have no concern for others, their worldview centers only around themselves, they think nothing of lying and manipulating others for personal gain, they exhibit a total lack of remorse for hurting others, and so on. It's alarming the degree to which a typical corporation fits the diagnostic criteria laid out by the Hare sociopathy checklist.

Compare this list of behaviors with the typical behavior of a large corporation -- it may send chills down your spine:
* Glibness/superficial charm (advertising spots)
* Grandiose sense of self-worth ("What good for GM is good for America")
* Pathological lying ("Unlimited download broadband for only $79.99 per month!")
* Cunning/manipulative ("We reserve the right to change the terms of service at any time as stated in part 14 paragraph B of the contract...")
* Lack of remose/guilt (Enron, Exoon Valdez, GE's pollution of the Schuykill river, and on and on)
* Shallow affect ("You deserve a break today...at McDonald's!")
* Callous/lack of empathy (insurance companies that cut off health care for dying cancer victims, etc.)
* Failure to accept responsibility for own actions ("It's corporate policy, sorry, I don't have any control over that.")

The only individuals who score nealry 100% on the Hare Sociopathy Checklist (above) are serial killers, and large corporations. Pretty scary, isn't it?

Dewhirst is talking about this stuff, but almost no one else is. I don't agree with much of what Dewhrist says, but he does raise some very important issues which we ought not to dismiss outright.

Unknown said...

More good news, including (wait for it!) the free market starting to correct its own excesses in globalism.

Good news:

Russ Feingold holds hearings spotlighting the danger to our constitution of secret laws, which have proliferated recently:

Researchers build a model protocell capable of copying DNA (this is one wildly hyped: the basic science is much cruder than it sounds, but it's a start):

The Chinese are getting aggressive about eliminating their use of coal, in part because they're running out, but also because of mass anti-pollution riots by Chinese citizens throughout the country:

Op Ed slamming John McCain by Bay Buchanan (wife of the odious ultra-right partisan Pat Buchanan, who originally conceived the "positive polarization" strategy first used by Nixon to divide and conquer the electorate for the Repubs):

The Supreme Court finally slams a screeching halt to the illegal and unconstitutional practice of police simply seizing any money they find on someone who is travelling, under the phony assumption that if anyone travels around with loose cash, it must be intended to buy drugs with:

"Why this fifty-five year old white lifelong republican wants obama to win":

Article from The Economist on how the rise of the libertarians in the Republican party threatens McCain:

Looks like the only thing that's flat is Tom Friedman's sloping neaderthal skull. Higher oil prices are now unravelling globalization, and consequently the world is no longer flat:

The cost of shipping a 40 foot container from Shanghai to the east coast of North America has gone from $3,000 in 2000 to $8,000 because of the cost of fuel, and for many products, the Asian cost advantage has virtually disappeared.

“In a world of triple-digit oil prices, distance costs money,” write Jeff Rubin of CIBC World Markets. “And while trade liberalization and technology may have flattened the world, rising transport prices will once again make it rounder.”

Heavy commodity items like steel that are not particularly labour intensive are the first to be hit; Chinese steel exports have fallen by 20% in the last year. The Chinese were bringing iron or from faraway places like Brazil and shipping it back to the USA; now American mills actually have a price advantage.

Headline: "The World Is No Longer Flat"

In today's world, cities, regions and mega-regions composed of two or more cities and their suburbs have become key competitive players alongside global companies and nation states. Canada and the U.S., for example, are not competing against China and India. Rather, specific regions in North America are competing with dynamic regions such as Bangalore and Shanghai.
...We are experiencing modern history's third great power shift, after the rise of the West from the 15th century on, and the rise of the U.S. in the 19th century. But he argues that this latest transition is not so much about the decline of America as it is about “the rise of the rest,” and by that he means much more than simply China or India. The end result will be a “landscape that is quite different from the one we have lived in until now – one defined and directed from many places and by many peoples.” Mr. Khanna similarly predicts that we are headed toward a “global, multi-civilizational, multipolar” world with three superpowers: the U.S., China and the European Union.
...It's a big mistake to view power in this new world as a competition confined only to large nations. In fact, small states will increasingly find themselves with more influence and more room to manoeuvre. Their competitive position will be strengthened and they will have the opportunity to act as important stabilizers in the global system.
They are already doing very well, economically speaking.
According to my Global Creativity Index, Sweden (first), Finland (third), Switzerland (fifth), Denmark (sixth), Iceland (seventh), Canada (11th) and Australia (12th) are right up there with the U.S. (fourth) and Japan (second). Interestingly, Russia, China and India sit well down the list: 25th, 36th and 41st, respectively.
Canada and Australia are seen as models for open immigration and talent attraction, Ireland as a prototype for economic revitalization. Denmark and Sweden show how markets and welfare states can work together and why high taxes do not necessarily mean low competitiveness.
In my view, these small states, among several others, are the best places to look for innovative, alternative models of economic prosperity and social cohesion.
A big reason for the improved competitive stature of smaller nations stems from the shifting nature of global competition. Today, competitiveness no longer turns on market size, raw material, control over natural resources or even business costs, but rather on which places can best attract and retain innovative and entrepreneurial talent.
For my money, a League of Cities and Regions – made up of the world's largest cities, regions, states and provinces – is more in tune with what the emerging “post-American” world really needs.


"Suddenly, a bright future for [America's] old-economy companies":

Absurdly overhyped and highly inaccurate story (with a wretched photoshopped picture) about something that's nonetheless potentially important: scientists have figured out how to reverse the Casimir force in nanodevices, potentially opening the way for much more efficient nanomachines.

And last (but not least) the IEEE Spectrum magazine has a special issue on The Singularity.
As you'd expect, most of the issues debunks the singularitarian fantasies, with articles like "Rupturing the nanotech rapture," which makes the same points Dr. Brin and I have made about the unworkability of Drexlerian assembler-style nanotech: Brownian motion bombardment, stiction, the "fat fingers" problem cited by the Nobel laureate who wrote that article a few years back debunking nanotech assemblers, the "curling" problem, Van der Waals forces, and so on.
John Horgan also has an excellent article debunking mind uploading. It's a fun read overall, but basically only tells you what common sense should have suggested long ago -- the extroprians are offering wish-fulfillment fantasies no different from age-old dreams of Aladdin's lamp or the Philosopher's Stone.

Anonymous said...

The shorter Zorgon:
If corporations were people they would be flesh eating zombies.

and a link feast.

Tony Fisk said...

...the *essential* Zorgon? brainnzzzz!

(link eating zombies? that'd be the bots! Keep 'em coming, Zorg!)

Good to see that Hillary's appeared to have stepped away from any thoughts of VP nomination. An interesting article whose quotes demonstrate interesting (and optimistic) undertones from both sides.

To paraphrase Mick Dundee: that wasn't a fight. *THIS* (the next 5 months) is a fight!

Speaking of fights, it would appear , from the Washington Post*, and related articles, that Gates and the USAF have been in state of conflict for a while. The *real* reason for those sackings may be, not the AWOL nukes, but issues about going ahead with F-22 purchases (to counter USSR and China military resurgence, sez generals. Not needed for WOT, sez Gates) and objecting to increased drone flights in Afghanistan (pilot fatigue, sez generals. There's a war on, sez Gates)

Mosely is a career general, but Wynne is a Bush political appointment, taking up the position of secretary of the air force in 2005. Not your usual oil lovin' Bush parody, though: he has an abiding interest in renewable energy!)

It's a muddy situation. The nutshell assessment is that Gates wants folk who will concentrate on the here and now.

My feeling is that the here and now is starting to look distinctly Iranian. Let's see who the replacements are.

* Interesting: if you follow that link, have a look at the post below that one as well. It's a report on how the GOP have reversed their attitudes to wartime taxes from supporting it a generation or two ago.

David Brin said...

Wow Z... you are at your best, right now.

Travc said...

There are a protests going on right now in Europe with workers in certain industries trying to 'protect their early retirement' benefits. (Aren't there always.)

Dr Brin hints at a better POV. Different jobs really do have different physical requirements (and take different tolls on one's body.) 65 isn't 'early' for a miner who has been on the job for decades IMO. But an author or clerk or manager... please.

I like thinking of Soc Sec fundamentally as disability insurance, not a retirement account. At some fairly arbitrary point we assume people are too old to reasonably expect them to work... Obviously that age should have increased.

Of course, someone who does a physically demanding job wears down their body more quickly. So not certain how to deal with that. The 'early retirement age' frame isn't very good though.

Travc said...

About the 'bright future for old-economy companies'...

The head of the Sierra Club did a little tour with the head of the United Steel Workers a while back. One tidbit recounted was when they visited a demonstration wind-turbine... the USW guy saying "Why can't we make that here?" (The turbine was made in Germany) Credit to the Sierra Club dude for recounting the story and vowing to lobby for such things.

Anonymous said...

With all respect, Dr. Brin, it's still true that the poorer you are and the more brutal your job is physically, the shorter your life will generally be.

If the hypothetical coal miner had the skills to work in the front office, he would have been there long before the retirement age of 69 my generation faces for full benefits.

Of course, no Social Security System would really be needed if employers were such wonderful people that they showed loyalty to elderly people and moved them to positions that they could perform after age reduced their abilities.

Why, when there is a simple and workable solution available that would cause no one any true hardship, would any thinking person reject it?

"In 1980–82, the overall life expectancy at birth was 2.8 years longer for the least-deprived group than for the most-deprived group (75.8 vs 73.0 years). By 1998–2000, the absolute difference in life expectancy at birth had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 vs 74.7 years)."

International Journal of Epidemiology Volume 35, Number 4 Pp. 969-979

Every year we raise the retirement age is that many more jobs we've got to come up with. We can kid ourselves all day about FDR's kindly bleeding heart, but the prime reason for SS was to free up a couple hundred thousand jobs.

Your position, although I don't think you see it clearly, is -

The less one makes, the less time one will spend on Social Security.

Therefore, the working and middle classes should pay a massively disproportionate amount of their income into the Social Security system, despite the fact that we know they will derive fewer years of benefit.

Those who lack the social skills or intellectual capacity to earn their living in a way which does not involve physical labor can just keep strapping on more support devices, enduring more surgeries, and taking more pain-killers.

Somehow, we will make up the shortfall in jobs this creates.

Now, I know that you're no Social Darwinist sociopath, so I really have to wonder why you think a moderate tax on income between 200,000 and 500,000 is an inferior solution.

I promise that a logical explanation that does not involve Reaganish "welfare queens in Winnabagos" riffs or a sudden belief in Corporate loyalty to employees will not result in any snarky remarks about Eloi and Moorlocks.


Tony Fisk said...

... not to mention retraining programs.

Maybe it will all come down to disability* pensions: can't work because of limb loss/ hearing loss/ hair loss/ mind loss...etc.)

Actually, this reminds me of an old Jack Vance novel: 'To Live Forever', wherein citizens scrambled to work for prestige and 'slope': the worthiness to be allowed treatment to extend their lives by a few decades more. Haldeman's 'Buying Time' springs to mind as well.

*(Oh! Those eggcorns! disability got originally typed as 'diability'!)

Travc said...

There is one aspect of blue-collar worker demographics that people are missing. A lot of the jobs are highly skilled and hard to fill. It complicates the arguments a bit on all sides.

Anonymous said...

Well, of course it's a bit simplistic to throw tradesmen and manual laborers together, but the issue of age affects both in a similar manner.

It's not cost effective to retrain a 68 year old lineman for a non-physical job that will give him a decent standard of living, and it's insane to expect him to still be 100 feet in the air tensioning lines at 73.

It's not cost-effective to retrain a 68 year old man who scrubs the floors, and it's downright cruel to expect him to still be on his hands and knees scrubbing out behind a toilet at 73.

matthew said...

Your argument above ignores the ongoing reduction in manual or tradecraft jobs due to automation.

Ten years ago, I worked as a manual machinist, now I am an engineer overseeing (among many other things) 50+ CNC machines. How many manual machine shops are left in manufacturing?

Yes, there will be backbreaking and dangerous jobs all through the 70 year window that we are talking about here, BUT what percentage of jobs are backbreaking, et al, currently, compared to 70 years ago? Have some faith in our technology curve.

As medical costs rise, those pesky blue-collar jobs keep getting farther along the spectrum toward white-collar. And the multi-million-dollar machine that required a PhD to operate twenty years ago is now dirt cheap (relatively) and can easily be operated by a high-school dropout.

I'm not saying that this trend takes care of the whole problem of workers and advancing retirement age, but ignore the tech trend at the risk of your argument.

matthew said...

Obama introduces new transparency legislation

"On the same day that he became the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Sen. Barack Obama introduced new legislation to expand public access to information about government spending."


Anonymous said...

We're a long darn way from the plumbing robot, or the automated cook/nanny/housekeeper.

I agree that current trends will continue in regard to industrial production, but human beings will still be hauling Frigidairs up stairs and hanging drywall in 50 years.


Actual on-topic. I have too much of a talent for selling VP choices, and I keep selling myself on different ones.

Obama needs Edwards.

With Edwards, he takes Missouri by three to eleven points.

With Edwards, he takes Minnesota by 7 to 15.

With Edwards, he takes Wisconsin by 8 to 15.

Even if McCain takes Romney, he only wins Michigan by three against Obama/Edwards. Any other VP pick, McCain gets blown out.

Obama takes Virginia by 9 to 18 with Edwards.

Iowa is an absolute Obama blow-out with Edwards.

The traditional toss ups? Obama takes Ohio by 12 to 18 points with Edwards, loses with all others.

Obama takes Pennsylvania by 10 to 17 points with Edwards.

Obama *only* wins New Mexico with Edwards.

Edwards as VP, above and beyond all this polling, delivers the tens of thousands of "activists" (Obama supporters are not the only latte-sipping prius driving college kids) who campaigned for him, the firm backing of his Union support, and his many donors.

Poll numbers from SurveyUSA, by far the least wrong of the firms that polled more than a handfull of easy-to-call states during the Primary Season.


Boot said...

Social Security is a lot simpler than most people make it out to be. At its core, it is designed to keep our Elderly out of poverty. Our collective social morality objected to the conditions they were living in. In 1935, we established a program in which people that never paid in received benefits.

Later, the concept of Social Security AS retirement came into play. This is where Social Security fundamentally went wrong. It collected some money for the SS fund which would be used to pay them later. However, much of that “retirement” money was spent on programs that made politicians look good. They banked on future workers to pay the retirement debt that was promised.

So the gimmick of Social Security is to sell a poorly designed retirement program as a morality issue. Normal lack of Voter awareness due to lack of transparency and apathy allowed the politicians to spend the money away. Shifting an already bad system to worse.

I am a young man at 29. I do not feel I am obligated at all to pay for retirement funds to people that allowed their politicians to steal away the money that they thought was being saved for them. To be blunt, we were lied to and the burden of that lie needs to be on those who allowed themselves to believe it rather than the younger voters. This lie is the same one which Republicans so love to tell. “We lower Taxes.” This is also a lie; spending does not go down. They simply change to the Tax to debts which are effectively a Tax on the Future.

However, I am a humanitarian and believe that we should have a social program that keeps the elderly without means of income from poverty. We need to evaluate what our morality equates to in tax percentage. Historically I’ve been told it was 7% (rumor not data backed number). If (collectively) we believe we should spend more or less, then we should do so.

From my philosophy, the answers are simple. Stop sending out checks to anyone who is not at the poverty line. Social Security was designed to address the horrid living conditions of those in Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability. If you have the means to support yourself, then you will not get Aid.

B. Dewhirst said...

So long as I continue to be addressed directly, I will again note that I'm leaving...

But really, if being a scold is such a terrible strategy, why are you being such a scold?

You were done three posts ago... so I can only conclude you really enjoy 'the sound of your own voice,' and are not at all interested in cooperation.

If you aren't willing to talk with me and to address these very real problems with your position, then I'm sure some nice Maoist chaps will be by to talk sooner or later about the social costs abroad of the policies you're trumpeting.

As I said before... I'm not going to be your bootlick when what you need is someone to keep you honest... and after this abuse, I'm not willing to try to keep you honest either.

Boot said...

Earlier in the thread, HSAs were dismissed as a solution for Healthcare. I’d like to disagree with this and give an example of their use.

I come from the position of supporting single payer, universal healthcare. It hasn’t been implemented in the US for two main reasons. Firstly, those that take advantage of the existing system spend lots of money to ensure they can keep taking advantage of it. Secondly, there is a strong trend in American away from taxes/government/handouts.

HSAs can be incorporated into the system to address the second problem. Suppose we determine the cost of Universal Single Payer at $4000 per person. We tax everyone at $5000 which is less than we currently spend per capita on market based solutions. We then offer a $2000 dollar HSA card which is used as a co-pay system for all government funded programs. If you maintain your health, you get the remaining balance of the HSA as a tax break on the next year’s taxes.

From a perception standpoint, we are rewarding through tax breaks those who are not burdening the system. From a tax amount, we can clearly show that we were paying more before we moved to this system.

Obviously these numbers are not right, but I simplified things to display the concept rather than policy. For one thing, I’d want the tax to be pseudo-progressive or progressive rather than this pseudo-regressive tax.

Cliff said...

Am I the only one who’s vaguely uncomfortable with saying to the workers: “Surprise, suckers! You get to spend another four years at your factory/cubicle/secretary’s desk! Enjoy your failing health!”

I know I’m running up against the cold hard facts of life here, but I have this notion that our culture dangles the carrot of retirement out in front of people to convince them to spend their lives toiling away. It’s not a notion I like.
And, now that medical advances have given people increased healthy lifespans, I don’t like the idea of forcing them to spend their extra years at work – they’ve already worked through the prime of their lives, why should they sacrifice every year of reasonably healthy lifespan to their jobs?

I’m speaking from the POV of a childless young person who enjoys the benefits of American life (so I realize there are tremendous flaws in my logic), and I don’t have a solution to this – we’re coming up against some hard times. I just wanted to register a complaint against feeding people’s lives to the corporate grindstone in such a blasé manner.

Joshua O'Madadhain said...

quoth Boot:

...If you maintain your health, you get the remaining balance of the HSA as a tax break on the next year’s taxes.

From a perception standpoint, we are rewarding through tax breaks those who are not burdening the system.

The most fundamental problem with this--if you believe that adequate health care is a fundamental human right--is that health care needs are far from uniformly distributed. I'm fairly healthy; I generally get my teeth cleaned twice a year, and that's usually it. My infant sons need considerably more care. So do people who give birth, or get cancer, or don't actually have either hands or feet (an extreme example, perhaps, but my youngest brother is in this category--and you might be surprised what unexpected medical conditions he's subject to). A flat maximum is really not appropriate.

Certainly "adequate" is question-begging. But it's possible to agree on a definition; this was the basis for the Oregon Health Plan.

In addition, when you propose this sort of thing, it's useful to think about what behavior you're promoting. In this case, you're encouraging people to not cope with any medical problems that would drive their cost above $2000 a year.

I'm not a health policy expert, but I'm not sure you've thought this all the way through.

Travc said...

Matthew, thanks for the transparency leg link.

TPM had something about that yesterday, but focusing on McCain's 'me-too' and instead of what the bill does. Obama and Coburn(!?!) worked together on 'good government' legislation... McCain heard about it and wanted to co-sponsor too.

Jester... I agree. Edwards is my fav VP pick at this point. He isn't as much of a 'balancing the ticket' as a reinforcement and help in defining Obama. Edwards does bring Appalachia appeal, but I think it would go even deeper... Obama would actually 'frame' *himself* better by choosing Edwards.

Anyways, we have to just wait a couple of months and see what the situation looks like then.

About Soc Sec... I'd like to reiterate a point (hopefully more clearly).

Viewing Soc Sec as insurance instead of a 'retirement account' helps greatly IMO. It makes addressing the problems and coming up with rational fixes we can all agree on much easier.

From this POV, the retirement age questions just boil down to 'at what point do we assume someone is too old to reasonably expect them to work'. A means/ability test of some sort is not morally repugnant, but the implementation details are really tricky (which is why we just picked a 'retirement age' in the first place).

Framing Soc Sec as a retirement account/benefit is very problematic. That opens up all the "I don't want to pay for someone else" and the sense of "I want my money that I've paid in". In contrast, most people don't feel robbed if they have home-owner's insurance and their house doesn't burn down (or health insurance and they don't get cancer, ect ect).

Boot said...

Hi Joshua,

I listed $2000 dollars which were possible to be received back. The $3000 dollars in other taxes were to go specifically to A) Making the first $2000 dollars co-pay and B) covering everything beyond the first $2000.

There would be $0 out of pocket expense at any time. The first $2000 would be out of the HSA account. Any additional expenses would be simply covered. Obviously Single Payer Universal system needs to have some watch dogs to ensure people aren't abusing unlimited care.

It isn't a handout because those that use the system share a greater burden. ($5000 compared to $3000)

Does this address your concern?

Anonymous said...

Occam, love the zorgon digest...

BD, I appreciated the change in tone you had taken, and was listening to what you had to say, but man you need to grow some thicker skin if you are going to rally the oppressed! Or blog.

You haven't been abused, you have been faced with a cognitive dissonance. You need to resolve that for yourself, if not for us. Namely, you should give credit to the great things that have been achieved while agitating for further improvements, then resolve what is the most effective way to achieve those improvements.

Two ways to do that: evolution or revolution. The former is advocated by many here, you have concluded the latter. You have a big burden of proof, though, to move us "pragmatics" off of our position.

Things are not perfect, but historically they are better than ever. I can foresee many ways to make things better within the system. I even agree with some of your points, but you are not going to convince someone like me the way you are communicating. Think strategically!

I agree with concerns about the corporation-entity. How do we solve it? Well, we have seen a number of, more or less, successful modifications to laissez-faire capitalism that have moved us on the path to better corporations. Increased transparency has been the key to them all. There is a mistake in conflating a corporate entity with an organic entity. The corporation is made up of many people who don't want to be embarrassed in front of their friends and family, and with increased transparency that is the risk if they 1) see something done that is bad and 2) do nothing about it. (By the way, this is why the corporation as serial killer analogy fails - it is made up of non-serial killers who will not stand for it. On the other side, there is a dilution of accountability in many businesses that does lead to the egregious.)

I could choose to rail against corporations to the net, but what I actually do changes something. Part of my job is to make businesses better by using data more effectively and by helping the business leaders to figure out and deploy a business plan throughout the organization. - it creates communication lines between previously isolated managers and their workers. It gives workers an understanding of what is important to accomplish in their job - and what is not. It, in fact, increases transparency within the organization. It assigns accountability appropriately and we find, as Dr. Deming said, that 80-90% of a company's problems are problems in management, not problems due to the workers. But it also gives the managers tools to understand that and fix it.

I usually work in unionized businesses, and the unions I work with are the biggest supporters because of the increase in transparency. The "boss" can't just come down and beat you up for something that is outside of your control, or due to gut feel. Upper level managers also love this since it allows people to fulfill the company objectives creatively without top-down dictates of how it will be done. (Middle managers are the roadblock, since just at the cusp of success, we are changing the rules on them.)

The analogy I use with my clients is that we want to move a business from an orchestra (one guy telling everyone what to do by waving a stick) to a jazz band (everyone knows what needs to be done and figures how to get there together).

Now is what I do going to change the world overnight? Probably not, I conclude. But if, as I have evidence to show, these companies do better, then they survive the market and pass on these characteristics to other businesses as people change jobs and start new businesses. So I feel that my activities are making changes within the system of our modified capitalist/democratic system.

Now I don't go in and make a point to tell them that part of what happens is a change in the organization that makes it more transparent, I tell them (with evidence) that it will make them more profitable. That is the "why" - the "how" ends up with a more humane company. (For example, a colleague of mine was able to help a major heavy manufacturing company to stop killing 5 employees per year. No one wanted it to happen, they just didn't have a system to understand it and prevent it. After all of our work, it was still heavy manual labor, but it was better and the company was financially viable, so those laborers without the training to live in the nice white collar world would have a job for a while longer, so maybe their kids could.)

So I feel (and have data to show) that what I do makes a company more transparent, more profitable, gives the workers more control over their job, and results in a better (if not yet perfect) corporation that finds it more difficult to be "evil."

So, the honest question I have is how many people's lives and livelihoods have been positively impacted by BD's philosophies versus my consulting? Or, alternatively, who is making more substantive, measurable changes to the worker's lives? This is a question of pragmatism. I don't rule out revolution a priori, I just don't think that such a drastic upheaval is necessary.

Hopefully, that also answers BD's question and shows one way that transparency is pragmatically used to make business and society better.

Side note to BD, please please read this Pulitzer-prize winning article on shipbreaking before you blithely talk about exporting slavery. This is the absolute worst example that you will find that supports your thesis AND it shows why it is much more complicated than that. If we didn't buy Chinese goods, would the life of the Chinese laborers be better or worse than it is? If the West didn't send ships to Bangladesh to be broken, would the lives of the people who work there be better or worse? This is a very difficult ethical question: do we make requirements (environmental, worker rights, etc) that will directly result in people starving to death, or do we take advantage of their status but give their children a chance to escape? Do we have the right to impose our morals on others at the cost of their lives? Short of some bad sci-fi (I use the term in full knowledge) deus ex machina we are stuck in reality, and reality has hard choices and tough compromises. And sometimes there is no right answer.

Yeesh - almost as long as a Zorgon or BD post! Occam - help! :)

Travc said...

Bravo SteveO.

Boot, I think you are focusing on a relatively minor detail. If I understand you correctly, you suggest a a universal coverage system to kick in after the HSA is depleted. Well, the HSA part isn't exactly the most important or difficult part there.

B. Dewhirst said...

Alright Steve, that is too much for me to remain silent...

In 1859, you'd be arguing the black slaves are better off in chains than they would have been in Africa.

You ought to know that isn't the point, and shame on you for not knowing it.

B. Dewhirst said...

If, rather than patting the good slaveholders on the back... (and if you're confused, direct your attn. to the original title post), and had followed my advice and listened to someone smarter than I, here is what you'd be reading.


I think there's something pathological about it but it's not peculiar. I mean, if you look at it within the framework of elite perceptions, it has a kind of rationality. Short-term considerations of profit and power quite often tend to overwhelm longer-term considerations of security and welfare, even for your own children.

I mean, take environmental concerns. Take, say, lead. It was known in the early 1920s by the huge corporations that were producing lead-based products that lead was poisonous. They knew it. We now know -- there's been extensive discussion and revelations -- and they knew it right away. But they concealed it. And they paid huge amounts of money and effort and legal maneuvers and lobbying and so on to prevent any constraints on it. Well, you know, those windowsills poisoned with lead paint are going to harm their own children, but the interests of profit overwhelmed it. And that's standard.

And take, say, tobacco. It's been known for decades, from the very beginning, that it's a very poisonous product. That didn't stop the tobacco producers from trying to get everyone possible to smoke. Make women smoke, children and others -- even their own. These are conflicting demands of profit and power on the one hand, and of care about even your own family on the other hand. And very commonly profit and power win out. I think it's pathological. But it's not a pathology of individuals, it's a pathology of social institutions. ...

Suppose, for example, that there are three U.S.-based conglomerates that produce automobiles: GM, Ford, Chrysler (no longer). They were able to gain their status through substantial reliance on a powerful state, and they were able to survive the 1980s only because the president, Ronald Reagan, was the most protectionist in postwar history, virtually doubling protective barriers to save these and other corporations from being taken over by more advanced Japanese industry. But they (more or less) survive. \

Suppose that GM invests in technology that will produce better, safer, more efficient cars in twenty years, but Ford and Chrysler invest in cars that will sell tomorrow. Then GM will not be here in twenty years to profit from its investment. The logic is not inexorable, but it yields very significant anti-social tendencies. ...

There aren't any magic keys here; there are no mysterious ways of approaching things. What it takes is just what has led to progress and success in the past. We live in a much more civilized world than we did even when Forster was writing, in many respects.

Say, women's rights, or opposition to torture -- or even opposition to aggression -- environmental concerns, recognition of some of the crimes of our own history, like what happened to the indigenous population. We can go on and on. There's been much improvement in those areas. How? Well, because people like those working in alternative media, or those we never hear about who are doing social organizing, community building, political action, etc., engage themselves in trying to do something about it.

And the modes of engagement are not mysterious. You have to try and develop a critical, open mind, and you have to be willing to evaluate and challenge conventional beliefs -- accept them if they turn out to be valid but reject them if, as is so often the case, they turn out to just reflect power structures. And then you proceed with educational and organizing activities, actions as appropriate to circumstances. There is no simple formula; rather, lots of options. And gradually over time, things improve. I mean, even the hardest rock will be eroded by steady drips of water. That's what social change comes to and there are no mysterious modes of proceeding. They're hard ones, demanding ones, challenging, often costly. But that's what it takes to get a better world.

Boot said...

Hey Travc,

I agree with your point about not looking at Social Security as a retirement fund. If it were that, I'd advocate for is dismantlement rather than reform.

It seems to be that the hard part is selling it the average American. I'd be happy any number of ways to provide it.

HSAs are one tool which could be used. It's also a clever way to shift to a Health Information Card. Most people may be reluctant to sign up for something like that. However, they'd love to get their $2000 Dollar Card.

Anonymous said...

By request,
The shorter SteveO
Hey BD, in my day job I make corporations more profitable by making them more transparent. I do good and I do well.

Anonymous said...

one more
The Shorter BD,
Its tough for organizations to do the right thing; it takes education, organization and effort.

Boot said...

Sorry guys for the encouragement.

Hi BD,

What exactly is it about your system which stops unrealized costs? Self Interest doesn’t decrease when you properly redistribute the profits.

I’m of the opinion that punitive damages would better take care of the situation. If say the government discovered that BigTobacco was bad for people and that they had been hiding it, they force the company to become non-profit. They raid assets of those who profiteered off the misfortune of others at all levels. This money is then channeled into positive sources like David Brin’s Whistle Blower program and curing common forms of lung cancer.

Option 1: Continue to profit on misfortune until the company gets caught. At which point you lose your entire savings.

Option 2: You gain immunity and a healthy bonus for protecting the public good.

Yes, it’s draconian. We really do need to find ways to reward those who do the right thing and >really< punish those who do harm.

How many of you would object if we forced Oil Company to become non-profit /low-profit (1%) until Global warming was solved? (Obviously you’d also address funneling profits into top end wages.)

Original point. How do you stop BigTobacco and BigOil when you decentralize? Do you mandate the dismantlement of large corporations? Do you prevent them from reaching a certain size?

I like the idea of BigCorps. I just think we need to make the entity and the people inside accountable.

Joshua O'Madadhain said...


Thanks for your clarification. It addresses one of my concerns (large out-of-pocket costs), which is good. But it does still encourage people to use no more than $2000 worth of benefit per year. For many this will be a no-brainer, but for people whose medical conditions require more attention and for whom $3000 is a lot of money, it's a tough choice to make.

I do recognize the tension: we want there to be incentives for people to stay healthy, and at the same time we don't want to give anyone (patients, doctors, or hospitals) incentive to provide care that isn't needed or useful.

One possible refinement: have the amount that you get in the HSA, and the maximum size of the tax benefit, be a function of your perceived health _and that of the population as a whole_. That is, there's a default amount (say $2K for the sake of argument). If your typical medical bills may reasonably be expected to be below that, you're fine. If above, you go to a couple of doctors and get them to certify that your 'floor' ought to be, say, $4000.

The max size of the tax benefit is then based on how much the medical system as a whole is expected to be used (plus exogenous factors like how much in debt we are, perhaps). If everyone's expected to be healthy, the the tax benefit can be higher (because the system costs will be lower). If the expected system load is high, the tax benefit for not maxing out can be reduced--which has the nice negative feedback property that it reduces incentive to not get yourself taken care of.

There may be holes here, of course, and it does entail a bit more bureaucracy...but it can't be much compared to the current morass that our current system has, and I think it's an improvement overall.

Joshua O'Madadhain said...


Re: punitive damages--generally speaking, I much prefer solutions which discourage bad behavior on the front end, rather than punish it after it's already happened. (Insert obvious jokes about Minority Report and PreCrime here.)

I'm not necessarily as much of an advocate of transparency as some others here, but arguably these types of behaviors are some that transparency is best-suited to address.

David Brin said...

All right, that's it. BD is soooo out of here.

Telling Steve he'd be a slavery supporter was completely over the top.

Dig it, despite his being relentlessly bellicose and angry and endlessly insulting, I engaged BD for his other traits of passion and intelligence. He raised a few important points, between stomping and raging about...

But for a nasty and bellicose rage-aholic to then whimper "stop being mean to me!" is just plain silly and demeaning. Go back to the playground. You set the tone, I was honoring you by matching it.

Note, I addressed every major point he raised and he in the last five postings has not addressed one of mine. Not one. Because he can't. Because the statistics prove that society has marched forward, and our fight is over how to keep the momentum...

...and NOT how to put BD in charge so we can implement his vague but total revolution.

BD, go away now. I'll not let you treat guys like Steve that way. You can come back after the hot summer is over. If you've decided to be nice.

Oh, have a last word if you like. WTF.

Boot said...

Hi Joshua,

Maybe you can help me through your idea a bit.

How does it address the following situation…
A greedy bastard wants to get a larger tax break. In order to get this, he games the system in such a way that moves his possible break from $2000 to $4000. Say 1 year, he needed help because of a car accident. He intentionally goes to get things which will raise his HSA the next year because he knows he has already maxed out the current one (no break). This would stress the system more because of his fluff visits which nets him a tax break for the following year.

This being said, I like the idea of giving incentives to improve personal health. Perhaps we can come up with a way that doesn’t lead to abuse. How about a massage for every 3-6 hours spent in the gym? Free tickets to *desirable location* for following the *tough program* which cures a personal disease. Obviously such perks should only be offered when it ultimately saves the taxpayer money.

As you mentioned, the bureaucracy could get nasty unless we simply had a computer program which calculated it based on the Health Care Record data.


How can we discourage smoking now? Taxation? What about another point I brought up… If your product has negative effects, you must operate under a small profit cap.

The main problem I see with this is fracturing. BigCorp gets limited to 5% so BigCorp becomes BigCorp A, B, C, D, E, F, G which provide services to one another. (Each taking their 5%.) Can we really claim that BigCorpAccounting (which also does business with other companies) is really bad for the Environment? Do they even have to work under the 5% limit?

Punitive Damages could be used to discourage this behavior.

Joshua O'Madadhain said...


You don't get a bigger allocation based on past usage, but based on your doctors' assessments of how much you'll need for the _coming_ year. I was proposing that you'd need at least two doctors to provide either estimates, or assessments which would be used to derive estimates, so their collusion would be required.

(As a side note, you can use a self-correcting model to adjust future estimates based on the accuracy of past estimates or assessments--or doctors.)

I don't claim that this eliminates all abuse, but there are some safeguards.

We can discourage cigarette companies from selling cigarettes (note that I didn't say "discourage smoking"--separate problem, which gets back to health incentives) by charging them , per cigarette, based on how much burden we think they'll put on the health care system.

Or since cigarettes are a pollutant, we can treat it as an environmental problem (cap-and-trade, etc.).

Companies tend to treat the possibility of punitive damages as a calculated risk. This prevents some behavior, but I'd much rather give them penalties with 100% certainty up front if we really believe that they're doing something wrong. Plus, it's costly for the courts to have to cope with this sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Very simply, we can stop paying for everything from Prisons to Wars with taxes on Tobacco. Our government can stop taking protection money, and acting like the mob.

As long as tobacco is a source of Government revenue that can be used to patch holes in budgets in the short term, the "answer" will always be "raise the price on the junkies".

We know intellectualy, but refuse to recognize, that Nicotine is at least as addictive as heroin. Yet, most of us continue to talk about "Drugs" in one catagory and "Cigarettes and Alchohol" in a seperate catagory.

1) The congress shells out 10 billion to buy the patent for Chantix. Make it available for any Pharma company to produce and market at a ten percent mark-up. Subsidize scripts for those who still can't afford it.

2) Do not permit Tobacco taxes to be used for anything other than the treatment of Tobacco addicts, and information campaigns.

3) Restrict the sale of Tobacco to businesses selling nothing else. No more smokes at the Liqour store or gas station.

This will make it far, far harder for kids to get smokes, and reduce the constant temptation for those trying to quit.

4) Subsidized in-patient rehab. Rehab works, and works even better combined with approriate medication.

Market rules do not apply to addiction. We've seen for a long time that addiction is most prevelant among the communities where people are least able to afford it.

Nicotine reduces stress and anxiety. It's incredebily effective at supressing emotion. It's a mood "leveler".

Is it any wonder that a much higher percentage of those suffering from severe financial stresses and anxiety use it?

Should we be suprised that people who have good cause to fear being randomly murdered during a walk to the grocery store smoke in far higher numbers and quit in far lower numbers than the gated community crowd?

Increasing that anxiety through a higher tax on the drug is not the way to get people to quit. If that was effective, the War on Drugs would have succeeded years ago.

As long as budgets can be balanced on the back of a villianized class of sick people, the vast majority of whom GOT sick as adolescents lacking adult judgement, none of these things will happen.

Anonymous said...

Wow, BD, I expected you to avoid the question (who's work helps more workers, yours or mine?) and attack, but I lost my bet with myself - I thought you would claim that since I work with businesses I am on the side of evil. Didn't see the slavery thing coming. But it is good to know that you can read my mind and tell me what I am thinking, "and shame on [me] for not knowing it."

Um. In your indignation-junkie rush (now I am reading YOUR mind) you missed the fact that the shipbreaker example supports your argument that the West profits on the back of the third world, but that it also highlights the simplicity of your viewpoint.

Here: I give you the ultimate power to either allow or stop shipbreaking in Bangladesh. Also, child labor in oriental carpet factories. Do you allow it and allow these men and children to work in what might very well be part of an endless cycle of poverty and shortened lives, but who can bring home just enough money to where their family can eat enough to survive and maybe, just maybe, some of their children can get an education and escape? Or do you choose to shut them down, and stop their suffering - permanently - because they starve to death? Honestly, either position is ethically defensible, and both are abhorrent. Yet we have to make a choice.

Do you buy cheap goods made from Chinese labor? Because if you do you support harsh labor conditions, but also the greatest improvement in living conditions the world has ever seen. Or do you not so as to preserve the dignity of the Chinese worker, but also mourn for the poor Chinese workers who cannot get a job to provide for his or her family since you have chosen to spend your unneeded disposable income (a product of our modified capitalist society) in a way that does not get back to them?

What I am saying is that in the real world there are more complexities and consequences of our actions than you are accounting for. I don't like either choice, but I have to take a position on them since I am part of a society that benefits from them, directly or indirectly.

Using slavery as an analogy is silly since there are few if any parallels, but even so it hurts your case since transparency (and changing social norms and understandings) will never allow slavery *once uncovered*.

I don't deny that there are many people in the world who must work or die, or even that we in the West (directly and indirectly) take advantage of it. But our greedy society not taking advantage of them does not make happy people in the third world either. (Sorry for the double negative...) In fact, it might make them dead.

Now your whole post after the slavery one I agree with EXCEPT you refuse to see that in all those cases (lead, environment, tobacco) the system fixed itself (at great human cost, yes) due to what you seem to consider mythical - increasing transparency. And fixed itself in a way that decreases the likelihood of that ever happening again. Ask yourself if a common additive known to be as dangerous as lead would be allowed today - it is impossible. Could a product as dangerous and addictive as tobacco be approved for use today? Out of the question. The recent flap over lead in Chinese toys is a case in point - there are people out there who test toys and publicize this stuff, which even 20 years ago would not have happened. (Note that does not mean all products are safe, but we are talking multiple orders of magnitude less dangerous when we talk about BPA in baby bottles - and even THAT finding proves that there is increasing transparency!)

What I know is strange to me, and I think our host, is that you keep asking for how transparency will make society/business better, and yet you are surrounded by, and a product of, examples of it. Like a fish who does not believe in water, you can't see what is all around you.

Reasonable people may disagree over the best way to achieve common objectives. What I am saying is that I don't think it is necessary to scrap a system that both capitalizes on and limits human greed, since I think that aspect of humanity will be around longer than religion. I think we can change the system evolutionarily to make it better and achieve those objectives we hold in common. For example, I work with CEOs and I think they should be paid a lot, because what the best of them do is take responsibility and the risk and provide what is really a scarce and valuable commodity - leadership. But I also think that in the US they are generally paid too much. Shall we take away that great pay by fiat? If so, they go away and the good ones (e.g. as in Collins' Good to Great) are lost to someone who will pay. And I can tell you what has happened at *every single company* I have been to that tried to give front line workers that type of authority (a fad in the late 80's and early 90's) - they failed because the workers did not want it. They know they do not have the information or training to make such decisions,and they certainly don't have the pay to take those risks. But there is a way to empower them to do *their* job if they have: 1) knowledge and tools to do the job, 2) responsibility and accountability, and 3) authority within their span of control.

So going back to my area of expertise: How do we make business not do evil things in secret? Make it really dang hard to have secrets. This is made simpler since it actually makes a company healthier, more profitable, more interesting to work for, and increases its longevity. And by the time the bad guys (<1% in my experience) realize they can't hide behind "the company" and its secrecy facade anymore, it is too late.

Thanks Occam - you and your razor are needed here!

And thanks Dr. B, both for the forum and for pointing out how unwarranted it was to conclude I support slavery! :-) A genius to be sure...

David Brin said...

Steve, you're welcome. That was so outrageous that - lacking an apology to you, he is gone. Too bad, since he really was entertaining at time and we do need a crypto-anarchist-utopian around here. Just not a-28-daysafter rage-aholic.

Still, I do think that the outrageous CEO compensations of recent years show what Adam Smith was talking about -- the inherent tendency of free markets to be FAR more endangered by crony cheating than they ever are from socialist levellers and bureaucrats. The cabal of 1,000 golf buddies have gone on a great klepto raid and they never parse:

The theory of capitalism is that high wages should attract competitors, right? Talent should leave science, the arts, and flood into CEO-type management... until the absurd wages drop! But that never happens.

In other words, they are the very worst sorts of hypocrites. Sorry.

(Not all CEOs of course. That is a huge caste. But those in the interlocking directorate cabal are enemies of free enterprise, far worse than Lenin or bakunin or even BD.

Travc said...

Probably a dead thread now... but just in case BD (and others) are still following.

Appealing to the authority of Chomsky isn't terribly convincing (unless we are discussing computational linguistics). I have it on good authority (first hand from students and peers of Chomsky) that he is a master bullshitter. Yeah, he is very smart, but he is also extremely reluctant to admit any ignorance, and instead typically responds by authoritatively spouting mountains of info which doesn't actually logically support his argument.

Humm... that seems much more relevant to the debate than I initially thought it would be.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of a dead thread...

Getting back to Social Security...

What about a doughnut hole increase in withholding (from 200,000 or 250,000 to 500,000) COMBINED with allowing those who refrain from taking their SS when they qualify for it to earn up to the current cap (95k right now roughly) tax free?

Totally tax free.

Lower-income workers, who are generally the ones who do more physical labor, would still be able to take full benefit at 69.

Higher income workers who are still willing and able to work would have a big incentive to keep doing so, and we could certainly consider them to have "earned it" through their greater input into SS.

Since most seniors, particularly seniors who were in the top quintile, no longer have a home mortage deduction or kids to write off, it seems to me this would be an atractive deal.

I don't see this as only applying to salaray, but to IRAs and 401ks too. You could withdraw 95k from your IRA tax free the year you turned 69 if you didn't take your Social Security that year.

Obviously, the exact numbers change over time with inflation.

David McCabe said...

I had suspected that about Chomsky. He just seems to know more than a person ought to be able to, and can win every argument simply by having ten times as many facts at hand than any opponent. Maybe that does make his conclusions wiser -- after all, wouldn't we all make better choices if we had data implants? -- but it's a bit suspicious. Anyone?

On the other hand, no one. With DB's permission, I would like to call: THE END OF THIS THREAD.

Shantih! Shantih! Shantih!

B. Dewhirst said...

You're all welcome to enjoy your unquestioned self-reinforcing delusions and your hypocritical standards that you're above concern for the consequences of your actions because "something worse might happen."

Obviously, if I can't recognize you've supposedly responded to all 'five' of my points, then you've failed.

You've repeatedly speculated as to the nature of my own mind, implying that I am "yelling" or "enraged," so you've got no leg to stand on when I indicate the equivalency of your stated position and a historical position I feel is equivalent by using the convention 'if... then you would believe...'

If you're so upset about being compared to slavers, you ought to be pretty damn sure I'm wrong before you dismiss it out of hand.

Something worse can always happen, but this does not abrogate your responsibility.

"Dig it," I was trying to illuminate my point of view:

As far as I am concerned, you are involved in slavery right now.

You're all pretty allergic to the idea that something other than capitalism is possible... yet, your "capitalism we're going to fix" is as fictional as anything I might suggest in 1000 words or less.