Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Who benefits from the politics of outrage?

Outrage-industryThe authors of The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility, have offered an interesting and balanced article on Politico appraising why so much of the media has become polemical and angry-immature, here and now in the 21st Century.  In Are Americans Addicted to Outrage? -- Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj suggest that we the viewers are to blame, by flocking to the hate-waves for our daily doses of sanctimonious thrill.
And, of course, at one level they are right….
And yet, we should note that this cynical payoff is not homogeneous or uniform:
(1) MSNBC's profits are a fifth those of Fox.  Moreover, as Berry and Sobieraj point out "talk radio, which is more than 90 percent conservative, offered only a modest selection of liberal programs, all with much smaller audiences; as a result, only two of the 10 radio programs we studied are oriented toward liberal audiences."
(2)  The liberal stations favor a return to "fairness rules," even though those doctrines, if once again enforced, would compel them to change their business practices, inviting top opponents to offer rebuttals onscreen. In contrast, Fox and Clear Channel and the outrage industry of the right act as if they are utterly terrified of the prospect that their audiences might hear one minute of rebuttal for every 20 minutes of biased ranting. That is a fundamental difference, not one of just amount.
politics-outrge(3) Who does it all serve?  Follow the beneficiaries. There are reasons that Fox is co-owned by the Sa'udi Royal House and that coal and other carbon barons finance the right's propaganda machine.
And yes, Big Labor influences the left.  Granted. Only ask yourselves this.  Which power center is growing, and which has become… pathetic… during the last generation? Is there, even theoretically, any level that the labor movement can decline to, when you'd admit "Okay, I'm not afraid of them, anymore… and maybe there are other, rising centers of influence that are a bit more worrisome"?
== The beneficiaries of broken politics ==
It isn't all about carbon barons though.  Much discussion has recently focused on the skyrocketing disparities in both wealth and income between the very richest 0.01% and the hard-pressed U.S. middle class.  While the ratio between a company's average employee wage and that of its CEO was in the teens and twenties in the glory-days of American capitalist entrepreneurship… the 1950s, 60s etc.
CEO--pay-ratioAmerica now has by far the biggest disparities. Major U.S. execs now pull in, on average, over 350 times the pay of America’s rank-and-file workers. Even the most successful Japanese firms, by contrast, don't exceed ratios of seventy to one. See a global comparison of CEO to Worker Pay Ratios.
This will get clearer, soon. "The federal Securities and Exchange Commission, after four years of delay, will likely release this year new regulations that require America’s top corporations to annually reveal the ratio between their CEO and median worker compensation, a disclosure that the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act mandates."
The aspect to all of this that I find most surprising -- as I illustrated in the year 2040, in EXISTENCE -- is the notion among today's conservatives that this trend might simply go on and on, without reaching an inflection or tipping point. Without eventually raising the kind of radicalism and push-back that has not been seen in American life since the 1930s.
== Push back begins ==
In Massachusetts, nurses have collected over 100,000 signatures for an initiative that would levy fines against any hospital in the state, profit or nonprofit, that compensates its CEO over 100 times the hospital’s lowest-paid worker.  In Switzerland last year, young activists ran a referendum campaign to cap Swiss CEO pay at 12 times worker wages. This pay cap proposition was running even in the polls until an ad blitz sent the measure to defeat.
percentage-signCould 2014 be Year One of the Pay Ratio Era? A vigorous article at Truthout -- while of course partisan -- nevertheless makes a strong case that these measures portend a rebellion brewing, against what I've called the Oligarchic Putsch -- the transformation of America from a diamond-shaped society, dominated by an empowered middle class, more toward the classic pyramid of privileged (and largely inherited) power that dominated 99% of human cultures across 6000 years.
In fact, though, let me briefly give voice to my libertarian side: I do not see this disparity being solved by simple-minded ratio laws.  Socialist decrees and price-setting are not a long-term or even desirable solution.
What is needed is a return to the principles of Teddy Roosevelt - that market economics is best when it is competitive,  This would require, especially, the breaking up of a cartel of cheaters, restoring the natural synergies and feedback mechanisms of capitalism!  Think about it --
== If you truly believe in market forces… ==
By capitalist theory, high rates of compensation in a particular field of human endeavor should attract talented people from other professions, drawing them to compete with these top-CEO guys, thus swelling the pool of managerial talent until prices… go… down!
Nothing could be more fundamental.  It is basic market forces 101. It is the sine qua non, and the whole justification for competitive enterprise. Supply rising to meet high demand. No matter what the field of endeavor, whether it be the availability and pricing of local plumbers or the allocation of fields to next year's wheat or soybean crops, or hedge betting on interest rates - markets are supposed to self-correct great imbalances.
Failure of this to happen is prima facie evidence for collusion and cheating.
This is so basic that it bears reiterating in other words: If capitalism works, then these high CEO wages should be attracting brilliant talent from elsewhere, till demand meets supply and the wages fall.  How can supposed defenders of capitalism proclaim their fealty to a system that they, themselves manipulate to fail in its core process?
Essential-man-CEO1-  On the rare occasion when a member of this caste comments on this contradiction, here is their excuse. At the very highest managerial level, they are irreplaceable!  They are in effect calling themselves "mutant geniuses" like NBA basketball players -- worth any price. And hence, market forces do not apply to their own compensation. (See: The Syndrome of the Essential Man.)
Only, this comparison fails.  For top NBA players are fiercely measured by statistics. Explicit performance parameters, not only in scoring but in ticket sales. But not one study has ever verified a clear correlation of CEO compensation with long range company success.  In fact, fudging and obscuring any such metrics would appear to be a top priority of the cartel.

In fact, NBA player salaries would not be this high but for the strength of their union. A huge irony, as CEOs cite them in justification. That parallel strengthens the notion of a cartel!  Only dig this: even the rich-powerful NBA players do not control their own statistical performance appraisals, the way that the CEO cartel does. Mutant geniuses, indeed!
2- The cartel is maintained by a system that was supposed to be banished more than 100 years ago.  Interlocking directorships, in which companies that are purportedly in competition with each other feature amazing overlap in their boards. Oh, there are efforts to keep these relationships "once-removed," substituting partners and family members, or appointing each other onto the boards of companies that aren't in direct competition… Gerbers and Boeing, for example, thus evading any enforcement of  the creaky, (needful of tuning) anti-trust laws. It still amounts to "vote to raise my compensation and I'll vote to raise yours."
Can stockholders fight this?  Many have tried, but systems of shell corporation ownership enable contrivances where a few men can control major enterprises with very small boiled-down minority share ownership. And most small stock-holders (let's be frank) never exert their proxies. If corporations truly are our future form of governance, then "owner democracy" is going to have to be refreshed with more fairness, or (again) people will start to radicalize.
GuidedAllocation3- Critics of socialism cite Friedrich Hayek and proclaim that any control over an economy by the state -- by civil servants -- will fail. Because, no matter how smart a set of top-down allocators are, they will be foolish simply because their numbers are few.  Because of limited diversity of knowledge and insight and perspective.
In-groups are delusional. It wasn't just Hayek who said this.  So did Adam Smith. And so testifies the horrifically bad statecraft of 99% of oligarchy-led human cultures.
Indeed, history does show that narrow castes of "allocators" do inevitably perform poorly, over the long run.  State-capitalist mercantilist trade empires like Japan and China have done well in stretching out their successful phase. But we know the inevitable end-game, as complexity and chaos and lack of market correction inevitably prove the limits of in-group hubris.
So sure, I don't want the government "picking winners and losers" … that is, unless there is a clear and proved need to lay extra weight on certain market forces, for the sake of our kids -- e.g. to encourage the development of efficient and sustainable technologies, for example.  And national defense.  And vital infrastructure. And fulfilling Adam Smith's goal of maximizing the fraction of kids ready to compete… and…
But still, beyond that sort of thing, I know that state -controlled "allocation" can be clumsy, inefficient and wrongheaded, compared to the wisdom of mass markets!  Let us always remember that there is a core essence to libertarianism and conservatism that (despite recent craziness) should have a place at the table.  Extreme statists are just as bad as oligarchists.
hayek-road-serfdomOnly in that case…  how is a secretive cartel of 10,000 or so conniving, back-room-dealing, circle-jerking, self-interested golf buddies intrinsically better allocators than say 500,000 skilled, educated, closely-watched and reciprocally competitive civil servants?  Both groups suffer from delusional in-group-think, Hayek had a good point.  But the smaller clade - more secretive and inward-looking, uncriticized and motivated solely by conniving greed - is inherently more likely to fail.
Again, 6000 years of history testify to that. Capitalism only started taking off and prospering when capitalism agreed to wear a leash.
== What's needed? ==
We need fierce measures to stop interlocking directorships and the in-group mutual stroking of 10,000 golf buddies -- a criminal conspiracy that not only has stolen billions but runs diametrically opposite to the entire notion of competitive enterprise.
We need to demand that hypocrites either stop pretending to believe in market forces, or else show us those market forces at work, correcting a blatant campaign of theft from citizens and stockholders.
We need to break up the worst cartel of all, the "seated members" of the great stock, securities and commodities exchanges, an archaic arrangement that serves no benefit to people or capitalism -- especially in the new era of electronic trading -- and one that amounts to pure, vampiric parasitism.  All seats should be converted into ten, tomorrow, with nine of them to be sold off to the widest diversity of bidders. Or else, let Google handle all trades for 0.001%. You think they can't?

Want a radical reform? That still stays loyal to Adam Smith and enterprise markets?  Simple. Hayek said markets work best when everybody knows mostly everything!  Hence, there is no excuse for hidden-secret ownership. If you control something, you should have to openly avow "I own that!" There are no viable rationalizations not to require this, which would help every honest businessperson and citizen on the planet, and undermine cheaters everywhere.
TransactionFeeTerminateFinally, tomorrow, for the sake of our children, we must inpose what more advanced nations in Europe and Asia have imposed -- a tiny High Frequency Trading (HFT) transaction fee.  Just 0.1% or one thousandth per trade would push these fellows back into earning their livings by helping real humans to find value differences or gradients that are useful to genuine investers or sellers. See my article: A Transaction Fee Might Save Capital Markets...and Protect us from the Terminator?  This is urgent, in some very surprising ways.
Now please take careful note: not one of my proposals is leftist or anti-capitalist. Adam Smith would have no trouble with any of it.  Every single item that I raised would have the effect of invigorating markets by re-establishing actual competition.
These measures are inevitable, as the boomer generation's delusions start to fade and we become aware - again - of humanity's perpetual problem of class.   problem that seemed to vanish - in America - for an entire human lifespan, because of rooseveltean reforms and the burgeoned middle class.  

As that era passes, and we face our duty to renew and restore the social contract, proposals like the ones I offered (above) will come to the table. When these reforms start looming the best course for the rich and members of the cartel would be to negotiate, since the first wave of reforms will aim to -- as FDR did -- actually save capitalism from the otherwise inevitable volcanic fury of the sinking classes.
CompetitionAlas, as happened when the First Estate fought all-or-nothing for their privileges, in 1789 France, that negotiation will probably not happen. (See Class War and the Lessons of History.) Instead, lacking a Roosevelt, there will instead be dullard obstinacy.  We'll hear howls of outrage by a rising oligarchy and their media shills. 

But don't be fooled. That is noise rising from the ancient enemies of market enterprise.  Not socialism, but a far more deadly destroyer of fair markets -- feudalism. And they have no idea that modern versions of tumbrels are being fashioned, by their own hands.


Alex Tolley said...

These measures are inevitable
I don't believe so. The hyper-wealthy can now live anywhere they choose and capital flow restrictions are still minimal. When the C21st tumbrels arrive, unlike the French aristocracy living in France, the hyper-wealthy will be living out of reach, mostly untouchable. They will be protected by private armies...I mean, police and security. Other countries ahead of the US in terms of inequalities show that feudal-like systems are viable, and that dissent is repressible. The pyramid shape of wealth distribution has proven most stable across the centuries and the temporary, "diamond shaped" social system of the US (which I still maintain is an illusion, unsupported by the data) will prove a C20th, primarily US, anomaly.

I do not see this disparity being solved by simple-minded ratio laws
Of course not. What will work (mostly) is:
1. Steep progressive taxation
2. TRANSPARENCY of earnings and capital flows
3. A much simplified tax structure.
4. Jail for promoters and users of clever tax avoidance schemes.
Unfortunately this is all stick and no carrot. The carrots have been used up.

The problem, as KSR might opine, is how do we get there from here? I admit I don't know. It is going to take measures to change the composition of all levels of government (not just parties, but the type of person in government) and a general defanging of the propaganda machine that plays on the mental structures of people susceptible to it. The memes that allow the "Kansas problem" need to be exposed and ridiculed until the believers change their minds. My guess is that it will require at least one more generation, perhaps more, for this to work. All the while the delaying tactics will be used to prevent systemic change.

My fear is that the "tumbrels" may come, and like the French Revolution, we will repeat the same mistakes resulting in a new strongman to lead the country. France was a great power that was being threatened by the emerging great power of Britain. We are seeing similar parallels in the US today with the emergence of China. The result won't be pretty.

Jayarava said...

Hey David,

The outline you give for American is broadly true of New Zealand where I grew up, and the UK where I live now. I pretty much agree with what's needed. Protection from cartels of golf buddies; transaction taxes, etc. I'd add a debt jubilee along the lines suggested by Prof. Steve Keen because private debt has built up to alarming levels and helps keep us enslaved to the cartels.

Regarding the outrage thing (as I tweeted) I think the intense emotions act like addictions (hence the addictive nature of gambling or sex). Emotions are mainly about hormones in the blood. Glands and synapses take time to recharge. Over stimulate them and they cannot keep responding. So either we have to increase the frequency of stimulation, or the intensity, or both. One book on this stuff I recommend is Pleasure by David Linden. It explains the mechanisms involved. Fear and anxiety are covered by Joseph LeDoux in his books, but the intensity thing probably still holds.

I think the golf buddy cartels exploit this aspect of our physiology. Not as a conspiracy, but just because they all read Ayn Rand and use psych-majors to tweak their content to catch our attention in an increasingly busy attention grabbing world. It's shared values on their part rather than a grand conspiracy.

I agree that your agenda is not leftist, but in the spirit of reforming capitalism. I think this is probably the best way to go, given how people actually are.

These new ultra-libertarians that took over the Western world in the early 70s are parasites. The world needs worming so it can be healthy again.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - No doubt you will get the drive HFT apologists using the liquidity justification to counter the demand for a Tobin tax on trading.

However I recently read that it is a rigged game. The exchanges provide order types that allow the trader to get in front of earlier trades - in effect illegally front-running trade orders. What is disturbing is that the exchanges have provided this feature, undermining their own rules. Clearly it is yet another "hehe, let's scalp the suckers", a mentality so prevalent in those whose job is finance.

For Superfast Stock Traders, a Way to Jump Ahead in Line

The Wall Street Code: HFT Whisteblower Haim Bodek on Algorithmic Trading

Carl M. said...

Here's a fairly simple reform I'd go for: how about some reporting of salaries and compensation? I was going through GM's annual report the other day in order to verify or dispel claims of overpaid unionized workers and/or management. I couldn't find the info on any compensation. I couldn't even find a breakdown of what the total costs of salaries for the business were. How much was labor and how much was parts? The information is not available to the general shareholder -- at least not through the annual report or the mandated reports I could find at Yahoo Finance.

Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place, but this information ought to be easy to find.

How about a histogram of compensation by percentile? This provides a bit of financial privacy to the managers while alerting raiders and conscious capitalism mutual funds of overpaid top management.

Owners of a corporation ought to entitled to such info. On the other hand, we should shitcan lots of the mandatory boilerplate and CYA crap that fills up annual reports. It's the job of investors and their advisors to analyze competition and other outside-generated failure modes. Mandated reporting should be limited to what the managers have done and have contracted to do. Forward looking statements should be viewed as what top management is assuming. If you think they are wrong, fire the managers or sell the stock.

BTW, I am in the process of creating a web site a bunch of reforms that could put some teeth into shareholder oversight. I'm also going to write about market manipulation -- a serious problem with penny stocks. And no, speed of trading is not the problem. But there are some extremely serious problems not currently addressed.

And yes, I'll include simple rules to deal with top management which lies in order to manipulate stock prices to their advantage.

Stay tuned.

Paul451 said...

"I do not see this disparity being solved by simple-minded ratio laws."

And in practice it can't work. It merely encourages "structural" companies. You spin off your rank and file employees to a wholly-owned labour-hire company, while the CEO works for a wholly-owned "management consultancy" where the lowest paid employee is also an executive. If the maximum legal ratio is, say 50:1 highest:lowest, then a single split gives you 2500:1 available ratio. (For 12:1, you'd want at least three splits.)

The only companies that would be caught by the law will be those too small or simple to fight it structurally, meaning you have what amounts to a "tax exemption" for large companies, plus a new pile of red tape for businesses to go through (what is "salary"? Stock options? If so, what if the CEO is actually the SME owner-operator? Are we thus including company profits as "salary"?).

The reason CEO wages were closer to average in the 50's and 60's was because the tax rates were so high, both income and cap gains. There was no incentive to raise executive wages. Instead you looked for non-income benefits like company account/car/holiday.

"a tiny High Frequency Trading (HFT) transaction fee."

Just moves the "game" to the order-cancel side.

The tax would need to apply at the order level, not at the buy/sell level. And be a fixed amount regardless of the size of the order.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 a tiny High Frequency Trading (HFT) transaction fee."

Just moves the "game" to the order-cancel side.

The tax would need to apply at the order level, not at the buy/sell level. And be a fixed amount regardless of the size of the order.

I'm not sure I understand this. I think you are saying that the problem is the multiple orders and cancellations of those orders to game the system that needs to be taxed, rather than just the actual executed trades.

Can you clarify?

The Physicist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Physicist said...

Nothing will happen so long as the monetary bar for gaining political office is so high that only a few professions or those with old wealth or huge entrepreneurial successes can dream of running for office. And that won't change because those in that position now are determined to keep public office the province of the wealthy. If the playing field is more level, they have a greater chance of losing their job.

Look at the distribution of professions in our legislature. 90% of our lawmakers are lawyers, and a large percentage of them are old money (entrepreneurs tend to prefer going around the government with charity work instead of wasting their time fighting in congress). Even Elizabeth Warren, one of the most pro-equality legislators in a long time, is a lawyer, and she only had enough funds to get in because she was against another person also running on grassroots funding; if she had faced an old money candidate the spending disparity would have driven her into the ground. Is it any wonder that policy having to do with anything other than law is a mess? When there isn't a single qualified person representing a field in the entirety of government, it can't help but be represented poorly.

The Physicist said...

Also blogger needs to let users edit comments, instead of forcing you to delete and re-post if something is wrong.

Jim Baca said...

One wonders why there has been no backlash up to this point. I keep waiting to see more stories of workers kidnapping their CEO's and subjecting them to justice. Have modern people turned into wimps?

Anonymous said...

"Who benefits from the politics of outrage?"

Advertisers. You identify the political beneficiaries: reactionary authoritarian leaders, but the money trail goes right to advertisers and media owners.

Because advertising is a distraction from content it works the best with content which requires some distraction to avoid being exposed as mediocre crap. So local newspapers and TV news, talk radio, talking heads, all these things require something like advertising. And advertising, because it is a distraction, needs to be paired with content where a distraction isn't going to break the flow or noticeably break the "level" of conversation. Garbage begets garbage.

For a long time advertising has been a way for publishers and broadcasters to print money. Where publishing and multicast media have made content much less expensive to produce and distribute, the free revenue of advertising is both less needed and less welcome. Business models for journalism which don't use advertising are the only way for the news to move past disingenuous outrage.

LarryHart said...

If this forum isn't going to discuss Chris Christie, surely some discussion of net-neutrality is in order?

Tony Fisk said...

LarryHart beat me to it.

News about the Supreme Court striking down the concept of net neutrality is reported in the LA Times

Tony Fisk said...

...my apologies, a Washington Appeals court.

No comment from the EFF as yet

TheMadLibrarian said...

I own shares in a dozen companies, but since I am not a multibillionaire, any choices I get in the annual shareholders report are pretty unimportant: choose 5 of the following 10 people to rotate onto the board of directors, choose 1 of the 3 companies listed to perform accounting and auditing functions, etc. I am almost never offered a choice that could actually affect the way my companies do business. Even selling my stock is largely irrelevant as an individual; it's like the barnacles on the side of a cargo ship affecting its steering.

preope: opinion before the opinion

locumranch said...

David's assessment of the current US socioeconomic situation, including what he calls the 'oligarchic putsch', is exceptionally accurate excepting that he manages to come to exactly to the wrong conclusions as to its situational cause and solutions, possibly due to his progressive moral bias.

Like a scientist who demands that his results conform to his hypothesis, David demands 'more of the same' in terms of progressive results-- more social justice, more reforms, more bread and more circuses -- in the hopes that a new 'New Deal' will produce a different social outcome than the dysfunctional present created by the old 'New Deal' that lead us here. A surprising assumption, I grant you, made even more surprising by his previous expose of the GOP conservative party's counter-intuitive stand on Illegal Immigration, being publicly against while implicitly supportive of its depressive effect on US labour costs.

This common disconnect between stated social policy and actual consequence is well-known to David but, like any partisan, he has difficulty acknowledging this when it impacts his core beliefs. Hence progressive statements offering (1) Education as a solution to unemployment when it serves the actual purpose of keeping many young people unemployed & out of the workforce with the promise of better jobs for a select few, (2) Social Security & Medicare as a moral obligation to our elderly when it serves the same purpose of education, speeding geriatric exit from our over-populated workforce and (3) Welfare & Food Stamps as a solution to poverty when it serves the actual purpose of institutionalizing the very poverty-based social inequalities that it claims to eradicate.

Perhaps it is time for David to put his intellectual currency where his progressive mouth is. If he really believes in competition, social self-correction & Smithian principles, then he should stop his progressive social tinkering & allow our society to self-correct without the social mollification strategies which keep our kings in their counting-houses.

How long do you think our oligarchic robber barons would last without the consolation of the welfare pittance, food stamps, SNIP, SNAP, social security, bread & circuses? They would be swinging from lamp posts in no time, dancing to the music of the wind, along with selected management from the BP Deep Horizon, Fukishima, Chemical Polluters, AIG & Goldman-Sachs, a self-preventing prophecy made tangible, unreformed but incapable of recidivism.

The true etymology of the term 'outrage' has nothing to do with out or rage. Rather, it is a borrowing from French term 'outrage', meaning 'extravagant; excessive; immoderate' in the sense of "the passing beyond reasonable bounds" until its meaning narrowed in English toward violent excesses because of the folk etymology of out (meaning 'expel') + rage (meaning 'passion' or 'fury').

Obviously, Americans are NOT addicted to 'outrage' in its modern form or we would not suffer fools so gladly. If only we were ...


Tim H. said...

The fragmentation of media aids outrage, a person can be isolated from most dissent, with the exception of the occasional strawman. Folks who so choose can be subjected to the world according to Roger Ailes, or, with some digging, nearly any other possible political view, to the point that my Aunt can view the President of the United States, who acts more conservatively than (The underappreciated) Gerald R. Ford as a dangerous socialist.

Tim H. said...

Paul451, your suggested evasion of executive compensation limits would work, but would hopefully fuel shareholder resentment. The .1% can be a bit thick outside of their specialties, but they're not stupid.

Tim H. said...

Tony Fisk, the net neutrality decision might point to a future where you pay for fast broadband, yet don't see faster downloads, unless you choose a site blessed with priority. Business-critters do enjoy piling straw on the backs of camels, don't they?

Paul451 said...

Tim H,
"your suggested evasion of executive compensation limits would work, but would hopefully fuel shareholder resentment."

Why would shareholders resent it? Any more than they resent existing structural arrangements to avoid or minimise regulation/taxes/risk/etc.

Acacia H. said...

By the way, Dr. Brin, I thought you might want to consider this article in regards to the Contrary Brin blog. Because to be honest? I think your articles and blog posts are losing some of their impact when you constantly link to your own books "to prove a point" in your discussion.

People come here for your insights. If they enjoy your insight or the discussion they have, then they'll buy the books. And there are plenty of links for those books elsewhere. They can find it without constantly having it beaten around the head.

Just something to consider.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

How long do you think our oligarchic robber barons would last without the consolation of the welfare pittance, food stamps, SNIP, SNAP, social security, bread & circuses?

Since welfare is only a relatively recent phenomenon, mostly early to mid C20th, why wasn't oligarchic overthrow by the peasants more common in the past? And where it doesn't exist today, why is it that leadership is changed primarily through the military, not the people. Even in ancient Rome, the emperors were most often unseated by the military. The French Revolution was fomented by the fed bourgeoisie, not the starving (let them eat cake) underclasses.

Tony Fisk said...

Something a little off topic, but reminiscent of the opening pages of 'Sundiver'

LarryHart said...


Because to be honest? I think your articles and blog posts are losing some of their impact when you constantly link to your own books "to prove a point" in your discussion.

Do you see that on this blog? It seems to me that Dr Brin mentions his own stuff primarily in the context of mentioning predictions that have come true. Which is possible to find annoying, I suppose, but it doesn't seem to be what that article is talking about.

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

Business-critters do enjoy piling straw on the backs of camels, don't they?

In the early 1990s, a movie could get a sure audience-applause reaction by displaying gratuitous contempt for HMOs and such.

These days, the zeitgeist in the air is something more like "arrogant despots finally get their comeuppance" as in "The Hunger Games" series.

Neither of us has to spend much time wondering why that is.

Tony Fisk said...

That 'zeitgiest' is also seen in the ongoing popularity of zombie movies. It would, perhaps, be a little more accurate for movie scenario to depict a diminishing band of elite undead seeking refuge from a tsunami horde of enraged humanity.


LarryHart said...

@Tony Fisk,

According to Dr Brin, zombie movies are about the evil rabble vs the elite protagonists.

It's vampire movies that are about evil aristocrats vs the regular-guy protagonist.

But to your point, I am not a fan of the current zombie craze, but you are right that there must be a reason it is so popular.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Because to be honest? I think your articles and blog posts are losing some of their impact when you constantly link to your own books "to prove a point" in your discussion.

I don't see that either,
What I do see (and like) is the links to all of the older Brin rants,
with their comments
Which is very useful

Tim H. said...

Paul451, I would expect that conspicuously excessive compensation would cause many shareholders to wonder about dividends that might've been, or needed investments foregone, to pay those immense salaries, structural changes to preserve that level of pay would surely salt those wounds further.

locumranch said...

The concept of 'welfare' -- basic sustenance provided to individuals in order to stabilize the community -- is as old as time. Juvenal described this process, employed by the Roman ruling classes to placate the fickle masses with food & entertainment, as 'bread & circuses' (2nd Century)

Although a fairly common historical phenomenon, peasant revolts are rarely successful in the absence of military support because moral, financial & legal authority are no match for 'blood & iron', as in 'an unarmed revolutionary is merely a dead criminal'.

This is a hard lesson, forgotten by most dilettantes, that 'might makes right', 'power comes from the muzzle of a gun' and 'authority must be purchased with blood'.

Of course, there are, have been & will always be peaceful political transitions, but the unspoken power behind them, what keeps the contract-breaker in check, the elephant in the room, is the threat of overwhelming brutal force.

You can download the lite version of F. A. Hayek's 'The Road to Serfdom' at www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/upldbook43pdf.pdf‎


Paul451 said...

There is an exception to the long term trend towards less violence.

Pew Research claims religious violence is at a six year high.


Percentage of countries with abuses of minority religions has nearly doubled. Percentage of countries with severe restriction on religious freedom has doubled. Percentage of countries with reports of harassment of women over religious dress codes had almost quintupled. Rates of mob violence and terrorism related to religion have doubled. Sectarian violence has tripled.

Rodney said...

But some say transparency disclosure of CEO-to-worker pay ratios is counter-productive. It not only gives executives a good idea of how much they can get away with asking for, but peer benchmarking leads to Lake Wobegon effect: every C.E.O. gets treated as above average, and salaries ratchet inexorably higher. (This is taken from:
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2013/10/21/131021ta_talk_surowiecki )

Alex Tolley said...

And our wonderful DiFi looks like an anti-sousveillance proponent.


Who could've known? :)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul451

The long term trend to reducing violence is just that a trend,

Violence trends downwards over the long term, there were double decade increases in the west in the 60s and 70s

Just like the sea ice - it trends downwards with fluctuations either side of a mean

useless.old.fool said...

@locumranch at 9:46 PM, I am a self professed "Useless Old Fool"; but you have embraced my chosen name and shamelessly made it your own. Your feelings of contempt for your fellow Americans are load and clear. You criticize historic achievements but you offer no solutions to the problems that the "New Deal" and Keynesian policies addressed.

1 ) Higher Education is not and never was a progressive solution to unemployment caused by the Great Recession and a Global economic crisis.
Chart #9 "A college degree is no sure ticket to adequate wage growth"
Chart #10 "Tech credentials are no guarantee that wages rise as the economy expands"

Congress and its creation the "Federal Reserve" have the responsibility and power to promote Maximum employment.
Sadly the Federal Reserve and Congress have long ignored its Dual Mandate to promote maximum employment and to keep prices stable.

But Congress can immediately create about 400,000 local jobs across the country by repealing the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.
This Holiday season both "Fed Ex" and "U.P.S" failed to deliver on time. The result Christmas trees with missing presents and disappointed children.
This was just the latest failure of privation ( Greed ); over the experience and the values of our Founding Fathers.

2 ) Really insurance programs to minimize risk and promote the common good were supported by the Founding Fathers.
Look at Ben Franklin you know "The First American" who signed the "Declaration of Independence" and the Constitution.
Ben Franklin the self made entrepreneur and inventor of the lightning rod which he never patented.
Ben Franklin who established the first public lending library, a fire-fighting brigade, organized a weekly Junto, and established a mutual insurance company.
Famous quote "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

History lesson it was industrious Germans who set up the 1st old-age social insurance program in 1889 and later lowered the retirement age to 65.
If you are so concerned about your retirement there is a simple fix to Social Security "Lift the payroll ceiling".

3 ) Netflix "A Place at the Table", the churches and private groups have failed to feed the poor in the USA while we have an over abundance of food available.
You don't provide a better solution and I am too tired of your sweeping statements to write more tonight.

brock said...

Nice post. Most of the times i never spend a most of the time on any posts. But i really like you post and i read your post. Thank you for sharing and keep posting a more post on new topics

David Brin said...


DavidTC said...

Only in that case… how is a secretive cartel of 10,000 or so conniving, back-room-dealing, circle-jerking, self-interested golf buddies intrinsically better allocators than say 500,000 skilled, educated, closely-watched and reciprocally competitive civil servants? Both groups suffer from delusional in-group-think, Hayek had a good point. But the smaller clade - more secretive and inward-looking, uncriticized and motivated solely by conniving greed - is inherently more likely to fail.

Not only are the 500,000 people *more* people, and have better motives (And can't suck money out of the system without committing fraud.), but they work 9-5 jobs, they have a mortgage to pay, they buy toilet paper and milk at the grocery store, they drive an 11-year old car, they got through college on student loans, etc.

The superrich? The 10,000 or so people who own everything? Do none of those things. Probably *never* did any of those things their entire life.

Civil servants *actually live in the same world* as everyone else, so can probably make better choices about what *everyone else* needs.

Now, civil servants, in theory, don't have the same correction system that the free market has...except that, as you point out, companies aren't operated by some sort of magical fairy, they're operated by interlocking groups of people, and it scarcely matters to them if the *company* fails...what matters is how much money can be sucked out of it on the way down. At least civil servants would *try* to operate otherwise.

Thomas said...

In my life I've been forced to deal with people who have legitimate rage issues. It burns withing them. All the time. But lately it's shocking to look around and see how many people are angry. You can see it in their eyes. They would like to hurt you. Where is this coming from?