Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Troubles with Markets

I have to, every now and then, cede the stage to someone else for an extended riff. Economist John Mauldin, in his newsletter, quotes Roger Bootle in The Trouble with Markets: Saving Capitalism From Itself.

"The whole of economic life is a mixture of creative and distributive activities. Some of what we ‘‘earn’’ derives from what is created out of nothing and adds to the total available for all to enjoy. But some of it merely takes what would otherwise be available to others and therefore comes at their expense.

(DB comment: this relates to the difference oft-cited here between positive sum and zero-sum games.)

"Successful societies maximise the creative and minimise the distributive. Societies where everyone can achieve gains only at the expense of others are by definition impoverished. They are also usually intensely violent….

'Much of what goes on in financial markets belongs at the distributive end. The gains to one party reflect the losses to another, and the fees and charges racked up are paid by Joe Public, since even if he is not directly involved in the deals, he is indirectly through costs and charges for goods and services.

"The genius of the great speculative investors is to see what others do not, or to see it earlier. This is a skill. But so is the ability to stand on tip toe, balancing on one leg, while holding a pot of tea above your head, without spillage. But I am not convinced of the social worth of such a skill.

"This distinction between creative and distributive goes some way to explain why the financial sector has become so big in relation to gross domestic product – and why those working in it get paid so much."

John then quotes Joan McCullough, of Longford Associates, who appraised why IBM ate its own seed corn and disinvested itself into near irrelevance: 

"... And of course, it’s not just IBM. ... A recent survey of chief financial officers showed that 78 percent would ‘give up economic value’ and 55 percent would cancel a project with a positive net present value—that is, willingly harm their companies—to meet Wall Street’s targets and fulfill its desire for ‘smooth’ earnings.... 

McCullough offers this chilling example: "Before its 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas, Boeing had an engineering-driven culture and a history of betting the company on daring investments in new aircraft. McDonnell Douglas, on the other hand, was risk-averse and focused on cost cutting and financial performance, and its culture came to dominate the merged company. So, over the objections of career-long Boeing engineers, the 787 was developed with an unprecedented level of outsourcing, in part, the engineers believed, to maximize Boeing’s return on net assets (RONA). Outsourcing removed assets from Boeing’s balance sheet but also made the 787’s supply chain so complex that the company couldn’t maintain the high quality an airliner requires. 

"Just as the engineers had predicted, the result was huge delays and runaway costs. ... Boeing’s decision to minimize its assets was made with Wall Street in mind. RONA is used by financial analysts to judge managers and companies, and the fixation on this kind of metric has influenced the choices of many firms. In fact, research by the economists John Asker, Joan Farre-Mensa, and Alexander Ljungqvist shows that a desire to maximize short-term share price leads publicly held companies to invest only about half as much in assets as their privately held counterparts do.”

and: "Over-financialization is what happens when a company generates cash then pays it to shareholders and senior management which m.o. also includes share buybacks and vicious cost cutting. This is one way, as you can see, in which the real economy is excluded from the party!"

To be clear, no political party is free of sin, here.  But at least the Democrats contain among them some who are willing to take on Wall Street and teach incentives for industry to re-emphasize innovation, physical investment and longer range ROI (return on investment).  

One thing is certain - "Supply Side" tax cuts were supposed to stimulate that kind of investment… and they absolutely/unequivocably did not. Ever. Even once.  

Exactly as described and predicted by Adam Smith and every sane economist, Supply Side "voodoo" gushers of tax largesse to the aristocracy were spent on rent-seeking and distributive (parasitical) financial carotid-sucking, of exactly the kind Mitt Romney bragged about. 

What's their justification.  All the financial emphasis and arbitrage has the effect of "helping markets to find the correct price." This is hogwash and it does not happen.  But even if it did, perfectly, every time, the fundamental premise is flawed! When financial intermediaries shoulder in to "find the current price" while taking fees and rich commissions, all they are doing is destroying the price differential that is the very basis for buyers and sellers caring to do a transaction, in the first place! Any scientist who knows thermodynamics will tell you it is differences in energy levels that propel living systems. There is a term for entities who flatten such slopes, making it impossible for the actual herbivore or carnivore or other creature to profit and survive.  Those entities are called parasites.

== Pitchfork time? ==

Is there a solution? Re-studying Marx (who actually had a lot to say about this) and Adam Smith (who despised market parasites)? Electing a Sanders-Warren ticket, along with a radicalized Congress?  Or the blended liberal-libertarian vision espoused by most Silicon Valley types? 

Well it is certain to come to one form or another of revolution…unless enough members of our varied elites decide to look to their own long range self-interest by replicating the FDR miracle, when that son of aristocracy fought to rebalance capitalism, thus saving it - and the rich - from the natural consequences of unsapient greed.

There is a growing hunger for a swing in emphasis back to those compete via actual goods and services. Who build and innovate and develop and invent. It is seen in the wild popularity of Andy Weir's novel and film The Martian, which is sometimes called "competence porn" for the way it caters to our rising need and yearning. To no longer be led by parasites, but instead by those who want to solve problems and do stuff. (And let's be clear, there are capitalist and zillionires who do still think that way.)

The alternative worth considering was proposed by Douglas Adams in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  It is called the Golgafrincham B-Ark. A metaphor that is making some of you smile as you read this.  The rest of you should look it up.  Because the radical proposal will be out there, growing in redolence and popularity, as time goes on.

== A hint of dawn on the horizon? ==

Just when it seems the parasites are overwhelmingly powerful...

... will wonders never cease? The US Senate has actually passed a forward-looking bill. “The U. S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 recognizes rights of U.S. citizens to own asteroid resources they obtain as property, encourages commercial exploration, and allows companies to explore and recover resources from asteroids, free from harmful interference.” 

Note, this legalizes ownership of the harvested material.  Not the spatial bodies (asteroids) themselves, which is forbidden under the Space Treaty... opening up a scenario where we might shepherd an asteroid into a useful orbit, take some for processing, then see other powers pounce on it, free and clear.  Oh, you will live to see wrangling!

Sure, it’s pro-business. So why am I surprised that a Republican Congress would do this? (And recall that GOP senators are, on average, less stark-jibbering-frothing-loony than GOP representatives (on average.)) I am surprised because most of the billionaires who are backing these ventures to go forth and mine asteroids are Silicon Valley types.  Either democrats or else the kind of conservatives who deeply despise the parasitical direction chosen by the masters of today's Republican Party.

Maybe it happened because the Murdoch-Saudi alliance that owns Fox simply has no opinion that far ahead in time.  We are benefiting - in this case - from the same myopia that generally makes them enemies of our children.

== Followup Coda ==

All you nerds geeks and citizens who care about the huge promise of The Maker Movement -- the renaissance in "tinkering" that promises a wave of innovation, on a par with the silicon Valley garage-computer guys of the 1980s -- do take note if this big news: "U.S. regulators announced new exemptions to a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that will make it possible for nerds to tinker with cars and gadgets without breaking copyright laws." 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the move a big victory for fair use.  

This is, in fact, huge. It means we have a right to apply scrutiny, as consumers and citizens, upon the algorithms and programs that will increasingly control every aspect of our lives. The Administration's support of this shift is just as important as when, two years ago, they declared decisively that we have a right to record our interactions with police. 

As for you libertarians who actually believe "the demo-publicans are all the same"?  Or that you'd get this from a Republican president? If you are that delusional, boy do I have a bridge to sell you. Note that these exemptions also are not permanent and must be renewed every three years. Care about this election.  

Oh, finally. President Obama has also emphasized the importance of investing in space technology and a long-term goal in space of venturing “out into the solar system, not just to visit but to stay,” as he articulated in the 2015 State of the Union Address. NASA is increasing its support for longer-term research projects with ambitious goals, such as protecting astronauts from radiation in space, developing advanced propulsion systems, and allowing humans to “live off the land” by producing fuel, oxygen, and water on other planets. These investments will create the foundations for a space-faring civilization. The 2016 Budget proposes $725 million for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Not perfect, by far.  But not.. not… not "the same."


Chris Heinz said...

So does the bill include a severance tax to be paid to the rest of us? I think we all own the asteroid belt. We deserve to be compensated for its destruction.

raito said...

So many points today. Let's take them in order, shall we?

I have a crackpot theory that markets, especially mainstream markets, get asymptotically more difficult to enter as transportation and communication are commoditized. And so one ideal of capitalism (if you don't like the current suppliers, become one) breaks down. Breaking into a new market where the existing suppliers have prices based on economies of scale (to say nothing of various vertical and horizontal integrations) is always difficult, but this might make it nearly impossible.

Creative vs. distributive. Now there's a subject. Recently, I was reading of a seminar where (in this case) female engineers were being mentored in business. Unfortunately, the mentor was a CEO-type who was incapable of understanding the drive to create. Her position was that being an engineer was useless to the business person, because you could always hire someone to build it. Some of us are driven to create.

Would that all the CEO's would have their 'Pretty Woman' moment when they realize that they create nothing. But I doubt that they care.

As for the so-called 'Maker Movement', it's mostly hype and marketing. Very clever marketing, as it caters to those who would like to think of themselves as smart enough to 'make stuff' (which isn't bad in itself, as it presupposes that 'making stuff' has value). Have you ever delved into that sub-culture? Mostly I see it as a very few creative types marketing kits to a niche market. Look at Make magazine. Most of their projects boil down to 'buy some stuff, download some stuff, and follow the instructions'. It's about as creative as paint by number. It'd be different if there was much educational content addressing the why and how as much as the what of the projects.

Just like the Gold Rush, the people selling shovels are making out. And as far as making products goes, it's seem to be pretty rare to make something that people actually need. But it does happen. So I guess I'm OK with using it as an investment that only rarely pays off.

I can complain about that side of things. On the other hand, there's more places for me to get parts for my own projects because of it.

LarryHart said...

re: "The Martian"

I just saw the movie with my 13-year-old and her friend, and they loved it. I shouldn't be surprised, but I'm still used to her tastes being more toward Cartoon Network, and I'm not yet used to her being interested in the intellectually challenging. But she is, and I couldn't be prouder of her.

My wife, who read the book, mentioned some plot elements that were left out of the movie because "otherwise, it would have been five hours long", and my daughter and her friend both insisted that they would have loved it to be five hours long.

Anonymous said...

The Maker Movement just needs a decade or so for technology to catch up and all of us with any technical skills will making our own cell phones, cannabis grow rooms, butler robots, home security drones, etc. Social media can easily link up these weekend innovators; so that one guy who has a 3D print can make the resin parts, the chick up the street who has a circuit board printer can snap all the boards together, and a teenager living in Uruguay with a knack for coding can come up with the algorithms to get the resulting machine to function properly.


locumranch said...

Western Capitalism's problems are not simply limited to supply-side greed, distributive flaws or oligarchic cheating. These problems are a feature (not a bug) that spring from it's capital-based nature. The term 'capital', which is most commonly defined in terms of 'wealth', 'principal' and 'accumulated assets' (of a financial, physical or creative nature), exists in diametric opposition to the concepts of financial liquidity & profit-taking because profits 'taken' cannot accumulate, no longer exist as either 'capital' or 'principal' and fail to 'seed' the growth of future wealth.

In the game of Capitalism, then, it's participants are left with something of a conudrum: Do they horde all available resources in order to guarantee the generation of future wealth as do the ant-like Oligarchs, do they choose a middle course, or do they 'take profit' (cash out) by trading off all of their accumulated assets (strength, youth, life, labour & knowledge) so they may live for today as so many soon-to-be impoverished locusts & grasshoppers?**

Capitalism is a game much like any other. Capital Accumulation can be a supply-side 'positive sum' game, assuming the initial principal remains inviolable & carefully husbanded for future growth (if profit-takers contribute more principal to the kitty than than they take). It can also be a 'zero sum' game, with little or no wealth accumulation, if the individual (and/or collective) takes out the same exact profit as they choose to accumulate as principal; and, it can quickly degenerate into a 'negative sum' wealth accumulation game if & when the profit-takers exhaust their principal by taking out more than they accumulate.

Sadly, we of the once-dominant West have long-since entered the 'negative sum' territory of the profligate grasshopper, being principal-less & overtly feminine (the grasshopper & locust having always been portraryed as female in Romance tradition), and we insist on 'taking profit' off what others have accumulated. We have become as locusts and, when winter comes, we will share the same fate.


**I know many 'dirt rich' farmers in this very position. Although they possess vast capital in the form of land, labour & water rights, they are so 'money poor' that they are left a devil's choice: Either they live in poverty, keep their capital & feed a nation; or they choose eventual destitution by trading capital for comfort, so that they farm & produce less with every passing day; or they liquidate their capital, take immediate profit, produce nothing & live like locusts.

Tony Fisk said...

Since my general definition of 'porn' is 'removing the effort usually required to achieve an end'*, I find the term 'competence porn'** somewhat amusing.

*and I'll know it when I see it.
**OK, so maybe the movie should be 10,000 hours*** long
*** 'hours' initially being eggcorned as 'hors', so maybe I should stop there.

Quite Likely said...

Even when you're creating value, most of the money you're making is coming at other people's expense. It's very rare for a product to be so desirable that it actually significantly alters people's propensity to spend rather than the save. What happens is that they will buy that product rather than some other product. The value that's created is the additional utility of a better product for the consumer.

David Brin said...

Who are you. And what have you done with locumranch.

Jumper said...

locum is three people. Perhaps he's Billy Milligan. There's the one who throws Inappropriate Capitalizations all over. The other one who colours his writing with British spelling, and the frustrated misogynist. The one that is mendacious about his livelihood, I forget which one that is. Maybe the speed head.

LarryHart said...


The scary thing is that all three points you mentioned would apply to Dave Sim, the writer/artist of the comic series "Cerebus". Loc's gratuitous assertions of "feminized" as the reason for everything wrong certainly reminds me of Dave, but he also did the Capitalization thing, and, being Canadian, he was a viking at British spelling too.

Paul451 said...

From the main article:
"will wonders never cease? The US Senate has actually passed a forward-looking bill."

To counter the pro-commercial space aspects of H.R.2262, the bill also sneaks in language that makes it harder for NASA to use commercial launches and services beyond LEO, even to support beyond-LEO manned missions or for science missions, and instead use the expensive pork-project SLS.

And not long ago, they also mandated that NASA can only launch the proposed Europa probe on the hideously expensive SLS launcher. They aren't even allowed to consider lower cost options, like SpaceX's Falcon Heavy.

"new exemptions to a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that will make it possible for nerds to tinker with cars and gadgets without breaking copyright laws"

That's a good thing. But the Act really needs an amendment to ban robo-notices. Those are the bane of service providers, and anyone dependent on those service providers.

And a literalist reading of the Act does require a human to "swear" the complaint, which might (if you are willing to fight) give you grounds for a DCMA counter-notice. But that doesn't prevent your work being removed from YouTube/etc or your website being suspended by your provider, in the first place. An explicit text stating banning automatically generated DCMA take-down requests may give some providers a bit of spine to reject robo-notices.

"Who are you. And what have you done with locumranch."

Eh? Same negative sum, "society is feminised", "we're all doomed", keyword-triggered neo-reo response that he always dribbles out.

Paul SB said...

ethnocentrism eth·no·cen·trism (ěth'nō-sěn'trĭz'əm)
The tendency to evaluate other groups according to the values and standards of one's own ethnic group, especially with the conviction that one's own ethnic group is superior to the other groups.

John Adam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lorraine said...

No, Hitchhiker's best contribution to economic policy ideas is Magrathea's policy of hibernating through recessions. Arthur Dent thought it unconscionable, presumably for being pro-cyclical (must have been a Keynsesian or something), but I find it has virtues by the negative utilitarian criterion of preventing suffering.

Deuxglass said...

Some forms of arbitrage are beneficial and some are not. The bread-and-butter type such as stock arbitrage between different markets is very useful. They keep the price for the same thing the same no matter where they trade. The same thing goes for option and futures arbitrage but some types are highly disruptive and dangerous notably OTC contracts where there is a mismatch between the contract and the underlying securities or assets. In financial markets complexity favors the seller (banks and brokers) because the margins are higher and hampers the buyers (any entity that buys) because of the resulting obscurity.

You would think why would an institutional investor buy something his doesn’t understand? It is not because he trusts the seller (they don’t) but because he keeps his job if his performance matches or exceeds his peers. The subprime was exactly this problem. Many managers knew that it was a scam turning grade C paper into grade A paper by accounting tricks and knew it would blow up sooner or later but they were forced to do it because if they didn’t, they would be fired because their performance lagged So they bought it and hoped to sell it before the hammer dropped. It is just the Greater Fool Theory which the basis of stock markets since they exist.

But let’s see who really is at fault for this short-termism by CEOs, their boards and so on. You say it is Wall Street and leave it at that for they make an excellent villain. In publicly–traded companies who controls the board? It is the shareholders that vote them in and vote them out. Who are these shareholders? By far it is the pension funds and mutual funds who own most of the stock. Hedge funds and banks are far behind. They are the ones that call up a CEO on the phone and complain about last quarter’s results and they don’t like getting an answer like “I am looking long-term”. So why don’t these funds look out long-term? The reason is they can’t because if their performance short-term is bad they lose their jobs because they are judged on the short-term themselves. And who makes this judgement? It is anybody who has mutual funds or/and a pension fund, the little guy in fact. The sad truth is that these managers are only doing what we tell them to do and that is to make money quarter after quarter and don’t care if eventually it will hurt the company or not. The great economist, John Maynard Keynes, was completely right when he said “in the long run we are all dead”. Especially in monetary matters, human beings have a shot-term view and this attitude spills over into how companies are run. How many of us have really planned our long-term financial health? Have we set aside enough for retirement or our kids’ education or do we live from paycheck to paycheck?

Deuxglass said...

locumranch has become much clearer lately in his posts. I welcome it for one but sometimes I miss his old obscurity.

Paul SB said...

Loraine, at the individual level your point is well taken. The Magrathea example show that most people's knee-jerk reaction to a financial slow down (panic, sell everything, lay off employees, shutter businesses) is to act as if the World is Coming to an End (how's that for inappropriate capitalization?)! Magrathea took a different approach, assuming that the economy would eventually recover. This is certainly sound advice for investors, though I still question the Reaganomic value of sinking our retirement savings into the stock market.

The Golgafrinchan Ark B is a social-level response - society casting off the chaff. I can think of a whole lot of politicians (and fools who vote for them uncritically) who belong on that ark. Unfortunately we do not yet have that kind of technology, and the alternative that history has tended to go for has been pogroms - a much less palatable solution.

Jumper said...

Legalizing the unlocking of car computers will make what Volkswagon did legal, or at least unenforceable if the owner does it. Just a thought.

I probably told this before, but when I was a tech at IBM a manager told me "There will never be color printers for home computers." Deja vu, right?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reason said...

My personal experiences with IBM suggest it is doomed, and has been for some time. I remember at one stage going to IBM for some sort of sales support (i.e. technical evaluation) meeting and being shocked at how old their equipment was (this was about 2000). More recently, I have had dealings with IBM where we were contracted to pay them continually large amounts for services, that they increasingly could not provide any value added for. The feedback we gave our managers was - why are we paying these guys they know less than we do and we have to tell them what to do? When we started, they were advising us.

reason said...

By the way I don't think the article on IBM gets it right. IBM could have a good future by going back to doing business the way it used to do it (without the monopoly aspects) but maybe at a smaller scale. IBM used to represent one major feature that people used to pay a premium for - COMPETENCE. They don't stand for anything anymore.

locumranch said...

Golgafrinchan Ark B is no laughing matter. That & a system that equates socioeconomic 'right to life' with human doings (productive purpose) leads straight to wealth inequality, purges, death camps & revolution, especially with the knowledge the each & every one of us is potentially disposable, regardless of prior utility, gender, ethnic background or future promise, without exception:

First they came for the phone sterilisers, unemployables & other undesirables, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a hairdresser, phone steriliser or undesirable.

Then they came for the out-dated technologies, textbooks, teachers & conservatives, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not one of these...

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


Dave said...

"Much of what goes on in financial markets belongs at the distributive end. The gains to one party reflect the losses to another,"

In other words, it is a casino. But no, it's not. Even the pure speculators provide a service in some cases, liquidity if nothing else. This quote seems to imply that we can know just by looking which sort of trade is which, but I doubt this.

Which is not the same as saying, we should let instabilities on Wall Street undermine the entire economy. But simplistic analysis like this does not help us avoid that.

David Brin said...

Ironic since the Golgafrincham B ark folks are the only ones who actually survive. Geez man, lighten up.

Tim H. said...

The closest western civilization has come to a "B" ark is the eugenics movement.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I was more than a bit startled to see that S. 1297: U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, was sponsored by Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Quite aside from the fact that he's the least popular member of the Senate, he has a well-deserved reputation of being a Luddite. He's a full-on climate change denier, and intractably opposed to green technologies of any sort. It may be the first bill he's sponsored that has actually passed, and it passed on a unanimous consent vote.

Well, will wonders ever cease.

Now let's see what the House does with it. Some of them will probably want to know just how we're gonna "hold those rocks up in the sky so we can mine 'em".

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Ironic since the Golgafrincham B ark folks are the only ones who actually survive.

Not to mention that the turn out to be our ancestors.

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

The closest western civilization has come to a "B" ark is the eugenics movement.

Does everyone really remember the "B" ark being sent to its death?

Paul SB said...

Larry, history has been much less kind than Douglas Adams. The B Ark was just to get rid of the morons - send them away. In history, though, things like Eugenics, or more commonly genocide, were the preferred methods, and were much more arbitrary (after all, the Golgafrincham morons weren't rounded up and forced on the ship, they were just fooled). And if we were truly descended from them, I guess that could explain some things.But then, if the average person has 64 unique mutations their parents don't have, how many generations would it take to completely remodel a species that has around 23,000 genes? There wouldn't be a whole lot of Golgafrincham left.

Paul451 said...

"Then they came for me"

Nobody's coming for you. Nobody ever comes for you.

People like you are the ones standing on the sidelines, watching the brownshirts come for the others, and blaming those victims for undermining "real" Germans and thus causing the rise of extremists like the Nazis.

"It's the Jews' own fault for supporting such a decadent feminised society..."

Tony Fisk said...

The tale of Golgafrinchim Ark B and what happened after could be taken as a lesson in why infrastructure is important.

Of course, that wasn't Adams' intention. Or maybe it was... Who can tell?

LarryHart said...


The B Ark was just to get rid of the morons - send them away. In history, though, things like Eugenics, or more commonly genocide, were the preferred methods, and were much more arbitrary (after all, the Golgafrincham morons weren't rounded up and forced on the ship, they were just fooled).

The part I don't get is the apparently-common recollection here that the B-ark was some kind of death camp. Everyone is equating that method of exile with the inhumane alternatives that were not taken.

I see what happened to the B-ark people as similar to our earlier discussion about the Rapture. When I suggested thinking about what comes after the religious-righties get their wish to be removed from our midst, I was accused of wanting to murder them.

And if we were truly descended from them, I guess that could explain some things

It's been more years than I care to recall since I read the books, but I recall my reaction to that whole plot as a kind of existential despair as the reader realizes that the B-ark is the ancestry of all humanity. The very fact that it "explains a lot" is what is so humorously disheartening.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "The scary thing is that all three points you mentioned would apply to Dave Sim, the writer/artist of the comic series "Cerebus". Loc's gratuitous assertions of "feminized" as the reason for everything wrong certainly reminds me of Dave"

Personally I've always be fairly certain that people complaining about the "feminization of society" think deep down "Once upon a time, competition was rigged in my favor, nowadays, there's still people gaming the system, but my gender alone doesn't work as society's cheat code anymore, therefore modern society sucks"


* "The Golgafrinchan Ark B is a social-level response - society casting off the chaff. I can think of a whole lot of politicians (and fools who vote for them uncritically) who belong on that ark"

I would add a corollary to that story: the more one favors the Golgafrinchan Ark B's final solution to society's ills, the more likely one belongs to some ark sent straight to the sun. Of course, the fact that in the original story, it's the "undesirables" who end up surviving through sheer blind luck while the "deserving" end up extinct is probably Douglas Adam's universe's karma applying said corollary.

Paul SB said...

Larry, 'humorously disheartening' is a great way of putting it. I think that the history of the last century was filled with such stunning examples that it is easy for people to make that assumption. I. too, haven't read Adams in many years, but the older and more experienced I get, the less I like it, to be perfectly frank. The guy had some very anti-science themes running through his writings, which is disappointingly typical for a minister. The comment I made about mutation probably would not have meant anything at all to him if he were alive when that discovery was made. He would probably just have gone on about living mattresses named Zem and chimps typing Shakespeare.

Paul451, you pretty much hit that one on the head. When I was an undergrad there were a couple members of the American Nazi Party who were following me around, trying to recruit me. I was too polite to tell the sick bastards what I really thought of them, and they mistook that for interest. They had noticed that I was in to art and one of the least things they told me was that Fascism allows you to express your creativity. I replied that this is true only for the leaders, and I think they finally got the message. Anyway, pretty much everything that comes from little loci's keyboard sounds like the same paranoid drivel I heard from those guys.

It amazes me sometimes how people can grow up in a nation that is supposed to be centered on freedom and personal liberty can get these things so horribly wrong. As I was driving home from work the radio was talking about Ben Carson's lack of foreign policy experience, so he is taking advice from a major general who has stated that all Muslims should be treated as terrorists unless they can prove that they aren't. Yes, George IV was a long time ago, but that kind of inversion of justice should be really obvious. Too many people think that a person would make a good leader if they just sprinkle their speeches with "God" and/or "Jesus" - as if club membership were all that matters.

Tim H. said...

LarryHart, the "B" ark was built to get it's passengers to a habitable planet, far away, deliver them safely and never fly again. Something less than a death camp. But survival was in the passenger's hands, the Golgafrinchans didn't much care if they survived, and it's the want of empathy, as much as the simplistic understanding of evolution that is comparable to eugenics.

Anonymous said...

It is not to surprising that some who were born to a liberal secular democracy would despise one or all of those ideals. I have close family that moved to China so they could live in a more conservative society. So often I see clear indications that a large minority of Americans would greatly prefer a white king over a black president, or a Christian dictator over an elected Atheist. When you know what is RIGHT, differing opinions can not only be dismissed, but become 'sinister'. 'Sheeple' are weak and require a strong leader to keep them in good moral standing. As our illustrious host has pointed out; these instincts are found on the ends of the political spectrum, but are highly influential in the Confederate/Nationalist/Likud/Saudi Alliance.

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

the Golgafrinchans didn't much care if they survived, and it's the want of empathy, as much as the simplistic understanding of evolution that is comparable to eugenics.

And to be clear, I was not suggesting mass exile as a real-world solution to any problems. It just made good fantasy fodder when it was brought up on this list. It may not seem like it now, but when I read the book (way back in the 80s), I didn't think in terms of "a way to get rid of our mediocrities", but only as a kind of horrific story postulating our mediocre origins (similar to the depressingly-humorous ending of Vonnegut's "Sirens of Titan"). So when Dr Brin mentioned it here, it was the first time I thought of it from the "If only..." angle.

Fantasizing about sending the "problem" folks off somewhere apart from us is in the same vein as fantasizing about the Confederacy actually seceeding, or about the religious-right actually being taken up in the Rapture. Locumranch equates such thinking with genocide. To me, the difference is the desire on the part of the separationists to exercise their free will choices, which is a whole different thing from exile or genocide. Admittedly, the B-Ark scenario is the weakest of the three in this regard.

But in any case, if a group of citizens insists on talking about how great it would be (for them) to be somewhere else, then I don't feel constrained by empathy for daydreaming about how great it would be for me at the same time. If that's a problem, then we've arrived at the scene in "Blazing Saddles" where the sheriff gets to hold himself hostage.

Jumper said...

LarryHart, I think we're talking about desiring solutions without brutality; a fine thing to hope for, and not impossible either, as history provides us with some examples.

As far as desires for "a strong leader" there's an alternative: lots of strong leaders. As many Marshalls as we can find. And Kings, and Gandhis, and Gyatsos, etc.

matthew said...

This expose from right-leaning Politico illustrates what many, our host included, have said for years - that George W. Bush (and Condi Rice, willingly ignored warnings from the CIA that Al-Quada was determined and able to strike the US.

"That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof's fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.” Black and his deputy rushed to the director’s office to brief Tenet. All agreed an urgent meeting at the White House was needed. Tenet picked up the white phone to Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I said, ‘Condi, I have to come see you,’” Tenet remembers. “It was one of the rare times in my seven years as director where I said, ‘I have to come see you. We're comin' right now. We have to get there.’”

Tenet vividly recalls the White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda's intention is the destruction of the United States.’" [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”

“What happened?” I ask Cofer Black. “Yeah. What did happen?” he replies. “To me it remains incomprehensible still. I mean, how is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened? It’s kind of like The Twilight Zone.” Remarkably, in her memoir, Condi Rice writes of the July 10 warnings: “My recollection of the meeting is not very crisp because we were discussing the threat every day.” Having raised threat levels for U.S. personnel overseas, she adds: “I thought we were doing what needed to be done.” (When I asked whether she had any further response to the comments that Tenet, Black and others made to me, her chief of staff said she stands by the account in her memoir.) Inexplicably, although Tenet brought up this meeting in his closed-door testimony before the 9/11 Commission, it was never mentioned in the committee’s final report."

Laurent Weppe said...

* "'Sheeple' are weak and require a strong leader to keep them in good moral standing"

I see the electoral success of authoritarian demagogues as the convergence of illusory superiority and cynicism: I've observed two main demographics among authoritarians:
The ones I call the "Randologist" who rationalize their desire for accruing material comforts and privileges at the expense of everybody else by adhering to the idea that the sturgeon law applies to Humans: there's a tiny minority of intellectual übermenschen and that the vast majority of humans are intellectually inept bipedal cattle barely smart enough to do the menial labors necessary to keep the gears of the civilization conceptualized by the Great Minds™ moving, and dictatorships are necessary to whip the "Sheeple" into a productive shape.
And the ones I call the Cynics: those whose worldview can be summarized as "No matter what we do, we're fated to be ruled by oligarchs and bullies: since society is screwed anyway, we'd better support those who promise Us preferential access to the scraps of wealth falling from their lordly table in exchange of our support: better be pet than cattle".

The problem is that both groups are utterly convinced that they are much smarter than the average schmo: the worldview is their gnosis, and anyone who doesn't adhere to their favored postulate is immediately dismissed as either stupid or lying, which means that no amount of rhetoric, data, studies or evidence will move them.

greg byshenk said...

David, this made me think of some of your commentary:

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Acacia H. said...

Heh. Someone beat me to the Politico article.

I suspect our esteemed author is going to be pontificating on this and on related articles in the near future. And I truly wonder how this is going to play out on the presidential front - because we have a smoking gun here and it's in the Shrug's hands.

They knew. And just let it happen.

No doubt Jeb's presidential run is likely dead... unless like his father he steps out and casts stones at his own brother. That will likely not play well with the base he's trying to reach out to, seeing that family is a big theme (though not fact) among Republicans.

I wonder what it might do to Hillary. There is a lot of questions even now on just how much she knew about the Libyan incident, and no matter how much she shows she did what she was supposed to... Republicans are going to smear her just as the Shrug is going to be flambeed over this.

Ultimately, this could hurt the entire Republican Party. After all, it was the Republicans in charge when 9/11 went down. They held the House, Senate (if I recall correctly), and White House... and even the Supreme Court. And yet the negligence and refusal to have a paper trail resulted in thousands of deaths initially, and a war that continues to this day.

Though I'm not sure Democrats would actually dare capitalize on that.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Jumper tinyurl has its uses but not in that way. We like to see where we are asked to go.

Robert, the one smoking gun I've seen no journalist investigate is how many counter-terror agents were re-assigned in early 2001 to look for smoking guns of Clinton admin corruption. That'd be devastating, if it proved to be more than a few..

David Brin said...



Jon S. said...

The point of the Golgafrincham "B" Ark was in part to point up the actual usefulness of apparently-useless people (remember that the remaining Golgafrinchans died of an entirely avoidable plague), and in part to render all Deep Thought's work in creating Earth completely pointless. (The program was to include organic life in its conception - and the whole thing was corrupted by the crash of the "B" Ark shortly after the program run began.)

It's a funny metaphor as our host used it - but extending it too far causes it to lose its point, as we've seen.

Lorraine said...

Perhaps RAW's concept of "Hell" is more just. People ended up in Hell either by choice, or by due process.

Crimes of violence were defined as the natural, inevitable, tragic, but intolerable resultant of some combination of genes, imprints, and conditioning. The biots who committed such acts were sent, without condemnation but irrevocably, to Hell.

Hell had previously been the state of Mississippi. After the aborigines were resettled in an environment suitable for two-circuit (prehominid) primates, Mississippi became Hell by simply surrounding it with a laser shield that made escape impossible. Everything within the shield was intact. The violent biots were free to do what they wanted, and they soon had several forms of feudalism, war, piracy, commerce, slavery, and other early primate institutions functioning in a manner that seemed normal to them.

Many violent biots and gene pools moved to Hell voluntarily, since it was the only remaining part of the world that fit their notions of proper primate society. Among those who migrated en masse and established sizable governments or robber bands in Hell were the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Panthers, the American Nazi Party, Hell's Angels, and most of the People's Ecology Party.

John Wayne, nearly one hundred years old, but looking and feeling around thirty due to FOREVER, and totally cured of all cancers by the Org pills, also went to Hell. He was rumored to be one of the richest slave traders and War Chiefs in the Western sector.

"HELL IS HEAVEN" was the proud slogan of the region.