Sunday, July 29, 2018

The True Founder of our Revolution - Summing up.

If I seem repetitive, it's because some crucial points keep not being made, in the fight over where to steer civilization. 

Sure, moral issues -- like a narcissistic toddler who steals thousands of children -- belong front and center. But they cannot be the only battle front. Because confederates have been schooled to shrug aside moral arguments.

"While sappy-socialist liberals preach, we are the pragmatic competitors who innovate and invest and make America rich!"  By styling themselves as defenders of enterprise and creative markets, oligarchs offer a rhetoric that attracts populist fervor from hardworking farmers and auto mechanics, who know that life is -- and at some level should be -- highly competitive. 

By ceding this ground to the New Lords, liberals make their worst mistake. Because liberalism is justifiable in practical terms! In the health of creative markets. In terms of measurable outcomes. In the general, rising good of all. And especially in keeping faith with the Great Experiment of Freedom...

... and one of its principal founders: Adam Smith.

== A Great Rediscovery ==

The Financial Times (U.K.) is so vastly better than any of its largely lobotomized (or else oligarchy-suborned) U.S. equivalents. A recently published essay - How Adam Smith would fix capitalism - summons what I’ve pushed for years — a rediscovery of this co-founder — along with Franklin and those Americans — of our great, Periclean experiment. Writer Jesse Norman (a British Member of Parliament) gets Smith, showing that the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments was a deeply caring man, who wanted a balanced use of market forces to benefit everyone, truly raising all boats. 

Yes, Smith extolled the unmatched creative power of competition. But the author of The Wealth of Nations, gazed across 6000 years of wretched history and drew a clear conclusion — that humans who gain undue power tend to use it to cheat. To warp markets until they no longer function. 

We forget that the actual Boston Tea Party, and the American Revolution, were against a king and his crony oligarchs who commanded that all commerce pass through their docks, paying extortion to lordly monopolists on everything from paper to porcelain, rents that they never earned. The very cheating Adam Smith denounced… and the very opposite lesson of today’s raving “tea-party” confederates.

Those betraying Smith are the ones who most-often claim to extol him, yet do everything in their power to enhance cheating by today’s oligarchs. Says Jesse Norman: 

“…what matters is not the largely empty rhetoric of “free markets”, but the reality of effective competition. And effective competition requires mechanisms that force companies to internalise their own costs and not push them on to others, that bear down on crony capitalism, rent extraction, “insider” vs “outsider” asymmetries of information and power, and political lobbying.”

To Norman’s list, I would add two more vital ways that liberal “market meddling” is highly justifiable in Smithian terms:

1. Adjusting market forces to incorporate “externalities” like the good of our posterity, our grandchildren and the ecosystem they’ll depend upon. Adam Smith wrote repeatedly that a society’s values can legitimately be emphasized, so long as the resulting strictures (e.g. tobacco or carbon taxes) are simple, fair, consistent and not another excuse for cheating. 

2. Stop wasting talent. A nation that chooses to maximize the feedstock of confident, skilled, joyfully ready competitors is one that will maximize the effectiveness of markets. And hence it is a society that invests in children, in education and health and civil rights, maximizing opportunity without meddling overmuch in equalizing outcomes.  Even the doyen of conservative (not-fascist) economics -- Friedrich Hayek -- conceded this point.

Norman makes clear that this is a matter of survival for any system that seeks the immense benefits of flat-fair-open market accountability: 
     “This is a complex and nuanced message, as befits our ever more complex world. It is threatening enough to current orthodoxies that many on all sides, libertarian and socialist, will resist it. Properly understood, however, these Smithian ideas remain absolutely fundamental to any attempt to defend, reform or renew the market system.”

Now, for a shocker that should not surprise. Jesse Norman is the Conservative Party MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, and the author of a biography of Edmund Burke: The First Conservative.  And clearly, the word “conservative” has an older, better meaning, over there. He has a new book out in September: Adam Smith: Father of Economics.

== The rediscovery continues ==

Evonomics is back on high octane. Jonathan Haidt begins a series called 'Darwin's business' that starts by appraising the CEO of Sears, whose management approach - modeled on Ayn Rand - has taken an American giant and corporate icon to the verge of utter collapse. Also, Peter Turchin asks whether morality can apply to capitalism. 

Ironies abound. For example, Sears earlier (1992) abandoned its 140 year old mail order business at the very moment the first online stores set up on the Web. Can you believe that coincidence? Sears had been poised to own it all... to be Amazon-squared... and threw it all away! 

But the deeper irony in these two articles is simpler. It is only on a liberal site like Evonomics that you find bright folks talking seriously about Adam Smith, and whether it might be possible to rescue market competitive enterprise from its worst enemies across 6000 years...

...not 'socialists,' but cheaters and shortsighted fools.

Alas, liberals are supposed to be the smart ones, on this side of the Atlantic. But you’ll not find one in a hundred who know that their entire movement had a few fathers other than ol’ Ben Franklin and that crew.  And number one on that list was Adam Smith. Reclaim him.

== The roots of the Confederate Counter-Attack ==

I’ve somewhat famously - or infamously - called our present predicament “Phase 8” of an American Civil war that has recurred since 1778, when General Cornwallis knew he would find more romantics loyal to King and Lords, down south. Later, the plantation/slave-owning caste filled the top niche that all-too easily plunges into cheating, while crushing fair competition - the same corrupt modality that Adam Smith denounced.

What about the “Greatest Generation” (GG) that overcame the First Depression, smashed Hitler, contained communism, built American science, got us to the moon, and crafted the greatest middle class in history? Is that “when America was great?" (Ask that question incessantly!)

You mean back then the GG's favorite living human was FDR? In that era of strong unions and spectacular economic growth — when the great push to reform our racial and gender and other blindnesses began? When we achieved a social structure (for white males at first, but then others) flatter than any ever known.  Markets were regulated to keep competition flat, and the results were inarguable.

Except there were a few arguing for a return older ways. Based upon a core germ of truth — that government regulation can sometimes become cloying or stifling -- they began a cult that grew to declare evil any and all regulation to keep competition flat or fair…  a cult filled with incantations of loathing against the Greatest Generation’s methods for controlling cheating.

I’ve spoken of Milton Friedman, whose incantations led to the shrinking of corporate ROI (Return on Investment) horizons from ten years to today’s ten weeks. But in a truly scary article, Lynn Parramore describes historian Nancy MacLean’s book - Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America - about Nobel laureate James Buchanan, “who is the intellectual linchpin of the Koch-funded attack on democratic institutions.” 

In works like Property as a Guarantor of Liberty (1993).  Buchanan saw society as a cutthroat realm of makers (entrepreneurs) constantly under siege by takers (everybody else) His own language was often more stark, warning the alleged “prey” of “parasites” and “predators” out to fleece them.

Never mind that feudalism -- (rule by the owner caste) -- had 6000 years to prove its case, and exactly zero examples of good governance. What Buchanan illustrates is the way that aristocrats and their paid priests have suborned our natural, libertarian instincts, so that today hardly any libertarians ever even mention Smith’s core notion of flat-fair competition -- the "C-Word" -- anymore, parroting instead Buchanan’s (and Pharaoh’s) worship of the word, “property.”

Adam Smith saw human beings as self-interested and hungry for personal power and material comfort, but he also acknowledged social instincts like compassion and fairness. Buchanan, in contrast, insisted that people were primarily driven by venal self-interest.”

If you have time, look at this essay and realize how long we have been complacent about this counter-attack by the old enemy of human freedom and creativity and happiness, a cabal of zero-sum fools who will win nothing, if they succeed in this oligarchic putsch.

Nothing but a ride in tumbrels.

 == Aaaaand... more about... Adam Smith...

I wrote a lot about this fellow, who liberals should rediscover and embrace, in order to free him from the right wingers and libertarians who always, always misquote and betray him.  Well, since OpenSalon dumped my work, let me offer a few quotations here, and a link to 
Blogging Adam Smith. Or actually read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, a book that any politically-minded person should know, top to bottom. (See where I tie in Adam Smith with Hari Seldon and Isaac Asimov!) 

Start with what could be a slogan for liberalism.

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” 

The whole tenor of this next passage would, or should, outrage any Ayn Rand cultist. Smith certainly didn’t take the view that the important agents of capitalism were CEOs or even inventors.

“Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people whose industry a part, though a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation.”

Then there is the natural trend, described by Marx, for industries to drift into monopoly or conspiratorial duopoly, a trend that our parents and grandparents wisely fought down under both Roosevelts.

“The monopolists, by keeping the market constantly understocked... sell their commodities much above the natural price... The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got. The natural price, or the price of free competition, on the contrary, is the lowest which can be taken....”

And another passage skipped over by the libertarians: “We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters [cartels]; though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour....” 

Modern context? See how Robert Reich explains the “Monopolization of America.” And be outraged that the Boomers let slide the wisdom of their parents and grandparents who adored Roosevelts for good reasons. (And why can't we find one?)

== Choose a side, libertarians ==

Finally, what all of this comes down to is a tactic for this civil war. Again and again I will remind you it is worthwhile ministering to libertarians! 

They share with you a central reflex -- Suspicion of Authority (SoA) -- though clever oligarchs have spent gushers to divert the movement away from ever casting that suspicious eye on them! 

Cozened into defending property at all cost, and forgetting the word competition, most of the libertarian movement is currently under complete control by those who bought and paid for it – Steve Forbes, the Kochs, and the lords’ wholly-owned propaganda arm, the Cato Institute.

It’s a pity! Libertarians – were they to learn from their endless failures at both election and prediction – might become a real force on the landscape of both ideas and political reform.  No one is asking them to stop questioning Big Government!  But to recognize a core historical fact:  that monopoly and feudal oligarchies have destroyed more glimmering eras of freedom and market creativity than all the government bureaucrats who ever lived.

Minister to them! They share so many of your basic, impudent, pro-freedom instincts. (See this FB group for "Cyber-Libertarian Democrats.") Tell your libertarian friends: 

"Stop letting the worst enemies of freedom bribe you into only hating on a secondary foe! The original American Revolution was not hatred of “government,” but a king and his cronies who used a gerrymandered Parliament to pass laws favoring the owner-lord aristocracy, forcing all American commerce through their ports and wharves, buying from their monopolies. Do fight to keep the hand of government regulation light! But also fight to keep the hands of oligarchy off of our republic."

Cite a fellow who no libertarian ever reads anymore, so much wiser and smarter and more effective than Ayn bloody Rand that they aren’t arguably the same species.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sci Fi Futures, here and now

Okay it's official.  I am author Guest of Honor at Westercon 2020 in Seattle, alongside other fabulous guests and even more fabulous readers, watchers and fans of far futures and farther-out ideas. So sign up for great 2020 visions -- And fight for an optimistic and confident civilization!

And hoping to see many of you at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California (Silicon Valley) in August.

Hong Kong journalist Paul Kay interviews me in the (Hong Kong) South China Post, covering the gamut, from history and evolution to the future and science fiction's role in exploring the phenomenon of change. And while we're in the region...

My colleague Hao Jingfeng – author of the Hugo-winning story “Folding Beijing” – talks about cyber systems that might enable future cities to synergize, like living organisms. 

And Chinese SF scholar Wu Yan joined a passel of U.S. mavens, actors and futurists on a panel at Comicon International, celebrating the release of a 4K version of “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Warner Bros, honoring the film classic’s 50th Anniversary. Note Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea on the far left… “Frank and Dave.”

Panel moderated by Dr. Erik Viirre, of UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift.  Home of the TASAT Project - There's A Story About That!

== Depletion of a precious commodity: our World Rascal Resource ==

Jason Sheehan gives a terrific and open-eyed eulogy to our irreplaceable rascal, Harlan EllisonHarlan was wickedly witty, profanely-provocative, yet generous to a fault. His penchant for brilliantly skewering all authority – including the bossy voices in our own heads --would have got him strangled in any other human civilization, yet in this one he lived – honored - to 84... decades longer than he swore he would, much to our benefit with startling, rambunctious stories that will echo for ages.

Hence, I list Harlan Ellison -- along with John Perry Barlow and others -- as among the most-American beings I knew. Most-Californian. Heck, like Ray Bradbury, Harlan was among the most-Angelino, and most alien-ready of humans. And indeed, perhaps he was beamed-up, to confront and shake and amuse and offend those out there who most deeply need it.

Solace to Susan, and to all who love disturbances in the force. (There’ll be others.) One regret? Harlan should have held out till Shatterday.

== Sci Fi Miscellany ==

The fascinating and odd intersection of Science Fiction, popular culture and Rock ’n Roll in the late 60s and 70s is explored in the newly released book: Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi exploded, by Jason Heller, writer for Rolling Stone and the New Yorker.

Predicting the future: Here’s a seriously excellent and insightful podcast video by Simon Whistler on YouTube presenting a top ten list of novels that eerily and correctly predicted aspects of the future.  Books like Infinite Jest, Vonnegut’s Player Piano, Neuromancer and - counter-intuitively - Childhood’s End,  

Many of the on-targets have to do with creepy prescience about our, well, weird present-day politics, and on that note I would have added certain Heinleins. 

And yes, since you ask. Toward the very top of the list, I am just barely outranked by three heavyweights: H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and… John Brunner for Stand on Zanzibar, a choice that won this fellow serious props and cred, in my book! 

All told a riveting and excellent podcast.

== And more SF news ==

We liked the film A Quiet Place, very much. Emily Blunt is outrageously good.

In contrast, the new Lost In Space series, which started with some cool creativity, had one of the worst episodes (number 4) I have ever seen, in which not one of the characters makes even a single decision that makes even a scintilla of sense. A great example of how one director and writer can come close to killing a whole project. 

DOWNSIZING is a very weird movie that has many positive traits. For example, it is rare to see an sf'nal extrapolation of a new technology that is portrayed being used the way techs are actually used, in the real world... by everybody, instead of monopolized by conspirators or the rich. Many refreshing things... and some weird logic and bizarre/sudden turns in unexpected directions. Definitely more of an art film than you'd expect. And thought provoking, if weird.

ZION’S FICTION (or “Zi-Fi”) is the first authoritative volume  of Israeli fantastic literature. Showcasing a Foreword by Robert Silverberg, the book offers stories originally crafted in Hebrew, Russian and English by a gallery of genre-savvy Israeli writers. To be released in September, available for pre-order.

The mighty and charismatic science fiction author Cat Rambo has a new book in her “Tabat” sci-fantasy series. Check it out!                                                                                                   

A vivid tech thriller that delves into mathematics, cyberwarfare and terrorism, try Matt Ginsberg's new novel - Factor Man.

The solution to the Apocalypse - from SMBC Comics.

Just released, in commemoration of Sir Arthur Clarke: 2001: An Odyssey in Words: Celebrating the Centenary of Arthur C. Clarke's Birth: an anthology of speculative fiction stories, each 2001 words in length, by Bruce Sterling, Emma Newman, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Chris Beckett, Alastair Reynolds - as well as essays by Neil Gaiman and China Mieville. 

A new Magazine - Martian - wants drabbles! Exact, super-short stories of 100 words. I like the 250 word length. I try to put one of those in each of my collections. WIRED ran a contest for 6-word tales. (I won ;-) And there's the "One Page Screenplay Contest in LA. (Won that too.)  Is this a sign we’ve fully entered the Twitter era?  Wasn’t there a “Short Attention Span Theater” that -- 

-- oh, look, squirrel!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Re-Discovering Adam Smith: Controlling the un-controllable. Laws for Robots? For corporations? Creating healthy free markets... by design?

Can we control - or at least guide and sway -- important processes that some call uncontrollable? 

Certainly not big, chaotic things like the weather -- though steering civilization away from suicidal climate damage may qualify.  But what about hugely complex things like a modern economy? Or a sapient mind?

Elsewhere I've described how most societies tried such control through priesthoods and kings and owner-lordly castes whose Guided Allocation of Resources - or GAR - had the advantage of simplicity, in much simpler times. The Pharaoh simply ordered a levy of 5000 men to appear, between planting and harvest seasons, and voila - you got a pyramid. Still, in general, GAR was at best clumsy, primitive and generally stupid.

Adam Smith extolled market alternatives to GAR, allowing the mass wisdom of many to replace the delusional certainty of a very few. It worked better at allocating capital and goods and services... though it also led many to espouse a mad exaggeration called Faith in Blind Markets - or FIBM. Elsewhere I show how most of those howling for purist FIBM are actually devout GAR-ists... they just want the allocation process dominated by a new cabal of owner-lords.

In another place, I describe how GAR is being pushed hard by those who want a return to 6000 years of hierarchy, such as the Chinese Communist elite, who envision themselves as newer, smarter, wiser pharaohs. We're being GAR'd from the left and GAR'd from the right.

But this time, let's start with an example of asserted control straight out of science fiction! 

== Laws of Robotics ==

Jack M. Balkin of Yale University Law School has proposed a variant on Asimov’s three laws of robotics. He’s not the first, of course. In this case, Balkin suggests rules for algorithmic systems that might have strong influence over both public and private life:

First Law: operators of robots, algorithms and artificial intelligence agents are information fiduciaries who have special duties of good faith and fair dealing toward their end-users, clients and customers.

Second, privately owned businesses who are not information fiduciaries nevertheless have duties toward the general public.

Third, the central public duty of those who use robots, algorithms and artificial intelligence agents is not to be algorithmic nuisances. 

While these are excellent desiderata that merit serious consideration, they kind of miss the elegant prioritization effect of Isaac’s original codes! Where one law kicks in only when the more important one is fully satisfied. (I may be the world’s expert on the Three Laws, after threading their many implications in FOUNDATION’S TRIUMPH.)  In other words, a venn diagram of Asimov-style laws shows each one nested inside the preceding one, like a Russian Matrioshka doll.

Instead, Prof Balkin tries for something entirely different, making his analogy to Asimov somewhat fraught. Aming at comprehensive coverage, his first two laws touch at the edges. This is good, instinctive legal parsing… and the proposals are desirable... but it bears little relationship to Asimov.

== Three Laws of Corporatics? ==

Another scholar (actually a member of this blog’s comment community: Larry Hart) formulated his off-take on the three laws, this one following the Asiomovian "Matrioshka pattern."  Three Laws of Corporatics. 

1) A corporation must do no *** harm to human beings

2) A corporation must act to fulfil its specified charter as long as doing so does not violate the First Law

3) A corporation must act to insure its continued viability [e.g. maximizing profit] 
as long as doing so does not violate the first or second laws.

Of course number 1 is impossible to comply to without specified metrics in *** that make a clear drive for positive sum outcomes, both net and overall, even if some human interests are retrievably set back. LH summarized:

1) Don't make us sorry we chartered you.
2) Do what we chartered you for.
3) Keep yourself capable of doing it.

Of course now we're also talking about Wild Algorithms... bits of autonomous code that are already... right now... spreading through the Internet, automatically augmenting their resources and trading services, even hiring humans to perform tasks! And yes, this sci fi scenario is already here. Implementation of Hart's three laws would be filled with vexing tradeoffs. We'd have to define "humans" (broadly, I hope) and what long term goals we will charter artificial entities to aim for. And many other issues. I'd hope for looseness within which we can fine tune, adapt, adjust our implementation values while retaining the core ones.

I do know we'll best begin by rediscovering Pericles and Ben Franklin and M.L. King and the Suffragists... and yes, Adam Smith.

== A long overdue rediscovery ==

Twenty years ago, I was a lonely voice, demanding that folks revive interest in Smith, who has long been distilled into a few catch phrases like "the Invisible Hand" that misled everyone about his brilliant, passionate reasonableness. Now, it seems Smith is all the rage, being repositioned back where he belongs, as the founder of "liberalism" in both the older and newer meanings of the word.

Nowhere is he more appreciated than at Evonomics, a site where moderate and smart scholars mix appreciation of creative market competition with compatible notions of public responsibility and a tide of wealth that truly lifts all boats. Those who study Smith are realizing (surprise!) that he despised above all the oligarchic owner lords who cheated in 99% of human cultures -- the same caste our American Founders rebelled against.

Here's an amazing slide show of quotations from brilliant modern economists who talk about ways to make market economics more sapient and avoid the one failure mode that always ruined it across 6000 years. How weird is it that the defenders of Smith and truly competitive-creative markets are almost all now on the moderate-pragmatic left?  Example:

More accurately, Smith believed that economics could have boundary conditions and incentives that balance short term monetary rewards. A sane, decent and above-all sapient civilization — one that chooses to include “externalities” like the fate of future generations and the planet and a moral sense of fairness — can use foresight to adjust market parameters so the subsequent work of millions of buyers and sellers will solve all needs and problems organically.  

Those who promote an “invisible hand” of wise economics through the actions of a myriad dispersed and distributed buyers and sellers… these folks are not entirely wrong! Markets do allocate capital and labor and goods and services far better than command (GAR) economies, whether the small cabal of allocators are royal cronies, a communist party, or a conspiring caste of monopolists and CEO golf buddies. 

 But any such system operates under goal and boundary conditions that reflect values. They may be those of a liberally flat-open-fair and forward-seeing society, or those of a conniving oligarchy, like the feudal masters of 6000 years - stupid and self-defeating lords whom Adam Smith despised, and against whom the Founders successfully rebelled.

Putting this in perspective is Lynn Stout, the Distinguished Professor of Corporate and Business Law at Cornell Law School, who joins an array of superb, modern economists questioning the obsessive and never-ever-once-right cult of Milton Friedman, focused solely on the quarterly stock price and nothing else.

Alas, these concepts appear to be difficult to grasp, even by smart people. As we'll see in Part II of this series.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The “utopian anarchy” that unites most science fictional wish-fantasies

We're heading out the door to San Diego's extravaganza -- even bigger than our famous Zoo -- Comicon International, with overseas guests in tow. And so, in keeping with the elevated theme of adventure and unlimited possibilities, let's set aside the political shenanigans America's civil war and briefly assume that our Great Experiment in a better kind of society continues -- a civilization that grows better as it grows more diverse and interesting and fair.

Ah, but how to get there? Does science fiction show a way?

== A future of freedom ==

Some of you have been following the debate between Elon Musk and Cory Doctorow et. al., over the meaning and ethos that underly the “Culture” series of novels by Iain M. Banks. Musk has called himself a “utopian anarchist” in a way best described by those novels.  (Elon named several of his SpaceX vessels after ships in Iain’s science fictional cosmos.) Doctorow counters with an assertion that Banks was a vigorous proponent of labor unions.

Having known all three of these brilliant gentlemen, let me avow that each has been beneficial to humanity, helping open our eyes to - variously - dangerous problems, daring opportunities and/or visionary goals. I hope all of them continue to influence us to rise into a thoughtful and bold and broadminded civilization. (And I will draw in other SF'nal utopians below, like Ursula LeGuin.)

This essay in the Guardian takes sides and is, I believe, myopically petty, especially about Elon Musk’s utopian anarchism. In fact, Elon is right that science fiction offers us the unique perspective of deep time, helping us squint far ahead to see a strangely common theme.

Three paths to very similar utopias

Libertarians often speak of a future when there will be very few limits on individual autonomy, when sovereign adults are free to form coalitions and make deals to advance both shared and personal goals, without being unduly hampered either by cloying restrictions or by cheaters.

Most folks aren’t aware that this is also — exactly, in every particular — the long range goal of Marxism! Karl Marx did not dwell on it, or supply much detail; he assumed a final withering-away of the socialist, transition state — into coercion-free individualism — would proceed out of elevated proletarian self-interest. 

Flipping that order of events, libertarians assume that individual liberation in market-driven paradise will require first dismantling the nation state.  Equality and freedom will follow.

A fascinating hybrid is the culture of Planet Annares, in The Dispossessed, by my former teacher, the late Ursula K. LeGuin. Although she was definitely a person of the left, she rejected the domineering 'socialist-transition' states she saw behaving so badly, in Leninist and Maoist realms. Her prescription seems akin -- in many ways -- more to the libertarian path: dismantle authority first. Standing on her shoulders (so to speak) is Kim Stanley Robinson, whose novels dissect many of the tradeoffs along the way to utopian freedom.

But let's get back to that simple comparison of libertarian and marxist end goals.

In sharing a perfectly overlapping, ultimate utopia of empowered individualism, these two movements differ from almost every other belief system of our long past, nearly all of which assumed that hierarchy will prevail. A perfect pyramid of Confucian noblesse oblige, for example. Or the post-apocalypse reign of Jesus. Priests for 6000 years were well paid to spread such mythologies, and Joseph Campbell extolled the pattern as fundamental to human psyches. Even today, Hollywood obsesses on wizards, kings, Jedi and demigod superheroes. (Ah, Comicon, here we go.)

Set against that most-common context, aren’t the utopian marxists and libertarians more rambunctiously similar than they are different? Elsewhere I go into detail about this strange overlap of ultimate goals… 

…and how the two movements differ profoundly over the path to get there! How to achieve that apotheosis of individual liberty from all want or coercion.  Indeed, I show that neither methodology can possibly work!  

But there is a third approach that demonstrably can take us close to that aim of utopian anarchy. 

== The Great Attractor Trap ==

For starters, it is vital to consider the human past. Across all of those long, dark eras, which failure modes generally thwarted progress?

Let’s all blame Charles Darwin. In every society that developed metals and agriculture, human males were relentlessly rewarded - reproductively - for cheating. We’re all descended from the harems of strong, ruthless guys who used metal implements to coerce others into serving them. And we carry seeds of similar behavior; a fraction of us will seek dark corners of any type of society, using any rationalization and exploit any opportunity to gain advantage and repress competitors. 

Oh, the surface incantations vary. The old USSR was run by a cabal of coercive harem-keepers no less brutal than the czars, only with different surface theology. The current occupants of the Kremlin simply tossed aside their hammer-sickle pins and returned to czarist  catechisms. (See Vladimir Sorokin’s terrifying novel “The Day of the Oprichnik.”)

No, this is less about left-vs-right than finding a sweet-spot optimization that eluded most of our ancestors. We who finally listened to John Locke and Pericles and Adam Smith have benefited from one trick -- never allowing power and authority to concentrate into toxic pools, but spreading it widely enough dispersed to keep cheating below a dull roar.

It’s nuts to shout “cheating” when fellows like Elon form clever alliances that deliver better goods and services. Only one society ever found the trick to truly unleash human inventiveness through competitive enterprise, and it’s the same one that got rich enough to finally tackle old injustices of poverty, prejudice and environmental neglect. Those who disparage the word “competition” would kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

But we also need context on the other side. Again, look back at 6000 years of dubious “civilization” in which those with power used it to crush any competitor who might rise from below. In 99% of human cultures, vast reservoirs of talent were repressed — vigorously and actively — under fabulated excuses based on race, gender, or what caste you were born into. Markets and institutions were warped to benefit the mighty, and priests taught that it was good for the lords’ sons to inherit your sons and daughters.

Any society that doesn’t confront this age-old attractor condition — the great human failure mode — will not take us to that glimmering goal of genuine utopian anarchy.  Even Ayn Rand declared cheating to be a basic problem! She maintained that some state structure would remain needed, to counter it. (Alas, her prescription then plunges into incantatory silliness that I dissect here.)

In the long debate between Hobbes and Rousseau, it remains Locke — followed by Hume and Smith — who comes out as wise. Human societies must find a balance between curbing our cheater-devils and liberating our better angels. Unleashing the greatest creative force in the universe - competition - but regulated (as in sports) to prevent the cheating that would ruin it all. This is ruining it all.

And what works best is to keep erring, progressively, toward freedom.

== Utopian Anarchism ==

Which brings us full circle back to the Musk-Doctorow argument over the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks.

In Iain’s projected future, organic and enhanced bio-humans experience lives of near total freedom, including the ability (projected earlier, in John Varley’s cosmos) to change sexes at-whim. Personal choice and the right to “pursue happiness” are maximized and just about the only thing that’s forbidden is to interfere with others’ right to do the same.  It sure looks like “utopian anarchy”…

…till you realize that there remains a regulatory framework, a guiding hand that is lighter in daily practice, but ultimately far more powerful than Ayn Rand’s “few courthouses.” That hand is wielded by the all-powerful AI entities who actually rule the Culture. Mostly-benevolently, but sometimes with plot-propelling weirdness or agendas of their own.

Ironies abound, here, and I am not leading you to a particular conclusion. 

Sure, Banks wove tales of a future that has inspired brilliant innovators — like Elon — to help propel us starward. Whatever the terminology, I share a dream of humanity achieving levels where state authority (or any kind) can safely “wither away”… to use a phrase coined by Karl Marx. And yes, I have spoken of this at many libertarian events and conferences.

But we are not yet the kind of beings who can reliably put reason ahead of tribal emotions, or act always in enlightened self-interest. Even among our brilliant, fact-centered professions, I’d say we do that at-best on a 30% level.  And half of Americans have been talked into waging open war upon all fact-centered professions! 

Under such conditions, you can see why those who want to re-impose hierarchy — like the Chinese Communist Party — rationalize that it’s the only solution.

They are wrong. Their approach -- under all the high-tech gloss -- is exactly the one that froze and lobotomized most human societies. If it prevails, we will never have the stars.

== A difficult, achievable path ==

Oh, if we look around today it's clear that Hobbes still has a several point advantage over Rousseau. And those of us who still believe in the passionately-moderate, militantly reasonable revolution of Locke — and Adam Smith and the American Founders — have an upward path to slog. A Great Experiment to save. 

And — alas for those eagerly propounding quick-fixes — this will entail using many of the tools we already have. 

Despite setbacks, like phase 8 of the American Civil War, we are on that upward path!  Ironically, Elon and Iain and Corey and Ursula and KS Robinson were all lights along the way.

But to go much farther, we truly will need to include externalities in our market prices. And elevate all children to a level of opportunity where talent stops being wasted and all competition is joyfully flat-open-fair. And ensure that disparities of power no longer entice many to prefer cheating over innovation.

Until we’ve done all that, and taught wiser generations how to apply their sovereign individuality with truly enlightened self-interest, then we’ll still need some Lockean structure. We’ll still need to fight for a civilization that — despite a myriad flows — has been more generously helpful of our long range goals than any other.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

End the cheating...

This time, I'll finish with a weird comparison of Donald Trump as the Bizarro Gorbachev... indeed, I believe that's how Vladimir Putin views his puppet!  

But let's start by talking about how Rupert Murdoch and his minions and overseas allies hope to continue their impressive run, having controlled the US legislature, despite losing the popular vote in ten of the last twelve congressional elections, and in all but one of the last seven presidential elections.  How do they do it? 

We know how urgently they need to control the Supreme Court, which has refused to intervene against the egregiously horrific treason called gerrymandering. (Future generations will remember this craven behavior in kind with the Dred Scott Decision.)

Further case in point... Our battle for the republic just got a notch worse. The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 ruling, allows states to purge voters for a failure to vote.  

The Blue Wave will be inadequate unless voter repression in swing districts is fought, tooth and nail. Elsewhere I talk about Voter ID laws, and how stupid liberals are, for opposing such laws in principle.  In principle, there is nothing wrong with asking a voter to prove who they are. Opposing it in general terms makes liberals look like would-be cheaters, themselves.

No, the better argument is that states should offer vigorous compliance assistance, to help poor citizens or women, minorities, youth to get their ID, which would help them also economically and in other parts of life. No red state has done this, spending not even a dime. They close DMV offices in democratic areas! See where I dissect how enemies of America trick decent people into opposing a wretched cheat... in stupid ways.

Instead support groups like this one, that actually get on the ground - like the Freedom Riders of old - and help poor people, the old, the young, divorced women etc to GET ID. This is how we answer: see the valuable work done by VoteRiders.

== The voting machines ==

Top Maryland officials say the FBI told them this week that the state's voter registration platform was purchased by a Russian oligarch in 2015.  And this is... news? This is only the latest, blatant example. For decades, the companies making US electronic voting machines just happened to be owned by former GOP or Murdoch operatives.  

The top job of every GOP Secretary of State in red states is electoral cheating, and they are financially richly rewarded. These states, lacking auditable paper records, will show anomalously high Republican voting this fall, in targeted swing districts, especially in state assembly districts that might tip the balance of power in statehouses.

== This is how you can be most effective, starting now ==

If you are looking for a way to help, turn your attention to some local or neighboring state assembly or senate district that might be in reach to flip. It is at that level that one person's activism could make a huge difference. Offer to host a neighborhood meet-and-greet for the candidate, for example. If they see your district is climbing out of reach, the cheaters will go elsewhere.

Oh, btw, this advice holds for decent republicans. In 2020, the decent, American side of conservatism will have its one chance to rise up and rescue something from the Trump-Murdoch-Putin-confederate ashes. But only if there are ashes in 2018! This fall... hold your nose and go blue.

== Eliminating the greatest path for cheaters ==

A petition was recently sent to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, by 36 eminent retired general and field officers from the United States Armed Forces as well as retired civilian leaders from the National Security Council; the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, and Commerce; and the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Are they concerned about foreign despots? Terrorists? White and blue collar criminals? Drug lords?

All of the above are empowered and enabled by secret-anonymous shell corporations. And surprise, the leading nexus of these dark dens is not Switzerland, or the Cayman Islands. It is Delaware. Followed by many others of these not-so-United States.

“The U.S. remains the easiest place in the world to set up an anonymous shell company according to an academic study from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University….  These companies have put Americans at risk and worse — criminals enjoy the benefits of strong investment returns and total secrecy here in the U.S. drug cartels and human trafficking operations have long understood the benefits of corporate secrecy to launder money from criminal enterprises. More recently, anonymous companies are implicated in terror financing, fraudulent contracting with our military, and even sanctions evasion.”

These eminent leaders added: “As we ratchet up sanctions against hostile nations, it is telling to note that the Iranian Government previously skirted our sanctions for years by utilizing a web of shell companies, including some registered in the United States, to buy a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.”

Read the letter here, and spread the word. No, this Congress won’t do anything to benefit the nation, humanity or the future.  But tracks and seeds can be laid. This is reminiscent of the “Helvetian War” that I described in my 1989 novel EARTH. Only I never expected “Helvetia” to stand for America.

 == Who are the best cheaters? ==

Evonomics – the smartest site online for economic/social analysis, aimed at saving free markets from the oligarchy that’s ruining them – features Steve Roth’s article: “Capital’s Share of Income Is Way Higher than You Think.” Roth dissects how almost half of the market income arriving at U.S. households is received for just being wealthy: owning stuff, and not either work or active investment. In other words, most of the rich are doing exactly as that liberal – Adam Smith – described aristocrats always doing… pouring their excess wealth into “rent-seeking” or “rentier” vampirism, instead of creative enterprises.

Oh, there are exceptions! Investors like the west coast tech zillionaires who recycle their extra capital into new ventures, new goods and services and productive capacity. That’s what the Mad Right has said would happen with Supply Side “economics!” But for 90% of the oligarchy, it never, ever happened. Moreover guess how that risk-taking, investor 10% votes?  With a few exceptions, like Peter Thiel, they are mostly democrats, agreeing that markets must be regulated to reduce the age-old enemy of enterprise –


Seriously, where do the proto-feudal oligarchs think this will end? Will the war on all fact users truly cow all the folks who stand in their way to total feudal power? Or will we fight back?

And finally, as promised...

== Is Donald Trump our Bizarro version of Gorbachev==

I was about to claim this as an original-weird idea, but searching uncovered a guy who thought of it first - that Donald Trump's best historical analogue is Mikhail Gorbachev!

Oh, they are opposites in almost every way - as were the systems they undermined! But look at it from the perspective of Puppetmaster Putin, who calls the fall of the USSR 'history's worst tragedy.' Putin openly calls Gorbachev a western agent, who used the Soviet presidency to systematically bring a communist superpower down from within. So, why not use that template to retaliate, in kind?

Gorbachev applied intelligence and decency to reforming his nation away from dogmatism and incompetence. He might have saved the USSR in some form - (I portrayed it, in EARTH) - had not a final attempted communist putsch led to the total breakup.

Now mirror-reverse every single adjective above. Rupert Murdoch and Putin now have an agent in the White House who applies stunningly stubborn stupidity, indecency and a complicity to plunge his nation toward dogmatism and incompetence, while dismantling every single strength that led the West to Cold War victory - from strong alliances to science to a confident service class and basic social cohesion.

Yes, it is a mirror-reverse image, because the US and USSR were opposites in nearly all ways. Ours is a Bizarro Gorbachev, but the fundamental is the same... figure out the empire's greatest weaknesses. Then use a suborned leader and party, plus a massive propaganda mill to demolish morale, undermine institutions and bring a mighty nation down.

More and ever-more, I am convinced Putin and Murdoch are very smart, indeed... though not science fiction smart. They are unable to grasp where waging war on the West's fact-using professions will inevitably lead, once we let ourselves perceive the full extent of cheating.