Thursday, May 02, 2019

A circular firing squad

From The Hill: Obama worried progressives will form a circular firing squadHe's right... but it needs better emphasis on the positive. Not "don't do that" but instead "Let's win mighty victories, first, before turning on each other." May I suggest

"Let's prioritize the things ALL members of our American Sanity Coalition agree upon. Accomplish those things first with overwhelming vigor! Once we stop electoral cheating, get money transparency in politics, restore the value of facts, get all children health coverage, stop welfare for the rich, curb monopolies, save DACA kids, get busy on climate change, restore our alliances and the morale of our fact-using professions... 

"...once we've done those things won't progressives be at a better starting point to argue for the rest of their list? Even if we then start bickering and negotiating among ourselves, won't it be a better nation and world that we made, while united? Better, saner and more ready to tackle tomorrow?"

I offer the list of consensus wants in more detail below. And you splitters are welcome to tell us which of those things you don't want, or that you actually belive the Biden wing doesn't want.

How can it be so hard to couch all this is positive-assertive ways? Nancy Pelosi told the liberal wing re Medicare for All: 
I’m agnostic. Show me how you think you can get there. We all share the value of quality, affordable health care for all Americans. What is the path to that?”

Nancy, there are better ways to act like the Fiscally Prudent Adult. For example, if we can't afford to do Medicare for All overnight, then go with an idea that was broached in the 90s... Medicare for All Children. Up to age 25. 

OMG, isn't it a blatant win-win? Ease the fears of every parent in America, ensure the future is cared-for and dare any Republican to oppose it! The route to Medicare For All is then simple. Once the fiscal situation is solid, amp the age limit up to 26 and from 65 down to 60. Then 27 and 59. Watch as the insurance companies suddenly fall all over themselves to reform!

Why do even the goodguy politicians have no sense of logic at all?

But Medicare for All Children is not the only item on a long list of democrat unifiers!

== This is not zero-sum, Democrats! ==

There is only one path to true victory... and that is Big Tent. Huge Tent. Welcome in more of the retired military folks who tipped the balance for Congress last year. Run tons of them in every purple and red district! Meanwhile let safely deep blue districts go full AOC, great! Run a Pres. ticket that will crush it with RASRs (Residually Adult-Sane Republicans) destroying the Fox-Putin confederate coalition so that the GOP party of treason gets smashed into pulp.

Will the DP then split into wings? Socialist vs enterprise-purple? 
Hell yeah! 
But only AFTER we get these democratic consensus unifiers --

Electoral reform ending gerrymander and other travesties, 
Election money transparency,
Anti-trust breakup of monopoly/duopolies,
End voodoo "supply side" vampirism by the aristocracy we rebelled against in 1776,
Medicare for all Children,
Climate action,
Consumer protection,
Emoluments supervision,
At least allow student debt refinancing. Start discussing more.
Restore some of the social contract set up by the FDR-loving "Greatest Generation,"
Restore postal savings bank for the un-banked,
Basic, efficient background checks,
Restored rebuttal rules on "news" channels,
A revised-throttled War Powers Act, and
Restored respect for the existence of things called facts and support for professions that use them.  

Is that a long list? Well dig this - the absolute core fact of our resistance. All democrats, almost all independents and a whole lot of RASRS want all of those things, so why not do them first? 

Anyone who screams "socialism!" at that list is screaming at our parents in the Greatest Generation, who crushed Hitler, contained Stalinism, took us to the moon loved science and built the world's greatest middle class.

Are there actual "socialist" things you want? Well, sure. But first do the things that *all* democrats -- indeed, by-far most Americans -- agree upon! It's a long list, and if we get all that, wouldn't you agree that you will then be better placed to push further? Or at least make a fair case, based on facts?

Then, after all that is done, should AOC lead her forces against the Blue Dogs? (She'll find them surprisingly willing to negotiate.) That is when America will be at least basically sane again, and from that launching point, fact-based debate can ensue, amid negotiation among adults.

You radicals, stay vigorous and volcanically active. But also prioritize your opponents! Control yourselves and show some discipline. Don't let Kremlin trolls incite you (again) into splitter-purism and eating our own. Let's work together on the long list of shared agenda items first. Then things will be so much better, and maybe the country will follow you further left.

== Get this through your heads ==

We can fight on two fronts.

The AOC wing is seizing blue districts away from old-style Dems they deemed insufficiently vigorous. Fine! Do that if you can! AOC’s oblique reference to FDR – in her “New Deal” – is brilliant! Not a single other dem – not even Bernie – has been smart enough yet to invoke the World War II or “greatest” generation, which could be our magic bullet to restore the Rooseveltean social contract that worked so well.

Only meanwhile dig it, fools. The only reason we have the House, and now committees investigating everything, is because of the 50 Blue Dogs who actually invaded purple and Red districts and took them away from the foxite-putinist Confederacy.

Live with the Big Tent... or we'll die by self-inflicted cuts.


duncan cairncross said...

Back to the last post
Jim and Sel ask about the earths "carrying capacity" with a decent lifestyle

The limits that I can see are food and energy - everything else can be recycled

The UK is actually capable of feeding itself - the diet has to change but it could if necessary feed itself - and that is with normal present farming technology and without farming most of the current non farm land - and definately without all of the new "farm in a building" technology
The UK specifically set out to have that ability after WW2

UK population density - 270 people per square Km
Land area of Earth - 510 million square km
So at the UK's population density we would have - 137 Billion people

If we add the ocean's we would get 500 Billion

We MAY get to 10 Billion before the population drops again

So food should not be a problem

POWER - Energy
160 Perawat hours per year - this is the top line before any conversion efficiency

Solar gets 4 hours out of 24 - and 20% efficiency - 365 x 4 x 0.2 a 1Kw/m2 = 292 kWh/m2 or 292 GWh/km2

So we would need 550,000 square km - or about one tenth of one percent of the land area of the earth

There are "Limits" but they are high enough that they are NOT going to stop us from having a high population and comfortably lifestyle

The "political" limits are more likely to be a problem than the "physical" limits

drf5n said...

I like it. A system is a group of components working together towards a common goal. The larger the group of individuals, the smaller the subset of common goals becomes, but you've identified some good goals. And they are goals that seem diametrically opposed to the 'conservative' agenda.

David Brin said...

Duncan, Britain is an exceptionally "green and pleasant land." Most of the Earth is much less hospitable. Still, with urban tower-farming and a shift from red meat and other reforms, food will likely not be a problem. If.

Our biggest problem is that some large parts of the oligarchy feel they will lose dominance if we truly enter a sustainably everyone-rich world.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
I agree Britain is a green and pleasant land -
But we are only using 25% of it for crops - and in terms of a reduced meat diet we could support the whole population on that

The UK could support double it's present population with more farming and a change of diet

Going to the latest "urban tower farming" would massively increase it again

Diet change - and then "political" limits your "large part of the oligarchy"

If the oligarchs prove to be too stubborn they may find us going back to our roots - long pig anybody?

Anonymous said...
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truth_bot said...
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Tacitus said...

An important topic.

Tidy up the joint a bit and you'll have more customers inclined to pull up a bar stool and offer up perspectives.


Mike Will said...

Just like Canada and the US, complexity & chaos share a long and undefended border. Blogging is a razor's edge.


gregory byshenk said...

This is not really my circus, but I grew up in the US and remain in contact with many friends there, many of whom are on the "left", and I think the concern is not only about what the "centrist" wing "wants" (though that is a concern in some cases), but about what the "centrists" are willing to really fight for. Even if someone "wants" some policy, that accomplishes little or nothing if that person is willing to bargain away almost everything important that is in it in order to be "centrist" or "bipartisan". And many on the "left" are skeptical of how much the "centrists" even really "want" everything on that list, as at least some of them appear to be carrying water for health insurers, drug companies, banks, and others who oppose such policies.

Darrell E said...

Interesting. Even Fox News's legal analyst Andrew Napolitano thinks that Barr has committed a felony. Couldn't agree more with that, he has. I do disagree with Napolitano on whether Barr lied or misled though. To be sure he did both, but he certainly did lie.

Fox News' Andrew Napolitano says Bill Barr may have committed felonies: "He has a problem"

jim said...

It seems like we are recreating the Techno-cornucopia vs Limits to Growth Debate. And I don’t think either of us will persuade the other to change their position.

But I do think the next 10 years or so should settle the debate. From my perspective we have falling per capita surplus energy (the basis for prosperity) and rapidly mounting debt that can not be repaid. This conflict is the cause of the coming economic depression. Also, climate change is kicking into a higher gear, I expect to see the first blue arctic event within 10 years and we are already seeing this loss of sea ice destabilizing the weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.

But if you are right, we should be able to get though the next 10 years with only minor (ordinary) economic downturns.

truth_bot said...
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David Brin said...

jim, the answer to the debt problem is the same as the answer to the Oligarchy Problem and the honesty-transparency problem in maintaining flat-fair competition. Here's a segment of a "historical retrospective" I just wrote about the World Ownership Treaty:

The World Ownership Treaty (WOT) of 2028 aimed to address that urgency with fierce brevity, starting with a simple rule:
If you own something, you must say so.
Your house, your BlocCoin account, your farm or donkey or bot… just point and e-nounce “that’s mine.” For the vast majority of humans and humano-legates, that aissertion was enough. (Though conflicting claims will take years to adjudicate, even under streamlined rules.)
World elites hated the treaty’s second sentence:
Ownership may not be hidden; “shell” companies may only go three-deep before ending at a living human, an accountable foundation or government.
Rich families and zaibatsus complained. But AI-models and trend projections were clear: it was this or revolution. Moreover legitimate owners benefitted from what came next: the Great Abandonment. Across the globe, vast troves of illicit wealth went unclaimed, from Amazonian estates to London penthouses, to zim-patents and fabricow herds. Drug lords, mafia clans, algorimpires and kleptocratic clans chose to forsake manors, ranchos and corporate stakes, rather than explain how they got it all.
When tallies were made, we stared in awe. The sum of abandoned property roughly equaled the debts of every nation. Mountains of red ink were erased in a one-time wash, courtesy of cliques who had robbed the world. Whereupon, without that weight of debt, most nations cut taxes. Yes everyone’s, even taxes on the legitimately rich.

truth_bot said...
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jim said...

You are the only person I have heard talking about that.
And I don't know how to evaluate the proposal.
I am not opposed to it at all and it sounds like a good idea.
I would like to see others evaluate it so we might be able to get an idea on how much money we are talking about.

If Duncan is right, and you are right on the magnitude of the wealth that could help fund the transition to a sustainable society. But if I am right, a one time cash infusion does not fix the structural problem, but it does help in the short term.

David Brin said...

jim, the structural problem is the more important one and the core reason for the WOT!

If wealth cannot be hidden, then it becomes subject to open political processes. It's the reason they so desperately hide it, in the first place. Do you think that Putin and his oligarchs would survive if every Russian knew how much had been stolen and hidden where?


Alas, we knew the obsessive rude person would keep coming back, pissing where he has been told he is not wanted.

locumranch said...

Our fine host fails to acknowledge that consensus politics, majority rule & democracy always -- and I mean ALWAYS -- ends badly for the minority, insomuch as EU globalism & the US political party politics are increasingly elitist, technocratic, non-representational & minority-dominated entities:

As in the case of Danton, this is an intellectually dishonest recipe for self-destruction, as those who rail the loudest against (bad) aristocratic & oligarchic minority rule tend to favour (good) intellectual & technocratic minority rule.

For once you define minority rule as despotic, it will remain forever despotic, forever & always, whether or not you choose to redefine that despotism as either benevolent or malignant at a later date.

By inciting hate and envy against the oligarchic, aristocratic & privileged minorities, I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.

Enjoy the resolve.

Alfred Differ said...

Carry-over from last post


$10/day is way too much. To someone in the US is seems like a reasonable measure, but it is best taken as one of many possible measures. At the very bottom is the one that points to someone on the brink of starvation which is down near $1. Maybe a little higher? How about $2? The next one up is the typical income of the average human through history which is around $3. Maybe a touch higher? How about $4? By the time you get to $10, that person is earning about 3x more than the average human through history and as much as a commoner living in the heart of a successful historical empire, so $10 is actually quite a lot.

It’s important to account for all self-generated/self-consumed income in this measure. If I am a farmer, grow all my own food, consume most of it, and sell the surplus, only the surplus ever shows up as money or exchanged goods in a market. My personal wealth, though, depends on all of it. The average human through history made do with very little and even less that counted as surplus, but there generally WAS a surplus. Malthus was correct in how surplus turned into babies, so our population growth is a decent proxy for wealth up to about 1600. After that, surplus grew in Northern Europe in an odd way and somewhat faster than women could have babies.

If you stick to your $10 measure, the poverty level is still high, but not as high as it used to be. If you look at what happened to the $1 and $3 measures, however, the change is dramatic. Don’t take my word for it. Check out for the statistical evidence, videos (like , and tests of your intuition on this subject. They show how most of us still have a mid-20th century mental model of the world that is no longer true. Even while the Cold War raged, the world essentially ended famines that weren’t caused by war. Poverty at the lower measures has collapsed. Literacy is highly saturated in most of the world. They’ll show you what it looks like to live on $1, $3, $10, or $100/day. They’ll even show you how people tend to lift themselves. For example, someone with a bit of surplus at $3/day buying a bicycle has more access to fair markets. That alone could get them to $10/day. Transportation is a BIG deal.

Obviously, there are still big problems to solve, but I remember a day when I was young when problems like poverty and population brought on a look of despair on the faces of the adults around me. They thought them intractable problems. Turns out they were wrong, so I have to wonder about our despair over current problems. Worry is fine, hard work is necessary, but I suspect our grandkids will blame us for a few things and wonder what all the fuss was about on a few others. Fortunately, we’ve added a few billion newly educated minds to our problem solving markets, so I think we’ll manage.

Alfred Differ said...

The libertarian part of me is generally supportive of ownership transparency, but I want to point out a few complexities that would have to be addressed in any realistic policy.

1. There are still parts of the world where there is a distinction among ‘living humans’ that requires we recognize ‘juridical person’ as a legal category. For example, not everyone is free to own property where they live. Women, children, felons, citizens professing the wrong faith, and so on face restrictions depending on where they live. It won’t be enough to end the ownership chain with a living human. You’ll need to end it with a free living human.

2. There are different legal regimes when it comes to ownership constructs too. C-corps, S-corps, LLC’s, general and limited partnerships, trusts, etc. Even if ownership chains end in free living humans, they link to them through legal structures that are not recognized as legal everywhere. What structures are allowed in the ownership chains will have to be listed and justified.

3. One can reasonably ask why the ownership chain should be limited to three levels. Why not four? 10? Leaving it open ended is obviously unacceptable because that defeats the purpose of transparency. That’s close to the situation we have now. So… why 3? This has to be explained because markets are big and complex even when we aren’t trying to obscure what we are doing. The choice of number has to be justified.

I used to do temp work for the UCC division of the California Secretary of State’s office. It was an eye-opener to see the various forms that came though there, the legal justification for all of it, and how their records were used in the market. Few people realize just how UCC agreements came about, let alone how vital they are. With that experience, though, I want to point out more issues.

1. While getting names correct for the various legal entities was vital, it was equally vital to get the names right for the property being described. UCC-1 forms represented liens against real property. They get used when there is a need to resolve bankruptcy because they are timestamped. Claims are processed first in-first out with a few exceptions involving the taxing agencies. That suggests it that specifying owners in an ownership change is half the problem. Specifying property is the other half. Since ‘juridical persons’ ARE property, the chain is really a net that will require careful assignment of ID’s to everything in it.

2. Realizing the chains are really parts of a net suggests the ownership depth concept won’t really work because ‘chains’ are just an analogy. That’s okay, though, because free living human nodes in that net can be identified as such. The chain depth concept is really a connection distance in the graph. Do it that way and it might be possible to avoid demanding too much regularity in legal regimes. It is this regularity that is least likely to be achievable, so flexibility here is useful.

jim said...

Tell you what,
If you go and take 300 bucks out of your bank account, and with only that money in your wallet and the cloths on your back live for one month and then you can say 10 dollars a day too high a level for poverty.

David Brin said...

"Our fine host fails to acknowledge that consensus politics, majority rule & democracy always -- and I mean ALWAYS -- ends badly for the minority…”

Prove this assertion. If I show counter examples to the ALWAYS!, do I get $100? The pure fact that this is opposite to true is of no effect to the clutching of incantations.

Oh! The poor poor aristocrats! So powerless to defend themselves! The underdogs! Except the smarter ones are already demanding that their caste save itself by accepting curbs to their insatiable devouring.

e.g. “It’s not whether we should be capitalist or socialist. It’s how do we make sure that capitalism is working the way it has in the past,” said top investor Alan Schwartz at the recent Milken Conference, warning of “class warfare.” He noted that salaries and wages as a percentage of the economic pie are at a postwar low of 40%, prompting a “throw out the rich” mentality that would require some form of income redistribution to head off.
Mega investor Ray Dalio further warned that unless the American economic system is reformed so “that the pie is both divided and grown well” the country is in danger of “great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt most everyone and will shrink the pie.”

Ah locum: “By inciting hate and envy against the oligarchic, aristocratic & privileged minorities, I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

See this is why I keep locum around. His screeching of utter opposites to all fact keep me enthralled that we are a species capable of thought patterns I simply cannot replicate within. Zero-sum dedication to disproved incantations and utter sanctimonious fury. I saw these in so many around me, as a child all the way to today. We need to study specimens and grasp the syndrome.

Darrell E said...

Another thing to perhaps add to the list is changes to strengthen Congress's authority to see whatever it deems necessary to fulfill it's oversight mandate. As is now evident the current special counsel guidelines, heavily modified post Monica-gate, can't handle an obstructive Attorney General. Then there's the President and cronies that simply ignore Congressional summons and subpoenas. And denying the Ways & Means Committee its long standing authority. Any ideas on how to give Congress more power to assert its authority in matters of oversight without giving them too much so that they become the next constitutional crisis?

David Brin said...

"Even while the Cold War raged, the world essentially ended famines that weren’t caused by war."

The U.S. gets so much crap for its high defense spending, over a quarter of discretionary state spending (not counting the states and cities.) Historically, that's actually rather low. But for most of the world - the Americas, Asia, even Africa -- military spending has spent 70 years at levels our ancestors would have called microscopic. Yes, even so, the militaries often were bullies who installed dictators. And much of the money saved went directly to kleptocrats. Still, in much of the world, for 7 decades nations got to waste very little wealth on armies and soldiers. Why?

This happens to some degree during an imperial pax era, when one empire keeps the peace. But never as successfully as Pax Americana. That freeed-up capital was vital to the investments in development the world has seen.

David Brin said...

jim, you are doing it again. Kindly paraphrase. Alfred is not saying you can live comfy in the US on $300. But if it lets you feed/clothe/bathe children who bring schoolbooks home to find an electric light and refrigerator and sink and basic sanitation in a country with low cost-of-living prices - and yes, a cheap cell phone and a cheap internet cafe nearby - then your poverty is not grinding. And those kids can leave High School emboldened and capable, with some of them heading for professions.

That's what is happening. Try it out. Give yourself $900 (because you don't have scrounging skills) and you could manage in many African countries, especially if you keep a large garden and chickens and goats etc. It's enough that, if you can rely upon it for 20 years, you'll see kids who pat you on the head and move on up.

jim said...

80 % of the world lives on less than 10 dollars a day in purchasing power parity (not 10 US dollars a day)

If someone thinks that 10 dollars a day is too high a level for poverty, I would actually like them to live at that level for a short period of time and see if their opinion changes.

Alfred Differ said...


In 1987 I essentially did. My income statement from Social Security shows I made about $3000 that year. Account for a few things I did that wouldn't show as monetized income and I came real close to $10/day. Of course, those were 1987 dollars where $10 then is about $22 now in terms of purchasing power. However, I had a bicycle, a roof over my head, and could just feed myself. That's about it.

Your challenge will fall flat with a lot of graduate students who chose poverty in order to complete their education. For us, we know that poverty will come to an end relatively soon, but we aren't unfamiliar with the life-style that choice imposes upon us. So... don't assume our ignorance.

Alfred Differ said...

There is nothing comfy about living a low-monetized-income life style. There are skills to acquire to pull it off. Scrounging is one of them. Spotting the pennies dropped by others is useful. Doing things for others in trade makes a big difference if the culture allows it. The biggest skill, though, is to make and hold friendships. An isolated man in poverty is @#%#'ed. A socially connected one might not be.

Where you choose to live matters. I can't recommend most of California for a low-income life.

What you choose to do 'next' matters. You can remain in your behaviors or try for an out.

Who you relate to matters the most. Your kinship group is what you manufacture it to be. It is those people who might share their surplus with you and drag out out of the hole you are in.

Alfred Differ said...

The U.S. gets so much crap for its high defense spending, over a quarter of discretionary state spending (not counting the states and cities.)

I like to point out that much of what people consider excessive compensated for what other nations might have spent if they had not recently been crushed by a world war. Since only one nation was spending all that money... well... Pinker explained it better than I would. 8)

For people who like to argue that the US didn't need to spend at that level, I just point to the fact that we were absolutely awash in wealth. We could do that, send science probes to the outer planets, put men on the Moon (more than once), and scads of other things. We had the money and were going to spend it on something. Several somethings. And we did.

As for the Pax, it is useful to point out that we won three big world wars that started in Europe in the 20th century. Few nations can claim that without trying to count their bit roles as allies. To do what we did last century requires absolutely enormous wealth and we are the only nation on Earth at that level. Hence the Pax. Hence the whole economic point of expanding our civilization off-world.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

I generally agree with David's World Ownership Treaty idea, but (at least in Contrary Brin), he always leaves out the most important part of these proposals. That part is personal freedom. I'm sure that he understands the importance of individual liberty, but he nearly always omits it totally when summarizing his proposals, which makes me think that something critical is missing in his understanding of the importance of individual liberty.

For example, in his above summary of the World Ownership Treaty, he ignores the fact that declaring previously hidden ownership would mean that the newly-declared owner would, in most cases, be sent to prison for life. In many countries, that life would be very short, lasting only as long as it took for bullets to be loaded into the guns of the firing squad.

Much of the hidden wealth today began when wealthy people stated hiding their wealth in the form of the evil illicit substance called gold. Gold ownership was mostly illegal in the United States from 1933 until 1975, with each particular instance of gold ownership being punishable by 10 years in prison (plus total confiscation of the gold plus an addition fine of about $200,000 in 2019 dollars for each instance of obtaining this evil substance).

To use an example from today, do you think that anyone who owns a truckload of unregistered marijuana within the state of California is going to declare his ownership because of a World Ownership Treaty?

Untaxed hidden property should be subject to reasonable taxes, but the ownership should otherwise continue with the owner not in fear of imprisonment.

Although much hidden property is hidden in order to avoid taxes, a very substantial amount (probably the largest fraction) is hidden to avoid monetary instability. Even in the United States, where the currency is comparatively stable, monetary inflation has generally been quite bad, and inflation (in addition to being a hidden tax) is also subject to direct individual taxation.

As an example of how unstable the U.S. dollar is, for about the first 15 years of my life, our entire family of 5 did live on less than $10 a day. (The one exception to this was 1959, when my mother won an enormous $1500 grand prize in a contest. This nearly doubled our family income that one year.)

Jerry Emanuelson said...

For the nitpickers, I will say that individual ownership of a very few substances should be illegal in any significant quantities. These include things like U-235, plutonium, the smallpox virus, the 1918 Spanish flu virus, etc. That list of invalid personal property items should be very small.

I don't think that I have ever even seen heroin or LSD, but if I want to invest in a secured truckload of heroin or LSD, and openly declare my ownership, I should be able to do it without fear of imprisonment. (It should be allowable, though, to restrict transactions involving substances such as these to include at least one licensed medical professional. Ownership and transactions must be subject to different laws.)

Jerry Emanuelson said...

In the interest of trying to return to the main topic of this post, I would like to point out that one of the Democratic candidates for president is a libertarian. She is a libertarian/quasi-socialist, but nevertheless a libertarian. The fact that she could get a large chunk of the libertarian and libertarian-leaning vote has not been totally ignored, either.

She is also the only candidate who has actually (and quite actively) dealt with the real warning of an incoming nuclear-tipped missile. The fact that she dealt with that incident so superbly, even though it turned out to be a false alarm, should put her at the top of the list of candidates actually qualified to be president.

Alfred Differ said...

Good point and it aligns with what he points out with transparency in general. "It's not what you know... it's what you do with what you know."

In the case of property, ownership of it is like knowing something. Transactions are the analogous actions. Regulations dealing with transactions will impact valuations on underlying property, so owning something shouldn't be the big issue.

I can think of a scenario where owning large supplies of treasury notes should cause alarm from those in the bottom half of the income scale in the US. Debt holders benefit when voters chose to spend and don't raise enough taxes to cover it all. Big debt holders can partially collude with voters and line their own pockets that way. Piketty described the game rather well.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Jerry
How many people have DIED because of the rich person hiding his/her wealth?

I would say many many tens of thousands in the USA alone - everybody who died because of lack of health care
Those peoples deaths mean we should do more than simply have reasonable taxes on wealth that was hidden

At minimum we should have back taxes PENAL back taxes going all the way back to when it was hidden

Some countries may legitimately impose the death penalty - In poor countries the actions of the rich in hiding "their" ill gotten gains will have killed lots of people

Dr Brin is being very libertarian in that he would allow those people the choice - admit ownership and pay the penalty - or just run away

This is why Dr Brin expects a lot of the hidden wealth to be simply abandoned

David Brin said...

Jerry: “ignores the fact that declaring previously hidden ownership would mean that the newly-declared owner would, in most cases, be sent to prison for life.”

I did not ignore that. Any property that you had openly avowed earlier and paid taxes on is clearly wealth you can now declare, under WOT. There is a murky zone where “everybody know that Smith owns that, but taxes were never an issue. That can be dealt with with some registration fees… national law can do that or offer amnesties.

But if you got the wealth through crime, and you have to abandon it for that reason… um? Hell yeah!

Both computer-AI scans and RIVALS will ensure that unclaimed property gets announced, as the state auctions off things that were unclaimed, including your marijuana truck.

“a very substantial amount (probably the largest fraction) is hidden to avoid monetary instability.”


As for the LSD, I am libertarian enough to want a lot less things to be nanny-state illegal. That would be up to politics in each nation. And note that it’s the supposedly nanny-stater democratic states who are dropping the damned drg war.

“one of the Democratic candidates for president is a libertarian.”

Finally, the WOT is deliberately designed to have zero directly socialist or confiscatory aspects, it raises NO taxes and will likely cause rates to fall. It erases most... maybe all... national debt. I designed it specifically to be impossible for most on the right or even sane libertarians to object to, since it's about helping market transaction to be more liquid and knowing.

Alfred Differ said...

How granular are we supposed to get with our property? Would that be left to local authorities?

Who gets to decide what counts as property? Local definitions might lead to one jurisdiction setting the standard since we can't have claims in one jurisdiction be invalid in another.

I'm reminded of a trick AOL tried to pull many years ago. Remember all those CD's they used to give away. All they need was for a small fraction of them to get used to make it worth the cost to them. (Sounds like a strategy from Existence.) Well... for tax purposes, they tried to claim them as depreciable property. One one hand, that's a silly idea. On another, it made some sense. Write the EULA correctly and the contents on the CD's remain owned by AOL. Since those contents are worth less with each passing patch and added functionality, they look like a semi-durable capital. I don't think they got away with it in the long run, but they tried and had a reasonable argument to use for that attempt.

What qualifies as property will be an issue for WOT and we would need some uniformity across jurisdictions. Since property can own property (it's a net and not a chain), this will be tricky.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Hi Duncan,

I'm not going to argue whether "reasonable taxes" would mean all back taxes or only current taxes (which would be quite substantial on long-hidden assets due to inflation). Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides.

I do believe that one must be pragmatic and avoid all-or-nothing solutions. All-or-nothing solutions will simply never happen. Insisting upon retribution for all of the sins of the past would just guarantee that those sins continue to be perpetuated indefinitely into the future.

Even if very little abandoned property is recovered, there would be an enormous tax windfall if hidden assets had to be declared. This would be especially true if something like a $20 million upper limit on inheritances were put into effect. As I have said before, although there is good reason for honoring certain wishes of the dead, dead people don't have any legal rights.

It is also most important that only dangerously violent people be imprisoned.

If all non-violent offenders, especially those whose only offense were ownership of certain substances, were released from prisons, then many prisons could be converted into relatively secure shelters for the homeless.

Give the homeless people a key to one of the newly-emptied prison cells. The U.S. currently has more than a million homeless people (or people living in cars) and more than a million potentially-productive people unjustly imprisoned.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Jerry
I'm a great believer in pragmatism

But I do like to get the stakes into position -
If people think that the "owners" of the hidden wealth have some sort of "right" to that wealth then I will put in place the arguments that reduce/eliminate those rights

If they have an absolute "right" then as we tax them we are being unfair to them

If we identify a "right" and reason to simply confiscate the wealth then we can bend over backwards and allow them to retain a part of their wealth

As far as prison is concerned the USA definitely imprisons far too many people BUT I would NOT restrict prison to "violent offenders" - I would replace most of the petty criminals in the US system with the financial criminals - the ones that ruin lives wholesale

I would NOT expect to end up with a consistently large prison population BUT you do need to lock up a large number so that they and the others learn a different lesson than the present one that you can ruin and hurt people and as long as you do it with paper you will never personally suffer any hardship

Tim H. said...

A public option on Medicare would be a nice step forwards, but I worry that Wall $treet would react badly*, their sensitivity to creeping socialism is comparable to Douglas Adams "Know nothing Bozo, the non-wonder dog" from So Long And Thanks For All The Fish".

*An important spark of secession, the possibility of a reduction of the book value of slaves. What might Wall $treet instigate to preserve the value of health care stocks?

Old Rockin' Dave said...

Here are two more common sense fixes. First, require FICA to be taken out of ALL income instead of the cap after about the first $116,000. The amount of money to be realized from that is massive and the concept is just.
Second, free the US Postal Service from having to fully fund its pension system for 75 years out, a requirement that no other corporation has to meet. By reducing USPS costs and hopefully prices, or at least postage hikes, we should get a boost to the economy, probably small but nonetheless real.
We might also look at some of the ideas from the Socialist Party presidential platform of 1912. I addition to such dangerously radical ideas as giving workers a day and a half off a week and ending child labor, they supported having prisoners work for real world wages which would be used to support their families or save for their release. Without going into the nuts and bolts, I would bet there would be a sharp decrease in recidivism.

Anonymous said...

Marxist's dream of expropriation. Ziz WOT.

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"Our biggest problem is that some large parts of the oligarchy feel they will lose dominance if we truly enter a sustainably everyone-rich world."

Seems like a problem which will take care of itself. The perks of being an oligarch are dwindling every decade. Used to be, they could raise imperial armies and switch monarchs at will, they could run monopolies and set the taxes to keep everyone else poor.

What have they got now? In some countries all they can say is "we get better doctors and schools". Soon, because data wants to be free, the highest quality private education will be equaled by what any student can see on YouTube, some say this is already true. That AI medical diagnosis news from a couple weeks ago still haunts me, looking at xrays the AI caught disease in 30% of the scans which real human doctors had ruled negative. You can't keep tech like that down.

The forces which perpetuate knots of wealth are swiftly becoming democratized, and we all know that heirs raised in luxury are not always the most, uhh, perspicacious when making decisions. It's true after all, money can't buy talent. In a world where ability is quicker (and easier) to monetize, our current crop of oligarchs will find, much to their horror and gnashing, that their kids are just as randomly possessed of talent as kids in Khartoum, Canberra, Quito or Gobbler's Knob.

yana said...

Alfred Differ thought:

"specifying owners in an ownership change is half the problem. Specifying property is the other half."

That's why this is a program for local gov't. Trying to organize it at province or national level is foolhardy. All those new b'crats would do is lean on the records kept by local gov't. The counterpoint is that poor towns can't afford the staff. But for some reason, poor places aren't catching a lot of the kleptocrat investment wave.

London, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai and Los Angeles. These are where crooks can buy small plots worth a ton of money. A city on the scale where it becomes attractive for parking secret wealth, that's where they could afford a staff of 100 for a "prove or lose it" program.

Anonymous said...

The forces which perpetuate knots of wealth are swiftly becoming democratized, and we all know that heirs raised in luxury are not always the most, uhh, perspicacious when making decisions. It's true after all, money can't buy talent.

So why is social mobility in the US lower than it's been in generations? Why are there more business startups in more-socialist Sweden than the US?*

Could it be that laissez-faire economics isn't democratizing? That maybe, just maybe, a level playing field needs a strong referee and rules beholden to neither team nor players — and letting the wealthiest players hire the referee is a mistake?


yana said...

Jerry Emanuelson thought:

"Much of the hidden wealth today began when wealthy people stated hiding their wealth in the form of the evil illicit substance called gold."

Are you high? Not judging, just asking.

"Gold ownership was mostly illegal in the United States from 1933 until 1975, with each particular instance of gold ownership being punishable by 10 years in prison (plus total confiscation of the gold plus an addition fine of about $200,000 in 2019 dollars for each instance of obtaining this evil substance)."

You're high. First, gold was freely available in any form you wanted it, except US currency. Second, in 1975 the total amount of gold mankind had ever recovered from the earth, ever in the totality of human history, would make a cube 32 feet on a side. Including Tutankhamun's coffin. At the time, there was still the theoretical possibility that someone could discover a mountain of solid gold in Borneo. Basing a currency on it is what a stupid person would do. Or someone really high.

"Although much hidden property is hidden in order to avoid taxes, a very substantial amount (probably the largest fraction) is hidden to avoid monetary instability."

You can not hide real property from taxes. Have you met local government? It's what they do, for a living, they tax real property. I'm super sure that the phrase "monetary instability" does not mean what you think it does.

"Even in the United States ... inflation has generally been quite bad"

You're high. In the past 40 years, the US central bank has been remarkably capable at keeping inflation near the perfectly healthy rate of 2%. For a dozen years, they've been struggling to get inflation UP to 2%. We can do that because the dollar is a fiat currency. If it was based on gold by mistake or by some tragic tradition, inflation would peak and reverse in wild cycles.

"As an example of how unstable the U.S. dollar is, for about the first 15 years of my life, our entire family of 5 did live on less than ..."

Oppositely, this is an example of how stable the US currency has been, for 70 years. You've used the same currency since 1950, and it's still worth money. Because it's a fiat currency. Because it's not based on gold, it's based on law.

Agree with most of your other posts, but economics may not be your true forte.

yana said...

Anonymous thought:

"So why is social mobility in the US lower than it's been in generations? Why are there more business startups in more-socialist Sweden than the US?"

Because the US is playing catch-up in political models, while still trying to preserve the reasons that its business model works exceedingly well. It's always a trapeze act. Sweden has a far more homogeneous culture than the US, so policy advances have a clearer vector across smaller class boundaries. In the US, it's far different. But make no mistake, the arguments America is having now are the same Big Questions which the whole human globe is struggling with.

America has a distinct advantage over Europe in this regard. A more open and wider-ranging culture has a much better chance at coming up with more correct solutions to basic human problems, even while the nature of that process dilutes the impact of all solutions.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Yana, I shouldn't have to look up basic historical facts for people.

From 1933 until 1975, Americans could generally own up to $100 in gold in the form of pre-1933 gold coins as collector's items. They were also permitted to own a small amount of gold jewelry in a quantity that would ordinarily be considered as primarily of personal or sentimental value.

Dentists were permitted to own very small quantities of gold powder for use in tooth fillings. Certain industries were permitted to own gold in the minimum quantities necessary for use specific industrial processes.

Any ownership of gold as an investment was illegal during this entire period, and was subject to very heavy penalties. Gold as an investment was the obvious subject of my comments above.

The rate of price inflation as measured by the U.S. Government official Consumer Price Index in the summer of 1980 reached 14.5 percent. My math education never got past a university level course in differential equations, but I believe that 1980 was within the past 40 years.

The Federal funds effective interest rate in 1980 averaged 13.35 percent. By 1985, the Fed funds rate had come down to 8.1 percent it remained at about that same level through 1990.

It is easy to verify any of these facts.

Mike Will said...

Much of my reading list involves archaeology/anthropology in the psychohistorical sense. Interestingly, I'm finding more 'proper' science in these than in the physical sciences lately, especially when it comes to computation & data analysis. The introspection and peer review seems more robust and less political than in 'big' science. Strange.
Moralizing Gods Precede/Follow Complex Societies

Anonymous said...

dav said...

I fail to understand how this World Ownership thing would do much of anything. Most things are owned in much simpler than 3 persons deep. Also I have the impression that David has the idea that if the ownership of a building or business is unclear, no one is paying taxes for it, which I'm pretty sure isn't so. Also some posters mentioned declaring property of drugs or other things like that, but that would imply an omniscient government aware of every atom of objects in it's domain. Just don't declare owning the drugs, it's not like druglords register transport papers for them.

Also when Amazon made billions in profit and paid zero taxes, they used legal loopholes in full public view, they didn't hide bags of cash behind Bezo's couch.

David Brin said...

Rockin’ Dave: The reason for WOT to be a binding international treaty is to solve the biggest problem, that much wealth flees light into foreign dark pools.

Anonymous posters! Please sign with a consistent made-up monicker. It is only basic courtesy that lets me try to maintain an open forum a little while longer.

yana - the democratizing forces you describe - giving ever greater swathes of population the basics from which young people can compete - is the very reason that the mafiosi-inheritance-brat wings of the aristocracy feel they have to make their move now. The oligarchic putsch is one of desperate urgency. Their last big chance. Ours too.

Someone spoke of bribing corrupt officials. That shows a complete lack of understanding of the WOT’s aim. Much property is not avowed… hidden under shells or never discussed … because just having a piece of paper from an official isn’t enough. In a society that is becoming MORE accountable, your neighbors can denounce your claim and demand that you prove it.

dave, we are fast approaching an era when an AI survey of all land, buildings and vehicles will not only be possible but trivial. And past taxes paid by a shell will save you from tax evasion charges, when your masks are taken off, But it won’t save you from questions about how you got the land, in the first place.

Yes, some nations will be more corrupt than others, offering amnesties to drug lords revealing their haciendas. But that light will still help that country to transition toward an accountable society.

Finally, the shel company thing is the biggest part of this! A rich guy can control 51% of a shell that owns 51% of a shell that controls 51% of a shell that owns a controlling 35% share of a major corporation's stock. He runs that corporation! Secretly. While actually owning 4%.

locumranch said...

As I await refutation for my 'consensus politics, majority rule & democracy ALWAYS ends badly for the minority' assertion, I wish to address the slippery & fungible assumptions that underlie the concept of wealth redistribution, the most pernicious being that wealth is a fixed, non-relative & non-fungible commodity.

Mistaking the map for the territory, our host ASSUMES that wealth equals the paper fortunes accumulated by the oligarchic & aristocratic ruling classes, even though these so-called 'fortunes' exist only as unrealised potential, having ZERO tangible or material value.

We're not talking about stockpiles of bread, canned goods, clothing, healthcare or educations here. Instead, we're talking about paper ownership certificates that have ASSUMED fixed value based on fungible and fickle supply & demand market dynamics.

This idea of non-relative wealth is often accompanied by the rather bourgeois but equally mistaken belief that the so-called middle classes are neither rich nor subject to the punitive consequences of wealth redistribution, even though this erroneous belief is belied by World Band statistics that show that 71% of the world's population subsist on less than a $10 USD daily equivalent.

There's that specter of predatory majority rule again:

Quiescent, it sits on the sidelines, biding its time, waiting to inflict its often fatal judgement on those uppity minority classes who wish to kill the ruling class king, steal his crown and rule in his stead.


Jon S. said...

"Soon, because data wants to be free, the highest quality private education will be equaled by what any student can see on YouTube, some say this is already true."

To repeat your own question back at you, yana, are you high?

Yes, it's possible to learn quite a few true things on YouTube. Lacking severe critical-thinking capabilities, however, it's far easier to learn a great many false things there. The only criterion for putting a video on YouTube is that it not violate anyone's copyright (which they don't check for, but can be addressed by the injured party issuing a takedown notice) and that it not be pornographic (which is addressed only when someone complains). There is absolutely no requirement that information provided in those videos be accurate, which is why InfoWars has a YouTube channel.

As I have to point out repeatedly to my roommate when he watches some silly revisionist-history "documentary" on YouTube, I can find you three entire series dealing with 20-somethings being harassed by the Slenderman and its allies; this doesn't mean the Slenderman is real. (Heck, there's a channel devoted to videos about the SCP Foundation and the various anomalies it keeps in containment. I'm a member of the Foundation, and have occasionally tried to contribute; you can take my word that it's entirely fictional. Which is good, because I'm not sure we could possibly survive in the same world as SCP-682 or SCP-231-7...)

David Brin said...

More articulate than normal, he strings words together but they are jibber jabber.

I am a member of a minority group that always, always has been less repressed in all democracies than in any and all despotisms. So much for locum's insane ALWAYS of the opposite.

There is a psychotic thing they do. Take something that's blatantly true, then loudly proclaim the opposite! It makes you look like a brave rebel with deep insights, who can see what the benighted masses (the fools!) cannot! Because we're supposed to heed impudent dissenters and consider off-center viewpoints, they take advantage, demanding we consider the utterly loopy.

And hence, though western democracies have liberated one minority group after another, spreading diversity and accountability and individual freedom as never before, he can rail "Opposite to everything you know! Take THAT and chew on it!"

It's jibber-jabber.

David Brin said...

And does anyone know what happened to Catfish n' Cod?

David Brin said...